Weasel Walter is one intense bastard. As the spearhead behind the manic-jazz-metal-noise band The Flying Luttenbachers, Weasel's been a beacon of artistic integrity in a medium that often breeds more fashionistas than conceptual visionaries. Walter has been consistently pushing boundaries and buttons around him for more than a decade, seeing trends come and go, but his unrelenting musical vision has maintained true throughout it all. Refusing to compromise to anyone's standards of what might be listenable, acceptable, or musically decent, Weasel Walter is a steadfast creative leader in a scene more occupied with the latest vintage pants than with musical excellence. I got a chance to chat with Weasel before his month-long jaunt through the East Coast and Midwest in support of 'The Void' (Troubleman Unlimited), the latest Luttenbachers release and first with new members Ed Rodriguez (of Gorge Trio) and Mike Green (of Burmese).
Scene Point Blank: Tell me a bit about "The Void".
WW: Well, it's a very different record than the last bunch, but I guess those were all pretty different from each other anyway. This one is about a mindless creature that is trying to lull the universe into stasis and death - a cosmic complacency. This is its music! The one after this will be completely different as well. Don't ever think you know what we're doing next, because you can't! If you don't like one record, stick around for the following release, is what I say.
Scene Point Blank: Is "The Void" meant to accompany the mindless creature's lulling sprees? Is it like a soundtrack to the melee? And is this creature related at all to the iridescent behemoth from 'Systems Emerge...'?
WW: The Void is definitely adversarial in relation to the Behemoth (this will be explored further in the future.) I wouldn't say it's a soundtrack so much as an allegory to the nature of the creature. The Behemoth is characterized by dense detail and activity while the Void is much more static and minimalistic.
Scene Point Blank: How does "The Void" compare to previous releases? Could you go a little more in depth about how it came together?
WW: I'd say this is probably the most "rocking" album we've made since "Revenge". It's definitely not overly technical in the manner of the last few records, but more straight-ahead and compact. We're definitely going for something different with this one. It's pretty fucking subtle in comparison to many of the other records.
Basically I wanted to work with Ed Rodriguez for years - on the final Colossamite tour I witnessed some evidence of serious potential in his guitar playing. I saw him on the oops! tour in Minneapolis a few years ago and asked him if he wanted to be in the band. He came out to the Bay area about a year ago and we slowly started trying to figure out what to do musically. We added Mike Green on bass and learned the "Revenge" album from front to back for fun. After that I formulated the idea for the album, wrote the whole thing, we learned it and the rest is history. The record after this will document the conflict between the two creatures.
Scene Point Blank: I understand you have a new backing band. Did they contribute to "The Void" or did you come in with the compositions and teach them the parts? Anything you want to say about the new members?
WW: I wouldn't call these guys a "backing band" at all. We have a very cool, relaxed relationship and the band is as democratic as the other members choose to make it. I did write all the songs and parts on this album and have them learn it, but the next album will be more collaborative. It has taken us a while to figure out exactly how to maximize the skills of this entity. Mike is a very solid backbone. He gets the job done and works hard to nail the music. I'm a big fan of his other band Burmese (check out the upcoming "Men" LP/CD on Load - I produced it with them and it's their best record so far) and those guys were fans of the Luttenbachers early on, so there's a lot of kindred ship there. Ed is a very excellent musician. He's fully committed to music and he is extremely skilled and talented. I'm going to be pushing him and exploiting his prowess more and more in the future. There's definitely a lot of potential for growth in this band. I'm considering augmenting the band with various people to widen the scope of the music.
Scene Point Blank: The Flying Luttenbachers have been around for more than a decade- what sorts of changes, technology aside, have you seen- for lack of a better term- the underground music world go through since the inception of the group? Have things changed at all?
WW: Man, I don't know. Trends come and go. Bands get popular and then unpopular. I'm like a rock. I don't give a fuck what everybody else is doing, or what is cool. I just do what I do and people can take it or leave it. Of course I'd like more acceptance, but I want it for the right reasons. I won't change what I do to please any potential audience. I don't feel that my music is ahead of its time: I think most people are behind the times. The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. I'll say that the quality of vinyl pressings has nose-dived into the realm of total garbage in the last decade though. I don't know anyone who has been able to make a decent sounding vinyl LP in years . . .
Scene Point Blank: When and how did you first get into music? Tell me a bit about your musical development.
WW: I got into music because I was a little kid and I had to diffuse my energy in some direction and music was there. I started trying to play instruments when I was about 11 years old and oddly enough, my approach was about the same as now! I remember sitting in my room in 6th grade doing noise and feedback on an acoustic guitar rigged up with a cheap pickup. In high school I made a lot of 4 track recordings of myself - I have made a lot of these available through my intermittently active CD label. I plan to possibly release the best of them on Breathmint sometime in the future. I think a lot of it really stands up very well. I was pretty uninhibited musically and it shows. I'm totally inhibited now in comparison. I was extremely interested in '60s free jazz, punk and no wave in high school. Those are my roots.
