Music Is A Mission

To content | To menu | To search

Interview with Billy Martin (english version)

Billy Martin
Medeski, Martin & Wood - 20 years of friendship and chemistry
(Interview by Nicolas Ragonneau, for Paris DJs - summer 2011)

The great Medeski Martin & Wood trio celebrates its 20 years of music with a series of shows (a very special one at Paris' Jazz à la Villette fest on September 11th), a bunch of singles releases and a double live album with John Scofield, awaited this fall. Billy Martin remembers the beginning of the group and tells us about his new projects.

Billy Martin

1. MMW celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Can you remember how everything started?
It all started at my Brooklyn loft 1991. John and Chris were room mates on Avenue A East Village and I was living in Dumbo (Brooklyn). We all got together and started playing for the first time and what came out of it was our first song "Uncle Chubb" then a gig at the Village gate in NYC and the rest is .....? There was immediate chemistry and friendship that started it all. We still have the friendship and the chemistry going strong.

2. Now you are an old ménage à trois. How do explain that your trio has done and still does so well?
What we do best is communicate well and balance each-other's musical personality. What keeps us going is striving to expand our musical vocabulary together.

3. Was there any common musical philosophy between you, John and Chris at the very beginning of your story?
No philosophy or concept except that we didn't want to be side men any more in other bands. We wanted our own group with no leader. A collective. Medeski and I were in the Lounge Lizards and it was difficult for me to leave that band but I knew MMW was what I needed more. I miss the Lounge Lizards but it was the right choice.

4. You celebrate this anniversary releasing 2 tracks per month.
We are releasing 20 singles this year. This is our 20th anniversary year and the music is varied. By the end of this year we will have a complete record. The record is not intended to have an overall story in the musical sense. Just another fresh way of delivering new music.

A very good vidéo of one of the "20" tracks

5. What do you think of the evolution of music business during those last 20 years?
The music business has devolved as far as I can tell. The artists are leading the way to self-promotion, marketing and sales. This is how we started our band – self-promotion, networking and playing live, touring as much as possible...

6. How do you see the future of MMW?
The future is bright but we are not touring as much as we used to. We will continue to make new music and try to concentrate on a better quality of life on and off the road.

7. John Medeski is a great wine amateur. Can you remember the best bottle you've ever drunk in his company?
1982 Guigal La Mouline - John and I had at a great truffle dinner in Paris with that wine. Also, Yves Gangloff's condrieu and côte-rôtie. He is a music fan and we have tasted his wine with him which was such a great experience.

8. Improvisation is a very important part of MMW's work. Do you see improvisation as a random art, an art of the accident?
Improvisation is not random. We create spontaneously in the moment. We do not toss a coin and let it tell us what to play in the moment. We listen carefully to what the moment needs. That requires heart-felt thought. Don't get me wrong because I love ‘chance' operations (John Cage!) and some of that may be a part of what happens out of our control.

Billy Martin

9. Tell me about The Wicked Knee.
Wicked Knee is my new band. Brass and drums. Trumpet, trombone, tuba and drumset. Some of the best and most interesting personalities together for the first time. I think this band will have a big impact in the next few years around the world. I like that we do not have to use electricity to perform in general. A unique line up of instrumentation which lends itself to New Orleans, Soul, Funk, Africa and avant garde directions. check out our site or facebook for free downloads.

10. You are also an artist under the name of Illy B. Is there any connection between your art in painting/drawing and your art in drumming?
Yes. I like to improvise in both situations. I never know exactly what will be the result. Both magical process and both a way to communicate without words.

11. Do you find time to visit exhibitions where you're on tour?
Sometimes. Touring is a difficult job. There isn't much time to trip around outside of your initial job when touring. But, when there is a little time and I have energy - you will find me in a museum or restaurant or walking the city.

12. You wrote that Nature and fishing were important in your education and culture. Tell me more about this.
J.-Y. Cousteau was my hero in the seventies and I wanted to be like him travelling the oceans and seas diving and discovering things. I think it's more about the variety in nature that attracts me and that inspires me to go on and create art/music.

13. You share with John Lurie the love of music, art and maybe fishing. Do you have any other plans of doing music together in a near future?
We talk about it sometimes. He told me the best thing he ever did was the trio we had together: The John Lurie National Orchestra. I'm not sure with his health that it could happen. But I miss him and that connection we had.

Billy's favourite MMW albums :

medeski martin and wood shack-man
Shackman : our classic hawaiian shack sessions
french review on

medeski martin and wood Combustication
Combustication : the beginning of our bluenote years and with DJ Logic and DJ Olive
french review on

medeski martin and wood the dropper
The Dropper : our punk rock fuck-you record

medeski martin and wood lets go everywhere
Let's Go Everywhere : for all the children
info on

medeski martin and wood zaebos
Zaebos : our first record playing someone else's music entirely and making it our own.
info on

A few links : | | | |
Nicolas Ragonneau

Nicolas Ragonneau

Stay informed of all things Paris DJs and beyond thanks to our Twitter news

Comments are closed

You might also like

Hazmat Modine - Extra-Deluxe-Supreme

Interview with Wade Schuman (Hazmat Modine) #2

A few years ago we published an interview with Hazmat Modine frontman Wade Schuman just before their unforgettable show at Studio de l'Ermitage, Paris. They have just released a brand new album ('Extra-Deluxe-Supreme', maybe their best to date) loaded with great blues anthems and ballads. I was in...
Mocky Key Change

Interview with Mocky

We last saw producer and multi-instrumentalist Mocky six years ago at an unforgettable show at the world's smallest cabaret, Le Zèbre de Belleville, in Paris. He was presenting the songs from his masterpiece 'Saskamodie'. Here at Paris DJs, the album has been in heavy rotation - and still is. Now...