Interview: Bill Laswell
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Date Stamp: August 19, 2007
T: Having so many groups that you’ve started and have been a part of, which one over the years is the most fun? I know that’s probably going to be a hard question to answer, but you know, the one that you looked forward to the most.
BL: It’s hard ‘cause they’re all different, they’re very different. We had a project called Tabla Beat Science, which is all Indian classical musicians mixed with DJs and younger musicians and that was interesting. Praxis, which is Buckethead, Brain, and Bernie, that’s always fun, in the funny sense. You know, not a heavy statement musically, but definitely fun to do. And lately there’s been a lot of just different combinations of things. It’s hard to say what’s the most enjoyable ‘cause they’re all so different. And I just played in Italy with the Dalai Llama’s Tibetan Monk Singers, with Nils Molvaer, Hamid Drake, and different people playing. That was completely different but also interesting to do. We did a whole tour two years ago of Ethiopian music. It’s always different combinations. There's the Methods of Defiance band with Doctor Israel, Guy Licata, who's an up and coming live drum’n bass drummer, Toshinori Kondo, Graham Haynes. That’s more free drum’n bass stuff, so it’s always something a little different. And John Zorn, it’s always easy with him. We have different trios that we do, mostly in Europe and Japan.
T: Just to come back to the spoken word just for a moment. Speak on how you became involved with the Last Poets, and did you actually get to work with William S. Burroughs for that Axiom record?
BL: I went to Kansas, I met him, and I worked with him several times, and recorded him. We had many conversations, which was an experience ‘cause growing up as a teenager I was always interested in Burroughs because of his perspective. I never thought about the Beats too much, or that area, and I never thought of him as the king of punk rock or whatever. I always thought it was a person that had a great deal of hope, and just perspective, and someone who could philosophize about what’s coming in the future. And in a lot of his writing, if you look back, you will find the origins of so many things that have come out of what he wrote about, like AIDS and crack and every other kind of thing that destroys people. He speaks in a very detailed way about control, which was a big theme for him, controlling human beings. Which was very interesting and obviously, I’ve followed his writing. Paul Bowles I worked with also, who’s not like Burroughs, but he was just a great visionary writer...of novels. Where Burroughs was capable of foretelling, Bowles was more just a visionary writer.
And the Last Poets I knew when I was 14, 15 years-old, that was pretty much in the black community. At that time, 1969-70, that was the voice of the street in America at that time. They influenced people that went on to be radical militants and political figures. They were an influence on everyone. And I got to know Jalaluddin first, then Umar Bin Hassan, then later on Abiodun, and then finally went through and met everyone. They all fight each other, they all hate each other. But I got the chance to get a relationship with all of them individually, as well as working with them as a group, on many occasions. Especially Omar, we actually traveled together and did a lot of stuff.
T: You recently produced for Matisyahu, how was that?
BL: That was a job, you know. Michael Kaplan who worked at Sony came to me and said he’s got an artist, the artist has a band, and they want to do a record. That was a gig, that was work. Getting to know the band, who I really liked, it was a good experience. Matisyahu, there’s nothing quite like that, Hasidic doing the rock circuit. It’s very different. He’s got a stage presence, and he’s got a gift for sure, and I think people respond to that. And I really like the musicians, especially the bass player, who I got to know. We did a record called Roots Tonic Meets Bill Laswell, which is just his band, without Matis. That’s on the ROIR label, it's a dub record.
T: As a producer, for decades now, what has been the one piece of equipment that you couldn’t live without in the studio?
BL: I’m not equipment-oriented so much, but I know that a bass is what I use. That’s how I make money outside of the studio, and I use it quite a bit in the studio. So, a four-string bass, which is made by Fender, I use that, and that’s the most valuable piece of gear, or tool, or whatever. It’s just wood with some strings on it, but that’s all I got that has any meaning to me. Everything else comes and goes.