"Blues is connecting people" - Gary Lucas interview
Last week I met Gary Lucas in Budapest. He is an American guitarist, a Grammy-nominated songwriter, a soundtrack composer for film and television, and an international recording artist with more than twenty solo albums to date. We met in is hotel and talked about his music, work and future plans.
Rockbook: I noticed in your CV that you tried with lots of things in your life, you were musical DJ, you made film as a student. Why did you choose playing music at the end of the day?
Gary Lucas: Deep in my heart I always wanted to be a musician, but I saw how difficult this profession is from the outset and was a bit afraid. Therefore I tried a few other things. When I felt I reached a certain level in music I decided that this will be my profession and I will live for music. And this was such a process where I could know myself and learn about myself..In many music universities and academies where I teach today my advice to young students is that if they feel deep in their heart that they want to do music- they should go for it!
Rockbook: You published more than 20 records, where do you get all this energy to start new and new projects?
Gary Lucas: I published 27 albums, to be precise, I just counted them yesterday Double-Gemini (Doube Twins) is my sign, likely this is where my energy is coming from. And perhaps from my name as well. As Shakespeare is saying- tell me, what’s in a name? Gary means lance, or spear in Old English, and Lucas means light. Spear of Light—I like that! I always feel I am throwing light out there, illuminating dark corners with music. Captain Beefheart used to say in one of his lyrics „standing still is losing”—meaning standing still in one place without moving means that we will accomplish nothing and lose everything. This is my philosphy, and probably the mix of above mentioned factors are giving me this unbelievable energy.
Rockbook: Thanks to your musical career you toured around the Globe, you played in Spain, Russia, the UK. Is there any place where you would still like to bring your music?
Gary Lucas: I like to play everywhere and I keep saying it, I am citizen of the Globe and not of a particular country. I would love to go back to Russia, Latin-America, China. But I love the Czech Republic, Hungary..I feel very much at home everywhere.
Rockbook: You worked together with lots of famous people. (ie.: Nick Cave, Lou Reed, Leonard Bernstein, Iggy Pop). Who left the deepest impression on you and with whom you would like to record a new material?
Gary Lucas: The greatest influence on me was Captain Beefheart , maybe not even in musical but in a human sense. I would be pleased to play with Nick Cave agan, as Captain Beefheart is not alive anymore. With Captain Beefheart I would have liked to have made a new CD...
Rockbook: How did you get to know Captain Beefheartl? What was he like?
Gary Lucas: He was the most extraordinary human being I ever met, unique and with unbelievable energies.He managed to harmonize the members of his band and influence them mentally so that they really could play his very difficult music.On the human side he was not always easy to be around, sometimes it was hard to ge in the same room with him, Often he went without sleeping for days, but still coming out with new ideas all the time, new songs and music. When joking I always say that Captain Beefheart was born on the same desertterritory where they tested the nuclear bomb, and this may be the reason for his unbelievable enrgy, maybe as a result of a mutation Actually he was saying the same about himself. He was an eccentric genius, I loved him very much, but he was not an easy man. A bit of a dictator and overwhelming at times, yet I very much loved working with him.
Rockbook: Did you have the chance to play together with iFrank Zappa one of the biggest musical geniuses of the 20th century?
Gary Lucas: I met him once but we did not get to play together. It is a nice memory but the circumstances of our meeting were not the best, as it concerned some business between him and Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart). At this time I was playing with Beefheart. I loved the music of Zappa, he was a big Hero of my early years..
Rockbook: Who had the greatest influence on your music?
Gary Lucas: Numerous artists, for instance Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd, Kraftwerk. Lot of blues musicians, like Skip James and Son House-- but Paulo Conte as well. The best is if you become your own Hero.
Rockbook: Which of your albums/years you conisder the top of your musical career?
Gary Lucas: Always the last one. It is difficult to choose. Probably it is the Gods and Monsters album from 1992. As a matter of fact no mother can easily choose which one of her children is her favorite child.
Rockbook: How would you descibe your music style?
Gary Lucas: I used to say psychedelic primitive music, but I always tried to keep the blues roots in it. Blues is connecting people and different musics, I even can hear blues elements in the Chinese opera even.
Rockbook: in 2012 your Bohemian Classics vynil was published only in the Czech Republic. Do you plan anything similar? Or Hungarian folk songs re-visited?
Gary Lucas: The Czech material was born after the then Czech Ambassador to the UN Martin Palous and his mother in Law Dana Nemecova (a famous Czech dissident, friend of Vaclav Havel and a Charter 77 signer) listened to my Chinese CD (The Edge of Heaven) which was based on Shanghai pop music from the 30`s. They asked me if I would be willing to do the same with Czech classical music in my own style, and I agreed- as a result, „Gary Lucas Plays Bohemian Classics was published in 2012 on vinyl only in the Czech Republic. I hope to have it out on CD soon. I would be delighted to make a similar project with Hungarian folk music, but this would need a few months of preparation for musical re-tooling and also to secure the necessary financial resources to arrange and record the music. II love Hungarian music, Liszt and Bartok are my great favorites. Coincidentally I have Eastern-European roots, the Lucas family name was originally Lichtenstein. My grandfather on my father’s side originated from Bohemia , which is
now part of Czech Republic, but when he emigrated Bohemia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire- he emigrated from there to the US. Therefore, when I am in Hungary I tell them I have Hungarian roots, when in the Czech Republic I say I have Czech roots.
Gary Lucas & Gods and Monsters - Swamp T'ing
Rockbook: in 2012 your book „Touched By Grace” was published and it received excellent critical reviews. Where did you get the idea to write a book?
Gary Lucas: Since long ago I wanted to write a book about Jeff Buckley, mainly because lots of news, articles, and biographies were writtten about him, that were, unfurtunately, too often full of mistakes and were not reliable factual accounts especially concerning my role in his music. And I wanted to write about our creative collaboration and songwriting. I loved playing with him and after Jeff died I started a couple of times to write this book. There were publishers interested but for one reason or another the project stalled. Finally I played a Jeff Buckley Tribute concert in Rimini for the Jeff Buckley fan club of Italy and eventually was steered towards an Italian publlisher who first published my book.
Rockbook: The book was published only in Italian?
Gary Lucas: No, finally last year it was published in English in US and UK through Jawbone Press. I hope to see more foreign language editions soon.
Rockbook: We are not sitting here in Budapest this evening by chance. You just recorded a new material with the deBort band...
Gary Lucas: Yes, we managed to record it this week, a very nice and challenging experimental album, I hope it will be published soon. Besides this I will record with a Hungarian singer, Eniko Szabo. We are doing some original Hungarian folk songs set to my psychedelic guitar. I am always very pleased to work everywhere with young musicians and singers- not so long ago, I also recorded in Havana Cuba with local musicians.
Rockbook: How did you met with deBORT band?
Gary Lucas: Toni Dezso (deBORT saxophone player) is the one who made me familiar with deBort. , Tóni played in Tudósok and they also played a few gigs in New York- we met and played together in Budapest, NYC and Germany and I always helped them wherever I could. Not long ago, Toni visited me in New York and we agreed to pay a bill together in a live gig in Budapest. In December last year we managed to give a successful concert at the Budapest Jazz Club. There we came to an idea to make an album together . I love Toni`s band, I like very much how the musicians sound individually and together as deBort.
Rockbook: When we can expect the release of this material?
Gary Lucas: I think very soon. The material is being mixed, we managed to record it very quickly, Hopefuly it will be available in April-May. This also may depend on which label will publish it.