HIT CHANNEL INTERVIEW: May 2014. We had the great honour to talk with an amazing guitarist: Gary Lucas. He has a very prolific solo career, he was a member of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band and he co-wrote “Mojo Pin” and the title track from Jeff Buckley’s acclaimed album “Grace”. Jeff Buckley previously performed for a year in Gary’s band, Gods and Monsters. He has also worked with Lou Reed, Bryan Ferry, John Zorn and many others. His latest release is the exciting “Other World”, a collaborative album with Peter Hammill (Van der Graaf Generator). Read below the very interesting things he told us:
Yes, it’s so incredible and gratifying that people all over the world responded so positively to that album. It’s like a dream that people liked “Other World” since I had no idea that people would really respond so wonderfully. It’s actually pretty challenging and experimental music.
How did you come up with the idea to approach Peter Hammill for a project?
Peter is a hero of mine from the time I was a boy. I think I bought the first Van der Graaf Generator album in ’69 maybe or ’70 and I was still in high school. Then I saw him during one of my very first trips to UK, in 1973 in a small club and we met and I did an interview with him because I was a rock writer writing for a newspaper then and he was very-very friendly. He did a great, an amazing solo show. So, I saw the Van der Graaf reunion at Royal Festival Hall in 2005. I had to get a ticket, I was in London. And I was really impressed at how great he was. He was better than ever. He was musically superb. I got in touch with him on Twitter. So, I made him a proposal to do some recording when I would be in London. That’s how we got together. It was his idea to come to Peter’s country house and his studio and it was like a dream, to play together and fit together like a glove, you know.
Can you describe us the writing process of “Other World” album?
Yes. It was a kind of project where I came to Peter with specific instrumental pieces where I imagined his voice could fit. This is the same way I worked with Jeff Buckley and other collaborators. I first came up with the guitar instrumental and I gave him these. There was something special I imagined Peter would discover. And he liked the songs and he came up with the lyrics and melodies. I provided all the guitar music structured that way. So, I came up there with these ideas that I had recorded. That was the one way. The other way was: Peter had a few ideas instrumentally, he played also guitar on the record, provided a couple of loops/riffs on guitar, maybe just to trigger some creativity. So, right there in the studio we began to improvise and create soundscapes. This is a thing I do and I create entire universes of sounds almost orchestral and very big soundclouds with just my guitar and a couple of others. So, some of the music was created that way which is in the fewer abstract, experimental music. In the record there is a balance between songs in a more songwriting style. And he had the song “Of Kith & Kin” which was pretty finished. He had one finished song. And then the other songs in there, were my music and his lyrics and melody and the rest of this is phantasmagoric, soundscape and science fiction music. I think a lot of this would work very well in films. It’s very cinematic.
Will you do more tour dates with Peter Hammill for “Other World”?
I hope so! I’d love to do. He’s a wonderful partner and it’s a total excitement for me to go out and play with him. Because both of us, we are taking risks and pushing each other to be more spontaneous and wild. But I think in the same time we can really recreate the sound of this album. It’s such a big excitement to be on stage with just a guitar and his voice.
The water effect was made by a Peter’s tape of a fountain splashing in his front yard. He has an old house with a fountain and he made that sound effect. Everything else that there is on the record except a couple of radio noises, is the sound of my guitar and his effect and the voice. So, it’s only a sound of the nature and also Peter made some sounds on the radio, just tuning the radio. Everything else is just guitar.
What keeps you always busy?
Well, I always love to create new work and come up with projects just like anybody pressured to make a living. Not by any means I’m rich, you know. I work extensively with songwriting and soundtracks. It’s very expensive to be alive in the world of music, so I’m motivated to reinvent myself creatively and be interested in projects. It’s like anybody else. What motivates anybody to get out of bed? To make a living. That’s why we are here, that why we were born.
How surreal was for you to play with your childhood hero, Captain Beefheart?
That was a wonderful experience. It was an honour and privilege to work with Captain Beefheart and I did. I know that he was my first major-major hero after I saw him in a super show in New York. I was overwhelmed by this and I always loved my memories of working with him because he was not the easiest person to be with, there are a lot of stories of his supposed craziness, but in the end I loved him. I think his work should be better known. I think he should be known. He was such a genius and innovator. He established my name in some music circles.
What was the most important thing you learned during the period you played with Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet)?
I learned that young music could function in the way of spells, of magic. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band, don’t forget. I loved his music. I wasn’t involved in the production and the making of the music, I just played some guitar. He tutored me more or less on guitar playing his music and began to love that incredibly horrible, hypnotic course. It made a difference in the world. People would open their ears to hear it. He said: “I don’t think I do music, think I do spells”. He was like a magician casting spells. His music maybe had fallen in a lot of deaf ears. Maybe because he was so avant-garde. The people who opened their ears to his music, they changed and they became fanatic about it. And I think that’s true of the best music. It has a really spiritual force.
Sure, I did meet him a couple of times and I loved his music when I was a boy. The circumstances under which I met him, were not the best. I was there working for Beefheart’s part and worked on some business that involved Frank Zappa. It’s a complicated story and it didn’t have a satisfying conclusion, there was a little bit of dismay between Frank and Van Vliet. But Frank Zappa was a fantastic artist, he had an inimitable and creative force. He had a much bigger effect on people than Don Van Vliet and he was more successful in this part. Both had some similarities and some vast differences. I wish I had spent more time with him. It would be more interesting to be there as a guy, as a fan and as a musician.
How would you describe your music?
