Jeff Buckley - Latinoamérica Facebook group, August 2018Interview with Gary Lucas
First of all it is an honour for me and for "Jeff Buckley Latinoamerica" having such a talented artist for our first interview; I know you are very busy touring around the world, so I appreciate that you are using your time to reply.
- How is the 2018 tour so far?
Well I am honoured to be here and hope I can shed some light on working with Jeff with your readers. The tour is going great thank you very much! I had 18 delightful shows in Italy and the UK in April and May and a beautiful time in Serbia twice this year, with excellent gigs also in Paris and Amsterdam, so I am not complaining.
- Have you ever been in Argentina? What about Latin America?
I have not, darn it! It is still one of my big dreams...someday, perhaps!! Yes I have played in Colombia and Brazil...also in Costa Rica which is technically Central America but what the hey...also in Cuba and in Mexico (here we are wondering far afield, but I want to demonstrate how much I enjoy playing for Latin audiences!)
- Were all the artists invited to Tim Buckley's tribute related to him somehow? How did they contact you? Did you know that you were going to play with his son?
No all the artists were invited by the producer Hal Willner, who is an old friend of mine. Hal famously organized some big multiple artist concerts and albums previous to this concert, that were tributes to folks like the Italian composer Nino Rota and jazz legend Sun Ra—he is probably the first producer to ever have had this idea of organizing these kind of multi-artist tributes. Actually I don't believe any of the musicians at the Tim Buckley tribute knew Tim at all, in point of fact. The film "Greetings from Tim Buckley" has Tim's guitarist Lee Underwood present at this concert, at St Ann's Church in Brooklyn, but that was not true in reality (although I wish he had been there!). I only knew I was to play with Jeff when Hal called me up in Spring of '91 to invite me to perform at this concert, and he is the one who suggested I collaborate with Jeff.
- How and when was your first meeting with Jeff?
That took place right after I got done rehearsing at St Ann's church with my singer at the time, a female vocalist I was under contract with to make an album for Columbia Records. This was two days before the gig. I was packing up my gear in the room outside the main sanctuary in the church, and this kid approached me who was the spitting image of Tim, albeit a younger version. And he looked totally electric—like he was jumping out of his skin, like he was on fire—rolling and popping his flashing Scorpio eyes at me. It turned out he had been watching our rehearsal scrunched down in a pew way in the back of the church. I said "You must be Jeff Buckley!" and he jumped right back with: "And you're Gary Lucas! I love how you play the guitar! I dug you with Beefheart, I read about you in 'Guitar Player'—and I love what you were just playing in there!!" I was very taken with his words and enthusiasm for my playing, and right away invited him to come round my apartment the next afternoon to work on one of his father's songs. Sparks, as they say, flew between us at that first session—and that's how we got together.
- How was it to work with him?
He was the best collaborator I ever had, he was totally easy to work with and totally gifted in his musical abilities—no matter how complex the music was I would come up with for him, he could match it with beautiful and mysterious melodies and poetic lyrics. And that's how we wrote together always, except for our first jam back at my apartment where were just feeling each other out for the first time. I would deliver finished solo guitar instrumentals that I composed to him, and he would come back with perfect vocal melodies and lyrics that fit my music like a glove.
- On "Greetings From Tim Buckley" we saw you (Frank Wood, actually) creating "Grace" with Jeff. Is that how it really happened? Did you like the film? Do you think it is 100% accurate?
No it didn't happen that way honestly, that was an impressionistic scene written by the director which I rolled with, as it did describe some of our dynamic when we rehearsed together. Basically I wrote the music apart from Jeff—discrete solo guitar instruments—and either mailed him cassettes of these instrumentals (this was pre-internet, there were no mp3s then) for him to work on, or I taped myself playing these instrumentals for him in his presence, handing him a cassette directly before he left my apartment. Then he would go away and work on his parts, and when we next got together—voila! We had a finished song. The film is not 100% accurate —I mean, no biopic can ever be 100% accurate—but I think enough of the flavor of Jeff's early days in NYC are encapsulated in the film to make it both an enjoyable film and a film which is true to the spirit of that time in Jeff's life.
- When did you decide to write "Touched By Grace: My Time With Jeff Buckley"? Was it emotionally hard for you to write it? Would it be possible to make a film based on your book?
