The Screwgun Story--An Interview With Tim Berne

(Tim Berne’s Studio)

by Samuel Weinberg

Midway through the existence of his seminal group Bloodcount, Tim Berne began putting out and distributing his own records under the name Screwgun. Berne continued to release Screwgun albums for roughly the ten subsequent years, in which time he put out records by a number of his projects and the projects of his friends. It should largely go without saying that the contents of the records are unique and wholly original, but equally as important to the Screwgun aesthetic was the idiosyncratic cardboard packaging coupled with the artwork of Berne’s collaborator, Steve Byram. 

Recently Berne put the entire catalogue of Screwgun Records on both…

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The Screwgun Story--An Interview With Tim Berne
(Tim Berne’s Studio) by Samuel Weinberg Midway through the existence of his seminal group Bloodcount, Tim Berne began putting out and distributing his own records under the name Screwgun. Berne continued to release Screwgun albums for roughly the ten subsequent years, in which time he put out records by a number of his projects and the projects of his friends. It should largely go without saying that the contents of the records are unique and wholly original, but equally as important to the Screwgun aesthetic was the idiosyncratic cardboard packaging coupled with the artwork of Berne’s collaborator, Steve Byram.  Recently Berne put the entire catalogue of Screwgun Records on both iTunes and Amazon, which got me thinking that it would be worthwhile to speak to Berne about the label, its history and the various records that he put it out while running it. Our conversation is below.  This is a list of some of the Screwgun records that we speak of which are certainly suggested listening: Bloodcount, Unwound (1996) Marc Ducret, l’Ombra di Verdi (1998) Michael Formanek, Am I Bothering You? (1998) Paraphrase, Visitation Rites (1998) Django Bates, Quiet Nights (1998) Science Friction, Science Friction (2002) Science Friction, The Sublime And (2003) Hard Cell, Feign (2005) ———— So I want to situate these Screwgun records in terms of the Julius Hemphill solo record that you put out. You said in the liner notes that you were there when it was recorded.  Yeah that originally came out on his label. It was when I had first met him and my sister and I helped him out with it. She did the art work for the album, and the he and I figured out together how to distribute an album on the fly, although he had a label earlier in his life, when he was living in St. Louis. So because it was him, and people knew about his playing, I would get sent letters all the time. He had a Post Office box, so I would go down and check the mail. I sort of learned the ropes from that. And from there, I created my label, Empire.  Can we talk about that for a bit? You had 5 records on that? The Julius record was ’77 and then Empire was, I think, ’79. I learned the ropes from him and most of those same distributors dealt with me, when I released my record. It was a lot easier back then because there were a lot fewer people doing it. So it was a little easier to hook up with distributors. The Julius record went pretty quickly. How many did you press? Probably made around 1500 or 1000. It was a double record, so the shipping thing was a nightmare. I did that a bit with Empire, and then that CD shit happened, at which point I was already on other labels. I didn’t come back to doing my own thing, with Screwgun, until 1996. That was Unwound?  Yeah. With Empire, I ended it in ’83 or ’84. But the Soul Note stuff started in 83, so I might be wrong with the dates.  So was it just easier to be on another label? Is that why you ended Empire? Well, I sent a tape to them, but up until that point, I wasn’t too concerned about being on a label and I was pretty happy doing it myself. I didn’t really think it was an option. Seeing Julius do it, I kind of thought, ‘Who am I to think that I could be on a label, when he isn’t?’ It wasn’t a big deal and I think it’s a little more intense now. Most musicians nowadays, by the time they’re 25, have a publicist and are trying to get a gig at the Vanguard, but I think I was just happy that I had put a record out. That was enough for me. So I sent live tape to Soul Note of a show with me, Motian, Ray Allen, Mack Goldsbury, Herb Robertson, and Ed Schuller. I didn’t hear anything from them, and I was about to put it out, but I called them on a whim saying, “I want to make sure that you aren’t going to put this out, before I proceed.” And he said he had never got it, but then he ended up putting it out [laughs]. It’s called The Ancestors. And then I went on the road with Ed, Paul and Herb in ’83 and then we did a studio record. That one was called Mutant Variations. Then I think I made this duo record with Bill Frisell, and we sold it to this German record label called Minor Music. The thing that happened after that was CBS, then in ’86 I was able to make a living and got used to doing things with other people—I think I hooked up with Stefan Winter and JMT around that time. He allowed me to do some nice studio records. Bloodcount had a few records on JMT, right? Yeah, three.  