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THE NELS CLINE SINGERS: An Oral History (2 of 4)

PART II: “I CHANGED MY STRINGS IN SHAME” (2001-2004)

NELS CLINE: “I knew I wanted an upright bassist in the new trio.”
(Interview, 3/05/10)

DEVIN HOFF: “I’m an anarchist, so my motto would be: ‘Everything for Everyone.’”
(Interview, 3/11/10)

SCOTT AMENDOLA: “Actually, I knew Devin before I knew Nels.”
(Interview, 3/12/10)

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Devin! Hoff! [photo via Downtown Music]

DEVIN: “I grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado, which was a farm town before it became a college town. It’s smack dab between Boulder and Cheyenne [Wyoming], and kind of culturally reflects that geography: A lotta rednecks and a lotta hippies! So as a kid you kind of grow up in that mix. There’s some urban influence and some rural influence, but it’s not quite either. It’s kind of confusing.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

DEVIN: “My dad [guitarist Bard Hoff] is a musician and my mom’s father was a farmer and a semi-professional country-western musician. My mom is a rocker, so I probably absorbed Led Zeppelin and the Small Faces in utero…so it was almost a no-brainer what I would end up doing for a living: the family business!...My dad knew a lot of musicians from the Denver scene…like Hugh Regan, who’s worked with Roscoe Mitchell, and David Murray. They would come over to my house a couple times a week when I was little…and play Charlie Parker and Anthony Braxton and Albert Ayler. It fucks with your ears at an early age. I grew up hearing that stuff as normal.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

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[Photo via Flickr]

DEVIN: “When I was just starting bass, my dad and I would play songs for each other back and forth. One time I played him ‘The Passenger’ by Iron Maiden and he played me ‘Teen Town’ by Jaco Pastorius. I felt at the time that I was supposed to like Jaco more because it was more ‘serious’—but I didn’t. Even after all these years, I still think I was right. Steve Harris’ bass playing on ‘The Passenger’ still gets me more excited than Jaco. It’s also interesting that my father would want me to emulate a junkie. He may have been sending me the wrong message there."
(Interview, 3/11/10)

SCOTT:[Devin] has ears the size of Africa."
(from liner notes by Derk Richarson, 3/10)

“But the goth stuff I listened to -- the Smiths and Bauhaus and The Cure -- that was the stuff my dad couldn’t stand. Drove him up the wall.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

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DEVIN: “The first album I ever bought with allowance money was Rock & Roll Over by KISS. I always said that cover would be my first tattoo, and when I turned 18 I realized how expensive that would be. The biker dude who was doing my tattoo looked at me and went, ‘Nope. Got anything else?’” (Interview, 3/11/10)

DEVIN: “I started ordering metal records from the back of Kerrang! magazine and started playing music because of those records: Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and later, Metallica…When I was 14, I started taking bass lessons for the summer orchestra and started taking music seriously. I played electric bass in this prog-metal trio with my brother and another guy Jay Saylor on drums. Jay was out of high school, my brother was in high school and I was in junior high. We were called ‘CIRKUS’ – with a K! We were terrible, but we had a lot of fun paying these little metal shows around Colorado which were awesome because they were in barns. We called it ‘barn rock.’ We were very ambitious. We’d play Sabbath, Rush, King Crimson covers, then our own stuff, which was awful, but I learned to play pretty hard music right off the bat…Especially when the first songs you play are in 7/4 or 5/8, that stuff becomes easier forever. I was lucky that, as it turned out, because I really didn’t have any raw talent.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

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DEVIN: “My brother and I moved to San Francisco. By that time, our prog band had morphed into a punk band…called The Gods Hate Kansas. Strangely enough, there was another band in SF with that exact same name, so we changed to Shoeboy because my brother and I had a day job at a Timberland store. We played all over the Bay Area, but we sort of collapsed because of our lack of understanding of how the world worked. Brent’s now a filmmaker and a screenwriter. He edits a DVD magazine called Wholphin.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

DEVIN: “When Shoeboy fell apart, I rediscovered all this jazz music that I loved…There was a pretty good jazz scene happening in San Francisco – a lot of it was economic. I started noticing I could make $100 a night, places like Bruno’s and the Up and Down Club had jazz five or six nights a week, which was as close to a living wage as I ever had. I kind of moved from the punk scene into that scene. It was a slow transition, sort of like a cross-fade.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

