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Greg Kelley

photo: Susanna Bolle

Trumpeter Greg Kelley is one of the most innovative and consistently compelling figures in Boston’s noise, free jazz, and improvised music scenes. In addition to his solo work, he is best known for his longtime partnership with saxophonist, Bhob Rainey, as nmperign, but is also active in the outrageously hyperbolic psych noise trio, Heathen Shame (with Wayne Rogers and Kate Village), and a slew of other collaborative projects. I interviewed Greg by email in early 2010 the week prior to his performance on Rare Frequency, January 14, 2010.

When did you take up the trumpet? Was it the first instrument that you studied?

In fifth grade. The school passed out a checklist of instruments and I settled on trumpet after my mother rejected my idea of drums and I rejected her idea of clarinet. That’s still the only instrument I’ve really studied formally.

What spurred you to shift from being a traditional trumpeter to what you do now? Were you already in conservatory at the time?

By the time I got to Peabody, I’d already been on a steady diet of weird rock/punk rock, Sonic Youth, the Butthole Surfers & modern classical music, Stravinsky, George Crumb. In my last year of high school, I came across Naked City and John Zorn and that was the first music I heard that I thought bridged those gaps. Once I got to the Conservatory, I started following all those leads which led me to Xenakis, Kagel, AMM, Evan Parker and Derek Bailey in addition to the core curriculum of trumpet lessons, Bach, counterpoint, solfege, etc. During all this I started getting together with a friend who was in the recording department and we’d spend off hours in the studio experimenting with free improvisation, different recording techniques, tape collages, and generally trying to exploit all the equipment at our disposal. And that was when I started trying to see what I could do with the trumpet outside of what was being taught to me.

photo: Seth Tisue

How has your approach to the trumpet and playing music changed since you first moved to Boston?

When I first moved to Boston, I didn’t have anyone to play music with, so I ended up doing a lot of recording on a 4 track (some of which was released on a CDr that 8mm put out in 2006 called Traditions of the Past Cannot Be Retrieved). On those recordings I was using guitar, contact mics, electronics, and pretty much anything I could get my hands on. So a lot of things changed once I started playing with other people more and more. That was really when I first started using the trumpet exclusively to make experimental music and by default a more “live” kind of music. In some ways, this was limiting in that I found the trumpet to be kind of an obstacle. I was still having trouble with the kind of music I wanted to make and my chosen instrument. But on the other hand, it was great to be working with other people, bouncing ideas around, figuring out what works and what doesn’t and carving out a musical space for myself. In many ways, Bhob, Vic Rawlings and Tatsuya Nakatani ended up replacing the 4 track and making the sounds I had been using a bowed zither for, or contact mics hooked up to electric fans. And additionally, they all had their own ideas and our agreements and disagreements really expanded the music I was making and focused my ideas.

What is the current status of nmperign now that Bhob is in New Orleans? Was Ommatidia, which is really a stunning record, really your first proper studio recording?

The status is generally the same. nmperign only played a few local shows each year and we never rehearsed, so the biggest difference will be that we’ll have different starting points for any travels we embark on. I’ll be in New Orleans in February and we’re planning some kind of European tour for this spring or summer, so things are proceeding somewhat as usual. During one of our most active periods around ‘99, when we were touring a lot and playing 100 shows a year, Bhob was living in Chicago. So his move to New Orleans hasn’t really been much cause for nmperign concern. I thought it was funny that a couple reviews of the new album stated that it was our last. Luckily, we already have another one (with Jake Meginsky) on the way, so that prophecy will not come to fruition.

What’s happening with your other collaborations — Heathen Shame, Life Partners, etc? Incidentally, I just heard part of your record with Alexander Neilson, which is amazing….

Heathen Shame played a few shows last year and we have plans to finally record a followup to 2005’s Speed the Parting Guest. Our plan is to have a “live” recording session, including an audience, at the Major Stars practice space.

After 3 years in the Life Partners, I quit last year, but then I played 2 more shows with them anyway, which is all in keeping with the general lineup confusion. I basically decided I wanted to play once a month in town, preferably with a few different groups. But Life Partners were playing 3 or 4 times a month and rehearsing regularly and it became too much of a time constraint. I imagine I’ll play a show or two with them again someday. And Dave and I have our Murder/Suicide side project which may see the light of day again if Dave and I are both depressed enough (our recordings are made in a state of complete hopelessness which is hard to time).

Alex and I now have 2 LPs together and we’ll likely do something else at some point, though nothing is planned as of yet. We await such serendipity.

The undr quartet hasn’t played in two years, but that’s how we seem to operate. It’s not something you can just cram in or push into being. Vic, Liz and I played recently in Hadley, MA, but it was a very different kind of set.

There’s also a trio with Sean Meehan and Alan Licht that has played a couple times, which I expect will play more. And a trio with Bill Nace and Jake Meginsky. Beyond that, playing with Jason Lescalleet, Vic Rawlings, Ben Hall, Paul Flaherty, and Ryan Jewell are all things I consider “ongoing” collaborations. And though I didn’t play any shows with Ehnahre (Ryan McGuire’s 12 tone death/doom metal band) last year, I did some recording with them over the summer and hope to play a live show again with them eventually.

All of this is how I sometimes end up with a slightly over-full plate. Luckily most of them are infrequent and it ends up being something to look forward to, rather than, “Ohhh… you guys again… ugh.”

What are your plans (musical and/or otherwise) for 2010?

I’ve got a few scattered things in town coming up in the next few months: a trumpet trio w/ Birgit Uhler and Forbes Graham, a trio w/ Chris Corsano and Bill Nace, and a trio (hmmm…) with James Coleman and Seijiro Murayama. Then I’ve got a more large scale project at the Issue Project Room in New York in February where I’ve been asked to create a piece for their 15 channel speaker system. That will take a few visits down there to familiarize myself with their system and I’ll be making recordings for that. The end result will be an electroacoustic piece called “Bursts of ultraviolet air.” Olivia Block and I will be working on a recording for Erstwhile records which won’t be out until 2011, but we’ll likely start getting to work on that in the spring/summer. And Dylan Nyoukis just suggested a possible collaboration for his label Chocolate Monk, so hopefully that’s something that will happen as well. Beyond that, there’s the nmperign tour in Europe but nothing’s been organized for that as of yet.

I meant to ask if there was any music that you are finding particularly inspiring (negatively or positively) at the moment. If you’re so inclined, you’re also welcome to do some sort of top 5 or 10 type of thing. I know some people are list makers by nature.

I like lists but I often get a little bit anxious about them; that I may have missed something, that it will get misconstrued, that something listed is meant to be ironic, funny, cool, dark, intellectual, un-intellectual, etc. Given that, recent listening has included Dan Fogelberg, Fleetwood Mac (all eras), Kevin Drumm’s ‘Imperial Distortion’ and ‘Imperial Horizon,’ Zerfallt’s ‘to know the love of young witches’. Recent reading has included Pete Dexter’s ‘The Paperboy’ and John Gray’s ‘Al Qaeda and What and It Means to Be Modern.’


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