Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Wayne Kramer (MC5) - Q&A + Kick Out The Jams live

Article by karla@thesoundofconfusion.co.uk

Photo courtesy of Wayne Kramer's Facebook

Last week legendary MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer was in the UK for a show in London with Danish surf band The Good The Bad and also to make his Glastonbury debut. We were given the opportunity to meet the man himself and ask him about how his band shaped modern music, his thoughts on the current generation of young people, his new free-jazz album and whether he'd ever considered taking up knitting. Do you think we'd turn that down?


TSOC: We've got the chance to talk to you today because you're doing a free show with The Good The Bad, can you tell us a little about them because I hear they are quite crazy...

WK: Yes they're um... they're very thin!

TSOC: (laughs) what, weight wise?!

WK: Very thin, yes! The thing about The Good and The Bad is that they have worked very hard defining themselves separate from trends in music. They're not too concerned about what's popular and I always admire that in artists, you know, the artist who finds his own way.

TSOC: How did you come about discovering them? How did you hook up with them?

WK: In a club... we were doing a Jail Guitar Doors event as part of, a club let us perform in between other bands that they had booked and they were one of the bands that were playing that night, and I was just knocked out by them.

TSOC: You're both playing The Blues Kitchen tomorrow in Camden and I've heard you're doing your own songs, then their doing theirs, then you're playing together. Is it stuff you've written together, new stuff?

WK: I'll do some new stuff, I'm going to learn a couple of their new songs and they're going to learn a couple of my songs.

TSOC: Have you ever collaborated together before?

WK: We have, we played together, not last summer, the summer before at SXSW. But this is the first chance we'll have to actually rehearse, I mean last time we rehearsed in the bus! So at least we will have a proper rehearsal.

TSOC: They use numbers instead of song titles don't they? Is that confusing for you? If you have to play one of their songs do you just think "oh gosh, which one's this?!"

WK: I've never thought about it because I'm thinking about the song itself and the chords or whatever.

TSOC: You've compared The Good The Bad to Thelonious Monk before, how did that sort of come about? It's unusual for rock bands to be compared to Jazz musicians.

WK: Well, I think it has to do with the concept of originality; you know, that Monk approached the piano in a way that nobody else was approaching the piano and The Good and The Bad approach what they do in a way that's different to the way people usually approach bands and it speaks more to the intent than the spirit than the music itself. Monk was obviously playing things that were harmonically and rhythmically more sophisticated, but that doesn't matter. What matters is the original idea.

TSOC: We normally ask people the same question and it's: Imagine you're headlining your own fantasy festival and you get to pick 5 bands or artists past and present to play on the bill beside you. Who would you pick on yours?

WK: I'd pick the Sun Ra Orchestra, I'd pick Skrillex, I'd pick The Dirty Projectors... uh... I'd pick... Rage Against The Machine and my last pick would be... I can go anywhere in time and space right? Then it would be The John  Coltrane quartet featuring Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison, McCoy Tyner but I would add Eric Dolphy to the band.

TSOC: We get people say you all the time,  like if we tallied up how many people we interviewed who said the MC5 or just you, you'd be in the top 5.

WK: Wow... Holy cow. What an honour!

TSOC: Whether MC5 are referred to as garage, proto punk or proto metal, you were a huge influence on two big genres to emerge in the '70s (those being punk and metal) do you think things would have grown the same way if MC5 never existed and it was left to contemporaries such as Blue Cheer, The Stooges, Incredible Hog and so on... Do you think if you never existed music would be a little bit different now?

WK: Yeah, well, I hope so. You know there's no way to know, we're just speculating. I have amused myself thinking, you know, if the MC5 had not succumbed to its own excesses. You know if we had not self-destructed and had gone on to be the archetype American rock band of its time - what we might have been able to accomplish. You know, this could be a stretch to your readers but in a lot of ways, the producer John Landau who produced the MC5's second album had a vision for an archetype American rock band and the MC5 was unmanageable, you know we were a prototype. We were too much, we couldn't be moulded. But, he met this kid from New Jersey who could be moulded and the kid seems to have done pretty well for himself. Um... you may have heard of him, his name's Bruce Springsteen!

