Interview with David Cross in Big Bang Magazine

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Date Submitted: 30-Jan-2000
Submitted By: Aymeric Leroy (calyx at club-internet dot fr)

David Cross interview by Aymeric Leroy, December 6th, 1997 for issue 23 (Nov/Dec 1997) of Big Bang Magazine

Aymeric Leroy: It took a long time to finish the album... What happened?

David Cross: Well, just money. I couldn't afford to finish it. I just had to leave it away before there was some more money to do it. Nobody was interested in putting out advance money from the record companies, that's from Pony Canyon or the American company. So I had to wait for Red Hot, the English company, to fund it. They're a small company with not a lot of money to spare, so I had to wait for them to have more money to move it forward each time... Painfully slow, painfully slow, very frustrating.

AL: At the moment, do you only have a British deal?

DC: No, we have Japanese and American deals. In fact we don't have full distribution in Europe at the moment, but we have a reasonable deal with Japan and America, but Europe seems to be the one that's least interested in this record at the moment.

AL: Was the lack of a permanent line-up also a problem?

DC: No, not really, because at the time we did it, I was interested in getting other players in anyway. So it was put together in a different way than the previous records. I mean, you can't keep a band waiting around anyway, that's just not feasible to rehearse a band and keep them waiting to record while you find the money, or plan a tour. So in the absence of being able to record it, there was not much point in having a band anyway.

AL: Was this one of the reasons why you decide to bring in outside performers?

DC: Well, yes, and I wanted to have some kind of relationship again with people from my past, I suppose. It was important to me to make those connections, make positive connections. And they happened very positive, and I'm very, very pleased with the contributions that were made by Fripp, Wetton, and also Peter McPhail who'd played on our first album, he's come back and did the saxophone on the album, I'm very pleased to have worked with him. And also Peter Hammill, who I didn't know before but I had been interested in some of his work. And it was absolutely delightful to do some work with him.

AL: How did you get in contact with him? Through Fripp?

DC: No, actually he had some stuff out on the same record company, Red Hot Records. So Brian Leafe, who runs the company, knew him.

AL: The music on the album is very heavy. Do you have a special taste for heavy music?

DC: Yes, I suppose I do... The only thing that impressed me originally with rock music as opposed to any other kind of music was its power. And if you have a rock band, you may as well use the power that's there. So yes, I have a liking for heavy music... for heavy statements... I think I would have been happier if these were all songs, actually. There's four songs and four instrumentals, you know, but I think in retrospect with perhaps the exception of the "Cakes" track with Fripp, the others probably could all have been songs, I think.

AL: Fripp has stated that violin wasn't an instrument that fitted with heavy rock music. Do you agree with that? I would guess you disagree...

DC: No, I agree with that, I think. I don't think it fits naturally, I think...

AL: So you're in quite a paradoxical situation...

DC: Yes, I believe so. I mean, I feel it's less paradoxical now than it was at the beginning, because we didn't have electric violins that were capable of playing loud enough to work in a rock band. But now that I've got a good electric violin and a reasonable sound, I think it does work. I think the paradox is more in the cultural image... I think that the image of the violin is essentially classical music with traces of jazz and gypsy music, but it comes from a much more precious background than the rock instruments. The drums are designed to be hit, the bass and guitar are made out of solid wood, they evoke a totally different cultural image than the violin. So I think there's bound to be a certain out-of-placeness about the instrument, yes.

AL: When you started playing violin in rock bands, did you follow the example of other violin players of the time, such as Jerry Goodman?

DC: Yes, I did. Jerry Goodman, I think, particularly, I think he was a great player. And also the two guys who played on Frank Zappa's Hot Rats. Sugarcane Harris. Jean-Luc Ponty, I was very impressed by his technique and stuff but I was never impressed by his soul very much. A terrible thing to say to a French man... Papa John Creach is another one. Blues players, really, but I think they really got into the guts of the instrument in a way that I did admire.

AL: Were the 70's a better time for rock violin?

DC: Culturally, it was more acceptable, but it was still... There was a moment, maybe a couple of years, where there was a very broad acceptance of intertextuality, interdisciplinary mixes. Mixing jazz, indian, rock and folk and god knows what. But that was a very small period, it was just a few years, really, and I don't know how widespread it was, it was suddenly very big in England, and I don't know how widespread that was around Europe or in America at that time, but earlier than when I joined King Crimson in 1972, there was that kind of openness. But I think it started to close down pretty much after that. Groups like Yes began to define progressive music, Led Zeppelin defined heavy music... I think the walls started to come down fairly quickly. So I think it was only a very narrow window, but it was about the time that I was going into music.

AL: And playing that kind of music now, do you reckon it's a sort of commercial suicide?

