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A Chat With Vincent Gallo

As Yet Untitled

Last December, the musical group RRIICCEE rolled into Buffalo to play a show at the downtown club Soundlab. One major point of interest for potential audience members was the approach the group takes to making their music—they compose it on the spot in a sort of super-live performance, unwritten and unrehearsed. Another point of interest was the inclusion of group member, actor, filmmaker, Buffalo expatriate and sometime media firebrand Vincent Gallo. (In fact, in the weeks leading up to the date, several potential concert-goers asked each other and were asked if people were going not to RRIICCEE, but to “the Vincent Gallo show.”) Gallo dedicated the show to the recently deceased local artist Mark Freeland. The show sold out.

Vincent Gallo

Gallo spoke with AV from his home in Los Angeles. His experiences with the media, especially some of those in his hometown, still leave a bitter taste in his mouth, in case anyone was wondering. However, his message now is one of hope for the city (and, yes, its media) and that we should learn we can be proud of our own. (He, perhaps wryly, asked how the death of Tim Russert was handled here. With apologies to Russert’s loved ones, I wryly told Gallo that Russert was being nominated for sainthood.)

AV: Hello, Mr. Gallo?

Vincent Gallo: Yes, this is “Mr. Gallo.”

AV: You’ll be coming to Buffalo in a week?

VG: Yes, I’ll be coming with RRIICCEE.

AV: Where did the band get its name?

VG: I made it up. I made it up as a logo [so as] not to get stuck—usually when bands name themselves at some point in their lives they in some way outgrow their sensibility they were attached to when they identified themselves. In that way I was trying to do something that’s like a logo or had visual sense like a logo.

AV: I caught your show in December…

VG: Oh, you did? It was, nice, to me, that people were very warm and open-minded.

AV: You’ve been asked many times to define what your group is doing, i.e., this is not a jam band or an improv: Does this ever get any easier to do?

VG: Hmm…no, it doesn’t. People seem to be really jaded, or confused in that way. It’s not a jam band because it’s not people soloing around a musical form or key or progression. It is improvisation—spontaneous but with a goal of creating composition. It’s a form of songwriting.

AV: Are there rules against stumbling upon a previously spontaneously composed passage?

VG: No, there are no rules against anything, but the goal is to get out of the way of fear, or ego. So, if you’re not in fear and you’re not in ego, you’re not self-glorifying or you’re not falling into cliches because you’re afraid to be open. There are no rules whatsoever, and in fact, I’ve been in ego during performances where I don’t pull into myself but I certainly don’t feel comfortable, when I knew I [was] doing things that are self-glorifying, or soloing, or things that have worked for me in the past. I’m at the point where that doesn’t feel right and I quickly move away from that as soon as possible.

AV: It sounds as if there is a metaphysical aspect to what you are doing.

VG: Yes, there is. What people seem to do when they go onstage is to create expectations for themselves—what they sound like and how the songs should go, etc. We simply remove that expectation, and we haven’t replaced it with fear and ego, but replaced it with openness and open heart, and that’s all.

AV: People do come to shows with their own expectations—but with this group, do you think you bring the audience into that sense of openness and lack of expectation?

VG: Immediately, I think, they get a sense that the experience for them is, at least partly, the same as it is for us. They’re getting to watch a creative process, but also getting to wallow, or enjoy what’s going on sonically. There is a sonic wall or landscape, and they can sit back and enjoy it and also notice how it’s being created, and enjoy that. If you didn’t know the music wasn’t rehearsed or written, you wouldn’t know it just by listening—you’d have to be told that. If you can get past however that makes you feel now that you’ve been told that, then you can enjoy [the show] in a basic way.

AV: Knowing the players come from a background in rock or experimental music…

VG: Just for the record, I love rock music, and some of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen in my life were done by bands who go on tour and play their pre-recorded music. So, we’re not reacting to anyone and we’re not putting anyone down. We’re just saying, here’s another way to think of a live performance, here’s another way to be part of a musical group. One where we’re trying to grow continually and not get too attached to one thing that’s happening.

AV: Do you know of any other groups doing anything similar to your group?

VG: I’ve never seen anybody else, because even “noise bands” or any of the electronic bands, they’re still going out there and performing. They have an expectation of what they’re trying to do—basically no different than the John Mayer band, except their musical form is either a bit more jaded or original or spontaneous, whatever word you want to use. I don’t believe in those words, because I don’t think one person is better than another person just because what they’re doing is, let’s say, less popular. I remember as a kid really digging Earth, Wind & Fire, you, know, they were like the number one band in the world—and at the same time I had King Crimson albums, some experimental music, the classics. But I didn’t feel the more experimental artists were cooler, more important, or more valid than Earth, Wind & Fire. In fact, I just drove across the country with Sean Lennon, who was listening to Earth, Wind & Fire’s greatest hits, thinking how fucking brilliant they were…

All music is beautiful, all film is beautiful. I’ve never been to a movie in my life that I didn’t like. There are some I liked more than others but they’re not all by Tarkovsky, or Godard, or Bresson. I mean, the Wizard of Oz is still my favorite film—how much more classic can a film get?

AV: Have you had any film ideas come to you through this project?

VG: Just one, which is to make a movie of every performance on the tour, then cut a feature film which is just a straight collection of musical performances without any prose or narration or cutaway whatsoever. That’s what I’m planning to do with the next tour. I have to finish editing my new movie and I have a couple more shots to do with Francis Coppola—I’m in Coppola’s new movie [Tetro]. The movie I directed is untitled at the moment. And for the record, Francis Coppola was the most beautiful filmmaker I’ve ever worked with in my life. I’m really grateful to have had that experience.

AV: Why’d you put Buffalo on this tour?

VG: I booked a tour across the country and I insisted that we try to make another show work in Buffalo, because the last time we played there my band had such a good experience, and we spent a couple of days in Buffalo because we had some down dates. I drove with Nikolas Haas [a bandmate whose fraternal twin, Simon, is also in RRIICCEE; they are the younger brothers of actor/musician/longtime Gallo friend Lukas Haas] all around Buffalo for two days, just trying different restaurants, showing him where I grew up; it was such a beautiful experience. I met two young girls who came to the show—they were so smart and so open, and they were cool, and it was so exciting for me to have a good experience. The only sad note was that I missed seeing Mark Freeland. Kent Weber came. Kent gave me a picture of him and Mark when they were younger, and it’s now my most treasured photograph. It was really so nice of Kent to make that for me.

AV: Bernie Kugel showed me a photo of you and him taken some years ago.

VG: Bernie Kugel is one of the most influential people in my life. Mark was certainly, Kent is certainly—those are some beautiful Buffalonians. They reflect the true nature of the people there—there’s some warm, smart, sensitive [people]. I don’t know why Buffalo gets such a funny rap. I picture a lot of change because of such people.

AV: How long have the Haas brothers been in the lineup?

VG: We’ve been a musical group for about five months. We haven’t played many times together, so Buffalo is going to be only our second show, which should be interesting. [Laughs.] I’m really happy we’re playing Soundlab again, I really like that joint, it’s a very good joint. I’m really excited that they invited us back.

AV: Well, you sold out last time.

VG: Yeah, I hope that’s where we’re at again.

RRIICCEE will be at Soundlab on Thursday, September 25.

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