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


February 2007: Nels Cline is voted the #4 “New Guitar God” by Jann Wenner’s struggling indie ‘zine Rolling Stone:


For many rock-guitar fiends, the oldest guitarist on this list is actually the newest. Before joining Wilco in 2004, in time to tour behind A Ghost is Born, Cline -- born in Los Angeles in 1956 -- was a highly regarded figure in jazz and avant-rock circles, a sonically aggressive guitarist who played with Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, the art-country band the Geraldine Fibbers and his own searing instrumental groups. Now Cline agitates the bent-pop designs in Wilco's recent music with strafing feedback, zigzagging distortion and, when you least expect it, a striking, scarred romanticism. (David Fricke, Rolling Stone, 2/22/07)

Nels immediately begins concocting self-effacing and embarrassed responses.

“The guitar (god) thing…whatever.”
(Nels, Cincinatti Citybeat, 6/10/09)

[Photo by Beth Herzhaft]

…A guitar “demon” is more like it.
(Blogcritics.com, 7/16/07)

Q: "Was it a surprise when Rolling Stone named you one of 20 'New Guitar Gods'?"
NELS: "It was definitely surprising. I don’t think I can take things like that seriously, but it was a fun thing to tell my mom when she was alive then. I don’t think she could really wrap her mind around the whole idea of it, but she knew it was good." (Anne Erickson, Premier Guitar, 5/10)

Nels, Scott, Devin and the New Monastery crew assemble for a weeklong stand at The Jazz Standard in New York. By a stroke of fate one can only attribute to the cosmos or something, their Andrew Hill tribute concert is the same day as a free afternoon performance by the real – and ailing – Mr. Hill at Trinity Church, just 3 miles away in Lower Manhattan.

Mr. Cline happened to be booked at the Jazz Standard on Thursday night, and his six-piece group sounded fierce…Temperamentally, it was a far cry from what unfolded at Trinity Church. But it was intelligently organized and audaciously played, a testament to Mr. Cline’s sincere feeling for the music. Ending his set, he put it more directly. “The music of Andrew Hill,” he said over the applause. “I hope you heard him this afternoon.” (Nate Chinen, New York Times, 3/31/07)

Andrew Hill Trio: Live at Trinity Pt. I

JEFF GAUTHIER (producer): “Everybody kind of knew that it was Andrew’s last performance…It’s a trio with bass and drums. He just sounds so strong and amazing, and plays some hymns. And I think within a week or two of that, he was dead.” (MetalJazz, 6/20/08)

NELS CLINE: I am sitting here in Sydney, Australia. April 20th would have been my father's 92nd birthday, were he still alive. And Andrew Hill has died…This sextet of mine also played last month in New York, the same week that Mr. Hill played what was probably his last concert…I was way uptown at Columbia University shilling for my band's gigs on the radio, and had no idea until it was too late that he was going to play this concert of what he was calling "ecclesiastical music" with his trio. I learned that Andrew's health had become even worse, that he could barely speak. I missed the concert, but…I suggest you seek it out. I suggest that you seek out all of Andrew Hill's music. It is visionary, unpredictable, wide-ranging in approach, loose-limbed yet articulate, and as I have said before, much like the man: beautiful and free. Love to you, Andrew Hill. Love to your family. The music you made lives on. In loving memory. (nelscline.com, 4/24/07)

While on an Australian tour with Wilco and preparing for the release of Sky Blue Sky, his first full-length album of new material with the band, Nels receive more bad news—this time much closer to home.

Improvising guitarist Rod Poole, a fixture of Los Angeles’ small but vital free-music scene, was murdered in an altercation in Hollywood, California on May 13, 2007. He was 45 years old. (Jazzhouse.org)

NELS: What with my constant road work and divergent personal realm, Rod and I had been in touch less and less frequently, which really felt bad. Rod was a true artist, probably a genius. He had an amazing capacity as both music fan and autodidact musician visionary. He was stubborn, thorny at times, but always because of his intense feelings and ideas concerning creative expression, especially that of the sound world. His death was pointless, and from reports, horribly violent. I feel sick. We are a disaster as a society. I can't stop thinking about him and his wife Lisa. What a nightmare...And it hasn't even really fully sunk in that I will never again see this man, never play music with him again, never hear him play, sit in his Hollywood apartment listening to music, drinking fine beers, thumbing through his recent eBay acquisitions of Sun Ra, Hendrix bootlegs...never again play music with him. (nelscline.com, 5/15/07)

