By Nick Metzger
I had a quick call with William earlier this year to discuss his new album Big Moon which is out now on Org Music, portions of which are transcribed below. We discuss the making of the album, William’s creative processes, working around Covid restrictions, and what is to come from one of our favorite artists in this follow up to Cam Scott’s 2020 interview.
NM: How was the band for Big Moon assembled? Was it people that you knew already?
WH: I had put together three or four different bands and realizing I had the opportunity to record at NYU, I called the people that were all associated with me and brought them all into the studio at once. And I already had an idea of what I wanted to do. That's the way that happened.
NM: How do you give direction to a group that size?
WH: You point to people. I'm sitting at the drums and I point to whoever I want to do certain things at certain times. It's not like I'm a conductor or anything standing in front of people because I'm playing at the same time. And that's the way it worked.
NM: It's got to be challenging to direct from behind the drums.
WH: There are many sections where I want different people to work together, I would have to get up and actually have to point to them and have them do what I preordained them to do. So it's really not like you're just sitting there behind the drums continuously. It's a moving set up.
NM: I heard some similarities between Big Moon and Symphony of Flowers, but they're completely different. I mean, strikingly different. Is there a narrative that ties your releases together, or does each one come from a different place? Or maybe it's a combination of both?
WH: No, each one comes from a different place because you have to recognize that while all those recordings are happening, there are also live gigs happening. There are different kinds of situations where I'm playing in different places with different people. So it's not really as if one thing just naturally flows into the other. I can't really think that way because we're in the middle of COVID, number one. So because of that, you can only go into the studio so many times, and that's another. I mean, there are a lot of little restrictions that you have to deal with, and that breaks up the continuity of what you want to try to do naturally, which makes sense.
NM: Yeah, and speaking of COVID how are things in New York? Is it becoming less restrictive there?
WH: Not to my mind. Not to my mind. There are people out doing all kinds of things and a lot of people just walking around buying stuff and being in the parks and going to various situations, going to the grocery stores. And it's pretty normal, but I can't say it's pretty normal, everybody with a mask on, but it's much better than it was.
NM: Are there near term plans to tour in support of Big Moon specifically?
WH: No, I'm not going to play until May. I canceled gigs and canceled all the things that are supposed to happen, except for the fact that in January and March, I'm supposed to go back in and do a couple of other recordings. But it's very sparse right now and I'm not taking the chance. I'm just not taking the chance. There's too many restrictions and there's too much that has to be done centered around playing for people and centered around playing in certain places. And I kind of don't have the energy for all of that, the logistics of it. You know what I mean? It's really too much. You've got to ask people for proof of all the shots, proof of the booster they have to sign things. It's just like a whole big world, and I don't want to go through all of that. It's too much.
What's going to be happening is that I'm going to play in a lot of different places. And also right now we're just trying to book the gigs, and I'm just trying to get the kind of funds that it takes to be able to do it. And I think it's going to be mostly from the East Coast to the Midwest. I won't be able to go to the West Coast, not yet. And so far, that's what's been happening as well as I have a grant that has to be dealt with, and that's an ongoing process. So you got a lot of things going, a lot of balls up in the air all at once. So you have to deal with each one as they come along. But there is no real, what can I say, orderly process, nothing like that in the sequence of events. It's just a matter of trying to deal with each individual thing and trying to put as much as I can into it and use the proper people. And that's the way it's going to work.
NM: As someone who listens to a lot of music and writes reviews and things like that, which are all my interpretation, what would you tell someone listening to Big Moon to listen to or to listen for?
WH: Just listen to the whole thing and listen to it with an open mind. That's basically all I would tell them and just enjoy it. It's very simple. The process is just very simple. I'm not trying to direct anybody to do certain things, to get whatever are my preordained conclusions. I'm just hoping that people enjoy it, and hoping that people will just put it on and listen and just get as much out of it as they can. Because we're all different. It's not like we're all listening for the same things. It's not like it's like a 1+1=2 kind of thing. It's not factual. It's very interpretive. And different people interpret things in different ways. I just ask people to give themselves the opportunity.
NM: When you're playing live or recording, what's your thought process as a piece plays out, where do you kind of go mentally? Could you remark on what your thought process is when you orchestrate a large band like this?
WH: There isn't too much thought process, to tell you the truth, because you're asking the sound to direct your actions. And if the sounds don't work, you change it. But it's not really like you're thinking of something and your automatic thought is what it is, because it's two different things. One is logical, based on very staid processes. And another is interpretive in terms of you're dealing with sound. You're dealing with the being that is sound. It's not like putting all the blocks in a row and then you have a straight row. It doesn't work that way for me. That's the way I look at it. And if it's wrong, I change it. If it's right, I go with it. And it's a very simple process, actually. It's not something that you think too much about with your logical mind, I'm saying. So it's like two different ways of looking at an aesthetic. One is a little bit more interpretive and another one is a little bit more… Well, it's not self directed. It's really an interpretation of me working with whatever the sound is. It's almost like looking at color. If you look at something and you put blue on it and like blue, you add yellow. So then you'll get green. It's that kind of a thing. You know what I mean? It's not like anything that I wrote is going to be what I think it is because it sounds completely different and also based on the people that I'm using because each person interprets things a little bit differently. So it's a very creative kind of a thing, very creative kind of a thing, very open and surprising. And out of that surprise, you may get joy. And that's kind of what I'm trying to do for myself and all the other people that are playing. That's what it is. It's like the creative process.
NM: You’ve also written poetry and performed spoken word for a really long time. How does that thought process or that creative process contrast with your musical process?
