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Djam Karet

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Gayle Ellett of Djam Karet from 2000

MSJ: The name of the band is very unusual, where does it come from?
Chuck, our drummer, read about that phrase in a book he was reading years ago. It's a Balinese phrase. It refers to how your sense of time changes - when you're having a good time, time goes by quickly and when you're bored, time goes by slowly. It means "elastic time". It's also just kind of an unusual name and a non-mainstream name. You don't want to pick a name that someone else has already picked or is going to pick.
MSJ: How would you describe the band's sound?
In the broad category, it's an instrumental rock. It's sort of hard to describe. Obviously, we draw from jazz and hard rock and ethnic-y music stuff and electronic music and things like that. It's not a real focused style because some of our records are more electronic. It sort of swims around a bit.
MSJ: How did you guys hook up with each other?
I went to college with Chuck and Mike and Henry lived in the same college town out in Claremont.
MSJ: What kind of music were you doing before this band?
All of us had been playing in different groups together in different formations. I'd been playing with Mike and Chuck in some other groups and those were mainstream, vocal oriented, college kind of dance bands. Chuck was playing in a band "Happy Cancer" that was more like fusion. For the first couple of years of Djam Karet, all we did was totally improvised music. We didn't have any organized songs. That was really the beginning of the band's playing was total improv music.
MSJ: What would you see the band's influences as being?
Because I'm 40, and a lot of the guys in the band are around my age, we're real influenced by the music of our teen age years - early teens and stuff. So, we're real influenced by a lot of `70`s music that `70`s sort of sound. Early groups like Yes, Pink Floyd, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, tons of groups like that. Other more modern people like Steve Tippett, John McLaughlin and world music, electronic music, Eno, Fripp, stuff like that.
MSJ: You have received a lot of critical acclaim, but the band is far from a household name. Considering the type of music you do, that is a bit to be expected, but does it ever get frustrating?
With the kind of music we do, it's not very popular. I have quite a few instrumental music CD's, tons of them, but you don't hear a lot of instrumental music on commercial radio at all except on those light jazz stations. So, we're not aspiring to make it big. It would be nice if we sold some more records, but of the style of music that we do - we're lucky we've got such great reviews, that people buy our music so we can put out more CD's. Our CD's make money. They just don't make much money, but they pay for us to make more CD's. You know, when you do ten minute long songs with four guitar solos and you don't have a singer, you're not really trying to go towards a commercial vein. Which has allowed us, instead, to totally go how we feel like it. Which is kind of excessive, and it's sort of players' music where it's free for the drums and bass to be a lot more busy than in conventional rock music.
MSJ: A lot of your music seems like it would be well suited as soundtrack music. Have you considered doing soundtracks?
We've done lots of work for TV shows and sports shows and stuff, but I'd like to do music for feature length films. Obviously because it would pay well and it would be more enjoyable. In the past we've done soundtrack work for television shows, surfing movies, action sports, stuff like that. On a side, I do commercial music for shows like that. I was just down working in my studio doing mainstream music. I've been working on some Chinese music to sell to different music libraries, so that's a fun project.
MSJ: Are there any other musicians you would like to work with?
There's certainly tons of famous musicians it would be fun to work with. Like Peter Gabriel and people in King Crimson, David Gilmour and people like that would be fun to work with. It would be fun to work with a good keyboard player or a good violin player. It would be fun to have somebody in our group for a while that plays an instrument that we don't play - like electric violin would be fun.
MSJ: What do you see in the future for the band?
We're working right now on our 11th record, which is an instrumental concept record that's going to be a 60 minute project about the dream world. That what we're working on currently, but I think that in a broader sense we're just going to keep doing what we're doing, which is periodically put out records and playing a little bit live here and there.
MSJ: Have you considered hooking up with a bigger act on tour?
We haven't thought about it too much, and we're not all real keen on touring. I mean, it would be nice if we could sell more records, but playing a few gigs is pretty much fun, but we're not real psyched for a tour. There's no way we're going to get in a van and drive our stuff around the East coast and West coast and stuff like that. We're all too old, and way not interested in doing that. We flew to the East coast a couple years ago to play in Baltimore at Orion Sound Studios, and we might fly out to the East coast next summer to do some gigs if some promoters will pay us, and it looks like they will. So, we'll travel around a little bit to do gigs here and there, but I just don't see it happening too much, and we don't have a singer so, we're just not really commercially oriented, which has helped us commercially (laughs). We do get great commercial press.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought?
I just bought No-Man, members of Porcupine Tree. I like Porcupine Tree big time. And a Bill Lazlow record called "Sacred System".
MSJ: What was the last concert you attended?
John Hammond, last weekend - he's a blues guitar player from the `60`s. He did the soundtrack to "Little Big Man". I saw him in this guitar store out here.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 5 at
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