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Improvijazzation Nation - Issue # 41
INTERVIEW with Bret Hart
RZ: Bret, though I know a bit of the story, I'm sure our readers would like to know - WHY (& to where) did ya' DISAPPEAR fer' so many years?
bhh: "I have never disappeared, although it must have seemed so from the other end of the telescope. Let's see, (correct me where I'm inaccurate here) you and I met in South Korea in 1987. I remember receiving a phonecall at work and you had seen the contact information in, was it Sound Choice (R.I.P.)? We began recording together immediately, the following weekend, I believe...put out the "Zzaj-Art Tapes", and then I returned to the States in 1990. That's where I believe you consider me to have disappeared. Things have always been pretty transient and nomadic for me, from childhood on up. I recently reestablished contact with the fella who taught me my first guitar riffs back in 1973! I find that my associations and friendships usually survive the periods of silence and distance. In 1990, I was living just outside Boston, in Norwood, Massachusetts; working as a printmaker and commercial artist. I contributed recorded bits to Zoogz Rift's "WarZone" LP that year, documented the "Puff Hoff/SOLAR ASH Jams" (just released through InstrumenTales, with additional ambient tonework and drumming by Brian John Mitchell and Scotty Irving), continued experimenting with primitive computer sound/rhythm software, and pretty much concluded my 80's 'career' as an unpaid independent music journalist. After about a year, we moved to Fitchburg, MA - better known as "Detroit, Jr.", with all of that poverty and nighttime gunfire... There, I was a printing supervisor in a big, filthy plastics factory for a year. The fumes were horrible. 3-11 shift work, usually six days a week. Awful! I played several college gigs then, was jamming a lot at a place we called "The Barn", and was trying to wrestle some coherence out of a short-lived grouping we called 'Coffee'. Concurrently, my marriage was falling apart and the bands Maximum Love Vibes (in Maine) and Progress (in Massachusetts) were forming. I had met Peter Zolli at the Worcester Artist Group performance space, and we became friends and started doing a lot of improvisation, as well as structured music together. Progress evolved into the Band HipBone, which released a lot of EP's and two LP's between 1993-1997. HipBone had an improvisational arm I call "Penguin", who also have a CD on IT Records ("Halloween with Penguin"). I formed and organized a musician's collective, called F.-A. R. M. (Fitchburg-area Real Music), which opened a lot of venues up to groups playing original music, and helped a few people to get their stuff recorded. 1994-95 was a fun year. I had an pretty bad injury, on 3/19/96, which sent me packing to nearby Worcester for work. There, I began an extremely busy two years. I was playing and recording with lots of folks; at one point had six different performing bands happening at the same time (The Bob & Bret Show, Runs With Scissors, Jaws of Glee, The Wormtown Rounders, The B's of Sunrise, and my solo-gig); had received a local cultural arts grant to release my first CD, was getting a lot of nice regional press, and got the F.E.S.T.E.R.- project (a really outstanding Residents tribute record - inexpensive and available at MP3.com) off the ground. That year, my alter ego, Alonzo Phillips, recorded a cover of Iggy Pop's song "LUST FOR LIFE", which made it onto an Iggy/Stooges tribute record released on Revenge Records, in France. At the same time that the record was released, the song was featured in the movie Trainspotting. There's a great studio near there - Toad Hall, in Douglas, Ma - where I was being brought in to do session work for others. I recorded my wife's first CD, "Planting That Seed in Their Heads", there using the fine Toad Hall crew as the band. In 1998, Christine and I moved south to Eden, North Carolina. We were pregnant with our daughter, Emmalee; and were about to obtain physical custody of Christine's other two children. Around then, you and I got back in touch. My wife and I (along with Scotty Irving - percussion and Bryan Church Smith - fiddle/woodflute) have a band now that we call "Barbwire Hearts". We play our songs out every week or two. Tina's a very interesting songwriter. We played a fantastic benefit show, to raise money for Habitat For Humanity, two weeks back, and celebrated our 30th gig at Lola's Coffeehouse last night (3/25/2000)."
