Marc Ribot's New York Stories
The guitarist talks about the future of improvised music and more
Guitarist and composer Marc Ribot, best known as a mainstay of New York’s avant-garde scene and for his sideman work with Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Robert Plant and others, leads great bands that are also great ideas for bands. A string of shows in NYC in May, the week before his 60th birthday, hammered that point home. Among the scheduled acts were Ceramic Dog, a noisy, genre-bending avant-rock trio; Los Cubanos Postizos, the party-inciting quintet that douses son music in post-punk vigor; and his free-jazz-inspired trio with drummer Chad Taylor and bassist Henry Grimes, the latter a veteran of groups led by Albert Ayler, one of Ribot’s musical lodestars. Since 2012 that trio has had regular residencies at the Village Vanguard, where they recorded their new Pi label disc, with its expectedly seeking takes on music by Ayler (who recorded with Grimes at the venue in 1966) and John Coltrane.
But that wasn’t all. Ribot also participated in a much-anticipated Round Robin Duets program at the Town Hall and provided live solo acoustic score for the Chaplin classic The Kid at Anthology Film Archives. In an hour-long conversation prior to the Postizos gig at Le Poisson Rouge, he proved a personable and deeply intellectual interview, especially when the subject of the ailing music industry came up. Few, if any, artists have sharper insights related to just compensation in our online age.
In terms of electric guitar sonics, it’s always struck me that the latter ’50s and the first half of the ’60s really inform your sound—Fender reverb, tremolo, those elements.
I kind of moved backwards as time moved on. When I was in junior high school, pretty much all you need to know is that the name of our band was Love Gun. [laughs] I’m kind of proud of that now. I told that to Robert Plant and he thought that was funny. By the time I was in high school I was already in a retro band, the Millburn Grease Band [laughs]—great name, huh?—which played kind of a mix of doo-wop and ’50s tunes and MC5 covers.
I put you alongside players like Bill Frisell, David Lindley, Robert Quine or even Ry Cooder, in that when you do a session I can still tell it’s you. Is that important to you—to retain an identity even when playing on someone else’s record?
No. To the extent that you can tell it’s me I’ve probably failed. What you’re hearing is my limitations. What I think everyone’s ideal should be is to create a separate language for each tune. But it’s hard to create a separate language every day. Imagine if you had to do that in speaking terms.
Originally published in August 2014