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Bill Frisell

A Conversation with Bill Frisell (continued)

PM: Each of your records I've been listening to are so rich and so different that I literally just have to try to keep my questions to The Intercontinentals, because all on its own it's fantastic. I mean, the harder I dig, the deeper it gets. It's a beautiful puzzle, that record.

BF: Oh, thanks.

PM: Combining your unique take on American music with Greek, Brazilian, and Malian elements, even for you this is an ambitious undertaking.

BF: Yeah, it was definitely stepping off into some stuff where I didn't know quite what was going to happen, for sure.

PM: You've got a way of gathering brilliance in the cohorts around you. How did this perhaps furthest-flung band come together?

BF: Well, this was maybe a little more haphazard than some.

PM: [laughs]

BF: I mean, the first time we played was for this festival in Seattle. There's an organization called Earshot, they have a festival every year. And they've been really supportive of me. The very first time I came to Seattle was because of them, and I've played for them a lot. So a few years ago they said, "Well, do you want to do something--not just with your regular band, but something that you've never done before?" There were all these guys sort of floating around that I wanted to play with. When it actually started out, it was a quartet with Sidiki and Christos and Vinicius.

PM: Right.

BF: They were all on my list of people that I had recently met that I wanted to figure out something to do with, but I didn't know what it was going to be. So I thought, well, okay, I'll just stick them all together and see what happens, because it was just sort of an experimental thing. Maybe it'd work and maybe it wouldn't, I didn't really know. So we just did that one gig, and it just felt really good, and everyone got along great. So it was maybe my sense of...

PM: So in that original quartet, then, there's no bass, right?

BF: No. And even in the records there's not, except for every once in a while, I'll play some, maybe some.

PM: You play a little bass on just a couple of cuts, maybe.

BF: Yeah, maybe, I think. So there's no real drum set and no real bass either.

PM: And it just grooves like crazy.

BF: Well, yeah, I mean, with the way those guys... There's some--with Sidiki and Vinicius... What Christos does too, rhythmically is... Even just with the oud, there's all kinds of stuff he's doing.

PM: Oh, the oud and the guitar, especially the electric guitar, what a great, great combination.

BF: Yeah, oud's an instrument I'd never played with before, that's for sure.

PM: God that's a fantastic sound. It's a fantastic duo. In fact, it's one of the best. So you'd never experimented with that combination before?

BF: No, no, not at all.

PM: Where did you run into Christos?

BF: Well, that was a great kind of thing. There's this music store I just walked into. They have real nice acoustic guitars and stuff, and I always would stop by this place. And they had an oud in there that had been sitting there for a while. But I just went in there one day in my usual passing by--"Oh, I got to see what kind of guitars they got today." And he was in there playing this oud, and I thought, "Whoa, what is this?" I just stood there for like fifteen minutes listening to him try out the oud. And I was flipping out, because just standing right next to him, I didn't know who he was, he just walked in and started playing all this stuff, and really flipped me out. So that happened. And then I left, and I was thinking, "Wow, I wonder who that guy was."

PM: So you didn't even introduce yourself? [laughs]

BF: No. And it just... I don't know, it didn't come up.

PM: Right.

BF: But then I went back about a month later to the same place, and luckily this time he was in there again. In the repair shop? Something. He was in there doing something. And one of the guys at the store knew both of us and introduced us, and luckily that happened. So we met. And he had heard some of my music, so we started talking about, "Oh, it would be great if we could get together and play." But then it was still--this was a number of years ago. We started talking, and then we talked on the phone a couple times, and we said, "Yeah, well maybe we can get together next week." And then that wouldn't happen, something would come up. And it just kept getting--time kept going by. And then finally when this gig came up, that's when we finally got together to play.

PM: And so that particular relationship was years in the making before the gig. What about Vinicius? Was he in the hopper a long time too before you--

BF: Well, for a couple years. With him, I had recorded on two of his albums, but we never actually played. It was an overdub kind of thing, where I just went in and played to some stuff that he had already recorded.

PM: Was he even in the studio at the time?

BF: Well, the first time he was there, so I met him and just played some stuff. And that's kind of when I knew, with him, the feeling was so--even though he wasn't even playing at the moment, there was just this vibe, and it just felt so natural and stuff. And there wasn't any... I just really felt like I could play anything I wanted, and it was all okay with him. He wasn't trying to force me into anything that I was uncomfortable with or anything. It was just totally...

PM: In tune.

BF: Yeah, it just felt really great. And then a couple years after that I played on another one of his albums, where that time he wasn't even there. They just sent me the tape and I added some stuff to it. So that was another guy floating around where I thought, "Man, I hope I get a chance to play with him sometime." So with this group was the first time where we were actually in the same room at the same time playing together.

PM: That track of his, that's one of the best tracks I've ever heard anywhere. It's unbelievable!

BF: Yeah, and his thing with writing--his tunes are just--he's like a melody machine or something. I don't know how, he sits there with a guitar and sings, and it's like these melodies are just cranking out. I don't know how it works, but...

PM: And that tune has such amazing changes.

BF: Yeah.

PM: Beautiful changes. And when Leisz comes in and swells in that big chord it's like, oh, God! It reminded me--the guitar interplay between you two and Leisz makes three on that cut--it reminded me of the amazing interplay between you and Kelly Joe Phelps on his recent CD.

BF: Oh, oh, yeah!

PM: The two tracks you did with him, it was also amazing guitar interplay.

BF: Oh, yeah, he's really great.

PM: Yeah, we interviewed him recently, for the March cover.

BF: Oh, cool.

PM: He's an amazing guy. But that Vinicius cut, that's pure magic. What's his personality like? Is he a hot kind of character?

BF: Well, no. I mean, he's real--I don't know what--how do you... I mean, he's really--oh, it's--I start to use an adjective, and then it's completely contradicted by--he's--there's a kind of a delicate or--you can see his--if you see a picture of him he's sort of small, and with some kind of delicate quality about him. But then he's got this really deep down in to the earth quality. It's kind of this contradictory thing where there's this really low, low down heavy rooted thing going way deep into the earth, and then also this kind of floating above the clouds kind of thing.


BF: I mean, I don't know if that... Because he'd also--like when he'd--the music he plays is... He also is an incredible drummer. I mean, that's what he did mostly, playing drums with Caetono [Veloso] and...

PM: Really?

BF: That's what he was at first, a drummer.

PM: Oh, my God!

BF: And he plays a lot of drums on the Intercontinentals thing.

PM: Right.

BF: And sometimes it's only like bass drum. He'll just play a low...

PM: Like a Bomba or something.

BF: Yeah. So there's this really grounded thing. But then there's the thing with the melodies that are just sort of floating in the air, too. I don't know if that's--I'm not really describing his... Well, that's all part of his personality, too, I guess.

PM: Yeah. I think I got what I was looking for. It's a fascinating career you've created for yourself by being such a juxtapositionalist, how you put this with that, and no, let's play it like this instead.

BF: Yeah, I mean, that's really the--it's like school for me. That's where I learned the most the fastest, is just when you sit there with somebody and try to play with them. You learn about a hundred times more than you could possibly learn from sitting with a record or a book. continue

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