On the subject of your new project, you're writing stuff or making stuff
up with that group, KVHW,
and you've got a gig coming up after the Furthur
tour (on the 15th of August, at the Great American Music Hall). It's still a
four-piece, right? Guitar, guitar, bass, and drums?
Note: Rumor has it that a fifth member has joined this group,
and that the band has continued rehearsing while Steve has been on the
road with the Other Ones.
Are you happy with that right now as an outlet for your music, for music
you're writing or that you're writing with other people?
Yeah. That works good.
The group came together here at Studio E?
Yes. We were trying to send Kene to Paris. Kene's gal was up in Moscow
and she couldn't get back here, and they were going to meet in Europe. And
so we went, OK, kids, let's put on a show, and me and Bobby thought we'd
have a gig here. We decided this on a Monday and booked a gig for that
following Friday. Alan showed up on Wednesday, Ray showed up on
Thursday, and we did the gig on Friday. So that's the entire amount of
preparation we had.
How did Ray fall in there? Does he live around here?
Ray's an old friend of Bobby's and we ere thinking who could we get, and
all of a sudden it was going to turn into another Zero gig, so we said, No.
Let's try Ray. So, we did it. It worked great. We've got a
of the gig, the very first time the thing turned a wheel. We video'd the
whole thing. It's nice.
I love playing with Bobby Vega. Bobby and I have been playing together for
years and years and years. We lived together. I have a lot of respect for
Bobby's playing and have done my best to get inside his stuff, and he does
his best to get inside my stuff. So we know each other real well, and we
really enjoy playing together.
So that's a core that you're building on?
Yeah, just some stuff for me and Bobby to do. And Alan is a fabulous
drummer, and Ray is the perfect rhythm guitar player. He's like Bobby.
When in doubt, he's funky. So it's great. And he's a great singer. If we play
something that sounds like it ought to have words, he makes them up.
Improv lyric and melody. It's cool.
So how different is it to play with a rhythm guitarist versus being the
only guitar voice in a small group? Does it change your approach? Do you
figure someone else is holding down the changes, or the rhythm?
It doesn't change it that much. It opens stuff up a lot. If you have two
singers you have twice as many singers, and if you have two drummers you
have twice as many drummers, but if you have two guitar players it's like
having 11 guitar players. And in a way it's kind of nice not having the
keyboard, as much as I like keyboards. It's just more open.
You have to use different kinds of sounds and different kinds of guitars to
cut through certain things. It's real different playing with a synthesizer
than it is playing with another guitar. Texturally and timbrally, there's
more stuff you can do. It's more open like that.
Once I've accomplished this Other Ones task, which is essentially not
dropping over dead before I finish the tour, I'd like to put some attention
on the KVHW thing.
So you might be touring?
It would be nice to go out and do some work with that. I also very much
would like to get the Zero thing back on the road in some kind of shape
that allows it to do what it does best.
Would you ever consider playing solo, just you and the guitar in jazz clubs
or small clubs?
Sure, yeah. I'll do that at some point when that's what I feel like doing. It
changes every month, what I feel like doing. Every thirty or sixty days, it's
something totally different, so that'll come up.
Is that your only solo project right now. In other words, going under your
The old Steve Kimock & Friends group hasn't gigged for almost a year now.
No, there's been a couple of parties and stuff in there, but the Kimock &
Friends thing was supposed to be something I could do on my time off, kind
of like a card game kinda gig, you know? Get together with the guys,
smoke cigars, and play cards. I never intended it to be something serious,
just something fun, and I guess it just didn't work out like that. Everybody
expects it to be some friggin' spectacle or something.
So how did the album come out, the one SK&F album that's out there?
Steve Fink, who used to come and tape the Zero shows - he would help me
get to the shows and stuff, and help book the gigs - had a little four
track machine, and he'd stick it in the back of the pickup truck when we'd
run the mic lines in the window. So we just went to a couple of bars, like
the very first time we played the tunes, again, and recorded it. We did a
little noise reduction on it, and did a little mix on it, a little eight-track
thing. It sounds great. But that's it. We only printed a couple, two thousand
or something like that. I think they're gone.
I got mine already.
Good. I have no idea where mine are, or if I even have one.
