Interview with Bill Bruford in Magyar Narancs

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Date Submitted: 23-Jun-1995
Submitted By: Andras Toth (hallo244 at osiris dot elte dot hu)

As promised, here follows the telephone interview I had done with Bill Brudord and which was published in the Hungarian newspaper Magyar Narancs two weeks ago. This is the original, uncut English version. The Hungarian title of the interview was "A Relentless On-going Machine". My thanks go to Dave Depper (jdepfam at bendnet dot com) and Les (leslabb at prolog dot net), who contributed with questions (although I did not use many of them). On the same day, I had the chance to make another interview with Trey Gunn, which is to be published in another Hungarian paper called Wanted. Understandably, I will not put it in ET before it is in print in Hungary (probably next week).

Good reading:

Andras TOTH

Interview with Bill Bruford

AT: Compared to your other musical experiences, what is special about playing in King Crimson (if there is anything?)

BB: It is special to me. It comes from a lot of history, I've been playing in it for such a long time. It has so many connections for me. It has been the place where I have been able to do some of my best work and have access to a large audience. It is possible to do interesting things in jazz and so forth, where there is a small audience. For King Crimson, there is an international reputation, and it is possible to stage percussion as well. There are facilities to use two drummers for example, to have several drum-kits or to have electronic kits etc. So it's a very useful group for me, but more than this, it has a lot of emotional content.

AT: This reputation and technical facilities, you must have had them with Yes as well.

BB: True, but Yes -I think sadly- is not the group it was. People have always made the mistake of joining Yes and King Crimson and sometimes Genesis together as the same sort of British group. But I assure you that King Crimson is entirely different, in its ethics, in its music, and the way it puts music together, the way it conducts its business, everything is completely different.

AT: You mentioned the double drummer, double trio concept you are now using in King Crimson. Do you find this experiment successful and rewarding, or is it just something that popped out from Mr.Fripp's mind?

BB: (laughs) Yes, it popped out from Fripp's mind, it's not something that I would have chosen. But that's always the way with King Crimson. There are often unusual things going on, and it is up to me to make something of it, to respond to the challenge. Sometimes it may be: let us use electronic drums, or maybe: let's not play the cymbals very much, or maybe: here is another drummer. Something to keep me on my toes, to keep me interested. And I think it is fun: Pat is really the Ringo Starr and I am ???, in a way. So on the whole, it's rewarding. King Crimson is always quite hard work, but yes, it is a labour of love.

AT: You used the word "ethics" a moment ago. To what extent do you have to be acquainted with Mr.Fripp's theories in order to be able to play in King Crimson?

BB: (laughs) Not at all. But of course, I have grown up with Robert, and watched him develop. I suppose my intuitive feelings about music happen to coincide with his more intellectual reasoning about music. What he thinks I feel, to be simple about it. So many of his directions are just very suitable for me. There are other aspects to the band which I would not do if I were the leader, but that's up to him. It's essentially Robert's band, so that's fine.

AT: And as to listener, how much do you think he or she should know about those theories? Does it help to understand the music, or is it unnecessary?

BB: It should be completely unnecessary, the music should work entirely on its own. And indeed, I think it does. We now have an educated audience who is prepared to leave its preconceptions behind in the lobby of the gig, and to come with an empty mind and judge us as a fresh group. If we were twenty-year olds from England, and it was a new a group, it would be considered as a very good group.

AT: How do you organise your work inside the band, how much is it Robert Fripp's band, is he the one who gives the directions, how much is there democracy?

BB: Really, it is extremely democratic. In the business sense absolutely democratic, in the "when-do-we-work" sense democratic, we have all agreed to work for four to five months a year. Robert would propose something and we would agree to do it, if somebody does not want to do it, that's fine, everybody has the power of veto, essentially. But he would use it very carefully. With the music, most people think that Robert writes everything, and tells everybody what to do. That is actually not the position at all. If you had to tell me, Tony or Adrian Belew what to do, then it wouldn't really be worth working with us, and you would want to have hired musicians. So Robert will suggest usually by an initial guitar composition or two the general direction, and he would say things like "a relentless on-going machine", or he might say "an almighty clattering sound". And this would be indicated by a piece from the guitar called "Vrooom" or "Thrak", or in 1974 it might be "Red", or perhaps earlier "Larks' Tongues in Aspic". This would give a general direction. Now after that, from the very beginning it is up to us to continue the musically initiated movement, it is up to us to continue down that particular direction. He would outline the perimeter of the football pitch, and then we would all get on and play football.

AT: Are the initial guitar compositions you've just mentioned something like Fripp came up with on the album "I Advance Masked" with Andy Summers in 1982 ?

BB: I don't know anything about that particular record, I haven't heard it.

AT: I noticed that there were some guitar compositions on that album that appeared later on "Beat" by King Crimson. What motivates the choice of the old songs that you play today live?

BB: Very much if it appears to be fresh. I think some of the music is now probably a bit dated, but for example if you play "Red", it feels extremely fresh like it was written tomorrow, and it seems to resonate with the time. It was written in 1974, but it was taken on-board by some of the grunge people, Kurt Cobain mentioned it in public, it seems to be a very influential piece to him. It just has its life on its own, and it's great fun to play. If nobody wants to play it, we will not play it. If it starts to smell a bit ancient, or creek a little bit, then we would not play it either.

AT: Many people would say the same things about that legendary song "21st Century Schizoid Man" as about "Red", although you do not play it any longer.

