Interview with Will Bernard
(Interview by Nicolas Ragonneau for Paris Djs, january 2012)
Guitarist Will Bernard has just released an excellent new record (read Outdoor Living's review here). This album comes in an already brilliant and immaculate discography where jazz (Stanton Moore Trio), funk and soul meets reggae (Rockamovya) and… french bal musette (Baguette Quartette). The common denominator is a great sense of groove. Will Bernard is, even if he finds his own color, in the tradition of guitar legends such as Grant Green. This 100% californian now lives in NYC. He tells us about his new Big Apple life, his guitar style, his taste for french popular répertoire and his upcoming projects.
(Interview by Nicolas Ragonneau for Paris Djs, January 2012)
01. You left California recently for NYC. Does this imply a change in your music or the way you want to make it?
I had been planning to move here for a long time. It just took a while. I've always felt an affinity with the New York scene and been influenced by the music that comes from here. I have mostly admired the downtown scene that used to center around the Knitting Factory but also the straight ahead scene and everything else.
I do feel that there are a lot of things about the California music scene that I like as well of course. It may seem a bit cliche but in general it's a bit more laid back and relaxed where is New York music is more angular and intense. I think there is truth in that. I have a lot of friends that have moved here from the Bay Area and bring that California thing with them in their playing.
02. Your new album is entitled 'Outdoor Living'. There's also a track called 'nature walk'. Is this ironical for someone who lives now in one of the biggest cities of the world?
I guess that could be true. When I was a kid I had a class where we went into the woods and identified all kinds of plants and animals and it had a pretty big impression on me. It could have been a career path I liked it so much. I think the thing I liked about it was when you pay attention to that kind of detail it makes your experience that much more satisfying and full. We walk around so much of the time not noticing much, or actually blocking ; out much of the noise and discord of city life. I like to take nature walks in the city ala John Cage, noticing all the sounds as if I was in a movie or an electronic piece.
03. With 'Outdoor Living' you come back to the trio formation.
I have been working as a trio for a few different reasons. The first is probably economic. It's hard to tour with anything larger these days and make money. I find the organ trio format a nice way to make a big sound that can be adaptable to a concert hall a dance club or a small jazz club. Wil Blades and Simon Lott have been my go to trio when I can get them and we have a great chemistry together.
04. As far as I know, your guitar playing on this new album has never been so plain, so concise.
Well I think I was doing that consciously. On the last couple of CDs I had been listening to a lot of Grant Green and those types of players that play a lot of linear notes with not many bends or slurs. I kind of mixed that up into whatever else I do. On Outdoor Living I take a more Melodic approach I think. There are a couple songs that don't really have solos per se.
05. You're often been compared to Grant Green or Wes Montgomery. What do you think of this?
Those are a couple of my favorites. I especially love Wes who really gave everything he did his unique stamp. Grant Green as well is super influential especially in the retro movement of Soul Jazz and Boogaloo. He is the guy everybody copies when they try and get that sound.
Wes To me was beyond though... he was genius level. All his tunes and arrangements are so well crafted, and concise. They are worth much study.
06. B3 Hammond seems to be an essential companion to your guitar. This organ is almost on every record of yours.
It's on 5 out of 6. The last one is the only one with only Hammond though all the other ones had other keyboard instruments.
The one with Medeski had about 5 or 6 keyboards on it. I tend to like the old keyboards.
07. You leave a lot of room to your musicians on your records.
I always like a situation where there is interplay between musicians and I think of myself mostly as a member of a group rather than a soloist with accompaniment.
I look for musicians that can react that way, I think. Maybe that's why I am attracted to music like New orleans music and funk. It's more of a polyphonic texture than just background and melody. I love African music for that same reason.
08. Who were your musical heroes when you were a teen?
As a teen i was soaking it all in like a sponge. I grew up in the san Francisco Bay Area and had a diverse palate. Led Zeppelin, and all the classic rock stuff. My day-to-day listening was something like: Art Ensemble of Chicago, Anthony Braxton, Sly Stone, P Funk, Al Green, Herbie Hancock, Weather report, Thelonious Monk... most guitar players... Jimmy Raney, Joe Pass Wes, Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits, Harry Partch, Bela Bartok, Varese, George Russell, MIles, Trane, Talking Heads, Zappa, Stevie Wonder Charles ives. I didn't fit in a normal teenage listening pattern.
09. Will there be a follow-up to Rockamovya or some other reggae project?
I hope so. It was so inspirational getting to play and record with Leroy Horsemouth Wallace. He's the real deal. His rhythmic feel is so deep it can get very trancelike.
I got to play with him with the band Groundation on a Bob Marley tribute tour and I like playing with him so much I pushed the fellas to go into the studio for a couple of days and record. We did all the basics for that album in 2 days.
10. You know a lot about the french popular music répertoire. Tell me about your contribution with Baguette Quartette.
I have been a francophile since High school french classes. I have always been a fan of French culture and lived in Paris for 4 or 5 months at one point. When they asked me to join the Baguette Quartette in around 2000 it was a good fit. the BQ is a group in the Bay Area that plays only french music from the 20s 30s and 40s... entre les guerres. It was a real education playing with that group. They have an interesting philosophy that you don't see that much, in that they were content to live in Berkeley California and play acoustic music. They didn't care about international success or getting a record deal or Billboard charts or anything but they were well loved in the area and sold thousands and thousands of CDs just on their own in little stores at gigs. It's a very grass roots philosophy that I liked. It kind of goes with some of the movements focusing on living more locally that seem to be gaining popularity.
11. What's your favorite song from the french répertoire?
I don't know what my favorite song is but on the BQ CDs I was on we did a Cocteau song called "Mes Soeurs, N'aimez pas les Marins" that I liked. Also a valse musette called "Fetiche" and another one called "En Douce". I love the Trénet songs too like "Que reste-t-il de nos amours", and Mistinguette songs . There are so many gems.
12. A question for guitar addicts. How many guitars do you have? What are your favourite guitars in this collection?
I probably have about 15... I haven't counted in a while. I like vintage guitars a lot and I play a Gibson es 335, a Starfire III, and Gibson es 175 mostly these days. I have a D'ell Arte Anouman for the Musette stuff.
13. You've played on Tom Waits' last album. Tell me about this experience.
Of course it was amazing. He has been one of my heroes, as we say, "since forever". I think it really changed the way I look at the whole process and made me really want to focus on what really is important for me musically.
14. What are your upcoming projects?
I have been working on some projects here in New York that seem to be evolving naturally. One is a band called "Baker's Dozen" where we interpret the music of guitarist Mickey Baker. (a Parisian resident I am told). Another is an organ trio with Sugarman 3 organist Adam Scone and Sharon Jones drummer Eric Kalb. Another is an ongoing collaborations with John Medeski that happens randomly at this point.
I am feeling like New York is the right place for me to be right now.
Will Bernard: official | discogs | facebook | myspace | parisdjs | twitter | wikipedia
Baguette Quartette: official | facebook