So what prompted the Unwound, three disc re-entry into making your own records? Well, I had made 9 CDs with Stefan Winter up until that point and we kind of reached an impasse in ‘95 when he sold JMT to Polydor KK. There was this 10 year anniversary concert in New York in 1995 that Steve Byram and I helped him organize. We were kind of his “not so silent” partners and unbeknownst to us he was planning to casually announce the sale of the label at this anniversary celebration without telling anyone—a rather strange thing to do. We were pretty devastated by this and things kind of unraveled after that. Stefan was cool, but what bothered me was that I wanted him to see the label as more than just an expensive art collection. We were touring a lot at the time and could see the potential for something more. Somehow he was able to keep control of the label after the sale and renamed it Winter and Winter, which I found rather telling. With the Japanese/Polydor investment he had had some success with Cassandra Wilson which led to more commercial projects and then I think he started to like the taste of this mild success and the focus started to change. So me, Ducret and a few other people sort of became the “Art” section of the label. When our records came out, the distributors didn’t really care about them because they were more interested in the commercial things that he was doing, like Gary Thomas with Pat Metheny. I did one of these projects, a recording with David Sanborn of Julius Hemphill’s music. Julius was still alive at the time, and it was kind of an idea that Julius and I had because he knew Sanborn from St. Louis. I think they were licking their chops because Sanborn was on this, and they assumed that it would be one of these commercial things and of course it wasn’t.After doing the Big Satan record for Winter and Winter I decided to take control again and start my own label. Of course years later  all 10 discs I did for Stefan are out of print and not even available from iTunes. Anyways, so at the time, I had this idea that most people I know really liked getting bootlegs, you know getting the bootleg of some gig that they had heard of. So I just thought, why don’t I just do these really low-budget bootleg recordings and package them in a really bizarre way, and just operate it as an authorized bootleg label, of myself. The Unwound record, and actually all of the Bloodcount records, were just two mics in front of the band. One of the Paraphrase was on a mini disc player! All of the Paraphrase were audience recordings. Up until a certain point, I was really into that live stuff. And I was selling more records with Screwgun than I was with my JMT stuff. The sound is actually great. Well, yeah. I just thought, “I like listening to bootlegs, so why wouldn’t anyone else?” It was just great because we had this psychotic packaging and there were recipes. Byram was like my partner in this and we were just having a blast. Everybody was making money! I was paying the musicians, probably more than most people make now making records, and I was making money off this records. It was pre-computer, for the most part, which in a way made it more fun, because it was kind of less competitive, because not everyone could make a record for ten cents. So then I met David Torn. Well Torn actually mastered the Unwound record, so I got to know him better. But once I started doing the electronic stuff with Craig and Tom, I knew that I had to get better recordings and go into the studio again, since I was kind of missing it. So I talked to Torn about it and he told me that there were some good studios up in Bearsville and he had been mastering all of my records, but he told me that he would love to produce one of them. So we did Hard Cell and Science Friction at this place called the Make Believe Ballroom, with this guy who Steve Swallow turned me on to named Tom Mark, who’s a great engineer. And we did one of them I think on analog, and Torn would produce them. We also made Formanek’s solo record up there, too. Then we got to the point where David said that he would like to produce one of my records like one would for a pop record—spend a day on each tune and really mix the shit out of them. I can’t remember the first one we did that way, possibly Science Friction or the Live Science Friction. Anyways, we started doing these studio recordings with him like Hard Cell’s Feign which was live to two tracks, and it was really fun. It was really easy and much more relaxing than working with a label. And I was selling records! I was making my