DEVIN: “My first jazz gigs in San Francisco were with a singer named Faye Carroll and her daughter, a pianist named Kito Gamble…I met them through my friend Derrek Phillips, who went on to play with Charlie Hunter and Vijay Iyer. I also started playing in Iyer’s band at that time, so I had this sort of bluesy gig and this complex jazz gig. Through these gigs I started meeting more people on the scene, like Graham Connah, Harold Green, Ben Goldberg, Howard Wiley, Ches Smith and Scott.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

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Scott (R) and a blurry Devin [Photo by Peak]

DEVIN: “I met Scott on a random jazz gig—it might have been the Makeup Room. It was after he was playing with Charlie Hunter. I was excited to meet him because I had admired his playing. We ended up working more and more on gigs. He knew I was into punk rock and jazz and he told me, ‘You gotta meet my friend Nels.’” (Interview, 3/11/10)

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SCOTT: “There was a band called Crater that I played in with this laptop player named Jhno. Devin would sit in with us occasionally and I loved his playing. First and foremost thing about bass players with me is that they are a bass players, because there’s a lot of bass players who don’t accept that role…They want to be more like a lead instrument. Devin not only loves that role, he embraces it. In terms of knowing how to play, he can lead the band in a sense without leading it. He’s so present and so strong and he can direct the music—yet do it as an ensemble player.” (Interview, 3/12/10)

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Scott Amendola [Photo via Bay Area Taper]

DEVIN: “The first thing I noticed about Scott was how good it felt to play with him groove-wise. Just playing time together on a gig would feel really good. We could get very subtle together very quickly, which is how you know that you have a future playing with another musician: ‘Let’s shave this into a groove’ or ‘Let’s push this section that way.’ The first gig we played, we were already doing that stuff together. Scott’s also a great accompanist with singers—not us, but real singers.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

SCOTT: “I was playing this gig at this little restaurant in town called 42 Degrees with Devin. I mentioned Nels, and Devin, for the next 45 minutes, just went off. He talked about Nels, Mike Watt, the Geraldine Fibbers and whatnot. The next day, I called up Nels and told him, ‘Dude, I found the bass player.’ Turns out…Nels had heard Devin play!” (Interview, 3/12/10)

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Devin Hoff (L) with Mike Watt [Photo via SFGate.com]

NELS: “I had actually met Devin when he played at Will Salmon and my brother [Alex]’s concert series in Eagle Rock with Joel Harrison’s band. We had talked about Mike Watt and punk rock…Devin looked like he was about 15 years old, so when I realized he knew my music already and had a certain punk-rock meets jazz background, he was the perfect guy.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

DEVIN: “I had discovered Nels from the first Mike Watt album [Ball-hog or Tugboat?]. After that, I went out and got Chest from the Nels Cline Trio and I thought, ‘This guy is doing exactly what I want to do.’ In punk bands, I couldn’t take solos or play diminished chords very much. In the jazz world, I had to pretend I wasn’t excited or angry about everything all the time, which I was.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

NELS: “Devin sounded great. He always had a great love of Charlie Haden and Wilbur Ware. I actually think he sounded a lot like Wilbur Ware when I first heard him. He wasn’t working too much with the bow at that time. I just gave him time to grow into it and frankly Devin has gotten so much better year after year after year that he’s starting to scare me.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

SCOTT: “There are certain aspects of Nels’ playing that I think Devin is more in touch with because of the music he listened to. Devin’s knowledge [of Nels’ music] was very thorough, because he’s got that punk background, he’s listened to and absorbed all that stuff and played it. I learned a lot from playing with Devin, especially in the way he grounds a band…He has helped define certain ways that I play.” (Interview, 3/12/10)

DEVIN: “I got really excited; ‘Nels Cline? Holy shit!’ Scott’s like ‘I play with Nels, he’s a friend of mine. We should all play together sometime.’ I was like, ‘Uhhhh, yeah man, anytime you can make that happen…’” (Interview, 3/11/10)

SCOTT: “After Nels and Devin talked on the phone, I booked a gig for us with Phillip Greenlief. I had a rehearsal space in Emoryville and we met there and just plugged in.” (Interview, 3/12/10)

DEVIN: “At the first rehearsal, Nels walks in and goes, ‘Okay, this is it. This is my new trio. If you guys wanna be in it, that’s awesome. I want you to bring everything you want to the table, but it’s gonna be my music. If something makes you so uncomfortable that you don’t want to do it, just tell me.’ Before that, Nels and I hadn’t really played together. He was trusting Scott…He knew we shared enough common ground and that we were stoked about doing this, which to Nels’ credit was much more important to him than someone’s [resumé], because I didn’t have much of one at the time.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

