I met most of the original musicians in Nerve through my experiences at The Creative Music Studio, otherwise known as CMS, or Crazy Music School, in Woodstock, NY. I met Leo Ciesa there in the fall of 1981, and Yves Duboin in the spring of 1982. I jammed with Jim Mussen at CMS when he visited one weekend. Jim was the original Nerve drummer, and figures heavily into the origins of the band's New York lineage.
One of the most powerful moments at CMS came through Baikida Carroll's and Dave Holland's composition classes. Dave Holland gave us an assignment to write two interlocking lines for the student orchestra. A deceptively simple assignment that resonated with me pretty strongly. I stayed up all night writing these lines, until I came up with something I liked. The next day I presented the snippet, and after about 15 minutes of fumbling with the music, the room exploded with 25 musicians cranking away on these two simple interlocking lines. It completely blew me away to hear this much energy pouring out of something I'd written. I look around and people were sweating and smiling, their faces beaming. It was incredible! That got a sound into my head that is seminal to Nerve. By the way, the end of "Not Everyone's As Rich As Your Parents" is that interlocking riff.
The first piece I wrote was called Spy Boy, and was a big hit at the weekly student concerts at CMS. We played it at about half the tempo as what ended up on record, and that's about half as fast as how we play it now, but it's the first full Nerve composition, and it's still in our repertoire. By the end of 1982, CMS was on the verge of death courtesy of Reaganomics, and Yves and I got an apartment in Woodstock, both working at the natural foods store making $60 a week but eating really well. The band at that time was called Defense Spending, later Crow. We recorded the band in drummer Brian Farmer's living room on my Scully four track, with me engineering and running back forth from my guitar amp to the Scully all day long. Four of these tunes ended up on the first Nerve record. That was a hot band, but it ended when various members moved to various locations. Steve MacLean moved to NYC, as did Yves.
About a year later, Jim Mussen gave me a call and invited me to jam in NYC with his friend Marc Wagnon and some other people. I was living in a cabin in the woods in Woodstock at the time, taking composition lessons and getting heavily into Bartok. I'd drive down to NY in my $400 Chevy Nova every other weekend. I invited Yves to the sessions, as he was living in NYC, and the band began to form. I called Michael Lytle one afternoon because I wanted another sax player. He said he'd be delighted to come and play with us, but who told me he played sax? After informing me his instrument was bass clarinet, we played together anyway and it clicked. We were originally called Lethal Injection, but later changed the name to Doctor Nerve after a tune of mine by the same name.
In fact, Doctor Nerve was originally the name of a duo I had with a German improvisational drummer named Zorobabel. One of our pieces was an improvisation on a rhythm I came up with on prepared guitar. The tune Doctor Nerve was later composed and based on this rhythm. Lethal Injection took that tune's name as a band name. It stuck.
We did a few gigs at a place called The Dive. Response was very enthusiastic. At the prodding of my friend CW Vrtacek, I started to get serious about recording some more tunes and doing a record. The first record is therefore an amalgam of three bands: (1) the CMS band that played Spy Boy recorded live to two track, (2) The Defense Spending aka Crow band recorded live to four track and (3) the NYC version of Doctor Nerve recorded live to eight track. Quantitative evolution measured out in the number of recording tracks.
Those were the band's somewhat braided beginnings.
I met Greg Anderson at The Knitting Factory. Astonishing human being: he came over to my apartment with his bass, and had learned the first Nerve records by heart. I asked him to join immediately, closing the revolving door on the Doctor Nerve bass player position.
Dave Douglas joined the band pretty early on. He added a level of virtuosity that raised the hurdle for everyone.
Rob joined as a sub for Dave. The first gig he ever did was recorded and is on the CD "Did Sprinting Die?" Couldn't bear to have him go, so there we were with four horns. Pretty sick: two monster trumpet players going "Screeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!" all night long.
2. IS THE JARRING, ATONAL AND COMPLEX ASPECT OF YOUR MUSIC A REACTION TO OR AGAINST ANYTHING? IF SO, WHAT?
It's not a reaction against anything in particular. Extremes are stimulating, creative, passionate places to be. I go there because that's where I want to be, not because I don't want to be somewhere else. It's crippling to define yourself as an "anti-something" because you depend on whatever bullshit you're rejecting to be what you are.
3. TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT EACH DOCTOR NERVE RECORDING--ONE-BY-ONE. HIGH POINTS? YOUR IMPRESSION ABOUT WHY EACH TURNED OUT THE WAY IT DID. COULD YOU COMPARE YOUR NEWEST MUSIC (SKIN) TO THE OTHERS? WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE & WHEN DO YOU ANTICIPATE ITS RELEASE? TELL ME SOME ABOUT YOUR SIDE PROJECTS (I.E. FLIES IN..., YOUR TRIO, ETC.).