money back pretty easily and was able to pay everybody. Then all of a sudden, the record industry got hairy—all this streaming shit started, with downloads and everything and initially I didn’t think that that was going to effect us, since we made these special packages. But all of a sudden, the 2000 records I was selling became 800, just like that. And I said, “Ah shit! It’s over”. But I was getting tired of the work and I was touring more, so it was hard to keep up. But I realized that I couldn’t keep making studio records because I would need to sell at least 1500 records to make it work. So then I started thinking that I should’ve stayed with Stefan, or whatever [laughs]. So then I put out these live things, and although I was doing it, my heart wasn’t really in it because it was just not the way it had been. I hated doing them cheaply because I had to. It just wasn’t the same. But around that time, we did Prezens, Torn’s record, which was the first ECM thing that I was on. And that was 2007. We did that one all on our own, with David recording, producing and mixing it. But then Manfred took it and put it out. It was then that I started thinking about ECM. I had made a few records for Clean Feed, which was great, Pedro was fantastic, but it was still kind of an independent thing and it was only going to go so far. But I really wanted to get back into the studio again and I also really wanted to max out my audience, because I know that there are more people that like this music than buy the records. ECM gets to those people, you know, those people who might buy it if it’s sanctioned to the right people. And I saw that with Prezens, because all of a sudden, those records were out there. And there were still record stores, there was still Tower, so the records could be sold. But I should say, I didn’t get any press between 96-2006. I was making records that, to me, were as good as anything else I had made and I could’ve sent out 5000 promos and would have received the same 3 reviews. You know, that’s just the way it is without a publicist. And even though all the Times guys and Downbeat all know me, if you’re not taking out an ad, or don’t have a spokesperson or publicist, then you’re not going to get reviewed. I was okay with that when they were selling, it got to the point where I started to realize that I wouldn’t be getting any gigs because I wasn’t getting any press and that it would be impossible to book tours. I really didn’t want to get a publicist, so I just didn’t have a band for a while, after Science Friction ended.  I started chipping away at the ECM thing, because I knew Manfred, and every time we saw each other, we would always say, “Let’s do something together.” I’d get excited, but it was always pretty hard to get past the “let’s do something” stage because there are a million people in the same boat. But the next thing I did for ECM was Formanek’s record, The Rub and Spare Change. Mike did that on his own, and someone at ECM gave it to Manfred. Mike didn’t really know that any of this was going on and he was thinking of maybe putting it out himself . All of a sudden we heard from ECM that Manfred wanted to mix it and release it. There was an opening, in November, on this one day, and Mike had to be available because that was the only day it was going to happen. So I said to Mike, “Unless you’re going to be at your own funeral, you have to be at this mix.” So with some hilarious stories around it, Mike made it happen. I had to go, too, because Mike didn’t know Manfred and I did. It was kind of a blind date. So I went and we did it. It was an amazing experience. Manfred was totally into it and Mike and I kept looking at each other thinking, “Holy shit! We’re mixing a record with Manfred Eicher!” Because, like it or not, there’s something really validating about being on ECM, almost like I made it. I had been listening to ECM records since the 70s and never dreamed of being on that label. So we went home, got drunk, and listened to it and it was amazing. But that kind of opened the door for me to enter, because Manfred saw me in a different light, because I was in the studio with him, mixing. I think he really likes us because there’s no bullshit—we’ll just make the record, no egos, and just have fun and relax. So I started Snakeoil around 2008 and then thought that it would be a great band to record for ECM. I really didn’t want to put it out myself. And so I decided to patiently wait for ECM, even though that’s really not my nature. So it took us a good year and a half to get rolling, because we didn’t have that many gigs, but finally Manfred said, “let’s do it” and it was one of those same scheduling things, where it had to be January 5th and 6th, otherwise it could have been another year. We squeezed it in right before a tour and it was great and really fun. Because of the nature of the scene now, without the ECM machine behind me, I’d be back to zero. I like knowing that most everyone who is interested in anything like this will at least know about it. It’s the option that they’ll at least buy it. The press stuff, which I don’t really care about, is nice but mainly because it helps me get gigs and book tours. All of a sudden, people who would have never noticed me were writing about me. And when you get to Italy or something and try to sell , it’s amazing because everybody has already purchased it. It’s really made things easier, and it’s a luxury to make nice sounding records with a great piano.  