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Playing Catch Up With Drummer Pat Mastelotto
Posted on Friday, May 28 2010 @ 14:14:09 CDT by Duncan Glenday
Progressive Rock Master percussionist Pat Mastelotto rarely turns down any opportunity to collaborate with like minded musicians who share his zeal to keep expanding the boundaries of modern music, to further blur the lines between musical genres.

After experiencing global success in the 80's as a member of Mr. Mister, Pat returned to being a much in demand session musician after the group disbanded at the end of the decade. A tour with David Sylvian and King Crimson leader Robert Fripp in the early 90's led to him eventually be asked to join the reconfigured double trio version of the legendary progressive band in 1994. He has remained a member of Crimson ever since and has been actively involved with many of the various different offshoots over the years as well. When you take a look at all of the projects he's been involved with over the course of his career one gets the feeling that the words 'down time' simply doesn't exist in Pat's vernacular.

I managed to catch up with Pat just as he was coming off a highly successful European tour with HoBoLeMa, which also features guitarist Allan Holdsworth, drummer Terry Bozzio and bassist Tony Levin. With little time to catch his breath he was in the middle last minute preparations for his next road trip with Stick Men, a blazing power trio featuring Levin and Michael Bernier.

Read on to find out more about the recently completed HoBoLeMa tour, the fantastic new Stick Men CD Soup, as well as what other projects he has up his sleeve for the rest of 2010.

- Ryan Sparks

Ryan Sparks Sea Of Tranquility: You just wrapped up a whirlwind tour of Europe with HoBoLeMa where you did something like nineteen shows in twenty days is that right?

Pat Mastelotto: Yeah nineteen shows in twenty days and the day off was the toughest day of the whole tour. First leaving the van broke down and when we got to Dornbirn for lunch all the restaurants were all closed until five, a few wrong turns and it turned out to be a fifteen hour trip. The good news is that when we arrived at our destination in Vienna at one in the morning there was a twenty four hour bar, so we got to relax until sunrise.

SoT: So logistically was it a challenging tour?

PM: Actually it wasn't too bad since Allan has a policy that he doesn't like to drive more than four hours on the day of the show. So most of the drives were relatively short and we had a great two man crew- Michel the Dutchman driving the gear and caring for the drums, and John the German driving the band and dealing with all the logistics, merch, money and backline.

SoT: Checking out the photos of some of the venues you played I have to say a few of those places looked pretty compact, did you ever consider asking Terry to shave a few pieces off of his kit?

PM: No, but he did a few times. He would take away a bass drum or two- he has eight bass drums in the setup that he currently has, so sometimes he'd cut back to six. When the stage was small we just figured a way to wiggle on. Usually I would turn sideways or we'd go for small extensions on the side for Tony or for Allan. The smallest stage was a gig we did last January in Santa Cruz California that had a really tiny hexagonal stage. I had to turn my back to the audience and set up cockeyed at the front corner of the stage. I felt bad for the people behind me so I tried to lower some of my equipment out of the way so they could see Terry.

SoT: With this group of musicians you're playing all improvised music, something everyone is accustomed to doing. What kind of challenges do you encounter if any playing in this particular configuration and especially with a drummer like Terry?

PM: Having the patience to try and wait for the moment and not trying to rush things. I usually set up things in my samplers and my laptop, stuff I can have in my back in the hopes that it goes in a direction that will fit. Some nights it fits the mood and sometimes not as much. It's a good lesson for me not to force those kinds of things, and if it does go in another direction, to just let it go there. Monitoring can be a little difficult; the smaller stages kind of work better for us because we can hear everything acoustically. When we start to get on some of the bigger concert hall stages, then we're spread out quite a bit, and there can be twenty or thirty feet between Terry and myself so we have to start monitoring each other through monitoring cabinets. It's difficult to get a good mix on Terry's kit in the monitors because there's a lot of ambient miking on his kit, and with that many drums sharing a mic, one drum would be much louder than another. I think the remote kicks were hard for all of us to hear in balance. Sometimes Tony or Allan would get one kick right next to them so when Terry played that kick it would be frighteningly loud for the guy next to it.