Rod Poole & Friends: Live at the Schindler House (June 2000)

Rod Poole was killed....I am dedicating part of my life to making sure the pieces of shit who killed him are in jail rotting or are in hell once out of jail. God told me to. (user comment posted on YouTube)

DEVIN HOFF: “You can’t be a sensitive musician if you’re not a sensitive human being. We listen to each other and we hang out together and all three of us have been through a lot as human beings since we’ve gotten together as a band. It hasn’t been a stable ten years for any of us: Scott became a father, there’s been divorces, deaths…we’ve all grown through those things and we’ve been there as friends for each other when that stuff happened, irrespective of the music.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

Nels Cline & Friends: Rod Poole Tribute at the Schindler House (Sept. 2009)

A little more than a month later, the new Nels Cline Singers album is released on June 26, 2007. Title: draw breath. First song: “Caved-in Heart Blues.”

From despair to optimism, guitarist Nels Cline, bassist Devin Hoff and drummer-electronicist Scott Amendola tell an emotional story, their immediacy obliterating preconceptions of instruments. Sounds that recall water and animals…remind us we're part of nature; change is constant. It's not comfortable, but art's that way. (Greg Burk, Los Angeles Times, 5/07)

On draw breath, they charge through a program of progressive jazz, soulful blues, hard rock passion and soothing soliloquies that characterize the sum of our everyday experience. After all, no one can say his or her day has been completely one-sided from sunup to sundown. (Jim Santella, All About Jazz, 8/06/07)

So, really, this album has something for everyone. Except folks who insist on vocals, and there's nothing you can do for or about people like that. (Philip Freeman, Paper Thin Walls, 7/12/07)

DEVIN: “I hear Nels’ influence all over my playing, like the physical liberation of feeling like I could use my bow: Nels writing a punk song and saying, ‘OK, play the eighth notes; instead of with a pick, play it with a bow.’ And phrasing too, and thinking of sonic texture as integral to everything. In the punk and jazz worlds, often ‘the note’ matters more, not what you do with that note. But with the Singers, I think about the total experience of the music at all times. I’ve played with Nels so much, I can’t help but emulate some of his harmonic conceptions, too.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

As dexterous and admirable as all of this genre hopscotch is, it makes draw breath hard to differentiate from the other Nels Cline Singers records -- mainly because they're all equally schizophrenic. (Aaron Leitko, Pitchfork Media, 10/19/07)

There is quite a bit to digest here, maybe even scare the snot out of a few Wilco fans. (Mark Corroto, All About Jazz, 6/29/07)

DEVIN: “For my own part, in the last few years I feel like I really hit my stride in my interaction with the band. I was stepping up to the plate with more confidence than I’ve had before. If you’re timid when you’re improvising, that’s the worst. Nothing good will come out of that. I used to have some timidity when I improvised…but with draw breath, I still feel pretty good about it and stand behind the bass playing on that record. That was the first time I think we documented our playing at a really high level in the studio together.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

NELS: “Our rapport as a band just keeps getting better and better. That’s sounds completely like a PR statement but it’s true. It’s interesting to me that Scott and Devin – without any influence on my part – are drifting into this kind of thrash-metal area. Devin in particular is in a phase in his life where dark metal is a huge facet of his playing and his fascinations” (Interview, 3/05/10)


DEVIN: “I’m obsessed now with black metal, primarily the second wave Swedish and Norwegian bands like Mayhem and Darkthrone and Burzum. I know it’s problematic…but a lot of that music marries the D.I.Y. ethos of punk with that scary, oppressive vibe of metal. There’s an avant-garde aspect to it, like a love of ambience that reminds me of John Cage, the environment-as-music type of thing. The early stuff has so much white noise its almost unlistenable, but then you realize that they’re doing drone tones. It suits me, I think. A lot of what I love about Sabbath or Iron Maiden was the spookiness, the creepy quasi-satanic imagery of the lyrics. One of the things about black metal that is not written about much that some of these musicians are amazing. Gylve Nagell, the drummer in Darkthrone, he’s an incredible musician with a real deep level of understanding about time and feel.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

