Nick Millevoi: The Rotunda Album.
Through non-traditional tunings, feedback, extreme volume and noise, Philadelphia-based guitarist Nick Millevoi has made it his mission to experiment with and expand upon the sounds of the electric guitar. Millevoi will be releasing his fourth instrumental solo effort—the fuzzed-out avant-garde Numbers on the Side—this Saturday at the Pageant: Soloveev Gallery in Queen Village. The record release show is the penultimate date on Millevoi’s current US tour with fellow Philadelphia guitarist and Numbers on the Side engineer Eric Carbonara, who helped Millevoi record the album in West Philadelphia’s 103-year-old Rotunda last July. Along with a vast number of other collaborations, Millevoi also co-leads noise-rock-free jazz trio Many Arms and makes one half of the duo Archer Spade. Our Derrick Krom spoke with Millevoi about experimental music, the creative process and his many influences.
What got you interested in playing guitar? How did you eventually find your way into exploring the experimental side of the instrument?
Well, I’ve played the guitar since I was 8-years old at this point, so it’s something I’ve always done. Probably when I was 18 or so I got really into jazz because I felt like that was the musical direction for me to get into. I heard A Love Supreme by John Coltrane and thought that free jazz was the coolest shit. But, I still wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with that information. Then I remember, my freshman year in college, I had gotten really into jazz guitarist Bill Frisell. Somebody told me that Bill Frisell was in a band that played a song called “Pigfucker.” That was Naked City, and I got the Naked City album and was like, “This is the coolest.” It made sense to me because I was a rock guitar player and not a jazz guitar player and Bill Frisell was playing like a rock guitar player. So I thought, “This is the cool shit that I gotta check out.” I continued to be really psyched about jazz and got really into playing free jazz guitar, but that’s where it started. That’s what got me into playing weirdo experimental guitar playing.
How is creating a piece of music that is experimental different than, say, if you were to create or craft a traditional pop or rock song?
It isn’t. It’s no different. You know, it’s just about being honest about what you’re hearing and being honest about the music you’re trying to create. I don’t set out to make music that’s totally weird or anything like that, it’s just that’s what I feel like I have to add to guitar music. The things I have to add and the things you hear, you would classify it as experimental or avant-garde, but I don’t think about it. I don’t set out to be weird about it. So, I think in that way it’s just like when you’re writing a song, if you’re writing a song and you’re writing it from your heart, it can come out in any style.
Your latest album Numbers on the Side was recorded in The Rotunda in West Philly. How did that building play a role in your creative process?
The building played a huge role in the sound of this album. Really, the album was created because of the building. My good friend Eric Carbonara—who I’m on tour with right now—had the idea that it would be cool for me to do a recording there. We actually both recorded in there at the same time – he also recorded some stuff for his next album. We did it in the sanctuary, this giant room. It used to be a church, I believe, a long time ago and it’s huge. So Eric invited me in to do it and we just spent an afternoon in there where I had some ideas about what I was trying to accomplish, but a lot of it is improvised through the room. I didn’t really come in with set material or anything super specific because I really wanted the room to play a role in it. I didn’t want it to just be that I came in and said, “I want this song to sound this way.” I wanted the room itself to just really influence the music. So, Eric put mics throughout the room. There’s some close mics on my guitar but then there are mics right in the middle of the room and mics completely on the opposite end up on the balcony. People are already sending me messages asking me about the effects that I use and stuff like that, but I didn’t really use that many effects on my guitar. A lot of the effects are created because of the way the room is miced-up and the way I could react to sounds like that. The reverb in there is so long that I had time to react to it and play against the sound that was happening. The room absolutely impacted the album and made it what it is. If I went and recorded that album in a different place, it wouldn’t have come out like that at all.
