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Bill Orcutt

After more than ten years of silence, ex-Harry Pussy guitar player Bill Orcutt released ĎAn New Way To Pay Old Debtsí, an acoustic hardcore blues record that sounds heavier than all the eclectic guitar records in your collection. It was the best album of 2009.


Last December, I saw the last concert of the Germsí reunion tour. That same afternoon, I was listening to your record and in a way, your guitar playing and Pat Smearsí sounded very much alike.
If the music Iím playing sounds intense, itís not because Iím trying to play hardcore; itís because thatís whatís inside my head.

I love the Germs music and certainly when I was playing with Adris we were at various times inspired by high-energy music like hardcore, grindcore, free-jazz, jungle, etc. At this point though Iím not really looking at other music in the same way I was before. Now Iím really just trying to find a way to express myself.

The influence of Derek Bailey seems very obvious though.
Once I realized I was going to be playing solo, I started listening to solo performers, Bailey was one. And if youíre playing solo-improvised guitar, youíll probably have to deal with him in some way.

And what about the old bluesmen?
Yeah, delta blues was another touchstone, particularly Fred McDowell. I started playing the guitar after seeing Muddy Waters in ĎThe Last Waltzí, so the blues is a kind of music Iíve listened to a lot and feel close to. I was also listening to Carlos Montoya, Iíve just started learning about flamenco, and old favorites like Joseph Spence, Cecil Taylor and Glenn Gould.

I think your ĎA New Way To Pay Old Debtsí album was the best thing Iíve heard in 2009. What I was wondering about: If you make an album like this, do you know yourself that you made a great piece of music? In other words: is an artist a good critic of his own work?
I have no idea if Iím a good critic of my work or not, probably not. I knew that I liked the record ok. It seemed like the guitar sounded right and the performances had some nice moments. I thought it sounded like me. As for how listeners might respond, I dunnoÖ Not having released a record for so long, I didnít know how people would react.

Why did you wait so long to release a new record than?
I stopped playing because I needed a break. Iíd been in a band for five years and it was time to obsess about something new. I moved to San Francisco, got married, had kids, wrote a bunch of software. I listened to lots of music during that time, but would almost never play.

So what made you pick up the guitar again?
Putting together the compilation for Load in 2008 (Harry Pussyís ĎYou'll Never Play This Town Againí, jb) was the first time I had heard that music in over 10 years and it made me feel like picking up the guitar again. I started playing and after about a year, I felt like there was something there to record.

Was it clear to you right from the start that this album was going to be a solo record?
It was always going to be just me, though it wasnít clear at first whether there would be overdubs or other instruments involved. Once I got into it, I realized it sounded best just with the guitar by itself.

What does the title refer to?
The title is the name of a play I read in school. Thereís no specific reference; it had a nice ring to it and seemed right for the record.

The first thing that got my attention when I played this record was that you used an acoustic guitar.
When I started playing again, using the acoustic was just practical. It was less likely to disturb the neighbors and I could play without having to setup anything.

What kind of a guitar do you use?
Itís an old Kay jumbo acoustic Iíve had since I was a kid. Itís been broken and rebuilt a couple of times.

Once I started recording, I switched to the electric, but missed the dynamics I was getting out of the Kay. I still wanted some of that electric sound though, so I put a pickup on the acoustic and stuck the mic in a place where I got a bit of both.

The way you play the guitar is very unusual.
I was looking for something different and playing the 4-string forced me to approach things differently; the strings are split high & low and all the usual stuff in the middle is gone. The sound is stark and stripped down, thereís no inner voices on the chords and none of the typical rock/blues/folk/jazz moves work.

Of course on the other hand you can really beat the shit out of the low E string which is fun. In any event, Iíve been doing it now for like 20 years. Itís just become the way I play the guitar.

Are these tracks improvisations, or do you see then as real songs?
Mostly it was improvised, usually around a scale or a chord or two. There were a few things worked out completely.

Do you see yourself as a singer/songwriter?
I do see them as songs so singer/songwriter sounds ok to me. Maybe itís time to reclaim that termÖ

Sometimes I hear a car driving by in the background. Or I hear a phone ringing while youíre playing.
I left them in because it would have been impossible to take them out. I would have had to scrap entire takes. The room where I was recording was on a busy street and that was just what it sounded like. I like the noises; it reminds me of field recordings where the background sounds can be quite prominent.

Why did you decide to release this record yourself?
Self-sufficiency I guess. Also Iím kind of obsessive and a pain in the ass, so if I do it myself, itís easier for everybody.

Bill Orcutt will be playing at the Kraak Festival, Belgium
-- Joeri Bruyninckx (3 February, 2010)

related links....

Bill Orcutt's Palilalia label.
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