Wilco's Glenn Kotche on his live percussion installation and Martin Dosh
Hidden behind the heavy rhythms and fierce collection of percussive embellishments, Glenn Kotche is most well-known as the guy on the drum stool for the band Wilco. Bringing the role of modern day rock drummer to new esteemed heights he has also collaborated with So Percussion, Kronos Quartet and On Fillmore in performance and creates his own recordings.
Always looking to expand his musical outlook and curiosity for new sounds, Kotche doesn't hesitate in experimenting. This weekend at the Walker Art Center, he'll combine aesthetics with the Twin Cities' own Martin Dosh for a special collaborative performance.
Topping off the evening, Kotche will be performing solo for a new collaboration as well with composer John Luther Adams. The piece, which was written especially for Kotche called Ilimaq ("Spirit Journeys"), is a mélange of percussive sound that will incorporate 19 different instruments, live electronic and sampled sounds from Alaskan field recordings.
To wrap our heads around what we are in store for at Saturday's performance, Gimme Noise was able to get Kotche on the phone from his home in Chicago to break down the new work, his collaboration with Dosh and what to look forward to from his day job with Wilco.
Gimme Noise: So where are you now? Are you working out of your home or do you have your own studio?
Glenn Kotche: I'm at home in my drum area, trying to clean up a big mess. I've worked at the Wilco loft a lot the last two years. But it's booked up a lot now. There's lot of sessions with other bands. Jeff and Pat are producing a lot of other bands and there's just a lot more going on there so I have a space at home as well. Just a nice room where I can practice and record. I split my time between the two.
I imagine Wilco takes up the biggest bulk of your time each year but you also stay involved with other things. How does that function for yourself? Are you always looking forward to having time off from the band to work on things you don't usually have time for when you are busy with the Wilco?
Everybody in the band has other projects going on and other interests musically. Wilco finished in the fall from 14 months of on and off touring. That was a long time that was pretty much dedicated to Wilco. Luckily a lot of what I do moonlighting is composing, which I can do when I am on the road. Which is good. So I am able to capitalize on the frequent downtime that you have on the road. You know, not always do the sight-seeing stuff but get a lot of work done. But when I am off I can do many other things like I have been doing a series of residencies and performances. Finishing up several records and preparing a new solo show. All those types of things that are difficult to do on the road. A lot of the guys do other things, like Nels plays in other bands, Pat and John play in the Autumn Defense. Jeff has been working with Mavis Staples and working on that record. I always appreciate musically and personally for myself a balance. When it's at the end of a long touring cycle I am itching to do my own thing and vice versa.
Does it get lonely after doing the solo thing for a while and you're happy to be back with your sort of your musical family?
Yeah, it's nice. I like collaborating a lot too. I also have On Fillmore which also has been my musical family longer than I have been with Wilco. That's been going for about 14-15 years. And when I do these solo excursions like when I play at the Walker will be with Martin Dosh and for when I play Duke, On Fillmore will be collaborating with Megafaun. Each one is different. I do get to collaborate with a lot of different musicians or students so it's not quite as hermetic as it sounds. Composing is much more the hermetic activity.
Yeah, and you definitely need that alone time to get it all straight I'd imagine.
I personally do, yeah. It's nice to get away, without any pressures and without any responsibility to anyone else to use my imagination and see what happens.
I am really intrigued with this show, Ilimaq, you are bringing. You'll have to correct me on the pronunciation, is it like "Ill-i-mack"?
Well that's good enough for me. John Luther Adams pronounces it like "EEL-E-Mach". It's more of an Inuit, I think it's the Inupiaq tribe. But that pronunciation for Ilimaq. The original version of the piece was inspired by Bach's drum dance.
Your solo work often has a cultural or traditional aspect to it. Is that something you are going for with each piece? These older cultural narratives this seems consistent with what you have done in the past.
Well, I guess the "Monkey Chant" is probably the best known thing I have done solo so that's probably what you are referring to. Also the vibraphone solo fantasy. So I do draw from other cultures and other stories. But that's only a part of it. For all the drum set quartets that I wrote for So Percussion last year, those have nothing to do with any sort of tradition or anything cultural. And I do some of those solo now. With Mobile a lot of inspiration for the piece comes from visual art. Whatever inspires me. So yes, I might mine music from other cultures and stories and from our own but I also get a lot from visual art and even from personal interactions. Drum set is really kind of wide open.
Yeah, it's pretty universal I suppose for every culture. It's probably the oldest instrument there is really.
By it's nature it's a multi-cultural instrument.
