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Progressive Rock Interviews


Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Bruce Hamilton of Jostaberry from 2020

You have a new project out under the name "Jostaberry" What can you tell us about that?

Well, I finally made the damn rock album I’d been threatening for the last 15 years. Into my 50s, it’s a bit more midlife oriented than a typical debut record, but I think has a wider appeal than just aging geezers. Despite its rock focus, it’s fairly eclectic, as is most of my musical output. There are elements of prog, experimental forms, microtonal bits, noise, jazzy sections, more electronic passages, and some riffage here and there.
MSJ: Can you catch the readers up on the history of your previous involvement in music – sort of a "highlight reel?"
Started as a drummer (rock/prog) in New Jersey (also did drum corps), went to college in Indiana, played in bands, wrote some songs, taught drumline, became a serious percussionist, got involved with contemporary music, became a composer (concert and electroacoustic), moved to Bellingham (WA) to teach, started a loose free improv group, started making beat-based and ambient electronic music, organized some festivals, started a netlabel (Spectropol), and finally started writing songs again, which eventually turned into the Jostaberry project.
MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Honestly, I don’t know. Music seems to be my only core competency! Maybe psychology.
MSJ: How did the name "Jostaberry" originate?
The name came after the album was complete, in fact even after mastering. My son and I just made a list of words that had a nice ring that weren’t in use already, words that also conjured some sort of positive image - pretty random in the end.
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
A mile-long list. My earliest influences were classic rock and prog bands. Later a bit more fusion and pop and funk; then into college jazz and classical (especially 20th century and avant-garde) became very important for me.

Specifically for the first Josta album I can hear Steely Dan, XTC, Deerhoof, Adrian Belew, Pink Floyd, The Who...probably others.

MSJ: What's the best thing that's ever been said about your music?
One of the first press quotes I got in late 80s was “the Church Lady on Acid…sometimes parodistic, always very loud and often gorgeously colored.”
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
I am doing a series of video pieces with collaborators. I also have an electronic music collaboration with NYC choreographer Liz Gerring that is on hold with the pandemic; hoping we can get it done in 2021. I’m also working on more Jostaberry material; it’s too much fun.
MSJ: I know many artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Eclectic (laughs). I had been calling Jostaberry experimental rock but lately we’ve been calling it art rock.
MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play in the future?
Sure! Can’t wait to play with my brother again (Louisville guitarist Mark Hamilton). I think a collaboration with electronic producer Kumquat is on the horizon. And there are a bunch of regional people I’d like to do regular collabs and gigs with. Even before the pandemic it had been far too long since I’d played much percussion with others, and even longer since I played in a band. I’m really craving it.
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading or streaming of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
This is an open question, isn’t it! I am an old school supporter of purchasing music from artists, and I rather enjoy hard copies still. But I know that’s not how most people consume music, so it behooves us to use the newer streaming platforms to help garner fans.
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them or posting them online?
I think it depends on the artist or stage of their career. When someone is first starting out it would seem the extra awareness would be helpful. At a certain point one starts to think about quality control and effect on sales, but in general I don’t have a big problem with it.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
(laughter) I don’t know. I mean, Ted Nugent’s an a****le, right?

Or maybe some monstrous creature representing cookie-cutter commercial music?

MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
Hard to stick with just one lineup! Since I wish I could witness Hendrix, I’ll put him with Tony Williams and Chris Squire. Power trio. A more current option is too complicated for me.
MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
Interesting question! In the past I have organized festivals, but small ones centered on adventurous music. I have been able to have some heroes at some of them, like Morton Subotnick; but if I could curate a large festival in 2021? Deerhoof, Radiohead, Zammuto, Zappa plays Zappa, Tigran Hamasyan, so many more… As much love as I have for the old classic bands, I don’t think I would go in that direction unless they were producing great new material. For instance, that Hitchcock/Partridge collaboration - I’d have them in a heartbeat.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
I bought a bunch this last Bandcamp Friday - lots of cool experimental music from the PNW, including Zhea Erose; and new stuff from Dave Newhouse and friends. Earlier this year I got some nice progressive jazz CDs including some by Kate Gentile, Anna Webber, Steve Coleman, Henry Threadgill and Tyshawn Sorey. Also Deerhoof just released Love-Lore, a great mashup album covering music of several disparate genres from the 1950s through the 80s. I’ve also been exploring older prog again, stuff I missed as a kid like Henry Cow, National Health and Gong. And of course, over the last little while, Roth-era Van Halen.
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
Recently went through Endurance, Alfred Lansing’s classic book on Shackleton’s harrowing second Antarctic expedition, which put some things into perspective. I’m now finally diving into Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, one that I’d skipped.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Oh man, that hurts. Can’t quite remember, there were a bunch of recitals and concerts at the university before things closed up. The last off-campus show was Carl Stone here in town, where my son and I opened with an experimental microtonal set. As far as rock, I mostly go to small local shows these days; the last huge concert was probably Macca in Seattle in 2013. There are some cool things happening online at least. One of my favorites of the year is the Gentle Giant “Proclamation” fan video.
MSJ: Do you remember the first concert you attended?
Yes! I mean…it was Yes, 1978, first part of the Tormato tour in Philadelphia. We saw them there again (same tour) the following summer. At least that was the first big rock concert. Mostly I remember the haze of pot, the revolving stage, and the sense of community, almost religious. Glorious for sure.
MSJ: Have you come across any new gear recently that you love?
I bought a Meris Polymoon pedal that’s fun for hours. I plan to get a microtonal guitar sometime in the next year.
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
Not really! I don’t know, some of those Saga albums are cheesy but I like ‘em.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Nothing quite worthy, but there’ve been a few gigs with Jazz Odyssey moments. I also had my kick drum get away from me a few times.
MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Michelle Obama would probably be a cool hang. Noam Chomsky would have some fascinating lecture-stories. I feel like I could get along with Bill Bruford---one of my favorite musicians, and he became an academic like me!
MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Vegetarian food for me, maybe Indian.
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Never too old to get in the game, eh?

Also: let some folks agree to keep pushing the art somewhere new.

MSJ: This interview is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2020  Volume 6. More information and purchase links can be found at:
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