Name: Bill Nace
Occupation: Guitarist, Improviser
Current Release: Both, out now on Drag City
Recommendations: People’s Party Podcast with Talib Kweli; Graham Lambkin Came to Call Mine
If you enjoyed this interview with Bill Nace and would like to find out more about him and his work, visit his artist page on Drag City. He also runs his own label Open Mouth Records.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
The Adlibs-- Boy from New York City is the first thing I heard that drew me to music or sound. It felt mysterious and though I’d heard music before something about this felt like a whole world to me, mysterious and with depth. I started playing in bands and making music when I was 12.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I think I kind of had a sense when I was younger that though this was something I wanted to do and had a passion for … that I was going to have to suck at it for a while. I think the whole process was just an ongoing one … of adding and cutting away and adding and cutting away until I felt like I was creating something that felt like mine or felt honest.
I try not to spend too much time thinking on whether something is original or not. That's the listeners decision. To me that's not really a place I make music from but if it's a result then that's great.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I mostly improvise, though I think composition and improvisation have more in common than people allow for, I think for the purposes of this question the answer might be different. For me, with improvising, the challenge at first was finding a language that felt like my own and that I felt confident enough to bring into a situation with other musicians.
I have composed in the past and am starting to get back into that more but that seems like another set of problems in a way.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first piece of recording equipment was a Tascam 4track and it hasn’t really evolved that much. The technology has but how I use it hasn’t really. I now use a Zoom recorder. So gear advanced but how I use it hasn’t much.
I am trying to force myself to get better at recording at home. I normally prefer the pressure of actually going into the studio. The time restraints, the money, having everyone's schedule allow for it to happen. The pressure is good for me and up until recently has been the main way I work with some exceptions.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I think humans excel at making due with what's there (in this context at least) and I think machines are best when they can add to something that's already there as opposed to leading us. But I think a lot of those lines are blurring as of late.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I play electric guitar, sometimes with pedals sometimes without. I think the goal is to have it all work together in a way where there doesn’t seem to be much of a division between the player, the instrument and any added “technology”. A Lot of my favorite performers present what feels like a lack of separation between all the parts involved.
I think with pedals especially I like to use them where they’re accenting something or changing the perspective of what's already happening with the guitar. As opposed to a kind of stacking of effects where the guitar is just a kind of signal to generate the pedals sounds.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Collaboration is a huge part of my approach. How I play and have learned to play didn’t happen in a vacuum. Even if I’m playing solo it’s been informed heavily by how I’ve learned how to play with other musicians whether in ongoing collaborations or one offs. Getting into a space with someone where you can push and pull and have everything be elastic has been a huge part of my development.
As for ways of engaging with other people that make music: Playing music with them in person is the ideal. Though I recently did a “file sharing” project with a musician from Novia Scotia named Chik White. We still have never met. I’m really pleased with what we did and I don’t know if it would have happened the same way if we HAD played in person. I think the space and ability to sit with the music for long periods of time really informed what it became and I learned a lot from that.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I have no routine to my day.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
I recently finished a duo album with Graham Lambkin. We went in without any preconceived ideas. We just recorded in 30 minute segments during which we would make music, talk, sit in silence whatever we wanted to do. Really loose. Then went back and edited in a way that kind of zoomed in and out between a kind of “workshop” atmosphere that represented the looseness of the approach and then kind of zoom out to a larger more “THIS IS A RECORD” sound that used the “studio” more. It was a great experience to just let the music be what it wanted to be and not really exert any control over it until the mixing stage.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
For me it's usually a matter of being open to the circumstances and people around me and giving up control as much as I can and pushing for the other elements that I may feel strongly about. A situation where there's enough trust to let myself be pushed around and where I am allowed to push back.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
I don’t think so much on how they’re connected as much as how I can let each one have its own space. The live show is not going to be what you did in the studio and vice versa. I think being comfortable with this and really leaning into it can add to what the music can be in both contexts.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
Im not really trying to make a sound meet an idea as much as I am trying to be open to a sound when I make it and then growing something from there. So in that sense the difference between the sound aspects and the compositional aspects shrinks.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
I can’t help but think of the constant ringing in my ears when asked this question. Especially during this quarantine I have noticed it MORE and MORE.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I try to remain honest to myself and acknowledge and support the work and the people that have meant something to me in the process.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
I don’t know if music is too concerned with any ideas I might have for it. Though I think any time we can remember the idea of small gestures I think that's a good thing.