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Published: 2011/06/07
by Randy Ray

Bruce Hornsby Brings the Noise

RR: And you’re playing some dates with Béla Fleck, as well.

BH: Exactly. Perfect example. My old cohort. We’re old friends, and we’ve played together many times—banjo/piano concerts together through the years, here and there. I’ve played on his records, he’s played on my records, but we’ve never actually toured together, so that seems like a very natural alliance, a natural hook up.

RR: Was there anything different that you’ve encountered when you got back into touring with the Noisemakers? I know you recently played some gigs in New Orleans, and you had a fine collaboration with the Nightcrawlers.

BH: I met the Nightcrawlers about eight or nine years ago when I was part of a Keith Jarrett tribute record [ As Long As You’re Living Yours ]. Our version of his song, “Backhand” is the first song on that CD. Did it in New Orleans. It had Jason Marsallis on drums, and tuba for bass, the great Matt Perrine from New Orleans. So, these guys that played on the record were fantastic and part of the New Orleans Nightcrawlers. We hooked it up so they could open for us, and then, they were standing in a room next to the stage, and I could see them in there, so if I could hear them on a song, I’d sing, I’m hearing some Nightcrawlers; in the midst, I’m hearing Nightcrawlers music, and they came out and just started roaring away. That was great fun. That tape might make it to our download site.

Has anything really changed? We’re just getting our sea legs back, but we’ve had some great nights. I think what we have to watch out for is that we all know, everybody in the band is really aware of the new record and how it sounds, so, sometimes, there are certain sections of songs that can go anywhere where we tended to hear it in our heads on the Bride of the Noisemakers album, and I know I did that (laughs), and they look at me like “yeah, that sounds like it’s supposed to go.” But, now, we have to throw that out, get that sound out of our heads, so we can continue to move on, and find another place to go, so the sequel to this one— Beneath the Planet of the Noisemakers —when that comes out…(laughter)

RR: Conquest in 2014.

BH: Plan 9 From the Noisemakers. When that’s ready, then the songs will sound very differently again.

RR: I read somewhere that you described yourself as a slow learner, which surprises me because you appear to pick up things really fast.

BH: In some instances, that may be the case. What I’m referring to—unfortunately, for me—is the sad fact that so often for me is that I write the songs, we record the songs, and then, we learn how to play them, or I learn how to sing them. One reason for this Bride of the Noisemakers compilation is that when I feel that what we are doing live is so far surpassing the original record that most people who are interested would know, then I feel like I want to get that out there because that to me is so much better.

In this case, I was looking for a definitive version of these songs. Even recent songs, a song I wrote with Robert Hunter, “Cyclone”—I just feel like I do it better now. The arrangement is really very similar to the record we made two years ago, but I just think the vocal has evolved and changed for the better. That’s what I mean by “slow learner” in that sense.

RR: What is the status of the musical you mentioned, SCKBSTD ?

BH: We have one offer to go to the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, and there is another possible offer to go to Kansas City. There are some New York Off Broadway houses, but I don’t think we’re quite ready for that. I think our play is really good, but I don’t think it’s great yet. It needs to be great. When we were done with our first run, which was in Norfolk, Virginia in January and February, that is how I felt about it—it’s really good, but it needs work. Then, I saw The Book of Mormon, the amazing play by the South Park creators, I said, “Well, after seeing this, we really need some work.” (laughs)

You kind of get your assed kicked by something truly amazing to get a perspective about what great really is, what great, quote, unquote, really is. That was a nice wake up call and very inspiring. I think what they’ve done is really, really great. It’s really something, very creative, and really irreverent and offensive to a lot of people. (laughter)

We’re assiduously working on this thing. We just wrote a new song, a new weird song, and it is very dissonant and crazy. I think next year, some time, maybe next spring, will be the second production that we will have of SCKBSTD.

RR: And I imagine you are quite busy for the rest of the year with touring.

BH: I’m booked until next April because I’ve got a new solo piano concert record coming out next February, and I’m booked February, March and April for that. It’s crazy.

RR: So just one month at a time at this point.

BH: If I look too far ahead, I get tired just thinking about it. (laughter)

RR: But you are happy with the new 2-CD live compilation.

BH: I am happy with it. I think it captures what we do. I think it captures the joyful quality. I think it has a lot of energy captured on the discs, and that sometimes has been hard for us to do. I mean…I don’t know for sure. I’m too close to it. I hope other people feel that way. That’s all I can say. I don’t really know. We do our best. We’re not that good, frankly, at record making, so I often think that we screw up. (laughs)

RR: “Joyful” is a great word to describe many elements of your music. Your music does bring a joyful, euphoric quality to the moment. I always thought that was a unique quality of yours. Where does that joyfulness come from within you?

BH: Looking for that feeling. I guess I’m what you’d call an ecstatic; someone who is looking for that transcendent feeling where you can give yourself chills. It’s really hard to give yourself chills. So often, the chills come in unexpected situations. Mind you, when I played with the Dead, certain songs were so great that…I get chills just thinking about playing “Wharf Rat.” (laughs) I get chills just thinking about playing “Loser,” and,

consequently, there’s a Dead song on this record. Actually, it’s funny. Our record, Bride of the Noisemakers, has Robert Hunter bookends. The very first song is “Cyclone,” and the very last song is “Standing on the Moon,” a Garcia/Hunter underappreciated classic. Our approach to me is pretty conversational. A lot of the spontaneity occurs because in the slightest manner when someone like J.V. [Collier], the bass player, will play a lick, some line, and I’ll hear it, and I’ll play it back at him because our band has a bunch of guys with pretty good ears, and often play it back at you. Then, the organist, JT Thomas is a killer player. He used to play with Captain Beefheart for 21 years. He’s got monster ears. He’ll play it, and that will become the next section, a new riff, and there, we’re off and running. The newness of that creates one euphoric, joyful feeling of “Wow, (laughs) look where this just went. Who would have thought that would happen?” The conversational aspect of our approach really allows us a lot of those moments, rather than, as I said before, “here’s the song just like you know.”

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