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Interview by Erika Buchancow:
Erika - Nowadays, so many leaders choose individuals for their band, not just because they are the best improvisors, but also because they are the best listeners. Can you explain a little bit about the language of music?
Paul - For one thing, to be a truly good improvisor, you also have to be a good listener. When you improvise with other players, it's like having a conversation. And a good conversation usually means that everyone listens to each other, everyone respects each other's time to talk and time to listen, everybody has knowledge of what the particular subject is about and everyone have something to contribute.
So, ideally, no one has an agenda, no one has anything to prove. Because if someone is trying to prove how smart they are, and they're trying to prove that they know more than everybody else and they don't let anybody else "talk", then that's a terribly, non-musical situation. That occasionally happens when you go hear a band. Sometimes you go to hear music, and even if there are a bunch of talented musicians on stage, there's no real music being made, there's just a lot of competition, a lot of egos. I also think that sometimes when hearing jazz, the problem for some listeners is that they try too hard to analyze the music...they're putting too much into it, because hearing good jazz should be an experience. It can be great music to just "listen" to...just let it wash over you..."feel" the sounds, you know? You don't have to go, "Oh, what key is that in?", or "What chord changes are these?", or "What time signature is that?" or "What kind of polyrhythms are those?". I mean, that's sometimes ok for musicians, but for a regular person off the street that usually listens to pop music or country music or whatever, they, first of all, must learn to trust the musicians and then just sit back and listen and enjoy. Then after a while, maybe they can concentrate on the drummer for a moment and see what he's doing, and then after they listen to the drummer, they can focus in on the bass player, and then they can listen to the how the drummer and bass player "talk" to each other. Then go to the piano player...how is he or she fitting it? And so, once they listen that way, it's not so confusing, because what jazz musicians are playing is usually pretty logical, no matter how crazy it might sound...it usually has a conversational aspect to it. Some people might be "talking" in abstract terms, just like an abstract painting, but they're still making music and music is a form of communication.
Erika - The jazz music emphasizes the freedom of the expression, but how is the relation between individual vs group?. I'm asking you this because you have your experience in Pat Metheny Group and now you have your solo CD "StereoNucleosis".
Paul - There are many types of jazz. There's some jazz that is totally free, where you just play...there's no song, there's no tempo, you just start making sounds. I love to play like that. To me, when it's done well, it's one of the most fun things to do, because then there are no limits, there are no rules, it's just a true conversation about everything and anything. At the same time, a lot of jazz does have form, and different bands have different instruments that each have a role to play. So, for instance, if you're in a big band, with sixteen people playing, not everybody can be playing everything they want to play the entire time...some people have to be reading the charts, some people might be soloing, but here again, it comes down to respect. Respecting everybody, respecting the music, respecting yourself.
Luckily for me, I get a chance to do all different kinds of styles, which means that one day I might be playing free music, the next day I might perform a drum clinic, and then the next day I might be playing something that has a lot more structure. But, because I get a chance to do all these different kinds of things, I don't ever feel confined. I can respect the different parameters of each style because I'm not just limited to that style all the time.
Erika - How can you describe your new CD?. I mean, you mixed everything.
Paul - It's sort of a summation of my life at this point. I listen to a lot of different types of music...from rock, classical, jazz, ethnic music, even country music. I like to listen to nature...I listen to the birds, the wind, etc. So, the new CD features this type of attitude. For me, I don't like to discriminate and say "I'm a jazz musician or a rock musician"...I just play music. And so, this new CD gave me a chance to put a lot of different elements together, the way I wanted, and not to discriminate. It really makes me think it's a very "American" record. America prides itself on including diverse elements and ethnic groups, and that's sort of what we have here. I thought, "Whoa!", rather than call it a jazz record, or a rock record, or a fusion record, it's just a summation of music with the real American kind of attitude...American in a good way, you know. That's how I like to describe it.
Erika - Which different instruments did you use in this project? How could you feel playing this music on stage?
