Mar 2, 2013
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WA on WA: An Interview with Simon Henneman and Gregg Kepplinger

Each month Table & Chairs sits down with our featured artists to talk about  their process, their histories and most importantly, their music. T&C’s Christian Pincock spent a grey afternoon with Simon Henneman and Gregg Kepplinger getting the lowdown on the music of WA:

Christian Pincock: How did WA come about?

Gregg Keplinger: ON the record, it’s four of us: percussion, another guitar and Simon and I. We’d just throw different things together and try to see where it takes us. The name was…I suppose I misspelled it… if you see something and you go like “Wahhh!” or you’re “In the wah” you know, you’re “in it” like you could explain being in the zone by the wah, that’s the wah. At least that was the idea.

Simon Henneman: Well, you came up with the name.

GK: So it’s a combination of Simon and I with these two other guys. [to Simon] That was the first record we did, right, under that name?

SH: Yeah.

GK: So, on that record is a friend of mine, Sean Lane. He plays a bike: this electronic thing that he made; it’s on a bike frame and he’s got strings and he bows and he’s got bells and all this crazy, crazy stuff. And then C.J. Stout is the other guitar player and he’s an improv guy…I mean we aren’t playing any specific style, you know, other than crushing it. We’re not playing straight ahead feels or schmingy stuff; it’s not backbeat all the way and it’s not swinging all the way. I mean I think it all swings in a way; I always tell myself that. But he just came in because he’s kind of a colorist: C.J.

CP: What did you guys start with? Was it tunes or ideas or was it a big jam session?

SH: No, it’s all tunes that we were working with like thematic things which repeat and then there’s this section for however long. It’s pretty much open ended as far as that goes but definitely with some planned-ahead stuff; what I would call maybe tunes but not really tunes.

GK: …a head…

Simon: There’s plenty of heads or whatever. The time is quite elastic; we often play out of time.

GK: We call it “time, no time”.

SH: Yeah, “time, no time”. So we might both be playing a different tempo. Often times we’re both playing a different tempo or I’ll be playing rubato or something and Gregg is playing time or Gregg is playing free and I’m playing time.

CP: This is something that I’ve noticed a lot of west coast artists doing — is having rubato time and in-time or various combinations where time feels are changing within…

GK: Really? I thought we invented it!

SH: [laughs]

GK: No, it’s uh…

CP: Is there any…

GK: Yeah! That’s a real influ…I mean I listen to — I mean we got into the Scorch Trio. You know them?

CP: No, I don’t know them.

GK: Guitar, bass and drums. Paal…

SH: Nilssen-Love

GK: Nilssen-Love, and the other two guys are Scandinavian and I couldn’t pronounce their names if I had to. But it’s just a real, real — with this drummer, he’s just — he’s a colorist. But man! And it has a real — I mean it really goes!  And the guitar player also is a — he’s a very extended cat and the bass player — I mean it’s just a really a cool band. We were influenced by that. And I listened to a lot of Magma. The band Magma. And I always tell people — well what happened to me was I saw [John] Coltrane when I was 17 and I’ve been this way since. You know, just that kind of music where it takes you there and gives you an experience. That’s kinda we discovered we were both in that same kind of niche.

CP: How long have you guys known each other and have been playing together?

SH: Uh…

GK: Three years? Two years? Huh?

SH: Longer: 2007, 20??. I have recordings from 2008…

GK: Oh really! Wow. Was I there?

SH: It’s at your house.

GK: Really? That long.

SH: Now it seems like it’s shorter but yeah. I think the big thing was that we had a gig in 4 months — what was that even for? I can’t remember what it was for.

GK: Sunset? That was the first time we played, wasn’t it?

SH: Uh, no. Sunset was the first time we played but we just improvised. So we had a couple other gigs where we just improvised. I think it was for The Brotherhood of the Drum wasn’t it?

GK: Yeah. Origin Records has a they created this Ballard Jazz Festival which is coming up in April and they let all kinds of people — you don’t have to be on the label to play — very cool guys. They have a thing at the beginning of it — the day before it starts called The Brotherhood of the Drum because the two guys that run the label are drummers. They always get the drummers who are coming in from out of town… so they get those guys and — you know, other people who should be recognized — I’m leaving myself out of that! But, we got to play a couple times. Didn’t we twice?

SH: We did once. We played there again for something else; I think it was through Table & Chairs at The Eagles Club

GK: Where?

SH: The Eagles Team Club

GK: Right, that was the Ballard Jazz Festival but it was Table & Chairs’ feature. How cool is that! Another label helping out those kids. I love that!

