Interview with Concussion Ensemble

Interview with Concussion Ensemble

by John Dzenitis

I decided that instead of trying to think up something funny for this issue (have you noticed that I've been doing that?), I would do an interview with VooDoo's favorite band. They're not our favorite just because they have a song called ``Voodoo''. They're our favorite because our social reputation, along with most of our budget, is in their hands. This is the first time we've had either. (Reputation and budget, that is.) Come see them at VooDoo's 75th Anniversary Smoker (No Smoking) on April 1st, or I'll tell them where you live.

Rich Gilbert is 1/7 of a band that is 4/7 drummers and percussionist: Concussion Ensemble. Though in the minority as a guitarist, he is on good enough terms with the rest to serve as a band spokesman occasionally. Most of this transcription bears a reasonable resemblance to what was actually spoken, but don't quote either of us on that...

JDz: I'm required by the bylaws of our magazine to inform you that this device strapped to my forehead is recording our conversation. Do you have any questions? [confuses the interviewing arrangement and interviewee]

RG: Not that I can think of. Can we get a copy of VooDoo at some point?

JDz: Definitely. There are about 23,000 back issues in our office that we can't unload. We've started flushing them down the staff toilet, but it keeps clogging up. [lies. we use the public toilet.]

OK. To start off, could you describe the band lineup for our listeners at home?

RG: Well, we've got three standing drummers in the front of the stage and one standing percussionist with a rack in back. In between them are two guitarists and a bass player. [demonstrates, somehow, with the fingers of one hand]

We definitely spotlight the drums, and it's the calling card of our band. On the other hand, we don't have them in their standard role. Their motions are different and their playing is different because they're standing at the sets.

The percussionist has some drums, but he prefers to be called a percussionist. He's got traditional pieces like an African drum called a Djimbe, and he's also made things like storage containers into drums. What normally catches everybody's eye is a hanging rack with essentially a bunch of different pieces of metal. There's a big spring, miscellaneous pipes like you'd find laying around in the trash, a parking sign, stuff like that. Each piece has it's own pitch and timbre. He's a firm believer, as we all are, that music can come from anything if it's played in a musical way.

JDz: What about the Concussion Ensemble sound itself? [presses generic question that every musician hates]

RG: That's hard to describe in a few words, because we're really trying to create something new and drawing on individual creative inputs. It's rock oriented because that's the background that we all have and we enjoy playing it. The music is all instrumental and obviously has a strong rhythmic base, but it's not a 50-minute drum solo. We go to great lengths to craft songs with real structure, melodies, textures, and dynamics.

It's difficult to get the right point across to people without them seeing us play. Very curious and adventuresome people are intrigued immediately, people who tend to be conservative are a little scared...

JDz: It's probably the armadillos in your trousers.

RG: ...or at least wary, because they think that it's going to be tedious. When they actually hear us play, the most common reaction is surprise at how musical it all is.

JDz: I saw you guys headline downstairs at the Middle East. It surprised me that there was so much going on, but that it was still very tight and clear. [Another thing that surprised me was how expensive it was. Note: you will never get a chance to see Concussion Ensemble for a lower price than at the VooDoo 75th Anniversary and Smoker. Paid Advertisement.]

RG: It's not like a group with four people just stampeding all over each other. Each part is written to fit together, and everyone is listening to what everyone else is doing. We've definitely spent a lot of time working on that.

JDz: Having a plethora of drummers in your band, you should be uniquely qualified to answer this question: Why do guitarists and singers say, ``Peace'' all the time, but drummers never do. [ruins interview momentum, gets mercedes tattoo by mistake.]

RG: I don't know, man. That ``peace'' thing kills me; I don't get it. I'm into peace too. ``Peace.'' Because there's no war here right now, I guess. Most of it's a rehash fashion thing; some kind of romantic nostalgia for a time that never was. The regurgitation of the 60's that's going on now is so unlike what it really was, but all waves of nostalgia are like that. They capitalize on certain symbolic qualities of an era. It's like they get the clothes, but they don't get the meat.

JDz: Or in this case grain, or bean curd, or whatever.

RG: It's true, man. They don't get the grain.

JDz: So do you think that drummers are less friendly? [flogs issue]

RG: The drummers in my band? They're totally friendly. They're incredibly friendly because they're spotlighted.

JDz: They're finally satisfied? [flogs dead issue, harder.]

RG: They're finally satisfied, and they're finally recognized. We recognize that drums are a musical instrument, and drummers are musicians - creative musicians with good ideas. They're so many bands where it's like they're not even considered a musician.

JDz: That's the famous ``three musicians and a drummer'' type of band. [increases level of inanity]

RG: It's astounding what people can convince themselves of. [has mercy]

JDz: What do you do as far as covers and writing your own music? I thought I heard a Rush song at the Middle East that night. [searches through beer-sodden fog]

RG: No, no. No Rush covers, man. We only cover a couple of songs. ``Mission Impossible Theme'' is one. That's a natural. Occasionally we pull out the classic drummer song ``Wipeout''. [laughs]

JDz: That used to be required playing for all drummers. [can only think of the name ``venturis'', which he knows is wrong. cries.]

RG: Exactly. There's a song that when we come to the break everyone plays the drum fills, and it sounds so powerful to have something like that played by four drummers simultaneously.