DC: Well, it certainly is commercial suicide, I can tell you that for certain, yes, so... I'm dying of starvation here... You know, I've never regarded what I do as old music, but obviously everybody else does. So it's time I brought myself up-to-date I feel (laughs). I think this criticism is valid, I think I need to... It's been very hard to see what is new, I must say. Throughout the last twenty years I've done my best to keep up with what's going on and... There's been a considerable advancement in sound, sound quality, production quality. And the main thing that's dominated music has been dance. And I fail to be fascinated by dance music unfortunately... I wonder what the difference is between... why my music is out of date. I don't know. It's an easy criticism to a level, isn't it? I mean, I understand how dance music works, and how '97 has very good quality dance music around, but it depends on the hypnotic effect of the beat as the ground bass line, and that's one that I can't attach myself to properly. It's just too intrusive. I mean, they can feel the beat, they don't need to have it spelt out for them.

It's not music that is meant to have a deep and lasting effect on the listener. It's just entertainment. I suppose that's part of the intention, isn't it? Maybe I'm having difficulty aligning myself, maybe I should rethink my intentions then. So my intention should be to distract and to entertain, rather than to stimulate and generate some kind of narrative and emotional process. Maybe I should avoid doing that.

AL: The album mixes vocal and instrumental tracks. Are the latter born out of improvisations?

DC: "Hero" was born of a lot of writing on my part, for a play actually - that music was written for it. A play that I acted in and co-wrote, about two years ago. I was completing a master's degree in performing arts and it was a collaboration with somebody I'd met on that course, an actor-writer, whom I met at the course, and we collaborated on that production. All the themes that were written for that production, that was largely written by me. Obviously all the arrangement was done within the group, that was done within a band context. Yes, I mean, they were all worked out in... We've worked at all of these in the rehearsal room, some have been on stage in some form or another as well. So yes, you're right, I think.

AL: Do you still have a special liking for band improvisation?

DC: It's something we've looked at in the past, not so much now as we don't have a band... I'm very fed up with not earning any money, I'm bored. Certainly improvisation is something that earns no money at all. Instrumental mode music earns even less money, well no, a little more maybe. That's why I'm disinclined to do any more instrumental music and improvisation. I mean, having said that, I'm working on a Radius album, you know, the collaboration I have with Geoff Serle, I'm working on that at the moment and I'm hoping to have that finished by early in the new year. It's mostly recorded, it's really just violin that's got to go on. And, you know, I enjoy it. I can get out of bed in the morning and enjoy playing the violin on my own, but it doesn't earn any money, and I have a family, a house, a mortgage, so I can't afford that, to put out records that nobody buys.

AL: What was your part in composing the song "Exiles"?

DC: I think it was actually at the first jam session that we had in King Crimson with everybody there. I think Jamie Muir wasn't there. It was the first time I'd met Bruford and Wetton. And we all played together in a rehearsal room in Covent Garden. 1972. And I just improvised the first... basically the tune, 'now in this faraway land' bit. Then we sort of developed it from there. So it was between myself and Robert - he wrote the bridge.

AL: The cover of "Exiles" was originally made for a tribute compilation, "Schizoid Dimension", right?

DC: No, we were recording it for this anyway, we just offered it for that project.

AL: What is your intention in reviving this song?

DC: To make a link back to that, but it's really to... I've always kind of identified with the song, I like the words, I've always felt myself to be somewhat isolated, and to be kind of within a strange land, other than within the world that everybody else is in. So I suppose it was a kind of personal identification which I wanted to re-examine now... Which does feel quite different now.

AL: Did you consciously seek a more modern approach?

DC: Yes, I've tried to make it sound more up-to-date. And also I wanted to do it a little bit faster. I wanted to give it a little bit more urgency and energy, which I think we've done. It was very difficult to do, actually. There was lot of indecision over how we produced "Exiles", and I'm not altogether happy with it as it is now, but I wanted these abrupt movement between the large and the small, the isolated individual, I wanted to reflect that within the same song. I feel it reflects my own kind of exile from the center of the music business. I feel very much on the fringe of it. So it reflects that I suppose. And not just for myself, but for the people who have been kind enough to work with me and play with me, now and over the years. I feel very much that they've... I respect their kind of alliance with me, I suppose so, very grateful that they've chosen to work with me. In a way we can all be seen as kind of exiles... So that's the idea.

AL: Was your duet with Fripp based on a tape that he gave you, or did you record it together?

DC: No, I improvised on his tape. It's actually the second one, we did a first one which is on the American version, which came out first, called "Duo", which is quite a warm, friendly kind of a track, but when we got to doing the mastering there was some high frequency distorsion, which my ancient ears hadn't noticed. It was a question of how many people would notice it. So we went ahead with that, but decided to play it safe and produce another track, which has then replaced "Duo". I haven't had any complaints about the distorsion, maybe I shouldn't plant the idea, but... It's because of that, that we recorded another track.

