RP: Impropera is your last album. How are you pleased with it?
KV: I am very pleased with it. We accomplished what we set out to do. By the same token, when we were finished recording, we did ask ourselves “who on earth is ever going to want to listen to this?”.
JB: We’re very happy with the way it came out. It was exactly as we had imagined it. Impropera was something we knew we had to document, something we had to get out of our system. We had been playing much of the basic material live over the last few years, so it had a chance to develop and grow with time. All of this material originated with improvisation, and our goal was to capture that spontaneity in a controlled studio setting. I feel like we succeeded. But while we were pleased with the results, we also knew that many listeners might have a more difficult time with the music. We knew it was less listener-friendly than our previous work. Of course, people who might be attracted to our music are generally used to challenging sounds and would not be expecting sing-a-long pop songs, but still I think this sometimes pushes the limits for some. Several reviews have remarked that the music feels completely separate and unique and outside any tradition, even the avant-garde or experimental tradition. This could be a problem upon first listen. It may feel like there is no frame of reference. Listening to it on its own terms will yield the best results.
RP: Would you say that it’s a lot different than your two previous efforts?
KV: Funny… it is and it isn’t. There are pieces on Impropera that could have been on the other releases and would have fit right in and vice versa. However, presenting Impropera as an opera (as opposed to the usual collection of songs) obviously made it different and working on it with the idea of it being an opera meant that our approach to every individual piece was with that in mind.
JB: I think it’s very different. The previous recordings are mostly song-based, with occasional atmospheric pieces sprinkled in. Impropera, as I mentioned, is improv-based and open ended. Also, with Impropera we felt like we were simulating a live setting, with almost no additional overdubs or added instruments and sounds. When we approach arranging a song, it’s a wide open palette and we can choose any colors we feel are needed. We’re always adding little bits and details to complete the arrangement. A sound here, a part there. That’s one of the reasons it takes so long for us to get things done! But with Impropera, we limited ourselves to what we were playing live, with me only on keyboards and Kira on clarinets, percussion and voice. So the approach was completely different, and the end result reflects that.
RP: Are all the vocals stylings planned before going into the studio or are they occasionally (or completely) improvised?
KV: Not all of the vocals are planned. No. The pieces with actual lyrics evolved from improvisation and have fallen into what you hear on the recording but even some of those might get twisted around and delivered differently when we perform live. The vocals that are glossolalia are completely improvised every time we perform and were improvised for the recording. They are always different but with a similar mood. Then there are a couple of pieces that were entirely improvised (music and vocals) in the studio, as we recorded. Those would be “Prima Punta” and “Epilogue”. These pieces we have not yet performed live. A couple of the instrumentals were improvised in the studio as we recorded also.
Impropera started as a live performance with the concept of performing an improvised opera. As time went on things started to become ‘learned’. Joe would come up with sounds and samples and we would fall into patterns. Some things we liked so much that we stuck with the sounds and the mood, instead of starting fresh each time. The more we played, the more some things became learned and to some extent, repeated. That was when we felt that it was important to record Impropera… while it was still not completely known to us. We wanted to capture it before it became a written entity with each of us knowing what we ourselves would do or what the other person would do. Every live performance is different from the other. We arrange the opera differently almost every time, depending on the amount of time we have for the performance and depending on our moods. We know what samples we like with what, so certain aspects are dependable. I know which department Joe is going to be in but I do not always know in which aisle I will find him or on what shelf.
JB: One interesting thing is that, to me, the two pieces mentioned, “Prima Punta” and “Epilogue”, sound the most composed of the entire recording. In fact, they are completely improvised, being created on the spot in the studio.
RP: What does the name Impropera stand for? Improvised opera, improper opera, both, or something else?
KV: All of the above. Impropera is an improvised, improper, imp opera that is importuned, imperiled, impaled, impeached, impoverished, impolitic, impolite and impish…! There are so many great words that begin with “imp”… don’t you think?
RP: Is there some sort of concept behind the album’s lyrics?
KV: I like structure. I like stories. I like cohesion. Even within improvisation I want there to be all of these things. Non Credo always improvises with composition in mind. I think that I initially improvise lyrics with an awareness of a direction and then flesh the lyrics out to round out and complete a story. In the end I can connect the individual stories to tell a larger story. At least I attempt to. Just like connecting the dots. Or maybe I just sort of stretch things to fit a concept. I know that, in my head, I can play with the lyrics in Impropera and make them make sense as a cohesive whole. As a concept. I am always reticent to ever give away my own interpretations, as it is so fascinating to hear or read how other people interpret what is going on.
