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Clip: Derk Richardson on Glenn Kotche

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  • Carl Z.
    Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche finds a rhythm of his own on his new solo CD, Mobile Derk Richardson, special to SF Gate
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 26, 2007
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      Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche finds a rhythm of his own on his new solo
      CD, "Mobile"

      Derk Richardson, special to SF Gate

      Thursday, February 22, 2006

      "I love being in a band. I love playing rock music," says Glenn
      Kotche, who has been the drummer in Wilco for the past six years, "but
      I find the older I get, the more I need to compose and make solo

      And because Wilco is signed to the famously artist-friendly Nonesuch
      label, Kotche was free to fashion his recent solo album, Mobile, along
      lines that have almost nothing to do with alt-country and folk-rock,
      and everything to do with the world music and avant-garde classical
      sounds that long defined the vaunted Nonesuch catalog.

      Those sounds are what Kotche is delving into on the current
      limited-engagement tour he is squeezing in before Wilco releases its
      new album in May and sets off to support it with major concerts. On a
      half-dozen of his shows, including Monday, Feb. 26, at Cafe du Nord in
      San Francisco, Kotche is performing with Wilco bandmate, guitarist
      Nels Cline.

      It's a natural pairing for two of the relatively new members of the
      biggest band to emerge and evolve out of the No Depression movement of
      the late 1980s and 1990s. Both joined somewhat late in the Wilco game,
      just as the Jeff Tweedy-led band was making its left turn into
      experimental sonic territory that brings to mind Radiohead and Sonic
      Youth more than Uncle Tupelo and the Jayhawks.

      "In the context of Wilco," Kotche said in a recent phone conversation,
      "Nels and I are coming from a similar place, more so than maybe some
      of the other guys are, in that we're both trained a little bit more in
      theory and have that experimental music side to us, too, where we've
      done a lot of improvising. That's something Jeff Tweedy considered a
      big asset, which is why we're both in the band."

      Of course, they're both in the band because they love playing rock 'n'
      roll, too. "We love experimenting, we love trying out new things,"
      Kotche said, "but at the same time we also love playing great music
      behind great lyrics. Everyone knows Nels as this amazing avant-garde
      guitarist, which he is, of course, but when he came into Wilco [in
      2004], we also realized he's a huge fan of the Byrds, Buffalo
      Springfield and a lot of things that are similar to where Wilco used
      to come from. He and I have a deep love for being part of an
      'orchestra,' I guess -- playing our roles in a larger ensemble."

      But for their current mini-tour, Kotche and Cline (recently ranked No.
      5 among Rolling Stone's "new guitar gods") let their individual
      personalities blossom. Each plays a solo set, and then they join
      together for an unpredictable mix of original pieces, cover versions
      (maybe a Sonic Youth song) and improvisations.

      "I've always had a dual life, I guess," Kotche said, "always balancing
      being in a rock band and exploring the more academic side of things."
      A Chicago (Humboldt Park), Ill., native, Kotche "naively" decided when
      he was "5 or 6 years old" that he was going to grow up and make his
      living as a drummer. He started his first rock band in fifth grade but
      always participated in school ensembles -- orchestras, marching bands
      -- as well.

      "I always got involved in as many different types of music as possible
      and learned everything I could about my instrument," he explained.
      When his parents "really insisted" that he go to college, Kotche ended
      up in at the University of Kentucky. "They had a great percussion
      program," he explained, "and [renowned instructor] Jim Campbell
      recruited from all over the country and gave me an offer I couldn't

      Still, Kotche found himself "rebelling a little bit" against the
      rigors of academia, and he made sure to keep his hand in rock by
      hooking up with bands around the Lexington area. "I was kind of doing
      the classical thing because I had to," he recalled, "and it wasn't
      until after I graduated that I realized, oh, this stuff is cool and I
      can learn a lot from it. Especially when Wilco signed to Nonesuch, and
      I was exposed to their back catalog, I started hearing all the Steve
      Reich stuff again with fresh ears, and that's when I really started to
      dig into it."

