Stanton Moore Breaks It Down
Stanton Moore is steeped in the rhythm and idiom of his native New Orleans. However, while the drummer holds the area’s musical traditions and its celebrated musicians in high regard, as a contemporary player, one of his goals is to bridge the gap between the modes and sounds of the past and those of the present. He carries this ethos to his work with Galactic, and it informs his current solo release Flyin’ The Koop.
Actually, the term “solo release” is something of a misnomer as Flyin’ The Koop is an all-star session featuring a core band consisting of Moore, Karl Denson, Skerik and Chris Wood. In addition, Stanton’s Moore and More collaborator Brian Seeger contributes a few tunes where he joins the group on guitar, as do the Wild Magnolia Mardi Gras Indians. On much of disc Stanton focuses on rhythm and melody, breaking it down and punctuating the grooves through these two essential components, while placing less emphasis on harmony (although he does vary the moods as well, for example, through his take on James Black’s “Magnolia Triangle”).
Moore is currently on the road supporting the album, with a band that includes Seeger, Skerik, Wood and John Ellis on saxophone. For more details visit his web site, www.stantonmoore.com (of course the Galactic site is at www.galacticfunk.com). Oh yes and if you’re curious what Stanton has to say about the upcoming Bonnaroo Festival where Galactic will appear on the main stage for two days, he notes, “I think it’s gonna be killing. It’s going to be awesome.”
DB- Let’s start with album itself, Flyin’ the Koop. I’ve heard that it is the direct result of a Superfly Superjam back in March of 2000 [3/2/00 at Tipitina’s to be precise]?
SM- Yeah. It was me Chris Wood and Karl along with Henry Butler, a great New Orleans piano player and Neo Nocentelli. Karl, Chris and I went out and improvised for a half hour, then brought out Henry and did a couple tunes with him and then brought out Leo. By doing that with Chris and Karl I got the idea to use them for my next solo record. And right away from that gig I thought about getting Skerik, and the Wild Mags and Brian on a couple of tunes. I pretty much had the concept right from that gig.
All those ideas came to me that night after the sound check. I think I talked to Chris and said, “I’m thinking of doing another record are you into doing it?” He said yeah and from there I thought, “Cool I’ll get Skerik and Karl, add Brian on a few things and then maybe it would cool to get the Mardi Gars Indians. So pretty much it all came to that night after playing with Chris and Karl.
DB- I’d like to talk about the songwriting process. There are a number of collaborative efforts on the disc. How did these come about? Did you go into the sessions with a number of specific ideas or did everyone collaborate and improvise on the spot?
SM- I had that sound of the two horns, bass and drums in my head, and of course different grooves and things I had been thinking about. Then I went in and extracted a couple of loops and brought those into the studio. I said, “I want to compose a tune around this loop that we did at that Tip’s gig.” For instance that little interlude with me and Chris, “Bottoms Up,” that was a motif that Chris played on that gig, I took that in and said, “Let’s do a little one and a half minute thing based on that.”
So I had things like that and some general ideas of different grooves that I wanted to do. I came in first and started getting drum tones and then Chris came in and all the next day we worked up some grooves together on top of different beats or loops that I had. Then we spent the next day with the horns- we would play some of the grooves that we had come up with and they would start coming up with melodic lines on top of that. From the beginning I told them I want everything to be as melodic as it possibly can. I wanted all of the melodies to have an impact. That’s why I broke it down on a lot on the record and didn’t have too many harmonies. I wanted to break it down to the raw elements of rhythm and melody and have a lot of space in the music and fill up some of the space with loops and different sonic textures.
DB- In terms of melody, were you guiding them or did you give them free reign?
SM- We worked on it all together. Pretty much everything that came to people’s heads was what we went with because those guys are just so on top of things. They could hear something that would fit in right away with what Chris and I were already doing. On a few occasions we’d trot it out and then decide that the arrangement wasn’t working so we’d change it up.