TSOC:  (laughs) Ah Of course!

WK: So I just wonder you know because there's a lot of things that make up Bruce's identity that connect to the MC5. You know, his connection to working people, his political and ethical concerns are not that far from the MC5's, and you know although his music never took on the...

TSOC: heavier aspects...

WK: well yeah, the Sun Ra and free jazz, it was all more roots american rock.

TSOC: So is he your more chilled out sort of love child? 

WK: Yeah, yeah. I dunno, maybe, its fun to speculate like this.

TSOC: The Clash mentioned you in their Jail Guitar Doors track. You've been covering that quite a lot. When did you start covering it?

WK: Um, I guess when we launched Jail Guitar Doors USA.

TSOC: Have you done it a bit tongue in cheek or is it a statement to say you made mistakes in the public eye but you're still here and doing well for yourself?

WK: Well, all of the above. But it's weird for me to sing it you know. I mean, I'm an egomaniac but you know even I wouldn't have written a song about myself like that!  Maybe I'd change the lyrics...

TSOC: Really? What would you change them to?

WK: "I'm a little insane, and I'm dealing cocaine" something like that.

TSOC: I've read that you're quite influenced by Chuck Berry, and your '60s contemporaries when you were growing up (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Page). Is there a style of music that you listen to that people wouldn't expect from you?

WK: Well, you know, I listen to a lot of orchestral music. You know, to write music for film and television I have to study the same music that everyone else who does this kind of work, studies. And that means listening to the classics and learning how they build the orchestra, how they build an arrangement. So, I don't think people would think of Wayne Kramer sitting around listening to Mozart, (laughs) but I do!

TSOC: Our website's called The Sound of Confusion, which is taken from the debut album by Spaceman 3. You were a huge influence on that band, they covered some of your tracks like 'Come Together'. Have you heard of them?

WK: Of course!

TSOC: What do you think of them?

WK: You know I can't speak with real authority about them to be honest. I never listened that much. I remember hearing about them and they were kind of noisy and I liked that, but I never really studied them that much.

TSOC: You grew up in quite a different time where people were a lot more involved in society. MC5 were a big part of that progression. Does it sometimes feel like that's lost on people these days? Like there's less of a desire to bring forth change?

WK: No, I think there are a lot of people working for change now. It may be even more. What there isn't that was different, is back then there was an agreement that all young people agreed that the way our parents were doing things was all fucked up! (laughs) and we had a better idea. And I don't think there's that agreement today. But I think there are plenty of people doing good work.

TSOC: We have everything at our finger tips now. Do you feel this is taken for granted and we are all more content being spoon fed rubbish TV and obsessing over celebrity culture. Have we sort of come to a place where we are too comfortable with our ignorance?

WK: Yes. Yes. Ignorance is very dangerous, and it's ubiquitous. people don't understand, nor are they interested in why things are the way they are. There's a genuine lack of intellectual curiosity. It's scary. (laughs)

TSOC: It is a little bit isn't it! Obviously music plays a huge part in bringing about cultural revolutions and has a huge influence in  being seen as a voice for the little people.  Once you hear a song you think, "oh gosh, yeah, that makes sense." Sometimes music tells us things that politicians and the media shut out. Do you feel that kids are being brought up with a lack of influential role models on the music scene. Or not even that,  some people have grown up hearing your voice, Billy Bragg, Chuck D, Bono etc and now that's sort of replaced by the Justin Biebers and the One Directions and the materialistic, misogynistic hip hop artists who are singing about money, fast cars and women. Do you feel like there isn't that voice for the younger generation?

WK: Well there's always been Justin Biebers and you know, vacuous, mindless pop music, that's always existed...

