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Pat Mastelotto

Interviewed by Grant Hill
Interview with Pat Mastelotto from 2012
MSJ:

You remain an accessible guy to all, and I appreciate how that allows you to continue to connect with up and coming players. Since this world of progressive rock and fusion oriented material has always focused on pushing the state of the art forward, I’d like to ask you about this calm and understated ability to connect with young musicians who really appreciate your skills and who really thirst for solid musical knowledge. Thoughts?

Grant, I don’t know that I’m all that calm, but I love kids of all ages. I’m happy to bask in their enthusiasm. There’s so much great young talent out there, but it's a weird time for musicians in this “American Idol” world.
MSJ: During the recent Stickmen/Adrian Belew Power Trio tour, I couldn’t help but notice you and Tobias (Ralph) discussing and sharing some technique ideas. What did you gain from getting a chance to work with another skilled drummer like him, and later on in the tour with Danny (Carey)?
Tobias is amazing; man those hands are fast! He’s worked hard and had good teachers. He’s a very clear and focused player. He articulates very well. So, yes, there is a lot I can learn from him. Over the six week tour we had about 30 shows to hang and play, tweak and tease each other, and build  better duet drumming. I did some back stage warming up with Danny.

You know, both those guys use those strap on the leg practice pads. But I only had three shows with Danny, so we spent most of our time working on the arrangements or drinking fine, fine vodka that someone from Poland donated.

MSJ: I have actually heard some people dismiss your multiple meter syncopations as being simply “math.” How do respond to that criticism, especially when your sensitivities in more pop oriented offerings that stress phrasing and musicality over quantities of black dots are pretty self-evident?
Well, first off, I don’t much read those black dots, so they mean almost nothing to me. But I can actually sympathize. For some folks, it’s kind of like hearing people speaking different languages. More often than not, it’s not all that math-like. It’s just playing.
MSJ: This issue is also featuring a review of Recidivate, which is both a broad yet indepth compilation of work. What motivated you to put this together? It’s an intriguing collection of material.
Gosh, Grant, that’s actually a tough question, or rather requires an incredibly long explanation. It’s sort of like that perfect storm where all the elements collided at the same time. My folks were getting older and needing more from me. My daughter was hitting 21 and needing less from me. Trey’s been telling me for years to put a compilation together, especially after I made a compilation CD for my wedding guests about a year ago. And, while making that thing, I asked  Steven Wilson if it was ok to include an unused remix I had done for him the year before.  Steven gave me permission, plus an encouraging “Go ahead and use ‘em. In fact, do what you like” kind of response. So, all these things seemed to conspire. Arranging a playlist flow had already become a summer pastime while we had a barbecue or two with friends over, but I might never have expanded it until the tour you mentioned came up. I wanted to offer something fresh at the merchant booth. Now I had a deadline and it became a race to pull all the elements and the package together, get all the technical things involved with pressing a CD in time. I already had the music. In fact, I had gobs and gobs to choose from. So, of course, as soon as I sent it to the pressing plant, I thought of dozens of other tracks I wished I had included. So maybe I’ll have to do this again sometime.
MSJ: Also relating to Recidivate, how satisfying is it to look back and know the creative relationships with this grand array of artists is quite a statement for any career?
Yeah! It is very satisfying to have such amazing musical friends. I mean, jeez, to have them throw me their support! When I think of the guys I get to play with, I’m just the luckiest dude and I do abide!
MSJ: Musicians within the King Crimson family seem to have quite a collaborative spirit. Is the approach in Stickmen different in what Tony (Levin) seeks to accomplish as opposed to the way Robert (Fripp) envisions things for Crimson?
I can’t speak for what Robert might envision, but I know with Stick Men that Tony, Markus and I all enjoy challenging ourselves to go further. As you may know, Tony is very keen on puzzles and Sudoku and all that, so it just makes sense. We three all have this love of playing with polyrhythms and asymmetric meters. And, those things do seem to be very Crimson-like goals, too. Now that Markus is in the band, we hit a whole new level of harmonic and math/music puzzledom. In fact, I just got an email suggesting we all learn “Level 5” for the next tour.
MSJ: The various ensembles stemming from the King Crimson family seem to draw enormous interest in eastern Europe and particularly Russia. The TU tour with Trey (Gunn) backed this up. Yet, the “Two of a Perfect Trio” here in the USA seems to have had stellar interest, too. What are Russian audiences like (and the entire creative music scene there) as opposed to the difficulties we seem to face here in North America in terms of tour and performance opportunities?
Yeah, I love Russian audiences. They are some intense listeners, very literate and educated in the arts. They’re not as jaded by commercialism in music interests, but that's all changing. I’ve only been going there nine years and see humongous differences. I'd say in general, music seems to resonate with more power in Eastern Europe, South America and other locations off the beaten path. In America, and much of the west, music is background for all social functions like eating and shopping, so much so that the power of good music seems to be taken for granted. 
MSJ: Where do you see the music market going, and what do you think can be done at the artist level to help secure more marketing opportunities for both recorded and live music?
It’s an exciting time to be a musician with all this new technology, but it's a two edged sword. It’s nice that I can make good records in my house with people from all over the world. You don’t need a record company; you can do it yourself. But that's the hard part, doing it yourself! The future of music is fine, but the future of professional musicians is going down the tubes fast and I don’t see how that’s going to change course. So, new marketing opportunities have to be found and nurtured. I know that if we want to have people attend our shows, we'll have to spend as much time promoting as we do practicing.
MSJ: What have you been up to and what’s on deck for 2012?
Over the holidays I worked remixes for the German band, O-M. I also did lots of home recording for Julie Slick, Caudio Milano, Alistar Murphy, Marco Machera, Samuel Halkvist, Fabio Mittino and Tuner. In fact, I did lots of Tuner. Today I’m going back and forth, drumming on a new Stick Men track called “Nude Ascending” while also editing and overdubbing on the new project by Lorenzo Feliciati of Naked Truth and Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari of Obake. I cut drums for that last week over at Mike McCarthy’s studio and they sound huge! Like Lillywhite!  Mike’s the guy that engineers and produces Spoon and Trail of the Dead that I’ve played on. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, I just got an email from Steven Wilson. For fun I made an “over the top Mike Giles drum fills forever remix of Index.”  I got so busy that I never sent it to Steven until yesterday. Anyway, he just emailed me to make a download or something, so by the time you read this it should be out there. Check it out; it’s some pretty wild drumming, a battle of glitchy beatbox and hyper kit player. I’m starting the year with some gigs with Chrysta Bell, a girl I’ve been helping for the last five or six years.

