My friend and I were trying to come up with an excuse to hang out with a couple of pretty girls in Berkeley, and one afternoon he calls me up and tells me that Scott Amendola’s group, Crater, is playing at the Jupiter. “Who’s Crater?” I ask. He replies, “I don’t know, but give me a few minutes and I’ll find out.” I say, “Don’t worry about it, their name is Crater.” So I drove up to Berkeley from San Jose in the pouring rain, spent a tireless ten minutes searching for parking, walked up to the Jupiter and stepped inside. As I walked through the doorway, I heard this amazingly fat and robust groove coming from upstairs, and I knew (as I had known before) that these guys were, yes, aliens (I have yet to confirm it, but I just have this feeling).
Anywhoo, the crowd was tough that night and the energy was off-kilter: two girls and a guy at the table next to us were trying to decide which limpdick Hollywood movie to rent as they sipped on their microbrews. At another table there was a guy (Robert Smith) and a riot girl in black trench coats writing poetry to each other, and then there was me, hopping and hollering every chance I could get to show that I’d been to Yoshi's and that I do listen to jazz. I was truly zapped by the sonic display, and after the show I got to talking to Scott (Crater's drummer), Todd Sickafoose (bass), and JHNO (loops & ambience), and asked them where they were booked in the next couple of months. Much to my chagrin, they weren’t booked enough. They also told me that Nels Cline was their guitarist (for those of you that don’t know, Nels is the shit). Incredulous! Hence forth I have dedicated myself to bringing the world these exciting, revolutionary and rocking emissaries of acoustic/electronica groove improvisation to Happy Honkey’s favorite watering hole, the Connecticut Yankee.
I sat down with Scott recently at my computer and we traded a few questions concerning Phil Collins, Crater, the word "jamband," T.J. Kirk and childhood memories.
The Bob: Please talk about the genesis of your group Crater.
Scott: I was playing in a band called Wavelord with JHNO, which was a much more structured group. The music was more tune-based with JHNO doing his thing. I thought it would be really interesting to have a group that was based on improvising within various grooves, textures, etc. - a live ambient/electronica/acoustic band that improvised all night. Thus the birth
The Bob: Where did you meet Nels Cline [Crater guitarist], and what is your favorite Nels recording?
Scott: I met Nels in Los Angeles at the Alligator Lounge. He had a Monday night series called "New Music Monday" in which he would book various bands to play and his trio would play last every Monday. Philip Greenlief and I went down to do a show and we met. I love all of Nels' records but the one that stands out most to me is The Inkling on Cryptogramophone.
B: Does the lamb lie down on Broadway or in Phil Collins pocketbook?
Scott: Man, Peter Gabriel, dude. I love Gabriel. Fuck Phil Collins.
B: Do you feel the presence of Sun Ra in your music? How has he inspired you?
Scott: I like Sun Ra but I haven't checked him out extensively at all.
B: Explain your personal relationship to electronic music, electronica,
technology, break beats.
Scott: I got into mixing electronics and acoustics through my desire to take
the drums to another place. I've always been fascinated by guitar pedals and
thought that I could do something like that with drums: sample drums live
and run them through various processors, which in my case is mostly guitar
pedals. Loopers, delays, distortion... it's another texture. I use these
devices to make sound scapes, not necessarily time loops, but mostly
atmospheric sounds, etc.
B: Crater tends to whip into a break beat furor at times.
Scott: Yes, it does.
B: The past few months have been hectic: a tour with the Nels Cline
Singers, the Red Haired Stranger performances with Carla Bozulich, a
full swing of shows with your own jazz ensembles, and of course, the Josh
Roseman Unit, and Crater. Explain how you came to find yourself in this
close circle of very creative and exciting musicians?
Scott: Just fortunate. From playing with Charlie Hunter, T.J. Kirk, Nels, Ben
Goldberg, John Schott, ROVA, Will Bernard, etc. There are tons of creative
B: They say the Bay Area is the second largest jazz medium in the country and this city attracts a very interesting cross section of people. How did you end up here?
Scott: I grew-up in New Jersey. Went to college in Boston at the Berklee College of Music. Headed back to New Jersey. Tried New York for a bit, but I wanted a change. I had visited San Francisco and loved it. I had met Kenny Wolleson and Larry Grenadier [Brad Meldau trio] in Boston the summer before moving back to N.J. I Called Larry who had moved to N.Y., he gave me a ton of numbers, and I headed out West. I came at the right time.
B: What was the second listening experience you had as a child?
Scott: My Grandfather playing guitar.
B: Were you ever a heavy metal drummer in high school?
Scott: Yes. Loved AC/DC and Zeppelin. Still do.
B: What rituals must you complete before you perform?
B: Was performing the Willie Nelson on the Red Haired Stranger album the first time in recent memory you went down the country/western road?
Scott: I love Willie Nelson. I've played quite a bit with guitar virtuoso Jim Camplilongo, who has quite a country flavor in his playing. And I was also lucky to play with Bill Frisell who was heading down that road.
B: How did the ensemble approach performing the album? I read that Carla wanted to interpret the album with a lot of space and freedom, and the
performances were magical because of that.
Scott: Some of the record is pretty straight. Some of it is coming from an Indian music perspective, drones. It was pretty cool but when we do it, it's like doing a show. There is freedom in some of it, but also a very solid
direction in a lot of it.
B: I don’t think any of the players involved would have wanted to do
something like that straight ahead.
Scott: We do what the music asks.
B: You have some pretty impressive “jamband” chops: two albums with T.J.
Kirk; you’ve played with Michael Franti, Phil Lesh, Primus, Bill Frissell.
Explain a bit of your experiences with these cats.
Scott: I'm not sure where "jamband" fits into all this. The whole "jamband" tag came to music well after I was playing with Charlie, T.J. Kirk, etc. I'm an improviser who's musical vocabulary ranges from jazz to funk, to
free-improv to noise, etc. I don't know what to make of "jamband," honestly. I love music. I love to play music, I love to write music and I feel like my whole life I've been on a path of being myself. It would surprise me if people call what Bill Frisell does "jamband." What the hell is a "jamband"? Can someone tell me?
B: If T.J. Kirk does another album, do you think you will expand on the JB, Roland Kirk, and Monk trip, or maybe do all Prince compositions?
Scott: It's interesting that you ask this. I get asked more about T.J. Kirk than anything I've ever done. Maybe someone should make a real effort to see if we'd ever play again. Who knows?
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