Saturday, February 05, 2005

Colourful Language

The Warsaw Voice article featuring Doug Wimbish and Will Calhoun, June 30, 2002

Living Colour bassist- Doug Wimbish and drummer- Will Calhoun talk to Brendan Ian Burke about the state of music today and where it is and should be heading.

The band seemed much more relaxed here in Warsaw, especially Vernon, compared to the last time I saw you guys play in the early '90s on the Lolapalooza tour when it hit my hometown in Stanhope, NJ.

Will Calhoun- Well it was a hard tour. Emotionally for Vernon he wanted it to be "alternative" in the Ronald Shannon Jackson definition of the term, and it wasn't. It was the beginning of the piercings, dressed in black, black fingernails people playing on the DAT tapes and for him it was like "Uh-oh, this is not the alternative I wanted it to be." It was a dark tour for him, coming from that harmolodic background he wanted to do something really trippy in that sense. Then we were stuck on the tour for three months. By the time we got to Jersey we absolutely did not give a damn. It ended up being the best show on the tour for us.

All of you have been working on side projects during this extended break from Living Colour, do you find it hard to get back into the swing of things and start clicking as a band again?

WC- Yeah, because in the beginning we always worked together, few people realize that we had no breaks, It was "Record/tour/record/tour/tour/tour/record". The band was always that way, we only had one break after Muzz left and I called Doug up and we got him in the band, and then it was back to work. It was an odd time we had to focus on what needed to happen, not what we wanted to happen but what needed to happen.

In any relationship, marriage or whatever, you make plans like "Well, I want to get married on the 28th of May," or "I want my honeymoon in Cancun," but then you are really with that person and it becomes more about what needs to happen if you are really going to call it a relationship. And I think a band is like that, a very serious operating machine.

Sometimes it is hard to get everyone focused on one goal. This time around for Living Colour we have to be on top of the music, we got to be on top of what this band represents, what it's going to sound like, what its going to look like and how it is going to attack the industry.

Well, with the newer bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit dominating the charts it seems like the perfect time for Living Colour to re-enter the scene.

Doug Wimbish- Timing is everything. Nowadays this is particularly important because tastes change and you have to be able to shift with the times. That is why a lot of bands can survive and keep putting out records and still have something to say and still sound fresh. It's like when you're told to move your clock ahead an hour, well you can ignore them and not change your clock but you'll end up being late for a lot of shit. And we always try to be on time if not just a little bit early.

We now are focusing on where our strengths are as a band and how to focus them. Once that comes together we are going to be all right, and that also goes for every other band on the planet.

Speaking of keeping up with the times, you both have been working with a lot of technology that is a new departure from the "classic" Living Colour sound.

WC- Doug has been working with that for a while and that coincided with the changing of the bassists. The band needed a another kind of sonic history in order to move towards the future and Doug had been experimenting with sounds since his work with Tackhead. So, he brought this energy to the band and in turn got me onto it.

Sound is an important and interesting thing to experiment with. It is one of the points Pharaoh Sanders stressed when I was working with him. He told me that it was time for me to get out of his band because I was experimenting with sound, and he felt that this experimenting was the single most important thing for a musician to do. I wasn't messing around too much, I brought out a wav. drum and a few samplers out on tour, and he said "You gotta go do that. This band is not going to allow you to express that all the way. So you gotta go do that."

It's all about experimenting, it's like life. Sometimes you wake up and decide to down to the library and you end up hooking up with a friend and wind up in the recording studio. And music has to keep that sort of spontaneity to it and technology is helping it keep that vibe.

As artists we have to keep abreast of what's happening in music. I've had so many drummer friends when the "drum & bass" and "jungle" stuff came out change their entire kits around, "I need a smaller kick-drum, a tiny hi-hat, I gotta tape everything so it's dry" they had to give it up because whether they like it or not, people are diggin' it. So that is why the technology thing is an important part of the future of the band.

