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Interview with Paul Wertico by Marek Komar (Milan, Italy - June 1998)
MK: "We did the last interview in 1997 at the Knitting Factory. I was there with a couple of friends to see you perform with Derek Bailey, Pat Metheny and Gregg Bendian. Since then I've received the CD "The Sign of 4", which was recorded during that performance. Unfortunately, I can't understand this music. Can you help me a little to explain what was behind it?"
PW: "I don't even know where to start."
MK: "We have plenty of time."
PW: "Well, you know whenever you play free, like free improvisation, anything can happen and it depends on the players and what they decide to play. For instance in Earwax Control, we play totally free. There are no "songs", but the music seems to have structure. "BANG!" also sounds very structured, but in case of "The Sign of 4", it went somewhere else...the music just "went". It was also loud, it was very loud. So there was a certain amount of intensity, because of the loudness and there were also things that we couldn't play because of the loudness too. It's hard to play soft when everything is loud. So that was part of the music, like the music on the first CD; it sounds like that...loud...but there was a "vibe". We all went with it. I mean nothing was planned, it just turned out to be whatever we where doing, so to try to analyze it by saying "What is this? Why did you play that? Did you do this and that...?" It's almost more like "It just happened, and it is done."
MK: "Did you ever listen to this CD? Tell me the truth."
PW: "Barbara won't let me play it in the house."
MK: "You did the duo CD "BANG!" with Gregg - a drum duo CD, and you plan to do another one with just drums."
PW: "I don't know if that will happen. I haven't talked to anybody more about it, so we'll see. I don't want to go into it if it's not going to happen. You know, Gregg and I have talked, I've talked to Peter Erskine, there is this other drummer, Alex Cline, who is a really good drummer. So that would again be sort of free form, but probably more like "BANG!" than like "The Sign of 4"."
MK: "Last year you did another CD with Pat - "Imaginary Day". Please tell us something about the work on "Imaginary Day". How was the work progressing; you got the tapes or you got notes sent home and then you flew to New York to record? How did the whole process of preparation take place?"
PW: "The only advance tape I received was a tape of "Heat of the Day", which we changed anyway. So what we basically did was have a short rehearsal the day before we went into the studio. We played down the songs very loosely. We just said, "OK, that's good enough for now". We did almost everything in the studio, sort of refined the arrangements as we played them. You know on some tunes we would play the tune down and say "OK, that was great, lets do another take". On other tunes, we would do a take and it would seem fine but then we would listen back and say "No, that's not the right arrangement..", so then we would say "OK, let's put a 5/4 bar here and we'll speed up the tempo here". Then we would play it again and listen back and say "Oh no...it should have been 3/4 bar". Then we would play and listen to it again and say "well, now this is OK, but then this section of this tune is just not right", so we would change this and that. It kind of went into alot of different directions. On one song, I think it was five hours or something before we got the right arrangement and then it was pretty much recorded on a first or second take."
MK: "You did a lot of records with Pat. Is "Imaginary Day" an example of evolution in his band? Does it represent a change in Pat's music compared to "Letter From Home", "Still Life (Talking)" or "We Live Here"? Do you like "Imaginary Day"?"
PW: "It's my favorite because it's great writing. It also allowed us to "play" inside of the music. Like on "We Live Here", there were some good songs and good writing, but for me as a drummer there was really not much for me to do. So on this recording, the music allows me to be a jazz musician within this real structured, song-writing framework. It's got the best of both worlds."
MK: "Do you have any favorite songs on this record?"
PW: "No, not really. There is such a variety on this album. While performing the material on the stage, you have to change your attitude to go along with the style of each song; go into a sort of "mind head-space" for each song, but I always feel that all the music we play is really a part of us. I think it's believable. It's not like we are trying to be a heavy-metal band on one song and then trying to be a Spanish flamenco band on another. It doesn't feel like we are trying to be anything that we're not. We really are all of that stuff. The overall thing that keeps all of the styles together is the writing and the same musicians. We all understand the different kinds of music. We also all have our own ways of playing them and I think that is what gives it the glue to keep it consistent sounding"
MK: "I spoke to you yesterday after the concert in Verona, a beautiful venue for 12.000 people, and to tell you the truth that was the first time I saw you being so tired after the show. Was it the late hours or is it the length of the tour which has lasted already seven weeks, not counting the American leg of the tour?"
