Eugene Chadbourne Interview

by Will York


Q:  When did you first hear Han Bennink, and when did you first play with him?

That was an Eric Dolphy album, Last Date.  Because I had heard of him from this fine album, I took a chance on a mail order of an album entitled Topography of the Lungs with him, Derek Bailey and Evan Parker.  But this was a very different type of music.

I first played with him in 1980, that is the concert documented on the Golden Years double CD, Jazz Bunker.  It took place at the Jazz Bunker in Rotterdam, Holland.  That year the Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo and I had a very active duo, and one of our projects was an extended trip to Europe in which we combined our duo with every one of the major European percussion masters -- Bennink, Paul Lovens, John Stevens, and in Italy Andrea Centazzo although we didn't regard him as a player on the same level of these others.  We simply approached Bennink at a concert in London where he was playing with Derek Bailey's Company, Han then came to hear our duo play with guest Steve Beresford at the London Musicians' Collective and after that wild gig he agreed to play with us, the gig took place a few weeks later.

Q:  Also, could you give any comments on what it is you like about his playing and/or why you think the two of you make a good match in terms of playing together?

To me Han Bennink makes most other musicians or performance artists seem insignificant, because he combines these two areas so beautifully.  My major influences as a young muisician were (a) jazz and improvised music and (b) performance art and theatre.  This goes beyond the concept of music as an entertaining visual spectacle.  Music can actually be understood as a totally visual phenomenon.  There can be parts of a musical performance that are seen, not heard, and Han is a master at this.  During this time when I met with him for the first time in London, I have to point out an exchange between him and Steve Lacy where in response to several beautifully toned big, round notes from Lacy, Han simply got up and rolled a billiard ball down the aisle...since there was a carpet, it was relatively silent...but musically it was totally appropriate, although not

Han was a huge influence on Kondo and myself.  Kondo used to call a certain type of activity on stage "doing."  Others might describe is as fucking any rate it definately transforms the music, it can be used to totally disarm uptight musicians, for example.  Han has a way of subtly changing the environment at a gig; one minute everything seems absurd, then the next, serious swinging.  This type of juxtaposition is also something I have tried for in my own performances, so obviously I love getting a chance to work with one of the masters, and play off him.

By coming from another generation I also have the opportunity to bring things of my own into Han's sphere; a Dutch festival organizer once pointed out that one of his all time favorite concert moments was when I launched into Whiter Shade of Pale, and Han realized he was going to play along with it. Which I think leads into one of your other questions.

Q: What do Bennink and Paul Lovens think of country music?

I have known these guys a long time and there has been a definite development over the years, from what you describe as people think of me joking around with C&W and musicians such as this thinking C&W itself is a joke, to them actually becoming fans of the music.  This is why in some circles I am regarded as a missionary of country music, creating fans in both the avant garde and punk circles for heroes such as Ernest Tubb and Kitty Wells.

Q:  Do they ever listen to it?

I am not sure about Han, although he seems to listen to everything, a few years ago I remember him telling me he had begun listening to Captain Beefheart.  But you see what I mean, this was 20 years after the records had come out.

Paul is something of an incredible jukebox nut, he is a big fan of Dionne Warwick, the Kinks, Charlie Watts, etc, and really all the country beats.  The development of our duo Me and Paul has been an interesting thing on the European scene where fans have seen Lovens play in various combinations for years.  "This is the first time we get to hear him play normal drums, it is wonderful!" people keep telling me.

Q:  I'm guessing you've toured Europe much more extensively with these two guys. Have you done anything comparable before in the US with them or any other European players?

Paul and I actually did our first tour together in the US, on the East Coast and in the midwest.  Han and I have only played one previous gig together in North America, last year in Toronto.  From time to time something like this happens depending on who is traveling, but in general over the last 2-3 years there has been a marked increase in tours by European players in this region.

Q:  It seems like a daring move venturing this heavily (well, even 6 shows) into the South.

Not that daring, I am going over a well worn route that I have been developing for years.  I saw Easy Rider as a youngster and realize the importance of coming back alive.

Q:  One of my favorite parts on LSD C&W is when the guy yells out "Play some Southern rock, Eugene!" which I think happened in Raleigh (my LP is back in North Carolina, so I can't check back on this).  Then there's a part where you get hit with a bottle.  Anyway, I guess this pretty much sums up what it was like playing this music in NC back then.

Actually the worst thing that ever happened to me was in San Francisco, where one of the performers -- not the audience -- broke one of my favorite guitars onstage just to be an asshole.

Q:  Also, have you noticed any changes in audience reactions over the years as far as NC/Southern audiences go?

In the old days we stuck ourselves in situations where we knew we would make trouble, hoping for a mild, anecdotal-friendly form.

Q:  On a semi-related note - in terms of your "take it to the streets" approach (sorry for using a cliche): Do you think the fact that you don't rely on grants or a university position, like many people in your general field, keeps you more in touch with "the people" than those who do?

I am horrified at the notion that I am "in touch", having always thought I was horribly uncommunicative, aloof and moody.

Q: A few questions about the Chadula label: I've seen a bunch of these new CDs but haven't yet bought any.... Are these CDRs or "regular" CDs?

As far as I know, a CD-R is a CD that one can record upon, but once one has recorded on it, it is then a CD.

Q: Are you going to continue producing cassettes as well?

I haven't completely stopped but the poor quality of the machines isn't inspiring.

Q: And...if you were a Eugene Chadbourne fan trying to keep up with all of his (sometimes mysteriously packages) new releases, what would you do???

Get a job!


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