SH: So we had that thing coming up, and it was like they had — Matt [Jorgenson] had asked you to do it or something, and you had said, “Oh, yeah. I have this thing coming up and it was like… …6 months away and we started playing almost every day. Remember that? …for about 4 months? It was like — Monday through Friday it was just like — Ok! Good days and bad days and all that stuff — but it was like definitely like — I mean it’s like that’s kind of where — I — at least I felt like things gelled — the material came together.

GK: It’s — you know, you learn a vocabulary with each other like that.

SH: Yeah.

GK: We still need — you know — we still got a ways to go.

CP: What year was that? Was that when you first played together? Is that what you mean?

SH: We probably first played together in 2007, 2008.

CP: I noticed, as far as I can tell, there’s one cover on the CD: Nature Boy.

SH: Yeah.

CP: The others are all originals. Why did you choose Nature Boy?

SH: Because Gregg loved that tune.

GK: Yeah!

SH: [laughs] No! It was because of the Chemical Brothers or Dust Brothers or something like that. There was a thing in Moulin Rouge…

GK: Oh, right, right!

SH: That’s why.

GK: The movie Moulin Rouge — Baz Luhrmann — you know, with Nicole Kidman in it? The music in that is like…

CP: …Fantastic.

GK: …nuts! I love that guy! And he’s got a new Gatsby movie and— just the sets— and the way this guy just like — I mean like really talked to me — it spoke to me. So you know how he just layers all this stuff — If you’re familiar with the soundtrack — and I played it for him — you know it’s a beautiful soundtrack— you know it’s a beautiful song by anybody — I just said, “Hey learn this head” and we kind of just messed with it. It’s easy to play over and kind of stretch beyond the frame of it; you can kind of land on your feet no matter what—not that we always do but… So that’s how we got that one. And we also go the movie — we listened to the soundtrack of Babel. Do you know that movie?

CP: I don’t know that.

GK: It’s a cool movie. It’s very cool. And we’d kind of — just some sounds off — he would loop some stuff and we’d just get some sounds — not so much their lines or anything — we just wanted to get sounds and then take their lines.

SH: I couldn’t really tell this from listening online but is the album meant to be listened to all the way through in continuous tracks.

SH: Uh, we kinda just threw some stuff together as well — there’s some just improvised things that kind of pop up through there, so…

GK: The way I — the way we edited it— er, mixed — you know — Easton’s the guy — We have that thing that fades in and out of that other stuff. That was just like — how it starts is — the first time we played the first tune Fun Fun, it started the way it starts on the record: a false start and we recorded it that way once and so we just kind of got the idea that you know this like — we’re kind of scurrying to the next piece rather than having a space. But I don’t think it’s on all the tunes.

SH: I’ve never really thought about that actually.

CP: Oh, yeah? Because I noticed at the end of Liuzza’s there’s like a false ending there  and it kind of fades in and out. And presumably it links up to the next track; I couldn’t really tell listening online.

GK: Yeah, I think we just did that to make it kind of you know, something — I hope — interesting or something kind of catchy. I don’t know. It’s so easy to run into that wall of pretentiousness in how you edit. People go, “Well, you know, whatever!” I’ve got a few records that people say — you know, CDs where people say, “Too much editing.” But hey…we try to just — we play and then we’ll figure out a place to stop it and — so we don’t play. I mean, we’ll play a continual piece until we end it but we might make it shorter so it’s not like we’re playing an arranged thing. We just play a head or a form of a theme and we do something else to it and wherever it seems right to stop it is where we stop it.

CP: When you talk about too much editing, do you mean editing that takes away from the organic feel?

GK: No, I just think…

CP: Are you going for a natural feel for the recording or…

GK: I like layering stuff and having stuff come out of other stuff and layering — I mean especially for a duo — is really difficult not to… I think we did it there but it was a poor room to record in — but that Baz Luhrmann thing — you know, how he’ll sing a — have a tune going and then another song is underneath it. And I — it just makes my head go off the wall I love that so much! [John] Coltrane is like that — you know, different, you know with the real ‘out’ stuff. You know there’s different stuff going on — I love that. You know, odd keys. Yeah! And so, when I’m — it’s doable live when we play but we usually just throw it at the wall and when we’re done with it, we put it away and go to the next thing. We don’t try to perfect that, we just play it. So yeah, editing and Pro Tool the hell out of something — which is really easy to get…

SH: But it’s live and the recording was as live as it gets except for EQing and stuff like that. It’s like here is definitely a chunk of time that’s in real-time

GK: Yeah.

SH: Like moving anything around and overdubbing and that stuff.

CP: And that’s the impression I got listening to it.

SH: There’s even a spot in it where in one where I’m tuning— I mean you can hear me tuning the guitar…

CP: [laughs]

SH: …In like one of the — I don’t remember where but it’s just like, “Ok”, that’s just about as raw as it gets.