So let’s backtrack and talk about some of the Screwgun records in specific now that we have some general sense of the whole. Let’s start with Bloodcount and how it came about. That band was preceded by a bad called Total Chaos or Caos Totale which was Bobby Previte, Herb Robertson, Mark Dresser, Steve Swell and Ducret. One of them is called Nice View, and that’s with Django Bates that’s a full studio recording. The first one had some silly title, Pace Yourself. We had a good run—a lot of touring, and those few records. But the usual shit happened and people got busy. I had been playing a lot with Formanek and I wanted to do something with him. These days, part of my consideration when starting a band, is who is going to want to rehearse, and I don’t really want to get a bunch of fully-formed guys who have already been through the mill. I’d rather get some young guys who are hungry, and who nobody knew about. So I met Jim Black through somebody, and originally it was going to be a trio with Jim and Formanek. And I started writing and just kept hearing another voice, so I said to myself, “Fuck it, I’ll make it a quartet.” Then I asked Ellery to do it but he couldn’t do this tour that we had booked, but Jim told me to ask his friend Chris Speed, who had yet to move to New York. And Chris came up, we did a tour of the West Coast in ’92, and I don’t even think we had a name for it at that time. In ’94 we did that live recording. That was around the time of Total Chaos, but then it became my main focus. My stuff with Total Chaos was super intricate and very arranged, so with Bloodcount I wanted a group that just played the written music and would then improvise. It would be far less calculated, and more collective. I asked Chris to play clarinet for that band, and until that point, he had only played Balkan and Classical clarinet, so he wasn’t even sure that he could improvise in this way on clarinet, because no one had ever asked him to. So that made it really transparent, but also Mike made a conscious effort to change how he played, and he and his approach were really a crucial part of that group. He really embraced the collective thing. We had a great run of I think 7 years.  It’s amazing listening to those records because Chris and Jim were in their mid 20s, and they both have their voices already and they sound incredible.  Yeah, they were amazing. And all of these bands end when some of these guys get too famous and get into their own shit. I like getting bands together before that happens. It’s cool to create bands with people who I, and the rest of the world, know little about. It’s fun to start bands that way.  Anyway, the first Bloodcount record came about because we did a tour in Berlin, and this woman Sasha recorded it and gave it to me. It happened to be a really weird gig—we were all cranky, none of us had eaten, and I don’t think that anybody thought that it was a good gig. I waited a year to listen to it, but when I did, I said, “Holy shit! This is insane!” But for some reason, I wanted the first Screwgun record to be a three-CD thing for some reason. We got this tape from a gig in Ann Arbor, which had not the best sound quality, but the music was cool, so I figured that it would be a good first record. And I got in touch with Torn through Wayne Krantz who told me that David would love to master something like this. So I called David up and told him, “I have these tapes and they’re really lo-fi, but I want to master them and make them sound better.” So we hung out, and he spent days on these things, and it was really a blast hanging out with him. That’s how Unwound came about.  