We also changed some of the stuff afterwards because especially with the loops we were able to go in. The loop is your timeline, so you can play five different passes over it and then go back later and edit it because it’s all in time with the loop. So we used Pro Tools to compose after stuff was already played. That was something I wanted to do, to get the spontaneity of improvisation but be able to go in and edit it into compact songs and just get the best stuff. If we made five passes improvising, ninety percent of the stuff we used came from the first pass. We might have pulled a cool thing from here or there but most of the time it was everybody’s first reaction.
DB- Obviously studio time is expensive and everyone has other gigs. So given the process, was the time pressure looming?
SM- If I stopped to think about it, it might have scared the crap out of me. We were flying everybody in and logistically it was an obstacle course to get them together but I just had such faith in everybody that I knew what was going to happen. If I had stopped to think about it I might have scared myself out of doing it but I just went with my gut reaction of playing with these guys and knowing that once I got those cats together that it was really going to work. And it worked great. Right when they stated playing, we’re like, “Yeah that’s killing.” So by the first day of us doing stuff, we knew it was going to be cool.
DB- I’d like to talk about a few of the songs. “Fallin’ off the Floor” has the Wild Magnolia Mardi Gras Indians on it. What led you to incorporate them?
SM- I’ve always loved the Indians and they’ve come out on the road with Galactic to do some things with us. Being from New Orleans I’ve enjoyed taking the things I grew up on and trying to mix them with some of the more modern sonic ideas. For instance, mixing the Mardi Gras Indians with loops and different phasers on drum loops, or taking Mardi Gras Indian rhythms and playing a groove that was inspired by what they do and looping it and running it through a phaser or a flanger and then getting them to jam on top of it and running it through a filter. So when I started thinking about this record I said, “Let’s just get the chants with no harmony” because on that tune it’s just two horns, bass and drums and there’s the loop in there and then the Indians. I like trying to do things that haven’t been done and experiment with that.
DB-You mentioned that you’re from New Orleans and you’ve lived your whole life in the area?
SM- Born and raised although I’ve been on the road most of the year for the past six years.
DB- Well since you’ve been so deeply immersed in the sounds of New Orleans, has it been challenge to find your own voice?
SM- Some of what I’ve done was to check out people like David Garibaldi (Tower of Power) and learn some of his stuff and then incorporate that with what I’ve picked up from say Zigaboo [Modeliste], Johnny Vidacovich or Idris Muhammad. I’ve tried to learn their stuff as closely as I can which enables me to turn off my mind and let my hands and feet roam around and improvise off something I picked up from them. Or I’ll mix up something I picked up from Zig with something I picked up from David Garibaldi, which are both funky approaches but pretty different. Then I’ll wind up with little things that I incorporate into what I do that are a mixture of this and a mixture of that, and just try make it into my own kind of thing but not playing things verbatim. Every now and then something I’ll pick up from Johnny or Zig and I don’t have anything that sounds better than that groove so figure that I might as well just play it. But I try to get away from that as much as I can.
DB- When you’re playing live is that an active process or is it unconscious?
SM- I try to make it as unconscious as possible and just react. Practicing is when I think about stuff and try to figure out what it is that I’m doing. But when we’re playing live I try to get away from that and just react to the music and be inside of it as opposed to thinking, “Oh let me try this thing that I picked up right here.” I try to get away from that and just react to the music. Sometimes I’ll go back and listen and say, “Okay that worked,” or “Maybe I could do this a little differently next time” but I try not to do that when I’m playing and not let my mind interfere too much.
DB- Speaking of great New Orleans musicians, you cover James Black on the album. Has he been a particular influence or inspiration?
SM- Any time you’d talk to the older guys they’d mention James Black. So when I was starting to hang out with Johnny Vidacovich back in high school I figured if I wanted to be serious playing the drums I should definitely check him out. I did and I really started to dig to his tunes. When I first started listening to them it was like trying to listen to a jigsaw puzzle or something. It took me a while of listening to him and years of playing his tunes until I started to get a grasp of them.
“Magnolia Triangle” is a tune I’ve been playing for few years now. Whenever Skerik and I get together with Charlie Hunter we’ll play that tune. So when we got in the studio with Chris, I told him ahead of time that I might like to try that tune and if it works that would be great and if not I wasn’t worried about it. So we went in there and we’d play it once or twice a day and on the third day we got that version. I wanted to do it a little differently, as a trio. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it done as a trio tune. So we just tried it out and came up with that arrangement where Chris played the melody at the end.
