“The blues is a feeling not a scale,” says jazz-funk-groove master David Fiuczynski. Photo by Rich Gastwirt.
What was so pivotal about that visit to Morocco?
What the Moroccan government did [for the Moroccan pavilion at the World’s Fair] was that, instead of sending the usual Berber folklore groups, they decided to do an East-meets-West thing. It was funny, though, because it was not really a musical decision—it was more of a political decision. They decided to have a house band of Western musicians from places like Paris, London, and L.A. The guy in charge asked one of the other musicians, “Do you know any guitar players that are crazy enough to do this?” And he said, “I’ve got the guy for you.” So I went to Morocco and we rehearsed for 10 days in Marrakesh, with 10 or 12 different folklore groups. Overall, we’re talking about a hundred people. Some of these folklore groups had 20 or 30 members.
Nobody knew me, but because I was the guitar player, one-by-one at least 25 people came up to me during the week and said, “Did you know that Jimi Hendrix was here?” That put a seed in my mind, a thought. Eventually, that’s where KiF [another Fiuczynski project] came from. Many people celebrate Hendrix for what he was—and they should, he was one of the best guitar players ever—but there seems to be a tendency to celebrate the dead Hendrix. I wanted to celebrate a possible living Hendrix. Maybe—if he had lived—he would have retired to Casablanca and would, every now and then, go down on a Saturday night and rock the kasbah. That’s where I started to realize that, if I don’t know these tuning systems, it was never going to really happen.
When you’re soloing, do you stay loyal to the scale or tuning system you’re using?
I wouldn’t say that [laughs]. If something is in Hijaz [the Arabic name for the Phrygian dominant scale]—which is the fifth mode of harmonic minor—in certain regions the flat 9th is pushed sharp, the 3rd is flatted, and the flat 6th is sharp, plus additional spices and inflections. It’s not so much staying loyal as it is having a base and knowing, “This is what it ‘should’ do.” And then, “This is what I’m going to do with it.” But it’s not this 12-note-per-octave base. The grid I use is either 72 or 96 notes per octave.
David Fiuczynski and the Screaming Headless Torsos go inside the sessions and inspirations for their 2014 release, Code Red.
You say that when you went back to the Conservatory you focused on melody, but you have a very sophisticated rhythmic sense, where did you develop that?
Thank you. I’m not sure if I agree.
Well, you can groove and stay in the pocket.
[Laughs.] I’m trying to.I have a good pocket, but it’s not great. I once saw Prince live, and they broke it down to just him. It was just mouth-watering—just groove … just his rhythm guitar playing. And that was besides everything else he does—dancing, writing, playing, singing.I like different styles, too. I am aware of jazz, popular styles, free playing, and obviously you have to put on different rhythmic “hats.” After playing with Rudresh Mahanthappa—the Indian rhythms—my goodness! That is just a completely different stratosphere. I wouldn’t say the rhythms are “better,” but I would go out on a limb and say that the Indian rhythmic system is the most codified. They can play the craziest stuff and break it down to you. They can tell you exactly where it begins, where it ends, where it began before, where it ends later, and in between. Playing with Rudresh really opened my eyes to new possibilities. Melodically and harmonically, I know where I want to go—there is so much further I can go, microtonally—but rhythmically I am still looking.
Talk a little about the new song “Fried Tongue.”
Sure. What I was trying to get out of those jazzy sections was kind of a punk-jazz aesthetic, that untrained energy, but I was specific. It was frustrating to get the drummers to play, because the Torsos has high-level drummers. I told them, “Play jazz but preferably turn the beat around. And if you can drop a beat or two, that’s even better. And maybe instead of playing like this [mimics standard drumming grip], maybe you can play like this [grabs sticks as if they’re weapons].” And our bassist, DJ [David Ginyard], plays with some high-level people and his pocket is ridiculous. These guys can play “correctly” impeccably. But I wanted them to play “wrong” impeccably. There is that je ne sais quoi that I was trying to get. When you see a lounge band that sucks, they suck. But if you see a lounge band that really sucks, it really sucks—but there is a magical thing about it, because they hit this zone. And that’s what I wanted.