However… I will give you a glimpse:
I think of Impropera filmically. The opera begins near the end of the story, with our anti-hero having hit rock bottom. Homeless, incapable of social interaction and unable to handle the one simple task that could save him. His story, his past… would invoke sympathy from passersby. If he could tell it. He cannot and his story is a lie. The rest of the lyrics lay out the true story. They speak of his crimes, his delusions and his denials. Near the end of the opera is “Sleeping Beauty”. This lyric was inspired by a news story I read many years ago and that I had never forgotten. The story was about a woman who was in hospital or a sanatorium. She had been in a coma for 10 years when, one day, hospital staff noticed that her belly was getting larger. Upon examination, they discovered she was pregnant. In the news story it stated that her parents wanted her to carry the child to full term as they would then still have some part of her… since basically ‘she’ was gone. I tell the story from the comatose woman’s point of view. Our anti-hero has impregnated her while working there as an orderly or perhaps a grounds keeper. She is carrying a child that will inherit the father’s mental illness and unwittingly her parents want to keep this child. Our anti-hero disappears into the depths of his decline and demise and is now not only an insane sociopath but physically crippled by his own actions. This is how we first see him at the beginning of the opera. It’s a cheery, heart warming little story.
RP: Why did you decide to ditch the drums for Impropera?
KV: I don’t play drums.
JB: Ha! Does this mean if you did play drums, they wouldn’t have been ditched? We ditched a lot of things for Impropera, drums being one of them. As previously described, we wanted to document our live performances, which had been stripped down to voice, clarinets and keyboards. But in reality, there are plenty of drums on Impropera. It’s just that they are sampled and played from the keyboard, which of course gives them a completely different sound and feel. Beats and patterns are slowed down or sped up, broken apart and separated from their original context. For example, the military snare drums that run throughout Vienna Fingers are a sample I grabbed from another song that we haven’t released yet. There are several places like that throughout the entire CD. So I guess drums didn’t get ditched after all!
RP: Are you composing any new music?
KV: Always, but we are both slow to actually produce a product. We have the beginnings of a new Non Credo CD of original compositions that has been slow to get going and we have also been working, for a few years now, on a CD of covers of other people’s material. We are trying to Non Credo-ize (Credo-size?) the music of others! That one has been slow going also. I am trying to get to a solo CD. Time is in short supply.
JB: The covers CD will be the next thing we release, as it is the closest to being completed. Expect a completely eclectic, schizophrenic collection of songs. I would say our next completely original release will be more along the lines of our first two releases. We’d like to return to songs after the extended improvisations of Impropera. But don’t rule out an Impropera Volume 2 in the near future.
There is a guy in Sweden who is trying to put together a Non Credo tribute collection. I know, crazy, huh!? Haha. He’s done a few songs himself and we’ve been trying to help him put the word out to other musicians who might be interested in contributing covers of our tunes. It’s very interesting to hear how people approach our music. We’re fascinated by this. So that should be a fun project that will hopefully see the light of day next year.
RP: Here’s one of my standard questions. What does the creative process look like in Non Credo?
KV: Ha! It probably looks like Hell. We argue and fight. Actually, I think I am the one who argues and fights. I prefer to work alone. I like to write alone. If something comes out of an improv, then I suppose we spend more communal time on it. Otherwise, I prefer to do as much as I can on my own and only get together when it becomes necessary. I think Joe would prefer to work on things together more than we do but I am not good at that.
JB: Sometimes it’s like a walk in the park, sometimes it’s a bloodbath! Usually, it’s something in between. As Kira said, we mostly work independently, but the nicest thing about that is how we complement each other so well when it’s time to collaborate. We will each come up with ideas that the other would never think of. There is a mutual respect and trust of each other’s musicality. If one of us brings in an unfinished piece, the other will add something completely unexpected and take it in a brand new direction. This makes for some very pleasant surprises. Of course, there are many battles along the way, as we are very head-strong and independent, but we’re always very happy with the end result. It’s always worth the blood and tears.
Creatively, I would say we work in a more “painterly” way, like adding dabs of color to a landscape. We’re very influenced by non-musical forms and those influences creep into the music. We think cinematically, attempting to create a little story, or maybe a short film in our heads, for each piece.
RP: Are you involved in any other musical projects besides Non Credo?
KV: I do the occasional solo gig or improv gig with others but unlike Joe I do not play with a lot of different people, nor do I play that often. Joe plays drums with just about everybody in Los Angeles. He’s a slut.
JB: Thanks, Kira! Yes, many. I’m a member of several bands and ongoing projects, mostly as a drummer/percussionist. To mention a few, there’s the surf/spy group Double Naught Spy Car, the avant-blues band The Mentones and percussion group The Obliteration Quartet. I also do quite a bit of improv in Los Angeles, from solo to duos, trios and beyond. This gives me an opportunity to use some of the electronic instruments and circuit bent toys I’ve been working on, along with live sampling of percussion The improv scene here is strong, although the players in it may not be so well known outside the city. Kira and I have a revolving improv trio, mostly with guitarist Carey Fosse.