Chris is so thorough that way. When we got into the studio I asked him if he had a chance to check out “Magnolia Triangle” and he was like. “Oh yeah,” and he started playing the melody. [Laughs] So I said, “Cool, if you know the melody we’ve got to get you to play the melody at some point during the tune.”
DB- Johnny Vidacovich, one of your early teachers, is another notable area musician that people are still discovering.
SM- Right, I studied with him for five years He’s phenomenal. Actually he’s been doing some really cool gigs and more people have been showing up to hear some of these different projects. He’s been doing every Wednesday night at Old Point Bar and it’s usually him and George Porter . We did this band that’s me and Johnny on drums, Rich Vogel on keys and sometimes we do it with George Porter on bass and we’ve done it with Jim Singleton on bass. A couple of weeks ago we did it with Jim Singleton on bass and G Love as our special guest. We’re doing it the Monday after Jazz Fest- it’s going to be me Johnny, Jim Singleton and Skerik, so that should be fun. Johnny’s been doing stuff with Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars where it will be Johnny, George Porter and Luther. They also did this thing with Chris Wood, Johnny and June Yamagishi who plays with the Magnolia Indians on guitar. So Johnny’s been getting a lot of the fans who come out to see Galactic, some of the kids who are into the jam scene are coming out to see Johnny play which is really killing.
DB- What’s amazing to me is that as a developing drummer you had so much interaction with a range of serious, bad-ass players. Is that reflection of the New Orleans music community?
SM- Yeah that’s what’s so hip about New Orleans, everybody is so generous with their talent. If you’re a young dude and you’re into what these cats have to say, then most of the time they’re more than willing to get with you and help you out. These guys are very approachable and willing to help you out. I did a lot of hanging out with Russell Batiste and I was sharing the New Orleans Klezmer Allstar gig with Willie Green so I was hanging with Willie. I also would check out a lot of Herlin Riley stuff on record and then went and took a lesson with him. So it’s easy to check out these great drummers and then go hang out with them.
I used to set up Russell’s drums for him and tear them down and sometimes we’d hang out during the day and set up two drum sets. Then I’d try to pick his brain and figure out some of the stuff he was doing.
One of the first times I want to San Francisco with the Klezmer Allstars I called Zig and he had never really heard of me but just being a young guy from New Orleans he came out for the gig. We got to hang and now we try to hook up whenever I’m in San Francisco or I’ll go see him when he’s down in New Orleans. All those New Orleans cats are very generous and open and if you’re into it and you seek them out they’ll usually help you. I was just going out and trying to learn and much as I possibly could from all these guys and they were willing to help me out.
DB- From a somewhat different perspective, you also worked with Guy Gelso, the drummer from Zebra?
SM- Yeah, yeah, he’s a great drummer. He spent a lot of time in New York learning some Afro-Cuban stuff and some linear stuff which is an approach to drumming. A drummer like Ringo Starr when he hits the bass drum he’s also hitting the high at the same time as the snare drum so the high hat might stay constant and the bass drum will be underneath that hitting at the same time. In linear drumming no limbs play at the same time so you might have the snare drum with nothing else playing, then the high hat and the bass drum and they follow each other in a line as opposed to being layered on top of each other. So Guy had checked that out a lot and he worked with me on that. Some of Zig’s drumming is similar to that in a way, all the stuff is split up and that’s some of the uniqueness to his thing. So I would check that out and mix that in with some of the New Orleans stuff, taking some of these more contemporary ideas and blending them with the traditional style. Guy helped me out with that and it definitely helped spark the concept that I still try to incorporate today.
DB- What led you to him?
SM- He’s also from New Orleans but he had gone up to New York for a while. I actually went and saw a clinic of his while he was still living in New York so I was aware of him. Then I heard that he came back down to New Orleans and was teaching so I went and sought him out.
DB- Let’s jump back to the album. “Amy’s Lament” is the only song on Flyin’ The Koop that is credited solely to you. How did that one come about?
