On Fillmore: Glenn Kotche and Darin Gray’s Extended Vacation
BR: And where did the idea for the duo come from?
DG: Jim had a band for a couple of years that was made up of me and Glenn, Tim Barnes, sometimes Rob Mazurek from the Chicago Underground … but the core group was Jim, Tim, Glenn and I. We did a few shows and a few tours. We’d played the Meltdown Festival in London and Glenn and I headed back early afterwards to be with our families. That turned into one of those nightmare plane experiences …
GK: Right – the “Flight from Hell.” It was horrible. (laughter) It started out with me pointing out the window and shouting that there was jet fuel spilling out of the airplane onto the tarmac …
DG: So we couldn’t leave on schedule, and that means you can’t get to where you need to be on time, so you miss your connecting flight and you end up laying over an extra night in Miami … it just goes on and on and on. Anybody who travels to any extent has stories like that. Anyway, during those two days of trying to get home, we decided that we should start playing together more as a duo.
BR: Spawned from the Flight from Hell. (laughter)
DG: We live about five hours apart. Glenn wasn’t in Wilco at that time, so we’d take turns driving to each other’s places to practice.
BR: You both had more time available at that point.
DG: Oh, sure – we’d get together at least a couple times a month for about a year there … we really did a lot of work in that period.
BR: And was it intended to be a duo right from the beginning?
DG: Yes – always intended to be a duo. There was a moniker from the beginning that stuck: On Fillmore was “the rhythm section’s revenge.” That’s really what we wanted it to be; just the two of us, exploring our friendship: how it grows, how it changes, likes, and dislikes. But yeah, I think right from day one, the two of us felt: “This isn’t going to just be a band – we’re going to do this forever as our friendship grows.” We each made that kind of commitment right from the start.
BR: You mean – you didn’t do it just to get an album and some cool merchandise out there? (laughter)
DG: Right. (laughs) No – not at all. In fact, for that first year, we were just into making music together … we weren’t really thinking about records per se. We were just having a great time getting together and seeing each other.
BR: That’s cool; so the music has really evolved with the friendship.
BR: So then I guess the next question is, how has the music evolved?
DG: I think the early stuff we recorded was basically just us playing music together: Glenn with a drum kit – or something like one (laughs) – and myself on upright bass, just sort of facing each other and playing.
GK: We just got together in Darin’s basement and improvised – that’s what became the Wooden Box Set record [limited edition 2001 release]. Things have evolved from there over time into what they are today: I started writing on vibraphone while Darin began doing more writing on nylon string guitar and keyboards. We began to realize that we could make real beautiful, real scary-ass music. (laughter) The scary-ass part is always unintentional, though.
BR: The music is what anyone wants to see. Here’s my advice: don’t ever make a video!
GK: No, I hear you. That’s one of the things I like, whether it’s working with Wilco, or playing music with Darin – seeing songs. One of the things I rarely do is ask what the lyrics mean on a song, because I want them to mean something to me. Even though I’m in a band with Jeff [Tweedy] all the time, I want his lyrics to mean something to me … and if I know the literal meaning of them, then that takes away from the relationship I have with the song.
There are a lot of unusual sounds on the On Fillmore album and to put them in context takes away from the personal connection that the listener can have with them.
BR: Well, there were some specific things that to me sounded like this or sounded like that – but I’m not going to ask you about every one of them because that would be like cornering the magician and demanding to know how the rabbit got in the hat, you know? (laughter)
GK: Right, right! We’re not going to do the Penn and Teller thing and let you in on how everything’s done. (laughter)
DG: We don’t want you to know. (laughs) We don’t want anyone to know.
BR: That’s good; don’t blow it for my sake. At any point, if I’m poking too hard, just say “unh-uh”, okay?
DG: That’s cool. (laughter)