All the other songs are band compositions. Some were written by an individual and brought in. Sometimes they're written by the band together; when we're jamming, something develops out of that, and we follow it. That's great because you end up with a composition that is much more than the product of any one mind.

JDz: Speaking of much more, can you name two things different about Katarina Witt at this year's Olympics? [breaks momentum, again]

RG: One thing different is that I didn't watch them. [dodges bullet]

JDz: Concussion Ensemble was nominated as one of five local Cutting Edge Acts in the Boston Phoenix Music Poll. On the other hand, Nirvana was listed as a national Cutting Edge Act. How do you guys feel about that? [baits]

RG: Well, the categorizations are frequently silly and often misguided. Also, depending on your opinion, some of the nominations seem pretty suspect.

JDz: But not yours. [apparently tries to piss off interviewee]

RG: Well, it might be - not in my mind, but maybe it is to another person. [merciful, again]

JDz: I'm just kidding. One of the reasons we wanted to get you guys is that you do seem to be about to ``break'', and I think that's what those polls reflect.

RG: It's nice to be nominated, but even winning wouldn't really change what we're doing. Winning a poll is often more a function of name factor than musical quality. On the other hand, it's nice to be recognized for what you're doing and who you are.

JDz: How is your music industry acceptance? [ties shoes]

RG: It's funny, but the people who work in the entertainment and music industry, at least in this country, frequently seem to be intimidated by something that they can't quite put their finger on. I don't know why. [muses]

JDz: Maybe they're screwed by the nature of their jobs. On one hand, they need something that is proven to be popular so they can be sure to make money. On the other hand, it needs to be different enough to be unique so they make more money than the other guys. That's why so much is incremental progress, slightly different sounds, slightly different lineups. It seems like you guys have skipped a few steps and made a major change. [lies down to rest]

RG: I think that's definitely true. One of the things we're starting to feel out is Europe, because it seems that they may be more open in some ways than the U.S. industry.

JDz: Along those lines, you have no singer, which probably freaks some commercial people a little bit.

RG: Oh yeah. Not a little bit. A lot. There are people who think that every rock band needs vocals.

JDz: I may be somewhat skewed, but it seems that the vocals are the worst part of a lot of rock bands. The vocalist is either the person who is least shy or can't play an instrument. If you had to pick a singer for just one show, or two shows, who would you pick? [baits shamelessly]

RG: We have done some work with singers. We've thought about doing a project where we bring in guest vocals for different songs. I couldn't really pick out just one as a favorite.

JDz: How about Frank Sinatra? [baits without a morsel of remorse]

RG: Frank Sinatra would be amazing, but I'm not sure that he's in his best years right now. If you could put us together with Frank Sinatra from the late 50's... Better yet, with Frank Sinatra and an orchestra conducted by Nelson Riddle, that would be an amazing combination. The singer from the Butthole Surfers would be great too. Any singer that has a powerful or distinct sound could work with this band.

We've recorded three songs with Barrence Whitfield from Barrence Whitfield and the Savages. He's a great R\&B singer - a really soulful guy. That's already been very exciting because it's made the band play differently to accommodate the vocalist.

JDz: Where do you think you stand in terms of national attention? [ties shoes, again; moves to D.C., reinvents government, moves back.]

RG: We're getting a buzz. We're catching on in various parts of the country and the world. It's like we're starting little fires in different areas...

JDz: Michael Jackson did that too...

RG: ...and we're starting to get airplay here and there. It's like they're playing us in Washington, then some place in Utah starts playing us a lot, then Texas, Minneapolis, and like that. We're getting some trickles of national press, which I hope will be building. In a couple of weeks we're going down to Austin, Texas for the South-By-Southwest musical conference. We're going to work our way back and do two weeks of touring between there and here.

JDz: What Concussion Ensemble recordings are available to the public? [orders another nectar of the gods. finds a hair in it is it a god's hair?]

RG: There's the CD ``Stampede'' and a 45. We've got some other recorded material, but we're not sure how we're going to put it out yet. We may either do an EP, or do some more songs and put out another album in six months time or so.

JDz: Is the CD the sort of thing that you can get at a local store, or do you have to send away to Germany for it?

RG: Everybody's got it: Newbury, Tower, you know. We also have them at the shows.

JDz: Are you worth every penny of [giant sum of money for a student publication]?

RG: Definitely. Without a doubt. Sometimes people don't realize how much is involved with seven musicians, a lot of equipment, sound people, roadies, and all the time that is behind the actual playing time.

JDz: Do you have shows that stand out in your mind as really terrible or really great? [fumbles for the final time. takes out cyanide capsule hidden in lapel.]

RG: Fortunately, there haven't been any really low points. No major catastrophes. As far one best show, I don't know. We've all got a lot of experience, and everyone plays consistently at a very high caliber. I think the band is pretty incredible. Every second or third show, in the middle of it, I think, ``This is really tremendous.'' I'm really excited to be involved with all of this. [breaks into song]

Editor: ...and VooDoo is rabidly excited to have Concussion Ensemble as our featured musical guest at the 75th Anniversary Party and Smoker (No Smoking), April 1, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. in the Walker Memorial Building. Be there, or be hunted down at home and expertly ridiculed.