TSOC: It's more encouraged now by shows like American Idol and stuff. People are following an Idol who probably doesn't really deserve that term....

WK: Well, yeah. I think the problem is that shows like that and contemporary culture are selling a lie. And the lie they're selling is that if you become famous, you'll have a good life and there is a good life available but you don't get it by being famous. You get it by being ethical and generous and kind and open-minded and by being not naive. By paying attention to the world and not buying the hype is how you get a good life. Not by being rich and famous. Fame and wealth generally do more damage than anything good. You know, artists that can fill that space, there's a few.

TSOC: Were you in your 20's when you were in MC5?

WK: Yeah, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22. MC5 was just about over with by the time I was 23. I was very young.

TSOC: When you look at people in the limelight now, within that sort of age group, they don't have the same sort of agenda that you did.

WK: No but you need to remember it was a different time. A different context and the biggest polarising factor was the Vietnam war and the conscription in America, the draft. The government was telling people you had to join them, you had to be part of the military. You didn't have a choice. And that got people organised real quick. That got your attention really quickly.

TSOC: We don't hear so much about what's going on in them sort of ways in the media now do we. What with the wars and things that are currently happening...

WK: No, its all conveniently kept off the evening news. There's the idea of an informed public. You know, the importance of a free press... and it's true, it's really important. And what's happened is the business of the news has taken over the news. So they're more interested in making a profit than they are in telling you what's going on. And this is also very concerning, and worrying.

TSOC: You're at Glastonbury on Saturday. How do you feel about that? You've never been before have you?

WK: No I've never been. I'm a Glastonbury virgin!

TSOC: Did Billy Bragg invite you down? You're very close to him aren't you?

WK: He did. Yeah, we're pretty close. We're partners. We've done a lot of actions together, and gone in a lot of prisons together (for Jail Guitar Doors USA) and sat around a lot of hotel rooms together.

TSOC: Are you going to Glastonbury solo or are The Good The Bad going with you?

WK: This'll be solo. It'll be me vs 100,000 people.

TSOC: You haven't done a show this big in quite some time have you?

WK: Certainly not solo.

TSOC: Did you do SXSW this year?

WK:  Not this year. I took a break. It's the first time in 15 years I didn't go.

TSOC: Have you ever thought about chucking it all in and maybe taking up knitting?

WK: No, I've never felt that because what would I do? My whole life is invested in art, culture, you know, I'm not qualified to do much in the world. I'm a natural born star, I can't do anything! (laughs)

TSOC: You seem like one of those people who like to keep busy as well. What do you do when you're not working? Do you ever chill out or do you just live a very high paced life?

WK: You mean like what other activities do I do? Well, I have great friends. So I like spending time with them. Often, we spend time cooking. We like cooking, and my wife is a gourmet chef as well. So we entertain. I like film, I like to go to the movies. I read voraciously. I spend a lot of time with my head buried in a book. Or, the kindle! I like athletics. I train. I swim masters. I haven't competed in a few years. I used to compete in open ocean racing. Nowadays I just train to keep from being a fat guy.

TSOC: You've aged very well, you look younger than you are!

WK: (laughs) Thank you! You're very kind to say that.

TSOC: And lastly will you be bringing out a new album anytime soon?

WK: Yes. As a matter of fact, I have a new album that's done. It's called Lexington and uh...

TSOC: Is that the prison you were in?!

WK: It is the name of the prison! And it's kind of the, musical story of my time there. It's a free jazz album. It'll be out in January.

TSOC: Will you be touring with it?

WK: Yeah, I'm going to do some dates. I'm trying to figure out how to do it because I'd need a pretty big band. Three horns and bass drums, keyboards...

TSOC: That sounds really exciting!

WK: Yeah, and it will be something different, it wont be like the stuff I've always done.

TSOC: So it'll set you apart from everything you've done in the past...

WK: I hope!




Wayne Kramer's website





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