Numbers on the Side is Nick Millevoi’s fourth solo guitar recording. On it, he uses 12-string electric guitar to delve more deeply into feedback, drone, and noise.
Millevoi co-leads the band Many Arms (Tzadik) and Haitian Rail (New Atlantis) and is a member of many bands, including Deveykus (Tzadik) and Form and Mess (Sick Room). Nick has performed extensively throughout the US, Canada, and Europe, and has performed at festivals such as Suoni Per Il Popolo/Montreal, Incubate/Netherlands, Gaffer Fest/France, Montreal Jewish Music Festival, New Atlantis Festival/DC, and John Zorn’s Masada Book Three Premiere Concert at New York’s Town Hall.
What kind of music were you playing when you first became proficient on the instrument?
I grew up learning rock guitar and playing funk tunes in my high school jazz band. When I was in college, I studied jazz and classical guitar a bit, but didn’t feel like either spoke to me because, ultimately, I wanted to learn to be an avant garde guitar player. It wasn’t until all of the avant garde stuff made its way into the music that I was playing that I felt I had anything to say and ultimately felt like I became proficient on the guitar.
What led you to create experimental (non-mainstream) music?
As a teenager, I really wanted to get into jazz. I put in an honest effort with straight-ahead jazz, but once I really couldn’t relate to that type of playing. Once I heard A Love Supreme, Sun Ra, and Bill Frisell, there was really no going back. I think as a rock fan and rock guitar player, it was really hard to negotiate what getting into jazz really meant and I had trouble with it for a while. But listening to late period-Coltrane stuff showed me how open this music could be. I kept working on learning the technicalities of jazz guitar playing, but only in the service of this other music I was aspiring to. I saw Marshall Allen play a solo with a rock band around that time and his approach blew my mind.
When I heard Naked City for the first time (I was absolutely psyched when I heard Bill Frisell was in a band with a song called “Pig Fucker”), I realized I didn’t have to be a “jazz” guitar player and that cool adventurous music didn’t have to be stuck in any one style. It was extremely liberating, and most definitely set me on a path.
When I got into Joe Morris’ music, I realized that playing free jazz guitar was a serious calling for me. His approach to the guitar blew my mind and just opened up all of these ideas about playing. I took one lesson with him and it changed my life. After that, I knew what road I had to go down.
Whose music inspires you? Past and Present.
I think the most important music that has inspired me is the music that hit me at exactly the time I needed to hear it. Zorn’s music, starting with Naked City and including a ton of his output, especially Masada, is like that for me. A lot of avant garde guitar music from Japan found me exactly when I needed it too: Masayuki Takayanagi, Otomo Yoshihide, and Keiji Haino. And Earth. Joe Morris, came into my life at a important time. The music of the AACM is super inspiring and has had a huge influence on me, especially the Art Ensemble and Anthony Braxton. Dinosaur Jr’s You’re Living All Over Me, Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s Weld, and Dave Soldier and Kurt Vonnegut’s Ice Nine Ballads are all albums that have had pretty strong effects on me.
Now I’m probably most inspired by the music that the people around me are making. I’m lucky to count a number of my favorite musicians as my friends and am constantly inspired by the music they make. I’m talking about folks like Dan Blacksberg, who I play with in many of the projects I do, Toshimaru Nakamura, Edward Ricart, Ryan Miller from the band U SCO, who is probably the greatest technical guitarist I can imagine, and Eric Carbonara are all folks who do a ton of stuff and are always really inspiring.
How did you get better at your current style?
My style has developed through a lot of performing, practicing, listening, and collaborating. The type of playing that is on Numbers on the Side has only been able to develop through playing at pretty extreme volumes. Because I live in a city with neighbors close by, I’m really only able to develop my ideas by thinking about them before I perform. It’s in a live performance situation where I really am able to try stuff out, so I’ve tried to tour a lot with my solo music.
Really, the way that I’ve developed the most is just by playing a lot in as many situations as I can come up with, keeping it busy, and getting to play with so many great musicians that keep me thinking and progressing.
What are you trying convey with your music?
