In an ongoing effort to better understand the musical influences behind new music, we’re asking artists to tell us about their be-all-end-all essential albums of all time ever forever. This week we spoke to bass saxophone virtuoso and Polaris Prize nominee Colin Stetson, whose new record New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light will be released by Constellation worldwide on April 30th, 2013. Listeners familiar with Stetson’s menacing compositions will find his picks particularly fitting, touching on free jazz, classical, classic rock, and black metal.
Jimi Hendrix – Band of Gypsies (1970)
My earliest and, I think still most important influence musically is Hendrix. My father didn’t have much of a record collection but the bulk of it was Hendrix and The Beatles. We spent a lot of time, the two of us, in cars and long drives together just listening to Hendrix over and over again, and it was more formative than anything else that came after. Beyond the fact that it’s a stunning musical experience, I love the technical aspect of his playing, and the fact that he was able to absorb so much of himself into his instrument. You know, when you watch videos of him, you see his face moving without watching his fingers, it’s almost as if you can see the solo coming out of the expression of his face and the movement of his mouth.
Listen: “Machine Gun”
Bill Laswell and Peter Brötzmann – Low Life (1998)
It was the first time I heard the bass saxophone played – this had to have been when I was 18 or 19. That record, the opening of it is just thunderous, it moves so much air and leaves such a distinct and audacious statement, just stomping right out into the open. It floored me. I was a baritone [saxophone] player for all of my late teens and twenties but It wasn’t until I was 30 or 31 that I got a bass [saxophone]. It wasn’t until I actually got it and received it, the day that it came in the mail in a huge, huge box, and opened up its ancient case and tried to play it that I realized just how special all of that playing that I had heard years ago from Brötzmann actually was. It’s a monster of an instrument, a piece of machinery, and it requires so much physicality to get it to even respond to you. It became an all encompassing drive for me after that day. Certainly I can say that it changed my life in terms of how I spent my time.
Listen: “Wheeling Vultures”
Tom Waits – Bone Machine (1992)
It’s really difficult to specify one [Waits record] over another, but if I had to I would always come back to Bone Machine for just the sheer gravity of that whole album. There’s devastating moments all throughout that record. It’s his perfect access point between everything that came before and everything that came after. It’s all wrapped up in that record.
Listen: “Black Wings”
Glenn Gould – Bach’s Goldberg Variations (both 1955 and 1981 renditions)
I’ve always adored Glenn Gould – and as an artist, his life, his relationship to music and to recording, is very fascinating – but also his personality comes out so clearly out in his music. And at the same time, he was able to – i think more so than anybody else – let the intrinsic personality of the music he was playing speak for itself. Those recordings side by side – it’s a rare thing to have that kind of a window into the soul of a performer, where you have a perfect snapshot of him as a young man, starting his career and the interpretations of a piece of music from that vantage point, and then the same piece of music from an older man, a wiser man – maybe more cynical but maybe that’s wisdom. It’s not that the entirety of the ’81 recording is slower – though it is, there is a bunch more patience in it and there’s more time taken for certain music – but he explores further into the quickness and the speed and there’s almost more fire in it, more focus. So having them both side by side is unique. I don’t know of any other instances where we have someone playing the same piece of music at two different times in their life.
Listen: 1955 rendition, 1981 rendition
Liturgy – Aesthetica (2011)
I was a bit of a metal head growing up and I continued to listen to a lot of metal, but I hadn’t started getting in to anything black metal until I heard Aesthetica. A friend of mine gave it to me while I was on tour and I put it on in the car and it didn’t leave my ears. For the past couple years it’s been in really heavy rotation. I instantly felt a communion with it. What I was doing with my solo music is the same thing that they’re trying to do, and we’re trying to make happen through our respective mediums. It’s like I have a concept in my head, a broad general idea, and it sounds like it does when it comes through my instrument. But when I heard Aesthetica I was like that’s what it was that I was thinking of. It was really a beautiful moment for me to hear this thing that I felt a unique kinship with, but also kind of pushed a lot of buttons and moved much further than I had been exploring in regards to just patience and minimalism in rock music. And there’s this terrible longing in so much of that music that I just adore. So it became absolutely priceless to me, and I think that it’ll be probably very evident in the new record that comes out in April that I’ve been listening to a lot of Liturgy.