BB: Well actually, we played it last night, for the first time in 22 years. I daresay we will be playing it in Budapest too. That sounds very fresh, too, with a whole bunch of new musicians who have never played it. Trey, Pat, Adrian and Tony have never played it, only Robert and I have. And it sounds quite different, not completely different, but very fresh.

AT: Is there any difference between the material you are playing this year compared to the tour last year? Are there new tunes?

BB: Yes, we are currently playing Schizoid Man, The Sheltering Sky...

AT: I mean, new in the sense that never heard before.

BB: We are playing some excerpts from a live album out now called THRaKaTTaK, which is one hour of improvised music from King Crimson's last tours last year edited together. That's for the extremely adventurous listener. Aside from that, we don't have any new material.

AT: Are you planning to record any?

BB: Indeed we are, but I don't think it will be before several months yet.

AT: We know that the previous "incarnations" of King Crimson did not last longer than three or four years. What about this one?

BB: I never like to make predictions. You only know if King Crimson is there if it is there at breakfast next morning. You know, I've been in and out King Crimson 3 times, I think. It is not a job you would call secure. On the other hand, I have never seen Robert enjoy the band as much as now, and the band has never been as popular actually as now. We play at bigger concerts than we ever have done. There is a lot of talk about the next album, so I think we are here for a bit yet.

AT: I thought this depended also on Mr.Fripp's personal plans. I had the impression that in the eighties he had set up these "programmes" in his personal life and King Crimson was part of them.

BB: It does seem to be that, you are quite right. But I think he's more settled now, quite a changed man. There have been two big events in his life, number one: his marriage, number two: he doesn't have a manager any more, and he's very happy with that. So finally he became a very relaxed man, and he's just turned fifty years old! I think he is probably settled in what King Crimson should do and he will be with it for a while.

AT: Don't you think that the band's rather draconian PR policy is a major drawback in achieving an even greater success? There are restrictions that no journalists should be allowed to make interviews when you arrive to a town, no photos should be taken during your concerts... What is the reason of this?

BB: That's true, and there are a lot of problems with that I think. Your guess is as good as mine, but as soon as King Crimson starts to get popular, it always seems to stop. And I don't quite know why that is, you'd have to ask Robert. He has done actually a lot of interviews for "Thrak", and he has just stopped doing interviews for a year or two. I don't think he has anything against interviews particularly, except that if you are not careful, your whole day gets taken up with interviews, and it becomes really tedious. You know, nobody in King Crimson is gonna have a hit record, and the band doesn't seek world domination. It is a band that many people love, and by word of mouth, other people come to like it too. And I think that's probably the best way. Somebody occasionally takes an advertisement, or does a bit of promotion. But I suppose it's becoming a little like the Duke Ellington Orchestra or the Modern Jazz Quartett, it exists in and among other bands and has a position and an influence all of its own. It's financially profitable, so it does not need Virgin Records to make a great promotion and we don't have to come and tell you how great we are. It's something to do with not being on rock's promotional ladder. I don't think any journalist turned away, I hope not. I'm always willing to explain King Crimson as far as I can to anybody. But I agree that the band has a public perception of wanting to be left alone. I don't actually agree with that, and I think it's a pity that it should be like that, and I'm still interested in bringing the music to new customers.

AT: I suppose you've heard about or you've even read the Internet mailing list, Elephant Talk. Do you consider it as a good way of keeping contact with eventual fans? This is something that did not exist in the seventies and eighties and even now it's quite new.

BB: I think in a way it encourages too much gossip, people love to talk. I think it's better if we just get on making the music and up on the Internet, they can talk whatever they like about it, who's good, who's bad, who's a good guy, who's a bad guy. I personally don't have a computer, but I know that Trey Gunn sees it periodically, and for a while it was very amusing. Then it became less amusing and now nobody talks about it.

AT: So apart from the last album, what are you going to play in Budapest?

BB: We will be playing Red, Larks' maybe, Waiting Man I guess, Frame by Frame.

AT: How do you organise the improvisation? Are there any concepts that you agree on before, or do you just start playing along with the other members and see what comes out of it?

BB: There is the trained reaction that every musician has when presented with an instant musical choice. So it is not quite a case of playing along and seeing what comes out. You react instinctively to an environment and try to select the appropriate notes for it. On the whole, there is no discussion on what it should be, although sometimes simple descriptive phrases can be used, or somebody might suggest a dynamics, from very quiet to very loud or from very loud to very quiet, a very simple shape. But in general, it's very open.

AT: Do you have any projects or plans going on outside King Crimson?

BB: Yes, I have plans all the time. I have been running the British jazz group Earthworks for many years, we have four CD's. But I have no particular plans to go on with that. I plan to record an album in October with Ralph Towner(?), the guitar player from ECM, but that is not confirmed yet. I have just done some tracks with Steve Hackett. I'm also busy doing the CD-ROM of my own drumming so that you can access that on your computer if you were a music programmer. I have a number of things going on, as everybody does.

AT: Is this going to be your first time in Budapest?

BB: Yes, and it's a great thrill for all of us to come to Hungary for the first time. It's remarkable that King Crimson has been so slow in getting to Eastern Europe. I've been to Poland a bit, but it's really the first time for us in Hungary. We are looking forward to it a lot, I know that there is a lot of young people out there who are very interested in the band. I think it will be a terrific evening.