Scene Point Blank: I take it you probably didn't have much of an interest in top 40 as a kid. How did you find out about free jazz and no wave and all this crazy obscure music when you were in high school?
WW: I had plenty of interest in top 40 music and still do! Well, I mean, I do love classic rock. Pretty much everything in the mainstream right now is total bullshit, but I grew up listening to FM radio and I know classic rock like the back of my hand. I mean, I play in a total noise-classic rock band called the San Francisco Sound! We do deranged, atonal covers of stuff like Foreigner and Journey with maniacs from Erase Errata, The Hospitals, Luttenbachers, XBXRX, etc. It's hilarious.
I found out about weird music because I used to go to the library when I was a kid and do research on rock bands. Punk rock just seemed really interesting to me from reading about it, so I snuck home some records and got instantly hooked around 7th grade or whatever. The line from punk to no wave isn't a very long one - the connection is kind of obvious. You couldn't give away that shit in the mid-Eighties, so I bought a lot of it for nothing out of the cut-out bins. I find it very amusing that people actually care about this stuff now, because they sure didn't a few years ago. A lot of no wave guys had tangential relations to the free jazz scene, so I just checked that stuff out too and it was good. All of the free jazz and strange classical stuff was at the library. I dunno. I was in the right place at the right time!
Scene Point Blank: Where did you get the nickname 'Weasel' from? Is your real name as closely guarded of a secret as I imagine it to be?
WW: It's no big secret. When I was 11, I realized there was no god, found out about punk rock and changed my name.
Scene Point Blank: How did the Flying Luttenbachers get started?
WW: I moved to Chicago to go to school in 1990. In 1991 I met Hal Russell. We started playing together soon after because we immediately clicked on a personal and musical level. My friend Chad invited himself into the band and we named it The Flying Luttenbachers (after Hal's real last name). The rest is infamy . . .
Scene Point Blank: How did you meet Hal Russell?
WW: I met him at school. I was interested in his records in high school and when I saw his name on the staff of the college I was checking out, I basically moved to chicago to start my fabulous career as a top free-jazz drummer! Around 1990-1991 I used to do sound at a place in Chicago called Southend Musicworks - we were booking stuff like Peter Brotzmann before it was cool to do that - and Hal's group played there to near-empty rooms about every other month. We just sort of hit it off and Hal suggested that he and I make a group together. We eventually had a falling out and he died soon after. We definitely had some good times, but it's so long ago, it's just a memory to me, nothing more.
Scene Point Blank: Tell me about the various stages of the group.
WW: Early on, it seemed like I naturally supplied the main organization and motivation behind the group, so I took it upon myself to be the leader. I'm striving towards an ideal and it's been very difficult to find musicians versatile enough to deal with everything I'm trying to do. Each stage in the group fulfilled only a small part of the big picture and I have chosen to discontinue each formation when I believed there was no more forward momentum possible. It would be tempting to conclude that my versifying personnel signifies that I'm hard to deal with or work with, but that is bullshit. I'm unusually demanding in the sense that the average rock-type musician is lazy and/or untalented. I generally ask for a little more than what people are used to on all levels, so I guess I'm a "hard boss" or something. I'd love to have just one line up and stick with it, but I haven't found one worthy, with all due respect to the musicians I've worked with. I appreciate the efforts of everybody who has ever been involved with the group and I stand by the documentation. I'm pretty interested in the process of work. I always think the current line-up is the best one yet. I suppose it usually is!
Scene Point Blank: You mention that each stage in the group has fulfilled a certain small part of the big picture. It seems to me that with each new release, you're getting closer to achieving some fantastic, all-encompassing objective- I think I've read an interview where you've discussed trying to ascertain a certain goal and evolve with each release. Could you tell me a little bit about each Luttenbachers release and how each has enabled you to move closer to accomplishing this goal? Do you feel like you're any closer these days?
WW: Well, first off, if people are expecting this predictable, linear progression of complexity from me, they are not going to find it overtly displayed in "The Void". "The Void" is a work of a more subtle complexity. It's a compositional puzzle and it's about trying to convey certain moods and textures. It's not about playing as fast as possible all of the time like most of the other records. It is very dissonant and violent - I'm not wimping out one single bit - but it is also a very deliberate and different chapter in this little saga of mine. There will be plenty of complicated shit in the future, so nobody should worry too much. I'm going to save the hardest stuff for my solo records. I feel like my goal is to make work I'm personally satisfied with. I feel better these days about my ability to make better quality work than what I've done in the past. It's pretty simple.