A Conversation with Experimental Bassist Darin Gray: Playing Art Hill, Radiolab Live and More

Aug 22, 2013 at 11:39 am
A Conversation with Experimental Bassist Darin Gray: Playing Art Hill, Radiolab Live and More
Robert Iwanik

Bassist Darin Gray might be the most prolific experimental musician out of St. Louis. 32 years after his first performance in the area, he shows no signs of stopping, and RFT Music couldn't be prouder to call him one our city's own. Despite the racket Gray has generated in countless ensembles and bands including Grand Ulena, Dazzling Killmen, You Fantastic!, On Fillmore and Chikamorachi over the years, he says he's actually a pretty shy guy.

In this interview, we get to know him on a more personal level and discuss his upcoming projects and releases, including Radiolab Live and a New Music Circle performance this Friday, August 23 with Mars Williams and Tyler Damon on Art Hill.

See also: Shades of Gray: The magical playing of Darin Gray expands the palette of the bass guitar

Gray spends the majority of his time bumping between what he calls the "triangle of his work:" Chicago, Bloomington in Indiana (where labels Family Vineyard and Dead Oceans are based), and his home base in Edwardsville, Illinois. Earlier this summer, he played a short solo improvisation tour, partnering up with area musicians wherever he went. Between writing, composing, working and practicing, Gray also spends quality time with his family, traveling during the weekends to his youngest son's tennis tournaments.

This fall into early winter, Gray will join bandmate Glenn Kotche of Wilco to generate On Fillmore's signature soundscapes for public radio program Radiolab's live stage show, Radiolab Live: Apocalyptical. The show unfortunately does not make a stop in St. Louis, but includes more than twenty cities including Chicago and Nashville. Check out this Radiolab short to hear host Jad Abumrad describe the show as well as On Fillmore's role.

On Fillmore

RFT Music: Your New Music Circle collaboration with Mars Williams and Tyler Damon halfway down Art Hill this weekend will certainly be a unique experience for St. Louis. What are some of the more interesting settings you've played in during your music career?

Darin Gray: I've played every possible thing you can think of and some that you can't, from kitchens and living rooms to the Pageant and everything else imaginable. One of the coolest places was Floating Laboratories, where I performed once with Michael Zerang. I have a feeling that what I like about it was what Kevin brought to it. I'm sort of sensitive to that kind of thing and definitely sensitive to place. Recently, I played a couple times at Foam, once with Chris Corsano and then with Ghost Ice. For whatever reason, I really love the vibe and acoustics in there. I just did this Radiolab collaboration with On Fillmore and there were 4,000 to 5,000 people there. The following week, I played in front of crowds of ten individuals and everything in between.

I would honestly say that in recent years, most of my super memorable places have been in Japan, which I've been visiting about once a year for past ten years or so. I also did a world tour a couple years ago with sax player Akira Sakata and Chris Corsano, and we went everywhere from Japan to Russia and Belgium. Playing in Moscow close to Red Square is definitely memorable in every way. We played in a really old, huge theater that was pretty fascinating.

I'm sensitive to acoustics, and the venue and size of the crowd can bring out better performances -- I just don't look at it all like that. I look at who I'm playing with and who I'm playing for. I just care about music and the act of creating, and sharing that experience is very important to me. Lately, this has been happening with improvisation, but I have been in a lot of bands and that still informs what I do to this day.