AL: The title "Duo" suggests a sequel to King Crimson's "Trio". It seems this track holds a special significance to you, I've read several interviews where you spoke about it, and that gig in Amsterdam, which is now being released...

DC: Yes, that's right, "The Night Watch"... The Amsterdam gig was a very special night. What it revealed to me, I suppose... It was, all the energy had gone... If you're arguing, if you're fighting, having a domestic row, or something like that, an argument, there comes a point when everybody has said what they want to, they said how much they hate the other people, and all the anger is exhausted, then if you look at what's left, then you get to the lowest common denominator between the people, that are there. And I feel that's what we got to that night. I think the anger was dispelled, all the anger was released, and everybody was exhausted, nobody had anything to say. And yet, the combination of these people produced the little, rather beautiful statement that is "Trio". And that's why I think it's precious, it's kind of like the heart of a love affair, the proof that there was... a simple musical relationship between the people involved, despite all the show, despite all the noise, despite all the arguments. There was still that simple feeling between the people that was able to produce something that I think is quite lovely. It's not clever, not at all clever, it's naive, but it does have a lot of very simple feeling in it. And I've always respected anybody's abilities to express feelings in music, I think that's a wonderful ability. And I think we managed to some of it then.

AL: "The Night Watch" is great in that it provides us with both what went on before and what went on after "Trio", as a sort of explanation...

DC: Yes. I haven't listened through it yet. We had a signing in London, we all signed copies, but I've only just received the CD myself. And I haven't had the courage to listen to it yet. I don't know if I'll have the will, it's too frightening for me (laughs)... It'd be too awful, I know.

AL: Do you think the Amsterdam gig was the best one you did with King Crimson, or do you have memories of an even better one?

DC: Well, I think this was the best in that way, you know, that moment was so special to me that I can't remember much else about it, quite honestly. Other people remember different things. That's all I remember about it, so for me that was worth it. Quite honestly, it's very rare that you get a whole gig where everything's wonderful anyway. If you're critical about what's going on, it's usually only ever one tune or a part of a tune that really does work. I think you're lucky if you get one tune out of an evening that really works as you mean it to. So, you know, there are other versions, and there are other "Schizoid Men", other "Larks' Tongues" etc. that seemed wonderful at various times, but... I don't know. A whole gig being wonderful is really an interpretation of how you're feeling, rather than a musical interpretation, I think.

AL: So no particular gig comes to mind as the best of all?

DC: Well, I think the first time we played in New York, I think we did two houses in New York, and the second show we did was absolutely dreadful, we were lucky because there were no journalists there, because they'd all come to the first show. And the first show was good, I remember that. But it was in a very controlled way. We managed to deliver the goods, without any major fallouts... Shows can be remembered for different things, exciting and inspirational. I remember the first show I did with King Crimson, and that was a real revelation for me. It was wonderful just being onstage with Jamie Muir, it was a lovely experience.

AL: With the September Playback, Fripp and Wetton playing on your album, and Peter Sinfield writing lyrics for one song, would you say the King Crimson family is finally reuniting, in a way, after a long period of arguing and stuff?

DC: Yes, it does seem to be. I don't... I think it's quite amazing, really. I mean, I'd never worked with Sinfield before this year. And then just trying to do this one song with him, I had an absolutely wonderful time writing with him. I'm not happy about the mix that's on the album, I think the song is better than the mix that we've got, but then this is all a question of time and money again. I think there is a kind of... there's a new atmosphere of friendliness, I don't know what it means, what is signifies or how far it goes, it's probably just middle-age...

AL: Did you see any of the ProjeKct One gigs in London earlier this week?

DC: No. In fact I didn't know about it until somebody mentioned it to me sort of about the middle of the week.

AL: What are your plans for the near future, besides promoting "Exiles"? There's the Radius album...

DC: Yes, the first thing is I've got this Radius album to finish, which hopefully we'll finish about the middle of January. I'm going to New York on the 17th of January to do another "Night Watch" signing. And then I'm starting to write again. I haven't written anything for a little while, a couple of months, deliberately. I've tried to clear my head. Now I want to start writing again, between Christmas and April I want to spend writing music and then I will probably get together with a few musicians and do some improvisations and try out a few ideas. So it's back to the drawing board really (laughs). It's all over again, really, you know.

AL: I heard about plans for some gigs in California...

DC: Yes, there were some, but they never materialized. The music business has some wonderful ideas that never actually take place. There is a possibility of something happening in May, I think, but not before then. I don't want to put a band together, unless something interesting comes up, in the next two or three months.