SM- I had written that on piano beforehand and brought that in. I did this thing called the Young Jazz Relics. These guys were into traditional New Orleans jazz and they wanted everybody to write two tunes and then come into the studio to record. There were maybe 7 guys in the band so we went in there and that was one of the tunes I wrote for that. I decided to bring it in because I thought it would work with this project too?
DB- Do you typically write on piano?
SM- A little bit. I want to start taking some piano lessons and try to get more fluid on piano but I actually started on piano when I was eight. I took a few years of piano lessons before I started playing drums for real although I was always beating on pots and pans and stuff.
DB- On his web site, Brian Seeger notes that in selecting tunes for this album you told him that his stuff wasn’t dumb enough for the record. [Laughs] What’s your response to that?
SM- [Laughs] what I meant by that was when I went into this record I wanted everything to jump out at you, to be really raw and broken down to its base elements of melody and rhythm. I wanted stuff with a little bit more impact, and a bit less jazz knowledge inside of the tune- something with the impact of a brass band. When you do listen to a brass band you’re impacted by the horn melodies and riffs and the rhythm and not so much by the complex harmonies. You feel the raw emotions of melody and rhythm. I wanted more stuff like that, so I was just trying to explain it to Brian and to emphasize my point maybe I used that word (laughs)
DB- One final question about the disc itself. The song “Things Fall Apart” is named that way because when you were recording it, your drum kit literally fell apart?
SM- Chris started playing that bass line and I came in and played one bar and my bass drum kind of fell apart. Then I fixed it and came back but the groove wasn’t as happening as that first bar, so we looped the first bar and went in and did other drums on top of that. But the whole thing was inspired by taking that loop. I wouldn’t have made a loop of that if it hadn’t fallen apart. But after we made the loop we said this shit is totally happening. So Skerik went in there with his sax and effects and took some black electrical tape and ended up taping the headphones onto his head so it wouldn’t fall off because he was going so apeshit in the studio. So that whole tune came to be by that happening.
DB- Given that some of these songs were composed after the recording sessions themselves, now that you’re out on the road with the band, how are you approaching the arrangements in the live setting?
SM- For the bulk of the tunes, the arrangements are inspired by the record but we don’t want to be limited by that. So we’re definitely opening them up and stretching out a lot. As a starting base, we went back and checked out what we did on the record but already the stuff is starting to evolve from that after one gig. We might have spent five minutes on an intro that was ten seconds long. We used the record as a reference point and hopefully it will develop from there.
DB-And you’ll be playing music from both of your albums?
SM- Mostly from the new record, a few from All Kooked Out. We’re going to continue to work on tunes at sound checks so that we have a broader span, maybe dig a bit deeper into All Kooked Out along with some other surprises.
DB- On much of the disc there’s only drums, bass and horns. What does Brian do during those tunes when you play them live?
SM- Last night we did three four piece tunes in the first set where Brian could walk off and we did a few trio tunes in the second set where Brian and John Ellis could walk off. On some of the tunes Brian was also playing a little percussion. On “Prairie Sunset” we overdubbed some shaker so Brian’s playing some shaker on it. But we’re trying to keep that texture, two horn bass and drums on those tunes. That’s what makes them special to me, so we’re keeping it like that live and Brian will either walk off or play percussion.
DB- I guess you have some experience with that dynamic, now that I think about it, because that happens in Galactic with Theryl.
SM- Exactly. And Galactic will sometimes do a couple of four-piece tunes where Ben leaves the stage, so I’ve done that a lot. Even though this is all instrumental, I think that breaking it up like this keeps it fresh for the listener
DB- There’s a Galactic tour coming up in April but what else do you have in the works?
SM- I’m going out for a week with Robert Walter after JazzFest. I’m going to continue doing some stuff with Johnny and we might try to do a record with that band. Of course Galactic takes up most of my time.
DB- Galactic is recording right now with Pro Tools. How is that proceeding?
SM- We’re just taking our time, not trying to rush things We’ve been writing a lot so we want to continue to write and record this stuff and experiment with it in the studio
DB- Looking back, what are your thoughts on the tour you did with Triple Threat?
SM- Oh that was killing, man. We had a blast with those guys. We got exposed to some new stuff and we loved playing with them.