Dan Nettles (of Kenosha Kid) Speaks

image courtesy of nowtrecords.org

This was the project, from Kenosha Kid founder Dan Nettles, that brought the Athens, GA guitarist into my view. His invigorating reimagining of the soundtrack for Buster Keaton's Steamboat Bill was an indication that Nettles was frying bigger jazz fish than other, more pop/rock oriented crews in the sonically legendary area of Northeast Georgia.
Treat yourself to a truly revelatory cinematic experience and catch the Robert Osborne Film Festival's screening of Steamboat Bill Jr. with Kenosha Kid providing the live soundtrack.
Saturday, 4:00 PM The Classic Center, Athens, GA
Buster Keaton's Steamboat Bill Jr. (Silent Film - 1928) w
ith a special live music accompaniment by Kenosha Kid

As it turns out, Dan Nettles does an equally fine job expressing himself and his vision with words as he does with his guitar in his ensemble Kenosha Kid. Check out the Q & A below, and enjoy the Steamboat Bill video to get an audio-visual sense of the group's style:
a.f.c.tank : Another Georgian, the iconic James Brown, was famous for his band leading techniques, with all the kicks, and stomps cueing the band to "hit it" or "quit it". So, when you direct other musicians in an ensemble, do you use your guitar neck like the conductor's baton or is the unity between instruments achieved mainly through the rehearsal process?

Dan Nettles : it all comes from playing together and learning to read one another. of course, that can be quite difficult in the dark during a movie for instance, but over time we get a pretty good idea of where each of us is headed musically speaking. after all, in bands that have a great "band sound", the music is all about a unique vocabulary that only that band speaks. i also have the incredible fortune to play with musicians who have impeccable instincts. there ARE two important body cues that get used a lot... one we all use is the "end of solo face" (meeting the eyes of bandmates, bugging them slightly, sticking out tongue, things like that), and the other is called "the foot" (when i wave a foot in the air, on the next big downbeat we move on).

a.f.c.t. : Is there an influence who you consciously have to keep yourself from emulating or do you find that kind of "quoting" a way of paying homage to forebearers?

Nettles : over the past ten years or so, i just try to keep the creative juices flowing. if something sounds good to me, i run with it as far as i can. i rarely worry if it "sounds too much like.." or "i need to make it sound different from..." simply because EVERYTHING has been played before, and probably better than i can do it. the few exceptions might be that during the writing process i may tweak the compositionin a particular direction, but usually i try to hold off from any over-editing until the thought is complete.

as far as homage to forebearers, what have they ever done for me?? haha, i joke... BUT in a way all the music we play is a nod to the great music gods out there, who are surely listening. if only they could also pay the band...
a.f.c.t. : Describe your sense of time during the act of composing / rehearsing / performing? Is there a kind of time warp when you find that zone?
Nettles : composing: time stretching can occur, usually in correlation to how much fun i am having. it definitely re-wires my brain, and after 4 or 5 hours writing it is difficult to re-enter the real world and converse with people sometimes. my vices of coffee and cigarettes also ensure that ever couple hours i step back and reflect.
rehearsing: any rehearsal is too long!
a.f.c.t. : Do you feel like jazz is becoming more or less accesible to the audience or is it veering more toward the esoteric side with time / key signatures that are just too tough for the average listener to grasp? Is it easier to set off composing a new work when you have a specific public in mind?
Nettles : ever since bebop, jazz seems to have remained a fringe art form. content like rhythmic or harmonic density seem to be a factor... most listeners just don't like (or never got a chance to like because they never get to hear it) complicated music. just look at all the crappy, content-free, smooth jazz record sales! on the other hand, the music should be fun, and full of life, and not complicated for its own sake. again and again, if you go to a fusion show, or a prog-rock show, or a "guitar god" show, the audience is made up of guys with their arms crossed "assessing the technique/gear" and their bored-to-hell girlfriends. it can become adolescent, boring and athletic... none of the reasons i got into making music! another thought: jazz very often becomes the victim of its own traditions, dogma, or history. jazz "went to school" after it left the clubs, and that set up the performers and audiences with a whole list of expectations that miles or coltrane would probably find quite amusing.
hmmm... usually my starting point is more involved with "who is playing" over "who is listening". i absolutely must write music that the band likes to play! if they didn't, who in their right mind would put up with all the BS that comes along with it? plus, an audience ALWAYS can tell when the band is enjoying what they are doing. they may never know what's going on, but they always respond to us when we are really giving all we can to the music.
a.f.c.t. : Is there a favorite lick that you tend to use frequently or it is always fresh and different every time? That has to be a challenge when you're playing out all the time, having to reinvent your vocabulary again and again.
Nettles : new vocabulary comes in and out, and also there're the moments of true improvising when i get to work completely in the moment. i also rely a lot on my bandmates to "feed me" with unexpected material to work off of. some nights might be a great show where i just basically played my parts right and let the band go crazy, or vice versa. it's all agive and take, and i don't mind using words... sentences... stories...that i've used before to say something meaningful. and hell, it's always a new day, and we are all different people than we were yesterday.
a.f.c.t. : Most nights you've got some pretty tight curls going on up there under your headband. Who gave you your notoriously kinky locks?
Nettles : haha! laziness. for a period of time i just stopped thinking about getting a haircut. it got too long to see, and i just tied it up, and it's been that way for a while now... who knows, maybe i will get ashampoo sponsorship?

Find more music videos from Kenosha Kid on Youtube.
Thanks go to Dan for his gracious participation and for keeping jazz alive in Athens, GA! Kenosha Kid's official site gives the feeling that Dan Nettles and his crew are up to plenty besides inventing soundtracks to classic silent films, so head over and have a look and a listen!

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