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August Issue
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Interview: Marc Ribot - A Rocker in Disguise

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Interview: Marc Ribot - A Rocker in Disguise


Ribot, and bandmates Ches Smith (drums) and Shahzad Ismaily (bass)

With all of your albums, whether your name is in the group's name or not, I don't really know what to expect. When these tunes came together, were there elements of improvisation built in?

Oh yeah. When we wrote the stuff, some of it was written collectively and it was all played within an improvisatory way and what you hear is one frozen moment of that. Then that becomes a piece and we overdub on it until it sounds like a finished tune. If you hear the band live, that will answer a lot of questions.

How do you plan a live show around this material?

It's not that we've never written a set list. At least once every tour I try to write one but we have never in the history of this band—and probably in the history of all my bands—actually played the set list that I wrote, so there's always a lot of messing around. It's not only in terms of what tune to play next, there's a lot of rearranging the tunes while we’re doing them. A lot of improvising between tunes, during tunes, in spite of tunes. So, yeah, it's how we look at what we do.

Do you have a stockpile of riffs that you are messing around with to bring into sessions or are these tunes evolved out of jams?

It happens all different ways. Sometimes, I bring in an idea. Shazad is always coming up with riffs and things like that. Ches sometimes brings in tunes. For example, on this album, "Ritual Slaughter" and "Your Turn" both basically came out of jams that we had in rehearsals.

The solo on "Your Turn" had a really gritty sound. What did you use for that?

I was using an Analogman King of Tone pedal. That's pretty much all I use other than a volume pedal. I also used one of those Union Tube and Transistor More pedals and an old Memory Man delay.

When you discover a new sound or tone, does it inspire your songwriting?

Definitely, yeah. Sometimes I write at home with a really small amp. For a while, I was using headphones and one of those Line 6 amp simulators. I could pretend that I was in a big arena without upsetting my neighbors

Does imagining you are in a big arena bring out something in your playing?

It's good for change when you‘ve been doing nothing but acoustic guitar for three weeks. You might write some interesting stuff. Then it gets boring. To be honest with you, I put myself in a kind of claustrophobic, but resonant, room. Like a small, packed rock club with an overdriven Deluxe-type amp sound. But every now and then it's nice to be like a rock star in your mind with one of those amp simulators. I'm all about cheap thrills.

What guitar did you use for these sessions?

Most of the guitar on this album was a 1963 Jaguar. Sometimes I used a Tele that didn't even belong to me, it was just hanging around the studio.

Were you using an old Deluxe?

Yeah, mostly a '60s Deluxe. I was borrowing an amp that was at the studio. It looked liked it was from the ’60s. Mine is a 60s-style with alnicos.

Would you describe yourself as adventurous when it comes to discovering new gear?

There was a certain moment at which all kinds of new effects were coming out and it was thought that guitarists need them all.

Marc Ribot's Gear

Guitars
1963 Fender Jaguar

Amps
1960s Fender Deluxe Reverb

Effects
Union Tube and Transistor More, Electro-Harmonix Memory Man, Analogman King of Tone, Hilton Standard volume pedal

Strings, Picks, and Accessories
D’Addario .011s, Planet Waves cables

I think we might still be in that moment.

Well, I never saw a fuzz box that I didn't like. They're all good for something. I still get excited about that. The idea of noise entered the vocabulary of rock bands—a lot of textural effects. For a while, no one knew whose job it was to make those sounds happen. Eventually, there was a division of labor and people realized, "We really don't need keyboard players, we're a rock band!" Zep didn't have a keyboard player and neither did the Yardbirds, but let’s make that guy play all the weird noises. So in other words, the guy who was playing keyboards. The sampler player became a role and there started to be people who were really good at sound textures. When I worked with T-Bone Burnett's recording projects, that guy was Keefus Ciancia. The first guy I knew who was doing that was Mark De Gli Antoni [Soul Coughing]. It became differentiated as a keyboardist function, so I felt if you are going to do that stuff, you have to do it all the way.

Who do you feel is fulfilling that role today?

Nels Cline is an example of a guitarist who is not lazy in that way. He not only buys the stuff, but it's really a part of his language. He stays fluent and masters using his effects in a way that he can play with them very fluently. In order to do that you have to be very energetic and committed to staying near the cutting edge. What I really don't dig is when I see someone doing a solo show and they think they are hot shit because they're looping an ostinato bass part. No. That's not it. It's not about that. I would prefer to do a solo performance on acoustic guitar than to do a half-assed use of technology.

Does your preference for acoustic guitar develop out of the connection between your hands and the sound?

It's because I'm an extremist. First of all, when I play a solo show I like to strip it down because I like the idea of restraints and limits. I think that those are interesting, so I would rather do it totally stripped down than do it half-assed. It's not that I am anti-technology. I mean the funny thing is that on my last solo record, which was Silent Movies, if one listens closely, I had Keefus Ciancia do these sonic environments in where he was using a number of technologies. He was using an enormous sound library arrived at through a very sophisticated blend of digital and analog sound sources. It's not that I am anti-technology at all—I'm just lazy.

Tell about the story behind "Lies My Body Told Me?"

The record, as a whole, is kind of a protest record. It's a political, social, and biological protest record. So that song was a protest against my body. I'm still waiting to hear back from it to see if the protest was successful [laughs]. The idea came from a line in a W.H. Auden poem: The error bred into the bone but not to be loved but loved alone. That's really what inspired that.

It seems like "Masters of the Internet" was aimed at a pretty obvious group.

Yes. Nobody wants to piss off the fans or be the subject of a boycott or have your website shut down. Musicians only express their rage to one another, usually. I had the lack of good taste to put it on the record.

Was your version of "Take Five" intended as a tribute to Brubeck?

I need to tell you something about the timeline of this. We had the idea of covering that tune, recorded it, and mastered it—it took a long time for this record to come out. Well, before we knew that Dave Brubeck was even thinking about dying. Maybe we would have included it on the record anyways, but it was not done in an awareness that Mr. Brubeck was ill or had died. The decision was made before. That tune came out of "we play the way we play" for a lot of reasons—usually when we wind up touring in Europe, we get booked at a lot of jazz festivals. I guess because of my previous history. We are always sitting there doing this rock-oriented thing at a jazz festival and at one point I figured let's do a fucking jazz tune. We thought of the most "jazzy" jazz tune we could think of and that was it. We played it the way we played it. We have a moronic approach to everything, so we approached it that way. I didn't like the complicated changes on the bridge, so I didn't use them.

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