NELS: “We kind of introduced [metal] into the mix on ‘An Evening at Pops’ on draw breath, which is a reference to Scott because I’ve called him ‘Pops’ ever since he became a dad…I bought Devin a couple of fuzzboxes for his bass…Devin and I play these sort of plodding low toned fuzz-riffs and Scott just goes off like Tony Williams. Scott really gets engaged at that point and brings so much blood, sweat and tears to it that it doesn’t just sound like ‘us.’ We’re not trying to be funny at all about it. These a little bit of archness to it because that’s an essential component of our aesthetic collectively.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

"Pops" Amendola with wife Ari [Photo by Peak]


The 2nd wave Norwegian black metal scene was actually a reaction against the slickness and commercialism of the death metal scene at the time. it was also a reaction against Christianity, which the musicians saw as a colonizing force which had forcibly eradicated much of the indigenous pagan traditions of Norway. so hence Black Metal, as in satanic, though not all of the musicians were satanic...also, whereas musically death metal focuses on being "heavy" and technical, black metal focuses on ambience and darkness (like the night in a forest), with often a kind of punk minimalism (and less traditional song structures)
I would recommend these records:
-Mayhem: Deathcrush ep; De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
-Darkthrone: Transylvanian Hunger; Panzerfaust
-Burzum: Filosofem (my vote for best record of the last 20 years)
all these records were made in the late 80's and early 90's by a group of people who knew each other. there is a lot of controversy surrounding them (church burnings, murder, etc)…some of the reporting about stuff is very tabloid-ish and more confusing than illuminating.
take care and enjoy!
(email, 3/12/10 11:41am)

August 2007: After drawing on the dark power of the Norse Gods (and perhaps pissing them off)…

We're sorry to report that our good friend and Wilco guitarist extraordinaire Nels Cline has recently contracted a rather nasty case of the CHICKEN POX (not sure that should be in all caps... but judging from the gruesome details in email correspondence we've had with NC, we'll leave it so). He is slowly on the mend but is not quite there yet, necessitating postponment of the Duluth, Minnesota [Wilco] show scheduled for this Tuesday night…Refunds will be available at point of purchase. We will post more details as they become avaialble.
We apologize for the inconvenience... but we're really glad Nels seems to be over the hump and hope to see you out there soon.
the Wilco HQ staff


DEVIN: “The biggest influence [Nels] has had on my life: No matter what’s going on in the world or in his life, on stage, on the road, close friend passed away, rude sound guy, hangnail, chicken pox, whatever – I’ve never seen him not throw down with 100% of his entire person, musical and otherwise. It’s all focused on that moment. Every gig it’s the same. He’s never not all the way there. He doesn’t play any harder in front of 5000 people with Wilco than playing in front of 30 people at Mr. T’s Bowl [in L.A.] when we were first starting out as a band. That’s really admirable to me. I’ve tried to emulate that. I don’t succeed, but I try.” (Interview, 3/11/10)


Nels smears himself in pinkish calamine lotion and recovers in time to be commissioned by producer/poet David Breskin to write 39 pieces of music to accompany Dirty Baby, a book of paintings by L.A. artist Ed Ruscha. For the eight-day recording sessions in January 2008, Nels augments the Singers with an armada of his old friends: Bill Barrett, Jon Brion, Jessica Catron, Alex Cline, Dan Clucas, Jeremy Drake, Brad Dutz, Danny Frankel, Jeff Gauthier, Vinny Golia, Wayne Peet and Glenn Taylor.


NELS (lying flat on his back with an ice pack under his neck): “For years I’ve given myself whiplash. I’ll wake up the morning after a gig and will have lost mobility in my head – like, my head won’t turn – and I thought, ‘Oh, it’ll go away!’—and it usually has. Little did I know I was actually damaging myself…I did two recordings in Los Angeles in January where I could barely hold a chord. I could play, but I couldn’t play what I was hearing…It’s actually really a bummer. I never want to think about my body when I’m playing – I never did before. I just want to levitate.” (from Wilco: Ashes of American Flags DVD)

Even listening to the playbacks, Nels paced the booth like a restless skinny tiger.
(account of recording sessions for the Jeff Gauthier Goatette’s House of Return, Downbeast, 1/18/08)

NELS: “There’s a solo I did on House of Return – one of Jeff’s tunes, I don’t recall the title – where I ended up doing what I call my ‘tribute to G.E. Stinson’ solo. Normally I would play a thousand notes but I couldn’t do it, my hand wouldn’t move that way, I played with the déjà vibe on and played slower vibrato with distortion, just like G.E.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

