Interview with Don Byron

DON BYRON: I think as an artist, your job is to define the smallest space possible. I mean, look at Robert Johnson, I mean, he’s just talking about himself. He’s just playing his stuff. And then the circle of people that connect with that expands. But to make real art, the space that you work in, for me, should be fairly small, to make populous music is to try to say that this big ass circle of people is who you’re making this music for. But I don’t get that feeling, you know, when I listen to a Carole King record, I don’t get the feeling that she’s trying to make a humongo pop record. This is a small space. This is, you know, from the clavicle to the clavicle. It’s not about, you know, then, whether people are gonna get to connect with that is hit or miss. And that’s where the industry kind of messes things up.

FRANK J. OTERI: Sometimes it gets in the way.

DON BYRON: Because to make real art, you have to, you have to be looking inwards, and really maybe defining small places in yourself, at different times different places

FRANK J. OTERI: So, loaded question. Who do you consider your audience to be?

DON BYRON: Gee whiz.

FRANK J. OTERI: [laughs]

DON BYRON: You know, I had a real problem for a long time, especially with the klezmer shit, because I think those people thought that they were my audience, but they really were Mickey Katz‘s audience, or they were klezmer music’s audience, you know, because a lot of those people knew my work, people that followed klezmer knew the Klezmer Conservatory Band, so it wasn’t, some of them it wasn’t just Mickey Katz. I think that I don’t really have one audience the way that some people do. I think there are some jazz people that give it up to me, I think there’re some new music people that give it up to me, I think there’re some people across different spaces of music making and music listening who give it up to me. You know, some Latin cats give it up to me. You know, some don’t. Some classical cats give it up to me, some don’t. You know, but…

FRANK J. OTERI: And it changes with each record.



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DON BYRON: And it changes with each record, because for some people, you know, what I’m doing is really not relevant. For someone who’s into Bug Music, Nu Blaxploitation is not relevant.

FRANK J. OTERI: And that was the next record right after it, too.

DON BYRON: Yeah. I mean, it took a while to make that record but it was the next record. You know, I mean… But that’s not really unusual. I remember I was watching Bravo one day and John Waters was on for a couple of hours, and he was saying, you know, “Gee, you know, like Joe and Jane Blow in Indiana, they love Hairspray, so they’re going to check out Pink Flamingos.” [laughs] Surprise!

FRANK J. OTERI: [laughs]

DON BYRON: You know what I mean?

FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah.

DON BYRON: And I think… what makes it a little funny is that I’m more like a Johnny Depp-type of musician than a James Cagney, where you’re always going to get, you know what you’re going to get. If you didn’t want that, you wouldn’t get this cat. I’m more, you know, Dustin Hoffman back in the day, when he was just, you know, one time he’s a ninety-year-old Indian… But the real difference is that people check out different films all the time. People are very environmental about music, and they don’t necessarily check out all these different musics, all the time. You know, for somebody, you know, some white woman, who’s really conservative, who loves Bug Music, you know, she doesn’t own any Mandrill. She doesn’t own any. I know she doesn’t. She probably doesn’t have any Sly either. So, who my audience is, I mean, that’s, it’s just really tough…

FRANK J. OTERI: But in some ways, ideally, if someone’s a fan of Bug Music, you might open up some minds if they buy Nu Blaxsploitation, they might go buy a Mandrill record, or they might go and buy There a Riot Goin’ On

DON BYRON: One of these websites, I think it was Amazon.com, where people could comment, some of the comments on Nu Blaxsploitation, I mean, some of the cats were like, “DON BYRON is keeping it real. Kumbaya. Go on, brother.” And then, all of a sudden, “this is the worst piece of crap I ever heard in my life.”

FRANK J. OTERI: I was actually reading those comments.

DON BYRON: Oh, man, one of them is so funny because it’s just so obvious, it’s just so obvious. It’s not even like, how many other things like that do you own? You know, it’s not, you know, “I have Sunny Ade‘s record and his record is better than yours.” It’s not that.

FRANK J. OTERI: Right.

DON BYRON: You know, it’s a fish out of water.

FRANK J. OTERI: How many people own the collected works of Raymond Scott as well as Fear of a Black Planet?

DON BYRON: Not too many… The Raymond Scott thing is somethin’ else. Now he’s developed an audience and it’s in the pocket of some kind of hipness.

FRANK J. OTERI: Now they’re re-issuing everything. They’ve even re-released this record he did of music for babies…

DON BYRON: I’ve got some really off Raymond Scott stuff. I’ve got the baby thing, some big band thing, there’s even a record he produced of Bo Diddley. This cat was out there.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, the most interesting people always are. They don’t want to be boxed in by categories. The minute you put a label on something, you limit what it can be…