I decided to write my book after playing a tribute in Italy for his fanclub a few years ago. An article purporting to describe our relationship appeared in Italian in an Italian cultural magazine several months later which was just plain wrong on numerous accounts, and I felt really hard done by it. A friend suggested I write a letter to the magazine to correct their mistakes but I despaired of that as no one ever sees these kind of rebuttal letters—what seems to stay with people are the big "official" accounts in magazines and books usually written by people who never even saw Jeff perform, much less knew him. So then it was suggested I write a book about our experience working together, as Jeff had been very popular as an artist in Italy. I was asked to write a sample chapter and it was submitted to the Italian publisher Arcana who specialize in music books—and they liked it and green-lighted an entire book, so I got busy right away and wrote the book over the next 9 months or so. My manuscript was then translated into Italian and published in summer of 2012. I then found an English-language publisher for the book a year or so later, and thus it came out in England published by JAWBONE Press In Oct. 2013 in a much better edition than the Italian version, it was printed in China on heavy-coated stock with many color photos included in good quality reproductions. The Italian version just had a black and white photo of us on the cover. The book then arrived in America as an import.
- When was the last time you saw Jeff and the last time you talked on the phone with him? Did you notice any differences compared to the Jeff you met in 1991?
Jeff rang me in early 1997 asking me for new music for his next album, and I sent him a new instrumental I'd just finished writing in Puerto Rico on which I really could imagine his voice singing, which he pronounced "beautiful". He then asked me to to send him more music, and so I sent him another 3 new instrumentals. A few months later I went to see him perform at a private event held at the Knitting Factory New York celebrating their 10 years of existence, and near the end of his set he invited me much to my surprise onstage to perform "Grace" with him, handing me his guitar so he could concentrate on his vocals, which was how we used to perform together as a duo, with me as the guitarist and Jeff as the singer. This brought the house down! People came up raving: "I've been waiting years to see you two play together again!" Jeff seemed to be singing stronger than ever on this song. He seemed very troubled before the show though. I think he had been under a tremendous amount of pressure since signing with Sony, in contrast to the Jeff I knew back in 1991.
- What differences and similarities do you find between Jeff and Tim?
They both were incredible singers who stretched their technique to superhuman lengths, and both of them took creative risks all the time. They were both unique, sui generis artists.
Jeff Buckley Latinoamerica's followers sent you a few questions:
Matias Fabian Díaz asked: Did you read Dave Lory's book? What do you think about it?
I enjoyed it, as it filled in alot of missing gaps in my knowledge of Jeff's career after we ceased working together in 1992 after an intense year collaborating together. And I appreciated the nice things he said about my book.
What do you think about Jeff's influence over his friends, former girlfriends and bandmates? Do you consider making a collaboration with Michael Tighe, Mick Grøndahl and Matt Johnson?
Well I think Jeff continues to exert a strong influence on all the people who were around him and involved with him as he was such a charismatic and powerful personality. As far as me collaborating with his former band mates, anything is possible, I am not opposed to the idea—it could be really fantastically beautiful—it would just need to be organized well.
Do you remember Jeff having any approach to Latin American or Argentinian culture/music?
Not off-hand, other than naming his Publishing Company El Viejito Music! But I am sure he would have loved nuevo tango music for instance. He loved anything with real soul and real passion! We just never talked about it together. I love Astor Piazzolla for instance, and I bet Jeff would have also.
Last but not least: When are you coming to Argentina?
As soon as someone invites me there and it makes sense; i.e., creates a situation where I can perform there comfortably. It's my dream to perform there still as you know!
Sebastián Calero Pérez asked: What could you say about your experience in composing soundtracks and how the idea of joining live music and films came up?
Well I grew up with film as a film buff and also an impresario, projecting short silent 8mm horror films to my friends and neighbors as a young boy. We always had a lot of film soundtracks around our house—"South Pacific", "Dr. Zhivago", "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" for instance. So it was a short step from there to begin creating live soundtracks to accompany films—it was in my blood! I started with "The Golem", a 1920 German horror film of the silent era in 1989 with my childhood friend Walter Horn co-composing it, and now have 12 live soundtracks solely composed by me, including several for Latin horror films, such as the Spanish-language "Dracula", which was made in Hollywood in 1931 with an all-Latin cast at night on the sets of Bela Lugosi's "Dracula":
I also have a live soundtrack to Brazilian cult horror auteur Jose Mojica Marins' (a/k/a Coffin Joe) 's 1967 shocker "Tonight I Will Possess Your Corpse":
"Distortion" is one of his favorites songs and he would be very happy if you could record it again.
Sure I love that song. You never know!
And he asks you: Which current artist has the same quality as Jeff?
There is no one I can think of off-hand, sad to say. I think Jeff was one-in-a million—a rare gem.
Holly Caulfield asked: What do you think about Jeff Buckley's current legacy?
