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flag US - New York - Full Moon 53 - 02/08/01

The Jazz Cannon
An interview with Billy C.

Spaced Cowboy - Madder Rose's former guitarist and songwriter Billy Coté goes Trip Hop

That a lot musicians in guitar bands go searching for a different kind of sounds is no big news anymore. That one of them actually manages to produce an album that leaves the region somewhere between "self-indulgent" and "okay" however, is still quite rare. One of the few exceptions to the rule is The Jazz Cannon, the new project of former Madder Rose tunesmith and guitarist extraordinaire Billy Coté. Having fronted one of the best, but often criminally ignored US pop band of the last decade, Coté now blends slow HipHop grooves, urban imagery in the lyrics (often co written and sung by New York underground poet Don Greene, once the subject of a Madder Rose song) and some samples with his still undiminished sense for a great hookline. Most apparent on two tracks that feature fellow Madder Rose's Johnny Kick on drums and Mary Lorson on vocals. Coté is currently the only East Coast musician to relaese his records on the up and coming San Francisco-based label Function 8. Look out for other releases by Tommy Guerrero & Gadget plus their band project Jet Black Crayon. The label looks to be on its way to fine things and The Jazz Cannons imaginatively entitled debut Amateur Soul Surgery might even be the unlikely highlight of the current releases. Billy recently took time out to talk to me and here are some excerpts from our conversation.

Carsten: I for one have been pretty surprised by the album's sound, even though I knew what was coming. Do you have an idea who's listening to the album, the old Madder Rose fans who've moved on or just an entirely different audience?
Billy: I think mainly it is kind of a newer audience, because of the label we're on. It is more downtempo, jazzy stuff. I think that's who's picking up on it. I don't know how many Madder Rose people really are as yet.

Carsten: Was that the plan in the first place, to get the album released on a label that is somewhat removed from your indie-rock past?
Billy: It was pretty oragnic, because I met the guy who runs the label, Gadget, when Madder Rose was opening for Hole. He was our sound man. We became really good friends and we stayed in touch and when he started the label he just asked me if I wanted to do anything for it. I told them that I had a different type of music than Madder Rose that I thought would work well with it. It was a good coincidence.

Carsten: How did the whole project get off the ground?
Billy: I started doing the music first and as it delevloped I noticed that I'd want to get some different types of singers involved. I used to live with Mary from Madder Rose so it was easy enough to get her to sing on a couple of tracks. Don Greene, the main guy vocal, he's one of my oldest friends from New York City. He's this crazy poet guy and when I saw that the record was taking this creepier turn, I thought that he should do some vocals, too, because he has the kind of voice that fits really well over those kinds of beats. So again that was sort of organic. Whenever I did a track I thought: What would be the best way to compliment this music?

Carsten: So did you do those tracks with an album in mind or did you build it up track by track?
Billy: I did a few of them and I did it just to do music, because I try to do music a lot, just for the pure joy of it and then I started to do this group of songs that certainly didn't sound right for Madder Rose: I just wanted to keep going with it and try to put a collection of them together, make a whole record.

Carsten: Do you see this as a natural progession after you've been moving into the more beat-oriented and electronic-induced direction with the last couple Madder Rose albums as well?
Billy: I think so. Madder Rose didn't want to go any further into that direction and instead of imposing my will on that project, I just decided to do a seperate thing. Madder Rose broke up anyway last year, but it seems to me that I still should seperate things. I love melodic pop music and I also love grittier beat music, so I figured I should seperate these two things.

Carsten: Are you more interested in the whole studio process these days? More than, say, playing guitar on stage? You've been producing Madder Rose for many years, for example.
Billy: Well, because I have a home studio I can do it anytime I want and I've been doing some music for a film and stuff like that, so I am in the studio much more than I am playing guitar in a band. But I also have a little band around where I live and we play once in a while and I played guitar with the band the other night and I had a great time as well. I'd love to be able to balance the two.

Carsten: I guess by the time you started work on the Jazz Cannon album there was still talk of a possible next album by Madder Rose. How did your hopes and expecations for this record change now that The Jazz Cannon supposedly is your main musical interest?
Billy: I went through a peroid when Madder Rose was still on a major label where everything you did was: putting out an an album, trying to make a good single from it and going on tour. You just got into a routine. Now that I don't have to deal with major labels and stuff I feel kind of free. I'm already doing another Jazz Cannon record, but I also working on an instrumental record with some other friends, really organic not-beat-oriented instrumental music and that might come out this year, too. I'm trying to do a bunch of things and I am producing some people. It's not that I have a main band and that's what I do, I like to do a lot of different things if possible.

Carsten: I guess that also means you kinda left behind your days when you were in a touring band as The Jazz Cannon doesn't seem to play live that often?
Billy: We did a few things, like the CMJ seminar in New York last fall. For the shows I got a bunch of my friends to play and we approximated the record, we didn't reproduce it on stage, because obviously there are a lot of samples and stuff. And instead of trying to program that, we just kind of re-learned the songs and interpreted them. It was really cool actually.

Carsten: But that's mostly one-off shows you're doing then?
Billy: Since function 8 has three different albums coming out right now, we're trying to put together a Function 8 tour, where all the different artists on the label would form a band and play each others songs. And we'd have Gadget come and DJ and so forth.

Carsten: We're definitely looking forward to that, thanks for your time!

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