Interviews

One from the archives; Percy Howard’s 1998 Interview with Robert Fripp


 

Robert Fripp of King Crimson is arguably one of the most influential Rock musicians to ever pick up a guitar. There have been relatively few interviews of any significant length with Fripp over the years, and in 1998 I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview him  in San Francisco at the Phoenix Hotel for Mondo 2000. the interview was never published due to the eventual demise of the magazine. Please find it in it’s entirety here. Fripp was amazingly candid. His sister, motivational speaker and persona Patricia Fripp was also present for the interview, and it was very interesting to observe the dynamics between two very unusually talented siblings. Even if you are not familiar with Fripp or his work, anyone interested in a the wisdom of an artist with a very keen view of the industry, the difference between art and commerce, and attachment to beauty, please read.

fripp: (Looking at  the cover of a recent issue of MONDO) “Nina Hagen was Contemporary of my wife, when my wife was working on ‘total queen of punk ‘in England, my wife was, still is Toyah (Wilcox), and although acting is the larger part of her craft, she is probably best known in England for her work as a singer,  Nina Hagen was going at it in Germany at the same time…I think Nina is wonderful, and she looks good on the cover I must say.”

percy: I saw the show last night, I went to the show,

fripp: Oh!”

percy:  I was intrigued…I didn’t know when I got the advance CD from your publicist, Lori Hehr, that Adrian Belew was playing drums on it, I just started listening to it, I didn’t really read the liner notes first, it took me until about three days later to discover that he played drums on it, which was interesting. Has he played drums in any other of your configurations of Crimson before?”

fripp:Occasionally he played 2nd drums to Bill Bruford in the 81-94 Crimson, but Adrian began as a drummer in Cincinnati when he was Stevie Belew, and he wouldn’t play guitar (he worked in a lounge bar playing covers), he wouldn’t play his guitar on cover material, it was too sacred, so he left it in his room, and played drums instead…but increasingly Stevie Belew, drummer, became Adrian Belew, guitarist.

percy: Concerning these projects or Fractals of Crimson, as you have termed them, what was the plan as far as who was going to play in different configurations, I know that you have two more planned at least, and how did this come about?

fripp: “The first one planned was projeckt 1, which began, I said to Bill (Bruford), because Bill said to me ‘I’m making more CDs than I’ve actually got gigs, can we do some gigs, as Crimson aren’t going to be working for at least a period..What can we do?’ So I said ‘we’ll do some duets. And he said ‘how about adding Tony (Levin, Bass player in Crimson double trio)? I said “fine”. And the next morning I said ‘well maybe also Trey (Warr guitar, stick player in Crimson/Projeckt 2). So that was projeckt one which had its debut at the Jazz café in London.  No rehearsals.  We showed up at the Jazz Café and played two sets for four evenings.  However, that was in December of last year. In November I met with Adrian and Trey to work on Projeckt 2, and the rehearsals for this is what is on the record. There was no discussion for that either. We also debuted projeckt 2 as part of the NEA week, we played an hour and 10 minutes there. In the two days of that we also recorded, and that is also available for release, plus the debut performance itself, which is also quite hot. So the next step for me is to add various members of the band. I’d like to work with Pat Mastellotto, but it is now mainly down to practicality. In addition to projeckt two, Trey and I recorded with Bill Rieflin, the drummer from Ministry, which is now awaiting release, called BLAST.

percy: “When did that happen?”

fripp: “That happened actually last may. Trey and I were working on Bill’s (Rieflin) solo album, and in addition to that material we did this project called BLAST. Rieflin’s album is called The Repercussions of Angelic Behavior, which is taken from the title of the artwork.

part 2

percy: Is all of the music in these fractals going to be improvised music, or is there going to be any composed music?

fripp: It depends on if any of the guys write music.

percy: So, what ever presents itself…

fripp: Yes. One of the aims is for the fractals to generate material for the next incarnation of Crimson…..Of which I have a sense, of which I have a sense.