The cover thing, came about because I didn’t want to do a jewel case and I didn’t really want to do normal cardboard either. I used to go to Other Music and look at the Indie Rock stuff and I saw these letter press things on brown cardboard, and there was some label, I think it was called Touch and Go, and I kept picking up these Touch and Go records—they looked really appealing to me. On the case it said Fireproof Press, Chicago. So I looked for Fireproof Press and I found Touch and Go and told them that I really liked the printing on their covers and would love to know who did them. They told me it was this guy John Upchurch, who played in one of the more successful bands on Touch and Go. He was a crazy guy. Anyways, so Byram and I had been talking about all of these crazy ideas for packaging, like aluminum. We would walk around Canal St and look around for weird things. We’d always see things that were either too heavy, or too labor intensive, which was ironic, but I’ll get to that in a minute. So I proposed to Byram that we do letter-press things, even though it could limit what he could do graphically. He said that it would be cool, so we ended up doing it. And then we got the idea for the inserts, which were wild. The first really psychedelic one, which you may or may not have, and it’s so out you can barely read it. That’s the one that wraps around the page? Yup, that’s the one. It kind of looks like a poster from the early Fillmore days or something. So we really made it hard on ourselves, but I called up this guy Upchurch and he said he would do it. It was just hilarious because if he said one week, it’d be one month, if he said two weeks, it’d be two months, and I couldn’t reach him, then he would send the packages to the wrong address. We would just have these hilarious moments of insanity. But he was super nice and half the time he would even forget to bill me. I never met him until years later, when I was in Chicago. I looked him up and he was teaching somewhere, and he was just this nerdy guy, it was hilarious. So we had all of these things coming from different places, like the inserts and the CDs, etc. It was all of these steps and we would get all of these things, and so me and Formanek got together and did the first batch of them together, by hand. We had to assemble them by hand. We would find ways of making them a little more elaborate. But eventually John found a company that he could send the covers to and they would do the inserts for him. We didn’t have barcodes, which would always get us into trouble. Byram was kind of my partner in all of this.  With the Bloodcount record, my idea was that it would be all mail order, and that I would send out these post-cards, basically. And it was amazing how well it worked. I figured it out—I would make these records, it would probably cost me $8000 by the time I payed everyone, printed the records, and all of that, and if I charged 30 bucks a piece, I’ll make my money back, if I sold 300 copies. So I said, if I print 500 copies I’ll be in the clear. How could I not sell 500 copies? This band was touring and working a lot. So I did it and it worked just the way I had planned it. I ended up selling three to five thousand of these Unwound records man. Of course I had to keep manufacturing these, but it was amazing. So I did two more Bloodcount records recorded at gigs, that didn’t do quite as well, because I think the box-set had something behind it. So those next Bloodcount records were Discretion and Saturation Point. Then I got into the Paraphrase band and released a number of records with them, and then I did a Django Bates record which I think sold 5000 copies! That’s gone. There are no more of those. Ducret’s records did well. Everybody did well.  Let’s talk about Formanek’s record and then Ducret’s and Django’s. Well, I used to talk to Mike about doing a solo bass record because he would always take these really long bass solos and they’d be incredible. That guy Tom Mark in Woodstock was really a great engineer and I thought that we should go up there and do it. Finally Mike got into the idea and so we went up and did it. So that was the fifth Screwgun record, since I had done a Paraphrase and three Bloodcount’s. The next one was Ducret. How did you meet him? I met Marc in ’88 at the Baden-Baden Jazz Meeting, which is a thing in Germany where they invite people from different countries. Marc was there, me and Herb were there, too. We met and Marc kind of sounded like John Scofield at the time. He’s had a long arc of a career. But man, he was super quiet. I mean, we hardly spoke. But i used him on my piece, and Herb used him too, and we both really liked him. He practiced all the time and would just memorize everything. I just really liked him, so when it got time to start Total Chaos, I thought of him and remembered how much I had liked him. So I called him and asked him, “Do you want to do a tour of Europe, and play in my band?” I don’t think he actually believed me. I think he thought, “Why is this guy from New York calling me, to ask me to come to New York to rehearse and do a tour, when he has like five trillion guitar players to choose from in New York?” But anyways, I hooked it up and Marc showed up. I’ll never forget, the first rehearsal everybody has their stands, and everybody is looking at these piles of music, I had about 15-20 tunes, all of which were pretty elaborate, and Marc had his book up, but it was closed. He had everything memorized. Dresser almost had a heart attack. At the end of the rehearsal, Dresser came over to me and asked, “Why didn’t he have his