Gary Lucas: Ignoring Genre Divisions

Poly-Stylism and Influences



Gary Lucas
Interview Excerpt #1


FRANK J. OTERI: This is a great place. I love being surrounded by tons of vinyl, and I see you are quite a record collector.

GARY LUCAS: I think I spent a lot of my formative years collecting music. I was obsessed about it, but it really has tapered off in the last couple of years, I must say. I’m not nearly as driven to do it and I think it has something do with making music for a living and going full time professional. I felt a little guilty in the time I would spend listening to new sound. I was eating up time that I would have otherwise conserved putting into use making my own music.

FRANK J. OTERI: This is the incredible divide that I find myself in constantly. I mean, do you make music or do you listen to other people making music… I’m addicted to both!

GARY LUCAS: I know, if you can find a balance it’s good. I try to keep a balance, and I do manage to keep abreast of everything. I was listening to Tony Conrad and some of the recordings that Table of the Elements has put out recently. They just sent me a vat of stuff.

FRANK J. OTERI: Terrific. The one that I want to listen to is Outside the Dream Syndicate.

GARY LUCAS: Yeah, I know. Well, they swore they would send it to me but the release had been delayed a bit.

FRANK J. OTERI: Do you know the story about Conrad showing up at a La Monte Young concert with a picket sign?

GARY LUCAS: My drummer plays in La Monte’s Forever Bad Blues Band. La Monte has been guarding his tape archive quite zealously.

FRANK J. OTERI: Anyway, to bring the conversation to you and the music that you spend time doing versus buying music as voraciously as you used to… How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?

GARY LUCAS: I’ve kind of developed a rubric. I’d say it’s “psychedelic primitive.”

FRANK J. OTERI: What does that mean?

GARY LUCAS: It embraces the energy of the caveman, hopefully, and a kind of a visceral, teeth gritting that also pertains to the psychedelic, mind manifesting impulse that turned me onto listening to music voraciously in the ’60s, and that I like to take people on trip with the guitar. I like to make the music in a way kind of pictorial so that my instrumental music can describe landscape and ideas. Ultimately it’s visceral. Recently a fan wrote me on the Internet and said that I ought to distribute “Gary Lucas Chewing Gum” with all of my records because it gave her a very tactile sensation. It was kind of like she could chew the music. That’s how she described it. What does that mean? I don’t know.

FRANK J. OTERI: When I was listening to your CDs, I felt like I was being taken in so many different directions with this music and I came up with all sorts of things I was hearing – I was hearing rock in it, I was hearing jazz, and I was hearing blues, and I was hearing roots country at times, I was hearing new music, experimental music, electronic music, Klezmer and the Radical Jewish Culture thing. It was all there. There were even tracks that were like heavy metal and hip-hop.

GARY LUCAS: I cover the waterfront. What can I say? (laugh) I think I can find some beauty in every genre of music that I’ve listened to, and I think that I don’t discriminate, I don’t narrow-cast my music to aim at one particular market. This could limit me commercially of course because I think the way music is packaged these days, people want an easy kind of free ride so that they don’t have to work to understand what it is that they’re listening to. Everything is boiled down into these generic constituents, so that you go to one source for your hip-hop, go to your alternative rock section in the store, you know, to get this and that.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s amazing to me that alternative rock has become codified because the whole notion of alternative rock is that it goes against the codification that rock became.

GARY LUCAS: Yeah, it’s true. This is just the function of the marketing mechanisms of the world in that the people in corporations who are behind the masked music foisted on everybody definitely go toward the generic or the lowest common denominator because it’s easier to sell, they don’t have to spend a lot of time describing what it is to people. If people have to think a little bit, if they have to work to apprehend what it is they’re hearing, they find that most people don’t have the time in their lives to devote to such things. Anyway, music is used by most people as an adjunct to other activities. I really wonder how many people actually sit and listen to something rather than using it as background music while they have breakfast or brush their teeth, watch TV, or some other activity. Just to have something on, a soundtrack or background music to their lives.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, the whole reason why I wanted to have this discussion with you is that the July issue of NewMusicBox is all about how non-commercial rock music, truly alternative rock music, is very much a cousin to contemporary, so-called serious music, art music, music that really has no name that works for it… These two worlds are very close together and I think we could learn a lot from each other, and I think there would be greater strength in what we do, and certainly when a band like Sonic Youth last year turns out an album with Pauline Oliveros and Christian Wolff and all of these people, it shows you that these worlds aren’t really that far apart.

GARY LUCAS: I think that the impulse to experiment which is at the heart of new music, the impulse to make it new, as Ezra Pound said, there’s an ethos that’s shared by rockers because their music is a reaction to whatever had been the prevailing rock music trend of the time. Both groups seem to share an impulse to want to deviate from the norm, which to me is good and is what attracts me. I’m very rebellious at heart. I have a problem with authority figures.

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