Monday, March 2, 2015

Grego Applegate Edwards Talks About His New Second Album "Collage for Jack Kerouac"

Self: So you are doing another self-interview on your music, like you did for your first album "Travels in Tyme"? (

Grego: Yes I guess I am. It's not like I am trying to climb on some high-horse as much as I want to interest people in my music and since I am more or less a nobody this seems like a good way to do it.

Self: So your new album Collage for Jack Kerouac is out? You say it is a bit more rock oriented than the last. Does that mean you are selling out?

Grego: No, not at all. Nowadays real, hard-art rock is not especially commercial, if it ever was. This album, as all my music, expresses the musical influences I have internalized since I was young. And really five main influences stay with me: one is classical and especially modern classical, one is jazz and its legacy, leading up to, third, the ultra-modern and avant forms, fourth is what unsatisfyingly is called "world" or "ethnic" music, and last there is rock--not just anything but the art rock that affected me in the later '60s and early '70s, the psychedelic and experimental bands of that period and anything else which partakes of that in the years that followed. Rather than experimenting with time structures as I did in the last album, I am looking for various orchestrated rock sounds that are informed by song form at times, and have mesmerizing qualities that come out of world trance and minimalism.

Self: So are you on drugs?

Grego: That question raises a mind set that has been destructive to avant progressive music, though at one time it helped promote the popularity of weirdness. I find drugs irrelevant to my own creativity. I do not get involved with them. I don't think they are a solution to anything. Hard drugs mess people up. I am indifferent to whether people do them in a legal sense. I don’t think people should go to jail for using them. And I don’t design my music to get high with, though some may do that and that is not my business. When the conservative reaction to the '60s set in, the "say no" hysteria somehow got attached to serious musics as well as substance re-education. There are some who still profit by the traffic while they pay lip service against it. Others don’t. But music and drugs do not have anything to do with each other on a cultural level, not these days. Do people say that Picasso was meant to look at when high? No. So why music? To me the legacy of the earlier days has to do with consciousness raising. Some found it in various places but there was a change in perspective in the Western world in general and part of that has to do with the rise of the Beats and Jack Kerouac in the '50s. And that's why I am coming out with this album, Collage for Jack Kerouac, as a kind of tribute to what he accomplished and his influence on me as an adolescent and young adult, and even now.

Self: Tell us what Jack Kerouac has meant to you, then.

Grego: I will try to do that as briefly as I can. My parents' generation got a quadruple whammy of two World Wars and the Depression, followed by Cold War paranoia. If any generation should have felt the shock of change, of the need to question deep-seated beliefs, it was them. And yet for the most part many emerged from all that, if they survived, with a "can-do" optimism. Perhaps the sixties started to puncture that feeling, but it was rather late in the game for them. On the other hand the Beat Generation came up out of WWII and into a post-war world with a feeling that the values of the past needed reconsidering. Suburban America did not satisfy their search for happiness. And that search became what they were about. I think some day historians will look back and see the Beats as prophetic of a change in "Western Civilization." They questioned middle-American consciousness of normalcy and rootedness, and sought instead an alternative lifestyle and way of thinking that would be more enlightened. They in part embodied a restlessness but also a decreasing attachment to one place, exemplified in the suburban town where many lived most their lives, worked and raised children. After a while economic change made changes in residence from time-to-time a necessity. There was the move of some from city to suburbs, then from one town to another, and there was an influx of southern Afro-Americans from rural to urban landscapes in search of a livelihood. The Beats came to be aware of the hipness of Afro-American immediacy in music and word, and in part incorporated both the idea of jazz's ever present there-ness with the verbal creativity of Black America. Beyond that there was the discovery of Zen consciousness, of a search for experience above permanence, an appreciation of the landscape of America as a totality, from urban hipness to car culture and the ability for anyone to traverse the land from coast-to-coast rather easily. There were other things too, but the most literate like Kerouac expressed this feeling, this restless longing in eloquent terms. It was about a liberation from Puritan values, from a strictly sober-minded industriousness, an embrace of life as a form of art, a liberation of personhood from the strict controls of the past, a celebration of personhood and creative living in all its various aspects. Kerouac's novels may have embraced something that was already in the air, but he did it in a way that was compelling and aesthetically pleasing. What followed was the '60s in all its tumultuousness--an appreciation of Black culture and values, an embrace of diversity and the joy of everyday living, a questioning of the surety of middle-America and its emphasis on economic success, and so on.

Self: Wait, stop! You are saying much there. But how does this relate to your personal experience and how you express it in musical terms?