G.E. Stinson & Nels Cline, March 2009 [Photo by Peak]

NELS:Dirty Baby was a pressure cooker because I had lost strength and mobility in my left hand and could barely play the guitar. I was scared. I could barely hold my keys to unlock my front door. I’d have to do everything with my right hand. My doctor said I had degenerating vertebrae in my neck which was causing a nerve problem that created this massive blockage in my left shoulder. I was under a lot of stress: My mom was dying, my friend Dan Morris just had died…I had procrastinated mercilessly on writing the music, so I was out of my head.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

Going into this recording session, I knew immediately I was in on a very significant project…It has to be one of my favorite moments of the year. (photographer Peak Ness, Exposed blog, 2/01/08)

Nels at the Dirty Baby Sessions, January 2008 [Photo by Peak]

NELS: “The music had to be recorded, mixed and mastered in nine days. We totally did it, Saint [engineer Ron Saint Germain] was tireless, and no tempers flared, we were all completely engaged and still having a good time…Carla [Bozulich] came down to hang out in the studio and she told me, ‘This is the dream team for you!’” (Interview, 3/05/10)

Ron Saint Germain at the switch (R); behind him, Vinny Golia looks on [Photo by Peak]

Devin Hoff at the Dirty Baby Sessions [Photo by Peak]

Scott Amendola [Photo by Peak]

Jeff Gauthier [Photo by Peak]

The Singers (Nels with newly purchased therapeutic Swiss balls, pamphlets of stretch exercises and plenty of magnesium in tow) play a bunch of dates in celebration of Cryptogramophone’s 10th Anniversary in New York and L.A.


JEFF GAUTHIER: Thursday night was the Nels Cline Singers and they just totally rocked the place. They played some new tunes, some older tunes from the old Nels Cline Trio: “The Divine Homegirl” from Ground; “Exiled” from Silencer. This was the first time the Nels Cline Singers played some of the tunes from the old trio. (account of the Singers at the Jazz Standard in NYC, Downbeast, 4/25/08)

NELS: “There’s this tendency for me to have wistful nostalgia mixed with the desire to refer to something important in my life that creates the looking-back-over-one’s-shoulder-yet-trying-to-look-ahead-at-the- same-time. It’s kind of a balancing act. I’m not really sure it’s all that smart, but I do it anyway.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

Nels Cline Singers were celebrating eight years (to the night) of existence and their infamy for never singing in their sets was broken by a new untitled original, where Nels sang a nonsensical "ba-baaaaa-ba-baaa!" over and over again while covering said vocals in pitched guitar groans. This came after a mammoth opening version of "Caved-in Heart Blues," a foreboding funeral march anchored by Cline's Spaghetti-western lead melody. After a squall of white noize came the quiet, loungey environs of "Blues, Too" from 2004's The Giant Pin, where Nels switched to a delicate Joe Pass/Jim Hall vibe that was such a total 180 from the previous song that it nearly made us car sick. This was followed by "Attempted" from 2008's draw breath (where Devin Hoff really shined) and yet-another untitled new song where Cline and Amendola battered each other with their effects boxes and Nels hit his strings while changing the chord each time, creating a dizzying channel-surfing effect. Easily the highlight (for us, at least) was the new song that actually had a title, "King Queen," where [keyboardist] David Witham and [drummer] Alex Cline returned to join for what Nels referred to as a "dance party," a funkified maggot-brainy workout that was so much fun it begged the question: "Where are the Solid Gold dancers when you need them?" (Downbeast review of the Singers at REDCAT in LA, 3/20/09)

SCOTT AMENDOLA: “Starting that set with ‘Caved-in Heart Blues,’ that reminds me of something Nels said before we went on, ‘It’s gonna be controversial!’” (Interview, 3/12/10)

The set demanded that the audience demand an encore, which they got, Nels-style: another new song with at least three tentative titles ("0 Miles / Vamp / Yer Fuse"), a serrated-edged semi-punk rocker that saw Nels spazzing out like an electrocuted marionette. The man was obviously having the time of his life, and his offhand remark that his late father was "born and raised in tenement housing right here on Bunker Hill" conjured up the image of the old man smiling down at the spectacle of his sons returning to the old 'hood to make such a holy racket. (Downbeast review of the Singers at REDCAT in LA, 3/20/09)

Pivotal question for today's multistylistic musician: How do you keep versatility from turning into superficial eclecticism? (John Corbett, Downbeat, 2/1/09)