SUDDENLY TO HIS SISTER, PATRICIA FRIPP, WHO WAS THUMBING THROUGH PAST ISSUES OF MONDO WHILE LISTENING TO THE INTERVIEW: “Sister I’m finding all of this page turning distracting, out of the corner of my eye. Would you like to go to the pool?

patricia fripp: “I’ll sit here quietly.”

fripp: “Are you sure?” I don’t want to limit my sister’s behavior.

patricia fripp: Yes, yes, if what I do bothers you tell me, and I will go to the pool, but I would love to sit and listen to the rest of the interview.

fripp: Very well. Thank-you sister.

percy: The issue of working with Rieflin  feeds into another area of inquiry that I am interested in, and that is that it seems to be quite obvious over the years , your involvement with Crimson, these fractals, a lot of the music that you have been involved with, is definitely centered within a sense of community, melding with musicians on a relationship oriented platform. You seem to have settled in on a process of relationship oriented musical output. So…considering this, this situation with Reiflin, I’m interested to know how he got pulled into your orbit, or how you were pulled into his orbit?

fripp: Guitar Craft. If I were presenting my resume very quickly, very briefly, it would be  67-74 Robert Fripp moves from a small country town in Dorset to London, to become an unemployed musician, and then a musician. That was until 74, which was my first retirement, withdrawal. Then re-emerging let’s say 75-81, from the withdrawal, and re-emerging in New York, in the world of music. 81-84 was obviously Crimson, with the key period being 77-84, at that point was my second retirement and retreat, returning with my wonderful little wife Toyah and Guitar Craft. This took me up until 91, then disputes with my former management took me out of Guitar Craft, and effectively very much of the World for the next 7 years, in fact until last September. And in that time , was a question of reconstructing an approach to life, not only as a musician and Human being, but as a professional musician, but we will come back to that…Guitar Craft 84-91, and it’s still continuing. I’ve just come back from Chile, where we had a seminar last month, and Seattle, where we had a seminar in February. Very rarely after a performance, or after a show do I go out, and in Seattle two years ago I went out to eat in an Italian restaurant, with all of the various guitar craft people that live in Seattle. There in the Italian restaurant, with nearly the entire restaurant full of guitar Craft people, I looked around, and it was astonishing that no one there was really interested in playing guitar, and it seemed to me that perhaps the function of Guitar Craft was actually to bring these people together. And there is a very strong sense of community and family within many of the characters within Guitar Craft, although the guitar-playing skills are appallingly low, but that’s another subject. In terms of Discipline as a record company, It’s very much a family of artists, which are essentially Crimson or Guitar Craft related. There are some outside the particular family that I would love to work with, for example Vernon Reid and I have been trying to get together for some time. Vernon said ‘Let’s go and play this festival in Italy in July’ but I can’t, I have other work. And there are other characters that I would like to work with in the fullness of time. But I will say that if you ever work creatively with a musician, you never lose a sense of connection with them.

part 3

percy: That’s an interesting way of putting it, because these connections tend to spawn other things that you are at time not even aware of. You say that there are people you would like to work with. I always wondered what it would be like if you worked with Bill Laswell.  I’ve done some work with Bill, having just completed a record entitled MERIDIEM for Materiali Sonori with myself singing, Bill on Bass, Fred Frith on guitar, and Charles Hayward, Drums.

fripp: Really?!

percy: It was an amazing experience. The entire time we were doing this, the thought kept occurring to me how interesting it would be to hear the cross breeding of the styles of Robert Fripp and Bill Laswell. It has not seemed to present itself as a reality as of yet, but the possibilities seem extreme. So, how would that sort of thing make itself happen?

fripp: Wouldn’t we cancel each other out?

percy: I don’t think so. In my opinion I don’t think that you would, because much like yourself, Bill Laswell  has the reputation of being a certain type of player, very much stereotyped as the dub bassist, and that only, but his palette as is your own, is extremely broad. Something for you to think about. Returning to this idea of a sense of community; what would be your  advice to young musicians , I’m speaking of young talented musicians that actually have some possibility of making a go at being a professional in some viable sense, musicians who are just starting out, who are seeking opportunities to get there art out into the world?