Paul - Regarding the instruments, since we did the entire recording in my house, I used everything from kitchen tools and toys, to obviously a drum set and percussion. As a percussionist, you can play just about anything that makes a sound as long as you think it will make the song better.
Then, using my normal trio which includes John Moulder and Eric Hochberg, as well as my wife, Barbara, and a great young musician named Brian Peters, there are guitars, electric bass, fretless bass, acoustic bass, acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, Ebow, trumpet, voices, hand claps. But, when you add in all these sounds, you still always have to make sure that the initial idea of each song is still intact. Working with Brian Peters was incredible. He did a such a great job, both as a musician and as an engineer. He was really familiar with the recording program that we used, SONAR 3, and he's really a wizard at the computer. So, with Brian, I was able to get the sound right and my ideas out.
Sometimes with a CD, you have many different sounds and you're able to put these sounds exactly where you want them. But, sometimes when you play live, you're also at the mercy of the sound of the room, the P.A system, if the people in the room are noisy and talking or not, etc., etc. So, for me, when we play the material live, it's more important to capture the essence of the music, rather than focus on all the little details included on the CD.
Erika - Do you want to make a a brief chronology about your musical career?
Paul - Sure. Well, it's funny, because no one in my family was a musician, but my mom used to play jazz around the house. Basically though, I wanted to be a chemist. I loved chemistry and sports...I was really good in sports. Then, all of a sudden, when I was twelve, we moved up to Cary, Illinois. My parents were like, "you know, you should take an instrument, anything except drums", but that was the only thing that I wanted to play. I had a great band director in grade school, and I learned how to play the drum set better than the other kids, even though I didn't own one yet. Then when I got to high school, I was lucky because I had a great band director there too. It's funny, but when we would all try out for the band, we had auditions, and there'd be five percussion chairs in the concert band, and I come in at eighth chair, because I wouldn't practice, but my band director would say, "we now have eight chairs in the percussion section", so, I knew that I had something. He was also able to take me and just let me be me, without saying, you must do this, you must do that. After high school, I got a scholarship at Western Illinois University. I stayed there only about two quarters because one day Cannonball Adderley's rhythm section gave a clinic and I sat in and everybody went nuts. I talked to the Cannonball's drummer and said, "Yeah man, you know, I wanna go back to Chicago, I wanna play", and he said "I think you should", and I quit school the next day.
I then lived in Elgin, Illinois for a while, and I was in this really crazy band called Earwax Control. We played totally free music. We even had a TV set on stage, we sometimes painted our faces, things like that. But I think it was too advanced for a lot of people back then, we were doing that in the 70's. However, through that band I met a lot of musicians and played with different people in Chicago. There was a great trombone player named Bill Porter, that was very instrumental in hooking up me and my wife, Barbara. One night I was playing in his band, and Barb played the break with a singer, and even though I thought Barb was really beautiful, I didn't talk to her that night. A couple of months later, Barb and her friend had an audition for a club, but Bill, who was also a booking agent, didn't like their drummer, and he asked me to play for their audition so they could get the gig, and that was it..we've been together for 27 years. Also at that time, I was playing with a really amazing tenor player named Joe Daley. I joined him in the mid-seventies and I met a lot of people through him as well. That's how I kind of met Pat Metheny. Pat called me around 1977-78 to do some things with him, but I turned him down because I had been playing with Joe Daley for a few years by then and we had a big week at the Jazz Showcase and I didn't want to let Joe down. Pat said he always respected that type of loyalty.
Later on, I started going out on the road with a band called The Simon and Bard Group. That's the first time that I started touring really extensively. It was great, because even though we were making very little money, sleeping on people's floors, driving forty-eight hours straight to get to some gig, sometimes in the middle of nowhere, we were making some good music. Pat Metheny saw me playing on the road with them one night in Portland, Oregon and he hired me to join his band. Obviously, my experience with Pat was important for me, because here I was, a local drummer in Chicago and then all the sudden I was on the world stage, touring all over the world. But like with many good things in life, even though we played some great music every night and it was a great experience in which I certainly learned a lot, it finally was time to leave and move on, and that was that.