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Willard Grant Conspiracy in London and NYC

A Conversation with Robert Fisher of WGC (continued)

PM: However, bear with me, please, because I've arrived late to the party. And this is the first CD of yours that I've really examined in its entirety.

RF: Uh-huh, sure.

PM: I know that one difference on Regard the End is that it's the first one without your near lifetime collaborator, Paul Austin.

RF: That's true.

PM: Well, save a few cameo tracks, anyway.

RF: Yeah.

PM: So perhaps you'd share with us something about your longtime working relationship with Paul?

Paul Austin 

RF: Well, Paul and I were in bands together starting in Portland, Maine, from about 1981 on. There were a few points where we both did different things, but on and off up until three years ago, we always did music together. Also James Apt, another person that I've been involved with musically for almost the same amount of time, was a major part of the beginning of Willard Grant as well. I tend to approach music as a collaborative thing and as a family thing in a way [laughs]--

PM: Right.

RF: --so when I find people that I respect musically and that I like to work with, I try to keep that going. And I guess Willard Grant is the logical organic extension of this kind of a long-term relationship with people.

As you know, when you're young and you're eighteen, nineteen years old, bands are kind of like the Three Musketeers. It's like all for one and one for all. And you all live in the same house, and you do all of that. But as you get older, everybody gets married and has children and gets bills and all the rest of it, and so the organic logical extension of the way to play music under those circumstances is to have this rotating membership that we have. Willard Grant is really designed to let people come and go as they need to and work on other projects as they want to, and benefit from their association with Willard Grant from that.

PM: It's an utterly fantastic construct. I've never seen the likes of it.

RF: Well actually, I have to be honest, Howe Gelb was the one who let me think that maybe I could pull this off. Originally, we didn't start with a band, we just started with some people coming over to my house, and we'd play once a week, and whoever showed up is who played. And then Mickey Dee, who was the drummer in this group of people at the time, said, "We ought to do this live." And we all sat around and said, "How would we do this live, because it's not really a band?" And I said, "Well, let's just do it the same way we do it in my living room. We'll get a gig and we'll tell people, and whoever shows up plays."

PM: [laughs] It's unbelievable.

RF: And it worked.

PM: I didn't catch the name of the guy who first turned you on to the fact that you could do this.

RF: Oh, Howe Gelb. He's from Giant Sand. For the last 25 years, Giant Sand has sort of been Howe and John and Joey, but they've had, beyond them, sort of a rotating membership, a cast of characters that comes in and out of the band. And whenever you see Giant Sand, it's going to be something a little different than the time you've seen it before in terms of members and instrumentation and things like that. So, as a model, I have to give him credit for that, because it was a model that allowed me think, okay, well, maybe this is possible, maybe this can function.

Logistically it's a lot more difficult to put together this kind of a thing than it is if you just have four dedicated members. But the benefits of it are tremendous, because you have this ever-changing, refreshing cast of musicians to work with, and every experience is a new experience. As a fan of music first, which is why I play anyway, when I go to see a band, I want to know that they're in the moment, and that I'm not seeing something that's been rehearsed to death. This kind of format allows for that to happen on a nightly basis, which is wonderful.

PM: It's a never ending transfusion of blood. It's always fresh.

RF: Yes. And there's a commitment in the band. Because the songs are very simple, there's a commitment in the band to a certain level of openness, in terms of what people play. I guess the mentality is sort of jazz in a way, it's the improvisation aspect. It's not, obviously, jazz, but we allow for things to be played that haven't been played before. And it's a great thing for me every night because I hear things I've never heard before.

PM: And like jazz, too, there's the preservation of space. The song rules.

RF: Yeah, and let the song breathe.

PM: Yeah.

RF: It's a really important aspect of the way I like to put music together. I like to have that sound of the room as much as the sound of the instruments. It also lets the audience, the listener, get into the song. It gives them room. Sometimes I listen to modern pop music, and I think there's no room for anybody in there, you can't really put yourself inside the song. A lot of that has to do with how highly compressed it is. Everything is shoe-horned into the mix. But if you give it a little room and a little air, then people can put themselves into it and the song becomes part of their experience. And I think that also has to do, of course, with lyrics and construction and those sorts of things, but that's part of it.

PM: With a pop hit, when you consider simply the levels and the occasions of compression alone, [laughs] how many times--how many ways has this been compressed?

RF: Yeah, it has been sliced and diced so many ways it's ridiculous. Well, this is a whole other discussion, but so much of pop music now is really not about music, it's about the product itself. You watch the Grammys and you see people getting awards, three, four, five awards for their album, and you think to yourself, "Those awards should go to the people who manufactured you." There's no artist with a capital "A" behind a lot of pop music these days. That's to say, generally speaking. There are occasions where people leak through who actually have something to deliver, but a lot of it is about the product and not about the music. So it doesn't leave much room for anybody--artists, musicians, or audience really.

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