SKIN will be out on Cuneiform in April 95. SKIN is much more extreme than any previous Nerve project. Everything we've done to date has been amplified and expanded radically. My new generation of music composition software has gotten a lot more sophisticated and abstract. By contrast, the metal edge on what we do has been sharpened; there's some way-over-the-top metal tunes on the record, of course totally twisted in the Nerve tradition. There's some trios and quartets on the record that are pretty unclassifiable, too. "I Kick My Hand", for Guitar, Bass, and Drums for instance, starts with a fast tight guitar/bass duo, then melts down into a power trio improv. It was the last piece we recorded during the basic tracks sessions around 2AM, and we blasted away all the remaining energy we had on to tape.
SKIN has my best guitar playing on it. I'm really proud of the guitar performance, as well as the guitar sound production. Did a lot with contact mics, close miking, biamping, and this wonderful little preamp called the SansAmp (that's not an endorsement - I paid full price). There's at least three tracks of guitar on each piece. Used my Legend and a Marshall most of the time, and the way the two complemented each other was great - the Marshall took care of the highs, and the Legend delivered the mids and the crunch. In stereo, it sometimes sounds like two guitars - the frequency response is so separate! Did some guitar doubling which put some of the avant-metal pieces totally over the edge.
Speaking of guitar, I've added a Paul Reed Smith Custom to my life - what a beautiful guitar! The people at PRS are amazing, too. We must have been on the phone dozens of times - going back and forth, making little changes in the design, and the result is what feels like a supercharged one-of-a-kind guitar. Both the Les Paul and the PRS are all over SKIN.
The horns sound tighter than ever. Their performance is really exceptional. Extremely wide range of techniques and styles, and technology, too. For instance, I put a distortion effect on Lytle's clarinet solo at the end of "Preaching to the Converted" that just makes your blood turn cold. Really terrifying. Yves uses some pitch shifting in "The Shameful Stain". Then there's some sounds that Rob produced naturally on trumpet that sound like electronic music, on a tune called "Take Your Ears as the Bones of Their Queen." Dave plays some incredibly tight fast hockets, multitracking against himself on the tune "Don't Call Too Late My Husband's A Baker".
There's a drum solo called IRONWOOD which was completely software generated, performed by Leo Ciesa. He does an wonderful job bringing the piece to life. Leo and I did some very exciting things during the mix: bringing room mics in and out, playing with the overhead mics, riding the fader on room mics and overheads to create swells and so on. The piece gained a whole extra level of composition in the mixing stage. I like mixing like that. Mixing's another stage of composition if approached properly. That comes from my electronic/concrete music background, I imagine.
Out To Bomb Fresh Kings
About half of Out To Bomb Fresh Kings was recorded on my four track Scully over two days in Brian Farmer's living room. Strange recording session. We had no isolation, no way to monitor the sound that was going down to tape in real time, so I'd record a little bit of kick drum, rewind the tape, listen, adjust the mic position, re-record, listen, change, etc etc etc. I did that for every instrument. Add to that the fact that guitar and violin were going on to the same track at the same time, and had to be balanced at the recording stage. Same with the horns - they were all going on to one track live! I spent one whole day with the band getting the sound together, then we spent the next day recording. Came out great - those tracks really roar! There was an incredible feeling of urgency in the band, knowing takes had to be perfect all the way through - no punches, no splices. We really caught some magic on those tapes.
The rest was recorded 8 track at some odd studio near the Hudson River. Lytle and Don Davis almost died that night turning into traffic on their way there. Traffic direction gets very confusing in that neighborhood - you've got 60 mph traffic screaming along, merging with pedestrians and concrete barriers... anyway, that must have added a sense of life-affirmation to those sessions. We mixed them later at a place called Michro (Mike and Chris) - great people, lost touch with them.
Had a terrifying experience splicing that record together. I was using the tape machine at WKCR (Columbia University radio) - Ted Goldberg was doing a show and he let me use the machine in the back room. It munched the tape right in the middle of "A Hammer In His Hand". I had to find a similar section from the piece, make a copy onto another machine, cut that out and splice it in where the tape was munched. Had to match levels, eq, everything. Unreal. But it worked. I can still hear the splice, but no one else has ever noticed it. Have they?
Armed Observation was recorded at Michro, with Fred Frith producing. It was very valuable to work with Fred. His sense of humor was a precious resource, and he coaxed some amazing solos out of people. He worked very fast, and was very good at making quick decisions. This was all 16-track, mixed with no automation. We'd mix a section at a time, and splice the mixdown tape together. My guitar was stolen halfway through the project; I had a Gibson L6-S. Got a Les Paul to replace it, and fell so much in love with that guitar that I ALMOST didn't mind losing the L6-S.
Did Sprinting Die?
We did a gig at The Knitting Factory that just happened to coincide with the Manhattan Sound Coaster / Suntory series which was recording bands live there for broadcast to Japan. They set up their mobile truck outside, and split every mic on-stage out to their mixing desk, recording live to digital two-track. They did a pretty good job mixing, considering they were completely unfamiliar with Nerve's music. Deciding to release that as a live CD spurred me to realize the first of the computer-generated pieces that were, at the time, performed by computer. So three computer-generated and computer-performed pieces are on Sprinting. One of these pieces is performed live on Beta 14 ok, the other two are on the upcoming SKIN.
