Interview with Bill Bruford in The Beacon

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Date Submitted: 27-Jan-1995
Submitted By: Merrill Tritt (mtritt01 at fiu dot edu)

The following was printed in The Beacon, Florida International University's student newspaper on January 18, 1995. It was written by Hans Morgenstern, music critic.

Bill Bruford - Progressive Pioneer Still Rocks On

"I have no interest in rock music," said drummer/percussionist Bill Bruford. He utters some strong words. After all, Bruford co-founded Yes in 1968 and played a brief role in Genesis in 1976. Since 1972 he has jumped at Robert Fripp's whims to reactivate the mostly hibernating King Crimson. Once again, for Crimson's third resurrection since he joined the group, Bruford sits poised behind his battery of acoustic/electronic percussion instruments. Its first public performances since 1984 took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Backstage, at the Teatro Broadway, located in the center of Buenos Aires, Bruford sips his third cup of coffee and explains his boredom with rock 'n' roll.

"Rock music is a very conservative art form," he says. "It sort of begins and ends with Elvis Presley. That's kind of it. There really isn't anything in it. There's three of four chords, the same beat and the face changes, so now everybody thinks Soundgarden, or something, is the hippest thing, but it sounds exactly the same as the big groups in rock, before it."

Since he first started in "rock," he has had an interest in making it something different. In the last '60s, many artists in England shared his ideas. They set out with the intention to come up with a form of music that would challenge radio airplay. They wanted nothing do with The Beatles, The Who, or The Rolling Stones. The term "progressive rock" or "art rock" was penned by the music press in an attempt to pigeon-hole this new form of music.

"Art rock," Bruford said as if the coffee he has just sipped had a bitter taste. "It's one of these unfortunate terms that have to be dragged up to try and describe a movement. I'm sure the dada movement wasn't thrilled by the term 'dada'".

Along with groups like Genesis, Pink Floyd and Van Der Graf Generator, Yes was part of a new music movement in the late '60s that offered Bruford a reason to perform. "Art rock, if it meant anything, was that rock could develop, or benefit by having other elements introduced into it, be it jazz or classical music or world music or anything."

Bruford stayed with Yes until 1972. After recording _Fragile_ he was approached by King Crimson leader Robert Fripp. "'I'm proposing a band,'" Bruford said explaining how Fripp approached him, "'and it has you in it, and it has a crazed avant-garde, improvising drummer called Jamie Muir, and it has a violin player [David Cross] and the best young bass player in London called John Wetton. Do you want to be in it?'" Bruford admitted the idea sounded preposterous to him at first, but now he says the band feels like his spiritual home.

Bruford said there were no hard feelings when he left Yes for Crimson. In fact, he even reunited with his former band mates in 1991, although, he admitted the decision to release a record was a bad idea. "That was kind of like a three month vacation," he said, "having fun with the old pals, but I wouldn't give up my day job for it."

He remembers the recording of Union as a trying chapter in Bruford's musical life. "It was a really horrible experience," he said.

"The musicians were completely out of the control of that. It was a record company's album. They're on the telephone every afternoon saying, 'How's progress?'" Bruford said. "Why? Because they put two million bucks into it, and they want something, so the musicians get too much pressure."

Yes performed at the Teatro Broadway the week before King Crimson started holding its court there, but Bruford didn't seem interested in catching the show. He didn't give any particular reason why he hadn't attended. "Although," he said, "members of our band did come to their concert. I heard it described as professional cabaret."

Bruford admitted that his interest in rock has only been recently stirred by the rejuvenation of King Crimson. But, he said, he feels more comfortable in Jazz. "Jazz, of course, is where I started," he said. In 1985, he formed Earthworks so he could try his hand at something he couldn't do with King Crimson. "I wanted to hear something done on the drum Kit." he said. "I began using the electronic drums in a very melodic and chordal way. I wouldn't do that in King Crimson because they have two guitars for that."

Bruford invited Django Bates on horns and keyboards, Iain Ballamy on saxophones and keyboards and Tim harries on bass to join him in his drive into British jazz. Together they recorded four albums, including the recently released live album _Stamping Ground_.

"It's European jazz," Bruford said. "While America invented jazz, it's now, nonetheless, and international sport. Like somebody invented soccer, but hey, there are different ways in playing soccer. The Brazilians do it differently from the Germans. That's the way I feel about jazz."

Bruford said jazz had a special calling to him as a drummer. "Jazz was innovated on the percussion, brilliantly, and now, of course, there's electronics, word music, multi-metrical stuff, all kinds of things that go on with drums, phenomenal," he said. According to Bruford, the same elements could apply to rock. "I'm interested in rock insofar as I can do something interesting with the drums, and that's why I always play in some meter or with electronics, in some funny meter, with a whole combination of sound. I kind of treat every tune differently."

In the end, he would like to see his efforts at innovation on the drum kit recognized. "I just try to do a good day's work, really, which is try and bring a particular interest to the drummer's seat. I'd like to feel that in the end of 40 years, when I retire, drumming was slightly different to the way it was when I found it. This is extremely arrogant: that, in part, one iota of that, had something to do with my efforts. I would like that. That people would remember, 'Bill Bruford... Oh, yeah, he had a few ideas."

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Apologies for the typos.