Interview Bill Bruford
At the age of 18, Bill Bruford became a member of one of the most prominent progressive rock bands of the seventies - YES. YES combined instrumental virtuosity, neoclassical quasi-suite form and three-part vocals in a high register. All this formed a single whole. Critics called it inappropriate high-flying indulgence, but the audience liked the music nonetheless. Bruford had always wanted to play drums in a jazz ensemble and, due to serious conflicts within the group over leadership and stylistic direction, in 1972 he left for KING CRIMSON, a much less popular ensemble that nevertheless set the tone for the British art rock. When bandleader Robert Fripp disbanded the band in 1974, tired of art rock, Bruford formed his own band, which never achieved commercial success. At the same time, Bill developed an active activity as a session musician.
KING CRIMSON got back together in 1981 and disbanded again in 1984. In 1986 Bruford was invited to GENESIS, another famous English art-rock ensemble. He replaced Phil Collins on drums for a tour from March to November. Bill considers this his big mistake. After that, he created a jazz combo called BILL BRUFORD'S EARTHWORKS, then toured in a duet with MOODY BLUES keyboardist Patrick Moraz.
I've spoken to Bill several times over the years. It first happened on June 2, 1984 in a San Francisco hotel before a KING CRIMSON concert. It was one of the best shows in my life. Although KING CRIMSON was never a supergroup like YES, their ratings were very high and they managed to sell 5,000 tickets.
The next time I spoke to him on the phone was in Switzerland, when everyone thought KING CRIMSON was dead. But Bill didn't agree with that, hoping that Fripp was just taking a break. A year later I saw him in a small club in San Francisco with Patrick Moraz. After the speech, we talked until his departure to the next city. First he talked a lot about how important it is for every musician to learn to adapt to the situation when he has to return to the world of small clubs, and then, looking down at the cigarette-burned carpet, he said quietly: "I can't do this anymore."
The next thing I heard, he was playing with YES again (actually it was called ANDERSON, BRUFORD, WAKEMAN AND HOWE during a showdown with Chris Squire, who owned the band name). And then when I talked to him again, it was during the setup before the Hollywood Bowl show.
You became a member of YES at the age of 18. How did it happen?
Oh, it's very simple. Through an ad in "Melody Maker"... YES became famous in a fairly short amount of time. I have achieved a lot after five albums with them. It was crazy. We were nobody and all of a sudden we went up to number four on the US charts behind Sinatra. I got a lot out of it and didn't want to spoil it, but... After a while, you feel limited. There are the same three people around you, and you are already tired of interacting with them ... It all depends on how quickly they progress, and how actively you try to perceive all this. If you're going to do 200 gigs in 250 days, like young rock bands do, that's crazy because. even if you had some kind of creative spark, you will immediately kill it. If you look at these guys on stage, you will see that they are physically and mentally asleep. I get tired too, but not so much physically as from trying to make music. There must be a very clear separation in your mind between your place in music and the place the audience has for you. Different people react to things differently.
For me, many pleasures are behind me. It's like a bank robbery to me. If I sit down and think, "We've made it, we've made it," so what? It's like you robbed a bank. I think differently: "Okay, job done. Now we need to do something else." If you managed to achieve this, then the next one and the one who comes after him will succeed, etc., if the economic crisis does not come and everything does not collapse, which also happens.
You grew up in a good family. After all, most rockers come from poor, dysfunctional families. Tell me about your childhood.
I come from a very wealthy family. My father was a veterinary surgeon. It is a very respected profession in England, which guarantees success regardless of your zeal, which I have always resented. In a private school, it's all hammered into your head. And, more or less, this system works. She produces the elite.
You were a member of elite groups. Not only the supergroup YES, but also KING CRIMSON, one of the most prestigious ensembles of all time. In 1972 you left YES to play in KING CRI
I know you really enjoyed playing KING CRIMSON. From the outside, everything looked quite safe, the records were well sold out. Why did everything turn around?
Robert (Fripp) ended up overeating it all. Events did not develop in the direction in which he expected. The group gradually turned into an immovable monument that traveled across America, playing the same songs, and which was eternally applauded for aristocratic idleness.
Do you need a breath of fresh air?
Yes, Robert definitely. I was quite happy. I had been with KING CRIMSON for two or three years by then, had made three albums and was moving in a certain direction. It took me a while to get into this music and I changed my style for this ensemble, which was one of the reasons I became a member of the group. You have to change yourself within the style and expect to be different by the time you leave. You expect the same from other musicians. If you give yourself, then everything works out. On Monday you can't play certain things on your instrument, on Tuesday you discover how it's done, on Wednesday you already play it. Then you find even more gaps in your game and you develop.
That is, this is how you expand your horizons.
