Three years after The Gradual Progression, New York based drummer and composer Greg Fox announced the release of a new solo album. Contact is out on May 29yh via RVNG Intl. and it finds the multidisciplinary artist accessing ever more raw and ruminative states, processing the tumult of sentience into stick-hit-drum. Pre-order is available below and check our talk with him in which he details the creative process of the new full-length.
Can you tell me about your new record “Contact”, and the process behind creating it? What drove the inspiration of the album?
I started working on “Contact” before The Gradual Progression was released at the end of 2017. “Contact” is another part of the progression, so to speak. Nothing specific inspired it per se – it is just a document of my creativity between 2017 after I finished making The Gradual Progression, and when Contact was recorded at the end of 2018, really.
You worked with Randall Dunn which produced and mixed the album. How was born the collaboration?
Randall is a very close friend of mine, musically and spiritually. We first met in the early ’00s, when master musicians and liturgy were playing the same festival in Karlsruhe, Germany. I loved his music, and the records he has produced as well for some of my favorite bands. He reached out to me a few years after we met about working together on a guardian alien album – which was an exhilarating prospect at the time but sadly didn’t get to happen before that band ended. Sometimes I wonder about what might have happened if we did do that, in many aspects. We started hanging out more regularly when he moved to NYC a few years ago, and the idea of making music together in various capacities was always a central topic of conversation.
According to the press release, the album also embodies the phenomenon of sensation in lived experience, and Buddhist notions about painful and pleasant physical and mental sensations. The creative process as a personal path for healing and inner growth. Is it right?
The titles are ultimately somewhat arbitrary as I named the compositions and the album over a year after recording the music, and I want the Contact to be about whatever it evokes for the listener, first and foremost.
Regarding the titles of the album and individual compositions, it isn’t so much about healing as it is about purifying, internally. At the time of naming Contact and to this day, I am fascinated by what I learned when I began practicing Vipassana meditation. How we can strive via specific techniques to end degrees of our suffering by changing our relationship to the physical sensations we experience at their root, where they occur. Ultimately there are two kinds of pain – when we want something to happen and it doesn’t, and when we don’t want something to happen and it does.
Inner growth is one of the main motivations for my creative work. The other is communion – which also is referenced by the title of the album.
My own healing per se does not explicitly take place in my creative process. It comes from primarily inner work and individual relationships I have with people in my life, friends, family, my therapist, teachers, collaborators, etc.
The Artwork is amazing. How did you choose it?
I was introduced to Emma Kohlmann (who made the artwork for Contact) by my dear friend Tauba Auerbach who did the artwork for The Gradual Progression, as well as the Zs album ‘Xe’. I had actually met Emma previously in passing at the Printed Matter art book fair at MoMA PS1 a few years previous, when I bought a t-shirt she had made (I’ve since bought many more of her t-shirts and wear them more often than not).
I love Emma’s work very much, and I just sent her the music and asked her if she would make the artwork for the album, and I was honored that she obliged. I shared a few images that I love but basically trusted her completely, and the first thing I saw that she made is the album cover. I’m so happy with it, it is perfect.
How much important is experimentation for your work? What is your way to give new shape to your sound and what is your concept of experimentation in music and art?
It is experimentation through and through, in the way that I am always looking for something new and exciting, and for new points of emotional resonance, and tweaking my creative process – changing the formulas here and there as I am so inclined. I’m always trying to learn new things, to expand and grow. I’m not seeking to be “experimental” for its own sake – that’s not interesting to me. I know my music isn’t very commercial or conventional through certain lenses, but I don’t think it is alienating in that regard. I’m not thinking about any of that when I make music or am making anything. I just feel what I feel and react to that, whether I am alone or with other artists. But I’m deeply dissatisfied with the idea of just executing something you know how to do well over and over again, the exact same way. So, the process is always changing a bit. The input is always changing a bit, and the output is always changing a bit. Every time, it is different. Everything, every time. Even if I am playing the same composition over and over. Even if I am cooking the same recipe again. The similarity of all things is that they are constantly changing, and as I deepen my practice, I think it reflects that truth more and more.