Grego: By the time I came of age Kerouac and his Beat buddies had already had influence on my older siblings. The rise of rock and its Afro-American rootedness on purity of expression, soul if you will, and the increased presence of expressionist jazz that in an obvious way was embodied in bebop and what came after, all that was coming to be in my early life. And a lifestyle revolution was underway that complemented the new aesthetic. The immediacy of that had already affected me greatly by the time I was a teenager. Then I read Kerouac's books and what he expressed made sense, hit a nerve, made me want to explore my own creative possibilities too, made me initially conscious of a Zen such-ness to living. I tried to express that musically on some tape collages I was working on in high school that included some recitation from Kerouac's "On the Road". That went well in terms of what I was trying to do but when I went off to Berklee in 1971 I pretty much left off on that, though I was still working on electroacoustics then and after for a while. The idea came to me after 9-11 had run us all amok to return to what I was trying to do on that Kerouac project. I resurrected what I felt was the most interesting part--which featured altered piano tapes accompanied by recitation. I laid the track down as it was in my studio as I had left it and began to compose music on top of it that worked outwards from that point, paraphrasing the words to "On the Road," turning the recitation to a sung melody, trying to create a rock-avant soundscape that followed the curve of the original but added more orchestral rock elements. I tied that into a reworking of a song I wrote in 1971 and reworked the whole into what became on the album "Opposite Directions - The Spirit of Kerouac." That became the twenty-something-odd centerpiece for the album as it ended up. It is in that way a kind of travelogue about the collapse of old ways and the creation of a new consciousness out of the ashes.

Self: OK, stop again! There are three other pieces on the album. Where did you get the idea for them and how do they relate?

Grego: I wasn't consciously trying to build around the "Spirit of Kerouac" as much as I was looking for different sounds in the studio and they happened to fit as I listened back. "Last Night Constantinople" was a punky sort of thing about the last night before the fall of Byzantium and the dance residents did at the city gates, a sort of dance of ecstatic desperation. That fit because the rise of the Beats in some ways I believe heralded a change in how America thought of itself. Then the third cut was more mesmeric, both ecstatic and a return to the land, symbolized by the Paiute Indians and music I imagined to accompany their periodic gathering of Pine Nuts. The last number is my adaptation of a Dream Song by the Temiar of Malaysia. They are a tribal group still active today and the songs they sing are in response to dreams the villagers have. "Agin" or "The Spirit of the Tiger" is one of their songs from the 1930s. It fit to me because the Beat/Kerouac revolution gave importance to dreams, as can be seen in Kerouac's "Book of Dreams." Plus the heightened post-Kerouac consciousness takes dream imagery seriously and in a way the future of what has been is like a dream right now. We can’t be sure where we are going but we can have intimations of it in dreams. Kerouac and the Temiar have that in common and I wanted to leave on an open note of uncertainty and expectancy.

Self: OK, I think we have plenty from you on the "back story" behind the music. What can you say about the music itself?

Grego: There are none of the time simultaneities of the first album. The music tends to pulsate with a rock feeling and the music uses mostly standard rock instrumentation--guitars, bass, drums, keys, some percussion and vocals. The "Opposite," Kerouac and Constantinople pieces were more carefully arranged than the concluding Paiute and Temiar Tiger pieces, which in many ways were improvised into being layer after layer, though Paiute has an electroacoustic foundation that in part shaped the outcome of the music. There is some amount of tension in the first half of the album. In the second there is a kind of great release.

Self: So what is it you want people to take away from this music? That you are a multi-instrumentalist of supreme virtuosity?

Grego: Not at all. This one, like the last, is about the totality of sound, the layering, the music as expressive yet not soloistic. One advantage of doing all the instruments and vocals myself is that it was easy to resist the temptation to try and have a particular part stand out in some kind of performative way. Other albums will have more of that and consequently more of a jazz-orientation than this one does. Listening to this one, you will not go away with a feeling that any one instrument is projecting a well-played appearance. It is the layering and complexities of a virtual orchestra. With a symphony orchestra you cannot ordinarily single out, say, a second violinist and say, "wow, he or she is really good." Whether I am accomplished or not is irrelevant here--I don’t care right now--because it is the totality of music that is meant to be heard. Not to compare but early Pink Floyd was designed that way, tribal music is often presented that way, and so orchestral music. I am trying for something a little new that comes out of all those roots. My hope is that the listener, after a number of listens, will come away with the feeling of having experienced music that in many ways feels familiar but maybe also departs from what people expect.

Self: So is that why you say you aren't trying to grow your audience or become more commercial?

Grego: No musician wants to be unheard, so sure I am always concerned that there will be an audience for the music, the more the merrier. But I did not set out to make music that would appeal to a large number of people, because that is not realistic given the demands the music makes on a listener. If I can please a few out there I will be content. And this #2 is part of a long developmental musical arc that I hope I can bring to listeners before I meet my maker! You can get further info and buy the album at Amazon. The link is

Self: That's great. Thanks. What comes after this one?

Grego: I hope I can release a disk of integrated electro-acoustic works on a mythological-astronomical theme. It will be called I think Aurora Dreaming.

Self: That sounds interesting. Please don’t forget to feed me and provide shelter!

Grego: That's another problem entirely, I guess. I'll be working on that, too.

Self: Some chicken might be nice!

Grego: Chicken? Hmm... We’ll see.

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