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Erik Friedlander: Overtaken by Memories

img  Tobias

The liner notes to your camper trips as a boy mention „stale smells, insane heat and the fear of a propane stove leaking". Why did you decide to revisit them musically on "Block Ice & Propane"?
I was overtaken by my memories. It was not a choice. As I worked the material for the new CD, discovering new techniques, developing songs and ideas for improvs, these memories started coming to mind--I couldn't forbid them but didn't want to.


I thought it interesting that reading seemed more important than listening in the liner notes. In how far did music play a role during those road trips?
Music was a big part of my early life. My father is an avid music fan, and like many fans, is voracious listener: finding new recordings, making mix tapes (1960-70's), spreading the word about his latest discovery to his family and friends. So, when we went camping, and this was for months at a time, he would bring his music with him. A loud stereo in the front cab of the truck would echo through the camper. My sister and I had little radios we would tune to the local "Top 20" radio stations as we passed through town after town.  I remember riding in front with my father just screaming out the words to "Lipstick, Powder & Paint" (ray charles) or Aretha singing "Respect" from her 'Live at Fillmore West' lp.  The one thing that wasn't a part of these trips was my cello or my guitar..those got left behind to be picked up again after our return.


You speak fondly of your father's Uncle Neil. Was, what you called his 'Buddhist's acceptance' in any way important for you when coping with the difficult aspects of a career as an artist?
Interesting question. I don't think I tapped into that wisdom until later in my life. I think it's a kind of wisdom that one appreciates when you have some experience in your life. I was more impatient (still am), trying to find my way in the music business. I've always wanted to be a relevant musician--relevant to my time, relevant to the community of musicians I'm a part of. To me that means as a player, on other people's cd's, in commercial music and as a composer with my own groups. Luckily, once I discovered my love of improv, I stayed strong with the desire to make this a big part of my musical life.


"Block Ice and Propane", from my point of view, has turned out a romantic album - but never a sentimental one. What did it feel like immersing yourself in those memories?
I appreciate that. I do want to avoid sentimentality. I'm not sure about "romantic" but certainly a bit nostalgic. I did however, want to keep an edge on the music by allowing the memories to "flavor" what I was doing without taking over. I stayed strong with my desire to allow improvisation the power to force me in new directions, both in the written pieces and of course in the purely improvised works.

Immersing myself was fascinating and my way of reevaluating my upbringing. At the time, of course I had no choice in the matter, but looking back I see the strangeness and the richness of the experience.


Were you actively envisioning scenes from those days on the road while writing the material to the album?
No, the music came to me more abstractly, that is, as music. As the music took shape, memories began to filter back to me. At first, I didn't connect the two and simply kept working. Then it began to make sense to me what was going on: I was writing a kind of new American roots music and my own American roots are deeply connected to these trips my family took back in the 60's and 70's. With this discovery of this connection I then moved forward quickly, creating the context for improvisations (American writers) and making titles that framed the music in these memories.


Can you explain in just a little more depth, what kind of „extraordinary finger-picking technique and reverberant tunings" you used to arrive at the extraordinary sound of the Cello on ìBlock Ice and Propane"?
Very difficult to do with words. I took techniques from my guitar background. I allow my hand to hover over the fingerboard and pluck the strings using my thumb and index finger alternately which allows faster passage work. Since recording this CD I have developed more facility, more speed and dexterity and have made pizzicato an even bigger part of my repertoire (my new trio is all about pizzicato in a jazz vein.)  The tunings are in some cases radical. Night White is wildly detuned and 1000 Unpieced Suns was randomly detuned, so much so, that I can't recreate it live or include it in the published music book I just created for sale.  I took my inspiration from guitar players who are always detuning one string or another for more resonance. Of course, it's a bunch easier on a guitar, the cello doesn't like detuning all that much and fights and fights making live performance a little tougher than normal.


Have you ever thought about buying yourself a camper and repeating the trips of your youth?
Absolutely! My wife and daughter just look at me like I'm mad when I mention this. I still love being on the road. I think it gets in your blood. We'll see, maybe I'll be able to get my daughter out on a camping trip before she's a full blown teenager.

Image by Kurt Gellersted

Erik Friendlander's current album „Block Ice & Propane“ is out on Skipstone Records.

Homepage: Erikf Friedlander
Homepage: Skipstone Records

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