WH: It doesn't at all. I don't look at it that way. I don't look at it as something so different that I'm putting in something different. I look at it just as one long continuum. And you use all of the different things that you are to try and make that particular piece work and try to make that particular piece joyful and say what you want it to say in terms of the amount of time that you have to be able to do it. But I don't really look at it as separate disciplines. That's a very formalistic way of looking at things. A lot of people look at things like that, but I don't. So that's basically in my mind, it's quite a simple but interpretive kind of a situation. It's an intuitive kind of situation. It's a system of give and take. It's not really like I put my stamp on it, and it is what I say that it is. It's not like that, it doesn't work that way. Am I making sense to you?
WH: I'm not trying to avoid the questions. It's just that I want you to understand this is a very open scheme of things, a very open palette, which I think is what makes it beautiful, because I don't do things that you could just put a stamp on it and then you put it in its category. It doesn't work that way for me. It may work that way for some people. So because of that, they say, Jazz is this is, and not that. This is not that at all, what I'm doing anyway. You can't fit into those boxes.
NM: When you sit down to either play music or write. Do you typically start with an idea of what you want to do?
WH: That's a good question. It's really when the opportunities present themselves. I'll look at all the different opportunities. I'll look at all the different options I have. I'll look at all the different people that I would like to have fulfill this particular idea. And then I try to put them all together, and hopefully I know where they're coming from. And then I try to use that time that they are all together so that they can all work together. So it's not really just like me with inanimate objects, because these people also have their own pulses. They have their own way of looking at things. So then I try to find out what's going to work, what people can work together, how I have to approach various people's attitudes about what I do and about what the project is.
And then I try to put it in some sort of an orderly fashion so that it works out, and then it comes out as a work of art, a piece of art. And if it doesn't, then I can edit it well, not in a live situation, but you're using a lot of different elements. It's not just you with a pencil and paper and you're writing down an idea. You're dealing with others. You're dealing with different sounds other musicians have. You are dealing with their attitudes about the music and also the way that they interpret themselves through their musical instrument. And you're dealing with a lot more elements than you would with just writing. Every person is different. Every person is different. I have to stress that. And you have to be sensitive to the way different people are, you know, so it's not just accumulating a bunch of facts and writing these things down because you are talking about human beings. You're not talking about what's in your own head. You're talking about people that also have things in their heads too. So that's the way I look at it.
And I would also say that I try to respect what it is that I come across. So that it's not really like I'm trying to impose an idea on someone else that has a different way of thinking about what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to meet them halfway and trying to have them interpret what it is that I'm thinking about and respecting where they're coming from. I think that's the most important thing, just to respect the other human being and knowing that if they have the ability to do what it is that I'm asking them to do, I'm asking them for a reason. I'm asking them because I see something in what they're trying to do that can make a significant contribution to whatever the whole is. So that's what it is.
NM: What are you working on currently?
WH: Some of the things that are happening that I'm working on now. Let's see, what can I say? There's going to be another recording that's going to be coming out at the end of this year and also probably during the summer. I just finished the film, which is an hour and 46 minutes long, and that's going to be in at least three different venues here in New York City before it's released widely. It's a documentary, and beyond the mainstream. And people who are of my generation that had a lot to say about music and have contributed a lot to music in our culture. And that's what that's going to be about. And I'll be playing live, as I said, and I'll be doing a couple of grants, a couple of situations where I'm dealing with New York State House through the arts and grants and basically just trying to put things back in motion because I think that by that time, hopefully and hopefully I'll be able to travel at least in the States a little bit better.
I'm not really sure about what's going to happen with Europe yet, but it's a whole other thing. You work with what you're given right? You work with what you can work with. Yeah, definitely. And there's going to be quite a few gigs happening, and many of these gigs are going to be live streamed as well as playing live. So everyone will be able to see the things. And I'll be making these announcements pretty frequently through Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and my site, which I invite you to join my site and invite you to have all of your readers join my site and the people in Free Jazz Blog so that we can communicate better. I know a lot of people come in, they go out, but it's really good to carry on a dialogue. Dialogue is important. And a lot of people, I think that they forget that this is a worldwide network. This is not just me sitting here in my apartment and you sitting here in your apartment. It's a dialogue amongst all of these countries, all these places, all these people that experience this music.
And if we can keep this dialogue going, I think that we can change the way that people think. And I think we can change a lot of the things that people are doing right now, which are really detrimental to our being on this planet. But that's a whole other story. We'll talk about that another time, because I don't want to bring it down, but I really do want these people to communicate and tell me what your thoughts are. Tell me how they feel about certain things and what they're enjoying and how they're uplifting their spirit in the middle of what we are in right now. Because that helps me a lot. It makes me want to continue. I'll put it that way. We're looking at this particular record, Big Moon, in terms of the entire year. We're looking at myself in the record label. We're looking at it in terms of all the different things that are going to happen throughout the whole year regarding this record. Because if you notice the CD came out first. The CD came out something like three and a half months before the vinyl came out.
NM: Yeah, it was September, and then the vinyl was out in December.
WH: Exactly. I think that for those people who like vinyl, they are just starting to review it. Just starting to pick it up. There's a lot of CDs that are out there all the time. And now they're seeing that this thing has its own life and has different manifestations. So because of that, we're still trying to get it across that it's out there and it has a lot of different manifestations, a lot of different ways of looking at it. And that takes time and it takes time for people to write about. It takes time for people to tell their friends about it. So I'm really thankful. I'm really thankful that you're calling and hopefully you're letting all your people know that this thing is around, because otherwise there's a lot of music out there now on Bandcamp and all kinds of things.
See Nick Metzger's review of Big Moon here.
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