STICK MEN – THE INTERVIEW
STICK MEN – MARCH 2012
Interview by Malcolm Moore
MALCOLM MOORE: Pat, you are quite possibly the most advanced electronic drummer on the planet! Your gargantuan cadre of rhythmic devices is unmatched in the physical world. What is the latest gadget that you have added to your drum set that includes acoustic drums and cymbals, samplers, computers, drum machines, and electronic pads, which one is your favorite?
PAT MASTELLOTO: Newest used: – a few days ago someone lent me these wooden bongos and I immediately used them on a Stick Men ‘improv’ track – we are tinkering with making our own walk in (pre post show music). Newest techie thing: – is Iphone/Ipad apps, like Samplewiz. A favorite? Well they’re tools, ya know- my favorite hammer is not my favorite screw driver- so I like whatever gets the job done.
MM: You were a King Crimson fan way before playing with them or Stick Men. What is your personal favorite Crimson song, and is it possible that Stick Men could cover it in the future?
PM: I have lots of favorite King Crimson songs — For several years I’ve been asking theStick Men dudes to learn The Great Deceiver. I think that song would kick ass live and play fantastic on interlocking sticks.
MM: Is it difficult organizing and keeping track of your complex behemoth of a drum set, especially as you trapse across vast foreign landscapes such as Russia, Europe, Japan, and South America?
PM: Your thinking more of Mr. Mister 80’s when one pad played one sound 🙁 Or the Y2K Crim when Robert wanted all electric drums- – Vdrums, Ddrums, phrase samplers and all sorts of things that didn’t really interface directly. And then after a few years the kit grew as we added acoustic drumming back into the band, but all that was actually pretty clean and packable. These days, for the international -traveling you’re talking about, I can’t bring ANY drums or hardware- that all comes from local backline rentals and I seldom get exactly what I ask for so its all drum set dejour. . mystery heads and pedals. . sometimes a seat that wont adjust, maybe the bottom snare head or wires are broken. . I do my best in the short amount of time we have to build the best kit I can. Due to airline restrictions what I bring with me is usually two suitcases, a wheelie and a back pack – – so the pack is laptop/cables/drives in the backpack, heavy cables/cymbals up to 14″, and a small audio mixer in the wheelie, one suitcase is my handsonic & spds w/ power supplies and stick bag, the other is my percussion, motu box and about 10lbs of clothes and I actually keep track of it pretty well.
MM: What is the most unique and memorable venue that you have played at with Stick Men so far?
PM: There have been a few like the candy shop in south Italy, that gig was a twist! But I’ll pick Chile. That was a powerful and humbling experience a few years ago, just days after the earthquake. We worked very hard to get flights- everything was cancelled but Tony said, “No, we have to go!” fans there had been writing and posting even before the earthquake and we’re really excited.. So we really wanted to keep that commitment, like I said it was crazy, very hard to get flights . We flew from Mexico City into Peru (we slept on the floor of that airport to catch the only 6:00 AM flight). It was a very appreciative audience and that’s saying something because in South America there is always very strong communication from the audience anyway.
MM: Have you ever played a show with anyone in Rochester, New York?
PM: Yes!! I must have because I know I was in House of Guitars, love that place, loved the basement. I bought two drums there, Radio Kings, a 13” tom and 28” Kick, I use the kick a LOT, it’s fantastic! I think it was a Crimson gig in the 90’s, I and I seem to remember a good dinner in a silver diner.
MM: Tony, how did you originally progress from your 2007 solo album Stick Man to what is now a live band called Stick Men? Was this your intention all along?
TONY LEVIN: It wasn’t my intention at all for the CD project to lead to a live situation, let alone a new band that would have a life of it’s own over the years. Somewhere in the middle of recording the Stick Man album, the focus seemed to be leaning more to my playing of the Stick (the Chapman Stick is the real name of the instrument) than of the various basses I also played on it. That’s when I decided on the title of Stick Man for that release. Then, I really became fond of some of the pieces on that cd, and wanted to play them live — but they required two Stick players, because I’d overdubbed important parts that I couldn’t cover myself live. So… keeping Pat Mastelotto, the excellent drummer on the CD as well as being my King Crimson band mate, we simply added a Stick player (Michael Bernier), to make it a very unusual band – only three players, but two of us covering multiple parts, and Pat himself playing electronic percussion, loops and samples, as well as an acoustic drum kit.
