Happy Apple's Dave King: I'm not in 99 bands

Happy Apple's Dave King: I'm not in 99 bands
Photo by Jack Vartoogian

When Dave King plays the drums, it doesn't even look real. He looks like a human octopus, like maybe he's hiding three other limbs to help him create all those sounds. His hands float around the kit, and he smiles deeply, his face transparently joyous, always enveloped in the music.

As a founding member and the drummer in the internationally renowned progressive jazz group the Bad Plus and the avant-garde jazz trio Happy Apple -- and with maybe three or four other side projects -- King has built his life around those live shows. And if you've ever been fortunate enough to catch King in action, you understand: he's got this intuition that translates directly into sound.

With things skyrocketing off with the Bad Plus, and with Happy Apple's other band members wading through with their own crazy lives -- saxophonist Mike Lewis was kinda busy with that Bon Iver dude -- Happy Apple has been, more or less, on pause. The band hasn't had an album out in six years, but they are far from dissolved. In fact, King argues that they might be in a stronger place now than ever.

The Minneapolis native is hard to track down between flights and time zones, but ahead of some Happy Apple shows at Icehouse this weekend, King chatting with Gimme Noise about the jazz life, his schedule, and what fans can expect this weekend at the shows.

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So, it's been six years since the last Happy Apple album, Happy Apple Back on Top. You have been all over the place. Catch me up.

Yes, 2007 was the last album... In that time, we were still touring through Europe quite a bit, and then in 2009, which would have been the normal time for us to make a record, our schedules just got crazy. Because I've always had a tough schedule because of my other group, the Bad Plus, and then Mike Lewis was the saxophonist for Andrew Bird and was touring a lot with him, and then he spent the last year and a half touring with Bon Iver, so we just couldn't find the time [to record a new album]. Then, last year, we hadn't played Minneapolis for like two and a half years before last year at the Icehouse. We love those guys, and that's why we wanted to do it again, and hopefully we're going to use the momentum from this weekend to get into the studio and make a new studio album this spring.

I was coming into New York [yesterday], and I was at this café, and I was talking about the shows this weekend -- the Happy Apple shows -- and this maybe 21-year-old kid is kind of staring at us at a table, and he comes up and says, "I grew up in Minneapolis, and I just want to let you know that Happy Apple was my favorite band growing up, and I'm so bummed I'm going to be missing those shows." I don't know when he would have seen us -- when he was 12? I mean, was he seeing some all-ages shit. [Laughs]

You are like, so busy, Dave. I mean. How many active bands do you have? Do you even know?

Well, that's the other thing, is that it's sort of like a tad bit overblown. I mean, really, my main group is like a group that's not even a Twin Cities group... the groups that I play in are so varied, so for years it was a joke that I was in all these bands. The group that I play with most is the Bad Plus, and I play in the rock band Halloween, Alaska, and that's really the main things. I have little offshoot things here and there -- I play with the bassist of Hüsker Dü in this band called the Gang Font and we've released two records... I don't know, maybe it's like five or six bands that all have records and are working, but really, it's the Bad Plus that takes my time, but when I think about someone like Martin Dosh, I'm not busy like that. I think I like to play lots of different kinds of music, and I think [this is] a rational way to play some rock and some modern jazz. It's really it's not as hectic a schedule as it might seem on paper.

Um... no, I think that still sounds pretty hectic.

[Laughs] It's hectic compared to someone who plays in a local rock band or something. I have several bands, yes, and they do work, but because they also sort of have their own identities and their own trajectories... I am very busy, but that's what I do. I'm a professional musician. I don't play cover bands in Hopkins. I play in these groups that are sort of on the international pantheon of jazz groups, so I spend of time out [touring]. I'm not playing five shows a month in Minneapolis. It's not an "engagement"... I'm not in 99 bands or these things that people say. I play the fucking drums. How am I going to make a living... you know what I mean? This is non-commercial music for the most part. Even to be in an internationally renowned group, we have to be out there touring to make it happen.

So you stack all those together and you've got the House of David. [Laughs]

You've been playing music for, like, ever. You've seen the industry flip so many times. What's the secret to still believing in music when it's your livelihood?

The main thing that I've been blessed. The main thing that I'm most known for is what, avant-garde modern jazz? And that's really a live art form, and it's an experience that people invest in live. So right before the record industry tanked in the early '00s, I was able to get my foot in the door with Happy Apple being on Atlanta Records and Bad Plus being on Columbia, and when the first Bad Plus albums were big sellers in the world of jazz, it kind of catapulted us to playing large theaters and it gave us the chance to make live music our thing. And as far as watching record sales plummet for other people, I never really noticed that because I kind of lived off critical notoriety, because that's what sells tickets, and then I'm able to make records for my own stuff and the kind of things that immediately get attention... While other things just don't quite catch the same fire, like Halloween, Alaska. We had kind of released four records and not quite broken through, I guess.

I just thank the Maker that people are interested in live music, because that's where I live and breathe, and that's where I weather it. I've always been more of a "live" person. I like to make records, get them out, and then they become calling cards for a live show. Basically, we've all had to adjust to how we put out music or how it's digested, but when you're making music that's so outside of the popular paradigm... I don't have the huge sales quotas to meet.

What can we expect on Friday and Saturday night?

For those who know the catalog of the band, we've rehearsed a bit and we're gonna pull out things we haven't played in a while so if people know the music... we have a sort of freshness to where we're at right now, and that's kind of exciting for us. I think we might play one or two new things and some older stuff, so stuff that spans quite a bit of time. The Icehouse is a great live, intimate venue, and we like the idea of having the more intimate space to play the music in, so it should be a lot of fun.

Happy Apple plays at Icehouse on Friday, April 5 and Saturday, April 6. Show at 11 p.m. $12. 21+. Details here.

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