Yes, exactly, in a good way. I have a wonderful relationship with my instrument. But I'm not a drum slave. I am gradually getting used to the idea that I will come to San Francisco every year and a half to play drums until I am 60, then I will stop playing and take care of my garden, which requires a lot of care. I like working in the garden. And I love to play drums too.
Once, when you got fed up with making music (in 1985), you said that you couldn't play anymore.
It's always like that with musicians. There comes a moment of satiety with work. You don't want to be bothered by this tomorrow. But, for sure, when the next job comes, you think that you could do something interesting and you agree. As long as the imagination breaks through the gaps of consciousness, you will do it. I can't imagine myself in another profession. But when I retire at 60, I'll be glad to give up music altogether and never touch an instrument.
How can you say that? How can you give up something that has become the defining moment of your whole life?
Let's wait and see if I can cross this bridge. Maybe I won't stop playing. What I mean is that it's just a job. I'm just serving the instrument and it's pretty hard work. And it does not bring wealth. In 30 years, I might say, "Thank you, I did my best. Now let someone else do it." Drumming is my top priority. And there are the main points of the drum art that attract me to it. You have a connection with an inanimate object that never speaks, never lies, but only stands and reflects you as you are.
Jazz drumming hasn't changed much lately. You can still hear the soft play of the brushes. But much of your fatal baggage is brought into your game. Electronic novelties touched rock long before they were brought to jazz.
Yes. KING CRIMSON have done a lot of great things in this area. What can I say? One of the main challenges is to make sure that electronic drums are taken seriously. For example, I do not consider them a toy for DEPECHE MODE. They can be used by serious serious musicians. I'm always trying to expand the vocabulary of drummers and the boundaries of what is expected of them. This is really what my job is. It doesn't matter to me what it is - rock, jazz, classical. As drummers, we cross those lines. We think much more than people think. For one week I can play with the Amsterdam Orchestra, then with my band EARTHWORKS, then with ANDERSON, BRUFORD, WAKEMAN & HOWE. And it's all drums. The very idea of drums is very diverse.
What drew you to electronic drums?
It just seemed to me that this was some new way, some promising things. And I started to get interested in electronics. In general, I do not want to do what has already been done before me. If an area is occupied by another drummer, I will not invade it.
You played one great solo with KING CRIMSON from the 80's. Most rock drum solos are deadly boring. They (drummers) either keep the rhythm or just crush everything in the world.
Unfortunately. But there are different versions of the rhythm. This is actually a rather primitive function that most musicians perform these days, regardless of the drummer. Rhythmic play is like wearing clean underwear. This is a required attribute. This goes without saying. But there are many more important things a drummer can do.
What other goals do you set for yourself?
I work a lot with electronic drums. I'm trying to create something interesting. All keyboards in the first piece on the first side of the second EARTHWORKS album were recorded by the drummer. That is, the drum triggers go to the keys. Thus, the keyboard part acquires a new rhythmic nature, which the keyboard player is not able to create.
Yes, it's midi. A promising, but to date, little-studied technical development. And it is also my job to study it, to understand what "it" can do, whether midi can reproduce musical moods. My drum kit is a hybrid of drums and keyboards. When I strike an electronic "pancake", a note sounds on the keys. Sometimes I just play the keyboards, although we have a separate keyboard player who often doubles the horns. So when he's busy with it, I get a chance to play the harmony on the drums.
You told me before that in the process of creating music you are constantly looking for fresh sounds in electronic novelties. Do you really pay much attention to it?
Yes, it's true. It just seems like I'm on tour all the time. In fact, I'm learning new "gadgets" all the time at home. Machines are invented, they are brought to your house, you study the instructions, you sit down, you start working with them, you get angry, the machine breaks down... Then you yell at it, you try to get technical help from the company. In the end, you think: "Who am I, a musician or a technical expert?" Make the machine work and I'll find a way to make it create!
When you started playing, I don't think anyone could have imagined that all this could have been created by just one drummer. You alone create entire musical works.
Yes, and live. The inventions of recent years have made this possible. There are no more limits to drumming except your imagination.
But most people think that there are rules, boundaries, things that can't be done.
It's just that there are things that work musically and others that don't. This is the rule for me. But, often I reach the goal by going through all the boundaries. For example, in the piece "Stromboli Kicks" the music flows very calmly until the start of the drum solo. And the point of this solo is that I use a completely random range of sounds in my kit. I have 70 pancakes. Each of them is programmed in such a way that it reproduces the sound of different percussion instruments, depending on the strength and location of the strike. As a result, I have nine to ten instruments on each pancake. But these parameters are so sensitive that I cannot be sure that I am extracting this or that particular sound. Therefore, this is a completely unsystematic drum kit.