fripp: First thing, get a day job. In terms of I really, really want to be a professional musician, don’t. Far better to have the life of a semi-professional musician which can  always move backwards, but if the aim of the musician is to be true, then you can’t compromise that to pay the rent, or to eat. For a single musician, you can just about handle that. But if you are married, married with a family, it’s going to be problematic. So, best support your musical endeavors with a day job which doesn’t compromise the music. Failing that, you have a life of grief. So, first you accept that. Then, how to attract the attention or how to work with other players. As a young musician, my aim was to be good enough that I could play anything that anyone asked of me, so that really good musicians, they could make a call, and I would be in a position where I could learn from them. As to myself, I have no musical innate talents whatsoever. But I could always recognize a player that did. And what I would do is try listen through their ears, and you can do it, so that I would experience what really good musicians experienced. Also, as a young player, I didn’t have a sufficiently developed sense of individuality, that is I didn’t have my personal voice. And probably until I hit my mid 20’s, it wasn’t possible anyway. So what I set myself to do was establish my technical and callisthenic prowess on the instrument, so that I need never concern myself with that again. Once my chops were down, and I was in a position that I could play anything that anyone asked of me, then I could play with superb musicians, and when my personal voice began to speak, I would be in a position where success was possible. That was my intentional or articulated program. So I could only give the advice to young musicians to…be superb.

part 4

percy: This whole idea of craft resonates with me, because it seems to fly in the face of much of the current aesthetic of certain musical output for instance, I hate to shove things into categories..

fripp: But we will.

percy: Yeah, we will do it because it will work for this purpose…the burgeoning interest in electronica, for instance, so you have a whole growing population of musicians to where craft in and of itself is not very essential to being able to create, at least not a certain kind of musical craft or proficiency on a musical instrument. What do you think…

fripp: It’s a different instrument. With craft to be developed within that particular instrument, which will have certain advantages and certain disadvantages, like you won’t be able to turn up at a Bar Mitzvah and play (SP Hava Nagila). And you might turn up with a whole pile of equipment, and it might be in the memory some where, BUT… I had three years playing in a Jewish Hotel playing Bar Mitzvahs and so on, and it wasn’t, I mean I never found an emotional resonance with the music, but it was an experiential background that I found very groundful. I don’t know what the equivalent for an electronic musician would be. How do you go out three years and get your chops down? Responding on demand with that particular instrument?  I don’t know.

percy: There is a real-time element that is involved which is difficult, and it is hard for the electronic musician to make the transition when this is required as things stand. I don’t know what technology holds for the future, but there seems to be some distancing of the Human element for me, involved in that. What do you see as the future for Electronica and DJ based music, do you see it as essentially something that is going to be a passing fashion, or do you see the distinct possibilities as to how it will be integrated more into band structures or how is it’s output going to be viewed in the future?

fripp: I think it will be integrated, within ways that we can’t quite see at this time. In 1967 I took a fuzz box and volume pedal into my work in the Jewish Hotel, in the dance orchestra, and the Saxophone player, who was one of the finest musicians I have ever played with, world-class, no one will ever hear of him, we had two world-class players in that orchestra, they never wanted to leave town…but the saxophone player really looked down on the fact that I had taken the volume pedal and fuzzbox .  And, in his work, it would never be integrated, and in my generation it was. It was integrated in such a way within the music that it was seamless.  Some young character will come along, what it requires is a genius, who will re-write the entire direction of the electric guitar, or the guitar per se, but you need a particular man, or group of people…and women, and women, increasingly to bring normal perspectives in, and the new generation will absorb it and 7 seven years later it will be there.

part 5

percy: And that openness, it is interesting to me to see what facilitates that type of openness, or not. For instance I met Stephan Micus, the German world musician who has been recording on ECM for years, at a festival we both played in Bari Italy in 1996. Wonderful acoustic multi-instrumentalist and singer. We connected on a human level, I really wanted to create some music with him, and we got to the point where we were seriously discussing this, and he flat out refused to go any further in the discussion because I was in connection with instruments that were amplified, and had an electric source, and I respected this, but was saddened by the fact that he might not see the possibility of what we could create together, and how there could be some cross-pollination of our musical voices. There seems to be a process of ghettoization at times within the wide realm of popular music in that we position ourselves in these very distinct camps, which can curtail the production of this new thing you were speaking of perhaps 7 years hence.