I couldn't figure out if that was your signature live or printed on it. It's
Oh, yeah, I signed 'em. I signed every single one of those myself. I signed
them all, signed and numbered every one of them.
Group Improvisation and Narrative Solos
You mentioned having a theatre background,. Driving up here, I was
listening to the Zero live album, Go Hear Nothing, and it rolled around to
Tangled Hangers, and there was a nice, long delicate delayed introduction
to the song. I remember thinking I was hearing a sense of drama, setting
the stage. It reminded me of something I've enjoyed about Zero and
particularly your playing: You don't necessarily rush into things. You allow
things to build from nothing.
Well, there's two things about that. One is, that's the only shape that
group improvisation takes. If you're talking about form in music, and you
talk about group improvisation, it's always the same thing. There's a slow
gathering of energy till the thing finds some direction, then there's some
kind of peak, and after that it falls off at a much quicker pace than it
ramped up. That's the basic improvisational form. It's really, really hard
to come up with another form for improvisation. Occasionally when
somebody does actually come up with a long piece of improvisation that
doesn't follow that form, it's significant. Like Miles Davis' In a Silent
Way, for example, is really horizontal and layered.
Also, those introductory spaces that I try and get into my own tunes are
part of the raga form thing where there's like an introduction to the
material. The basic material that you're going to work with in the
improvisation is stated. I'm not using a scale-specific thing like they do
with a raga, but the basic form is the same. You do it first without time,
and you show the things you're going to hit. Tangled Hangers combines
these two basic forms: the raga thing, and the standard jazz tune where
you've got a head and a blowing section. I try to get that in there when I
can, because I think it's a nice head space. The material that's played
initially does comes up later on
So it's like an overture, in classical music? You run through the high
points or the touchstones?
Yeah, it's kind of like stating the material. We're going to go this way,
when it comes together. It sets up some expectations.
Trying to stay on that idea of drama, or as in theatre, the way you present
art, there's a--
In theatre, the way you present art is you bang nails all week, hang lights,
and read cues, and carry shit around, and unpack big boxes, and stuff like
Sure, but the goal is to tell a story, ultimately, right?
The goal is to do all the things you need to do to get the story told,
whether you're telling it or not.
Is there a narrative thrust to your playing? Is there kind of a story that
you're telling, when it comes time to speak your piece?
Necessarily, the rhythms and constructions that stick in people's heads
are speech based. When you allow for that, there's some underlying form,
as if it were storytelling. There are characters that move around, and
come in and out of the thing.
Not literally, like Peter and the Wolf?
Not literally, like Peter and the Wolf, but certain moves or areas of
activity that represent things get juxtaposed in different ways, have
relationships to each other, just like people in a play might do. The
rhythms, again, are speech based. If you play music, then for a lot of the
rhythms, there's some vocalese that describes different rhythms. Whether
it's: dead ant, dead ant, who parked the car? dead ant, dead ant.
Rented a tent.
Rented a tent, yeah. So there's gotta be some storytelling aspect to the
improvisation thing just for those reasons. That's how we're used to
hearing and constructing stuff. Everybody is. That's our cultural
I've noticed, and you're not nearly the only musician for whom I've noticed
this, that you sometimes appear to be singing the part that you're playing.
Well, it helps you not get too busy with stuff, and it helps get the
breathing in the right places . Stuff that's hard to sing is hard to hear.
Stuff that's easy to sing is easy to hear. If you keep a little bit of that
vocal thing going, it's easier for you people to hear it, and if you're also
doing a vocal, you realize you have to stop and breathe. I have done it
where I've set up a nice long space like that, and let it build, and breathe
and everything, and then watch the people and go right over some spot
where I'm supposed to breathe (because I don't have to because I'm
playing) and watch everybody go [puff, wheeze], like twenty people in the
first row have to stop and catch their breath because they're singing along
and hearing it. I've actually seen that happen.
Don't Give Steve a Sarod
So if somebody were to bring you a brand-new sarod, what would happen
What is a sarod, now?
It's an Indian stringed instrument. It's fretless, you play it with your
And you have one and have been playing it or you'd like to get one?
No, if somebody brought me a sarod, I would stop playing the guitar, and I
would sit around with my legs crossed and play the sarod for the rest of
my life, because it would take me that long to learn to tune the damn
thing. They sound great. They're my favorite stringed instrument.