NELS: “I think that one can inherently have a sense of mistrust towards a chameleon.” (Brooklyn Rail, August/September 2003)

DEVIN: “Nels is an amazingly prolific composer. People keep thinking of him as the ‘greatest guitar player,’ and he is, but his composing is of equal strength with his guitar playing. When it’s time to write a record, he’ll sit down and in a month write 20 great pieces of music.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

Devin & Nels confer at Cafe du Nord, November 2008 [Photo by Peak]

NELS: “Conceptually, the new record was like pulling teeth. I was kind of overextended and sick of a lot of aspects of my own records. It seems like in a way I kind of make the same records over and over again, even back to the old trio records. The aesthetic palate is kind of repetitive: the slow ballad, the free ballad, the ‘loud’ song, the post-Ornette freakout – it’s kind of the same, and I got sick of listening to myself solo. I mean, there’s a couple here and there that I enjoyed, and in a way the easiest thing to do would have been to just go in and straight improvise, which we might actually do on the next record although there’s a bit of it on the live disc, because we’re good at that, but I was wrestling with an aesthetic and personal guitar dilemma, so I went to rehearse with the boys up at Scott’s music room.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

SCOTT: “When he writes music, I get the impression he hears the entire orchestra in his head when he’s composing. And he’s patient with finding things. The amount of energy he has when he’s playing, of course, is very intense. There’s this deep passion inside there to shape and create music and if you’re paying attention, you can suck it in and it’s really powerful. When you’re working with someone like that, you realize that your voice is going to be used in their concept. Nels and John [Zorn] have taken my voice and shaped my voice and they know how to use it. They really want your instincts to work.” (Interview, 3/12/10)

Scott slams it home [Photo via Flickr]

DEVIN: “I think the studio album is almost consciously a ‘Scott record.’ This is the first Singers record where we’re really exploring the groove aspect of Scott’s playing for more than a section of a tune. The Singers did a couple of gigs with Charlie Hunter a couple of years ago, and Scott did double duty with Charlie and the Singers—this is soon after draw breath came out. Nels and I were hanging out listening to Scott playing together with Charlie and Nels turned to me and said, ‘Holy shit, we’ve been totally undervaluing this aspect of Scott’s playing.’ Just because we were thinking about punk rock and free jazz and soundscapes and Carla Bley—these things we all love, but Nels was just, ‘Scott’s an amazing groove drummer and we’re cutting off one of his arms by not letting him do that in the band.’ There’s some elements of that on the old records—“Ghost of the Piñata” from Instrumentals comes to mind—but on this record its very explicit. One of Scott’s biggest influences is Tony Allen, Fela’s drummer, and that obviously comes out very quickly. I’m glad we got to explore that on this record. For me, it’s not really my strong suit to do that type of stuff. When I listened to the record but I felt like I sounded like a fish out of water. When I listen to the live CD, I can go, oh that’s me, but when I hear the studio CD, I think, Is that me?” (Interview, 3/11/10)

The band’s forthcoming album…will be more of a sustained exploration of groove, with Brazilian and African accents. Cline, who wryly calls it “our worldbeat jam band record” had begun to feel wary of a familiar pattern of eclecticism. The Singers rehearsed the music extensively, fleshing it out altogether before entering the studio. (Nate Chinen, Jazz Times, 10/09)

SCOTT: “That’s totally the direction Nels wanted to go in—more of a groove album. I’m known for that, and the thing that record is so much about Devin and the foundations he’s laid in the band. Then again, if the three of us were sitting around a table we’d be, ‘No, it’s about you! No, it’s about you!'" (Interview, 3/12/10)

NELS: “Dave Breskin came down to L.A. and I basically had all very few finished pieces, all these scraps and general ideas, except for ‘Mercy’, which is an old piece from the Nels Cline Trio days that I never recorded that I found in a pile in the filing cabinet. I unearthed it out of desperation. I have a lot of music lying around that hasn’t been recorded, sort of charts and squibs written down in this big cabinet, so I started pouring through them to see if there was something I overlooked. My friend Carol Kim had a lump in her breast, and they didn’t know if it was malignant so I wrote this piece just to play once for her at the Alligator Lounge. It was David Breskin’s idea to do two versions of it for the record. So we started grappling with all this very raw material and I was asking Devin and Scott, ‘What if this? What if that?’ and we began collectively writing the piece ‘Red Line to Greenland’ just by jamming around with me playing this open tuning and essentially only about 3-4 of the songs are actually written before we started rehearsing, they were just little things that I had jotted down and kind of nailed together into something that started to take shape. I’ve never done anything that way before.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

