I grew up in an American suburban environment that supports no comment, apart from the fact that I attended middle school in northern Alabama, a setting I thank for introducing me to cannabis, white cross bennies, gospel music, and the colored radio station. The rest, as they say, has been history. I left home sans grands états d’âme at fifteen to attend The Hill School, where I got a sound liberal and further pharmaceutical education in my head and more guitar under my belt. I indulged in two undergraduate degrees, one in languages and literature and the second (later in life) in law; as well as American and English post-graduate degrees in economics. I describe myself as an economist and lawyer.
For twenty years I have split my time between New York, Vienna, and Paris with professional, personal, and artistic interests in each. I also spend a great deal of time in Brussels for the European Commission. It is ironic, since the Diatribes are Berlin-based, that I only go to Berlin occasionally for band work and opera.
Also ironic, for a musician considered somewhat cosmopolitan, my favorite artists are the likes of Roy Acuff, Grandpa Jones, Uncle Dave Macon, and the Happy Goodman Family. I am a big Freddy Fender fan, too. Don't get me started on Marty Robbins.
I am fond of a glass; if in New York I can usually be found in the early evening at Pomodoro Rosso on the Upper West Side; if in Vienna at Café Goldegg close to the Hauptbahnhof, and if in Paris at Bar du Marché in St. Germain. In Brussels, my local is Monk at Place St. Catherine.
I have never owned an automobile or a television but have been seduced by Youtube, which allows me to watch Heckle and Jeckle and Mighty Mouse cartoons followed by a Tim McCoy western.
Not a day goes that I don’t hear about what a hip and trendy musical hub Berlin has become. It never fails to make me smile: growing up in West Berlin of the 1980s I spent most of my teenage years wanting to be somewhere else. For an adolescent into the Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode or the Sisters of Mercy, everything interesting always seemed to be happening elsewhere. While the cool and exciting West Berlin of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Nick Cave and the Einstürzende Neubauten happened just a few miles from where I was growing up, it may as well have been on the moon for me. And yet, these were the years in which I started to play bass in bands, played my first gigs, recorded in a studio for the first time. And, of course, I got to see loads of great concerts – bands that, looking back, would define my musical palate. Nonetheless, I seized the first opportunity to leave Berlin for London – in September 1989, two months before the wall came down.
Musically, the London of Indie music I had hoped to find was being, if not quite swept away but then pushed to the margins by what people in the mid-1990s would call the Dance revolution. As acid house music moved from the illegal raves in fields around the M25 into the clubs of London, the music itself was diversifying into different distinct flavours – house (progressive or the other sort), techno, trance, and, later, jungle. Ironically, of course, Berlin now had become the place where it was all happening. Although it was not what I had set out to find, the early 1990s were a great time to be in London.
Towards the end of my stay in London, I met Landis at a conference held at an institute in Austria that, unbeknownst to either one of us, would shape our lives for the next decade. Landis was in the process of moving to Vienna. He visited me a couple of times in London; we rehearsed once or twice (either at my place in a dodgy rehearsal studio on the Holloway Road). Ever since I had left Berlin, I had been distracted – either by my studies or by life in general - from playing the bass. These rehearsals reminded me how much I enjoyed music.
Oddly, I got a job offer in Austria. I remember Landis warning me “not to do anything rash like moving to Vienna”. And although I rapidly came to understand what he meant, moving to Vienna was a good thing. For one, Landis and I, after some dubious forays as a duo, met Adam when the Diatribes started in earnest. Also, with ‘drum ‘n’ bass’ being Vienna’s musical drug of choice, the early noughties were also an interesting time to be in Vienna.
After a musically barren but otherwise enriching four-year stint in Southeast Asia, I jumped at the opportunity to return to Berlin. And while Berlin has changed, it hasn’t changed as much as you might think. Today, the hip and trendy Berlin, the Berlin to which countless musicians and bands have moved for no other reason than to be here, the Berlin of cultural adventures seems very far away from where I live. This time around, it doesn’t seem to bother me quite as much.
Landis and Steve are always out front on the stage and don't get to hang around in the back, and maybe someone in the audience is wondering what does that guy back there do?
Well, after graduating from banging on pots before I was double digits old, I continued with banging on a drum while watching Brady Bunch reruns on afternoon tele. Luckily I had some talent and continued to improve while trying to learn as much as possible during the commercial breaks, so that my sister could understand some of the actual program. I played some concerts, that was fun, persevered onward and since my highschool rock band, which was major fun, was unfortunately non-lucrative, I went on to study classical music. And yes, playing timpani behind a full orchestra is extremely exhilarating.
I get to do some name dropping. I did get to play under Leonard Bernstein and party with him in a ritzy russian restaurant in St. Petersburg (while it was still called Leningrad). I did a series of videos "Orchestra!" with the same orchestra under Sir Georg Solti (the most fun was playing ping pong with him in the breaks) and Dudley Moore (if anybody still remembers the movies "Arthur" or even "10").
While I studied in NYC - no, I didn't meet Landis till we were in Vienna - I had roomates who adored Frank Zappa and had a poster of him on the fridge. And what happens? Because I play lots of modern music, I get to do a recording of Music by Edgar Varese with Zappa producing the whole shebang. Yeah, one night the whole ensemble improvised with him directing, Dweezel singing and Steve Vai raunching out his guitar. Sure, it would have been nice to do The Dangerous Kitchen, but one takes what one can get. Another hip project was with Zeitkratzer (Timescraper in english) who did a live version of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music for strings, accordion, saxophone, tuba, trumpet, piano and percussion; with him coming to the stage to jam the last 5 minutes with the band. We were sweating after those shows, it was like a sports event.
Pierluigi Billone composes cool stuff. I recorded three of his solo percussion pieces on a CD entitled "Mani," and there are two CDs of my own solo marimba music which is like a mix of Glen Gould and Keith Jarret.
I don't hang around much after most of the shows I play, since new music drummers are usually their own roadie and manager. I like to eat good food, so any easy recipe or good restaurant tip is appreciated.
My own original no-longer-secret Pasta Pulpo recipe:
1 can of calamari or octopus in oil or their own juice
fresh hot chili peppers cut up, I leave the seeds in as well
cherry tomatos cut up
a little garlic
farfalle whole grain pasta
start that water boiling, add the pasta, throw the calamari or octopus with the oil in a pan, heat, throw in the chili peppers, tomatos and garlic and finally the pasta when it's al dente. Enjoy with a glass of cool white wine!