fripp: This debate, particularly within the realm of classical guitar, has been going on for at least thirty, thirty five years. I saw Segovia in the Winter Gardens, I think on my 15th birthday, and he played without a microphone. Then John Williams began using a microphone, and wow, the problems this caused, ‘this isn’t what the acoustic guitar sounds like….’ But the point was that you could hear it. So for me, I am happy to accept amplification, but you also have to accept that it is no longer the same instrument. As soon as you change the function of the performance space or presentation, everything changes.  The contextual understanding of the listening community, all of the assumptions have changed, so our hearing of that has also changed, so you can’t treat a moment in time, you can only be in the moment. But, and this is an interesting thing, if you make the shift, within the listening, you can go into the eternal moment in which the music is fresh, but for that you need mastery, which is Pablo Cassals, playing a part for the first time on a guitar, even though 40 years have been spent in the preparation for the moment, this is irrelevant, this is the first time that it has been played, and this is mastery. I don’t know what the gender-free equivalent would be of a mistress musician, but this is a master musician, who acted with the assumption of innocence within the context of experience. But to make this work, you also need to have an audience with a similar degree of competence, the connoisseurs.

percy: And that brings up certain problems in and of themselves.

fripp: It requires a period of training no less than 21 years.  Dedicated and intense training, and probably that alone will take you to perhaps craftsmanship…mastery is more than that.

part 6

percy: It seems to me that, just in my personal experience roving around in the world of popular music for the past 5 years, it seems that it almost goes hand in hand that the greater the level of mastery, the more the openness to possibility, and not the other way around.  I’ve run into musicians that are not great musicians that function on the basis of a certain kind of quirk, something hip that can be done repetitively, that people can attach to and enjoy that, and so they create a catalogue around that…these individuals tend to be a bit more myopic as to what constitutes potentially good music than people of immense skill, who have studied for years. Why do you think that this is?

fripp: I think that there are two things that occur to me.  One is, when music leans over and takes you into its confidence; it’s such an unlimited experience, even if one’s work is of a very specific domain. You know experientially what is waiting, and you may move towards it or not, but you know that it is there. The other thing has to do with a specific kind of training that, I used to say requires of the musician three disciplines; the hands, the head, and the heart. When the heart begins to open you begin to experience the unity of all things, so that even if your area remains fairly limited, you know. You know. But when music comes to reside, everything changes. When you stand face to face with music, you see what is behind music. And then it changes. However, specific forms of training, particularly in the West, are somewhat more limiting. You then move the musician into the context of the industry, and hard and cruel categories begin to bite, so even if experientially the musician is aware of the immensity and limitless power of music, you find yourself working within an industry where definition is not only inevitable, but prized.

percy: I agree with you completely, it’s not only prized, it seems to have become somewhat of a crutch. As an example, I’ve had some conversations as of lately with a very interesting record label concerning releasing some of my music that shall remain nameless..

fripp:  Go on! You have the tape, you can edit it out.

percy: Yeah, you are right. Thirsty Ear Recordings.  Well this label has done some interesting things, they have released Robert Wyatt’s Schleep in the U.S., and some very interesting stuff by Matt Shipp, amongst other things. The owner is a very nice man who obviously loves music. I’ve been sending him some things and he has been very enthusiastic about my talents and writing ability, but has not yet been able to see the possibility of releasing any of my projects to date due to their lack of ability to be immediately categorized, and therefore easily marketed, and this is a good, honest person, a very good label. This was saddening to me, because sometimes music needs to just have an opportunity to breathe and be out in the world, because people will gravitate towards it, you see that all of the time. Even the most ethical and aesthetically oriented entities have become overly dependent on these categories. This continues to constrict the kind of music that is available in the market place, and even more insidious is that it is blamed on the consumer, the lament from the industry being that this is what people expect.  Where do you think this dichotomy comes from, where the industry’s stated lament  is that they must act the way that they do because the public demands it, when in actuality  the public has little opinion on the matter, and they are open to music, even more so than the industry is. And, how did that happen?

part 7

fripp: You want a beginning date?

percy: (Laughter) If you have one!

fripp: Separation of Art, Morals and Science, post-enlightenment probably. What is required is a new generation of business people to go along with the generation of artists.

percy: There are some of those people out there trying to take baby steps towards a more equitable and respectful relationship between artist and broker (label), such as Thrill Jockey, which splits royalties evenly with artists and defers copyright to the artist. It seems like many of these labels that are working in a more equitable fashion are successful.