      In many ways, Mobile sounds like Kotche's interpretation of portions
      of the Nonesuch archives. It opens with "Clapping Music Variations," a
      unique take on an early Reich classic. It includes a piece inspired by
      Nigerian master drummer Tony Allen and jazz drumming legend Ed
      Blackwell. Another transposes Shona mbira music to solo vibraphone.
      And several -- including the 11-and-a-half-minute centerpiece, "Monkey
      Chant" (which "tells" part of the Hindu epic Ramayana tale through
      percussion) -- take off from the primary melodic scale used in
      Balinese kechak ("monkey chant") performances.

      "I was exposed to a lot of experimental stuff when I got out of
      school," Kotche said, "and started playing with Darin Gray -- the
      other half of my band On Fillmore -- and Jim O'Rourke [a Wilco and
      Sonic Youth collaborator, and the third member, with Kotche and
      Tweedy, of Loose Fur].

      "When Wilco got on Nonesuch, the label was starting to reissue the
      Explorer series, and that's when I really started investing a lot of
      time listening to African music, especially mbira music, and Balinese
      gamelan -- the monkey chant, in particular. The first time I heard
      that -- oh, my God, the rhythms. I was captivated by them and the
      power of the whole performance. When I find something I love so much,
      I want to try it out, try to imitate it and do my version of it.

      "I'm pretty much rhythm obsessed," Kotche continued, "and the only
      reason that I've made solo records has been to expand my abilities as
      a drummer and percussionist. My solo records are always steeped in
      some big rhythmic question that I'm about to pursue. Where the first
      one [Introducing] was about 'coincidental rhythm' and the second
      [Next]) was about 'accidental rhythm,' this one [Mobile] had several
      different concepts, including 'stretching rhythm' and 'negative
      rhythm.' There's always some rhythmic question I want to explore, and
      I end up writing a bunch of tunes to try and get my hands around it a
      little better."

      Kotche's adventurous spirit, versatility and virtuosity have resulted
      in his appearing on scores of albums, as varied as Blinders On by
      Nickel Creek guitarist Sean Watkins and Bridges Freeze Before Roads by
      avant-garde cellist Fred Longberg-Holm's quartet. Admitting to an
      insatiable appetite for percussion music -- he cites European free
      improvisers Paul Lovens, Paul Lytton, Tony Oxley and Eddie Prevost as
      favorites, but readily includes Nels Cline's twin brother, Alex,
      Tortoise's John Herndon and John McEntire, Japanese percussionist
      Masahiko Togashi and Deerhoof's Greg Saunier, as well -- Kotche has
      spent the past five or six months listening to classical music because
      he's been working on a commission for San Francisco's Kronos Quartet,
      which will premiere this fall.

      When it comes to evaluating his part in nudging Wilco toward more
      experimentation during his tenure, which has included the recording of
      Yankee Foxtrot Hotel and A Ghost Is Born, Kotche downplays his
      influence. "Wilco was already headed that way when I joined," he said,
      "which is, I think, why Jeff invited me in. He saw these other things
      that I was into that would be a good match. On Yankee Foxtrot Hotel,
      the way we recorded it was to have multiple layers of different sounds
      to kind of obscure these folk songs. I was able to do all sorts of
      different things with extended techniques and different instruments --
      homemade instruments and found objects -- and incorporate all sorts of
      different percussion colors.

      "But the role keeps changing on each record," he added. "On the record
      we just made, which will be out in May, I play a traditional drum set.
      I didn't do overdubs, really, and there's no melodic percussion on
      this one, either. Things keep changing with each record, which is why
      I love it."

      Glenn Kotche performs with Nels Cline, Monday, Feb. 26, at Cafe du
      Nord, 2170 Market St., S.F.; showtime 9:30 p.m.; tickets $12 advance /
      $14 door. For more information, call (415) 861-5016.
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