I hope many more young people pick up on Jeff's brilliant artistry, as sometimes it seems to me that he is way under-appreciated by the newer and younger generation of music lovers, unfortunately.
Bruno Pérez asked: How was Jeff as a person on his daily life?
He could be a complicated mixture of emotions, like anyone. Some days he would be really sunny and happy-go-lucky, at other times he would be very brooding and enigmatic, and not say very much. Basically I would say we were very close during most of our creative relationship. I felt Jeff was a very warm and loving person for the most part, and I enjoyed his company very much.
Francisco Faugal and J Arturo Gomez R asked: How was working with Chris Cornell? Was it similar to working with Jeff?
I realy enjoyed working with Chris, he was a fantastic guy, and I miss him alot. But I was not at all as close to him as I was to Jeff so it's hard to compare the two of them. I never collaborated with Chris the way I did with Jeff, which was a totally unique relationship. With Chris I was there to interpret his music, as he was controlling the writing. With Jeff it was a real one-on-one collaboration as I described it earlier. Temperamentally I think there were similarities in their personalities in certain respects, particularly their mood shifts day to day—but I didn't spend nearly the same amount of time with Chris as I did with Jeff, who I got to know up close and personal in the year I was intensely working with him.
If it is not much to ask, I would like to ask you if you could tell us any anecdote/story with Jeff.
Yes, one time he came over to my apartment to work with me and he noticed a book in a stack of books on the floor, a book titled "Kabbalah" by Gershom Scholem, who was an authority on esoteric Jewish mysticism.
"You know, Jimi Hendrix was the 'Voodoo Child'—
and you're the 'Kabbalah Child'!"
I liked that :-)
Interview conducted by Sol Valdez
Sputnik News Serbia, July 2018Interview with Gary Lucas
"Trump is a new picture of a political panorama, which we will only see as far as it can be abnormal," said American guitarist Gerry Lukas, the guest of this year's Russian Classical Music Festival "Bolshoi" in Sputnik.
A famous American guitarist:
Gerry Lukas, a world-renowned guitarist, a singer-songwriter and composer nominated for the Grammy Award, with a discography of more than 30 solo albums in various genres, was the guest of this year's "Boljšoja". We talked about him about music, but also about the global political situation, after the second night of the festival where his unique musical style gave sound to the silent film "Chess Fever" of Vsevolod Pudovkin.
The second time you are a guest at Mešavnik. Last time at the film festival "Kustendorf", now at the Russian classical music festival. How much do these two events differ and which do you like more?
- They differ in a way, because I love the pure classical music I listen to. It's an incredible experience for me to watch and listen to young musicians whose performance is passionate and at a high level. The film festival is a psychedelic world of filmmakers. These two events are very different, even after parties that are held after the official part. During the film festival there are gigs that last until 6 in the morning. Now we're listening to wonderful jazz. Last night we went about two hours after midnight. This festival is more family oriented, that's for sure, but both are amazing for me. I like to play here, anyway at any time. I would not say there is a big difference, but I think that I feel a little more at home at the film festival, because I previously have played at film festivals. The performance at the classical music festival for me is a completely new experience. I've played the classics, and made classical albums, but I have currently only a few classical pieces in my repertoire. Thanks to Emir Kusturica, who enabled me to accompany a fantastic comedy with Tchaikovsky, I have spent a great time here.
However, I assume that the music festival is still closer to you in certain segments. Have you exchanged experiences with some of your present colleagues here?
- Yes. I wanted to praise all the musicians I listened to play, they are great. As for the new cooperation, they should suggest this to me, because I am a musician who improvises a lot in a moment. When playing classic music, you must play exactly the way the notes are written. You can only change the pace and accent.
Odjeci festivala "Boljšoj": That's what Kusturica does
With your gig, you have magnified the screening of the film "Chess Fever". What kind of emotion does this film accomplish?
- It's pure enjoyment, because you can see part of the chess party of the great Moscow masters of the twenties of the last century. Due to its historical value, it is very impressive to see the actual players who appeared. Also, I think that the film is very modern due to the topic of male-female relationships. I think it's wonderful and it touches the heart.
Still unusual is when the classical composition is performed on the guitar...
- Right. I tried to stick to mainly the Tchaikovsky compositions, but I added some of my own music. I changed the music of Tchaikovsky a bit also, turned some of it jazz interpretations.
The compositions you perform on such events are, as you say, 50 percent of the composed and 50 percent improvised. What is crucial in this improvisation? Moment, emotion, audience?
