This interview was conducted by Mina Keohane on 3/29/2004 for the Indianapolis Music News.
Mina: Your group has been together for two years now, how did you guys get together?
Peter Kienle: It’ll be two years in the fall. My wife Monika and I used to have a fusion/jazz/rock band that played its last gig on Indy Jazz Fest 2002. It was a great set and a great band. That band’s name was BeebleBrox. It goes way back to our musical past in Germany. We had a version of BeebleBrox ever since we’d moved to Indiana in 1991. We recorded eight CDs and played quite a bit. The last stable incarnation of BeebleBrox included some of the best players around here. That meant that everybody was usually very busy playing with all sorts of bands. When the drummer moved to Franklin, IN, the bass player to Indy and the sax player had to get a full time job to feed his three kids rehearsals became rare. Then of course Monika and I had our first baby in 1999 and that essentially stopped many things. BeebleBrox recorded the last CD live at the Jazz Kitchen in 2001. It’s a double CD and I am quite proud of it. It contains a nice scope of the music we wrote and performed over the years. In the summer of 2002 we didn’t know yet that BeebleBrox had fizzled out. We hadn’t rehearsed in a long time or worked on any new material. And by the fall of 2002 I felt I needed to do something to satisfy my fusion cravings. Danny Deckard – a drummer whom I have had the pleasure of working with in various groups – and I started joking about getting together once a week and just play really hard music. We were both huge 70s fusion fans. By coincidence I hooked up with Matt Everhart, a bass player who had just moved to Bloomington and was hungry to play – anything. So the three of us got together. In the first session we tried to read through charts of Mahavishnu’s “Birds of Fire” and “Cosmic Strut”. That’s stuff with constantly changing meters. It probably sounded horrible but it felt great to just get together and play. No other reason. No pressure.
These sessions happened twice a week and we started playing through some of my originals that never made it into the BeebleBrox book. Then sometime early in 2003 saxist Joe Donnelly started coming to our rehearsals. We played our first gig just around this time last year in Champaign, IL at a place called Zorbas. They were expecting more straight ahead jazz because we had been playing there occasionally with Freesome. But they loved Kwyjibo!
Mina: Does playing 70’s fusion specifically fill a musical void for you, why this particular style?
PK: I can’t speak too much for my band mates. I started to play guitar at the height of the fusion wave. In Germany, at that time, there was one show on the radio that played the latest albums – not just one song. They played great stuff such as Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, Emerson Lake & Palmer, and then the Miles Davis fusion stuff such as “Bitches Brew”. Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Chick Corea’s Return to Forever all were regulars on that show which aired once a week on Sunday nights at midnight. You have to understand, the town I grew up in didn’t have much in terms of culture. There were occasional Dixiland concerts. Some regional bands used to play at the local youth hangout. The bands I mentioned above were really my main stimulants to play music. That radio show left out any traces of Wes Montgomery and classic Miles and so I wasn’t exposed to that until much later.
When I played in my first band I wanted to play like John McLaughlin (but couldn’t). I didn’t get to play in any of the local pop/rock bands because they needed a guitar player to perfectly cover “Proud Mary” and I had a reputation of not doing that. Around 1983 the very first incarnation of BeebleBrox came together, all players who started playing during the first fusion wave and who had finally gotten enough chops to try it themselves. After our first gig I knew if I had to pick one style that would be it.
In Kwyjibo, Joe, Danny and I are all from that generation. For us it’s trying to do something we always wanted to do and some of us have been doing to some extend. Matt, our bass player, is much younger than we are and how he got on the fusion train is another story.
Mina: Who are your major influences? Do you mainly play repertoire from those bands or do you branch out from there?
PK: When Kwyjibo started we just wanted to practice together rather than individually. We wanted to learn music that was challenging to play and that we liked. That’s how the John McLaughlin/Mahavishnu material came into the band. Soloing in 13/8&14/8 is great exercise. About half of our repertoire are originals. Mostly originals that never made it into BeebleBrox because they took too long to develop. With Kwyjibo there finally is a vehicle to play through tunes before they are finished and then take them back home and re-write, add a coda, discard or whatever. You don’t have that luxury if the band only rehearses once a month and everybody has to run to another commitment after an hour.
In addition we play tunes by John Scofield, Weather Report and two strange versions of Hoagy Carmichael tunes. Oh, I almost forgot the Emerson, Lake & Palmer tune “Living Sin”. That was hard to learn, especially on the Chapman Stick.
There’s still a backlog of Mahavishnu tunes we’re working on. Also the Pink Floyd “Dark Side Of The Moon” medley is in the cooker.
Mina: Do you ever find the material intimidating and what are the particular challenges of playing this style?
PK: As I said the challenge factor was one of the reasons to start Kwyjibo. Personally I find Charlie Parker bebop tunes much more intimidating because they require such a precise language. I also play classical guitar and that’s much more intimidating because you can’t just make stuff up. Many of the Mahavishnu tunes, for example, we reworked slightly. “Black Market” by Weather Report is another good example. There are at least three recorded versions of that and each one is different. So it didn’t feel weird to adapt the form to our format (after all we don’t have keyboards in the band). Plus in our style of music there are solos but it feels as if there is a band playing together and it’s not like soloing in a bebop tune where the spot light is on you until you’re done.
Some things that kick my behind on every gig with that music are:
1) unsion sections need to be in unison and tight. Memorizing tunes is better than reading on the gig.
2) many open solo sections are modal. But just staying in that one mode/key just won’t cut it. When you play three tunes with a modal guitar solo back to back you really need to approach each solo differently.
