He Bangs the Drums

Wilco's drummer beats a retreat on his solo disc.

Glenn Kotche is best known as Wilco's percussionist, but his other musical endeavors — On Fillmore (with ace St. Louis bassist Darin Gray, ex of Dazzling Killmen, currently of Grand Ulena), Loose Fur (alongside Jeff Tweedy and Jim O'Rourke) and even solo — reveal an artist in tune not just with rock, but the entire continuum of beating and banging. His most recent solo album, Mobile, draws inspiration from Steve Reich's minimal loops, Nigerian rhythmatist Tony Allen's tribal frenzies and experimental electronics. It was released by Nonesuch Records, known as an early proponent of both avant-classical and ethnic music.

Randall Roberts: When you were growing up, did you listen to a lot of rock music with kick-ass drum solos?

Glenn Kotche: No, I grew up in the suburbs, so I was exposed to classic rock — Beatles and Stones, that kind of stuff — but not really anything with drum solos. I guess Zeppelin maybe. But I didn't gravitate to the super prog stuff with solos.

As a drummer, were you sorry when punk rock killed the practice of a super-huge ten-minute drum solo in the middle of a righteous jam?

No, not at all, actually. I wasn't exposed to punk rock at first, but when I was, I totally fell for it and agreed. I wasn't a champion of the drum solo by any means. I've got no problem with them, because I'm a drummer, but I can understand why most people don't like them. I consider what I do "solo drums" more than "drum solos." I just kind of draw the line at whether it's a piece of music or a vehicle to display your technical facility.

Did you know thatMobile was going to be on Nonesuch Records before you recorded it?

No, I made the record and when it was finished they knew that I was doing an arrangement of "Clapping Music" by Steve Reich. They were curious to hear that, because Steve's also on Nonesuch. They liked it enough to put it out. But a lot of the stuff on that record wouldn't have happened had Wilco not signed to Nonesuch and if I hadn't been re-exposed — or exposed to some of it for the first time — to a lot of that music.

Did you think about the Wilco audience while you were recording it, and what their expectations might be?

I had to take that out of my thought process. Wilco fans are great music fans — and they're more open-minded than any other rock-band fans that I'm aware of — but at the same time, I don't know [if] there's a ton of crossover between the Wilco audience and all the side projects. Sales-wise there's a big difference between something like Loose Fur, which Jeff [Tweedy] is a member of, and Wilco. I learned when I joined Wilco, and when I became friends with Jim O'Rourke and Darin Gray, that when you make a record, you can't really factor in things like that. Otherwise you start second-guessing yourself and you start making decisions for the wrong reasons. If you start thinking, 'I need to make this more accessible for the Wilco fans,' I'd probably make a record that won't be true to myself.

 
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