You were playing music at an early age. Could you tell us about your early years - were you experimenting with different sounds?
Jim Coleman > I started with piano lessons when I was quite young, in grade school. I was taught to play classical piano: a lot of Bach, Chopin, Mozart, Diabelli. Sometimes I liked it, and sometimes I despised it. I felt like what I really wanted to be doing was banging out my own riffs and melodies, but rehearsing demanded so much time that I never got to it. Until years later, and now, I continue to do this!
After a few years of piano, I also started playing the French horn. I was taught by an older African American man by the name of Philmore Hall. He was awesome, and definitely influenced my life. He had taught Dizzy Gillespe to play, until the time came where the student surpassed the teacher. But Philmore Hall got together a young jazz band that he conducted, and we would tour around playing jazz. Even got on TV.
During all this time, we had been living outside of Washington DC. When we moved, I continued taking horn lessons, only now it was more in the vein of classical quartets. I ended up being first chair in the all state band for several years. I liked it well enough, but it all felt a little stiff.
All through this time, I had been fucking around with sound in a variety of ways. I didnít see this as being connected to the music I was practicing at the time at all. I would take my dadís old 45ís and place them on the turntable so the spindle would be off center and play them at 16 RPM instead of 45 RPM. I would hand spin records backwards. I would gather all the radios in the house and have them all cranked up at once, messing with the tunings. We had an old reel to reel portable tape recorder with a mic which I put through hell. Basically, I was drawn to anything that could make and replicate sounds, and I had a complete disregard for how these machines were supposed to work. Obviously, Iíve never really stopped doing this. Whether Iím sampling, working with oscillators and filters, or working with software, it all stems from these early days of exploration and discovery.
When was "Cop Shoot Cop" formed and what did you hope to accomplish with this group?
Jim Coleman > Cop Shoot Cop started up in 1988. Initially CSC was 3 people: Tod A (bass), Phil Puleo (drums) and Dave Oimet (sampler). I heard the first few songs they were working on and was immediately taken. Up to this point, I had been working on my own, making 4 track cassette collages and songs. But I had been trying to get a band together for a while, and this was like hearing the music inside my head.
I threw a huge party at my loft in Brooklyn. Cop played, as did the Unsane. The place was utterly trashed but the night was absolutely awesome. A couple of days later, Tod called me up and asked if I would be interested in joining them, as Dave was doing some film projects. Natz came in at the same time on low end bass.
Personally, I didnít have any big expectations for what we were doing. I mean, we were making a lot of noise, and we were shaking things up a bit. Not just sonically, but socially as well. For quite a while, we could never even finish sets when playing live, as there was always some kind of altercation breaking out either between the band and someone in the audience, between different band members, or between people in the audience. The shows were really intense. Eventually things mellowed a bit, got less confrontational. And though I was really happy to be able to play full sets, something got lost as well. They shows were now performances rather than events.
Obviously, if our intention was to be a successful rock band, we would have been making a different kind of music. So to me, the level of success that we received was a welcome surprise. Not that we were all that known, but it surpassed anything I would have considered.
Could you tell us about your new ambient work "Trees" - What inspired you to record this new music?
Jim Coleman > Well, there is a bridge in the music I have made between the days of CSC and TREES. After Cop self imploded, I was composing music for a number of indie films and some TV. I also did a couple of albums as Phylr. These were electronic, mostly beat driven, but very cinematic. Through time, I felt like I had gotten myself in to a corner creatively. I knew how to make the music that I was making. It didnít feel fresh, exciting, and exploratory, like it was on the verge of losing control. So I needed to change the way I was working.
A good place to start was to get rid of all the beats. Eschew the beats. I was also in a place of great stress in my life, and wanted to be in a creative process that would provide the antidote to that. And I wanted to go deep but be simple. Not be grandiose, not be overly structured, but also not get lost in some free form shit. It was about finding that balance, like being on the edge of consciousness, like dreaming awake.
The fun part now is playing TREES live. Iíve been doing it a couple of different ways. Around NYC, Iíve performed with live cello, live percussion and various other acoustic instruments mixed with some electronic stuff. Iím getting ready to play at the Primavera Festival in Barcelona, where I will be performing with a pianist, guitar, vocals and laptop (with additional noisemakers, both acoustic and electronic)...
And Iím working on a bunch of new material, which I can go in to in the next batch of questions if you want...
Could you name a few favorite albums and name some of your influences, Jim?
Jim Coleman > OK. Favorite albums and influences:
Gang of Four: Entertainment
Wire: Document and Eyewitness
Meredith Monk: Key
Brian Eno: Music for Films, Music for Airports
The Beatles: White Album
Grand Funk Railroad: We're an American Band
Henryk Gorecki: Symphony #3
Radiohead: Kid A
Nine Inch Nails: Broken
Joy DIvision: Unknown Pleasures
The Prodigy: Always Outnumbered, Never outgunned
The Knife: Deep Cuts
Well, those are a few. If you ask me tomorrow, the list will be different... though some will stay. And I'm sure that I left out a lot.
Could you tell us about other projects on the horizon for you?
Jim Coleman > Well, I'm starting to perform live again, though this time it's the ambient moody material that's coming out of the last album I released (TREES). Next week I'll be in Barcelona at the Primavera Sound Festival performing. Joining me on the stage will be Paul Wallfisch and Micheline Van Hautem. When I'm playing around NYC, I usually am playing with Kirstin McCord on Cello, Phil Puleo playing random stuff, and John Anderson on keyboards and various noisemakers.
I'm looking to throw energies in to a couple of things this summer. One is The Children..., which is a collaboration I have with downtown NYC person about town Michael Weiner and others. We silently put out a record a couple years back but didn't support it in any way. So, we're looking at stepping it up a bit. Our shows are usually very theatrical and environmental (something I'm doing with the ambient Jim Coleman shows as well). Also I'm looking to start another collaboration with this woman Ellie who is actually a student of my wife (Beth B, who teaches at The School of Visual Arts). Ellie has an amazing voice, and a great sense of music, sound, space...
I've been moving a bit away from the computer as my main compositional tool. I've just gathered together a fair amount of analog modules (Eurorack format) and have really been enjoying that. And I've been spending more time recording sounds and acoustic instruments, then messing them up, really deconstructing them and turning them in to something else.
I recently finished scoring a feature doc that Beth B did called Exposed. Its about extreme performance art emerging from the new burlesque movement. Very sexual/social/political/genderbending stuff, the film really pushes the limits. It was nominated for Best Documentary at the Berlin Festival. Beth is now with it at Cannes, and it's blazing a trail through many festivals. I'm always up for scoring films or tv... we'll see what the future brings on that front.