Rehearsals start tomorrow. Gigs are:

 

-Paris -Club Silencio -January 31

-Brussels -Ancienne Belgique -February 3

-London -Bush Hall -February 8th

-Stockholm -Fasching -February 9th

-Malmö -Victoriateatern -February 12th

-Austin -SXSW -March 10th and 17th

 

It doesn’t get lighter. I’ll stay on in Sweden to speak at Lund University and do a few days recording with IB. Then, it’s back home to finish recording the next Stick Men CD and prepare to go to South America in May, and Europe in the fall.

In August we will have the second 3PP Camp.

Some time late in 2012 we will release the next Tuner CD, Face. I think you’ll find it an amazing piece of art. We spent about four years working on it and are currently mixing it. It's a 35 minute non-repeating slab of music and will be half of Face, the A side. Then we will go back to work on the B side, also 35 minutes that fits like a jigsaw with the A side. So, it’s two faced.

We started arranging the composition on an Excel spreadsheet, so that gives you some idea of how mathematical the concepts are.


Also, later in the year Naked Truth will release its second CD, with one personnel change of Graham Haynes, Roy Haynes’ son, replacing Coung Vu on trumpet. Just before the holidays we spent a weekend at Bill Lazwell’s studio in Orange, NJ, playing together so Lorenzo, Roy Powell and I could meet and play with Graham.

MSJ:
Is there anything you would do differently, given the benefit of hindsight, and how do you advise young talent to approach things, give the breadth of your experience and knowledge?
As someone told me a long time ago, “Trust me: never fly Air Iberia.”
MSJ: What have you been listening to lately for entertainment or inspiration?
Woodpeckers and cicadas.
MSJ: Finally, if you would indulge me, please ask yourself a question and answer it.
Wow, Grant, I’ve never had anyone ask me that before! I was going to ask myself “boxers or briefs” but that would have been a brief answer, so I’ll steal a question that someone asked me a few days ago.

 

“So Pat what was your first gig?”

Well, let me tell me about it. For my first performance on drums, all I had was a snare and tambourine. It was a seventh grade music exam and I played with four of my pals, who had acoustic guitars. We played the Beatles’ “Rain,” and also “Sounds of Silence” and “My Green Tambourine.” I really was just trying to avoid having to sing for the nuns as my pals and I were in a small Catholic school. My first paying gig was about a year later when someone from the nearby public school heard us rehearsing and offered me their graduation gig. I got us $15. The band had become a trio, so we made $5 each. By then I had a small drum kit. The funny bit of the story I’d like to share with you is that we had never used a microphone or PA until that gig. My two buddies, Kevin and Mike, now on electric guitars, a Coronado and a Jaguar, had only sung off-mic. So, as I set up the stage and placed the mic for Mike he pushed it over to Kevin, who pushed it back to Mike, both petrified to sing on the mic and actually be heard. I recently found our set list, so I know it included late 60s classics like “Crossroads,” “Spoonful,” “Toad,” “Do What You Like,” "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," “I Got a Line On You,” “Fire,” “Purple Haze,” and even one original, our anti police song called “Sick ‘em Pigs On You.”  We had all that political consciousness and I wasn’t even 13!

 

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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