book open the whole time?” He was just shocked, because none of these guys knew him, and Marc just blew their minds. Ever since, we’ve been working together—you know, I play in his bands and he’s played in mine. I think Marc is the greatest guitar player and composer that I know. I think he’s the shit. I think his most recent four records are amazing. As soon as this finishes you should buy all of them. Even if he wasn’t playing, the compositions are so impressive. And Django I had been friends with for a while. His record came about from a hilarious story. He stayed with us over Christmas. The day he left, he left us a gift, a teapot. And we just never used it; it sat there, almost in the same place. And then one day, I took the top off, because I think we were going to use it—this was months later, maybe a half year later. And there was a cassette in there. He had left me a tape of this recording that he had done, with a singer. It’s an amazing record. He left it for me, and I listened to it, and thought, “Wow, this is so different.” I was really intrigued. So I played it for Byram and we both thought it was fucking great, and like nothing else on the label. But I really thought that I should put it out. I don’t think that Django had even left it for that reason. But I called him up and said, “I’d really like to put this record out, because I think it’s amazing.” This was at a time where I was pretty aggressive in terms of selling the shit. I had a bunch of distributors. So to make a long story very short, we did it. And this was our first color cover, I think. I think I sold like 4500 copies. It did really well. It was a 5 year licensing thing, so now he owns it. That was sort of the peak. Then I released the Julius thin, and realized that I couldn’t put out other people’s things; that I didn’t have the time. I did Marc’s, the trio, and a solo record, and then I realized that I was too burnt out from touring too much.  But I think Quiet Nights is one of the most amazing records. It achieves what a lot of people have tried to do—super un-ironic versions of standards and known songs, but with really far out arrangements.  After this came Open, Coma a larger ensemble and then I started Hard Cell with Tom and Craig. How’d you meet Craig? He lives up the street from here, so I used to see him on the street. I think I knew him from James Carter. I was always intrigued by him, because I knew he was an amazing pianist. He was super quiet, and every time I would say hello to him he’d get super freaked out. One day, me and Sarah ran into him and we kind of crashed his lunch. Then I asked him to come over and play a session with Tom and I. I was kind of fishing because I wanted to start a new band, and I wanted to start writing for piano. I had this idea of something electric, without guitar, that was able to straddle a large range. I had no idea what Craig did. I just kind of guessed and thought it might be kind of cool. It worked out exactly how I thought it would, except ten times better. Sonically, I knew he was into some shit, and he had these pretty advanced and degenerate way of using electronics. And his rhythmic thing is amazing. He’s probably one of the best bass players I’ve ever played with! So that worked out and I think we did that for five or six years, and then we added Ducret for Science Friction. Science Friction was a blast. For some reason, doing that studio record was a big step. We did that for awhile—I think we did 3 or 4 European tours. After that I didn’t really have a band and I just did a lot of improvised stuff. And then I met Matt Mitchell and realized that I needed to start a band with him.    We didn’t really talk about Paraphrase, if you’d like to. Paraphrase was me trying to face the challenge of being able to carry a performance without written music, and just improvising. So me, Tom and Drew would do these sessions all the time, but we never did any gigs. I asked them, “Do you guys want to start a band that only improvises?” and they agreed, but I don’t think that any of us thought that it was going to go anywhere. It ended up being really successful. We ended up doing a lot of tours, and people like that band. In some ways, it’s the most accessible  music, even though it’s totally improvised.  I mean, there are many moments on Visitation Rites that sound composed. Well man, that’s how we improvise. I’m always trying to make sense of what I’m doing. The other thing that I think is unusual, which I think Sam Rivers set the precedent for, is that it’s unusual playing free music, that there’s not an avoidance to obvious stylistic references, like grooves and harmony. It just so happened—and this was kind of the unwritten rule—is that we could do anything, and we don’t have to just play as out as possible. It wasn’t conscious, but it was just the nature of our connection. We could do it today and it’d be just as much fun.  