You are from Queens, New York. What can you tell us about the current local music scene and what was the clubs and venues situation for underground and alternative music, before the current emergency situation?
I’m not from Queens, I was born in Manhattan. My mom was born in Brooklyn, and I moved back to Brooklyn when I was 17. I live in Brooklyn now and have for the past many years.
My family has lived in Brooklyn actually for the past 4 generations, after they came here from eastern Europe, escaping persecution. I’m proud of being a native new yorker – and I love queens very much and have lived there – but I’m not from there!
I don’t have any answers about the current music scene. It’s always in flux, I can’t pin it down. There used to be big parties in warehouses and lofts, and they were very fun and didn’t feel exclusionary in any capacity. It feels like it’s been a while since those have been a regular thing. I wish they would happen more.
You started a Kickstarter to get some support in opening a music studio in Brooklyn. What are the elements which make great a music studio for your work?
Familiarity is essential. Being comfortable and relaxed, so that you can make the gesture, allow the thing to emerge. Also, tea and coffee seem to be very important and good rugs and carpets too. Certainly good instruments and recording equipment help too. If I’m not working alone, a great engineer and/or producer and/or mixing engineer who I trust, who can challenge me, with whom I can spend time talking about things that are not the project I am working on.
You are also a teacher and a Certified Professional Coach, focused on “Coaching of Transformation”. What do you like the most of these two activities?
Ultimately they are the same – I am fulfilled by helping people find their rhythm, so to speak – literally and figuratively. With teaching drums, I have 24 years of experience to draw on, and ten years or so of teaching experience on top of that. With coaching, I have specific training and certification that I rely on, in tandem with what I have learned on my own path, doing my own inner work, professionally and personally. But I find more and more that really they are the same work, just with slightly different contexts. And with some people, they are one and the same. I have clients who are also students and vice-versa.
How are you living these strange times and what are the main concerns as an artist? How do you see the future of live shows? And what do you think that we’ll learn from this?
It’s weird! Luckily I am sheltering in place at Studio Te, so I can make music and do session work, as well as maintain my teaching and coaching practices. The toughest thing has been the social isolation. I miss my friends! And I miss playing music with them!
I don’t know what will happen with live shows in the short term, but they will happen again. The question is just when.
I hope we learn to appreciate more deeply the time we spend with friends and family. I hope we learn to appreciate the power of science and medicine to keep us alive and healthy. I hope we understand how much we can benefit from good governance and leadership (which we sorely lack here right now). I hope we learn that we are all genuinely interdependent – in every capacity. Also, perhaps how to keep up our personal best practices, what we need to do every day to feel physically and mentally healthy, and how to thrive under challenging circumstances individually and as part of a whole – even if we are divided by walls right now.
When this situation will end, I think you’ll go on tour again. What do you like the most when you play live shows compared to the studio sessions? What are your favorite places where to play?
I love playing in Italy! I have many good friends all over the country, and the food is very good. For me, the energy I get from the audience is everything. Sensing what’s happening with people in the crowd, exchanging energy, that’s what I love about playing live and about touring in general. Meeting. Novelty. Exposure to things I had not experienced in the past. Expansion.
Last November, I saw your live show at Le Guess Who? with Brian Chippendale. What are your memories of that gig in Utrecht?
That was a really special night. Brian is a friend, and there was a time when I was first hearing and seeing lightning bolt when he was definitely a hero of mine – I mean, he still is! In 2000 and 2001, seeing him play really changed my trajectory as a musician. So it was very surreal to share a stage with him. A major honor. I just love his playing so much, so I had a blast just watching him. Also, there was a lot of goofing around on stage and in the audience, which made it extra special. I’m glad it was that relaxed, to the extent that the audience and Brian and I could share those laughs.
Ritual question. Have you seen or heard anything good recently?
eilbacher/schofield duo “modern food”
dream crusher “panopticon!”
speaker music “percussive therapy”
deradoorian “cosmic garden EP”
m geddes gengras “time makes nothing happen”
jab & cv “landscape architecture”
grey mcmurray “stay up”