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Progressive Rock Interviews

Willie Oteri

Interviewed by Gary Hill

Interview with Willie Oteri from 2018

We've covered quite a bit of your stuff over the years at Music Street Journal, but it appears we've never done an interview with you. Can you catch the readers up on your life in music – sort of a "highlight reel?"
This last year I switched my focus from guitar to sax and flute in a more acoustic improvised environment. Currently I have a group called "Dark Matter Horns," a trio with Dave Laczko on trumpet (who I worked with in WD-41) and Steve Mankenberg on drums. Steve is one of the most creative drummers I can think of. We have an evolving digital album at titled "Evolution," and we will be releasing some EP albums at CDbaby starting in May of this year. We also host a monthly show called "Jazz OUTside" here in Austin.
MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Some type of research. Years ago that would have been Marine Biology. Today I am more interested in Animal Behavior. The music bug hit me very early in life, and in the back of my mind I knew it would win over. Those other things were just to keep busy in a way, or to satisfy the "get a real job" mentality.
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
Anyone I've ever heard and/or worked with. My mother was a Big Band jazz fan so I heard that stuff early in life. In my teen years my friends were everything  from surf music to hard rock, and I threw in things like John Coltrane, just to mix it up. By my late 20s I was into things like Weather Report, Miles Davis, free jazz stuff, if I could find it, and  progressive rock things, King Crimson, Magma, but I was working with country rock bands to make some cash. Jazz and prog were not big in my area of central California at the time.  There was some jazz but it was mostly real book stuff. I continued working in rock circles until the late '90s when I met more jazz musicians.
MSJ: What's the best thing that's ever been said about your music?
That I have my own sound. I'm never sure what that is though. (laughter)
What's ahead for you?

As mentioned earlier, in the last year I've switched my focus, instrument wise, to sax and flute doing a lot of  free improvisation. We have been recording quite a bit in live situations and releasing bits and pieces. There will be a series of EP releases starting in May of live and live in the studio improvisation - more acoustic than WD-41 or Spiral Out, but that could change). I'm also planning on moving to Italy in a year or two. I did live there a few years from 2003 on, and I enjoy the EU for many reasons, not just music. We could go on and on about all that. I've just always felt more at home in Europe. I'll be gigging around as much as I can in the states and the EU so keep an eye out.

I know many artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Progressive jazz – not in the way some fans of progressive rock think, which I  find a bit narrow. More in the sense of a step by step gradual progression of the art, letting it live on it's own.
Are there musicians with whom you would like to play in the future?
No one name in particular, I'm always open and there are so many great musicians out there. I mean really, in every city there are great musicians. Finding the ones that click with you is the key.
Do you think that illegal downloading or streaming of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
Well, if we are to be honest, it is theft, no way around that. At one time, I would have said that it is a way for an artist to get their name out which might lead to sales, but that's like saying the guy who steals the packages off your porch is going to love what's inside to much that he will go out and buy something similar. Nope, he's just going to steal more packages.
In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them or posting them online?
I don't really like the fact that people can do this. I think the artist has a right to hear what is being put out since that selective process is part of the art we do. It's a bit late to think this way. Everyone now has things out there that they would not have released. In a way it's the equalizer.
If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
How could there be just one? It's the music business, only thing dirtier than politics. I'd be busy.
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?
Miles Davis pretty much did that with the Bitches Brew era bands. Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Liebman, Airto Moreira, etcetera - any of the combos Miles had in those days. Any young players who would be into that type of thing in its more open and improvised moments. In a more progressive rock environment I would love to see Christian Vander and Tony Levin work together.
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?
This is a difficult one for me. It can be wide open, You may not know of  the super non-stop jam sessions held in Italy several years back, and Arizona more recently - 14, 33 and 1/3 and 45 hour long sessions with players like myself, Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, Stu Hamm, Jerry Marotta, Ronan Chris Murhpy, Schroeder and countless others. These were the master mind of Chris Boulet who has been planning a 78 hour non-stop jam. These are totally improvised jams, and the current list of potential players includes not only famous names but many more jazz players than previously attended. It's funny but jazz players have shied away from these shows in the past. Today the jazz world is more open to free and total improvisation. So yeah, someone to fund the 78 hour show...that would the ultimate.
What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Lately I've been going back to B Sharp Jazz Quartet's Searching for the One and Weather Report's Tale Spinnin'.
Have you read any good books lately?
I'm currently reading The Thing with Feathers, a study on bird behavior. Next will be Make Room, Make Room by Harry Harrison.
What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Living in Austin I get to see a lot of live music with local players that in some cases are just as good as anyone out there. So it would be difficult to pick a favorite, and many of these people are my friends so picking a local favorite would not be fair. Recently I saw Don Byron in town, and his performance stuck with me as a reed player - quite impressive.
Do you remember the first concert you attended?
It must have been Fats Domino in Salinas California -  early 60's, I was a tiny little kid in the back of my dad's car.
Have you come across any new gear recently that you love?
Not really new but I have been using a Lexicon MPX100 multi-effects processor. I used it a lot in WD-41 for guitar, and it fits well with sax and flute - great reverbs and harmony effects. I think mine is a tad broken but that gives it more character.
Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
Cheesy lounge singers, you know, not the top Vegas billed - the guys who perform at gas stations near Reno or Waco.
What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
The airbase scene. One of my first paid gigs was at an Army base - very similar.
If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Off the top of my head, Malcolm X, Ursala K. Le Guin, Lao Tzu.
What would be on the menu?
The insanity of  inhumanity
Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

Be nice to people out there. Unless you are totally self centered, a sociopath, mentally unstable or a fool, you know how to treat others, with kindness, so give up a little, or a lot, and make it better for the whole. It's just a ride, and when you die the ride is over, so make it a fun and pleasant one by giving without expecting anything in return.

This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 2 at
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