Interview with Trey Gunn of King Crimson

I spoke to Trey Gunn of King Crimson about his new solo release, his technique, the new King Crimson album, and life in general. Here are some excerpts.

My first question was to ask what promoted the release a solo album. Trey replied: "It was time for me to do another record. I had a lot of ideas and put them together to see if it would work. It's always an experiment for me. You set it up with a vision of what might work. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it gets diverted."

So what exactly was the vision here? Trey says he "wanted to a lot of collaborating; writing/recording with people in person and not in person." It shows. Trey's collaborators on this project include vocalists from England, Italy and New York City, not to mention his King Crimson band mate Pat Mastelotto and percussionist Bob Muller whom Trey holds in high regard.

"I've worked with Bob a lot. He has an incredibly sense of timing and sounds great with the instruments I play." Trey also praised Bob's mastery of the Tabla, saying that "Bob fully understands the Indian classical vocabulary." While maintaining that Bob is a rock drummer at heart, Trey mentioned that he changes style as necessary, depending on the instrument being played, whether it be the Tabla or the Bandir.

At the age of 7, Trey began playing classical piano, and studied western classical music while playing in punk rock bands. He described himself as a "fairly typical late 20th century American musician who listens to everything, from Black Sabbath to Blue Öyster Cult to symphonic music."

While he draws upon a wide variety of influences for his songwriting, his influences with regards to his Stick/Warr style is unique. In fact, you could consider him a pioneer in that field. He considers the Warr guitar instrument, and the technique he uses for playing it, to be a "very unexplored." He said he likes "something new and different and on the edge," to figure out "what isn't being done, what is being done and how to do it." Speaking of the development of the Warr guitar, he said the first model "was a 12 string [instrument] like a Stick, but he and Mark [Warr, the designer of the guitar] simplified the design to its essentials."

When asked about the differences in the instruments he plays, and conventional stringed instruments such as the guitar, Trey said that "the main difference in the instrument is the range. It has the range of a piano on a stringed instrument. You can have integration of sounds which you can't have in those conventional instruments and you can play it like a guitar if you wanted to." He does not believe the eight stringed instrument limits his ability to play two independent parts at one time. He is finding that he "can do almost anything he needs to [with the Warr guitar]."

We talked a bit about the current lawsuit between him and Emmett Chapman. Trey wasn't comfortable talking about the issue, but he did want to clear up a few misconceptions. In response to my questions, he said Tony Levin would not stop playing the Stick in light of this lawsuit. Trey said Chapman is suing him and Mark Warr and three other Stick players. Chapman apparently claims that Trey is conspiring "to destroy his business" and that's the basis of the suit. Trey made it clear that the suit "has nothing to do with patents or trademarks. The Warr guitar in no way infringes on Chapman's intellectual property." He said that Chapman has been misrepresenting the lawsuit in public, and he is unsure of the real motivations behind the lawsuit.

Moving on to less serious topics, someone on USENET asked who makes the best cappucino in King Crimson. Trey said there was some debate about that, but admitted it was "probably Robert, but Tony makes the best expresso."

Speaking about his tapping technique, Trey said he was interested in "collating [his tapping technique] in some kind of format, but not necessarily in a book." He said it would probably be in a school, since he believes you need to be around other musicians to develop your music skills.

I also spoke to Trey about the motivation behind the release of Thrakattak. He said the idea was to have a "live instrumental jam. We have Thrak, and every night it goes somewhere new and different. We decided to put them all together and release something that was off the wall. We can do strange things and it doesn't have to sell a lot of records. We wanted to make it challenging [to the listener]."

Talking about the business vs. creativity sides in music, Trey said "professional musicians are trapped in a old world and only way out of that is through a business solution. We tried to do that with Discipline [records]." In most situations with other record companies, "you end up paying for [your record] and they [the record companies] own the record. You have no say in what happens to it. I have a never made a cent from a single record company. They keep 85% of the money."

Trey believes "it's important for the artist to reap the benefit of their work. But if market pressure is dictating the artist's work, that's not very good either." The idea with Discipline was "to find some sort of a middle ground." He said the situation is far different, and has gotten more complicated, before the advent of recorded music, where "music was purely a performing art." He said the realities change once you start making music in a professional way: "When you enter into the financial area, you have to worry about selling, making, etc., while worrying about the music side at the same time." For Trey Gunn, it has to be clear which side he is on at any given moment.

Trey Gunn's future plans, besides promoting The Third Star and touring with King Crimson, include "forming a performing group, for next year or as early as this fall." This is definitely something to look forward to.

Music ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || || August 6, 1996