Harmony Past and Present with Steve Kimock
The last couple of years have been an extremely busy and productive period of creative growth for Steve Kimock. His ubiquity has extended quite literally from A to Z. In late 2005, Kimock also released his first SKB album, _Eudemonic_a solid collection of instrumentals showcasing the songwriting talent of Kimock and the inimitable Rodney Holmes on drums. They would tour with Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey’s Reed Mathis on bass and multiple band wizard, Robert Walter (Greyboy Allstars, 20th Congress) on keyboards.
In 2006, Kimock resurrected Zero for a three night March run at the Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom in Denver to raves from relieved longtime fans. At the Jammys, he teamed up with Joe Satriani for one of the evening’s more inspired pairings. Kimock also co-starred in the Rhythm Devils at the inaugural Green Apple Music Festival, which featured Mike Gordon on bass guitar, Stephen Perkins and Jammy co-hosts Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann on percussion with the L.A. _cinema veritpercussion outfit, Mutaytor for added texture. Later in the week, he also played with his own configuration of Kimock and Friends featuring Mathis and Assembly of Dust cross-pollination.
Kimock brings Zero to the 28th Annual Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa, California, to close out the Main Stage on Saturday, June 10. They will also play the High Sierra Festival in late June, the Oregon Country Fair on July 8, Gathering of the Vibes on August 20, and stretching all the way into 2007, Jam Cruise 5 from January 2-7. Returning to the world of the eternal NOW, next month, he returns to the Everyone Orchestra under the direction of Matt Butler for a three-show run up the strands of Northern California (last year, he played a near-legendary gig at the 10,000 Lakes Festival with the EO). Jambands.com sits down for a relaxed conversation regarding all of these band activities plus other philosophical road trips. The guitarist talks like he playsperhaps, more so than any other musician this writer has ever interviewed. His language is precise, languid and hesitant at first before veering off into a subtle nuance that was only hinted at with the subject offered. And now, a long look inside at the center of the room with Steve Kimockone part samurai, one part riddle, one part alchemy, all parts music.
Part I SKB and the Art of Silent Activity
“And that was Kimock at his bestcoaxing beautiful alien languages out of his vast array of guitars while Holmes modulated the beat, Mathis curled in between and Walter rode the wave over the scene.” – Notes from the Road, Steve Kimock Band, Club Congress, Tucson, AZ, 9/27/05
RR: I covered your SKB Club Congress show for Relix magazine. How did you feel about that lineup with Rodney Holmes on drums, Reed Mathis on bass and Robert Walter on keyboards. That was the first time I watched your pre-show regiment and how meticulous you were at it; there wasn’t any sort of misstep about what you were doing as far as cleaning your guitars and applying new strings. (laughter) I was amazed because there wasn’t a single jaded moment about the entire silent activity.
SK: No, actually, some of my favorite parts of a gig are that physical prep time. It has always been a kind of meditation for me. There’s some things that happen that when I’m doing it right, you know, if I’m not interrupted and I have just enough timesometimes (laughs), it’s down to around ten seconds. There’s always so much to do before a gig.
RR: You really took your time with tending to your guitars on that night and I suppose it showed in your playing later on in the two sets.
SK: It’s funny you should mention that because that is one of my favorite parts about doing a gigmaking sure the guitars are ready. (long pause) Back in the days of Zero, somebody would come up and say, “Don’t you have somebody that does that for you?” Bobby Vega [former Zero bass guitarist] would say, “He packs his own shoes.” (laughter) It’s not a bad analogy. I’m going to jump out of the plane with this thing; I’m going to make sure it’s right. (laughs) I’m going to make sure that everything is right where I want it. It gives you a minute to stop and get away from all of the over-peopled social aspects of being in a room full of folks, all trying to get ready for their thing. That’s huge for me; I love doing that.
RR: Last time I spoke with you, we talked quite a bit about trying not to think while you are on stage playing. Is that pre-show exercise helpful to get you into that mindset?
SK: Yeah. There’s not a lot of thinking that needs to go on there. You’re just sort of sitting with your instrument, looking at it and reacting to it, noticing if things are in their proper place, kind of thinking about what that meansif you’re thinking, at all. There’s not a lot of figuring that needs to go on to get it ready. I kind of have a funny routine compared to a lot of players. A lot of players will just stick a string on there and twist it around a couple of times or something like that and they’re fine with that. I kind of like to get as much wire onto the post as I possibly canget it wrapped up nice and neat.
RR: Didn’t you once say something ironic about a guitarist tuning his instrument?