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[Photo via Flickr]

SCOTT: “And when we finally sat down to play, from the first note we were all like, wow, this is a band. It was greater than the sum of its parts... like H2O or something! It was beautiful.” (All About Jazz, 2/13/06)

DEVIN: “The first rehearsal was basically songs that would be on the first record. A lot of the music was already written before the band got together.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

NELS: “When I started my first trio…I decided that after being tortured by the seeming dichotomy between so-called rock, so-called jazz, and electric and acoustic, to endeavor to get past the dichotomy and unite my sensibilities in one combo…That's what the Singers are. It's the only way that my own music can exist, is to embrace whatever impulses I have at the time and whatever impulses I may have from my background.” (Metro Santa Cruz, 4/25/07)

NELS: “…and then the Singers hit the stage.”
(Interview, 3/05/10)

After two punk rock-style (i.e., “hastily assembled”) rehearsals, the newly anointed Nels Cline Singers make their live debut on March 28, 2001.

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NELS: “It was at a little place right at the Oakland/Berkeley border, run by some yoga guy.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

SCOTT: “It was called Tuva at one point but after that it was called the Jazz House. It was this building …next to a police station. There was a old sign still up on top of the building next to it that said ‘ANTIQUES’ but the last few letters were taken off, so when you told people you were playing there, you’d say, ‘Look for the ANT building.’” (Interview, 3/12/10)

NELS: “I don’t remember how the audience responded. It must have been, great, huh?” (Interview, 3/05/10)

Cline is no huckster. He makes that clear right away, giving comfort to the wary. A couple of weeks ago…he began a set with his new trio, the confoundingly named Nels Cline Singers, with just some...sounds. He plays guitar, usually electric. So he bent his long pipe-cleaner skeleton over his amp and pedals, and for five or 10 minutes picked out little swells, expostulations, runs. This served a number of purposes. To warm up his fingers. To find out whether all those cords and boxes were working. To seek out new life and new civilizations. And to let you know that this wasn‘t gonna be pop music, so if you were not okay with that, you might as well split now. (Greg Burk, L.A. Weekly, 8/16/01)

NELS: “We combine absolute spontaneity with a high degree of discipline. That's not just good for the audience; it's good for us.” (The Hook, 6/05/08)

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[Photo via Denver Westword]

Soon the themes started to emerge, and contrabassist Devin Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola got more involved, stationing themselves as corners of a triangle so they could all look at each other. There was a six-note figure that would be repeated at irregular intervals. There was a rich drone. There were delicate arpeggios and blasting chordal assaults. Hoff played a sick, sliding solo. Amendola could be whomping on everything in sight or completely silent: This was music of extreme dynamics. (Greg Burk, L.A. Weekly, 8/16/01)

Nels Cline calls his new trio The Nels Cline Singers—a reference to all those easy-listening groups from the 60s. He calls the album, Instrumentals ... well, because there are no singers in the band. He calls his music powerjazzrockfreepsychedelicate instrumental music: a mix of poignant balladry, trashing droneprovs, neo-Ornette freeblow and distorted romanticism. (Cryptogramophone Records Press Release, 2/02)

Yeah, singers. Like Cher. Cher sings on this album. And Madonna. And Sting. In fact, everyone who only has one name, they all sing on this album. (Brandon Reid, Pitchfork Media, 11/07/02)

NELS: “Singing occurs only if there is an accident.” (NWA News, 7/16/08)

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Instrumentals: Recorded August 29 & 30, 2001; produced by Jeff Gauthier and engineered by Rich Breen; released March 26, 2002 on Cryptogramophone Records.

NELS: Instrumentals was recorded in 15 hours - about a day and a half of work, including setup. As such (and like every record I've ever done), it is full of last-minute decisions, mistakes, and dilemmas both resolved and unresolved. I am of the opinion that many of these things are best left unmentioned - why give you info that colors your experience? After we make the music and you listen to it, it's yours as far as I'm concerned. (session notes for Instrumentals)

SCOTT: “I’ve never made a record so quickly that I felt so good about. Outside of the technical glitches, it was really easy. Before I knew it, it was over, and I was like, ‘Yeah man, that was really happening!’ None of us had anticipated that.” (Interview, 3/12/10)

NELS: The studio was called The Bakery (North Hollywood, CA), and it had a major problem, which was that the single-coil nature of my guitars hummed extra badly and there was nothing that could be done to minimize it. We recorded the hum so as to reduce it with the appropriate computer program, but it accidentally got deleted when we expunged an undesirable take. OOOPS! Well, let it hum, I said. (session notes for Instrumentals)

