North Adams Transcript
NORTH ADAMS -- Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche will make his personal contribution to the Solid Sound Festival (Aug. 13-15 at Mass MoCA) in the form of a performance by his side project, On Fillmore, as well as an installation designed to give audience members a chance to make their own noise.
Kotche's drum-head installation will be featured in MoCA's Sol LeWitt gallery, while his band will perform Saturday, Aug. 14. Kotche will take the stage with Wilco the same night.
His band mates for Wilco include acclaimed singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy, bassist and original member John Stirratt, guitarist Nels Cline and multi-instrumentalists Pat Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen.
Kotche compares drum heads he will show to the practice of prepared piano, putting different objects through a drum head -- springs, wires, cables and more -- to get odd sounds out of them. He uses this technique for studio improvisation, as well as for recordings that need individual drum sounds to represent different characters.
"I get a lot of questions about them from fans, and people are curious about it," Kotche said in an interview this week. "So this is an opportunity for me to build a bunch of these heads and put them in a space and have them amplified. That's a whole element of it. They have contact mikes on them, so these small strange sounds can be amplified, complete with the actual sound hitting the drums."
Kotche will create the drum heads especially for the appearance rather than use his own, and he hopes it spurs on ideas in the participants, as well as leading to furious fun.
"The best case scenario in my mind would be to strike ideas with people, whether it's drum heads or other instruments or whatever they do," he said. "But I think it'll basically be fun for people to go in and make some noise on these things. I think that's the majority of what's going to happen."
The drum-head exhibit is not actually the first idea he had for an installation, but those wilder, bigger ideas remain embedded in Kotche's brain for future reference when the available resources can match his plans.
"I think if Solid Sound happens again, it'll be able to grow because some of my ideas were just a little too extravagant for now," he said. "I would like to take it one step further and maybe create more specific sound environments for each prepared head, with lighting and different pre-recorded sounds, and make it more interactive on that scale, too. I think there's room for it to grow in future years."
And the future is exactly where the band hopes the Solid Sound rests. Although Wilco members see the venture as an experiment, their hope is that the results justify an annual Solid Sound Festival returning every year to North Adams.
"There are a lot of unanswered questions, and we're going to have to see how things go," Kotche said. "I'm sure there are going to be a lot of things that we can learn from this time around and see if it actually is something that is successful -- where Mass MoCA would be on board again, where the promoters would be on board again.
"If everything goes well and according to plan, then I think the plan would definitely be to keep doing this every year and let it grow in different directions," he added. "I can't imagine a more beautiful space and a better situation -- and just the way everything's come together. I would think it would stay at Mass MoCA and just be our little weekend every year."
It's not unusual for a band to helm a music festival, but it's almost unheard of for a band to partner with an art museum. Wilco is a band that has always had an art-friendly tone to it, offering up unusual side projects -- such as The Wilco Book, with its accompanying CD of sound experimentation. Kotche sees these manifestations of the band as just a part of a complete attitude towards all facets of its work.
"I think they are just different sides of the same coin," he said. "We never really talk about that aspect -- doing art projects in addition to the music. It's just a part of what we do being creative. We try to make records that challenge us and stimulate us and hopefully break new ground for us, and I think it's the same feeling with artwork or things like the book -- trying different ideas out. They're all different outlets for the same spirit and energy as we have when we get together and play."
Kotche believes one of the big appeals of the festival for fans will be the opportunity to experience other sides -- and in some cases more experimental sides -- of band members. Wilco shows and recordings don't necessarily yield such opportunities for the players, who more often are seen working as a team.
"It's a welcome thing when we get to incorporate this other side of us as well," Kotche said. "I don't want to say our roles in Wilco are defined, but we all realize that a large portion of what happens and what the fans are interested in revolve around the lyrics and songwriting. We support that as best we can, but there are also all these other ideas and aspects of us as musicians and people, and it's nice to show once in a while."
Joining Wilco was an opportunity for Kotche to apply his percussive strengths and interests to a different landscape altogether. He points out the wealth of experimentation he brought to the band's table, including the use of "found" sounds and homemade instruments, as well as his extensive background in both classical percussion and improvisation. Those components changed the sound of Wilco forever upon his arrival on its album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot."
"It was for me a very stimulating experience, and it required as much of that as I had to offer," said Kotche. "That's still the case. It's just varying degrees sometimes. We are a rock band at the end of the day and have to support the lyrics, because that is what the band is about."
Sometimes the players are able to work through songs with few restrictions. Other times the challenge is to burst with creativity on a subtle level, within the confines of a rock band. It's a challenge Kotche loves.
"If someone listens to a record like ‘Sky Blue Sky,' they might be like, ‘Oh, Glenn didn't get to play out like he did on ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,' or ‘Wilco' (The Album). Maybe he was more held back,'" Kotche said. "I'm actually exploring creative concepts for me; it's just within different parameters, like subtle drumming things and concepts and feel, and little placements of notes and ideas, and forming drum parts that are extremely challenging for me and force me to be creative. It just might not be overtly experimental to the listener.
"Each Wilco record and project, I'm always forced to challenge myself and be creative, and sometimes that's what people would think of as traditional experimentation, and sometimes it's much more subtle and under the radar -- things that maybe only I would catch."
When Kotche joined Wilco in 2001, he already had his own career as an experimental drummer. He has had a long association with Bang on a Can, through which he first became aware of Mass MoCA.
He arrived in Wilco during a period of change -- the band had been forced to change record companies and fight for the release of "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," all after altering its signature sound and losing some long-standing members. Ten years later, Kotche is still so busy that he doesn't always have contemplative time to take stock of how things have changed, but he can measure those differences in the contrasts between then and now.
"Making ‘A Ghost Is Born' especially, we did a lot of experimentation. It was really a great time, I think," Kotche said. "Although, Jeff probably wasn't in his best place, but he got his life on a better track.
"Now Pat joined the band, and this is where we've been at the last five years. This is where it really feels comfortable in a good way, not in a complacent way -- comfortable in that this mix of personalities works really well together. We trust each other musically, we all get along personally, and I think we all bring something unique to the table, but we also have a lot of common ground."
Kotche is positive about the band's current position but also excited for some new horizons as a group. Moving forward is the one of the major constants in Wilco's career, despite a changing line-up, and even being comfortable gives rise to experimentation and innovation.
"We've realized that this is the definitive line-up of the band," Kotche said. "We're able to play consistently; we're able to put on a really good live show and have a lot of energy with it, and we're able to play well under pressure. But at the same time, I think we're at that point where we're yearning to try some different things, too.
"We've shown ourselves that we can do what we've done the last five years really well, and I think we want to push things in a different direction now. I think that's the general consensus among everyone, so we'll see where that goes. Sometimes you start that way and end up at the same place; sometimes you end up somewhere completely different."
Kotche can be found online at glennkotche.com.