Now about how I submit this idea. All these sounds are very gentle, not loud. Great digital sounds. With them, I can decorate the whole work, but I can also ruin it. So I need some kind of space for this episode and something around to support and develop it all, which is actually happening. Everything is very logically built, so it works.
Do you hear the sound of "riffs" at the beginning of the composition?
Yes. Sometimes it happens by accident. Sometimes in the electronic texture created by you, consisting of chords, some individual notes, an ensemble of drums and something else, some interesting sounds appear. And you think, "This is great! I need to save this! This might come in handy... You can add some horns on top..." Then I go to the keyboard player or saxophonist in our band and say, "This is what I want to do. Write to this melody. Write a harmony... Do what you want." I like jazz. This is heavenly music. I like to bring something to the music. Yes...
What is jazz for you?
This is reactive music. If you do something, I immediately react to it (musically).
But this is possible in any music.
It's impossible in rock. Rock is strictly non-reactive music. Try playing with GENESIS. If you stop playing drums, everyone else will continue. Everyone in rock has their own function.
Do you have to overcome your own stereotypes?
Oh, yes. All time! I've never suffered from a lack of ideas, but... it's not easy at all. Some ideas don't work.
For every EARTHWORKS album released, there is one unreleased, unrecorded album. This is the music of unrealized ideas.
That is, there is some indefinite level of quality that music must meet.
Very true. People of my type often operate with ideas that come from the head and not from the heart. This is normal as long as it is a theoretical development. But as soon as it comes to music... Sometimes you write a play and it seems that everything is great, but for some reason the music doesn't work. Sometimes you just worry too much about it. Then you have to relax and let the melody itself tell you how to play it. Sometimes very small changes make the music sound real. It can be a change in tempo, tonality, small changes in instrumentation.
How did you manage to reach such a level that you are free to do what you want?
It has to do with a sense of self-worth. I don't mean the commercial, financial side. I'm talking about artistic status. This is the desire to be with people with whom you have an inner relationship. It is the ability to recognize the moment when your project is no longer fresh and it is time for new ideas. You are on the move at the right pace for your development, which is also very important.
Not everyone knows this.
Not all. But many people know what they can and cannot do. At least in music it is necessary. Keeping your head in the clouds doesn't help creativity. Much more useful is a sober awareness of one's own capabilities as a creative person and contacts with people who are able to develop them. This is what I do. You just go from one to another. I've had different times. I was unemployed or the job did not suit me. At one time I played
GENESIS, and I didn't really like it. But it was my fault, not their fault.
Don't you find that the relationship within the resurrected YES has become better after all of you have gained experience in other bands (in particular, you are in GENESIS, EARTHWORKS, etc.)?
Yes, to some extent. Besides, we've all grown up. We have become more at peace with ourselves. Most group fights... They're disgusting. All I remember from my first five years in music was the endless squabbling of heated musicians backstage. I think that ten years later I began to understand myself better, and also what can and cannot be done. It has a lot to do with being able to coexist with other people, accepting them for who they are without trying to change them. With YES, we spent hours figuring out who was in charge of the band and what the rest of us were supposed to do. Now I see it all differently.
Honestly, I was surprised to hear that you are back with YES after all the conflicts with Anderson.
Me too. If you had told me a few years ago that I would play not only "Close to the edge" but "Birthright" as well, I would have knocked you out. On the other hand, the situation speaks for itself. All the conditions were exceptional: what instruments I will use, who will be the bassist, whether I can influence the creative process. One would have to be a fool not to accept an offer that gives you inspiration, pleasure, and finally money. I have always admired Anderson. He is a very honest person.
Even after your wild fights?
Of course, if you put 10 or 12 18-year-olds, brought up in different social and musical traditions, in a small bus and make them drive around England seven days a week, they are sure to fight. We were intolerant. Intolerant self-confident musicians who knew everything about music. Now I know that I don't know anything. Life is much more relaxed. At 18, I was absolutely sure that I knew everything. I never hesitated before sitting down on the drums and playing something. Now I see at once 15 different ways of doing the same thing and the meaning of each of them.
How do you choose?
It's very, very difficult. I think in general you end up forcing yourself to step back and feel better. You feel that it is necessary so, and you do it.
I remember a critic's comment in one of the magazines that you are too intellectual a drummer.
Some people think that if you can explain why you played what you played, then you are an intellectual. And it's insulting. It's not fair. Sometimes we are more restrained in our feelings, and then the intellect comes to the fore. Maybe we don't really trust our feelings. But for me, music is feelings, physiology. How the little hairs on your spine stand up when you hear what you like. Only in this way I understood and understand that I really like music.
interview prepared by Joy Williams
translated by Evgeny Ryaboy