Though it's hard to tell who's doing what at times, it often seems like Amendola is the most interesting noisemaker of the group, stringing together drum loops on the fly and then letting them decay beyond recognition. (Brandon Reid, Pitchfork Media, 11/07/02)

NELS: Reviews of the record have been very positive, but naturally I prefer to dwell on the tidbits of negative criticism. Downbeat reviewed the album rather favorably, but complained that the disc was too long. (nelscline.com)

Ironically, the disc’s fundamental fault lies in its abundance. In a set that runs nearly 80 minutes, we’re wasted by the end. Disciplined editing would have brought greater power to the material. (Greg Buium, Downbeat, June 2002)

NELS: The nerve!! [Downbeat] also compared us to Triumph, a Canadian band (I'm told) who my friends in-the-know tell me was "like a more metal-ish second-string Rush". Well well! Having never heard them, I trust their take on this. (nelscline.com)

Even though Cline incorporates some post-rock tricks and tones into his oeuvre, making his Al DiMeola-with-restraint style accessible to modern ears, it's not enough to save his new trio from resembling Return To Forever's late-period masturbation. (Kevin Hainey, Toronto Eye Weekly, May 2002)

NELS: OUCH!!! He then goes on to say a few rather complimentary things, but OUCH!!!!! Hitting me where it hurts! I, a true survivor of 70s prog/jazzrock, am not sure what "late-period" RTF refers to, but I'm sure that it refers to music I always HATED. Sorry! You all know that I prefer to keep things positive, but....sheesh! As you will read, some things I/we do are constructed with a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun in mind - a playfulness, if you will. But sometimes I may indeed err.....as may our critics, I guess. (nelscline.com)

Hoff’s earthy bass reminds me a bit of Charlie Haden, particularly in his solo pizzicato playing. “Harbor Child” is a feature for his nervous sounding bowed bass…[Amendola’s] infectiously bouncy playing is an asset to any band, and he’s also brought live effects and real-time electronic processing to throw into the mix. I had a chance to catch these guys in a club before I heard the album, and the CD is a pretty accurate documentation of the way the band sounds on stage: ultra dynamic and seriously smokin’. (Stuart Kremsky, Cadence, 7/02)

NELS: I just felt that [“Harbor Child”] would be a nice showcase for Devin's bow, and a much-needed break from thrashing, bashing, building up and breaking down. It was Devin's idea to double track the bass after he heard playback. I left in every note. (session notes for Instrumentals)

NELS: [“Lowered Boom”] was inspired by Buddy Guy's Sweet Tea album, and John Lee Hooker had recently died - I was feeling some blues, but I wanted the piece to be appropriately post-blues, or maybe one could say, authentically white dude West L.A. Scott set up the loop with care…The fuzz and other electronic effects are done 'live' as only Scott can: with a lot of radical whimsy and impact (Rich later ran the whole drum track through an amp modeler plug-in to mess it up even more). Devin came up with the bass line, and surprised me when he decided to bow it. As with a few other pieces I've done, this one is not to be taken too seriously as a composition, despite the crunch factor. As with old Trio pieces like ‘Beer Bottle Collection’, it will probably be given more weight than it deserves. (session notes for Instrumentals)

“It sounds like an elephant stomping on drums and squishing guitars.”
(review of “Lowered Boom” by 9-year-old music critic Lily Belle Burk, L.A. Weekly, 3/02)

NELS: Devin and Scott's amazingly controlled feel on [“Slipped Away”] - especially after their blowout on the previous piece - continues to fill me with a warm glow, and I'm just damn lucky they like playing this stuff with me. (session notes for Instrumentals)

DEVIN: “‘Slipped Away,’ the last track on Instrumentals that’s my favorite Singers track. Nels’ baritone playing on that is just gorgeous.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

Cline seems like about four or five different guitarists throughout the course of the album, his only consistent tendency at some points seems to be his ability to do that which is least expected. (Bruce Wallace, Dusted, 2002)

In fact, Cline showcases so many different moods and styles that the initial effect can be a little disorienting. You have him pegged as one thing, and then he comes at you from a new direction.
(Bill Tilland, BBCi, 4/02)

A week after the release of Instrumentals, the Singers go on their first – and to this day, longest – tour of the U.S. and Canada.