fripp: If we follow along with post-enlightenment thinking of separation of art, morals and science, then probably we would end up looking at the music industry today as being essentially disassociated from music, and so too are some musicians. It (artistic creation and business) is a separate field of endeavor, but it shouldn’t be disassociated.

percy: One thing that seems to be key in the way that you have done business at Discipline Global Mobile is that the differentiation between art and business doesn’t seem to exist much at all.

fripp: There is a differentiation, not a disassociation. There is a differentiation of role, but it is associated and intimately connected, it is a differentiation within integration, not disintegration or a disassociation..This is key.  The regular music industry has nothing to do with music.

percy: W hat do you do when you run into the difficult situation of trying to develop the many acts that are associated with your label, to expose or develop these, for instance The California Guitar Trio? Are they still with you?

fripp: They are still with us, Point music took an interest in them, and I said ‘if the Trio feel that this is the way for them to go, they have my full support. I am aware of the limitations that Discipline works under. However the key thing for them in any possible deal is to hold your own copyrights. So, I was sent a draft contract, I went through page by page, until I found that the copyrights would not be held by them, and also that anything that they recorded during the period of the deal belonged to the record company. So I wrote some very strong words on it, tore it up, and gave the pieces to a secretary within Discipline and said please return this to point records, the pieces, it was my formal response to their proposal.  And the head guy at point actually went to Polygram, the parent company and said ‘can we do something to work with this’ ‘Absolutely not!” So they are still with Discipline.

part 8

percy: Was there any anxiety that arose amongst the members of the Trio, regarding the possibility of lost opportunity?

fripp: Yes.

percy: So their feelings on the matter may not have been as strong as yours were?

fripp: They have just begun the first part of their professional lives, so their feelings would be different than mine; however they were sufficiently aware of the point, if you will forgive the feeble pun, not to have gone any further. I tore the deal up, it wasn’t my deal, it was theirs. I said anything you want to do has my support, but my advice is this, and I would not do that. Yes, they have a concern.

percy: This is a concern, a great difficulty for young musicians. It is difficult to get into a situation where you retain the rights to your art.

fripp: The young musician must accept that you have no clout, accept that you will not take over the world. There are seven geographical regions of influence, depending upon your quality as a musician, artist or performer that you can move into. The first is domestic, will your aunt sit and listen to you playing? If your aunt, mother and siblings won’t come home to listen to you play, probably get off at this point. But if your aunt likes it, you can probably get the gig in the village hall. So you go from domestic to local, to regional, to national, to international, to global to interplanetary. Now, if we think that interplanetary is a real dumb thing to say, we find this in current record contracts, you don’t sign for the world now, you sign for space.

percy: You also sign for modes of duplication that don’t exist yet.

fripp: The young artist thinks, particularly if you work within the popular culture, if you work within a popular music form, like rock music, that if you’re not popular, you are not good. Doesn’t necessarily mean that. The young artist working in the popular culture isn’t going to have the clout to take over the world. The only way they are going to have that is if they have an over-arching genius. In which case the world will come to them. So begin where you are.

percy: Do you think that the ‘world’ is actually attracted to ‘over-arching genius’ as a rule of thumb?

fripp: The quick answer is yes, the larger answer is eventually. Eventually. You might not be around to see it during your lifetime, if you are that good you will keep doing what you do, not in a life of comfort, part of it may be that you live an uncomfortable life. Even if the external forms of your life seem to be providing comfort, you need to find your own internal forms of discomfort.

 

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2 thoughts on “One from the archives; Percy Howard’s 1998 Interview with Robert Fripp

  1. LVB says:

    Great interview, Percy.

    It’s funny reading this, having been done in 98, and how it includes several of the very ideas and beliefs that you and I share, and have been commenting on recently.

    Great minds think alike? :)

    I really appreciate what both of you had to say about things musical, electronic and otherwise, and the business aspect of things. Very cool.

    Fripp’s comment: “The young artist working in the popular culture isn’t going to have the clout to take over the world. The only way they are going to have that is if they have an over-arching genius. In which case the world will come to them.”

    These words sure describe a certain young female electronic pop artist whose recent massive success and global conquest phenomenon we have discussed within the context of fame. Very prophetic and accurate.

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