We're gonna make sure no one brings you one.
Do not bring me a sarod. If you want to hear me play the guitar, do not
bring me a sarod, because I will never play the guitar again if I have a
sarod. It would be pointless.
Did you ever play a sitar?
Yeah, I played a sitar. Sitar's cool. But sarod's just got it. That's the axe.
How did you get hooked into that?
I accidentally moved to California, and the very first place I lived was
right behind the Ali Akbar College of Music, and so I got up the very first
day I was in California and there was all this music coming out. I was like
"Holy shit, where I am? This is incredible." So, since that time, I've been
hanging with different people down at the school and listening to
specifically Ali Akbar Khan's playing. Unbelievable stuff. He's the king.
Have you ever played with a tabla player?
Yeah, I've done a little stuff with tablas. I'm nowhere even near the
training-wheel level of actually doing that stuff, but it's been an
enormous influence on my general approach to doing music at all. It's
improvised music with what in the West we admit is a 2000-year
tradition for the Indians simply because before that we say it's
prehistory, when by their accounts it's more like a 10,000-year
improvisational tradition, passed down from father to eldest, not just
eldest son, but eldest worthy son. It's just an incredible tradition,
The Future of Zero
A lot of fans of Zero have mixed feelings. They feel happy for you, because
this is obviously a career opportunity, and jealous or afraid of losing this
special band they get to see, and you implied earlier that you'd like to see
Zero continue the way it does best, so can I reassure those fans that
you're interested in there being more Zero gigs in the future?
Yeah, of course. There was never any intention of not doing that. Before
this came up, to do the Other Ones trip - and God bless 'em for letting me
on board for a minute - what I wanted to do was make a Zero record. I kept
going, We gotta take some time off, and write, and we've gotta make a
record. It was the like the band had gotten into this working grind about
going out and playing a gig for a thousand dollars is cool, or going and
playing in Santa Barbara on Tuesday night. We all know what the good Zero
gigs are, when we park our butts in some place for a day or two and play,
and let people come from all over the place. They're weekends or some
kind of hippie high holy days, like Summer Solstices, where people want to
go and do the Zero thing. I think the Zero band has just allowed itself to
crunch along doing whatever comes up workwise, without doing the real
mature work that's on the plate in front of us. I'm hoping that that's what
we get to after this. It's purely speculative, but you would think that the
additional press and stuff would help leverage the thing up a little bit.
I wasn't looking for a big gig, I was looking for a big job. I want to do a big
job, a job that you've got to plan, like making a record, getting material
together, creating a body of work, that kind of stuff.
Yeah, not like going to a bar and playing. My God! That would be work when
you're eighteen - you know, Can I get in? - but not when your forty
something and playing in a bar. It's ridiculous. So the Other Ones thing is a
big job, and getting the Zero thing straightened out enough to make a great
record and get the touring schedule together, that's a big job, but the band
was not in any kind of mental or emotional shape to do that, and we were
ready to take a break anyway. So here's the break, and I'll do my best to
leverage the thing up from outside the band.
I'm sure we'll continue. I've been doing the Zero thing most of my adult
life. There's no reason to stop doing it now. There's every reason to think
that recently it's been starved for the real attention it needs, which is the
writing and the more creative booking thing. I don't think anything's going
to happen to the Zero gig in the future except that it'll get a lot better for
everybody, because we know how to do a good gig. We know how many
people you've got to get. We know where and when you've got to put it. We
know what we've got to do, to do that. We just don't do it consistently
The Perfect Size Audience for a Gig
Something I've heard from other fans, a number of times is a feeling of
getting away with something, in the sense of, surely this band can draw
more people than just us! As a fan you're happy to be in a room where the
music is intimate, and yet as a connoisseur of music, you want other
people to come along and agree with you that it's good.