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Out of Your Head Brooklyn Returns!
by Samuel Weinberg A few years ago, in Baltimore, bassist Adam Hopkins and guitarist Matt Frazao began an improvisational collective known as Out of Your Head. Having found a conducive home in Baltimore’s The Windup Space, that series has been going strong for many years, with new members joining the collective. When Hopkins moved to Brooklyn, he started another branch of the series, which is returning tonight at its temporary home, Douglass Street Music Collective. Douglass St, which in recent years has been an important venue for the scene, will soon shut its doors, so aside from witnessing the return of OOYH, you ought to go experience DSMC before it’s too late.  I caught up with Hopkins via email and he gives a nice history of the series as well as serving up some notable anecdotes about OOYH. Can you talk about the origins of OOYH in Baltimore? Why did you and Matt decide to create such a series? Matt and I kind of came up with a very similar idea at the same time. We were sitting in the Yacht Club in Baltimore, which was a bar and pretty mediocre restaurant right across from Peabody, where we both went to school. We sat in the Yacht Club a lot in 2008, come to think of it. Anyway, we were talking about how we had been playing in Baltimore for a few years, and were part of all of these different scenes of really great musicians, but none of those people were playing together. A lot of these amazing musicians we were playing with didn’t actually know each other, even though musically Baltimore is a fairly small city.  So we got this idea to put people together from different scenes who had never played together before, and see what happened. OOYH was born out of that pretty simple idea. The original concept was that every week it was a new one-time-only band of people who had never played music together. OOYH Baltimore has been going strong for 5 years now, so the concept of a full band made up of people who had never played together wasn’t completely sustainable. Despite the original concept not being fully possible at this point OOYH Baltimore continues to be a breeding ground for some of the best improvised music in town. A lot of current Baltimore bands were born out of a one-off OOYH, which is pretty cool.  What were the effects for the improvised music scene in Baltimore once OoYH began to pick up steam? People started playing music together, both inside and outside of OOYH. People started making bands and writing music. We would all hang out. OOYH would happen every Tuesday night at the Windup Space, and when it ended at midnight we’d all go hang at a bar down the street. We were just into being around each other. It was a musical community, and that is the best possible outcome that we could have asked for. People making friends and playing music together. It was (and continues to be) a really awesome thing. You also can’t talk about OOYH without mentioning Russell de O’Campo at the Windup Space. He gave us our first date for Out of Your Head in March 2009, and he’s been supporting the series ever since. It is so rare (especially in NY, but in Baltimore too, or anywhere really) to have a bar/venue owner who supports creative music in the way that Russell does. We had nights early on where OOYH played to a crowd of 3-4 people, and he stuck with us and allowed the series to grow. Any other venue guy would say “I made $15 tonight, we’re going to make Tuesday night dart night. Sorry.” Russell is the man, and he’s been a very close friend since we started OOYH in 2009. OOYH have ended a long time ago if not for his continued support. When you moved to Brooklyn, did you know that a chapter was going to open here?  Yes, definitely. I had that in my mind, and had talked to Matt about it before I moved. The idea was for OOYH to start in Brooklyn, and then we’d cross-breed the series’, sending musicians from NY to Baltimore to play and vice versa. It happened a couple of times and it was really great, but I had a hard time keeping the series running in NY. Nothing to do with the musicians—all of the musicians played and supported and it was a great scene. But we didn’t have someone like Russell here in NY, so I didn’t have the support necessary to keep the series running at a venue. It seemed like a great idea—instead of just focusing on musicians playing together in one city, why not introduce people in Baltimore to people in NY and see what came out of that as well? I still have hopes of it getting there.   