SK: The quote might have been about a banjo player but it can apply to any stringed instrument. The basic idea is that you spend half your life tuning a guitar and the other half playing out of tune. That’s kind of how it is; again, that’s more of a focus these days for me than probably anything elsetrying to figure out what any of that range of pitch might mean as a denotation tone, how they relate to each other physically as opposed to how you might list their relationships according to interval space; musical theory as in chord/scale relationships, stuff like that. I have a feeling that none of that (laughs) or very very little of that music theory reflects or illuminates any primary musical relationships except by accident.
RR: How do you view the reaction to SKB’s 2005 studio release, Eudemonic?
SK: I don’t know. I avoid paying a lot of attention to that. I try to do it and move on. I actually don’t know.
RR: How about the live setting? You performed with a different group of players than appear on the album. Did you enjoy playing those songs live?
SK: Oh, yeah. There’s not a single one of them that I didn’t have a ball playing, rearranging as we went alongthose are good tunes.
RR: I remember near the end of the first set at Club Congress when you made your dramatic rise from your chair for the first time and you played a repeating riff over and over like some samurai in a Kurosawa film.
SK: Wish I had been there. (laughter)
Part II Zero at the 28th Annual Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa, California
“The brain does not remember like a tape recorder. “Reassociating” or reframing or updating goes on constantly; we remake our past continually.”
-_The Psychobiology of Mind-Body Healing_, Ernest Lawrence Rossi
RR: Have you been involved with the Harmony Festival before?
SK: I recall playing that festival once before and I attended it a couple of times because it was kind of local for me. I’ve always been a big fan of the fairgrounds. Whenever there’s an event there that seems like fun, you know (laughs), some 4-H thingI used to go to a lot of 4-H things. Occasionally, I’d go to the track and bet on a pony. Maybe, sometimes go to a concert or a car show. I’d always dug going there but I think I only played there once before and I can’t even remember who with. I just remember going there and dragging the stuff out of the car, setting it up and it was HOT and playing and getting the stuff back in the car. (laughter)
RR: Although you’ve relocated to the east coast, is the festival part of your DNA?
SK: Yeah. It still feels like, to me, a total local event. I’m guessing that I’ll know lots of people there. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of friends.
RR: Zero is playing the last set on the Main Stage on Saturday, June 10. How does it feel to be playing with them, again?
SK: Really nice. What little bit that we’ve been able to do, so fara couple of gigs and a couple of rehearsals and a couple rounds of phone calls have been hugely emotionally rewarding. The music’s been wonderful and everyone’s been great. I’m happy to be doing it and this is a good context for Zeroa Northern California festival.
RR: How were you able to get Zero back together?
SK: We got an offer and I was like, “Nahheverybody’s scattered and doing other things.” I just didn’t think it could happen. I thought about it for a minute and said, “You know what? It could if we did this and did that and used these guys.” I realized that we could field a team and it would probably be really good. There was a tiny amount of tooth pulling involved to get it going but that was itpretty much fell together real easily and the music was great so everybody had a good time.
RR: Who is in this edition of Zero?
SK: Harmony [Festival] is myself, Greg Anton on drums, Liam Hanrahan on bass, Chip Roland on keyboardswe were going to do it with Pete [Sears] but, apparently, there was some sort of bizarre gardening accident. (laughter)
RR: What happened?
SK: I don’t know, exactly. I think “bizarre gardening accident” is as far as I’ll go. (laughter) Martin Fierro on saxophone, Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay and Judge Murphy on vocals and my son, John Morgan Kimock on drums. He’s only been on stage for most of the Zero gigs playing since he was about two years old. Finally, at this point, he’s kind of still growing up and he gets up there and drags us all around the stage by the nose. (laughter) He plays his ass off.
RR: How long has he been playing drums?
SK: Since he was like a half of one. (laughter) He always had to have something in his hands. He’d pull pots and pans out of the cupboard and bang on them with wooden spoons, which elicited the response from his mother: “Anything but a drummer.” (laughter) I said, “It’s already too late; look at him.”
RR: She wanted the silent harp player who just stands on stage and dances?
SK: Yeah, something a little less cacophonous.
RR: When do you find time to rehearse for Zero?
SK: We rehearse a couple of days before every gig. We knock the dust off some of the stuff and hop up there and go. I think you could wake any of us out of a sound sleep, drop us on a stage and say, “Catalina.” I spent a long time listening to that material; it doesn’t go away. [Author’s Note: “Catalina” appeared on Chance in a Million, the 1994 Zero studio album, which featured the late Grateful Dead keyboardist, Vince Welnick who passed away the day this interview was transcribed, written and completed.]