David Breskin [Photo by Peak]

NELS: “The only idea I had specifically in mind for Initiate was that it was going to be more of a droning, groove-oriented record then in the past. I was going to use my voice on the record, because I wanted the record to feel overall warmer and have a real ‘in the body’ kind of feel and I wanted it to reflect what was at that time a somewhat creased fascination with West African and sub-Saharan popular music and an ongoing love of pre-70s fusion like Weather Report and Herbie Hancock and Miles of course and Brazilian music…I just more recently got into Tom Zé, but that influence may come out in another group, because it was Yuka Honda that actually introduced me to his stuff. Now when I’m back home in L.A., I spend my time driving around in my car listening to Tom Zé. Yuka and I have this new band called Fig, which takes a lot of influence from him.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

SCOTT: “’King Queen’ is definitely different for us in the sense that it’s our version of an Afrobeat groove. There was a point where Nels wasn’t sure about it, and I was like, ‘Dude, shut up’…It’s always good to be a little nervous about what you’re doing, because it shows you are initiating something different.” (Interview, 3/12/10)

NELS: “The first attempt at that was I think ‘Ghost of the Piñata,’ another one in 6/4 on Instrumentals that was kind of this lite version of imitating electronic beats…I knew Scott could do it, from playing in the Scott Amendola Band and witnessing him pulling it off night after night. I wanted to do specifically an Afrobeat song, but I ended up doing an Afrobeat song called ‘King Queen.’ I came up with that beat, it’s a very turned-around beat, not a normal Tony Allen Afrobeat. It's in 6/4 not in 4/4. I wanted David Witham on the record for that. I flew him up to Yoshi’s to do a show; there was a beautiful Fender Rhodes at Fantasy [Studios]. I brought my box Jaguar to play on ‘King Queen.’ And David was down with it, because he loves that Afrobeat stuff. And Scott and Devin and I have spent untold hours driving around in van with 1970s fuzz-funk blaring, talking about how we loved all the tones. I didn’t end up doing it quite as slavishly as I liked to. During the mixing stage, I borrowed a guitar and replayed the solo from ‘King Queen’ because the original one was really bumming me out.” (Interview, 3/05/09)

DEVIN: “The music is split between anarchism and fascism. When its anarchy, it’s ‘Whatever you guys want to do at any moment, it’s cool and I’ll tell you when those moments are.’ Then the other time, like 1/3 of the time I the studio, 10% of the time live, its ‘I write the notes and I tell what to play and you play that.’ We trust Nels, so Scott and I up pretty much up for anything. But this new record balances each other out, because the studio is almost entirely composed, even what improvising there is in reaction to something every specific that was write. The other disc is a good document of the band live. Live, unless Nels goes in some specific emotional direction, there’s not a point at that gig or any other when I couldn’t do just anything I wanted. I can play the bass part in the song or I can jettison it and Nels wouldn’t get mad at me. [laughs] And, occasionally, we fall on our faces…” (Interview, 3/11/10)

NELS: “We wanted to record the live disc at Café du Nord because we’ve had some great gigs there. The audience is really close up. It catches that ferocity thing that sometimes gets kinda out of control.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

Q: "What was the appeal of the cover songs you picked for the live CD?"
NELS: "I've been playing pieces by Carla Bley for years because I'm obsessed with Paul Bley and compositions of hers performed by Paul Bley or anybody, for that matter. We just threw in 'And Now the Queen' at the last minute because we wanted something that was free but quiet. 'Boogie Woogie Waltz' kind of started something. When [song composer] Joseph Zawinul died. it sort of threw me in a way that I didn't expect. I wasn't the hugest Weather Report fan, but I love that early stuff. It just represents a certain joy to me that very little other music does. Pieces like 'Jungle Book' are infused with a non-saccharine feeling of joy, and that sort of carried over to the studio CD with that sunny feeling where I didn't have to be angst-ridden all the time." (Tad Hendrickson, Spinner.com, 4/15/10)

In what Nels terms a “semi-controversial” decision, the Singers enlist the mad-scientist personalities of David Breskin and Ron Saint Germain to man the board for the Initiate sessions on March 23-25, 2009. It is the first time the Singers: (a) don't make a record with Jeff Gauthier producing and Rich Breen engineering; (b) do not record in L.A., instead heading up to Fantasy Studios in the Bay Area.