There's an upper limit, audience-sizewise or room-sizewise, for doing
something intimately. There's a couple of guitars and singing. It's
essentially chamber music. It's improvisational. There's no reason to think
you can do that in front of many thousands of people and have it be the
same thing at all. I don't think you can do it for more than one or two
thousand people at the same time. This is something that I've talked to
some of the guys over the years in the Grateful Dead organization about:
What are the ethics of doing this music in front of 10,000 people? You
can't even dot a quarter note in that room! You're playing in a damn hockey
rink. When's the tail wagging the dog, here? I want to play in a room that
sounds good, with a bunch of people and some energy but without going
down to some mob-level mentality forcing you to play a certain way. I
know what I think is good about that, and I know exactly - the kind of fans
you're talking about - what they think is good about it, and we're in total
agreement about it.
I have heard speculate about it would be nice to see Zero at the Greek
I think that would suck! [Laughs]
Fans think that's an intimate space, even though it's not enclosed.
It's gotta be a couple thousand. That's really big. I'm only guessing, but I
would think that beyond four or five thousand people, it's a big rock-show
entertainment, production kind of thing. I'm guessing that at a certain
point you lose some of the real intimate part of it that really does make it
magical, when the band's own dynamics are holding itself together. When
you've got a room that's so big that the delay time on it is like crack,
[wait] crack, and the ambient audience noise is already 90 dB, what are
you doing for tempos? What are you doing for dynamic range? What are you
doing for being able to hear yourself play?
How many does the Fillmore hold?
That's fine. The Music Hall is nice. That's why I want to do that KVHW
thing in the Music Hall, because I think that we can actually play like
human beings in a good-sounding room, and get some people in there and
have it sounding good and feeling good.
It's like a circus after a while, just a big extravaganza.
Well, this Other Ones thing is the first time that I'm going to get to go and
see what it's like to do something on that kind of scale. I'm sure I'll learn
a lot about it, but I don't think it's going to change my mind about what
circumstances best bring up what I think of as an authentic musical
The show at the Warfield was just amazing. We don't get a nuggie like that
that often, but with these Phil & Friends gigs we've sort of had Fat City
I tell you what, man, I'm really looking forward to those Fillmore shows,
because I know that room, and it's not going to be an Other Ones thing, and
- I don't know who's going to have to kick and scream the most, but I'm
not going to do a gig outside of the Other Ones thing with those
headphones or earphones or anything like that. Keep it in the room, you
Have you been fitted for the little earphones?
I've been fitted, man. I'll show you exactly what happened. [Stands] I was
fitted for my earphones, I was handed my little box, and I took the little
box like this, and looked over at the console at Mike, the monitor mixer,
and I went [phssht] and I fired the little box to him, and he put it away
Are you going to be wearing headphones then?
No, I'm sure when I get to the gig in Atlanta, Mike will go [phssht] and flip
me my little box back.
Note: Steve has been observed wearing headphones at the first
several Other Ones gigs, so perhaps the in-ear monitors have not panned out.
Don't you want to try to get comfortable with it, if that's the interface
everybody's working through, to hear each other?
Yeah, if that's the way they want to do it, that's the way I'm going to do
it. I'd like to think that I'll be the very first guy to figure out how to do a
good job with those damn things on. That's my attitude about it.
When everything really gets going, there's something about using your
ears, right? [Snaps fingers] because your ears can help you locate a sound
- the shape of your head, the distance between your ears. There's a whole
psychoacoustical thing that happens that allows you to locate stuff. So
when that's gone, it's kind of difficult to direct your listening to a place.
If I'm on a stage with a real band, and even if it's noisy and I've got to
listen all the way across the stage when I want to hear the Leslie, I can -
like a bat - kind of get there, get to the Leslie. You can't really do that
with these things on. They don't give you a location.
It's an imaginary space.
Right, there's no panorama really. There's none of the reflection off the
outsides of your ears. There's none of the time difference between one ear
and the other. So the locatedness of it is gone, which makes it a kind of
Don't you lose the feedback?
Well, the instruments are all still in some ambient field. There's still
sound around. There's giant sound coming out of the speakers in the front
and everything like that. It's just not as direct.
It will be over like [snaps fingers] that. I'll be onto the next thing. I won't
worry about it.
At the End of the Tour
You're coming back on the 26th of July, and you've got shows on the 7th
and 8th and you haven't even figured out who's going to be in the band yet?
Details, details. [Yawning] I'm not the tiniest bit worried about it. The
Fillmore, man. What a great room! It almost doesn't matter who we get.
Well, we should probably call it quits.
Put something cool together out of that, Christian.
I'll do my best.