RZ: Since your' BACK (in full presence), & have so many presence's on the WWW, please enlighten the' public with the prime sites they can read about (& hear samples of) your music(s).
bhh: "The following links will take your readers to many aspects of what we and I do. Brief descriptions follow each.
This is the InstrumenTales Records catalogue. It is as up-to-date as I can keep it, given the fact that I'm the father of three and work full-time as a teacher. Includes front cover graphic of each release, and a descriptive blurb about the music therein.
This is the page affiliated with Gajoob magazine, which showcases the Homemade Music Classics Series re-release of my 1988-98 [150 minute!] opus 'Mount Rushmore: Volumes I & II'. They have broken it into two CD's (was originally a three K60 release).
This is the condensed version of the InstrumenTales catalogue. Strange JPG file of a pretty woman in a dentist's chair.
This page textually explains the whole InstrumenTales Ethos. Artists considering contacting us, please read this document. Up, courtesy of Instant Dogma!
This is the place to get all of the dirt. Very text laden. Includes the infamous Russian article about me, a comprehensive listing of every recording- compilation I've done since 1979 (actually numbers in the hundreds), background information about musical/artistic associates, the (obsolete) HipWorks ArtSite catalogue of cassette music (much of which is being remastered and issued through InstrumenTales).
This pages is on my friend, Steve Blake's, Instant Dogma website. The site focusses on the many goings-on at his Toad Hall Studio. Steve produces a lot of interesting music there, and has been kind enough to include some information about my work. Steve was very involved in the making of many of my records, including: both KUDZU (he is a member) records, "Duck or Mask?", "No More Bandages!" and others. Click on the "KILROY" button.
This page is on my friend, Ken 42R's ZeroHits website. Ken is the inventor of the "40 Love" and "Plex-O-lin", homemade instruments he uses in the band Invented Thing Quartet, of which I was a member when living in Central Massachusetts. This site is really fun and funny. The Invented Things have a rich history, well worth reading about. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to listen to samples of my work, except where kind people like you have posted samples. The only access I have to the Internet is through a school computer, one which does not permit me to upload music (just text and graphics). The way to hear this stuff is to send me a check and buy it. All our releases cost $9, postpaid in the US ($15, outside the US)."
RZ: What do you see as your' "musical mission in life" for the next 10 years? Or do you have one?
bhh: "Nothing has really changed in the 22 years or so that I've been performing and recording what I do. It will stop when I stop. Because what I do and how I do what I do is commercially sensible and non-turbulent to my family, there is no reason to expect things to do anything but evolve. I'm trying to get my small town to consider the possibility of renovating an abandoned theatre here and turn it into a not-for-profit artspace/
performance space. On the marquis, in big, bold letters, it says "GRAND". I'd like to see something called "The Grand New Op'ry" in that building."
RZ: What (in your opinion) will be the primary medium for music 5 years from now? Will CD's go the way of the cassette? Will .mp3 proliferate? Does it matter?
bhh: "It doesn't matter. Whatever sells, will sell. Remember, we live in a society that has the gaul and gumption to actually air a TV show called "Greed"...can you believe it? There's no allegiance to the consumer in America, so don't expect your CD burner or minidisk recorder to be cutting edge for long. In my house, we use what we have until it breaks. Then, we problem solve ways to afford something else. Technology has never dictated to me. I tag along at my own pace and snap-up what deals make themselves available to me. At present, we make our InstrumenTales CD's by-hand, at-home, just for you. Yup, that's my spit on the stamp. I photocopied that insert and data sheet."