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Date: Tue., 2 Apr 2002
Carla Bozulich (Geraldine Fibbers, Scarnella) is playing Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger album, backed by the Nels Cline Singers. The Nels Cline Singers open the show with their extreme 21st Century guitar-powered acid jazz/rock. All forms of taping are allowed. There shouldn't be any problems with the venues, but you should find Carla or Nels if there are any problems passing equipment. Mic stands higher than the venue's ceilings will be prohibited. If anyone gets any good tapes, please let us know! --thank you, Gary Nels & Carla

CARLA BOZULICH & FRIENDS / THE NELS CLINE SINGERS
US/CANADA TOUR

04/02 Visalia, CA @ The Don
04/05 Portland, OR @ Dante's
04/06 Seattle, WA @ I-Spy
04/09 Minneapolis, MN @ 400 Bar
04/10 Chicago, IL @ Shubas Tavern (2 shows)
04/11 Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom
04/12 Toronto, ON @ El Macombo at Tequila Lounge
04/13 Ottawa, ON @ Dominion Tavern
04/14 Montreal, Quebec @ La Sala Rosa
04/16 Portland, ME @ The Skinny
04/17 Boston, MA @ Middle East
04/18 Brooklyn, NY @ North Six (*w/ Scarnella)
04/19 NYC @ Tonic (2 shows)
04/20 Baltimore, MD @ Ottobar
04/21 Chapel Hill, NC @ University of North Carolina (Gerrard Hall)
04/22 Athens, GA @ Caledonia Lounge
04/23 Atlanta, GA @ Echo Lounge
04/24 New Orleans, LA @ TBA
04/26 Austin, TX @ Emo's
04/27 Tucson, AZ @ Solar Culture

SCOTT: “When you’re touring with that music, it’s hard, but we always have a great time hanging out…There were some rough patches for sure, because it was long and it was our first time out. It’s a little odd, but I tell people, most of the bands are toured with are men and that can get very tired fast – men that are very male – and the thing about the Singers is there is so much femininity in that band that it’s almost like it’s ‘girls’ night out.’ [laughs] I know that sounds a bit extreme, but it’s not your usual ‘guys on tour’ experience.” (Interview, 3/12/10)

DEVIN: “We had done a handful of shows up and down the west coast with the Singers before we did that first tour. We played punk-rock spaces mostly. Carla booked most of that, I think. We were her backing band for her Red Headed Stranger record…It was kinda chaotic! It was the first tour Carla had done in awhile and it was our first-ever national tour. The hardest thing about it, which is a typical one for the Singers, was not knowing what venues to be in, or how to approach it. We’d play punk places and there would be a few people scratching their heads, or we’d play jazz places…[where] it’s really hard to throw-down volume-wise. You feel like a jerk for doing it! Some people are just there because that’s where they go on a Friday night. They aren’t expecting to need earplugs, and I feel bad putting them in a situation where they wish they had…So it’s a hard band to book because of that and with that first tour we didn’t know where we fit. When things are marketed based on style, it gets kind of complicated. It was two bands people hadn’t heard. A lot of Geraldine Fibbers fans came out, and a bunch of Willie Nelson fans came out. If you’re playing Red Headed Stranger in the South, you’d better fucking deliver! It was cool because we always got over with those people. They knew we were coming to the material very sincerely. Carla and I always listened to that type of music. And Nels always had this obsession with those obscure Nashville session musicians from the 60s: ‘Check out this pedal steel player!’ He’s fuckin’ insane!’” (Interview, 3/11/10)


Nels Cline & Carla Bozulich: Live at the Smell

NELS: “We played a gig at The Smell, the Singers a double bill with [Carla Bozulich] and Andrea Parkins as a guest. Prior to that night, I had had my wham pedal fixed and I was trying do ‘Blood Drawing’ from [Instrumentals] and it was at this crucial moment where things have to kick in in exactly the right way and the pedal broke and I had no sound. I completely lost my shit and threw my guitar on top of my amp and then drop-kicked it about five feet into the wall. Fenders are pretty indestructible, but I broke four strings. Of course, I was instantly mortified, so I turned to Devin and Scott and said, ‘Duet!’ and they went right into a Thelonious Monk tune while I changed my strings in shame.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

SCOTT: "We were playing a gig, with another guitar player who shall remain nameless, and this guy was conducting the gig. And for the whole night, anytime we started anything, he would just kill it. Just as it started getting good, this guy would cut it off! It was really weird, and everybody started to get frustrated. So it's getting towards the end of the gig, and Nels and I start getting into it; it's just going. And then this guys moves to cut it off, but Nels turns on him and goes, 'F--- YOU! KEEP PLAYING! F--- YOU!' And we kept playing! The man's a genius." (All About Jazz, 2/13/06)

