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Ben Scholz
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Ever the emphatic artist, drummer Dave King is most famous as a founding member of the contemporary trio “The Bad Plus”.  Rooted in jazz, The Bad Plus has taken creative music to a new abstract height, examining reinterpretations of works by artists as diverse as Stravinsky, Nirvana and Tears for Fears.  However, his re-definition of a performing musician’s role has not been limited to TB+, his personal side projects, or even the drumset.  In this article, we’ll explore Dave’s love of comedy, visual art, and the creative process behind his music.

Ben Scholz - The first time I saw you perform with The Bad Plus was at The Old Town School of Folk Music and I remember coming away from that performance thinking “Wow, these guys must have rehearsed these songs a thousand times before they performed them live.”  Can you give me a window into your preparation process when it comes to learning new material?

Dave King - Sure, one thing that’s interesting is the fact that we don’t rehearse very much.  A lot of people talk about how the music sounds like something that we’ve run many times, and that’s really not true.  Everyone in the group learns music really quickly, and we have a long history of playing together as a band.  When you have a working band, these are some of the “fruits” of sticking together.  You can develop a process that not only moves quickly but also benefits from the fact that we understand each other.  There’s no second guessing what the motive is.  

Typically, everyone writes separately.  So, everyone in the band is a composer and when we have new music we rehearse it at sound check.  I might sit at the piano with Ethan, sometimes there are charts, sometimes not.  My music typically doesn’t have charts because Ethan and I tend to learn by rote memory.  One of the benefits to learning things by rote is that it really helps us memorize and develop skills.  I will typically sit at the piano and play my music for them. Reid typically brings out charts for his music and Ethan sometimes has charts for his music.  I’ve used charts a few times, but only when I’ve had something that people really need to look at.  

Basically, we bring new music in and shed it at sound check.  If everyone’s feeling ok the day we learn it, we’ll try it that night.  That’s sort of the trial by fire that we’re into.  Typically when we play live shows we do play new, unrecorded music in order to keep things fresh.  Because we tour so much, and don’t want to be one of those bands that plays the same music every night, we write a different set every show.  Now that we have so many records and have been around for so long, its really fun to think about stuff we haven’t played in a while.  Sometimes we’ll get requests for things and we’ll have to remember old songs really quickly.  With the exception of “The Rite of Spring”, we never have charts on stage.  That’s the one thing we don’t do.  

BPS - I was fortunate enough to perform at The Artist’s Quarter in St. Paul before they closed last year.  I know that you’re from Minneapolis, can you talk about your history with the Twin Cities’ music scene and what that club meant to the musicians in St. Paul/Minneapolis?

DK - Well, The Artist’s Quarter’s closing left a huge hole in the local music scene.  That club meant a great deal to the creative musicians,here,number one because it was a club run by musicians.  There was no restaurant, it was just an old school jazz club.  Just drinks, a stage, and a nice piano.  It had room for 200 plus people, yet it was intimate and it was where I developed a lot of my groups.  The first Bad Plus shows were at The Artist’s Quarter back when we just went by our names.  We weren’t even called “The Bad Plus” yet.  Those guys would fly in from New York and I had moved back to Minneapolis from Los Angeles.  This would have been in the mid 90’s.   I started playing there again right away and they were really supportive of my band “Happy Apple”.  That band kind of grew out of that club.

The Twin Cities area is famous for its music scene and The Artists’s Quarter was a great place for jazz and creative music.  The scene is well known for rock and hip-hop, however there is a strong contingency of jazz musicians here, so it was a really important place.  I’m glad you had a chance to play there because it was one of the great jazz clubs in America. It wasn’t corporate-y or anything, you know?  We’re all feeling it, I’m raising my children here and there’s no place like that for them to hear this music.  I played there for years with people like Anthony Cox and Bill Carothers, and it was a real breeding ground for the music.  Heavyweights like Roy Haynes were friends with the family that owned the club and they’d play The Artists’ Quarter every time they came through town.  Now there aren’t a lot of options other than the higher-ticket price type of places that can afford to bring in touring acts.  So yeah, we’re feeling it.  We’re feeling the loss.  