I’m trying to convey my own ideas about what it means to be playing a guitar in 2014. So many of us are doing it, how can we all have our own space, you know? I want to try and keep it adventurous. I want to convey some sort of forward trajectory in my music and in the way I see the guitar’s role in music.
I love music that creates an experience beyond the songs or the playing. In performance, I want to reach people on a deeper level than just getting on stage and playing. If I can get my music to have a physical impact too, I feel like the effect of the music will be much stronger. So there are times when that is my goal. That could mean that the music is very loud and the audience can feel the sound waves, or it can mean something like a quiet performance in a small room where everyone is close together and can feel the sound coming out of the amp.
Which guitars, amps, effects, plug-ins and software do you use to create your music, and why?
I use different gear on each project. On Numbers on the Side, I use a Fender Stratocaster XII from the mid-90s, into a Boss compressor, Maxon OD-9 overdrive, and EH Freeze Pedal, volume pedal, MXR Carbon Copy, another EH Freeze, through a Fender Deluxe Reverb that I played through a speaker cabinet with two Celestion Vintage 30s. I’m interested in trying to make as much of my effects as possible, with a lot of volume, feedback, and my hands, so I try and keep the pedals I use pretty simple. The two Freeze pedals enable me to grab notes and hang on to them in a way that creates some really interesting textures, especially with feedback.
The space where we recorded Numbers on the Side played a very large role in the sound of the album. It’s a giant room called The Rotunda that used to be a church and has a dome on top that is 80-ft in diameter. Eric Carbonara, who engineered the album and came up with the idea to record in this space, put mics around the room and really captured the sound of this massive place. You can hear the size of the room especially at the end of “Where is the Crime?,” which is the second track on the album.
Which do you enjoy more: recording or playing live and why?
I have no preference between the two because they’re so different. Of course, playing live is one of the most exciting things a performing musician can do. But recording is a different process and I love making records and working on them. Especially with something like this new album – the only way I would ever have the opportunity to play loud guitar in this amazing room is in a recording situation, and it was a really special and singular experience!
How have you built up an audience for your music?
I think a lot of the audience for my music comes from being a part of a community. I’ve done a lot of touring with my various bands and as a solo guitarist, and in doing so, I feel really connected to musicians all over the place. I’m interested in organic growth and being a part of something, and I think all of us who are traveling around and playing shows with each other and touring together are all working on creating a community. Of course, there’s already a community for avant garde or experimental music in place and there has been for a long time, but every group of folks that creates their own sub-set of whatever that is sort of finds their own crew to be a part of.
With whom would you like to collaborate and why?
There are so many folks I’d like to collaborate with and so many folks that I do collaborate with that I’m honored to get to work with. With Archer Spade, my duo with trombonist Dan Blacksberg, we’ve tried to create a platform to work with outside composers and improvisors and we’ve already managed to work with some of my absolute favorite composers, like Dave Soldier, Gene Coleman, Mick Barr, and Toshimaru Nakamura. So I feel really honored to have these opportunities.
I’m currently touring with my good friend Eric Carbonara, who has recorded all of my solo albums and a number of other things I’ve done, so we’ve collaborated in some way, but I would love to see all of this result in some sort of musical collaboration.
I’m hoping to work with Jamie Saft on my next album, and am really looking forward to a planned collaboration next year with Dutch guitarist/bassist Jasper Stradhouers and Hungarian drummer Balazs Pandi.
Some folks that I would love to work with someday are John Zorn, Joe Morris, Keiji Haino, and Nate Wooley—I think working with any of these guys would be amazing.
What is your latest project? When will it be available and where can people in different parts of the world get it?
Right now I have a few things happening at once: my solo guitar album, Numbers on the Side, just came out and is available on my Bandcamp page as a download , and the CD is out on Ivory Antler Records as a split CD with the band Onibaba (it’ll also be up on my Bandcamp page for easy ordering).
Many Arms is releasing our new album on Tzadik on April 29. This album features our band augmented by our good friend Colin Fisher on tenor and baritone sax.
And in July, Haitian Rail, featuring myself, Edward Ricart, Dan Blacksberg, and Kevin Shea, will release our next album, Solarists, on New Atlantis Records.
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