DEVIN: “I think it’s always good to tour, however sporadically. You can’t learn as much about the music unless you’re playing it night after night after night. At that point, Instrumentals were the only tunes we knew. We were playing the same five tunes every night! But it was also improvised music, so the tunes changed every night and grew.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

NELS: “And so between Carla Bozulich and my old roommate Bob Bruno, that was how I heard some Wilco, but even then I didn’t really hear very much until Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, to be perfectly honest.” (nelscline.com)

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DEVIN: “I think it was Scott that bought Yankee Hotel Foxtot when the Singers were on that first tour. I was familiar with that record because my brother was big fan…Then we toured with Carla opening for Wilco [in Fall 2003] and that helped. They got to hear Nels every night and he got to hear them every night. Carla and [Wilco frontman] Jeff Tweedy had known each other since the Uncle Tupelo days. We got to hang out with them and they were supercool. Actually, I knew [Wilco drummer] Glenn [Kotche] because we had done a record with this singer/songwriter John Vecchiarelli in San Francisco.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

NELS: “I had met Jeff [Tweedy] in 1996 when Carla and I were touring with the Geraldine Fibbers.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

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L'Fibbers

NELS: “I kind of had this attitude I think at that point…I told Carla one day, I remember it was a Sunday, and I’d heard Yankee Hotel a lot in the van, but I just said, ‘Okay this is it, I’m actually going to really pay attention to this now from beginning to end,’ and I listened to the whole record in the bedroom. I think I might have had a cold or something, so that’s why I wasn’t moving around that day. And I remember, by the time ‘Reservations’ was almost over, yelling to her in the next room: ‘OK I GET IT!.” (IckMusic, 11/22/06)

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The Giant Pin: recorded in 18 hours at August 24-25, 2003 at Castle Oaks Studios in Calabasas, CA; released October 26, 2004 on Cryptogramophone Records.

NELS: “I’ve never made a record of my own music that was done - that took more than two and a half days…. You gotta play - you gotta jam ‘econo.’ (laughs) And actually I feel like - with Cryptogramophone I feel like Mr. Fancy Pants, because we’re actually going into real studios with a really good engineer, Rich Breen, and you know, trying to make it sound really good, that’s what [producer] Jeff Gauthier wants.” (IckMusic, 11/22/06)

There is a distinct difference between Cline's approach in the studio and the trio's experience onstage. He notes, "I encourage the members of the group, once we know a piece well, to disregard all directives in favor of spontaneity. That only works on those pieces that are less structured, that are designed for free-blowing as we call it." (Metro Santa Cruz, 4/25/07)

SCOTT: “Nels is a great bandleader, and he knows what he wants…but he always wants us to do our own thing.” (Jazz Times, 10/09)

NELS: “The arrangements are all primarily mine. Scott receives a fair amount of direction for the electronics, even if it's on ‘A Boy Needs A Door’ where I asked him to sonically stage a rebellion against the written material. But I try to always listen to suggestions, as on ‘He Still Carries A Torch For Her,’ where Devin suggested that the opening phrases might be hipper as arcs of three repeats instead of the square four...So I did it!” (Junkmedia, 1/26/05)

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SCOTT: “There are always new elements brought in when we record. The electronics thing…has evolved a lot since we first started. And Nels wrote things for The Giant Pin where it had a certain presence and certain focus on the electronics and really increased my role with that. He’s the one who really kicked my butt and got me to get that stuff out of my basement…I’d seen Nels and [koto player] Miya Masaoka play with samples and loops and I was in this rehearsal with her and I said, ‘Man I want to do that with drums.’ She said, ‘Be careful because you’re going to spend a lot of money and it’s going to be really frustrating.’ She was right about that! But I showed Nels my gear and he was like, ‘Dude you gotta bring that shit out. You gotta make this a part of what you do.” (Interview, 3/12/10)

NELS: “It wasn’t hard! He already had all the equipment, he just didn’t bring them to the gigs. I said, ‘Bring everything!’ I enabled him. He enabled me by playing his ass off.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

SCOTT: “On The Giant Pin, there’s the song ‘He Still Carries A Torch for Her” especially, because how that was done live; there’s a way that that worked on that one middle section that I’ve never done before. There’s was never any overdubbing on that track to my recollection. The Giant Pin was transitional in me feeling confident with using electronics. Every single pedal had a voice, and within that voice is a very large vocabulary that you had to get used to. In the beginning I had this huge board and a rack and now it’s down to a much smaller rig, but it feels like I can do a lot more with it. It’s more a extension of me now than something I can do little tricks with.” (Interview, 3/12/10)