RP: Do you make a living from music?
KV: I do not. Never have. Probably never will. Certainly not in Non Credo. In order for me to make a meager living playing music, I would probably have to play music that I hate and sing lyrics that would make me choke. I refuse to do so. Ahhhh… but it would be nice to make a living playing music that I liked. Oh well…
JB: Yes, I manage to eke out a living from music. But not from Non Credo, no. This means I have to play other people’s music. This is where the “slut” part comes in, I suppose. But I try to be selective about the music I play, and I’ve been lucky in that people will hire me because they like what I do, as opposed to just needing a person to fill the drummer slot. It’s very difficult to get by this way, but it’s more satisfying in the end, at least artistically. Financially, it can always be better.
RP: When you started your musical career, were you aware of RIO and zeuhl? Now?
KV: When I started singing I was a kid. RIO and Zeuhl didn’t exist. By the time I started playing in bands, in clubs, I was made aware of RIO and Zeuhl because the people who were aware thought that was where I belonged.
They would say to me that I sounded like so and so or that my songs were like this or that. Of course now we read reviews from people who say that it is absurd for us to be categorized as either one. They insist we do not belong in either of these categories. That is the beauty of Non Credo. We seem not to belong anywhere. It’s very liberating.
JB: I have been aware of RIO/Zeuhl for a long time, long before Non Credo began, long before The Fibonaccis, my pre-Non Credo band. And, yes, it has been a rather large influence. We have at times been lumped into the RIO scene, and we’ve also been told we do not belong there at all. It’s not something we think about. The one good thing about it is that it gives a handle to music that is otherwise unclassifiable. It would be so easy to just be able to answer the question, “what kind of music do you make” by saying, “RIO”. But almost no one would know what we were talking about.
Whether we are RIO, whether we have that “sound” (whatever that is), I do feel that we represent the true spirit of “Rock In Oppositiion”. If you think of RIO as being music in opposition to an uncaring music industry, we certainly fit that bill. But are we RIO? Who knows? Maybe we’re Rock In Opposition to RIO!
RP: Do the live performances include only the two of you?
KV: They do now!
JB: Yes, just us two. We’ve mostly been doing Impropera live recently, with some older songs added here and there. But we would like to add other players for certain special shows, especially when we begin to work up newer material for live gigs.
RP: Have you ever been tempted to add more band members to Non-Credo?
KV: In the beginning… 20 years ago, we started out with six band members. The two of us plus four other musicians. What a pain in the ass! Not really… well… yes really. I just mean… not entirely. We loved and still love the people we have played with. They are great people, great musicians and really good friends. It’s just that Non Credo is only ‘Joe and Kira’. We write everything. We dictate how we want everything played. We rehearse the hell out of everything and musicians who do not have a vested interest in the project or who are not getting paid a lot of money just can’t be expected to put in the kind of time and effort we want or wanted. We toy with the idea of putting a band together again but it probably will not happen. As a duo that has worked together for 20 years, we have an incredibly intuitive way of playing with each other. If we add somebody to the mix, things start to get a little iffy. That said, Joe and I both consider Bernard Sauser-Hall to be an honorary, permanent (if in-active) member of Non Credo. Bernard is the only outside musician that contributed compositionally from improvs. With Bernard we went from four or five people down to a trio. He moved back to Switzerland years ago. We will always play with Bernard if he is around and available and interested.
JB: I would still like to have a small group of players to do live shows, but we will never add anyone as an active member or partner in Non Credo. It’s hard enough for the two of us to decide on things. On second thought, maybe that’s what we need…a third person to be the tie breaker! But really, it will always be just the two of us because it works so well.
RP: Does having only two members in a band give you more creative freedom?
JB: I think so, yes. The group decisions are made between only two people, and if you trust that other person, it’s easier and the personal compromise is less. It’s easier to balance between two. Part of the initial idea of starting Non Credo was to give both of us the opportunity to do things that we couldn’t do within a regular group, with 3 or 4 other people. Sometimes a piece will be entirely one person, with the other just adding a small part here and there. So there is a lot of freedom within that.
KV: I don’t know if it is so much a question of more or less freedom, as it is about more room. We can take up a lot more space and stretch without bumping into others… Hey! Maybe that is more creative freedom. I guess the answer is “Yes”.
RP: Do you have any concerts planned in the future?
KV: We have been asked but we are trying to “just say NO”. We want to finish recording the things that we have started. Performing takes us completely out of the ability to record. No time for both. They each require a different mindset. Although we have been thinking about doing a residency at this tiny little club/bar in Los Angeles. We are thinking of playing two sets a night, one night a week for a month. Every set would be entirely different material. We would want to record audio and video of the whole thing. Once it’s all documented we will ask ourselves “who on earth is ever going to want to listen to or see this?”.