MM: When you travel with Stick Men all over the world, who in which city/country makes the best espresso?
TL: Funny question and you KNOW the answer, it’s in Italy, all over Italy, that you get the best espresso. In fact the techniques there change from region to region, even the material of the cups it’s poured into (which many Italians think has a lot to do with the taste!) But whatever the region is, the espresso there is always super.
MM: What do you see in the near future for Stick Men compositionally? Where are you trying to take the music. Are you headed for more polyrhythmic, dissonant, odd meter material like Relentless and Hands, or more melodic, song-based tunes like Soup and Slow Glide?
TL: We’re mostly done with our new recording, so I do have a good sense of where we’re headed (though that won’t be ready for release until Fall and we have no title yet.) With Markus Reuter, our third member, having himself a unique composition background, we’re introducing some new types of compositions that he instigates. Also, as usual, my leanings are toward hard-edged progressive rock and when there’s a chance to throw in Classical influence, I’m happy to do it. (i.e. our version of 5 movements from Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, which we’ll be playing at the Rochester show.) Coming up on the new album, but not ready to try live yet, is a tone poem I wrote, about the experience of the “Whale Watch” from Boston and Cape Cod, where you go out into the ocean for a day, and locate whales up close and personal!
MM: With Stick Men, you often cover King Crimson songs such as Elephant Talk and Indiscipline. Would you ever consider covering a Peter Gabriel song?
TL: We have indeed considered that and one of these days we’ll have time, midst the rehearsing of our new material and of King Crimson pieces we haven’t played on previous tours, to tackle one of Peter’s songs.
MM: You went to college at The Eastman School of Music. What do you like most about returning to Rochester, New York to play a show?
TL: I have great memories of my six years living in Rochester, but I’ve also been back a lot in the years since I left. I have good friendships with great people in town, and enduring musical connections with many of them. If there’s a free hour or so after sound check, I always find myself wandering the Eastman halls, getting a coffee next door (though a it is a tad more up-market than when it was called “the Coffee Break” with Fred jabbing you with his finger through a small opening into the kitchen!) A couple of years ago, I visited to see and perform in the newly renovated Eastman Theater and yet again was reminded how special it is, what a great cultural atmosphere Rochester has, and overall what a great music city it’s always been.
MALCOLM MOORE: Markus, please tell us a little bit about the unique instrument you play in Stick Men, called the Warr Guitar. How did you originally learn about it and did you play guitar, bass, or Chapman stick before that?
MARKUS REUTER: I started playing Chapman Stick in 1993, then switched over to playing a Warr Guitar in 1997 and developed my own instruments, the Touch Guitars(R) U8 and U10 in 2008, which I play exclusively with Stick Men.
MM: How does your experience playing in Robert Fripp’s Guitar Craft effect your work with Stick Men?
MR: It was Robert Fripp who suggested I check out the Chapman Stick. Robert’s guitar instruction became the main building block for my tapping technique. There no proven tradition when it comes to playing a touch style instrument, so I had to make up my own system which took the Guitar Craft principles as a starting point. Having been actively involved with Robert Fripp and King Crimson’s music for 21 years is effecting all my musical work greatly, I think, incl. my work with Tony and Pat in Stick Men.
MM: You played with Pat Mastelloto before joining Stick Men. What projects did you two work on together?
MR: We have released 4 albums as TUNER (with a 5th in the making) and worked on several productions for other artists, most notably Moonbound’ Peak of Eternal Light and Tovah’s Escapologist.
MM: What do you miss the most about Germany when you are on tour with Stick Men?
MR: My wife! But I do miss hearing and speaking my language, too. I frequently have the feeling that I’m loosing my fluency in German.
MM: What type of looping devices do you use with Stick Men?
MR: I use my laptop, because it’s not purely looping that I’m using it for. I’ve set up a feedback circuit in the computer that basically works as an improv partner for me rather than a predictable looper.