The Singers perform "He Still Carries A Torch for Her" at the Orange Peel (Asheville, NC, 7/19/08)

As good as those tracks are, the Nels Cline Singers do their best work when they're freaking out. "Square King" has an incredible guitar-based hook, but Cline lets himself run free, only to return to this root to remind you that this jazzy, technically proficient group can just plain rock. The whole time, Amendola sounds as if he's playing in a different time signature, yet he never loses the groove. Hoff holds his bandmates together with steady playing (in fact, the only thing keeping this song from being a perfect recording might be that Hoff's a little buried in the mix). It's on tracks like this one that the band shows its fullest range of skill and energy, playing well enough to almost make you forget about that gig that Cline has on the side. (Justin Cober-Lake, Stylus, 11/04)

Anthemic, yes. Affected, no.
(Nils Jacobson, All About Jazz, 10/04)

“The Ballad of Devin Hoff” is a breathtaking and lovely feature for Devin's superb acoustic bass with Nels playing sublimely behind him, they rock out that delightful melody in the second half just right and had me humming along. (Downtown Music Gallery newsletter, 10/22/04)

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[Photo via Flickr]

NELS: “Ironically, there’s no bowing on ‘The Ballad of Devin Hoff.’ That was written to say, ‘Hey, everybody look at Devin!’ Of course it’s supposed to be a little bit wry of a title, a little bit funny. The song isn’t supposed to be funny.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

SCOTT: “There is a humorous side to the Singers. How can I describe it? There is humor in the music in sense, but it’s a small part of the music. We don’t take ourselves that seriously…We don’t finish a show and then go back to the hotel room with an armed guard in front of the door. Nels always wants to interact with the audience. He like, ‘Hey man, these people came to see us play, I want to talk to them.’ We want to know our fans. Usually after the set, well sell CDs and talk to people. That’s where the humor side is most effective, in grounding us.” (Interview, 3/12/10)

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Nels confers with a fan

The Singers muster themselves for another tour on rave reviews for The Giant Pin, where they look forward to conquering hither meadows and dales of the U.S. and Europe. Unfortunately, the tour almost destroys the band and the relationships that surround it.

NELS: “Yeah, that was a very troubled tour, which we won’t talk about. The one in Europe was a nightmare.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

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Los Hombres

DEVIN: “The worst thing that’s happened to us on gigs is not enough people showing up in out-of-the-way markets. In Italy, were we the warm-up band for a rave. [laughs] A bunch of white kids with dreadlocks standing with their arms folded, waiting for us to finish so they could party. We were miscast at that one!” (Interview, 3/11/10)

NELS:The Giant Pin tour was terrible because I didn’t have any flair for organization or business and I basically did the tour blind. I fucked it up. The fact is I had completely given up on the idea of touring much with the Singers anyway…because I was completely broke and I couldn’t lose any more money after The Giant Pin tour. I literally could not pay Devin and Scott anymore…and the way I decided to resolve it was simply not tour and fuck anybody over by having no business acumen.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

Early this year, Cline found himself driving down the I-5, that long stretch of Central Valley asphalt he has traveled so many times between gigs in the San Francisco Bay Area and his home in Los Angeles. He had just polished off a round of Northern California gigs with Amendola's band, saxophonist Jessica Lurie's ensemble, the avant-electronic group Crater and his own Nels Cline Singers. "It was about two in the morning, and I was marveling at how busy I'd been," he recounted. "I had actually made my rent and a few hundred dollars. But I was thinking, 'I don't know how much longer I can do this -- this is really going to wear me out.'” (Derk Richardson, San Francisco Bay Guardian, 11/04/04)

And then, during that same quintessentially melancholy California drive…

“…Nels Cline got a cell phone call from destiny.”
(Ryan McLendon, Cincinnati Citybeat, 6/10/09)

COMING UP IN PART III:

Uncle Tupelo/improvised music fans say, "WTF?!"

Loose Fur/Geraldine Fibbers fans shout, “Awesome!”

From now on, every review of the NCS will feature the word ‘Wilco’ in it.

