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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Nick Millevoi - Streets of Philadelphia Limited Edition music book (s/p, 2019)

By David Menestres

I first met Nick Millevoi a couple of years ago when we played on the same night at Neptune’s Parlour in Raleigh, NC, me with one of Eugene Chadbourne’s projects and Nick with the Desertion Trio, an ear splittingly loud project, refracting the history of electric guitar over the throbbing bass of Johnny DeBlase and the shattered beats of Kevin Shea. Millevoi has also participated in numerous other musical projects including the Many Arms trio, the Hollenberg-Millevoi Quartet, which was part of John Zorn’s ongoing Bagatelles project, Chris Forsyth & the Solar Motel Band, and has performed with Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Nels Cline, and many more.

Nick’s newest solo album, Streets of Philadelphia, is being issued as a collection of sheet music dedicated to his home town. I caught up with Nick to ask a couple of questions about his new release.

DM: Prior to the advent of sound recording, all collections of songs were released as sheet music. More recently this idea has begun to pop up occasionally, perhaps most notably with Beck’s Song Reader, which were performed by groups all over the country. Why release an album like this in 2019? How does this work for you as a musician and a composer that’s different from releasing a sound recording? Does it satisfy the same itch for you or does it float your boat in an entirely different way?

NM: The biggest thing that gets me excited about releasing a book of sheet music as a record of material is how open-ended it is. I love the idea of this being music I can play with anyone who has a copy of the book and that anyone can play on their own and do whatever they want with it. At first, I wrote all of this music without being sure what I was going to do with it. I started posting some videos of myself playing some of the compositions with pictures of the charts on social media and immediately people began reaching out to me and asking to see the charts, so I started by actively sharing them with people. I'm not really sure at this point how many I've sent out, but it's a bunch, and some people have posted videos of themselves playing the music too, which is the coolest. I've written a lot of music that nobody has ever seen the charts for except the musicians playing it, so it's fun to let the blueprints out there and see what happens. It's an experiment to see who wants to play it and how I feel about it, really. Because of that, I felt like it was worthwhile to see how it feels to release this music this way, at least initially.

As soon as I decided that, I decided to make a physical book. I had the idea of how it could look from day one, with my good friend Erik Ruin designing it.

So, in that way, this music is working for me in a totally different way than a sound recording and it's a cool experiment to see who is drawn to this and, I'm learning, it does get me excited in a similar way to making a record, but it's still very different. In a lot of ways, I haven't committed to anything other than notes and rhythms, unlike a record, where you commit to those things plus the arrangement, the performance, the production, all of that stuff. In this way, I now feel really open to perform this music however I want. I already have six different kind of groups with live performances planned in Philly and New York and I'm going to keep building on that.

There's also a super pragmatic side of things which is that making records in 2019 might be cheaper than it's essentially ever been before, but it's still really expensive and now there's not only little incentive to buy recorded music at this point - since we all have basically every sound recording ever made available to listen to on our phones and there's such a glut of new music and everyone is busier than they've ever been before and nobody has time to listen to it. I just feel like this is another way to get music out there that is worth a try. It requires more time and attention than a sound recording, but it's going to reach people in a more interactive way, which is cool. And, it's also just a thing I want to see more of in the world. I wish more of my favorite artists would release books of their music.

Another thing is that I looked at these 25 pieces when they were all finished and realized I was already waiting on a record to come out that I'd spent months working on (Desertion Trio's Twilight Time) and, with one more getting ready to be made and all of this music written, it'd take me years to get the record together and I was excited about it now and wanted to strike while the iron was hot, so to speak. Knowing I didn't have to wait long and could go this alternative route felt really, really, exciting, so I went for it.

DM: You’ve positioned this album as a kind of love letter to the city of Philadelphia. For those of is that don’t live in Philly, can you take us through a few of the neighborhoods you write about? Perhaps tell us what you feel about these areas and how that translates into the pieces you wrote? And what living in Philly has meant for your development as a player?

NM : The street names here were taken from as many neighborhoods across the whole city as I could and then matched up with songs I thought they fit. So pieces like "Opal" and "Silver" have a sound that are thematically similar and very different from those of "Hazzard" and "Shunk." Hopefully, there's some description in those names.

Philadelphia is my hometown and, like anyone, I have a complicated relationship to my hometown, developed over the course of my lifetime. There are things I love and things I hate. Those things are hard to describe without rambling, but really come down to there being things this city gives me that nowhere else can give me. The vibe is different in a way that is really hard to explain, but people here know what I'm talking about.

I will say that living in Philadelphia allows artists a lot of freedom and creativity for a million reasons that have to do with there just being a lot of resources as well as an affordable way of life. That said, for me, at this point, I actually play more in New York and with New York-based musicians (in my main band, Desertion Trio, I'm the only person who lives here!) and like to travel a lot, so I'm always leaving, which gives me a nice balance and lots of perspective.

Ultimately, figuring out how to live a creative life in Philadelphia means figuring out a lot of things on your own, but there can be a lot of freedom in it. It's like jazz or experimental music, once you get into the crazy stuff, there's really no turning back and I feel like that about Philadelphia - if you find something you love here, it's going to be hard to scratch that itch somewhere else.

This music is really different than my most recent releases with Desertion Trio, for example, because I decided to really think about what I feel like Philadelphia inspires in me and this is what happened. There's a lot of tight dissonance, maybe even some aggression in the melodies, but there's also a lot of space and harmony. In order to play this music, you've gotta get with all of that and figure out a way to do it and, to me, that represents my experience here.


Do try this at home! Download the sheet music of Opal here.