AN INTERVIEW WITH BILL BRUFORD (2001)
AN INTERVIEW WITH BILL BRUFORD (2001) For many people of my generation, Bill Bruford is a legend, whose drumming we grew up listening to in bands like Yes, King Crimson, Bruford, Genesis, UK and many other bands. So the chance to interview him was very important. He contributed important compositional ideas to the albums regarded as Yes’ masterpieces, “Fragile”, “Close to the Edge”, and “The Yes Album”. He then went on to further consolidate his drumming style in King Crimson, and began composing and making his own albums more jazz oriented albums from the late 70’s. He first formed Earthworks with Django Bates, Iain Ballamey and Tim Harries. After rejoining Yes and King Crimson in the early 90’s, in 1997, he recorded a jazz trio album with Ralph Towner and Eddie Gomez, and since then he has returned to a more acoustic jazz style. He reformed Earthworks with new members in 1998. He has said that he feels the new Earthworks would be positioned somewhere between Bill Stewart (ex-drummer for Pat Metheny, whose CD, “Snide Remarks”, Bill regards as a big influence) and the Dave Holland Quintet.This interview was taken when he came to play with his group Earthworks for 3 nights in Tokyo in February.
——–EARTHWORK’S NEW CD “The Sound of Surprise”——–
A: I think your playing has evolved and changed recently.
B: Yeah, more jazz. It’s more acoustic. Freer. Looser in some ways.
A: The music always has something happening. There’s a constantly different changes and you’re watching and giving out directions. And the music is exciting in the way that early jazz was at places like the Village Vanguard.
B: Well I hope so. Should be exciting. It’s the classical jazz quintet sound, which we all know very well. So the interest becomes in how you arrange for that and what can you bring to it that’s a little different. I think I bring some odd meters and rhythmic material that’s unusual in that genre.
A: You’ve always had a distinctive style in drumming. But your style has changed from the first period with Earthworks. At that time, there was more emphasis on the rhythmic groove. And you would put in very distinctive fills. There was more funk groove.
B: Yes. True. But the big difference is that the first band used electronic drums. The electronic drum kit forces you to play in a certain way, which is interesting. But for many years, I’ve played with that, and now I just want to do acoustic.
A:At the same time, you are playing in a very melodious way.
A: Yeah. Is there an influence from doing electronic drums.
B: Absolutely. I love the idea that the drummer had the melody. I always heard from my early days, the melodies in the drums. Particularly with Max Roach. I liked all that. Electronic drums enabled me to really play tunes. So on the band’s first 3 CDs, the drummer carried the harmony by playing chords from the pads. “Bridge of Inhibition”, Strombolli licks”, Pilgrim way. Some of these tunes. So I really was playing the tune and I loved that. I thought that was great. But the technology was very old fashioned. Very difficult. Very expensive and unreliable. A real headache.So now, I write the melodies that I want in the compositions and play it that way.
A:”Bridge of Inhibition” is kind of like Balkan Gypsy music.
B: It is, Yes. Central European. Very rhythmic. Great dances, they have.
A: Your playing has never been this detailed. There is so many things going on like percussive elements. B: It’s all recorded in one pass on the CD. There is no overdub. But yes, I treat each tune as a little drum composition.
A: I notice that more of the music is credited to you, whereas in the early days of Earthworks, a lot was credited to Django Bates and Iain Ballamey.
B: Django Bates and Iain Ballamey were really very good writers. In the early days, I would make some rhythmic confection with a Simmons electronic drum kit, and say “I’m gonna do this. You guys do whatever you want”. So they would write a tune on top. Now we have no Simmons kit. And now I pretty much write all the music all the way through. And if it needs improvements or corrections from Steve Hamilton, he gets credited for that. But now I find I’m good with the rhythm. Great rhythmic ideas. Okay with the timing. I like tunes. I think there is some very strong tunes on “The Sound Of Surprise”. My harmony is okay, but sometimes Steve will re-voice the harmony to a more sophisticated harmony. Particularly on ballads. To more sophisticated jazz harmony. So that’s my weak spot.A: I remember in the liner notes to your fist solo album, “It Feels Good To Me”, you wrote that they were the first pieces that you actually sat down and wrote on the piano.
B: Yes, that’s correct
A: And it took a long time.
B: Yes. Not good at piano, but getting better.
