Spy Music Fest: Loren Connors interviewed by Chris Forsyth
“It’s a good thing to be that recognizable.”
Starting June 29, label Northern Spy is throwing its second annual Spy Music Festival, a 16-day music marathon in New York that features the likes of Rhys Chatham, Loren Connors, Thurston Moore, Arthur Doyle, Magik Markers, Jason Lescalleet, Diamond Terrifier, and many more. For the next several features, we’ll be posting interviews of artists playing at the fest conducted by other artists playing at the fest.
It’s a no-brainer why Chris Forsyth (Peeesseye, Phantom Limb) is perhaps the most logical choice to interview Loren Connors. Sure, Connors has many more years of experience, both life and musical, and there are certainly differences in their aesthetic approaches. But these celebrated guitarists, two virtuosos hailing from the eastern chunk of the United States (Connors from New Haven, CT; Forsyth from Philadelphia, PA), articulate the notion that experimenting with the guitar doesn’t automatically preclude an elaboration on established forms like the blues. That both can seamlessly channel their methodologies/inspirations into band settings/collaborations shows how their deeply-rooted styles can in fact be a basis for understanding the extent to which experimental music has always hinged more on hybridization and less on modernist notions of progression.
Check out the casual interview/conversation between Forsyth and Connors below, and be sure to catch them both at the Spy Music Festival. Connors will be performing solo July 1 (The Stone), with Thurston Moore July 14 (The Stone), and in his group Haunted House July 15 (Roulette). Meanwhile, Forsyth, who will be on tour throughout July, is playing on July 13 (Death By Audio), which will serve as a release party for his forthcoming Northern Spy debut, Kenzo Deluxe. Beyond all of this, look out for a split cassette from Connors and Forsyth, due sometime soon on Preservation.
Chris Forsyth: How’s it going, Loren? I haven’t seen you since that Abrons show in December.
Loren Connors: That was a while back, yeah.
Actually, that was something I wanted to ask you about, because at the sound check for that show I remember you played a bunch of piano. It was really beautiful. I recorded your guitar soundcheck but I don’t think any of the piano stuff got recorded. Did you ever think about making a record playing piano?
I’ve done a couple piano shows in my life, but I’ve never done a record. I don’t know if I’m good enough to make a record.
Do you have a keyboard or anything at home that you play on? That soundcheck was compelling.
I had one when I was growing up in my parent’s house. They had a piano. But otherwise, I don’t have a piano.
So is that the first instrument you learned how to play?
Pretty much, yeah.
When I grew up, art was first. I went to school for 7 years to study art, graduate school and everything, and then I just ditched it all and started playing guitar.
What got you into the guitar?
My sister had a 12-string and I used to borrow it and play it. I got into bass after that; I was in a rock band in the 1960s.
What were you listening to at the time?
The Animals, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, British Invasion stuff…
What do you feel your relationship to rock music is now? A lot of the textures you use are based in rock, but there’s this experimental thing and this blues thing going on as well.
I’ve always wanted to be a rock-and-roll-er.
I wanted to ask you about your range, because I’ve been hearing you play for about 20 years or so, and through that time there’s been a lot of variety in the stuff you do. How does that come about? What is your approach? Because the other thing is that it always sounds like you; you’re one of those people that can just play a couple notes and it’s like, “Oh it’s Loren.”
That’s a good thing. It’s a good thing to be that recognizable.
So how do you do it, Loren?
Ah, maybe it’s just magic or something, I don’t know what it is. And I can’t really play guitar that good, that’s the other thing. I can’t really play conventionally that well. That’s another reason why. My conventional skills have eroded over the years.
But is there any kind of mental process to that, wherein you’re like, “I want to play more abstract,” or, “I wanna play more composed,” or, “I wanna layer things,” or be really stark…
It all depend on what kind of amp I’m working with or what kind of tape recorder I’m working with; I just like to be free all the time – I don’t like to practice it, I don’t like to rehearse it.
It’s always different right?
It’s always different, yeah.
That’s another thing, because I’ve seen you play a bunch of different kinds of amps. It’s like what I’ve read people say about Keith Richards, too: Any kind of amp that you put in front of him, it’s going to sound like him. I feel like it’s the same thing with you because I’ve seen you with these later Fenders, or this Vox that you’ve got, and you’ve played a couple gigs with my amp, and it just sounds like you’re playing one of your own amps. Do you think the pedals you use have any effect on that?
Yeah, but I just set them in place and just leave them there. I kind of look at my guitar stuff as being like a painting of Leonardo Da Vinci, where there’s a mist. It’s all misty and there [are] no lines anywhere. That’s how I think about guitar stuff. Kinda like Middle Eastern or something like that.
I just like to be free all the time — I don’t like to practice it, I don’t like to rehearse it.
Your music is very visual to me, too, and I know that you’ve been doing a lot more visual art. What’s going on with that?
Well, I’ve got these prints on the wall in the hall outside my apartment. I’ve been showing in Connecticut, but it’s a small show.
You had an art show in Connecticut?
Yeah, I’m part of a group show. It was up until the 17th of this month.
So, what came first? Art or music?
Art came first. As a kid I played music, but I don’t count that really. When I grew up, art was first. I went to school for 7 years to study art, graduate school and everything, and then I just ditched it all and started playing guitar.
Yeah, when I was 25.
Ok, that was when you were in New Haven?
New Haven 1975.
Was there anybody else that you felt some kind of kinship with, or that you looked at… What was your outlook on the world as far as what you were doing; did you see a place for it?
Well, later on in that decade, about 1978 or so, there [were] about 4 people that did my kind of thing on guitar. There was Elliott Sharp, Eugene Chadbourne, Henry Kaiser, and myself.
There was another guy I was going to ask you about, because I have heard these recordings of you and Fahey. I heard through the grapevine that you were both unsatisfied with it. What was that experience? Were you aware of Fahey before then?
No, I met him another time in the 1990s.
Is there a strong memory of that session?
Yeah, I remember it good. I think he was dissatisfied with what he did, but I sorta liked what we did.
I actually just listened to a little bit of it yesterday, when I was thinking about what to talk to you about, and I was blown away by it again.
He had his amp like up-high in the room, over his head. It sounded real nice.
I wanted to ask you about a couple other recordings of yours that made an impression on me when I heard them… You’ve made so many recordings, do you have any special memories of them, or is it just something you do, like breathing? There’s the one with Alan Licht, I don’t know if its the first one I heard or the one I just like the most. Its the one on New World of Sound, it’s got the Giacometti portrait on the front. Do you have any memories of that show or where that was in your collaboration with Alan?
I don’t remember where we got the material for that record, [or] where it came from.
I can’t really play conventionally that well. That’s another reason why. My conventional skills have eroded over the years.
I think it was at CB’s Gallery, according to the liner notes. I remember seeing you and Licht back then, and you would often play out of the same amp, which I thought was an amazingly powerful idea, image, and sound.
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.
Another is that duo record with Keiji Haino at Downtown Music Gallery.
Yeah that was… an in-store show.
Was that a first meeting?
He came to my house one day before the Christmas season. WFMU DJ David Newgarden brought him to my house one day.
What did you guys talk about… I mean, I guess he doesn’t speak a lot of English. So, what did you guys, like, “think about” together?
Ah I don’t know, I mean, he was a big fan of mine, I didn’t know him though.