Well, that’s interesting. I have put out 28 albums and one came out today (ed: 27th May). It has dance music and avant-garde I did with Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy and it is called “Wild Rumpus”. I think the term is “avant-garde blues”. I think there is a touch of this in anything I do. Some of these aren’t so avant-garde, some of these are more traditional blues. I think my soul has a more philosophical stance of existential approach of the universe and the world. I think blues is the most pure and powerful music. When I hear people with a guitar playing blues and I say “Oh!”, it’s so powerful. All of my music, even the Chinese music of the ‘30s –I have a very successful album called “The Edge of Heaven” that has 30’s Chinese pop- has a bluesy feel. Even when I was writing music for silent films, there is a bluesy feel. Even the album with Peter Hammill has a bluesy feel. I can’t escape from this part of my blues influences. In Captain Beefheart’s music of course there is a lot of Delta Blues and also avant-garde jazz. Anyway, I love all the colours of music. One of my favourite musicians is Paolo Conte, who I ‘ve met. He is a very popular Italian musician. In Greece, I love rembetika. There is a lot of music. I like the Mediterranean music, the Spanish music. I love the music of the world that has a soulful quality. All of my music has a bluesy feel. Even when I write Asian music, it has a bluesy feel. I like Arab music, Jewish music and Celtic music. All the music of the world is a celebration of joy and suffering. I like the human element in world music.
You co-wrote “Mojo Pin” and “Grace” from Jeff Buckley’s “Grace” album. Are you proud of your involvement in this album?
I am very-very proud and honoured. The music of “Grace” and “Mojo Pin” is at the same time popular and avant-garde. I can’t really like traditional pop music, it just goes against my nature. I hope my music was more popular but my mind doesn’t appreciate the easy stuff. I’m not a snob. I just don’t like to be in an avant-garde ghetto. “Grace” and “Mojo Pin” was a very successful collaboration where Jeff who was such a charismatic person, took the music that I wrote and translated into something magical. And similarly Peter Hammill. I think he’s the best collaborator I had since Jeff.
I believe that Jeff Buckley would have changed music the way The Beatles did. Do you agree with this point of view?
I think he would have been a phenomenon. If he would have lived, for sure. He had such an appeal, he was a fantastic singer –he is the best young singer I have ever heard- and a great, superb all around musician. He was a beautiful boy… I think the package was very attractive (laughs). It’s a tragedy that he died so young.
Well, initially yes. I have written a book and I spent a lot of time investigating facts about Jeff Buckley. It is called “Touched by Grace: My Time with Jeff Buckley”. In Italy is “La Mia Musica con Jeff Buckley”. It’s very much all about my relation and how we did our songs. We were friends initially. And then business came between us –and this the tragedy of it- but in the end we were still friends. When you make songs like “Grace” and “Mojo Pin”, no matter how distorted business can change circumstances, people remain friends and still respect each other. And when he died, we were still friends.
Do you believe that Jeff Buckley’s death was an accident or a suicide?
I don’t want to comment directly on it. In the book I just explore my feelings towards this person and the wonderful music that he left in the world. That’s the most important thing, his spiritual artistry. Anything else is speculation. It’s was a very mysterious event. Now, I want to focus on the joy I felt writing music with him.
In 1973 you wrote a negative review of King Crimson’s “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic”.
(Laughs) Oh, that is haunting me! I’ll tell you this: I’m not the proudest person of this review. King Crimson is one of my favourite bands and the review was a juvenile effort of my part. Let put it this way: The older I get, the more I would say that I wasn’t a very good critic. The review was a reaction to some press interviews that Robert Fripp had made, bragging about his music. When I was doing it, I believed that it was good, honestly. Not as good as “In The Court of the Crimson King” but reasonably good. Anyone who sees it, shouldn’t take offence to it. I believe that Robert Fripp is a great artist. I still have the single “Cat Food” (ed: from the album “In The Wake of Poseidon”-1970) on my wall, that was quite experimental. But once I heard the b-side “Groon”, I said that it was not the one Magic Band. Now having been on the other side, I think that you have to be careful about it, because I have realised that music business is such a big circus, a big camp and I was so young then. I think a lot of reviews I did then were bad. We tended to be very dismissive. Now, I know that you have to listen to something very carefully before you are going to write about it. Yes, I was a little harsh (laughs). My apologies to Mr. Fripp.
Do you enjoy playing in Havana? You have played many times there.
Yeah, I love it. It’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. There are wonderful musicians that I have heard, they are just phenomenal. I have a very good musical relationship with them.
Sure. I mean, there are so many. David Lynch of course, would be one. Lars von Trier, he’s a phenomenal director. Amoldovar, I love his films. Recently, there is a film that Peter Hammill liked, and I like it too, that has Scarlett Johansson called “Under the Skin” and it has a very avant-garde soundtrack. And I thought that we could have done a very good soundtrack for it. I think the director is Jonathan Glazer, who did “Sexy Beast”. It has a lot of beautiful, impressive avant-garde sounds. I like to hear it more and more, now.
Do you have any musical ambition left?
Oh, yeah. I’m working all the time on new projects and honestly I want to keep going till I drop hopefully with a guitar around my neck. I would love to do more collaborations. I would love to do another album with Peter. It was a fantastic and brilliant experience. There is still a lot of music out there and I want to do more songwriting and soundtracks. I love to play my guitar, it’s almost like having an orchestra. There is so much you can express with a guitar. A whole universe that I want to discover. I hope to play in Greece. I have never played there and I have played in 40 different countries so far. Tell anybody who can bring me to perform out there.
A huge “THANK YOU” to Gary Lucas for his time and to Billy James for his valuable help.
Official Gary Lucas website: http://www.garylucas.com
Official Peter Hammill/Gary Lucas Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/peterhammillofficial
Gary Lucas Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/gary.lucas.5836
Official Gary Lucas twitter page: https://twitter.com/lucasgary
Buy Gary’s book “Touched by Grace: My Time with Jeff Buckley” here