An Interview with Reid Anderson of The Bad Plus
By Casey Pukl
Musical relationships like the one Reid Anderson, Dave King, and Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus have happen once in a lifetime— if that. Spend one minute watching these guys play together, and it’s abundantly clear that not only are they incredible musicians, but great friends. They have a level of trust with their musical babies that most people don’t see inside their own marriages. Their shows are truly an experience, and I couldn’t be more excited to share today’s glimpse into that experience with you all.
I was first introduced to the trio in college, and since then, I’ve traveled over 2,000 miles to see them in various cities over the years. You can imagine my excitement when I learned that instead of driving 8 hours to go to a show, they’d be coming to the very venue I find myself working at each day. I jumped at the opportunity to chat with bassist Reid Anderson about their latest
adventure record, Made Possible, out next Tuesday, September 25th. The rumor mill had been churning for a little while about the possibility of some electronic sounds making it onto the record, and sure enough, we’ve got the scoop on that first hand here! Read on to find out what Reid had to say about recording the latest record, where the amazing song titles come from, and how the band tackles new pieces from top to bottom.
CP: I’d love to get right in to the new record, Made Possible. I watched the EPK for on your website and I’m excited that it seems like you’re taking some things in a new direction.
RA: Yeah, we really approached this one as more of a studio project, you know, we didn’t want to make a record that we would necessarily be able to reproduce every aspect live. And I’ve had a lot of interest in electronics and electronic music, and there wasn’t that much discussion about it, Ethan, David, and I all sort of felt like, 12 years in, this would be an interesting direction to take, orchestrating this music with electronic sounds or other textures. We’ve experimented previously adding little bits of sonic candy, but this one involved more, you could say, deliberate production.
CP: Is this record all originals, like Never Stop?
RA: It is, actually it’s 9 originals and what we’re calling an homage to the great drummer Paul Motian, who was an important influence to us, and somebody we knew and loved, and he passed away while we were in the studio working on this album. So it’s not really a cover tune or an arrangement, but more just shouting one out to Paul, but other than that it’s an all-original record.
CP: Yeah, I think Never Stop was a really exciting album for me to listen to because I really felt like each of your compositional styles really came out and you know, whether it was one that Dave wrote which had more of a percussive focus, or your pieces, which I feel have a more sweeping film score influence to them. So what is your writing influenced by and what’s your process?
RA: I try to be very open, and this is very vague but I try to just let the music be whatever it wants to be, I don’t really think about influences or anything like that, I usually start with a seed of an idea, and then that seed has a natural tendency to become something, and I just try and get out of the way really.
CP: Do your pieces have a background story or do you start from a melodic/harmonic place?
RA: It can go either way, but I’d say for me I start with the sound, then get some kind of idea that has potential. From there I’ll assign a title, hopefully something that’s meaningful and has some relevance to the music. We take our titles really seriously in the band; we never just randomly title something. It may seem like that sometimes but it usually has some sort of meaning to one of us.
CP: So can I ask where the title for “People Like You” came from? I have to say it’s my favorite piece from the band, and it was stunning to hear it live on your last tour.
RA: Well, I guess I was just thinking about certain people in my life, and maybe myself, too. It’s just a simple statement, “people like you” but it’s easy to forget that, and I was going through some things with some people in my life and I just wanted to write something to remind myself of that. And the music is sort of grand and hopeful, I guess, but complex, and I liked the word play of people like you or people like you so it’s subjective, but for me it felt connected to the music.
CP: After being together for 12 years, what’s the dynamic like in the band? I assume you’re all still friends.
RA: Oh it’s beyond that, we’re all part of each other’s families now. [laughs]
CP: So how do the three of you develop these songs? Once one of you brings something new in, and then what’s the next step?
RA: It’s usually pretty fully formed as far as structurally and conceptually, and then you explain it to the other guys, and of course everyone’s free to do whatever they want, once we understand what the core of the music is. So we don’t try to belabor it too much. We’ve been playing together for a long time, and we also have the luxury of knowing who we’re writing for, so generally, we just start playing the song, and sometimes we’ll rehearse a song for the first time at soundcheck and play it that night. Try to inhabit right away, without over-thinking. But things do evolve over time and we’ll always change stuff if it feels like it isn’t working.
CP: It’s always amazing to see the three of you on stage, with your eyes closed, all in seemingly different time signatures, just locking in. It’s really a testament to the unspoken communication you have.
RA: Yeah, it takes a lot of trust, and that’s one of our strengths, that we trust each other musically, and there’s a lot of personal responsibility that everyone takes care of.
CP: I know the other project that you guys have been performing is your take on “The Rite of Spring”. How did that originate?
RA: Duke University commissioned us to do a piece, and they’re really supportive of music in general, Aaron Greenwald programs a lot of interesting music, and they wanted to do something with us that wasn’t really defined at the time, but the idea of “Rite of Spring” was floated and we ran with it because we’d done some Stravinsky in the past and it seemed like the right fit. We couldn’t deny that it was a good idea but we were a little worried about the amount of work it would involve and tried to think of something else, but we ended up succumbing to the gravitational pull of the idea. We premiered it a little over a year ago at Duke and it was co-comissioned by Lincoln Center Outdoors where we performed it last month. It’s a big project that involves video and lighting so it’s not something we can bring everywhere but it’s been fun to do something on this kind of scale, and musically too, it’s been challenging to figure out how to make it work between the three of us. And just the material itself, it’s the “Rite of Spring” so that definitely gives you a leg up.
CP: So you’ve played at Anthology a couple of times before, what are you most looking forward to?
RA: It’s a great club, and we’ve been well received there, unfortunately we don’t get to do much [outside of the gig] because we’re always just in and out. But we’re excited to come back. It really is a great room.
We’re excited to have you back, guys! Special thanks to Reid for his time. Be sure to come on out and hear the trio’s latest offerings (and snag a potentially signed copy of Made Possible) on October 10th! Tickets can be purchased at the link below!
The Bad Plus on Spotify