A:Are you still writing on the piano?B: Yes. All the music on the new CD, “The Sound Of Surprise” was written from the piano. And then I do a terrible little demo on the MC-500. And I mock up the tune just so the others can hear it. And then I interface that with the computer sing Sibelius music software. And that prints the chart. And then we have a rehearsal. We take some comments, and maybe make some changes. Print out again a second draft. Another rehearsal. More input from other musicians. Third draft. Finish. Rehearse. Go on tour. 20 cities in England. And make the CD in 3-4 days.
A: What is the British jazz scene like at the moment?
B: The problem with the British jazz scene is the problem with the British. I think so many musicians still think of themselves as inferior. And they don’t need to. They are world class players. But sometimes they’re rather small minded.We’re in a small island like Japan. And sometimes we live in the shadow of the United States musically. It’s a small scene. Not much money. People like to sit around and bitch and complain. Whereas the great attraction of Earthworks is that I can get them out of England and give them a platform in which to improve themselves in. Tokyo, Los Angeles, Rio De Janeiro and everywhere else and that opens their ears. And they become bigger players as a result. So they like to be in Earthworks. And I like to work with young musicians, who are not too formed in their ideas. So it works well.
WORLD MUSIC AND EARTHWORKS
A: I noticed that you have a number of pieces with Balkan Gypsy melodies like “Bridge of Inhibition” that you played last night from Earthworks’ first CD, and also the composition you played from the new CD. B: Exactly. “The wooden man sings and the stone woman dances” on the new CD. The jazz musician and the audience have always connected through the dance, but now the dance is a Rumanian dance.
A: So you’ve listened to quite a lot of Rumanian Gypsy music?
B: Yes. But I’m no student of any one thing because you hear so much music. Taiko drumming here. Brazilian samba here. Rumanian Gypsy here. Art-rock here. It’s all earthworks. We take the music from everywhere. And the only good thing about being British is that we have no rhythmic culture of our own. The British in rhythm are terrible. So I take all my rhythm from everywhere else. I steal it like a bird that takes from here and there and builds a nest. That’s also the story of jazz. It started out as African – American music. But that in itself was a fusion of Spanish, African, and other elements. So that was a mixture too. And now jazz is an international sport. Now we take influences from everywhere. Earthworks.
A: I think a lot Balkan music is interesting these days. A few months ago, I met a Rumanian Gypsy clarinet player who was touring here. He was talking about wanting to do more jazz. But it’s often better to sell the music as music from your own roots. A Japanese Clarinet player who toured Europe also promoted his music as Chindon, although it also contained jazz and rock elements. I think the next step for world music is after the people recognize the roots, they can be more free to do what they really want to do.
B: I think that’s very true. I think the influence of world music and the permission to mix it all up has actually liberated so many of us. We can fly from London to Los Angeles to Rio and back again in 2 days. The world is getting small. Very rarely, do you find someone who insists that the music has to be done this way only. Most people would say “Ah, that’s interesting. Wow you put that with that and got that. That’s great.”
A: Will you be doing any projects with musicians involved in various music in the world?
B: Yes, if I can find them and when they arise. For myself, I can’t initiate any more work. I have so much on. And you have to focus. And follow something through. And I’d like to follow Earthworks through to whenever it gets to.
—————————- YES, KING CRIMSON, GENESIS—————
A: In ABWH, I noticed that the style you were playing in was similar to that of “Earthworks”, even though the music was very different. It was also very different from the early days in Yes, when you were playing the same songs.
B:(laughs) Yeah, well, maybe.That was like a vacation for me with old friends. There was nothing particular creative about it. We were playing music that was already written. But for about a day or two, there was a possibility that that group ABWH could have really got quite good.
A: One of the songs on the new CD actually reminds me of King Crimson.
B: Maybe. Which one? A: Half – life.
B: It’s kind of got a rock feel. King Crimson is a big influence. Robert Fripp was a big influence. It’s a terrific group. I think its maybe that I have to leave something I really love in order to do something I love even more. And I don’t think I can be in King Crimson and do what I want in Earthworks. But there is a lot of influence from King Crimson. Often I hear myself saying in Earthworks, many of the things Robert would say or that was said to me in a King Crimson rehearsal room. Many philosophical ideas about music. Jazz? Rock? It doesn’t matter. One’s played with amplifiers, and one isn’t. That’s the only difference.It’s more of an attitude to music. Don’t play unless you have to. Don’t play until you hear something you want to play. If you don’t hear anything, don’t play.