- I'm often influenced by the atmosphere around me. I can feel the audience moving, running for a certain way I play. When a beautiful girl is sitting in the audience, I have to impress her with the performance. Sometimes, when I stare at the screen, I see something I've never seen before. At last night's premiere, while I watched a large canvas, with a clear picture, I saw some new things that inspired me to play my score a little differently, honestly.
For Sputnik you stressed that you as a child liked to listen to classical music. Which compositions and composers would you sit specifically for?
- Tchaikovsky, "Overture 1812", I love this work, and Strauss, "On the beautiful blue Danube". I often listen to Beethoven and Prokofiev. I very much like Russian classical music, Shostakovich. Now I like Debussy, I love his and Chopin's piano music. I could enumerate it indefinitely.
How much is Tchaikovsky listened to in America?
- I would say that there are many classical music fans in America. Perhaps they are older generations, but there are also a lot of young virtuosos in America. There is probably a greater interest in the classics in Russia and Europe, because it is where the music originates. American classical music originates from the late 19th century, but there are groups of people, especially in big cities, who maintain a tradition of listening to this music.
Fireworks of sound and images over Serbia
In addition to Russian classical music, how familiar are you with other branches of their art? Literature, film ... What would you say?
- I'm a big fan of Russian film. The Soviet film leaders were very advanced, I mean the edifice developed by Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov. Their work was studied. When I was young, I went to film courses, watched "Potemkin" and "Alexander Nevsky" and I liked these movies. Russian cinema and its development is still excellent. Russia has great filmmakers, especially Tarkovsky who was my favorite. As far as literature is concerned, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy are fantastic writers. From the modern 20th century writers, one of my favorites is Isaac Babel. "Red Cavalry" is a book of short stories that is colorful and hallucinatory, you feel like you are an actor. Of course, Scholzenjicin, Pasternak, Bulgakov, many Russian writers. Some of the modern writers like Platonov...he's so surreal that it's wonderful. There is also Edward Limonov, I read several of his books.
When we met last time at " Kustendorf " before the interview, you had the need to tell us how sorry you were that Serbia suffered a NATO bombing in 1999. Do you also come to our country with the same feeling this time?
- I think the bombing was a mistake and I'm sorry that people were killed and Belgrade was demolished. It's my personal feeling, because I have friends in your capital. My dear friend Natasa Urban informed me that my music was broadcast here on the radio, and then a war started and she sent me an e-mail explaining how she had left her house to go to the market, and that in the meantime a bridge was bombed and crashed into her house destroying it utterly. I was horrified. The older I am, the more pacifistic I am getting, and I am absolutely against the political violence in the world. I am for diplomacy and building bridges instead of destruction. Maybe I'm naive, but I withdraw from a demonstration of power and violence. There were a lot of massacres in the 20th century and we should not go on with it in this century. I believe that people want to find a way to talk to each other, build bridges, respect each other. This would make the world better, instead of hostility and threat. As an artist, I mainly avoid openly giving political views through my music and statements, but I experience and feel these things as a human being and I feel that we should not afford to make the same mistakes as in the past.
Who in your opinion is a better leader - Putin or Trump?
- I have no idea. I am an artist and I would not comment on politics. I express my feelings through music, and that's why I love the job I am engaged in. Music cuts through artificial boundaries of nations and reaches right into human hearts. If Gerry Lukas keeps talking about anything, it will not affect anything. I do not want to be a politician, even if someone listens to me. It's not my style. I just hope that responsible people will be careful. I do not want to see the end of the world, the Holocaust. It's terrifying to know how many nuclear weapons there are in the world. It would not be good to destroy ourselves. We need to assemble and overcome nationalism. When I read the morning news, it is incredible how things are falling apart and falling down one after the other. Sometimes I have the feeling that the planet is spinning out of control. Let's just dance. What else can we do!
How do you see the current political situation in your country?
- I come from a left-oriented liberal tradition. My people were on the side of democracy. Trump presents a new picture of political panorama, which we will only see as far as it can be abnormal. Like most people, I am very cautious and I would not want someone to make a mistake that can cost us the existing good relations that have been cultivated throughout our collective history, to create enemies from the allies. Everyone needs friends and everyone wants to feel safe and live in peace wherever they live.
Interview by Masha Radovic
Sound36, April 2018Interview with Gary Lucas
1) When you first met Captain Beefheart (I love him since my childood), and what about the moment you entered the Magic Band? I'd like to know your personal memory of this great artist.