PW: "It is probably both. When we go on stage we always play as hard as we can, so sometimes you don't really realize how tired you really are until after the show. That gig was the fifth gig in a row, and before that we were doing a lot of six-in-a-row shows. The music doesn't tire necessarily you out, but the touring itself is exhausting. We travel seven hours every day to get to the next city. So if you're tired, as you're playing the music you sometimes don't know where your energy is coming from. Then when you're done with a show, you come back down to earth and you just kind of melt."
MK: "For so many years this band's music was your life, but after your daughter was born, did anything change in your life? Knowing you, I see the changes that this event brought into your life and your music. Do you agree?"
PW: "When you are young musician you want the people to know who you are, you hang out and you basically think only about music. When you are younger you are self-centered. Then all of the sudden you get older and you start knowing more about the way you play. You start developing your ideas, not just trying to be like everybody else. Then all of the sudden, when you have a baby, a whole other aspect of your life opens up and you realize that you can't be selfish anymore. When you are younger, it's all about "me, me, me, me". It's like "look at me, listen to me". And all of the sudden there's this little person that loves you no matter what. They don't care if you are a musician or not. They love you for who you are. And I think that gives you more confidence. It is just about being yourself as a human being. I do not think it is my case, but sometimes musicians have to prove themselves through music. They are like "listen to how great I am". Sometimes musicians want to be loved, they want the people to love them as artists. But having a baby changes this because kids love you unconditionally and it is really a different thing."
MK: "Growing up around you, does Talia listen to alot of music at such a young age?"
PW: "She has influenced me by being like "life is what it is". Little kids are not so dogmatic, little kids are just free, they are creative. They don't "try" to be creative. They're just creative because they see world as a new place. Sometimes when you get older, you start seeing the world through the way "you" look at things and that narrows your decisions. So coming back to Talia, I watch music videos and listen to the music with her all the time. She has also seen alot of shows. She came to my gig with Ramsey Lewis. She came up to me after the show and said "Ramsey is a good piano player, Daddy" She was two and a half. And then I asked how I sounded. She said "You were good, you played loud, your cymbals are loud." And she was just two and a half years old. It's insane!"
MK: "Playing "Imaginary Day" tour, do you notice any difference between the shows in Europe and the US? Does the audience feedback make you feel different playing in Europe?"
PW: "The European audience is fantastic. It's weird though, but my energy coming from the audience is limited because I use "in-ear" monitors and also I can't see that well. My eyesight is not that good if I take my glasses off. So I really don't see the audience that well and I do not hear the audience much because of the in-ear monitors. Obviously it's great at the end, when everybody goes nuts, then I can put on my glasses and see that, but my job is really to play the music as good as I can. It's funny, but this is also true: there is a different energy between women and men and we get alot of guys in the audience alot of times. It's great when you look out and there is a really good looking girl right in front of you digging your energy. That gives you different energy than if some guy is playing "air guitar" in front of you. It's also the kind of thing where if we play for 15,000 people, some of them are so far away that it's hard to feel them even if they are a great audience. Sometimes playing in a club for 100 people, where the audience is right on top of you, gives you more energy. I think if you ask around, everybody has a different opinion."
MK: "How was Japan? You tour over there every two years and you have a big following there."
PW: "To me this was the best Japanese trip so far. I had the most fun, the crowds were fantastic, we all had a lot of fun. It was a great trip. It went by so fast."
MK: "You already did about 100 shows. Did any of these shows stuck in your memory as a special one? You told me that you met John McLaughlin at one of them."
PW: "Yeah, the other night we played in Nice. The band was on fire. We knew that John was in the audience and it's always great to have somebody like him present. Some bands don't like to know when there's someone famous in the audience, but this band likes to know because then you know that someone is actually "hearing" what we are playing. So we had a really great night. Pat was on and I was on, it was really great. John came backstage and it seemed like he really liked the show. He was very gracious and excited about the music, which made us feel great too because every one of us is a big fan of his music. To me that show was very memorable because everybody knew it was a great show. Sometimes one person will think that it was a great show, but another will say "I don't know, I didn't play that good tonight". But this time everybody played good, we felt good about everything that went down and then we had John McLaughlin come backstage and tell us that it was a good show. It was really gratifying."
MK: "Let's talk a little bit about your career. You just did record the second album with John Moulder, which you also produced. Tell us something about the projects you did last year. As I know, you also did a record with Terry Callier (with Eric Hochberg and John Moulder.)"
