David Grubbs has had an astonishingly wide-ranging career: Squirrel Bait, Bastro, Bitch Magnet (fleetingly), the Red Krayola, Gastr del Sol, Palace, Boxhead Ensemble, & a series of solo recordings & collaborations.
The common aspect among these performances is contigent on itself, as it is primarily identified by Grubbs’ own commitment & growth as both instrumentalist & composer, constantly pursuing forms & structures that challenge both musician & listener.
This interview was conducted via email during November, 2001 & edited for purposes of integrity & continuity.
CS: Having followed your career for the last ten years or so (beginning with Bastro), I find it interesting that you still consider your music to be rock & roll (as described in the Act Five, Scene One notes).Do you consider all of your music to be rock & roll?
DG: Aha I can see that you haven’t yet heard Act Five, Scene One! Oh well, maybe you have and you still don’t think it’s rock music. But don’t the first seven minutes sound like rock? It has distorted electric guitar and a thumping beat and sounds more like a conventional rock band than anything I’ve played on in some time. (I had to go out and buy a distortion box.) I will say, however, that I’m still not at the point of matching my voice to this sort of rock-thump stuff I can’t really see my way to it. Do I consider all of my music to be rock & roll? Definitely not. I have been prone to making statements like calling it all punk or post-punk, and then every once in a while I hear some super-fragile Gastr recording and think how strange it was for me to have had a chip on my shoulder about describing it with reference to punk.
CS: What drives a given compositional mode; that is, what draws you to something
like Apertura (w/Mats Gustafsson) as opposed to your more conventional songs like those heard on The Spectrum Between?
DG: I was tempted to say something like "to thicken the plot," but lots of people make relatively heterogeneous batches of records. In part, for me it has to do with the opportunity to work with people from very different music-making contexts. It was really exciting to find a commonality or a way of working in duo with Mats Gustafsson. The particular way of working frequently comes down to finding an instrument (in this case for me an Indian harmonium), a distinct character or feel to the playing (on Apertura, frozen-over slow), and some compelling textural relation between instruments (for Apertura, such similarity that there was a productive confusion about who was making certain sounds).Apertura is a good example of the fact that when I make wordless music, I prefer the extremely wordless long durations and slow, virtually unsingable tempos. I like to write lyrics. But I will say that I find songwriting or working on records of songs much more of a challenge.Those records tend towards an extreme of constructedness.
CS: Do you have a favorite among your compositions/recordings?
DG: I would have to include both the wordy and the very wordless. Favorites include most of the songs on The Spectrum Between (I usually come to prefer how I’m performing a song over its recorded version), Act Five, Scene One (very wordless), Apertura, most of the songs on Gastr del Sol’s Camoufleur (ditto), much of Gastr del Sol’s The Serpentine Similar, and Squirrel Bait’s first record. I’m also very fond of the Red Krayola’s Hazel and Palace’s Arise, Therefore.
CS: Name five books you believe essential to your development/thought & why.
DG: Notes on the Cinematographer, Robert Bresson.
Statement on Occasion of First Exhibition," Marcel Broodthaers.
Silence, John Cage.
Ada, Vladimir Nabakov.
"Melanctha," Gertrude Stein.
What an unsatisfying list taken as a whole not representative of much of anything! And verging on canonical as hell (runners-up: Beckett, Flaubert). I guess what these have in common is that they made me feel like really getting down to the business of my own work. Impatiently so.
CS: Name five recordings you believe essential to your development/thought &
DG: My Friend Roger," Babylon Dance Band.
Presque Rien N» 1, Luc Ferrari.
Song Cycle, Van Dyke Parks.
The Magic City, Sun Ra.
Corky’s Debt to His Father, Mayo Thompson.
Ditto on the empowerment-gift of be-your-own freak/invent your bad self.