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Published: 2014/08/26
by Ron Hart

Kid Millions: Forever Percussion

John Colpitts, the man known to most as Kid Millions, is one of the hardest working drummers in modern underground rock. Currently he just wrapped a North American summer tour with his longtime band, the Brooklyn powerhouse trio Oneida, including a stellar show at Glasslands in July that can be streamed and downloaded here. Yet while Oneida have been working out material on the road for a potential new LP, the Kid is currently enjoying the critical accolades from his latest work under the guise of his ongoing solo project Man Forever. Ryonen, his third proper LP under the Man handle, finds Millions working in collaboration with the renowned New York City quartet Sō Percussion and comprised of two lengthy instrumental pieces that sound like nothing either act has ever delivered to the public before. While he was on the road with Oneida, Mr. Colpitts was kind enough to lend himself for a quick interview Jambands to share with us some of his thoughts on collaborating with Sō and how Ryonen correlates into his own evolution as one of the most impressive and inventive artists behind the kit today.

Tell me about the first time you heard So Percussion.

Though I’d heard stray recordings and knew of their reputation the first time I heard them for real was at their practice space, as I waited for them to finish running a piece they were learning. It was absolutely stunning…if I felt insecure before that moment it was only magnified as I watched them perform to no one in their studio. They aren’t only tremendous technicians – that’s a given – they are incredible interpreters. They get inside the music they perform and tease out nuances and energy that was previously latent.

When and how did you reach out to them to collaborate with you for Ryonen ?

I actually didn’t reach out to them…the idea came from Wordless Music and Ronen Givony. I’d always wanted to work with them and thought it would be a great match but Ronen made it happen because he believed in the match up.

What is the story behind the title Ryonen ?

It’s taken from a Zen koan…Ryonen was a Zen nun who renounced her life, family and even her beauty in an extremely dramatic way in order to practice Zen. Like many of the koans the story of her transformation is extremely discomfiting and challenging to accept. It’s actually kind of horrible…it’s not a nice story.

How did your duo performances with Greg Fox and Jim Sauter factor into the creation of these compositions for Ryonen?

They didn’t factor in at all but those guys are incredible artists…so perhaps just as a backdrop of inspiration and encouragement. Those two guys are specifically very supportive of what I do and we’re great friends – anything like that can only help with the creative process.

What was the collaborative process like between yourself and the So Percussion folks?

The collaboration was very professional, efficient and gratifying in all the right ways. We immediately connected as people and I think in the best case that’s really what’s happening. You’re connecting with other people through the medium of music…it’s a vehicle for close human interaction. Sometimes it feels like one of the best!

What initially inspired you to play the bongos on Fallon and in what ways did you utilize them for Ryonen ?

Yo La Tengo asked me to play bongos on their song “Ohm” from their newest album [2013’s Fade]…there’s a bongo loop on the record and they wanted a live performance of the part. I’d never played bongos before in my life…and I was frankly unsure I was the right person for the job. But all I did was play the pattern with mallets and it worked out great…and I also realized in that moment that bongos really sing. There was a set at the building where I have my practice space and they were pretty nice. At least they seemed decent. They are portable and have two high pitched tones. They just worked with what I was writing.

How did you initially come to form Man Forever? What was the primary impetus for you to start the project?

The short version of the story was that I was asked to make a solo album by St. Ives Records, a now defunct vinyl-only label run by Secretly Canadian. I had no idea what to do with that opportunity until I saw a performance by Fireworks Ensemble of Ulrich Krieger’s arrangement of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music for chamber orchestra at the Miller Theater in 2010. The performance and the program notes describing the process of recording the original Metal Machine Music inspired me to try to make an acoustic Metal Machine Music with drums. Brian Chase from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs helped me conceptualize (and execute) the tuning element of the pieces and that was the start of it all.

Did So Percussion’s work with Steve Reich and Matmos provide any particular direction for Ryonen?

Not really for me no. Those are great artists and So has done amazing work with both of them but it didn’t really play into what I was doing directly. You can’t avoid Steve Reich though, it’s just in percussion music. I’m in debt in a larger sense to him and his compositions.

Both pieces on Ryonen are loop-based, or at least give off that impression. Was there any electronics that came into play for the album?

I disagree with this assessment. They are based on repetitive figures played by humans. They aren’t loops or looped in any way. I guess I’m feeling defensive because it’s hard to play that stuff for long periods of time. Don’t take that away from me.

As such there are no electronics at work in the pieces – they are acoustic.

Are you a fan of electronic music? If so, what kind of stuff do you dig and why?

Sure – I love it. I love Chicago House, Detroit Techno – anything that’s stern and true…very austere. I’m into discipline.

What is the progress of the album you were working on with novelist Rick Moody? Can you tell us about it?

We have the album tracked and mixed and we’re about to shop it around. We assembled an amazing band for the project: Nate Wooley, Shahin Motia, Richard Hoffman, Brad Truax, David Grubbs, Michael Foster. It’s got abstract playing and more standard rocking stuff as well…we’re really happy with it!

I’d love to hear about your performance with William Basinski at the Ecstatic Music Festival earlier this year. How did it come off?

I think it went really well…I approached Basinski because I thought it would be a surprising pairing – drums with his meditative work. I thought that on the surface it was an odd pairing but in reality we were coming from much the same place. It was a shot in the dark really but he was game and we got to work. I’m also happy with how it turned out and I got to explore some close mic’ed cymbal sonorities.

What do you do to get into the kind of mental and/or physical state to play for such a consistent period of time? Where do you go in your own mind when you are deep in the groove?

First of all I need about 90 minutes of privacy before I play. I’m not precious about what that means as privacy could mean hanging backstage with the rest of the band but I can’t be socializing, I can’t be attending to interpersonal issues. I have to be able to practice…sit and run about an hour of rudiments, fifteen minutes of stretching and some quiet. I also need water! I need to drink water for at least two hours leading up to the performance because if I’m dehydrated my body doesn’t work as well when I’m thirsty. As I get older it just doesn’t work as consistently…

In terms of an alternate mind set – it’s more of an elevated level of confidence which translates into a higher level of relaxation which means I can surprise myself with the choices I make…

In what ways do you push yourself to become a better drummer?

I practice at least a couple hours a day. I’m not sure what else I can do. I feel like I’m just holding onto my ability right now and not progressing so much. Age!

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