RZ: Your music has taken many stylistic turns in the last 8 years or so, yet (as the "Typespider" & "Fowl Turbulence" CD's you've just released prove) you're still able to experiment with the best of 'em.
bhh: "My work with North Carolina artists Scotty Irving (who also plays with Remora, Eugene Chadbourne, Elvis X, and others-and was a founding member of Geezer Lake), Fred "Gentlemaniac" Hall, Ed Shepard (of East October), Barbwire Hearts, local porch talent, and by-mail collaborative music-making relationships, such as ours, are keeping me very busy. This tiny record label is also something that I'm aiming a lot of time and energy into. I welcome submissions from people familiar with what I/we do. Like you, I deal in small-run/large media promulgation releases. Anyone feeling as though they have yet to locate the right small label to document what they do should drop me a line (and a tape): email@example.com I continue to be a recording member of HipBone (Central Massachusetts), am doing further soundscape records with my friends Arte Biglips, "Blind Pineapple" Phillips, at Mark McGee's Central Landing Sound, on Chebeague Island, Maine...this was where all of the Maximum Love Vibes LP's were recorded and produced between 1991-1996. As for "TypeSpider" (by H.I.M. - Hart/Irving/Metcalf), that record exists in a new domain of re-releases that I'm having a lot of fun with lately. I'm taking extracts from the instrumental guitar compositions I did so much of in the 1980's (probably totaling, in all, about 200 hours), and putting it back on the streets, so to speak, by having friends, new and old, hop on there and slam! There's a newly arranged version of the "SOLAR ASH" sessions from Boston, in 1990, which are some of the strangest 'space-rock' you'll hear any time soon. The new additions include drumming from Scotty, and ambient tonework from Brian John Mitchell. In the same vein, Ed Shepard and Fred Hall are having at my "494 Possible Triangles & Circles" scores from 1983. These compositions were written using graph paper and symbols to represent each of the 3 or 4 permitted tones in each composition. This music was well received when it first came out. Now, it'll be even better and more penetrating with the new, additional sounds. "Fowl Turbulence" (by Metcalf/Diaz-Infante/Hart), is yours/my latest collaboration together, with the very organic and piercing guitar playing of Ernesto slathered on there. I find that record particularly relaxing, when barely listened to at low volume...as when reading or writing."
RZ: What changes do you see coming down the pike for your style in the next coupla' years.
bhh: "My 'style'...that's interesting. I have no earthly idea what I would write if asked to describe my 'style'. This has been a problem for years, when someone askes me "What kind of music do you play?" Maybe someone can help me define my style, or styles. I've been invited into Fred Hall's improvisational band, AUTOMATIC MUSIC. There, I should be able to use some of the stranger instruments I play. Lately, I've been growing very fond of exploring the depths to which I can take multitracked percussion. The upcoming "Blind Pineapple" Phillips' CD Bee-spit Architecture is composed of a 50/50 split between sung-songs and instrumental compositions. The instrumentals are very percussive, overall, and bring in many of the wooden and metal things I gathered during my travels. More drums are expected to be added by (producers) Steve Blake and Greg Sullivan at Toad Hall Studios. For the last half-decade or so, I've become interested in playing with good slide players, and have continued to develop my left-hand approach to the guitar in such a way as to replicate a lot of slide-guitar sounds. Greg is a great slide player, and will probably be elbow-deep in the production/arrangement of that Phillips' record."
RZ: Are you "making money" with your music? Is that important to you?
bhh: "Frankly, no. Never have made money, dollar-for-dollar. I've had fruitful years, and many long stretches of 'in the red'. Because I'm a garage sale kind of guy, my costs have never been too painful. People contact me for my CD's, I send them out. Everyone gets more than what they ordered, just like the old days with Kamsa Tapes, and HipWorks Productions. Y'know, even though the real thing now comes in foil bags, I remember when Cracker Jacks were in a box that was hard to open and had a real excellent prize inside... InstrumenTales always delivers more than the customer's expectation. We're fun that way. Making money, in the macro sense, has never been important to me. My family does not measure its success by counting its accumulated property. People like that run for Republican office and are not terribly welcome on my porch. So long as we've got the rent paid, food in the 'fridge, and an extra roll of 't.p.', everyone's pretty happy.