Beta 14 ok
This is the first time we had the luxury of recording 24 track. We recorded at Martin Bisi's studio. I really liked working with him. He has a great ear for a driving, avant-rock thing, which he zeroed in on immediately. The band didn't fit too easily in the studio; Leo and Greg were downstairs in a drum room which was a screamingly loud environment for them to work in, although the sound was great down there. So we all had to communicate with headphones, with me talking through a microphone. A little distancing, but the performance and recording quality really smoked. I love that record.
While I was riding my bike, I came up with the idea of the 44 Nerve Events - these were little 2-6 sec compositions, each on their own CD track. People started doing some very innovative stuff with these tracks - interacting creatively with the compact disk medium instead of sitting back and listening. These experiments led to "Transforms, The Nerve Events Project", which is a collection of 22 different composers making music in radically different ways with the Nerve Events. You wouldn't believe they shared a common source sometimes! Henry Kaiser does some beautiful baritone guitar solos against one event he cycled over and over again. Then you've got a piece by Thomas Dimuzio, where the events are barely recognizeable, since he has his bag of digital audio transformation techniques totally together. The "hit" seems to be Greg Anderson's piece - check the radio playlists - they play his quirky little tune a lot.
All these CD are in print and available from Cuneiform Records, PO Box 8427, Silver Spring, MD 20907
I'd like to release two live CD's.
One of Nerve performing material circa Beta and other stuff that never got released, like our cover of Beefheart's "When it blows Its Stacks".
The other CD will be made up of conducted improvs I call "deconstructions", which we recorded live to 16 track in Sept 94. We played four nights at The Knitting Factory. Every night we'd have a guest join us for the improv set - so it would be me conducting, the rest of Nerve on stage, and the guest, too. Things got pretty intense, and it's all on digital tape. Samm Bennett, Sirius String Quartet, Ned Rothenberg, and Neil Rolnick were the four guests. I can't wait to mix this stuff!
We've also got lots of video footage shot. I'm talking with Dave Bryant now who might be interested in doing the editing - a very creative fellow who'd add a whole new layer of creativity to the project. So, a video of some sort is in the works.
6. WHAT IS YOUR IMPRESSION OF MODERN POPULAR MUSIC?
It would be too easy for me to rant on about how lame most popular music is and how music designed to be popular leads nowhere. It's so true and obvious that anyone who doesn't agree is an idiot or a liar. But in making too much of that I'd in turn spend too much time clarifying who I really mean, and excluding the people who I didn't mean to slam, and get into a whole impossible definition of what "popular music" is. Just because a lot of people like something doesn't make it bad or good (Gandhi was popular, then again, so are Hallmark cards). I judge music on its spirit, sincerity, intelligence, and the creativity of the people involved in it, not on how many like it or dislike it. I approach art for what it is and what's behind it, and assume the philosopher's stance: not to be taken in.
7. What's your life goal as a musician & as a member of Doctor Nerve?
I see it more as a process than a goal. Perhaps not the best attitude if you want to devour the music industry, but if you realize Nerve has been together for ten years now, with pretty stable personnel; that's a testament to longevity, faith, good times, and balance. It's being involved in creativity that doesn't flash and burn out, but burns brightly for years and years. Of course we push for growth in all areas. No one is content to stand still (Woody Allen reminds us that a shark, like a relationship, has to keep moving forward or it stops breathing. Same thing for bands).
Doctor Nerve's long term survival is a testament to the musicians in it. Sometimes people forget that it's a BAND - a group effort that doesn't feature a star singer, guitarist, or whatever. In Nerve's music, every musician gets plenty of space to shine, and is an integral part of the whole. You know that the group relationships and hierarchies that form in real life are influenced by the way the music is structured in the group. Distributing the musical responsibilties and creative challenges over every member keeps things fair, fertile, alive, exciting, and creatively surprizing.
The goal? Keep doing what we were born to do until we drop dead. That, and put the words Doctor Nerve in the cultural vocabulary of every person with two ears and a brain between them.
A composer is someone or something that makes order out of chaos, or disorder out of order, or order out of order, or disorder out of chaos.
A composition is a set of instructions.
Ignore this instruction.
Don't perform composition #1
Do I believe in Artificial Intelligence? I believe in one extreme requiring its opposite: for morality to rear its ugly head, immorality needs to thrive, for example. And since I see plenty of Genuine Stupidity, Artificial Intelligence must follow.
TOP TEN (no special order)
1) Bela Bartok, Sonata for Violin and Piano #2 sz. 76
2) Kafka's "Bucket Rider"
3) Werner Herzog "Aguirre The Wrath of God"
4) Aggregate 8 at Warren Street Performance Loft in 1980, with me the only one in the audience and them blowing the roof down.
5) Art Bears "Winter Songs"
6) Alice Cooper "Pretties for You"
7) Jerry Hunt at Experimental Intermedia Foundation 1980
8) Coffee on the rooftop of Centre Georges Pompidou
9) Zappa's solo on "Black Napkins"
10) "Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath"
Back to Doctor Nerve Main Menu.