NELS: “After we worked on Dirty Baby, which David commissioned when we did not know each other, I realized that we were working well together. David basically told me that he’d like to record anything and everything that I’d want to do, period, and he hasn’t said that to anybody since the 80s, when he was working with Ronald Shannon Jackson and Bill Frisell...I think for Jeff it was a little bit of a difficult adjustment to make because I think he was really happy doing those records. It’s different for me because David is more engaged in the producer role, whereas with Jeff and I, we've played together for 30-plus years. If I was producing his record I’d do the same thing: He gets insecure and I say, ‘No, don’t worry about it, that solo is great, whaadday want for lunch?' and when I’m recording a record and having a crisis of confidence or something, he’ll say, ‘That tune was awesome, don’t worry about it, whaddaya want for lunch?’ David is little more involved and in this record is certainly helped because I was really flailing at certain points and Saint is such a huge amazing outsize personality, but one with whom I get along swimmingly.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

DEVIN: “Jeff is much more laid back and hands off, more typical of a jazz producer. David feels like he’s making the record along with you, whereas sort of Jeff enables us to make a record. [laughs] In the end, Nels still calls all the producing shots. I definitely never felt like I was having to compromise in a way that musically seemed like a bad idea.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

JEFF GAUTHIER: "If you start it well and end it well, it doesn't matter what you do in the middle." (Downbeast, 4/16/08)

NELS: “If I were to make up a motto for the Singers right now? It would be: ‘We will endeavor to swing.’ I don’t mean swing literally, but to play with a more buoyant, rhythmic, infectious feel, because with Scott on drums that became much more of a possibility. I feel the freedom now to write things a little ‘groovier.’” (Interview, 3/05/10)

DEVIN: “I don’t know what our motto is. Maybe: 'Hot For Teacher.' That’s the official song of the Nels Cline Singers. We’ve played that at almost every single sound check. We’ve done jazz gigs where we played that song, that and 'I Wanna Be Your Dog.' The jazz crowd didn’t really notice, as Nels was playing very quietly sitting down. It was pretty funny. That was at a restaurant in San Francisco that Scott booked for awhile called Bacar that had a jazz space downstairs. There would be at least one person who would come in and realize,
‘Holy shit, is that Nels Cline?’ They’d have their mind blown because he was just sitting there playing ‘Autumn Leaves’ in the background.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

SCOTT: “My NCS motto: ‘LOVE, baby!’” (Interview, 3/05/10)


SCOTT: “The thing I feel about bands is like nothing really ever dies. It’s always going to be there, if it’s something that needs to happen. I said this to Nels a couple of year ago: ‘Dude, the Nels Cline Singers is a band for life.’ He kind of laughed and said, ‘Yeahhh!’” (Interview, 3/12/10)

As for Cline himself -- no other guitarist welds this kind of immediate connection between instrument and emotion. His enormous range, technical facility and mastery of effects stand ready to express every passion, and it's plain he's got many. To meet this easygoing, humorous dude, you'd never think he would be found threshing such extremes of intensity, sensitivity and darkness. We all know those extremes; we just don't show the world. I've said before that Cline's music scares me, and now I know why: It's the same fear I get from looking in the mirror. (Greg Burk, MetalJazz, 4/16/10)

NELS: And remember: It's about you, your hands, your imagination, your feelings. What I do doesn't amount to a hill of beans! (session notes for Instrumentals)

i had the great pleasure of meeting nels after an all ages show in madison last year, and while discussing my amazement with the band (scott literally drummed the glasses right off his face), and nels asked where i was from – chicago, where they were playing the following night at a 21+ show, i explained how i traveled to madison to see them as i was only 20 at the time. nels said “come on by around 3, we’ll at least get you in for the soundcheck and i’ll see if i can’t get you in for the show”
just as i walk up to the bar, nels & crew arrive. help unload their gear (actually holding nels jazzmaster in my hands, even if it was in a case, is a moment i will never forget!), sat and watched soundcheck, and even got to sit ‘backstage’ during an interview nels was giving to a local college radio host. come showtime, i was on the guestlist and made it in.
those 2 nights were easily one of the greatest experiences in my life.
(“peter,” glidemagazine.com, 7/21/09)


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