BPS - Absolutely, I understand.  So, one thing I’ve noticed is the fact that you tend to inject a fair amount of humor into your live shows as well as your overall presence as an artist. Your sense of light heartedness reminds me of Matt Wilson.  Has his sense of humor been an influence on your musical personality?

DK - Laughs.  No, not really.  I like him, he’s a nice guy but I don’t know him really well.  We came up around the same time in the 90’s while I was doing Happy Apple and he was doing The Arts and Crafts band.  I’ve only met him a few times over the years at festivals when he was playing with Charlie Haden.  

I’ve always felt like the music will say what it needs to say, and taking yourself too seriously doesn’t do the music any real kind of justice.  Staring at your shoes, or burying yourself in charts  etc.  For me, the music is joyous and I want the evening to be kind of a surreal experience for people.  I feel like The Bad Plus has always followed that track as well.  Talking to the audience in a way that feels more familial and just being more relaxed and unscripted.  

If anything, I feel like I relate more to comedic people as opposed to say a musician who’s funny.  Honestly, I’m not sure what Matt does that’s funny because I’ve never seen him live with his own band.  

BPS - Oh, really?

DK - Like I said, I’ve met him a couple times, I’ve heard his recordings and no disrespect but I just haven’t checked him out that much.  I don’t really know what he does, so I wouldn’t be able to tell you what he does that’s “lighthearted”.  I’ve seen him play with Charlie Haden though, and he sounded great.

BPS - You mentioned comedians and the comedic “style" as an influence on your performances, can you elaborate on that?

DK - When I was growing up in the 80’s, David Letterman was on late at night and he was much more abstract than he has been since hitting the big time.  I don’t know how old you are, but Letterman in the 80’s was really surreal, dark, and funny.  I would watch Letterman religiously and I feel like that opened me up to a certain level of surreal rapport with an audience.  That experience helped me realize a way of being serious and abstract at the same time.  Being in the Twin Cities and watching a little black and white TV while in high school, I obsessed over Letterman and I feel like it left a mark on me.  This idea of creating fantasies, basically creating scenarios where anything can happen.  

If you were watching Letterman in the ‘80s, anything could happen.  Andy Kaufman could come on and be insane, or he’d have Captain Beefheart as the musical guest.  You don’t see that kind of thing anymore.  So you were sort of wowed.  Chris Elliott doing all these completely insane characters, drinking bottles of cooking oil, those guys were just out of their minds.  That’s really where I would say the biggest influence for me lies.  Taking myself seriously, but at the same time, leaving room for a surreal element.

BPS - That’s interesting, I guess I never really put those two together.  I remember Dave Chappell commenting on the idea that all comedians want to be musicians and all musicians want to be comedians.

DK - Absolutely.  Or visual artists, or whatever.  Visual art is a huge thing for me and I spend huge amounts of time poring over art books and the different art movements throughout history.  For instance, I would know more about a contemporary painter than I would about Matt Wilson.  With no disrespect to Matt Wilson at all, he’s great, you know what I’m saying?  We do music so we know music and of course I check out my peers a lot.  I have my favorites, but I also spend a lot of time with visual arts and comedy as well.

BPS - You finished a tour with the Dave King Trucking Company this summer.  Do you have any plans to record or tour in the near future?

DK - Absolutely.  We’re going to make a new record hopefully sometime this winter.  We’re hoping to tour more so we’re going to hook up with some European booking soon.  I’ve been so busy with The Bad Plus that I try and fit other things in when I can.  I also want to prioritize my trio with Bill Carothers, make a record in the spring, and tour with him.  

Come 2016 I’m going to be working more than I have been in the past ten years with my own projects, alongside The Bad Plus.  I’m going to constantly put out more records, but I want to tour with these bands as well.  

 

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