Bing and Ruth’s Majestic Symphony of Sympathy
Call it part of the new wave of modern jazz, or neoclassical, or anything of the like, but a creature is stirring. Between the Brianfeeder crew (artists like Kamasi Washington and Thundercat), Mary Lattimore, Kelly Moran and even Kendrick Lamar, the term "jazz" is becoming less and less of a thing that is part of your father's collection and more and more of the now. The genre has always existed in one form or another, yet in recent times it seems to be making a bit of a renaissance. (Cue CNN, our current state of the world and the need for "serenity now" for possible answers.)
One such artist is 4AD's Bing and Ruth, whose music is propelled by traditional instrumentation like upright bass and piano, as well as effects, to make a hybrid of jazz with touches of post-rock. Their new LP, No Home for the Mind, which quietly made its debut in February, is one of the best releases of the year, and is definitely the sort of emotionally stirring LP that will grow and grow in influence as the years pass. Hear it in full below alongside a pair of similarly rousing videos culled from the release. Below, we speak with David Moore about influences, live performance and the making of this classic record.
Let’s first discuss the recording of this LP, which I understand was done in Hudson, N.Y., with Ben Greenberg.
Yeah, actually, it's funny because Ben and I — we went to school together. He was basically part of the original lineup from 10 years ago. We sort of evolved out of this ensemble at the school that Ben was actually in. He was there before it actually became an official thing and we stayed in touch, then we didn’t talk for a number of years. I got a random email from him one day saying, "Hey, I am working out of this studio in Hudson, and I don’t know if you are thinking about recording a new album anytime soon, but it would be perfect for you." He didn't know that we were looking to record a new album, looking for a studio, and I had just reached out to the owner of that studio about 20 minutes before.
That was really cool. It was really great working with him again, because he really gets what we are trying to do, what we are about. He understood the whole process of how we wanted to do the record, which was really important. Because we were doing things in a slightly different way than most people who record these days work.
How do you represent this stuff live? It seems like there’s some effects and interesting things going on in addition to the instrumentation, but it’s subtle and tasteful. How many people need to be in the band to represent this live?
Well, the album is actually recorded live. There are no overdubs of any kind — it’s just the five of us in a church sanctuary playing together. So, there is really not a whole lot of added delay or effects other than what is actually happening while we are playing in the room. So, when we play, we are certainly capable of that and have all the tools to do it and change it — mess it around. But what you hear on the record, it's actually us playing in the moment.
Many of your gigs have been in interesting places, such as churches, etc. Is that your preferred venue — something that naturally lends itself to your style of music, as opposed something more traditional?
Part of the challenge of this band since day one is finding the best sort of home to experience it live. We have played all different types of venues, from concert hall types to dingy rock clubs, sort of all over the map. You know, we need venues that have pianos or have the ability to rent the piano. Churches really seem to be a wonderful place for us, because it is this interesting middle ground where we get the acoustics of a large space, which is really important to what we do. We get a piano and a really interesting experience from the audience perspective, being in this space. Noise-wise, it's not like there is a bar, so it gives us a lot of control of how the show is presented, which is really so important. The music is so important, but also the scenario of how the audience interacts with the sound is also very important.
Let’s talk influences, because from an outsider, it seems a little bit different, but also familiar in a very good way. Based in classical, maybe post-rock — what are some of the less obvious influences?
I should say at least initially that I really didn’t listen to any music while I was working on this record. So, there was a couple of years where I really wanted to get away from my sort of outside influence and just be inside of what I was working on. So, I think honestly that the biggest influence on this record was our previous records, where we are growing out of what we had done before. I think there's different aspects of it that are inspired by various artists or genres. In terms of how we recorded the album, being the five of us in a room together playing, just playing it over a couple of days, that was very influenced by jazz sessions where you show up and you play and you knock it out — a couple of takes and that’s that.
I think for me, it is less about this musically, less, “I was trying to do this because I heard it here or because I heard it here.” It was more about all of these various records and artists I had just been absorbing my whole life. That all comes out with how I play, so the record was very isolated from any outside influence. Really, it was just me and the piano, having absorbed all these things that I had loved in the past and trying to push myself forward.
You mentioned jazz. Are there modern piano players that you like? Or is it mostly classic guys?
Yeah, I think with jazz it's interesting because, where I am from, in Kansas, you basically had three paths to choose from as a piano player: classical, jazz and jam band. And so, I think, for me, being classically trained was a great way to learn the technique of playing. Then studying jazz was this way of understanding the instrument and understanding the theory with it. So, my relationship with jazz when I was learning was very much an educational sort of thing. It is only very recently in the last couple of years that I have come back to jazz as a listener. I started really enjoying it again, so it is hard to name any specific artists. Certainly, I don’t listen to any modern jazz at all. I am not sure where things are at there.
I think lately I have recently got back into Bill Evans, listening to a lot of his records and watching documentaries and things like that. I think he had a really interesting approach to the instrument. Lately, what I have been listening to [are] mostly old field recordings of bluegrass and things like that.
I'm curious about you with 4AD — how that happened and the ideas behind that. How did you fit into the classic staple, which ranges from Clan of Xymox to Merchandise?
I think in the history of the band, it has always been a bit of a struggle for me to stay independent — which is to say not being locked into a particular scene, or a particular label that focuses on one scene. I have always really preferred to work in a way that doesn't lock us into anything. I think it is very limiting. In my view, what I think we are doing — especially with this record — is just such a natural human experience. I really do believe that deep down, this music is for everybody — not just for people who frequent experimental labels and record shops …
I totally agree with that.
And I think what is beautiful about working with 4AD is the fact that they do have this really rich history of a lot of different types of music, all along the spectrum. Everything is really good and high-quality: people that might not make sense at the time, but who grow into something special. So, us working with them was such a pleasure and such an honor, honestly. To have them stand behind us in this way … it’s humbling to know that they believe in what we are doing as a band, independent of the scene and the genre that we might fit into.
Do you plan to doing extensive touring? Or just keep it smaller, play Chicago, that sort of thing?
Well, I think as far as touring goes for us, I am far more interested in playing for shorter runs and more selective environments. Major cities or festivals or things like that, just to make what we do on the road and how we tour really intentional. Also, the logistical aspect of it — everybody in the band, we are all in our early 30s at this point. People have their home lives. So, I think we are not anxious to be on the road for two months at a time, then home for a week and back out for a month. It's just exhausting, and it's not what's best for the music.
I find that two weeks is a really great time frame for us to be on tour because we get to come together, evolve with sound, play every night, and we all stay best friends. After two weeks is the point when we probably get sick of it, and this music doesn’t work when you aren’t emotionally invested. I have toured with rock bands before, and you will be out for six months, and after a couple of weeks you start to fatigue a little bit. In order to really connect with an audience, it has to connect with us as we play it. When you get burnt out on playing it, it just doesn’t happen; the connection doesn't translate to the crowd and ... it just doesn’t work unless that's present. For a lot of reasons, we just try to limit our touring and keep it really intentional.