Another good friend and great drummer named Devin Drobka was living in NY when OOYH BK was happening. When he moved back to Milwaukee he started an offshoot of the series called Unrehearsed MKE, which is apparently going really well. I’d love to collaborate with that series at some point as well. I think there’s a lot of potential for mixing all of these series up. We’ll see… How have the two series been different, if at all? Well, they were actually booked differently from the beginning, and that was a result of instantly having a ton of people in NY interested in the series, and not enough events to have them all participate. OOYH Bmore happened every single week, so each Tuesday night was two sets of the same band. It was really awesome to hear the change in a band after the set break, when they got to hang out and talk for a minute, then come back and play again with the same group of people. When I started it in Brooklyn I could only get someone to agree to let me have the series every other week, and I had twice as many people interested as in Baltimore. So I had to do two sets per night with different bands. They didn’t get a second set to hear how the music developed, so it was a very different experience. I think both series’ served the same purpose and addressed the same need in each city. They just had to be curated a little bit differently for that reason. I also enlisted a co-curator for every cycle in NY, because it was too much control for me to do all the booking myself. I wanted someone who would offer an opposed perspective when it was booked. Matt and I had that for each other when we booked together in Baltimore, so I wanted to keep that when I did the booking here. Jesse Stacken, Dustin Carlson, and Josh Sinton all helped me co-curate a cycle. That being said, I did this round on my own just because I had to get it done quickly.  Do you have any notable or humorous stories from either Baltimore or Brooklyn’s OOYH? Ha, I do! And Matt still holds this one against me. This was in August of 2009, and the first (and one of very few) OOYH’s that I ever missed in Baltimore. There was a guy (not to be named here) traveling through Baltimore from Chicago and wanted to participate in the series. I checked out some of his music—he was an improviser, and seemed cool when we spoke—so I booked him on the series with some great Baltimore musicians for the night. The guy apparently showed up with a ton of gear, and a posse of 4-5 musicians who all thought they could play the series as well. We were very clear from the beginning that OOYH was NOT a jam session—it was a curated event. A lot of thought went into putting the bands together, so it wasn’t really an open “jam” environment. Anyway, the set started and the dude was playing ridiculously loud and not listening to anything else going on. His friends started sneaking up on stage and grabbing instruments, and it was apparently a disaster. Matt and the other Bmore musicians (I believe it was Nathan Ellman-Bell and Jon Birkholz) walked off stage mid-set. After the Chicago guys were done Matt canceled the second set because it was so terrible. I got an email the next day telling me all of this. I think I still owe Matt a beer for putting him through it… Here is the schedule for the remaining OOYH’s at DSMC: JULY 14 SET ONE (9:00pm) Mariel Berger—accordion/piano Joanna Mattrey—viola Nathan Ellman-Bell—drums/percussion SET TWO (10:00pm) Anna Webber—reeds Eric Trudel—reeds Carlo Costa—drums Flin van Hemmen—drums SET THREE (11:00pm) Ben Syversen—trumpet Brian Drye—trombone Dave Miller—guitar Chris Welcome—guitar Devin Gray—drums JULY 28 SET ONE (9:00pm) Ed Rosenberg—tenor sax Kirk Knuffke—cornet Patricia Franceschy—vibes SET TWO (10:00pm) Jesse Stacken—piano/nord Sebastien Ammann—nord/piano Nico Soffiato—guitar Jonathan Goldberger—guitar Nico Dann—drums SET THREE (11:00pm) Josh Sinton—reeds Patrick Breiner—reeds Drew Williams—reeds Rick Parker—trombone Achilles Kallergis—guitar AUGUST 24 SET ONE (9:00pm) Kenny Warren—trumpet Dustin Carlson—guitar Tomas Fujiwara—drums SET TWO (10:00pm) Will McEvoy—bass Kate Gentile—drums David Grollman—percussion SET THREE (11:00pm) Danny Gouker—trumpet Jake Henry—trumpet Adam Schneit—reeds Thai Matus—piano Max Goldman—drums
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Kneebody at Subculture Tomorrow!
by Samuel Weinberg We at Search and Restore have never been secret about our enthusiasm for the iconoclastic ensemble, Kneebody. In the early of days of Search and Restore, we presented Kneebody with special guests for a few consecutive years, both showcasing the band on their own, and supplementing it with various friends and admirers—spanning from the devilishly precise rapper Busdriver to the ethereal guitarist Ben Monder. One of the homes of these presentations was 45 Bleecker, a large space in the East Village, which has now been taken over and dubbed Subculture. Tomorrow evening, Kneebody will be descending upon Subculutre, playing music from their recent, stellar record The Line (Concord) and other records. Going to a Kneebody concert, if you haven’t been, is unlike anything else in the improvised music universe—their compositions synthesize a tremendous array of material and their improvisations are wholly unique and stem from a broad system of musical cues that they use throughout to influence tempo, harmonics, and instrumentation. The result is largely ineffable, and evades categorization, but you ought to experience this for yourselves tomorrow night at Subculture: 45 Bleecker St, New York, NY at 8 PM, $20. Purchase a copy of The Line here.
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