The first time I met Don Van Vliet was over the telephone. I was the music director of WYBC FM in New Haven Yale's radio station—and my voice was trembling a little bit because I was in awe of this great artist. Later I relaxed as he made me feel very comfortable. I met him and the Magic Band in person when they drove up to Yale a few days later to perform, and hung out with him all night. He was truly magical and had a gift with conversation and words—he was full of word-play and puns and allusions and to be in his presence you could feel his creative power and charisma to the maximum. When I entered the Magic Band fulltime I assembled with the other members in a rehearsal studio and we ripped through a piece entitled "Semi-Multi Coloured Caucasian". These guys—Jeff Moris Tepper, Richard Snyder and Cliff Martinez—were super friendly and nice to me. I had been studying Don;s music on the east coast and they were based in LA—but when we got together and play it seemed effortless, we really had a thing together. Don of course when he finally walked in proceeded to lambaste our efforts, told us we were playing it all wrong, and changed it on the spot. The night we were supposed to record it, he played the final version from rehearsal to his wife Jan—and she made him change it back to its original form again, claiming he had ruined her favorite piece! She was the only one who could do this in the world, she held the ultimate power on Don.
2) What, in your opinion, makes your style so unique, and if you could jump in a time machine, who is the artist you'd like to meet?
I guess my style is best descried as "haunted"—I am able to play like an orchestra on six strings through the use of my singular finger-picking technique and open tunings and my ear. I learned this through the techniques I taught myself to play with Don Van Vliet. Also the way I bend notes on electric especially, plus my use of effects—very primitive ones too—in combination with the above—produces an other-worldly, ghostly voice on the guitar.
3) It's impossible not to ask about Jeff Buckley. I'd like to ask about a personal memory of the man and the artist. I'm a Tim Buckley fan too; do you think Jeff's talent could be compared to his father's?
Yes , I think he inherited a lot of his father's musical gifts as well as his mother's, particularly in his singing voice which was very similar to Tim's in its octave-leaping death-defying techniques. I think they were both amazingly individual blazing talents. I prefer Tim's songs overall truthfully though.
4) You really played almost every genre of music: there's something you haven't tried yet, something that fascinates you and that you could try in the future?
I don't know but I'll think of something.
5) You're a musician, a composer, a writer, a teacher: What could you say about Gary Lucas to someone that still doesn't know you, and what album in your opinion does represent you better?
I think if you are a rock fan "The Ordeal of Civility" hits the spot. But as far as a beautiful melodic exotic treat, try "The Edge of Heaven."
6) Jeff Buckley and Captain Beefheart apart, I'd like to know which artist you loved most in all your collaborations, and if you have a gig to remember, some special gig that gave you the most beautiful emotions onstage.
I would say Chris Cornell—I can't believe he's gone. The best gig I ever did was playing before the United Nations for Holocaust Remembrance Day last year. I can't top that one!
7) Finally, a 'non question'! We all say Thank you for your time and patience, and we'll see you at Museo del Rock soon. Before we say goodbye, we'd like to know if you can tell some anecdote or just a thought.
Be your own hero.
High Times, April 2018Tropical Hot Dog Rites
Deep in the heart of Don Van Vliet
Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas
"The World of Captain Beefheart"
(Knitting Factory Records)
As "re-imagined" by vocalist Nona Hendryx and former Beefheart guitarist/chronicler Gary Lucas, The World of Captain Beefheart is that rarity in the world of tribute albums, a respectful but not ass-kissing overview of an artist's work that reveals intriguing insights into the singularity of the original material by using the material to springboard into fruitful further development.
One of the most fascinating revelations here is the genuinely sweet melodicism and sturdy songcraft that Don Van Vliet had kept hidden just below his freaky surface; through his Delta blues-DNA lens, any sort of genuine sentiment was best buried 'neath clattering, caterwauling heaps of rhomboidal squawk 'n' shriek and general musical mayhem. In startlingly alternative ways, tracks like "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains" and "I'm Glad" (which here sounds like a long-lost Delfonics confection) benefit enormously from the sharp-edged and sassy Hendryx's attitude about the Beefheart concept; she's a female counterpart of Van Vliet—a challenging, tough-love type partner and not a mere enabler—who yanks out the even sugary big-heartedness that Beefheart himself knew was there but was rarely in the mood to reveal, apparently.
Lucas is a guitar hero and arranger of quite a different stripe throughout, handling the rough-hewn sculpture-scratch angularities of his own and other original Beefheart Magic Band guitarists' electric-slide charts with wittily athletic aplomb in classics like "The Smithsonian Institute Blues (or the Big Dig)," "Sugar 'N Spikes," "Suction Prints" and a wonderfully harsh, impenetrable, noisy and random "When Big Joan Sets Up."
—John Payne / High Times