mardi 3 août 2010

David Torn + Mick Karn + Terry Bozzio = Polytown

(Cmp, 1994)

Let's talk about the initial seeds of Polytown.

DT : Mick was originally in the Cloud About Mercury band, but he didn't record with it. He did tour with me though. The star of the show for me at the very beginning was Mick, because I had been just absolutely blown away with his playing in Japan—just knocked out. Harmonically, the lines he was playing inside of music that would be considered pop was so in tune with music that I was writing. So, I found these guys [Karn, Bill Bruford and Mark Isham] and paid them massive amounts of almost no money at all. [laughs] My relationship with Bill continues. We're really good friends. We played together in January at a NAMM show. It was me, Bill, Tony Levin and Chris Botti playing trumpet. We did four tunes and it was great fun. That got the record company all kind of weird about Polytown. They said "You've got to do this! This is the band!" [laughs] They thought it was Cloud About Mercury 2 or whatever. My relationship with Mick has turned into one of the great friendships of my life. I guess it was real obvious that there was great chemistry in that band. The original Cloud band with Mick, Bill, Mark and me had fantastic, fantastic chemistry. The other chemistry with Tony was pretty magical too.
Cloud was certainly the seeding ground for everything that came afterwards. Mark started getting all of this filmwork—I was functionally spending half my time in L.A. working with him. Mark found himself a record deal and decided to put a band together. He had played with Terry [Bozzio] in the past with Group 87. He basically took me, Mick, Terry, Kurt Wortman and David Goldblattt and that was Mark's touring band. Those gigs with Mark involved a pretty controlled set of playing a lot of film music—and playing to the film crowd. But there were two or three spots in the set where Terry and I kind of exploded. [laughs] There were also a couple of spots that were functionally a trio—just me, Mick and Terry. And we started talking at that time and thinking "This is just fantastic! This needs to happen! This needs to be a band!" It just took many years before it came together.

Was there a concept or methodology behind creating Polytown’s music ?

DT : From my side, the concept going into the recording was "Okay. We’re in a remote location, separate from everybody's personal lives. Nobody knows anybody there. We have limited amounts of time in the studio—two weeks to record, one week to mix and nobody comes prepared." [laughs] That was my concept. No preparation at all. None whatsoever. It was "We write together. It's a real band. Everything is split evenly three ways. And that will be that."

Polytown’s album art was spectacular.

DT : It was done by all of us, but I think that the focus for the work side of Polytown was me or me and Mick. The artwork was skewed more towards Mick because the artists were in London. But I came and went a couple of times. They're really great people. Mick and I wanted snake skins and maps. [laughs] We wanted something that at least appeared textural. And Stylorouge [the design studio behind the art] are really fantastic. They came up with 27 different packages. We sat at a table for the last time and rejected all of the packages, except for approving certain concepts. Then Rob [O'Connor]and Stuart [Mackenzie] at Stylorouge completed it. They worked real hard on the Tripping package too. But CMP basically changed the package without telling anyone at the last minute because they needed to get them out to the stores. They couldn't wait for the digipaks to come out. The digipak of Tripping was gorgeous. And it had two more pages of artwork. It was quite different, actually. But the manufacturer wasn't willing to deliver them on time. I doubt you’ll see it unless the record does so incredibly well that I can say "Hey guys? Now, let's put out 10,000 of the original thing that I approved of." [laughs]

Can you elaborate on what you meant by "the work side of Polytown was me or me and Mick ?"

DT : It's supposed to be a band. Functionally, you'll get different stories from different people. But if you talk to Kurt, the engineer or Mick, they'll tell you that I produced the record in every way. [laughs] When it comes to things like organizing the band, getting it together and getting it to be at a certain place at a certain time, it kind of falls to me. For instance, playing this Polytown gig we did in Germany—it was like being whipped constantly. Terry wanted to do it, then he didn’t want to do it. Either it wasn’t enough responsibility or it was too much responsibility. I kind of went fucking crazy. It was a big festival thing and we were interacting with a lot of different musicians over the course of it. Mick had trepidations about it. He has reservations about playing with educated or highly-skilled players.

What’s your take on why he has that tendency ?

DT : It’s background. It’s British schooling and the historical effect of being a star when you're young and unskilled. It's that sometimes very affected British musician attitude that goes "I don't need the skill. I just need the uniqueness." Whereas in America you get "I don't know what uniqueness is. I just need some heavy-duty skills, so I can compete." [laughs] So, when it comes to playing what he views as a formatted idiom like jazz in which people say things like "Okay, you've got four bars, Gm7#11, two bars of..." and have to read charts, he naturally backs down. It's a little bit scary to him. He's a real, honest, self-educated, totally unique player. And Terry was just like that too. I don't know if Terry was just scared to go and play with all of these people or what. So, it's a little bit difficult getting that band together. It's a bit on the hard side for me. There is some personality clash in that band that is really wonderful from a musical perspective. I often find myself in a mediator-type role in a lot of different situations. I think that's one of the reasons why I feel good as a producer of records. I tend to get a pretty good overview of what's going on socially and kind of help people get through it. I think that tension in Polytown is really kind of a cool thing. It doesn't detract from the fact that everybody in the band is quite good friends with one another. But sometimes you have conflicts with your friends. And in music, sometimes that can be really a great thing. It's that push-pull thing. I hope it continues. I would like to do something else with Polytown and not think that it was a one-off project. But it was a lot of work.


Your most recent band project was Polytown—a group with a different kind of tension.

MK : Yeah, it was very difficult. It was quite a strain. It was very, very hard going—maybe the hardest album I've ever had to work on. Bruce, our engineer, had a very hard time too. I think a lot of it was because it was the first solo album, I guess, that Terry's really worked on. It's like three solo albums in one. And I think it was irresistible for him to try and take control to a certain extent. Whereas, for David and myself, we'd made albums before and we were a lot more easy-going. So it did make things quite tense. There wasn't a lot of room for experimentation because of the time limit as well. Things may have been very different if we'd had more time. I think it's quite an odd album, but I'm really happy with it—really happy with it. The only thing I wish we'd had was a little bit more time for the mixing. I think that could have been improved on. But, the actual writing, I think, was a real feat of strength looking back on it. The fact that we actually managed to do that in three weeks is unbelievable. I really like putting limitations on myself when I work and the Polytown experience was full of limitations.
Polytown really was a big influence on me too. Working with Terry and David in a three-piece band meant that I really was pushed even more into the position of being the main melody. And David really had to concentrate on the looping, with the odd solo here and there, but basically creating the atmosphere of the pieces. So, I really was left as being the main melody which was a complete revelation to me. It was the complete opposite of what I'd always been led to believe. And the fact that it was done in such a short space of time really gave me the confidence to then go on and do Tooth Mother—not in quite such radical circumstances—but with the same kind of ethics.

Will Polytown record again ?

MK : I would really like to see another Polytown album happen, with a little bit more time. Its sounds as if I'm really masochistic, doesn't it? I like these tense situations all of a sudden. I'd also like to see it happen with a different line-up. I'd really like to see another album with myself, David and guest musicians. But I don't think it would be fair to keep the name Polytown if Terry was not there. But David and I have lots of ideas for albums together.

excerpts from David Torn (DT) and Mick Karn (MK) interviews (


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