RR: Do you envision any future Zero studio projects?
SK: (long pause) It’s maybe a little too early to say exactly what form that might take but I’m sure that’s something we’ll be working on, yeah. There will be future stuff.
Part III Tear Tags Off Mattresses
“Readers of novels often assume that the knowledge of a particular subject displayed in their pages must be the visible tip of a submerged iceberg of information, when in fact there is often no icebergthe tip is all there is.” – Consciousness and the Novel, David Lodge
RR: Let’s talk about your July California dates with the Everyone Orchestra. You really seem to dig in and become heavily involved with the band and its leader, Matt Butler.
SK: As much as I can. When schedules permit, it’s one of my favorite things to do because of two reasons. One, obviously, the basic format of the thing is different enough from everything else that I do that it’s always fun and challenging. I love seeing what’s happening. Working with a band with a conductor that is just kind of like conducting the energy and it’s not super-specific. Conducting isn’t always super-specific musically. Sometimes, there might be a hint of what to do stylistically, like reggae or ska. To have everyone watching and reacting at the same time and the changes happening at the same place is always such a surprise as to what actually comes outalso, to know that the audience is sort of listening to it in the same way. Of all the gigs I do, it’s probably the most purposely interactive with the audience because the conductor conducts both sides of the stagethe audience and the band.
The other part of it is that Matt always comes up with cool people to play with and I’ve gotten to play with a lot of fantastic people. One gig it’s “hey, look who is here” and the next gig, “hey, there’s somebody else there.” It’s pretty kaleidoscopic in terms of the talent and a lot of fun to do. Everywhere I’ve done it, the band has been unique. I’m glad that Matt is following through because he’s got some really great ideas on how to make the thing go for the band and the audience. I feel really honored that he’s got me on board. It’s appreciated.
RR: Do you rehearse?
SK: The entire band rehearses together if the conductor has a new idea that he’d like to try. Sometimes, we’ll just pick some chords out of a hat and sometimes, there is a specific direction for following to give to somebody new. We run over rules of following the conductor, basically. Maybe, there will be some new kinds of signals that we think we’ll try and we’ll try those. It’s not done with instruments in hand. We just talk it down.
RR: How is your approach as a guitarist different when you play with EO?
SK: (long pause) Well (laughs), the nice part about it is that you don’t know what’s going to happen. And you know you don’t know what’s going to happen so you just kind of pay attention to the rest of the band and be ready to react in that very next second; as soon as you hear the changewhere does that need to go? Where is it trying to go? Where’s my space, now? You’ll be counted into a section where you’ve received some instructions that deal with the ensemble in a certain way and you’ve got to start dealing with it like that, right then. It’s just real immediate. You can’t sit there and second guess the thing or try to prepare yourself for it.
RR: Let’s take this thought process all the way back to our Steve Kimock Band discussion. Your interaction with Rodney Holmes on drums is interesting, in particular. Like you, he has great listening skills where he knows when to drive and when to brake. I noticed that there must have been some form of communication between the four band members as far as when they entered the space from the surface below. How much direction were you giving Holmes, Mathis and Walter?
SK: Wow. You know, it would depend on the tune. I think the amount of direction would be kind ofthere wasn’t some global amount of direction or non-direction. There were tunes which were almost entirely composed where if you got the thing going at the right tempo, everybody could hear properly on stage, you kept the form of the thing together and the execution was there, then you would have realized that piece of music. (pauses) More going through it with the group cohesion, listening to the sound that the band is making and really trying to hone in on that. That’s one side of it just being super-specific about it. There were lots of other spaces that we left totally up for grabs. In the sections that we left totally up for grabs, we might have some preliminary kind of rapping it down. That might happen days before. We were just kind of philosophizing about how to deal with certain kinds of sections. You get on stage and realize, “Hey, this would be a good time to be there.” In terms of directing people specifically, players at that level, it’s more setting up an environment where they are allowed to create freely in the moment, setting up some big parameters to allow that to happen and not being super-specific about what has to happen. Does that make sense?
RR: It definitely makes sense. I think an example of that is the Traffic cover you performed at the Club Congress. [We hummed the song together with all the riffs and melodies for a minute and never remembered the name of the damn thing.]
SK: What the hell is the name of that song? (laughs)
RR: I can’t remember. I’ll look it up. [Traffic’s “Glad.”]