RZ: What advice would you offer to other D.I.Y. musicians?
bhh: "Network. Remember to thank people who participate in and support the music and art you're making. On the WWW, ask for links, and provide links. Speak positively about other people's art. Refuse to sacrifice your art to any golden calves, particularly ones with dollar signs hanging from their tails. Don't burn any bridges. Stay absolutely true to your vision of what music should sound like, and become as prolific as your life will permit. Be kind to others. Be kind to your equipment. Treat your children with love and affection. Include your children in the art you make...give them the gift of Inclusion. Never give up. There is no enemy - besides ones we create for ourselves to react to. If you're making interesting music and think it might fit in with what we're doing here at InstrumenTales, send me a tape (NOT your only copy, please!) of your best unreleased stuff/old or new... InstrumenTales may be interested in being friends and helping you out. It might be smart to get one of our sampler CD's to hear the tenor of what we are here at InstrumenTales."
bhh: "I teach 8th Grade English in a middle school near here. Yes, it's 'kewl', and we've accomplished some great things in my classroom. This month, every one of my 70+ students has one of their poems on display, behind glass, at the public library. Once a week, I teach an elective called "The Holmes Middle School Do-It-Yourself Music Ensemble" - this term it's seven 6th Graders. Nice faculty and administration here, fair benefits, clean air, poverty...Rockingham County has it all. Last summer, I taught a college course called "Do-It-Yourself Music Making" through Rockingham Community College. I taught people how to use a 4-track recorder, we shared our songs each week, and each student came away from the course with a multitracked recording (Bret-productions, all) of one or two of their songs.
I also continue to be published. This has been going on, uninterrupted, since about 1978. At present, a small local paper called EDEN's OWN publishes monthly 'rants' (your term) that I write about the community."
RZ: Will we see Bret Hart on the Letterman show anytime soon?
bhh: "Not likely...unless it's for something I did as a teacher. Is he still on? I saw Captain Beefheart on his show in the early-80's...the Don looked very uncomfortable..."
RZ: Folks who make their own music are always interested in equipment (to some degree, at least). What's your' rig?
bhh: "When I play out with a band, people sometimes come up and stare at my effects gear...it's pretty unattractive stuff, since I repainted my pedal effects to conceal what the are...(Pedal names: "Ass-Fuzz", "Cop Eating Donut", "Digital Lay", "Your Breath", etc.). Lesse, we have a Tascam 4-track (need a new one, this'un is presenting problems), a Phillips CD recorder, assorted other old stereo components, two Fender acoustic/electric guitars (Fenders stay in-tune well), an ancient Guild 'Starfire III', an E-Bow (I love these things...been using them for almost 15 years. One of the great unknown devices to turn a guitar into something alchemical), a Casio MIDI guitar Bob Jordan sold me for $80 (this is where most of my keyboard sounds come from), the "Barstool-O-Caster" ( across between a barstool and a Telecaster!), a 1940's electric mandolin (with a pick-up the size of a poptart!), an electric Saz (from Turkey), an electrified StrumStick, a Can-Jo, my numerous homemade instruments (The Howler, The Arc, Joe, The Hair-Jo, The Electric Bowl, etc), a pile of percussion instruments from everywhere, several cheap/toy keyboards, several antique P.A. systems, cords 'n' mics, a bunch of vintage pedals and rack-mount oddities, blah, blah... Most of the things I record are acoustic guitar-based. When we play out, it's usually through a 4-channel 60W Crate mixer-amp into a single homemade speaker enclosure. For bigger gigs, I haul out my old 1970's Shure 200W 12-channel unit. Nothing too elaborate...most of the mics are rusty, dusty, and give your lips a ZAP if your touch 'em. It all usually works satisfactorily. We can set-up a whole show in about 15 minutes and, when finished, break it back down even faster than that."
RZ: Anything else?
bhh: "This country is becoming an even worse Greed and appearance-driven toilet. "Art for $ sake" is an oxymoron. Being creative for money is like dancing about architecture...it makes no real sense. The creative impulse is delayed, beaten down, and raped by any consideration of its saleability. Not worth the effort. It is perfectly wonderful to labor on in relative obscurity, if one wishes to retain the aesthetic integrity of what they are doing. Had I been doing what I do in order to get consistently paid for it, common sense would have driven me out of the 'biz' years ago. I dislike Top 40 music as intensely as I do drive-by shootings and the crackhouses in my neighborhood."
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