SoT: The first few gigs in Japan back in 2008 featured Terry, Tony and you. Adding a guitarist into the mix obviously changes things sonically, but tell me how the dynamic changed once a player of Alan's stature entered into the picture.

PM: You're right we started over in Japan in 2008 with some gigs that Terry was doing with a variety of drummers such as Billy Cobham. He invited me and asked to bring a rhythm buddy with me. After those dates were booked Terry had this idea to bring Allan in on it, so Allan was only in on the last three shows we did in Japan. Terry's plan was basically to have no plan, to just let it happen. There wasn't any discussion beforehand and anytime there was any kind of discussion starting Terry would go "Ssshhh, Sssshhh" because he didn't want us to go out there with an agenda. The rules were pretty simple "join in or go against." As for Allan's stature as a player, he's just such a unique player in that he brings a lot of energy to the gig. Tony mentioned on some of our walks to and from the gigs just how harmonically advanced he is. We're lucky to have a guy like Tony to chime in with Allan because Tony isn't your typical bass player, he's got tons of harmonic chops as well and he can indentify things on the fly really quickly.

SoT: The last time we spoke I asked you about walking the tightrope so to speak with King Crimson and you said and I'm paraphrasing here, that "everyone is going for it every night and sometimes when you're looking for something new that sometimes you fail, but even though you don't get there tonight, it will get you closer to it tomorrow". Does that same kind of feeling or mentality also come into play when you're playing with these guys?

PM: Absolutely, even more so really. Generally with those Crimson improvisations we know we're going to start with a particular song and go from that to another song or we're going to insert something in the middle of a piece. Sometimes Trey, Adrian or Robert might pick a key or make a suggestion of a specific place to improvise. Like Ade would suggest we do something silly or spooky, and usually Robert prefers if I don't settle into a groove, so it will just sort of hover, a sonic improv more than a groove type of improv. It's what Robert calls a "Vector". With HoBoLeMa we don't set any of those rules, it's completely wide open. Like I mentioned the few times I tried to talk about it Terry just shushed the whole thing, he wants us to just go out there and see what happens.

SoT: You're barely home for a week and now it's off for a two week run with Stick Men in North America and then off to Japan.

PM: Yeah we have a couple of days rehearsal at the front of this Stick Men tour so we can try and add two or three new pieces to the repertoire, for example we going to try and add "Hands", all three sections. It's a challenging composition and it's going to be a difficult one to play. We'll hit Canada and the States for a couple of weeks and then we've got four days off which will be just enough time to take care of the Japanese visas before we go to Japan. After that we'll go right over to do another leg over in Europe.

SoT: For those who don't know can you explain how Stick Men came to be?

PM: Tony put out his Stick Man CD about two or three years ago. For that record Tony rang and asked me to send him some drum loops that he could write over for a solo project that he wanted to do with lots of Stick. He wanted everything pretty up-tempo and aggressive, stuff that he could explore on the Stick and not so much the bass guitar. I guess he thought I would just send him some two bar loops I had lying around, but I don't work like that I prefer to work against a song and since he didn't yet have any songs; I kind of created my own songs over landscapes. Like I'll put together some stuff with a beat box and arrange it for myself in sections, like this an 'A' section, a 'B' section and a 'C' section. Maybe I'll lay down five minutes of that and then I'll drum along with that and cut the drumming into chunks. Then I might also do some electronic overdubs on top of that with Handsonic, wave drum or different electronic drums to add some percussion. Once I have that compiled it's sort of like a four of five minute song to me. I sent those over to Tony explaining that he could cut and paste it however he wanted. He could use the 'A' section electronics with the 'B' section drums or any way that he wanted to put it together. The elements didn't have to be used as I had assembled them, he could use them any way he wanted. So those are the elements around which he wrote the Stick Man record. There was one piece, I think it was "Welcome" where he sent me back his work in progress and I did my drums again against his more or less finished composition.

