Interview with Reg Bloor (February 2019)
When did you start playing the guitar and why? What did you study and what is your musical background?
I’ll answer these two questions together. I started playing taking piano lessons when I was 5 years old and continued for about 4 years. I tried drums, cornet, singing in the choir, but never quite got the hand of those, finally settling on the guitar when I was 12. I took lessons off and on through my teens when I could afford them and then got accepted to Berklee College of Music in Boston. I showed up at Berklee with no money and managed to stay two years, even though my mother couldn’t figure out the financial aid forms on time.
What were and are your main musical influences?
I never know how to answer that question, because I’ve never tried to swipe techniques from other players. If anything I’ve tried not to sound like what’s already out there. People are influenced by everything they hear even if they don’t want to be. Sometimes I’ll write something and realize it sounds like a cereal commercial from when I was 6. There’s certainly a lot of horror movie and cartoon music in my playing as well even though I never sat and learned that, but that’s where a lot of my sensibility comes from – Tom and Jerry, the Evil Dead movies, Troma.
Obviously, being immersed in Glenn’s music for 18 years has had an effect on my aesthetic. It has certainly increased my ear for density.
Certainly inspiration comes from people like Arto Lindsay, Lydia Lunch, Robert Fripp and people like that in the way they approach things, but I could say the same about people who aren’t musicians like John Waters or Joe Coleman or Mark Leyner. I consider stimulating my mind with other artforms as important as just learning music.
When I was a small child my family lived out in the country with no cable TV (before the internet was widespread), basically cut off from the world. It was the height of Satanic Panic in the US, and most of what I heard about rock music came from my parents and preachers and people like that. I built up this image in my head of what this cacophonous, satanic music must sound like. When I was 11 and we moved to the East Coast, I finally was able to hear heavy rock music and was so disappointed. It was so much more banal than all that. I got into it anyway at the time because it was more fun than anything else around, but that image of what I had thought it was never left my mind.
I wasn’t exposed to the more experimental stuff that I was craving until moving to Boston.
You released two solo records “Theme from an Imaginary Slasher” and “Sensory Irritation Chamber”, how did you decide to release them?
I had a band for 9 years called THE PARANOID CRITICAL REVOLUTION, which fell apart twice. First it was me and a drummer. When she quit, while looking for a replacement I accidentally found a singer who knew how to use a drum machine and did that for a while. In 2014, the singer rather abruptly decided he was moving out of town at the same time I was offered a solo slot at the Red Bull Music Academy Festival. So I thought, ‘I guess I’m doing this now.’ The show went over well and it just made sense to do a record. I decided to use my own name because at the time, it wasn’t certain if the band would continue in some other form.
I’ve been through so many collaborations that didn’t last, it’s good to have a project that I can do without having to depend on anyone else. The project is all self-contained now. It’s recorded in my apartment on my computer, and I can take the train to gigs.
You have listen to Glenn Branca’s music for so many years, I have several of his records and I have read a lot of his interviews…what kind of person he was?
Glenn was a whole world – that’s the only way I can describe him – and he and I lived in our own world together. He had his own way of looking at the world. We would discuss everything – art, science, literature, film – on a deeper level than I’ve ever been able to discuss with anyone, with an endless intellectual curiosity. He had the ability to see what was behind things, to see through things. He had ideas constantly, not just for music but for theater pieces, novels, everything – more than we ever had the means to bring to life. I miss him so much.
He had no interest in having followers, but he would attract them anyway. People, mostly young guys, would approach him and they seemed to want something from him and he never understood what. I don’t think they even understood what, but they would be angry that they couldn’t have it. They had a void they wanted filled, and they wanted to be a part of his world. He could’ve played the guru thing if he’d wanted to, but he just wanted to be left alone to write music, read books and watch movies.
What does mean improvisation in your music research? Can we go back to talking about improvisation in a repertoire so encoded as the classic or you’re forced to leave and turn to other repertoires, jazz, contemporary, etc.?
I’ve only recently started improvising again. Nothing on my two solo records is improvised. There used to be this firewall between the improv and composition scenes in New York. When I was playing with Glenn, I was clearly on one side of that wall.
Marc Edwards has gotten me into the improv scene. The video you posted of us is only the second time we’ve played together. It’s sort of a new thing for me again. Marc has really made an effort to reach across genres to bring people together.
What’s the role of the “Error” in your musical vision? For “error” I mean an incorrect procedure, an irregularity in the normal operation of a mechanism, a discontinuity on an otherwise uniform surface that can lead to new developments and unexpected surprises…
Well, I wouldn’t say ‘error’ because I do it intentionally, but I always try to find a way to subvert things, to do them in a different way. When I was learning theory at Berklee, they taught it as a set of rules, when really it’s an analysis after the fact. I always thought it should be taught as a history. People took what came before and evolved it. That’s how you come up with something new. If you call them ‘rules’ then I guess you have to break those rules, but if you think of it was a history, then you’re expanding on what people did before instead of being confined by it. I always thought of it as what I shouldn’t do because it’s already been done a million times, not what I should do because it makes people feel comfortable. I mean, the reason I play music is because what I want to hear isn’t already out there.
And what do you think is the “function” of a moment of crisis?
Well, I guess I’m in one right now. With Glenn’s passing, I’m re-evaluation my life and body of work, remembering who I was before and where to go from here.
What are your next projects? What are you working on?
I’m hoping to get Glenn Branca’s The Third Ascension out this year and there will be some shows with the Ensemble. Marc Edwards and I will be recording together soon. I’ve sat in on recordings with Zero Times Everything and Kikanju Baku, and I’ve got one track on a compilation called I Never Metaguitar 5 that Elliott Sharp is producing. And of course, I’m always writing the next solo record.
Last question: a few years ago, during an interview with Bill Milkowski for his book “Rockers, Jazzbos and Visionaries” Carlos Santana said, “Some people have talent, some people have vision. And vision is more important then talent, obviously.” I think you have a great talent, but … what is your vision?
Talent is really skill, which is just a tool that can be acquired. The music comes first, then I figure out how to play it. It very often takes me a while to get good at playing the stuff I write. The skill serves the music. But I have a particular sound and sensibility in my head that I want to hear. It’s dissonant and atonal, but funny and angular and surreal. It’s a slash-stick, horror-comic funhouse ride.