Thursday, October 13, 2011

Interview with Rob Mazurek

Last week to preview Starlicker's show at the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh City Paper ran a very short Q&A that I did with Rob Mazurek, the band's cornetist and main composer. Mazurek preferred to do the interview by email, which was fine with me. No need to schedule a phone call or transcribe the interview afterwards. After reading what he had to say, I was kind of glad too, because I might've missed some of the subtleties of what he had to say.

Here's the transcribed interview in its entirety. (I didn't post it sooner because I thought CP was going to do that on their website.)

Q: You've played in both large bands like Exploding Star Orchestra to duos like Chicago Underground Duo. Do those two settings present different musical challenges to you, or do you see it as all part of one big musical picture?

Mazurek: Composing sound for me is like is like watching stillness grow into enormous wings. Exploding Star Orchestra has had up to 19 people in the group and as little as four, while the Chicago Underground Duo is Chad Taylor and myself sometimes manipulating up to 13 different sound sources. The idea is to project a sound that that has the potential for psychedelic illumination, or what I like to call PSYCHEDELIC ILLUMINATION DRONES. The different musical challenges that you are speaking of are all inherent in the way in which you move the sound in the mind, on paper, in the room... and what kind of palette you are dealing with as far as what instruments or non-instruments people are actually playing.

Q: In the liner notes to Starlicker’s Double Demon, you're quoted as saying, "I feel like I've been looking for this sound for 20 years." What is "this sound" in this case? Why has it been so hard to find?

Mazurek: I have always been searching for this sound that happens above the head. A sound which has nothing to do with genre, hip lines, denigrating the past. I have been searching for a way to illuminate sound, so it just hangs there in the clouds, like a cloud, like a complex cloud of power and sweetness. Maybe it has been so hard to find because of the confusion of mass media/political feeding frenzy that tries at all costs to penetrate your natural creative life force and kill it.

Q: Again, according to the liner notes, you wrote the tunes for the album in a day and a half. How did they come out so quickly - pressure or inspiration? Were they based on things you already had in mind?

Mazurek: I put together a group a few years back called the Rob Mazurek Quintet where we made a record for Delmark records called Sound Is. This idea for the group came out of my desire to find a way to create these PSYCHEDELIC ILLUMINATION DRONES. The first rehearsal of this idea was with John Herndon on drums, Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone and myself on cornet. I did not quite find the sound I was looking for and in the meantime created a book of songs that needed two bass players to project the idea in the best of ways. After time and more writing and thinking, the sound came to me in a wave and I wrote the six compositions on Double Demon. Not pressure as much as inspiration, especially from the illuminating sound of John and Jason.

Q: Aside from instrumentation, what else is different about this set-up as compared to other groups you have?

Mazurek: For some reason I feel incredibly free within the confines of the structures. All the instruments sing in a very peculiar way that is beyond words. Perhaps a distilled sound that takes into account specific frequencies from limited sound sources to create the illumination that seems so important to me at this time.

Q: How did you settle on Starlicker as a band name?

Mazurek: I enjoy the idea of evolution and the fact that we have no idea where we came from and where we go after this life. New galaxies are being found daily and it is an interesting thing to ponder. I like to reach as far as I can and attempt to discover things on my own terms, in my own way with like minded people. I am not interested in rehashing endlessly what has happened before. Whether for good or bad I want to stretch the tongue out, split the sky, and taste the furthest star.

Q: Both this band name and Exploding Star Orchestra seem to have a connection with outer space. Does that factor into the way you write, and/or is it part of a philosophy in your life?

Mazurek: I would like to send out to the world and worlds beyond PSYCHEDELIC ILLUMINATION DRONES for healing and learning and respecting everything that IS and IS NOT in hopes of ultimate communication that might not even make a sound. We live in a world that loves to kill. Killing the spirit, killing the hope, killing the creative in all things. The connection to outer space is the connection to inner space and all else that is seen and not seen. The philosophy is to live a creative life with the idea of cracking the shell of this absolutely conservative/corporate imposed existence and peer into the un-known/known in order to learn something that was never there before and has always been there.

Q: In Chicago, do forward-thinking bands like yours get respect from a larger audience that might reach into the "straight" jazz community too, or are you more of a fringe group?

Mazurek: Last year I released the Exploding Star Orchestra record Stars Have Shapes which I believe was an attempt to really push the boundaries of what is at least a little bit possible in my mind to project in the realm of electro-acoustic sound making. If you look what was said in my own home town of Chicago about the music and what was said in other parts of the world, it was almost an opposite response. It was record of the year on Italian National Radio3, you could hear the crickets in Chicago. On the other hand Exploding Star Orchestra will play two nights at the Green Mill in Chicago or four nights at the Whistler and there is a line out the block. You play festivals in Europe and Brazil and the listeners are ecstatic and many. Starlicker is getting ready to tour France, Italy and Poland this month. Exploding Star Orchestra just played Sardinia!

Although there are plenty of folks looking for there "angle" on how to make music or how to conduct their life, I prefer to just make sound and let it fall where it may. From my observations there certainly could be a little more boundary pushing in Chicago, but this is a tricky thing. There are certainly a few people making nice records with nice songs done in a nice way and perhaps this is enough for some people, but it's just not for me. There are a few people trying to crack the egg as well and this is exciting for me. I am in no way trying to say the way I make or project music is good or bad, but it is honest and I am desperately reaching for something else.

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