A: In an interview, I read somewhere, you mentioned that journalists often lump King Crimson, Yes and Genesis as the same thing, but that you’ve been in all three and you couldn’t think of three different bands that do things in three completely different ways. Can you site an example of that?
B: Yes was and still is a vocal group modeled on the Beach Boys. King Crimson essentially was a Avant-Garde jazz group, much more interested in the music than the singing. Yes would use a diatonic scale. King Crimson would use a whole tone scale. Yes had its basis in American pop music like the Beach Boys, Fifth Dimension, Vanilla Fudge, while Crimson had its basis in the European Avant-Garde. It’s a completely different way of working. In a rehearsal room with Crimson, there is very little talk and a lot of playing. With Yes, a lot of talk and no playing. The philosophy is different. And Genesis? In Crimson and Yes, we thought that Genesis were copying us. They just seemed to be doing everything that we did. We thought they were really too late. Off course they became the mega-stars. And when I played with them, that was the first time, I played somebody else’s music. That I had had no compositional input and therefore felt no emotion for. With Yes and King Crimson, I was intensely into the music. With Genesis, I was just the studio guy. I was very badly behaved. But it wasn’t their fault. It’s my fault entirely. I was very young. It came at a very bad time for me. I knew I wanted to be a band leader and a writer, but didn’t know how to get there. So I was marking time in Genesis.
A: You are credited as co-composer in songs by Yes such as “The Heart of the Sunrise”. How did you take part in the composition?
B: In those days, and this is the problem with rock music, is that everybody would sit in the rehearsal room waiting to find out what to play. With nothing on paper. Nothing written. And this takes hours. Somebody has a bass riff. And the other guy says “Oh, that’s good, I’ll play the keyboard like this.” And the other guy says “I hate that. Let’s do this.” Then there is an argument. And then you start again. And people would contribute ideas. So for “Heart of the sunrise”, I would’ve come up with some bass riffs. (Sings the first lines in “Heart of the Sunrise”). I came up with many bass ideas in Yes because I’m a drummer, so the next thing I hear is the bass. Then I hear up, up through the music. Drums, bass, chords, melody. So I come to melody last.
Years later, in Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe, there was possibility for a short while that that group could have really got quite good, but market forces insisted that it had to become Yes, and that we had to co-operate with Chris Squire and Trevor Rabin. And the whole thing turned into a horrible mess.
A: The CD ABWH begins with the words “Be gone you power play machine, we don’t need your gold (and money)”
B: But that’s Anderson. The next thing you know he’s got a big contract. He needs the power machine. But he’s a crazy man, a good crazy man. He’s crazy, but good.
A: In a recent interview, Phil Collins said that he was very much influenced by you in his early days.He used to go see Yes all the time and learned all your drum parts.
B: Yes he did.Yes, Phil’s a great drummer. Genesis was very influenced by Yes. And I was influenced by King Crimson.So it’s quite different. It’s all called “Progressive Rock”, but the philosophies were all different. And it shows now because really the most artistic group now is King Crimson. The one with its heart in the right place. Yes is now a parody group of itself. It’s like watching a cover band playing their own music. Like an imitation of the real thing. So Yes is a tribute band. Genesis became a very commercial pop group, but maybe is now broken up. But King Crimson still has life and ideas because it was brave enough too change. Don’t you think so?
A:I haven’t heard their new CD.
B: I don’t like their new CD, but that’s not their fault.
A: I liked the mini CD “Vroom” more than the CD that came afterwards “Thrak” because I thought there was more excitement in “Vroom”. “Thrak” was more organized. Then I went to the live show.
B: Was that effective?
A: Well, I enjoyed your playing.
B: Maybe you didn’t see why there was six people.
B: Well I didn’t either
A: I would have enjoyed it more if it was you alone on the drums.
B: So would I, but Robert Fripp said this guy’s gonna play drums, do you want to play drums? I said sure. I worked with Pat and we made interesting rhythmic ideas locked together. There’s a tune called “Sex, Eat, Drink, Sleep, Dream”. This middle section of that is amazing rhythmically. It’s terrific. Baboon was a duet that we did that really good. But this was a situation forced upon me, and I said “Okay, I’ll make it work.” And I did make it work. But enough now.
A: So the period after that is when you started to evolve into your present style.
B: Sure, since 1998, I’ve been working on Earthworks full time. Getting looser in my playing. More jazz-like. Better with dynamics. Becoming a better musician. A better composer. A better band leader.