Part IV Jammys, Green Apples and the Center of the Room
“The real instruments were hung around the wood-paneled walls wherever there was an open space, upside down, sideways, right side up, every which way: zithers from Austria, plastic ukuleles, guitars, fretless banjos, Appalachian dulcimers, an alto saxophone” – Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, Richard Farina
RR: Can you talk a bit about your experience at the Jammy Awards last month?
SK: There were so many people thereso many musicians and so many people that I was really happy to see that I hadn’t seen for a while. [Indeed. At one point in the wonderfully wild Jammy’s eve, Kimock and I sat down outside while he had a cigarette and we chatted about all things musical and beyonda momentary breather from the heady sounds inside the Theatre at Madison Square Garden.] The Little Feat guysit was great to see them. People who I’ve never met but work I admired like Joe Satriani. It was great to get a chance to play with him. It was fun to see the Peter Frampton portion of the program. It was a riot; there was just so much going on. That was just a ton of fun. I’m glad I did it. As I’ve been saying all along, I’m doing this under mild protest. Jamband’ seems like such a clumsy handle for what turns out to be a very rich, diverse and wonderful scene.
RR: Let’s talk about the night before where you played at the Canal Room with, among others, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Stephen Perkins, Mike Gordon and Mutaytor as the Rhythm Devils. Had you played with Mike Gordon before?
SK: Wow. I don’t think so.
RR: I didn’t think so, either. I kept rubbing my eyes to see if I was really seeing you sitting next to Gordon on bass. Interesting little supergroup that night.
SK: I think that was the first time. We had a ton of fun doing that. I was blown away by his playing. He was just so on it every minute. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what to expect but that fucking cat can play. I had a tremendous time.
RR: You played with that lineup later in the week outside Grand Central Station.
SK: Yeah, with Walter Cronkite on tom toms.
RR: I was going to ask what it felt like to have a former newsman sit in as a guest.
SK: (laughter) That was my favorite thing that happened that entire week.
RR: Yeah, totally. I had a childhood flashback and I expected a Vietnam War report when I saw him on stage.
SK: (laughs) Yeah, look at this old guy. He looks just like Walter Cronkite. Holy shit! That’s Walter Cronkite. I couldn’t believe my eyes. He’s such an icon and so much a part of growing up. I’ve just seen him so many times; he’s a real guy and he’s playing with tom toms. What does that mean? (laughter) It was just so incongruent that I just loved it.
RR: It was especially weird for me because just a few hours later I saw another cultural icon, Richie Havens, at the Bitter End. It was like two cultural icons on the opposite end of the spectrum but both fighting the good fight.
SK: I haven’t seen Richie Havens for a couple of years, man, but I used to run into him a little more oftenout and about on the road. He’s never lost a step.
RR: You’re right. He has not aged. At the Bitter End, he did this jump kick at the end of a song that would have made Bruce Lee proud. He’s in better shape than me. Speaking ofyou pulled double duty and played a late night gig after the Jammys.
SK: We had Reed Mathis on bass, Stephen Perkins on drums, Willie Waldman on trumpet and Nate Wilson from Assembly of Dust on piano for two sets at the Blue Note after the Jammysmaking it up in the middle of the night.
RR: You played with Mike Gordon at the Green Apple Music Festival. Have you ever played with Jon Fishman in one of the Everyone Orchestra configurations?
SK: We did that not long ago in Upstate New York. He’s musically and personally a real kick in the butt. He’s a great player and a great guy, too. My hat’s off to that whole squad. They’re all very very cool people and great playersthe Phish guys.
RR: Yeah, they’re all over the place these days but, then again, so are you. I would like to finish where we began. Do you plan on getting back with your occasional writing partner, Rodney Holmes, in the near future?
SK: I’m hoping we get to that sooner rather than later. I’m kind of not crazy about trying to field another team as Steve Kimock Band, right now. I was enjoying the Reed-Rodney-Robert trio of guys. I was enjoying that band so much that I’d like to wait until everyone is available, again. Robert’s been busy with the Greyboy Allstars and I’m sure at some point his schedule will free up and we’ll get that band back out there. There’s other stuff that I’ll do in the meantime but I’m just picking it up as I go. I used that lineup as Steve Kimock and Friends, originally, and it was so much fun that I said I wanted to take this show on the road. I was really hoping that everyone would be more available but all kinds of stuff happened in the meantime, as things tend to do. Robert had just moved to New Orleans and the hurricane hit. Everybody was distracted and had other stuff to do. I’m hoping we pick it back up again soon