When it came time to tour behind Stick Man Tony mentioned Mike. Tony has known Mike for a few years, in fact I had also met Mike a few years ago when he opened for the CG3+2 and since then Mike had been e-mailing about doing something together. So Tony had the idea of adding Mike and calling it Stick People or whatever, I just said "Tony let's just call it Stick Men". It wasn't long after that that Tony came up with the idea for that Charlie's Angels inspired picture that we took, which is that black and white picture that we used on some of the early promos.

SoT: The new album Soup is out now. Tell me a bit about the new stuff.

PM: Stick Men started gigging right away doing a few Crimson classics, a couple of Stick Man songs and a few of Mike's tunes , but most of the new material was written as we were gigging, with most of it played in on the road and some coming from jams and live improvisations. We had the opportunity to tour in November of last year with Porcupine Tree and we wanted to have something to sell at the merch table so we did an advance of the CD in its current shape. It's a lot of the same material as on the Soup CD but most of it is more developed. For example there are a few more overdubs, like on the song "Scarlet Wheel" which has a vocal on it now- or "Hands". Even though Tony had written three parts for "Hands" for the advance CD we had only recorded "Hands part 1", whereas now on the Soup CD you have the other two parts. We added a couple of other tracks, like "Relentless" that we didn't have time to record before the Porcupine Tree dates, so those have been added and a few older songs have been taken off. I'd say it's 75% the same material. It's kind of like how King Crimson's Vrooom was a calling card for Thrak in that the material is more developed. We've also done four movements of Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite" which was quite a lot to take on. On the advanced CD most the mixes were done by Tony and I but on the Soup CD several tracks were mixed by professionals like Steven Wilson and Tony Lash.

SoT: Yeah you get into some pretty heavy, almost metallic moments on that Stravinsky track.

PM: Yeah it's a heavy piece! I think that was Tony's intention. I've loved Stravinsky's stuff since I was a teenager. While traveling in the van everyday Tony started to concoct this arrangement when we were over in Europe touring a year and a half ago. He actually began compiling the many different parts of the arrangement in the van. I've got pictures of him going through the charts. Then when we would come home between tours he would go into his studio- and it might take a week to record a minute's worth of that music, because there's so many intricate time changes, and trying to figure out how to cut between the movements and what we could actually orchestrate as a trio. It was a really inspiring piece to work on, but yeah Stick Men are kind of like this heavy metal / world music / jazzy /classical, stick playing band, and we sort of slip through these genres so much that you're not sure what bin you want to put us in.

SoT: This can be said about a lot of your work. The music works between so many different genres.

PM: Well what can I say? I think, like most musicians, I don't think about genres- I just forage for pure joy. Besides since there are basically no records stores anymore, who cares?

SoT: So how is the rest of 2010 shaping up for you?

PM: For Stick Men as I mentioned we have Japan coming up and then we'll go to Europe. I have a TU date with Trey in Warsaw in July then we come back to the States for about a week before heading back to Europe to continue with Stick Men through Italy, Spain and Portugal I think. That will take us up to August when Tony goes to New Zealand for a tour with The California Guitar Trio. I'll be back home in Austin finishing a record with Peter Kingsbery & Cock Robin. The Cocks last made a record and did quite a bit of touring back in 2006, so this will be their second release since they stopped in the early 90's. Markus (Reuter) and I have another Tuner record that we're working on, it will be a double record. We're about half way into it, but I'm not sure we'll be able to work on that again till sometime in the late fall or early next year. I'm also working on something with Jonas Reingold, the bass player from The Flower Kings, something bluesy he's producing that he's going to bring over here to Texas and we're going to cut rhythm tracks for that. I'm also finishing up a record with Italian bass player Lorenzo Feliciati, and besides his solo record we have started a project called Naked Truth with him, trumpet player Coung Vu and Norwegian piano player Roy Powell. In the fall I might do some touring with Chrysta Bell, an Austin girl I've been working with the last few years. There's just a lot of stuff going on.

SoT: What about King Crimson, any news there?

PM: Nothing this year. Everybody is busy with different things, so we try and keep tabs on when the other Crims have gaps in their schedules and then we'll try to coordinate something, but nothing worked out for 2010, so maybe next year.

Photos by:
Julia Dinh
John Brown

Provided by Pat Mastelotto

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