Ever since Arts Collinwood hired the inimitable and impressive R.A. Washington, things at the non-profit that anchors Waterloo Road have just gotten cooler and cooler. Whether pop-up art benefits for Haiti or a bewildering array of well-curated music and film events, Washington has upped the ante at the spot.
The most recent example of this takes place on Monday, June 14th, when indie rock drummer par excellence Kid Millions (most famously of Oneida) brings his percussive noise-symphony to town in the form of his newest project, Man Forever.
I've spent hours listening to the tracks that I was fortunate enough to receive from Mr. Millions, and still have only barely wrapped my mind around it (or, perhaps, I still haven't). Rather than butcher the description of something that is conceptually weighty and enormously ambitious, I'll let the man describe it to you himself:
“A few months ago I went to see Fireworks Ensemble perform Metal Machine Music, I read the liner notes for the show, listened to the original record and learned how the piece was originally recorded and discovered Ulrich Krieger’s transcription process. During the performance I was inspired to record an album right away. A conversation I’d had a year or so ago with Brian Chase (from the YYYs) about just intonation tuning with drums popped into my head and I realized I could do something with acoustic drums inspired by the “noise” of electric instruments. I visualized a monolithic recording that would utilize the rich tonality of carefully tuned acoustic drums, played powerfully and multi-tracked at different speeds onto the Ocropolis (Oneida’s Brooklyn Studio) 16 track 1” tape machine. I asked Brian Chase to come to the studio and help me tune my drums so I could capture my ambition for the piece. Richard Hoffman (Sightings) added some bass to the final mix. The tempo is something like 180BPM. The piece moves fast at an almost imperceptible rhythm. It feels overwhelming and fluctuates constantly. Turn it up!”
After reading that description and listening to the music, I just had to get further into it. Below is the best transcript my creaky old fingers could produce of a conversation the drummer and I had a few days back. Enjoy!
How do you characterize what you are doing musically right now? I think words like “free” and “post” could be used, but that there is possibly a better way to get it said. What’s your preferred way?
It’s funny - I don’t really do that, for whatever reasons. I’m kind of uncomfortable with words like free or improvisation. It is improvised and it sounds like high-energy free music, it certainly has that touchstone, but my idea conceptually is kind of like a physical performance. For the performer, it’s not meant to be something they express themselves while doing. It’s not supposed to be five guys soloing together, but more supposed to be about an ensemble and the individuals subsuming their egos to the main goals of the ensemble. The main goal would be to create a very complicated aural tapestry of tones that kind of create overtones, like acoustic noise music. That’s how I describe it to people. The show is also very aggressively played, but at the same time people find it kind of meditative. It’s kind of like taking the concepts of minimalism and noise and tuning and just intonation and bringing them all into a drum context and then just going balls out.
So kind of like there is sort of a sonic ideology behind it.
That’s a cool way of thinking about it. I would agree. I have an agenda. Definitely.
It seems like you are playing at some interesting venues on this tour – galleries, DIY venues, etc. Do you think that fits in some way with the musical project?
I agree. I wanted to get out of the rock club mentality and that kind of presentation. I do that with Oneida and it’s awesome and I love it, but I felt this would work better with less PA support and be more experiential with the acoustics. I thought that it could be presented in more alternative spaces, and everywhere except Chicago (where the show is taking place at the more traditional rock club The Empty Bottle) people saw what I had in mind and came up with some great ideas.
To be honest, this is probably gonna totally suck money-wise, unfortunately, but it’ll be super cool for the experience. The experience is about all kind of different things – yeah, it’s a performance, but its also relational. The idea is that the acoustic tone is supposed to be the most important thing, and then of course there is the physical element, with very physical drummers trying to build up a ton of energy, playing as hard and as fast as possible.
I could totally see this music being played with some sort of visual dimension.
Yeah, man, I agree. Visuals could totally complement what I’m going for. There are gonna be some visuals at some of the shows. I’m open if someone wants to do it, but I haven’t focused on that so much. It’ll happen in Pittsburgh, though, and if there were people I knew in more cities that did projections, I would totally reach out but I don’t really know everyone everywhere. I did every aspect of this project on my own, from publicity to recording, and there were some things I just had to give up on for now. But, yeah, visuals are something that’ll happen.
You have an impressive bunch of folks you’ve been working on this project with as of late. To what extent is this a Kid Millions jam versus being a collaborative thing?
They are part of the ensemble. They are really there to execute my vision and I’m really super honored by that. Everyone just wants to make it sound the way I want it to. We’ll see how it shapes out on the road, because we’ll have a bunch of different shows and we’ll probably talk after about what was successful and what wasn’t. I’m totally interested in other people’s ideas, and in terms of Brian Chase’s (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) involvement, he totally helped me execute my ideas. A year and half or so ago I had this long conversation with him about intonation and what he was doing with his drums and when I decided to do this I thought he could really help me realize what I was going for, and he did.
And then Shahin (Motia, of Oneida) helped me in the studio when I was recording it – I did everything myself, but he was there and he helped me realize it.
For another example, with Richard Hoffman (the bassist from Sightings), I told him the key the drums were tuned in and asked him to reference that, and he did, but you can tell it isn’t normal bass. It was Richard.
On tour, even though we are playing music that I originally recorded by myself, I’m not telling the drummers what to play but I also have a concept for how the piece should go. The piece needs to be full-on the whole time. Everyone’s there for me, which is kind of scary, but I’m excited.
What’s next for Man Forever?
It is gonna be interesting to see. I’m definitely going to do another album. It’ll come out on Brah (Oneida’s label) and I need to buckle down and explore what the next step could be. I’m doing a bunch of shows on weekends through the end of the year in cities all over and will be collaborating with local musicians in each space. I really view this as an opportunity to connect with other musicians outside of a traditional rock band type of setting. It’s just a different kind of conceptual playing field. So, yeah, I’m still gonna keep doing it. The album will be coming out in Japan so I might go to Japan and collaborate with Japanese drummers. Man, there is lots to do – the sky is the limit.
Finally, I always ask, any Cleveland stories worth sharing?
Oneida has played here many, many times. In fact, we played there on our first tour in 1997. We’ve made great friends there, like the guys in This Moment in Black History. You know, I think we’ve played every venue.
Now, I’ll admit, I’m an outsider – Cleveland might have more charm for me than it does for the locals. I love Cleveland. Bobby and Jane (from Oneida) both spent time at Oberlin and love Cleveland’s history, especially the punk history. We’ve always felt that connection when we are there. I’m excited it (the upcoming show at Arts Collinwood) worked out – I feel really good about the music and arts communities there. I see the punk era there being such an essential part of this country’s musical heritage so it is exciting to play there. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, well, it could be more local-centric, but maybe they have a Pere Ubu section I don’t know about. Overall, I think Cleveland is very unique, much richer musical scene and feels less striated than say New York or Chicago. I like that all kinds of artists and writers and musicians are pals and come out to the shows. I’m psyched that it worked out. I wasn’t sure that it would but it did.
Come on down to Arts Collinwood (15605 Waterloo Road, Cleveland) for what promises to be a performance that gets your brain working more than usual. You'll end up being more psyched that Man Forever came than Kid Millions was that they were able to book it.
4 weeks ago