You know, I try and be involved in projects where each project is a unique approach. In that way, everything is really able to influence my playing and influence what I’m working on. Take for example what I do with Many Arms. It’s super busy and a lot of it is really extreme and it really contrasts with what I’m doing on this new album, which is longer and more spacious. In both cases, I’m trying to make a really full, big sound. In Many Arms, I’m just one part of a much bigger picture, so I’m playing fast and it’s busy and that creates this big mass. But when I’m doing it just by myself, I’m playing feedback and I’m trying to fill up the space in a much different way. It’s not necessarily about just notes as much as it is sound mass—which isn’t to say I’m always trying to make a huge mass of sound. On this tour right now it’s very different because I’m not just playing stuff that’s right from this album. I’m playing a set that kind of encompasses a lot of things I do. I’m playing some acoustic guitar and that comes from a recent project I did with Archer Spade, which is my duo with Dan Blacksberg. We were doing this project as a trio with this visual artist Erik Ruin and I had this idea to play acoustic guitar and it was great, it was amazing. It was the first time I ever performed on acoustic guitar in any considerable form. Now that influenced me to bring my acoustic guitar on this tour because I just had so much fun doing it. Last year, right before Numbers on the Side was recorded, I had just finished up doing a project with Many Arms where we worked with our good friend Toshimaru Nakamura who plays feedback through a mixing board. I learned a number of things from him in a short period of time and I think that working with him absolutely affected the way I approached recording this album because he has a really open approach and just lets the sound develop and I thought, “this is a great thing to just kind of let into my music and I’m gonna see how that effects what I’m doing.”
I think that places really affect the music you make. I’ve lived in Philadelphia all my life. I’ve never left, and I feel like the music that I make is Philadelphian. My approach to it is different than friends of mine who make similar kinds of music from, say, the west coast or friends of mine who make similar kinds of music from Europe. It’s hard to pin down what exactly the sound differences are, but I think it’s in there, I think the place is really important. Sometimes it has to do with the place itself, the city, what everything looks like, how everything feels. In a lot of ways, I feel like that’s part of my music. I think most people would agree that I make pretty dark music and you know, we live in an urban area on the east coast. There’s a lot of different stuff going on and it’s a gritty city. I love Philadelphia and I only mean this in the best way, but it’s a dirty city. It’s old, there are cars everywhere, there’s always stuff crumbling and being rebuilt. So I’m sure that’s in there. I’m sure I’d make very different music if I lived near the beach or something. The biggest influence is probably the people that are around. I think the people that are part of the community are really great and I think we all influence each other. I wouldn’t have those collaborations that I do if I lived somewhere else. It’s also that music is what I do for a living. I teach guitar lessons and I just play and tour and if I lived somewhere more expensive, I probably wouldn’t be able to do that. I’d probably have a day job. I think Philadelphia is a great combination of being near everything and having a lot going on while also being affordable. I don’t really have to worry too much about my guitar lesson business because the people who want to study with me can find me and it’s really special that I can approach it that way. If I had to be advertising for lessons all the time, I wouldn’t have enough time to concentrate on my music or even on the quality of lessons I’m giving. I love teaching, and I’d rather be concentrating on the actual teaching than trying to find new students. I can be more open and comfortable with what I’m doing, and that’s something special about Philadelphia for sure. I think people outside of Philadelphia know this and the ones who don’t might be starting to figure this out. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know. We’ll find out.
What does your future look like when it comes to music? Where do you want to go with your playing and what do you hope to accomplish?
Well, I hope to just keep doing more of what I’m doing. I have collaborations with people who I really admire and I really respect and I hope to do more of that. I feel very honored that I get to put out as many releases as I do and that there’s an audience for it. I have six albums coming out this year, which is really crazy to me. I just want to keep up the momentum. I want to keep collaborating with people and keep moving forward. Just keep going, keep pushing it, keep collaborating with the people who I admire and inspire me and finding even more of them to work with.
Numbers on the Side will be released physically as a split-CD with doom/noise band Onibaba on April 26th and can be purchased digitally via Millevoi’s Bandcamp.