I love what you do as your own style and melding with other performers. Tell me more about Ilimaq.
This piece came from a genuine desire to create more literature for the drum set. The drum set so often is thought of as a time-keeper and rhythm based. When I've done solo performances I try to incorporate melodic or electronic aspects and try to create actual music and a show out of solo percussion. I wanted to get a take from other people, not just from my mind, like in the past I've used some Steve Reich stuff I've adapted for drum set and have borrowed other things that I could adapt. John's one of my favorite composers and has written a lot of groundbreaking, amazing things for percussion. So I thought if I could get a commission and piece from him and to see would come up I knew it'd totally different from anything I would do myself so I just totally left it open. Whatever he wanted to do. So we were able to put a consortium together with Texas and Stanford, the Walker Center and Duke so John wrote a 48-minute piece just for me based on an earlier work that he started about 15-20 years ago. So when I approached him he got the idea to dust it off and altered it quite a bit and with fresh ears made it into this epic three movement solo piece.
Wow, that sounds really cool. How does it work then?
So basically it's three stations, the first is concert bass drum, so I just play solo concert bass drum. The second is for seven suspended cymbals and tam tam. The third one is for large drum set; so eight tom toms, two bass drums, eight cymbals, bell cymbals, wind gongs, crotales and things like that thrown in there. So I go from one station to the next. There's an architecture to what happens. The way he wrote it it's kind of a mirror image of itself with each movement. I am also playing with three delays. So there is like four parts happening at any given time. I think for people that are expecting a narrative or a real showy drum solo kind of thing may be disappointed. It's far different from "Monkey Chant," you know. I think of it as a live percussion installation. You sit in this room and there are all these drums swirling all around. It's really more of an experience than a solo with a big payoff. I just hope people at the show will immerse themselves with an open mind and dig the experience.
That's encouraging. I think our culture is so based on synthetic rhythms so to encompass so many different styles and uses of different percussion, you just don't really see that very much.
I think people are used to melody. If they aren't going to get lyrics, they at least want melody. They want some drama. They are used to listening Mozart, Bach and Beethoven and more than that, Copeland, Bernstein, whoever. They are used to listening to traditional music with a clear beginning, development and a clear ending. This is not. That isn't the type of composer John is. He's breaking new ground. And what seems foreign to us now will probably be normal to us in the future.
And I think we always kind of associate rhythm with dance music where this is kind of more telling story with percussion involving melody in a way people aren't used to. So tell me more about what your plan is with Martin Dosh for the show. I actually ran into him at the grocery store the other day and asked him what you guys have in store and he was sort of like "Oh man, I don't know. Thanks for reminding me, we got to figure that out!"
Haha! Well, we have been friends for a long time. I love his drumming. I played on an Andrew Bird record that was a companion to one he played on. I love the Dosh family records. It was a match-up that we thought would be great. We were going back and forth about who should start with some solo stuff, then the other would do some solo stuff, then we'll jam together, we didn't really know. But in the last week Martin has come up with a really great map, a structure of a piece that we are both going to just play on. It will just be one big piece that will be very melodic. Martin really kind of knocked it out of the park bringing this amazing thing to the table. I am going to arrange it a little bit. Play drums on it. Use some other things and incorporate my sensibility to it. I am really excited to play with him.
Sweet. We're really excited to witness that. So I have to ask more about Wilco because I am such a huge fan. What's the band have planned for the rest of the year or are you all doing your own things for a while?
No, we never take too much time off. We had a show in mid-December and we are back in the studio at the end of this month recording. In mid-March we are off to Australia, New Zealand and Japan, touring for a month. Then we are recording a bunch in May. We have our festival, Solid Sound, the third installment of that in June in North Adams, Massachusetts. So we have a tour around that and a bunch through the Summer. And also recording through the Summer.
So maybe a record at the end of the year?
At least one this year, probably in the Fall. I will also be having at least one new record coming out this year. It's a record of compositions that I been doing the last couple years. It's got Kronos Quartet on it, it's got Gamelon from MIT and some other stuff of mine. That'll be a full record coming out later this year.
Wow, amazing. Do you have a title for that one?
Yeah, it's tentatively titled Adventureland.
Oh cool. That was a really good movie. Did you see that one?
Haha! I did. I rented it after I had named the record and found out about it. And you know it wasn't that bad, thank god.
Glenn Kotche performs Ilimaq and a collaboration with Martin Dosh Saturday, February 16 at the Walker Art Center. 8pm $20 Tickets Available Here.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.