DW- You have music and then you have the way music comes across. That is where technology comes into play, it is just another way to get the meaning of the music across. Still the music starts with the individual, the music starts with you. But sometimes it takes someone to come along and shake up things a little. Some people get pissed off at those people, saying " Well... I coulda did that," the problem is that "you" didn't. Technology is helping things change, to slap things around a little. When you come into the world the first thing you feel is a slap on the ass, bam, and that is what starts you breathing. This is what needs to happen in music a little...bam! Let me tell you something, you know what the most undiscovered territory is? Bastardised Jazz. That is the next place to go, when cats start get inside some of that stuff and bastardise the mixes of what some of that music was in the Lee Scratch Perry's "game over". Now, one group of people may not understand this but there is another whole Pacific Ocean of people that's waiting to discover that stuff, and it helps everybody. We just need to find a way to translate, because all the technology is there to explore the aural landscape of those sounds. I mean, we have THX and 5.1 and I'm still hearing things in mono.

What about bands like the Strokes or the White Stripes who are taking things back to the garage and seem almost anti-technology?

DW- You know what it is. People need to be reminded again and again and again. It's like fashion, if you hold on to something long enough it is bound to come back in style. People used to remember music a lot more before because there was less of it around. Nowadays people have a musical memory of three years tops, in jazz it's much longer, but in pop music they have a short memory. So what is happening now is that bands are repackaging classic sounds for that audience with a short memory. They can front all that they want to but they know that's what they're doing. They are taking the music that you used to, and still are, listening to and they sonically re-introduce it to this new crowd that has ten years of fresh ears. It's like a diamond in the raw, the wealth is there but it needs some polishing so it can be sold to the Nintendo generation. Where the future lies is that there is so much music out there that need to be rediscovered that people are just getting into. Now, the hip-hop crowd are calling themselves jazz buffs, some really are but some are just clueless. But they still are the most adaptable and supportive crowd right now. Because the black community is still where everyone is going to go in on, and when they start seriously dipping into the jazz scene, you know that shit is going to be hot. Bottom line, because they know the waveform that 145th St. and Broadway is going to boogie on. And where did that start with? The beat.

WC- They're more intelligent, the hip-hop community are more intelligent to their constituents are really know where to turn to for a new scene. A lot of rappers don't know "music" but they know what they like. I'll go into the studio with a rapper and he'll tell me "Play that beat Will," I'll say "That beat sucks, how about another beat," "NO, just play that beat". But, they know with their beat they will sell a million records in seven days. Period.

DW- You know what it is Will. It's "Pre". Because ten years from now you will be able to put that jazz chord on top of that beat. It's the diamond in the rough, that is the vibe that keeps it all happening. You would have no Limp Bizkit if it wasn't for hip-hop. Hip-hop was a music that wasn't taken seriously at the time, especially from the industry, until hip-hop started to bring in checks. Think about how many careers that were reborn from people sampling their music- James Brown, P-Funk, even Aerosmith. This is the mix that makes it interesting that's when we can come to events like here in Warsaw and play in the same bill as Wayne Shorter and techno DJs.

WC- But, the problem is that jazz musicians, especially the older pioneers of the form, don't really listen to hip-hop. And, hip-hop musicians don't really listen to jazz. It really bothers me that so many hip-hop artists will sample jazz and so many talented jazz musicians don't have record deals and are out of work. There is no reason why Puffy or one of these guys don't have a jazz label. DJ Premier should be re-mixing a Wayne Shorter record, it's only going to sell another million copies-just the way it is. Quincy Jones spoke recently to the IAJE (International Association of Jazz Educators) and at the meeting a lot of the old-school jazz cats were in the audience, he said within the first two minutes of his speech that hip-hop is really important. The older cats started to walk out, the young people stayed and the older ones left, just as he was trying to make the point of how important it is for the jazz musicians to connect with the hip-hop artists, for real. Not just hip-hop artists sampling jazz riffs and jazz musicians wanting the success of hip-hop artists, but to really connect. People don't realize that be-bop was just as controversial back in the day as hip-hop is now. Both camps need to work things out and together they can make the industry ten times stronger.

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