for all he cares - an interview with the bad plus' ethan iverson
  • WEDNESDAY, MARCH 04, 2009

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On paper, the collection of artists that populate The Bad Plus' recent album For All I Care, have little in common with each other. Imagine doodling - perhaps like you did on the cover of one of those crusty, spiral notebooks back in high school - the names Nirvana, the Bee Gees, the Flaming Lips, and Igor Stravinsky. It'd be an odd group; one that touches on a rich set of traditions pulled from a variety of unique moments in the musical, time continuum.

Of course Ethan Iverson has always found his own way to connect the dots. In a recent conversation, The Bad Plus' acrobatic pianist touched on the popular pieces that inspired the band's latest batch of experimental, jazz-fusion. Source, genre, style; Iverson discussed how the band dismissed such qualities when choosing which compositions to re-imagine. In doing so, the group linked a seemingly unrelated collection of artists together with kinetic fits of re-interpretation and a trademark flare for fiery, improvisation. - David Pitz

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First off, the most glaring difference in this record from your others is the addition of vocalist Wendy Lewis. Where did this idea come from?
We've always believed in the power of song in the band. We really love melody. We love the idea of great hooks, clear arrangements. So after four studio records it was time to do a collaboration...to try and amplify this love of song.

Was there ever any debate that this collaboration might disrupt the definite chemistry you have as a band?
Well, I think the point was to try and find someone who could work with the chemistry. It probably was a concern going into the first rehearsal. But it soon felt like this was going to work out. We also gave ourselves plenty of time. We rehearsed for about 10 months or something.

Did your approach to the music change when you brought Wendy Lewis in?
Oh yeah, for sure. Inevitably, you play with a singer in a slightly more caressing way. What was really important to us was to have a singer we could also just play the way we play, you know? We brought her inside the band, rather than pin her out in front of the band.

Let's talk about covers. Why are they such a prominent part of every Bad Plus album?
One of the things the band tries to do is try and accept pop culture from the vantage point of us being improvising musicians. So in playing Lithium, we try not to retrace a piece of music, but bring a new perspective fueled by improvisation and spontaneity.

So what is the common link between a song like "Lithium" and a song like "How Deep Is Your Love"?
I think it is the re-interpretation. I don't think the pieces have that strong a link to each other. When we're done with it, it sounds like Bad Plus music. That's really the most important thing.

What do you find most exciting about tackling other artist's compositions?
You can sort of name any song and say, let's do thatit's a great idea, but then you kind of always find a way to make it your own. So For All I Care, we had a list of almost thirty tunes, and whittled them down because some of them were great ideas that would never work.

Can you talk about the title of your most recent album?
There is a hidden pun in the title For All I Care. It's from "Lithium" of course. But we care about all this music. It's our way of saying there is room to embrace everything that we love. It's actually a postmodern clich on "let's take down the barriers." But there is still a ways to go before we really get the barriers down.

How have artists reacted to the record?
Apparently Wilco likes our version ("Radio Cure"). I haven't spoken to Jeff Tweedy or anything, but we got an email to that effect.

Have other artists reacted to your work in the past?
The biggest one to me wasn't this record, but when Geezer Butler, the bassist from Black Sabbath, came to see us live because of our "Iron Man" cover. Later he wrote on the Internet that it was the best cover of any song...ever. We could die in peace after that.

I read that you only played these songs a half dozen times in the live setting before recordingis that true?
Yes

So how do these interpretations continue to change as you play them in the live setting?
The improvisation sections are always different of course. The Roger Miller song ("Lock, Stock And Teardrops") is really quite different every time. Or something like the Yes song ("Long Distance Runaround" ...the drumming is different. Dave really improvises there. But it's pretty tight otherwise.

Do you think if you went back and re-recorded these songs a few years from now For All I Care would be a different album?
Yes absolutely.

Finally, can you talk about your current tour and what fans can expect?
Well, we already have some new ones that aren't on the record. And we tend to play trio stuff up front, and then bring Wendy on for a half set. The audience reaction to Wendy has been marvelous.

Any future plans? Anything you're excited about right now?
We're focused on this new record of course. But there is talk of our next record being an all-original trio record.

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The Bad Plus on Myspace


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