PW: "John Moulder's record is called "Through the Open Door". It's me and John and Eric, and great piano player named John Trompeter, who played with the Miami Sound Machine. He is fantastic. John wrote a lot of really great songs. We did it in the best studio in Chicago, and we just went in and played it down. We did not rehearse that much, we just played and it came out as a really pretty record. It is a really nice recording. It is released on John's label, so no one really knows about it yet, since it is a small label, but he is shopping it around. People that have heard it, really liked it alot, although it is available only in Chicago. The Terry Callier record called "TimePeace" also has got John and Eric, but also alot of different people. It's released on the Verve Forecast label. Terry is this older R&B/folk singer who's very famous. In fact I remember a poster which has his name first, and then Bob Dylan's. In the 60's he was very popular. He's a great writer and lyricist. Eric has played with him for years. They have a trio (with percussionist Pen McGee) and they've done a lot of gigs. Eric contributed alot to this record. We did alot of demos, which Eric produced, then they submitted them to Verve, who wanted to put their own producer on them, so they re-recorded a bunch of things."
MK: "Tell us something about the recording you did during the performance in club "Akwarium" in Warsaw. I know that this project took about a year to release."
PW: "As you remember, being involved in this project, we recorded that night because of the commitment to the Polish magazine, "Jazz á go-go". They recorded the whole night and they were supposed to use two cuts. I remember that night as being an OK night, but not our best. We were kind of tired and after we recorded this performance I didn't think much of it. I went down to the club's basement after we played and I said "OK, these two songs are acceptable" and that was it. I never really listened to it after that. And then, last year, for whatever reason, I just happened to put it on and I couldn't believe how good it was. Even though there were better nights with that band, this night was at such a high level. I thought I'd listen to it with critical ears; listen for mistakes, listen for recording errors, technical errors, etc. I didn't know yet if there was a "record" there. I made all of these notes and at the end I decided that this material could be released as a record. I was just going to go to a regular mastering plant and master it, but at the time I was working on John Moulder's record and the guys at the studio told me "Oh man, you should master it with Danny Leake", who is Stevie Wonder's engineer. Danny was available. The original DAT sound was fantastic, but the sound on the DAT was not quite up to sounding like a "record" yet. I called Danny and I said "I've got this live tape" and he told me later that he was expecting a "board" tape. He's got all these great processors and expensive equipment, so we improved the sound even more. When Danny put on the original tape and we listened back, he could not believe this stuff was live. He kept asking who the engineer was. So I worked with him and we refined the bass sound, gave the over-all sound more air, more room, and it started sounding like a "record". I was trying to figure out what to do with the finished product when I recalled doing another project I did for trumpeter Rex Richardson which was released on this small label called Igmod. I thought that maybe I could get them to release this material. I wanted to put it out before the Metheny tour to have some time for promotion and that was the reason I went with them. So they pressed and distributed it and it is available in the US and Japan. It is not available in Europe yet. I am so proud of it that I want it to be available everywhere, because for me it is the best representation of how I play. Even Pat and Steve said the same thing. So this CD is for anybody who really wants to hear the way I play in a trio setting. Plus playing live with John and Eric is very exciting, it's not like being in the studio, where you're obsessing about every note. We were just playing, it was just another night. So that's what it's about."
MK: "What are your plans after finishing the touring this year?"
PW: "I will probably teach at Northwestern University in Evanston. Besides that, there is alot of things going on: the projects we spoke about, the "UNION" CD is out, Ramsey Lewis asked me to do more gigs with him, we also will hopefully do a DVD with Pat. A part of the Warsaw concert is in a new special issue of Modern Drummer magazine called "MD Hot Trax". It features 11 famous drummers, a compilation. Earwax Control has its 20th anniversary. Also my drum stick company, Pro-Mark, has a free CD coming out called "Collector's Edition Volume II". Earwax Control has a cut on it. The CD also features Elvin Jones, the Dave Matthews' Band drummer, Simon Phillips, and other famous drummers playing different stuff. I submitted an Earwax Control cut that we did in 1986 called "Mein Herr Ball". It's spelled like in German and the whole thing sounds like a cat coughing up a hair ball, it's the funniest cut ever. So that's coming out. Besides that, basically I want to spend some time with my family, which is the most important thing."
MK: "Thank you for the interview."