Monday, October 25, 2010

Innerviews Provides Creative Insights

Innerviews: Music Without Borders
by Anil Prasad
Foreword by Victor Wooten
2010: Abstract Logix Books

On the cover of the fascinating new book, “Innerviews: Music Without Borders,” it says Extraordinary Conversations with Extraordinary Musicians. Anil Prasad has been editing Innerviews, which he calls the web’s longest-running music magazine, since 1994 and is also a contributor to Guitar Player and Bass Player publications. Innerviews offers interviews with musicians in a wide variety of genres and styles of music, including rock, jazz, fusion, hip-hop, world music, pop, and folk. The interviews are intended to get away from typical celebrity oriented interviews and to “enable artists to speak about topics that matter to them.”

Prasad in his introduction to the interviews collected here states “Innerviews’ focus on artists with expansive creative mindsets are clearly speaking to an underserved demographic in the world of music journalism: the thinking listeners for whom music isn’t just aural wallpaper or a lifestyle component, but rather a living, breathing, essential part of everyday existence. …”

Rather than focus on meaningless trivia, soulless sales data, or simply promoting their latest recording or tour, Prasad’s aim is to get the “musicians to delve deep into their souls to discuss topics that really matter to them.” And he has done this since 1994 with a number of interviews that are on the web site, The book “Innerviews” brings together 24 interviews of Jon Anderson, Björk, Bill Bruford, Martin Carthy, Stanley Clarke, Chuck D, Ani DiFranco, Béla Fleck, Michael Hedges, Jonas Hellborg, Zakir Hussain, Leo Kottke, Bill Laswell, John McLaughlin, Noa, David Sylvian, Tangerine Dream, David Torn, Ralph Towner, McCoy Tyner, Eberhard Weber, Chris Whitley, Victor Wooten, and Joe Zawinul. I do not believe these interviews are on the website, although there may be earlier interviews by some of these individuals up there.

Each interview is preceded by Prasad’s concise summary of their musical biographies. Then he starts asking about some of the issues the artist has in the creative process. His first question of Jon Anderson (best known for his work in Yes) is “Provide some insight into your creative process.” From Anderson’s answer, Prasad inquires into how Anderson channels his philosophical and spiritual perspectives into the music he writes. A further inquiry is into the group dynamics of Yes that made them so remarkable between 1971 and 1974. Similarly after discussing Bjork’s career, including an all-vocal album, he asks her “How did knowing you were going to attempt an all-vocal album affect how you wrote material for it.” Or, to Bill Bruford “Describe your approach to collaborating with Ralph Towner and Eddie Gomez during the making of ‘If Summer Had Its Ghosts.’” Later he asks Bruford “What are some of your key bandleading philosophies?”

I cited the above queries to give a sense of the concerns that can be found in all of these interviews, which include the creative process, how one collaborates with other musicians, how the nature of a project affects how material is composed. This is not to mean that other matters are ignored, such as McCoy Tyner reflecting on the deification of John Coltrane or elevation of artists by the public beyond the realm of humanity. The musicians themselves are eloquent spokesmen for themselves, as Tyner in responding to the question of deification states “And athletes. Yeah, we have a tendency to do that. Sometimes we’re very destructive too. We take a person and build him up and then we sometimes bring him down. To say, ‘Well, okay, yeah. If you want me to be a god, fine. I accept that’ can be a little risky.”

Then there is Stanley Clarke who in his interview discusses turning down Miles Davis. Noting that after Chick Corea’s “Light as a Feather” he got calls from tons of bands including what was left of the Doors. “Anyway, Miles used to come see Return to Forever at the Village Vanguard. In those days, it was still done the way they did in the ‘50s. They would just come to the gig and say ‘Man, I want you to play in my band.’ I’ll never forget it. Miles came to the Vanguard in this weird, red leather suit. It almost looked pre-Michael Jackson. Miles looked like a spaceman, coming there and he said in his Miles voice ‘You don’t want to play with Chick. Fuck Chick. You don’t need to play with him. Come play with me.’ But I was very loyal and the movement we were trying to create.

“I looked at Miles and I looked at Chick and the bigger picture. I felt I could do more with Chick than Miles, although it would have been nice for the resume to play with Miles and experience that. So instead, I’d hang out with Miles and go see him a lot because we used to live near one another.”

There are any number of insights about music and life. I like this one from Bill Bruford’s interview, “Fans often have too much grinding of axes as they get older. They get grumpy about what an artist has done or has not done in terms of living up to their expectations. Once you establish yourself—particularly in North America— as being something or somebody, it can be difficult to move on. For instance, it would be very hard for a rock star like Mick Jagger to turn into John Coltrane, even if he wanted to. He will always be Mick Jagger, and I’ve had a lot of that. But I think there is a large number of people who don’t know much about us that come in off the street to get an evening of what I think is top flight music. They’re not interested in the fact the drummer once had lunch with Phil Collins.”

Like many of you, I was not familiar with many of the musicians included here. I learned quite a bit about a number of performers and certainly am going to check out some of the referenced recordings in a few chapters from these ‘new to me’ musicians, and the insights on these musicians was as valuable. That is an indication of the value this book has. “Innerviews: Music Without Borders” is a collection of conversations with significant and important musicians that will stimulate the reader. It merits the interest of serious lovers of contemporary music whose love crosses genres.

For purposes of FTC regulations, a publicist sent me a review copy of this book.

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