CP: So, I’d like to ask you some individual questions about your own work. And since we’re talking about multitracking, [to Simon] let’s talk about your solo CDs that you recorded. So there are two of them — you recorded a solo saxophone CD called “Standards”. So talk about that.

SH: I was into saxophone and — I’m more of a visceral saxophone player than a trained saxophone player on these recordings. I don’t know, I got really tired of the guitar so I started playing saxophone. And I got really fascinated by the whole feedback loop of using an amplifier and a microphone through delay — really poor quality… So the, kind of — the way the sound would decay and like the feedback would come through and also just using the saxophone as a percussive instrument — like putting bells inside and jingling it — and like trying to approach standards using that — just like the feedback itself as a way of — like a compositional…for the standards. But then I’m not following the chord changes or anything like that. It’s more the idea listening to it than the actual standards themselves — I mean, I don’t play the melody…

CP: And then, for Gregg: you make drums.

GK: Yeah.

CP: How did you get into that?

GK: In the 70’s I worked in a store that — I’d hang around this music store and kind of fooled around with drums and one time a drum from the 30’s came in—it was a steel — or brass — chrome over — nickel over brass or whatever it was 6 1/2 deep with eight lugs on it and most steel drums have 10 lugs and I couldn’t afford it so I just had this idea of making my own. That’s kind of where I started from.

CP: So what happened then?

GK: Well, I looked around — I had no idea what to use for material and I looked at wheels from cars, canisters from vacuums, you know kegs of beer — you know cutting them. One day, I was down in the South End just driving around scrapyards and metal shops and I came across Alaskan Copper—Alaskan Copper and Brass. They sell pipes — stainless steel pipes for the pipelines — Yukon — up in Alaska. I was driving by and I slammed on my brakes and said, “That’s the stuff!” You know, so I got a piece and I made a drum. You know, I had no intention of selling— of doing it this long— guys just— you know, word of mouth— took off somewhat. So I’ve been doing it since ’78. You know, I’ve got to meet a lot of people, Elvin [Jones], Art Blakey to name a few.

CP: [to both] Is there anything else you’d like to say about the CD? …about the group? Is there anything that I missed?

GK: I think if we do another one we’ll probably do it with Sean and C.J. again and maybe even more people

SH: Yeah.

GK: We’ll use…and some other people. And I was thinking about that today though, you know we still got access to that horrible studio because the guy owes me money.

SH: Oh, yeah?

GK: We can go in there and get some scratchies — but yeah! We hope to something more down the way. But right now we don’t have anything in mind as far as direction.

CP: What kinds of projects are you both up to on your own right now?

GK: What else am I doing?

CP: Yeah.

GK: Nothing, pretty much. I’d like to be in a…like a blues/rock trio or quartet. I wouldn’t mind getting into that but it’s not easy hooking up with — and/or — I don’t know, I’d like to get — once and a while we play with Luke Bergman on bass.

CP: I saw a YouTube clip.

GK: We added that way and that’s a good fit and so in a perfect world we’d have one or two other people — we’ve tried a lot of people — a lot of keyboards, guitars, horns, bass players and if it fits — occasionally it does but not the full fit, so — I’d lik — and you know make it a bigger group but until that happens, here we are.

CP: I’m curious: do you know what it is you’re looking for or is it that intangible thing?

GK: I think it would be…

SH: I think Luke’s probably one of the best fits we’ve had.

GK: Yeah.

CP: Luke is fantastic; I like playing with him.

SH: Yeah.

GK: Yeah, he’s deep.

SH: Very minimal and great time.

GK: As far as looking, I mean it’s — I don’t know — it’s getting the energy, the intensity, and the space and the movement, the momentum — all that stuff right. But it’s hard to do that stuff for a whole night. I think we mostly need pieces to play. We practiced today and came up with some different stuff. So we’re letting that just go where it goes. Down the — you know — and Simon’s been real busy on the road, so that’s where we’re left off.

CP: Alright. Well, is there a place people can go to find out more about anything that will be coming up?

SH: That’s about it. I mean my facebook is about it.

GK: We don’t have really very much going on right now. Spring — you know I’ve been really grateful for these Table & Chairs kids — the Racer people. It’s really a refresh… I mean when I was their age, there was nothing like that here. Nobody even — I mean you hear about that in New York maybe, or what it sounded like — community and I really dig that. Really dig that. I don’t feel part of it but I like this— be there to support it — and I don’t feel outside it. I mean they’re open and inviting. I’m just a few years beyond college age, so — I like that they’re nurturing at a steady relaxed pace so it’s not hurried — they’re not just shooing from the hip —t hey’re really trying to make something happen, or at least that’s the sense I get from it.

SH: Definitely organized and motivated, you know?

For the month of march you can purchase WA’s tremendous debut outing, “Cross the Center”, for $5.00 at the Table & Chairs online store.

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