01 October 2008

10 Questions with...Dave Kerman

Dave Kerman is one of the hardest working musicians in progressive music (please note the lack of use of the neologism 'prog,' for reasons that will become clear soon). Between his work with Belgian Rock in Opposition legends Present, the American avant band Thinking Plague, his influential work with past ensembles 5UU's, UTotem and Motor Totemist Guild, and so on, his performance time is filled with music that truly pushes the boundaries and explores the sometimes frightening boundaries between structure and absolute chaos. He's played at a number of prestigious festivals, including but certainly not limited to NEARfest, Tritonale (France), Victoriaville (Canada), Gouveia (Portugal) and Wurzburg (Germany).

He's one of several musicians who has worked tirelessly to change the impression of drummers from strict time keepers and side men to that of musicians fully capable of acting as band leaders...composing, producing, organising business affairs. Dave's a musician of rare and multi-faceted talent musically.

But wait...that's not all.

He is also the CEO of ReR USA, the US distribution arm of Chris Cutler's Recommended Records. He also runs Ad Hoc Records, a label that distributes through ReR, and home to releases from Bob Drake, N.I.M.B.Y., The Red Masque, K-Space, and others.

I've been lucky enough to catch Dave Kerman playing three times. The first was with Present at NEARfest 2005. I have to admit my memories of that performance are based around two images...a kilted, face-painted man beating an iron pipe in time with the band on the 23-minute "Promenade ou Fond d'un Canal," and Dave himself beating the life out of his kit with everything and anything within reach, including a pair of Barbie dolls. I've also seen him guest with The Red Masque at the NJ Proghouse, and with Bob Drake and friends at NEARfest 2007. Each performance was memorable for more than one reason, and they cemented Dave Kerman for me as a musician willing to take any risk in the belief that the potential payout far exceeded the risk.

Dave Kerman is a man of strong opinion, and I think this comes through in hos honest, unblinking (and often humourous) responses below.

1 You've been pretty outspoken over the long term that prog is dead. Where do you feel music is currently really pushing the boundaries outward?

DK: Yes, I absolutely feel that the Progressive Rock school is merely re-hashing ideas that the original groups from the 60’s and 70’s had pioneered. By comparison, some of the Extreme Metal genres have managed to transcended their own, original influences (Punk and Heavy Metal), and have been able to break some new ground. Whereas Hardcore used to eschew virtuosity, today it embraces it fully; Grindcore, Deathgrind and Deathcore all seem to me to be a new and vibrant sort of “Progressive Rock”, with bands that employ some completely unbelievable prowess and competency. And, in the best cases (Cattle Decapitation, Gaza, Destroyer Destroyer, PsyOpus, Knut, Watchmaker) usually employ some memory-testing compositional strength.

2 How did you get started implementing odd percussion instruments into your kit?

DK: I had done it as a joke, as early as 1977, with some large metal fire extinguishers and empty drum shells. It seemed to just grow from there to bar-b-que parts and large chains, dolls and kitchen appliances. I’ve never really been completely surrounded by a lot of this rubbish on stage because it’s too much to carry around. But someday I’d like to design a stage that resembles a junkyard, where every piece is a playable, percussive instrument.

3 Further to that, how do you feel they add to your sonic arsenal?

DK: Well, firstly it’s a visual thing; Instead of a choked triangle, which everyone on Earth has seen somebody play, I might lightly drop a pinball on a plate of China. Or use a croquet ball and mallet in the place of a woodblock, or whatever.
Besides being visually different, some elements can also “sound” slightly different. Not that this approach need always be subtle; I’ve attacked drums with objects, as well, smashing cymbals with the upswing of a nine-iron, or “stirring”: the set with giant, Portuguese wooden spoons.

4 Irreverent question time: is there a certain vintage Barbie doll that works best as drumsticks?

DK: Actually, I’ve only used Barbies a very few times. Skipper dolls are cheaper, more colorful and hold together better, until the very last moment, when I decapitate them against the side of a cymbal, sending the head flying into the audience. Heh heh….

5 Speaking of irreverence...do you feel that humour belongs in music?

DK: Absolutely. Why not ?? Music, like any other art, should somehow imitate life.

6 You run the US arm of Chris Cutler's Recommended Records. How did that partnership arise?

DK: I’ve known Chris since the Henry Cow days, and the earliest days of Recommended Records. As a teenager, I was an avid fan of that music, and had become a signed artist on the label by 1984. Twenty years later, Chris decided that it might be a propitious venture to have a North American distribution office, so we kicked around the idea, and I volunteered to play guinea pig. So far, it’s working well, and has branched out into our own label, Ad Hoc Records.

7 If you could put together a dream band of musicians to realise your compositions, who would you involve?

DK: Matt Mitchell (keyboards – Thinking Plague), Michele Fuchs (vocals – Les Reines Prochaines), Josh Elmore (guitar – Cattle Decapitation), Liesbeth Lambrecht (violin – Aranis), Alfred Karnes (harp-guitar/vocals), myself (field recordings of really loud racket).

8 What would you say would be your most fulfilling musical experience?

DK: There’s no single instance that I can single out. In my initial days with the Belgian group, Present, the roster was the core members of Univers Zero: Roger and Reggie Trigaux, Guy Segers and Daniel Denis. So, in essence, I was asked to join my very favorite band of all-time, and that was a blast. Also, the one concert I played on a bill with Magma, where Christian Vander “didn’t” wipe up the stage with my musical innards (every other time he’s managed to do exactly that). The completion of the Ahvak disk with Udi Koomran was a real cause for celebration. Helping to bring thru to fruition a live version of Art Bears Songbook to play at the Victoriaville Festival. Getting signed to Recommended Records. There’s been a lot of nice moments over the years. But honestly, I look at these things as “accomplishments” or maybe just something that’s “part of the job”, as opposed to anything fulfilling, now that I’m old, graying, and prone to elderly moments.

9 What's next for you? What projects are you working on?

DK: We have a tour coming up in a few days’ time (Oct. 2008) with Bob Drake’s Cabinet of Curiosities, which I hope will lead to some sort of album. Then there’s the next installment of the RIO Festival in Southern France (April 2009). The last RIO filmed both Present concerts there, so we are working on a dbl. disk, incorporating a DVD to release along with the new studio album, due February 2009. There is some talk of bringing Ahvak back to life in Tel Aviv in 2010, but that remains to be seen. I’ll be distributing the 10-Disk Henry Cow box upon its release in December, 2008. There’s initial talk of another Thinking Plague CD and tour before very long.

10 Do you have any final words, thoughts, pithy statements or the like to impart?

DK: As I’m always working in the office, day and night, running ReR USA and Ad Hoc Records, I should hope that anyone interested in interesting music might take a chance on something at www.rerusa.com or www.adhocrecords.com.

Other Links of Note:

(photo of Dave Kerman from NEARfest 2007, taken by Bill Knispel)

No comments: