By Robert Krevolin
Stream some Krantz while you read
All guitar players hate that buzz. You know the signal that the 9-volt you borrowed from your friend’s Wah pedal or that one you’ve been keeping in the freezer for two months just in case is all but out of energy. Guitarists will just do without using any pedals than have to deal with that annoyance, all but one.
As his band rips through rhythms dynamically unparalleled to anything on this planet, Wayne Krantz flips the switch to change the pickup function on his Strat and turns the volume up, then down bringing that buzz into the mix of the song. It blends perfectly with the heavy tempos being created by Wayne’s partners in crime, seminal bassist Tim Lefebvre and the swamp-master drummer Keith Carlock. With just a few more subtle touches he then begins launching into a solo, leaving the room aghast.
“Where did these guys come from?” neophytes often ask their friends whom they have accompanied to Krantz’s home a Christopher Street’s 55 Bar that night, getting a taste of what these cats are cooking. This is the question I want to answer. Via the information superhighway, I was able to share some thoughts with Mr. Krantz and get the skinny on what he is all about, from his journey to Berklee College of Music in Boston from his home in Coravallis, Oregon to his touring experiences with the one and only sultan of sarcasm Donald Fagen and Steely Dan, what the future holds for Wayne and his band, and his feelings regarding musical movements.
RK: You, Keith and Tim have been playing together for the last three years. I first saw you guys play at the Knitting Factory Old Office in the summer of ‘98 and was floored by what was going on, very mystical and outwardly rocking. You and Keith held most of the ground and Tim was filling. Now the band has a tight-knit feel all around, everyone carrying his independent part and working together to form this sonic revolution. Tim seems more comfortable in the setting and the connection between you, he and Keith is unparalleled. How has the band progressed in the last three years since you’ve started playing with Tim and Keith? How has their playing influenced you?
WK: The evolution of the band is incessant, but strangely invisible to the band itself. Audience members who see us only periodically keep us updated on it. It's a little like your hair; you're not aware that it's growing but when your Aunt sees you she tells you how long it's gotten. When I listen to Greenwich Mean, our latest disc, I can see some differences. We're more into sonics now, and a lot of the stuff that was created with editing on that CD we're now able to do live in a completely spontaneous way. The band has more control now. And there's no question that the way we all play in this group is specific to this combination - if you hear any one of us in another context it doesn't sound the same. Our approach almost doesn't work with anybody else; we've become that tailored to each other.
Because we're heading towards a kind of improvisation that, among other things, can sound more compositional, I'm trying to find something with the guitar that accesses what I have to say harmonically, melodically and rhythmically that doesn't have to do with the line-playing that was so much a part of my jazz phase. It's hard to give the lines up, because a lot of my ability and sensibility has been wrapped up in that, but it has to happen. There's basically very little space for conventional soloing in this music. I still haven't figured out exactly what's going to replace it...
RK: During your sets, the music takes seemingly endless journeys through tempo and general feeling, often ending up far beyond what began. How much of the journey is improvisation and how much is written? Are there head forms that remain constant to cue changes during the sets?
WK: At this point, most of what we do is improvised. But there are composed parts to every song, too; those parts essentially define the song, though it can be defined very, very loosely. The more we play it the more we mutate it, usually. Though after you've done that enough then sometimes the only remaining mutation is to play it exactly as written. So we play in the moment. That's where all our decisions are made.
RK: There are some links between your music and the ever-spreading DJ culture. Is there anything that intrigues you about the DJ and electronic movements and what forms have you taken from those movements and adopted them to your own sound?
WK: Movements and trends in music don't intrigue me very much at all, at least as a musician. If a musician adopts the parameters of a given trend - whether it's DJ, electronic, or even rock, jazz or funk; anything, really - then they're bypassing 90% of the creative process, the part where the artist defines their own context. It's understandable why people make that choice, because I think that the process of "non-trend" creation is basically an isolated one, one that almost by definition is not glamorous or hip because there's no existing reference that can validate something that's new. Over time, it can start to become accepted and understood, and can maybe start a movement of its own, depending on its content. But most of the time that doesn't even happen. So that's not too appealing to a lot of musicians.
In our band we use some of the sounds and concepts of techno, but it never really becomes techno because we're improvising constantly and, most importantly, because Keith Carlock's drumming has nothing to do with techno. He's all swampy funk with great hands. So if Tim Lefebvre and I use some electronic sounds, it never completely becomes just another example of the genre. If Keith was coming from more of a drum'n'bass conception with what he played, then Tim and I wouldn't be using those effects. Not in this band, anyway. This band isn't about derivation, it's about invention. We try to avoid cliché, even in our most conventional moments.
RK: I know Tim [Lefebvre - Bassist for the group] has another Drum N Bass project called Boomish and we [Tim and I] have spoken in the past about drum n bass in a general sense. Was this interest in the electronic movement a mutual one or was it grown through collaboration with Tim and Keith?
WK: Lefebvre more or less got me started with effects again a few years ago, after I'd given them up about 8 years before. I was feeling that I'd explored the sound of straight guitar through the amp as much as I could for now, and I wanted a change. Without Tim's interest in drum'n'bass I'm not sure it would have happened exactly that way. But, y'know; it would have just happened another way. Change is necessary. Or it dies. No matter how good it is.
Krantz at 55 Bar | Photo by Jon Mantell
RK: You toured with Steely Dan on their 1996 tour and even had Donald Fagen sit in with you at the 55 Bar. Tell me a little about the touring experience and anything that you got out of it, i.e. musical knowledge and directional ideas, friendships, etc.
WK: The touring was a blast. Playing for all those people, traveling a lot... I loved it. But at the end of the day it's a sideman gig, and as great as it was, it still can't compare to what I have with my own band. I got my ass kicked seriously in two areas, musically, on that gig: one with my sound, which I still really haven't gotten together to my own complete satisfaction. I hope I will someday. The other is with my time, which has gotten perceptibly better since then. That's the biggest improvement I've made in the last few years, and it was inspired by the Steely Dan experience, definitely.
I'm still in touch with my buddy John Beasely from those days. He's a great pianist and musician.
RK: Growing up in Corvallis, Oregon, what were your first musical interests and influences? How did you come about playing guitar and when did you know that music is what you wanted to pursue?
WK: Oh, you know... it's pretty boring stuff. I grew up in a music-loving household, though nobody there was a musician. After enduring piano lessons by force for years as a kid, I discovered the guitar on my own and immediately became fascinated with it. The first time I knew I wanted to become a musician was while I was listening to a Sons of Champlin record called, coincidentally, Follow Your Heart. After that I never seriously questioned my direction.
RK: The voyage from Corvallis to Boston must have been quite an extreme one. On your website it says you "went to music school in Boston after high school and stayed a little too long." Tell me a little about your Berklee experience and why you may have stayed too long? I went to school in Boston and almost stayed too long myself, so this question really interests me. And no I will not send this to Berklee for them to put on ANYTHING.
WK: It was a big shock, the Corvallis-Boston transition. I went from being one of the best guitar players in the area to being one of the worst, all in about 6 1/2 hours. I'm not sure I ever really got over that. Basically after I was out of college I just hung out up there for almost six years, practicing and doing some gigs. I started my first band. And I studied for a year with a guy named Charlie Banacos, who's the best jazz teacher I've ever known. He's the one who encouraged me to move to New York, which I finally did in 1985.
RK: A friend of mine saw you speak at a lecture in a return you made to Berklee in 1996 and a student asked what you were listening to at the time. Your response was “Prince and Techno, next question.”
WK: That was then...
RK: Right on. The band often takes trips to play in Europe. Recently you guys played in France and returned to the 55 Bar the next night to do a show. What types of responses are you met with in Europe and how do they compare/contrast with that of American audiences? Tell me a little about the venues in Europe as well and how they compare/contrast with ones in the US and what impact, if any, do you think that has on the experience for you.
WK: Some people say that audiences are more receptive in Europe to creative music, but I've found that audiences everywhere, including the US, are receptive and hungry for anything that vaguely resembles the truth. It's interesting to see how people react to us, because we're pretty provocative and it usually creates a definite response. It can be negative, like maybe if somebody thought they were going to hear a jazz concert with some nice saxophone serving up melodies on a platter, they might be disappointed. But most of the time the reaction ranges from a kind of surprised positivism to outright conversion.
Photo by Donald Butke
One time we played on this little outdoor square in Marciac, France, and a friend of mine from there told me that, for days afterward, all kinds of people - young, old, savvy, naive - were talking with one another in the square about our music, and what it meant to them. You hear about something like that, you know you're doing something right.
RK: The band played the soon-to-be-closed Wetlands Preserve in past months, a place renowned for shows of the “jamband” nature; high energy, loose dancing and a close attention to the music make up the personality of the audience. How has the band been received there and how has the band received the audience?
WK: The first gig we did there was great, 'cause it was promoted well and there were some people and everybody was really digging it. It gave us hope. We've done a few since then that weren't too well-attended, though. But the vibe is always very, very cool. It's a listening, non-jazz audience, which is an interesting combination. We like it.
RK: Well, is there anything in store for you, Tim, and Keith in the future? Any plans to do some more recording or touring any new places?
WK: I've been writing music for a new record for a while now. I'm not sure when we'll start it - I hope before the end of the year. We're continuing our Thursday gig at the 55 Bar in New York. We're playing in South America next month, and the UK. We'll be on the West Coast in October, and Europe again in November. Things are slowly - very slowly - heating up a little. It takes time because it's all word of mouth and most promoters and agents won't touch us because we're not well-known enough yet to generate much money for them. We count on the ones that have the ears and foresight to want to build something with us. They're not many, but they're out there. And we're happy about that.
Wayne Krantz just had a birthday. In celebration of his... well, I really do not know what birthday this was... Anyway, Wayne spent this birthday with many of his friends at New York’s 55 Bar where his tenure is reaching some years now. No cake or candles on this night, rather, a special guest saxman and the continuation of the unbelievable vibe surrounding Wayne and his band. Transcending space and time through their music, Wayne, Tim, and Keith remain once again triumphant and true in their pursuance; three musically outspoken gentleman enveloped in sonic revolution.
Finally, the band makes its way to Boston on August 21st, another gig at Skidmore College on October 3rd, an upcoming fall tour of the West Coast leading into Europe in November. The movement being created by Wayne Krantz is now on the move spreading their awe-inspiring word. Check out www.waynekrantz.com for any details.
We all know a little bit more about the roots of the enigmatic Wayne Krantz, where he has been and where he is going in the future. One cannot fully grasp the experience unless they see it for themselves so make it a point to let Wayne, Tim and Keith speak to you their version of the truth.