3) trust your band mates completely. With BeebleBrox I was often as much concerned with the other band members’ playing as with my own. There was always the fear that somebody would forget to go to the coda or play a wrong groove. With Kwyjibo I learned that just letting everyone do what they are doing while playing what I would like to hear me play works best. That also means sometimes laying out for a few minutes.
4) the forms of the tunes. When playing jazz standards you usually play over a repeated chorus of chord changes. So even if you didn’t catch a change or two during the first chorus it’ll come around again and you can do it better or just rest for a few measures. Once you master the chorus of a jazz standard you pretty much mastered the tune. Many of the tunes we play follow unusual forms. Meters change between sections. Unison licks between solos.
5) the sound makes the music. On straight ahead jazz gigs you can get away with – and are in fact expected to use – a plain guitar sound that doesn’t change during the course of a tune. That’s the classic sound. Fusion allows you to work with various sounds. Of course for the original fusion players that meant synthesizers, Rhodes pianos, distorted and otherwise altered guitar and bass sounds, drums with additional instruments attached to it. I have been using a guitar synth for many years now and even though you get strange looks from some people I love it. It enables me to use different colors on every tune and because there is no keyboard player there is this extra space available where I can layer some textures. John McLaughlin had been using a double-neck guitar with one six string and one 12 string neck – I can get the twelve string sound from my synth.
6) the switching of the sounds makes you sweat. Hauling more than just a plain amp to a gig can be a hassle. Setting everything up at a tiny space like the Chatterbox is a challenge. Remembering which patch on the synth you used for the bridge of that one tune.
7) the Chapman Stick. Kwyjibo is the first band I play my Chapman Stick in public. People really seem to dig it. I am light years away from mastering it but I can play some easy parts. Amplifying that thing is a nightmare.
8) keeping the overall volume at a reasonable level.
Mina: Can we expect any Kwyjibo recordings soon? Any new projects coming up? Where do you see yourselves heading with this project?
PK: We did record a five tune demo and have a DVD from a performance last summer. I am in the process to make the tunes we have available for download on our website. The question is not if we have enough material or whether we want to record a CD. The question is what will we do with 1000 CDs? We might do a limited run CD and try to make it available through CD Baby.
The one thing we would like is more gigs! This summer we’ve been invited to many venues we played last year because people responded very enthusiastically. Dave at the Chatterbox thinks highly enough of us to have us play at the Friday night of Indy Jazz Fest. Of course playing the Jazz Fest would have been nice. Obviously we would like to play new venues. Some of the more rock oriented crowds like us.
Internally we have been discussing recording a CD of Pink Floyd material, making a movie, and record an orchestral CD with the band in the middle.
Mina: There is a huge fan-base for 70’s fusion, actually in fusion in general.
Alot of younger people are being turned on to that sort of jazz as far as “underground” music goes, but not so much main stream. Where do you think the future of jazz is headed?
PK: Interesting you should mention that. With BeebleBrox we’ve heard for years how people just didn’t like that style of music. The people who seem to like fusion these days usually don’t hang out at jazz clubs. Some of them come into the Chatterbox when we play. We actually have a little following there which goes nuts on certain tunes. It’s harder to get an audience into the place you play because it’s such an elusive style. Let’s not forget that for some people fusion means Kenny G (ok, for other people Kenny G means Free Jazz). And because it’s fusion you’ll have a harder time getting accepted in either the jazz or the rock camp. Once people are at the place we play they love it and they will come back.
As somebody who really couldn’t explain what jazz is I am not qualified to make a prediction. The one thing I hope as a musician and a ‘consumer’ is that there’ll be more venues presenting more different music. Personally I don’t like the few big venues (Deer Creek, etc) who make people pay enough money for one show they could go to the Chatterbox 15 times or more for. It’s the same pattern in the recording business. More sales by fewer artists. The underground lives and I think that’s where new things in all styles are thriving.
Mina: For the fans of fusion, what of your favorite groups/recordings do you recommend, nay command, people to go out and listen to?
PK: Essential listening still is Weather Report, Mahavishnu and Chick Corea, Miles Davis, Tony Williams’ Emergency. There was a double live CD released of Weather Report a few years back. That’s as smoking as it gets.
My personal favorites:
Tribal Tech with Scott Henderson on guitar (Reality Check, Rocket Science)
John Scofield, I don’t know any of his recordings I didn’t like (Überjam, A Gogo)
John McLaughlin has been releasing many great recordings since the 70s (Shakti, Que Alegria)
Pat Metheny, although his Group stuff might be too mellow for some and his trio stuff too much jazz for others (Pat Metheny Group, 80/81)
The Brecker Brothers did a classic with ‘Heavy Metal Bebop’ and have recorded good stuff since then
Of course Frank Zappa should be on the list even though he didn’t have too much good to say about jazz (One Size Fits All).
Mina: So, why the name Kwyjibo?
PK: Originally we were called ‘Splinter Group’. Then we found out that Peter Green (of Fleetwood Mac) had a project by that name. Kwyjibo comes from a Simpson’s episode where Bart uses that word playing Scrabble. We like names you have to spell twice. We have song titles like that, too.
Mina: The show is April 2nd, what kind of show should people expect at the Chatterbox this Friday?
PK: The show starts at 10:30pm at the Chatterbox. The ‘Box is small so you should come earlier if you want a seat. We’ll be debuting several new tunes and I’ll play Weather Report’s “Palladium” and Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Living Sin” on Chapman Stick for the first time. Also we expect Cathy Morris to play with us at least during the first set. As you may know many of the original Mahavishnu tunes have violin on them. We’ll rock the box.