Tag cloud

Adam Rudolph Alex Cline's Band of the Moment Alex Cline; Nels Cline: Alex & Nels Cline; Downbeat; Continuation; Coward Alma Lisa Fernandez Andrew Hill Angel City Jazz Festival 2009 Angel City Jazz Festival 2009 Live Review (Day 1) Angel City Jazz Festival 2009 Live Review (Day 2) Angel City Jazz Festival 2009 Photos Antonio Sanchez avant-garde Bard Hoff Ben Goldberg Bennie Maupin Bennie Maupin & Dolphyana Bill Stewart Billy Childs Jazz-Chamber Ensemble Billy Corgan Billy Hart Black Metal Bob Sheppard Brent Hoff California Jazz Foundation Cameron Graves Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band Carla Bozulich Carol Robbins Charles Mingus; Son of Watts Musical Caravan Project; Azar Lawrence; Nate Morgan; Henry Franklin; Alphonse Mouzon; Prayer for My Ancestors Charles Owens Charlie Hunter Chops: The Movie Chris Barton Cryptogramophone Cryptogramophone Records Cryptogramophonr Records Cryptonight Darek Oles Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy David Anderson Pianos David Breskin David Witham Denman Maroney Dennis Callaci Devin Hoff Dirty Baby Double M Jazz Salon Downbeat 57th Annual Critics Poll draw breath Dwight Trible Eagle Rock Center for the Arts Eclipse Quartet Ed Ruscha Edward Vesala Electric Lodge Eric Dolphy Eric Von Essen First Friday Series at the Museum of Neon Art G.E. Stinson Geraldine Fibbers Glenn Kotche Global Village Monday with Maggie LePique Go: Organic Orchestra Gravitas Quartet Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival; Peter Erskine Greg Kot Gregg Bendian Guy Klucevsek Hale Smith Hannah Rothschild Hans Fjellstad Harry Partch; L.A. Weekly; John Schneider; REDCAT Horace Tapscott Horace Tapscott; Horace Tapscott Tribute Concert; Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra; the Ark; Jazz Bakery; Ruth Price; Jesse Sharps; Austin Peralta; Isaac Smith Howard Roberts Huffington Post Hugh Hopper Ikeda Kings Orchestra improvisation Initiate Instrumentals Ivan Cotton James Newton Jason Robinson Jay Bennett Jay Hoggard jazz Jazz at the Plgrimage Jazz Bakery Jazz Explosion III Jazz Journey with Eddie B. Jeff Gauthier Jeff Tweedy Jesse Sharps Jim Black Joe Zawinul John "Drumbo" French John Fumo Kamasi Washington Ken Coomer Ken Kawamura KJAZZ 88.1-FM KPFK 90.7-FM KXLU 88.9-FM L. Stinkbug Larry Goldings Larry Karush Larry Koonse Learning How To Die Leimert Park: The Roots and Branches of L.A. Jazz Les Paul Lester Bowie Lily Burk Memorial Live at the Atelier Los Angeles New Music Ensemble Los Angeles Times Luis Bonilla Maggie Parkins Marcus Rojas Mark Dresser Mark Linkous Mark Zaleski Mel Morris Michael Davis Miguel Atwood-Ferguson Mimi Melnick Motoko Honda Museum of Neon Art Museum of Neon Art; MONA; Many Axes; Susan Rawcliffe; Scott Wilkinson; Brad Dutz music blog Myra Melford Nasheet Waits Natsuki Tamura Nels Cline Nels Cline Singers Nels Cline Singers with Jeff Parker Nestor Torres New Monastery Nick Rosen OC Creative Music Collective Oguri Open Gate Theatre Sunday Concert Series Pannonica Rothschild Peggy Lee Peter Bernstein Phil Ranelin Phillip Greenlief plays monk Rashied Ali ResBox at the Steve Allen Theater RIch Breen Rich Breen RISE with Mark Maxwell Roberto Miranda Rod Poole Ron MIles Ron Saint Germain Royal/T Cafe Ruth Price Sara Parkins Sara Schoenbeck Sarah Thornblade SASSAS Satoko Fujii Scott Amendola Scott Colley Shrimper Records Sky Saxon Tribute Sonship Theus Soul Jazz Records Sparklehorse Spirit Moves Spirits in the Sky Steuart Liebig Terry Riley The Gathering The Giant Pin The Jazz Bakery The Jazz Baroness The JazzCat with Leroy Downs The Nels Cline Singers The Nels Cline Trio Thelonious Monk Thomas Stones Tom McNalley Tony Allen Tribe Records Trilogy Van Morrison; Astral Weeks; Scott Foundas; Jan Steward; Music Cirle; SASSAS Vincent Chancey Wayne Horvitz Wayne Peet Wilco Wilco; Nels Cline Wilco; Wilco (The Album); Nels Cline Will Salmon Yankee Hotel Foxtrot