Very young, 4 or 5 years old. I remember loving all the ’60s pop songs that I heard when I lived in Chicago from 1965-1970. The radio was on all the time. My parents loved music of all types.
Who were some of the first bands/artists that you really liked and why?
My Dad’s record collection was it – so all at once, lots of varied stuff including Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew (I was fascinated by the album cover art), The Shadows (early ’60s seminal instrumental/guitar British group), Simon & Garfunkel, Isaac Hayes, Bobby Goldsboro, John Coltrane, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On (that album cover was simple but also epic to me), etc. A strange mix of music, some might say, but it was what a college student in Chicago in the late ’60s would have been collecting. This was while I was growing up in Guyana, from about 5 through 11 years old.
The local radio was also great. I heard a ton of Indian vocal music, calypso, early reggae, blues, ’50s music, etc. I can remember Bob Marley’s first hit singles as they were introduced on radio.
I remember my Dad taking me to see a movie about the 1950s. It was incredible. That really, really had an effect on me. I was very young and can’t remember details of who was in it, but you can imagine, it was Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, etc.
What was the first musical instrument that you learned how to play and why?
Guitar. And a little piano. I started late. I was 17 and living with my Dad, Grandmom & Aunt in Kingston, Jamaica. My aunt had a piano and a beat up classical/nylon string guitar. I plunked around on those all summer and figured out the very basics, with the help of some of her music books. Nothing like having TONS of time on your hands as a kid.
As far as why, I just always loved music and I loved the guitar as well. One of my cousins had taught me “Electric Funeral” by Black Sabbath a few years earlier. I just loved the sound of guitar. From that first Shadows album as a kid, I just loved the twang and sustain and sound of… a guitar through an amp.
Are you a schooled musician? And do you feel that aspiring musicians should have some sort of formal musical education or training? Why or why not?
Sadly, no. Definitely a regret I have, along with not going further with early French and Spanish classes. So, so important to know multiple languages in the 21st century.
But as far as music – yeah, I minored in music for a while in college and took a bunch of theory and history courses, so that is the extent of my formal training. Probably a year of theory and a couple years of deep history, courses on Music of Antiquity, a semester of a Beethoven only class and some 20th century music & tape studio classes.
As far as aspiring musicians having some sort of formal musical education or training – indeed. But I think it works both ways. You have Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and many of the creative forces of modern electric music, none of whom had formal training.
Then again, you have someone like Pat Metheny or Al Di Meola, who have done decades of study and deep musical theoretical knowledge and who keep applying it to real life performance and composing, and pushing the envelope as well. So, it’s tough to say. I think just “being creative” is the hardest part. I mean, what’s more creative – a cool XTC song that I still love after 32 years or a difficult Dream Theater tune, where they all are reading some impossible chart? Is AC/DC’s “Back in Black” less awesome than something from the Mahavishnu Orchestra or Genesis?
Having said that, I say YES, try to get as much theory knowledge as you can, and keep doing so. Knowing how to communicate quickly with other musicians is paramount and having a theoretical idea of what you’re playing takes things to a completely other level. It’s a fantastic time for self-teaching as well. Countless websites and DVDs that can get anyone’s theory knowledge supercharged in a couple of months. Having said that, let’s always remember that some of the greatest songs ever were written with no thought to theory.
I was also fortunate enough in the ’80s to study world music with Philip Corner and electronic/tape music with Dan Goode, each of them well known “downtown NYC” composers who led many groups, including the groundbreaking “Gamelan Son Of Lion”. That whole period (1983-87 or so) was massive for me, learning about all kinds of African and Indian music, various forms of Indonesian & Balinese gamelan, Brazilian music, Burundi, Chinese, Japanese, Cuban, Tuvan, Irish, Moroccan, Javanese, eastern European, Persian, ancient Egyptian and Greek music and on and on.
huge amounts of records. People like Laurie Anderson, Steve Reich and Philip Glass, to the more obscure (at that point in their careers) like Scott Johnson, Vernon Reid, John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Sonny Sharrock and all the stuff that was at the Knitting Factory.
As a musician and as a songwriter, who are some of your influences and why?
Ha, an impossible list. I mean, all the stuff already mentioned and all the classic rock stuff. I loved rock radio and never apologize for all that stuff – The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Cars, Aerosmith, Queen, Ted Nugent, Boston, Alice Cooper, AC/DC, all that stuff. Then the funk/disco side of stuff – Earth Wind & Fire, Funkadelic, all the top 40 disco hits – loved ’em!
Visionary people like Kate Bush, Bjork, Peter Gabriel, David Torn, Robert Fripp, Vernon Reid and P.J. Harvey are way, way high on the list. Just true creative genius to
me. Todd Rundgren and, of course, Frank Zappa – major influences.
What were the circumstances that led to the formation of your Frank Zappa tribute band, PROJECT/OBJECT?
I had heard a couple of Zappa singles and I thought he was a really funny guy. But then in 1981, a buddy of mine (fellow freshman engineer destined to fail out) played me Zoot Allures. I instantly became a huge fan, voraciously collecting everything I could.
What are some of your favorite Zappa songs to perform and why?
So, so many. But a handful would be “Packard Goose”, “Duke Of Prunes (Orchestral)”, “Inca Roads”, “five-five-FIVE”, “Sy Borg”, “Florentine Pogen”, “Cruising For Burgers”, “Echidna’s Arf/Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing”, “The Idiot Bastard Son”, “Big Swifty”, “City Of Tiny Lights”. Those all stand out.
What are some of your favorite Zappa albums and/or songs and why?
Again, so difficult – Roxy & Elsewhere, You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 5, Bongo Fury, Them Or Us, Weasels Ripped My Flesh, Jazz From Hell, Tinseltown Rebellion, Sheik Yerbouti, Läther, Waka/Jawaka and big faves are the first two that I ever heard, Zoot Allures and Zappa In New York.
What Zappa alumni have performed with PROJECT/OBJECT?
Ike Willis, Ray White, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Denny Walley, Don Preston, Robert Martin, Ed Mann, Mike Keneally, Bunk Gardner, Bob Harris, Thana Harris, Jimmy Carl Black, Arthur Barrow, and Roy Estrada. Bruce Bickford has done a few onstage improvs with us. He’s not a musician but, of course, he’s a claymation genius, well known for his work in Zappa’s “Baby Snakes” etc . Al Malkin also came onstage once to share some vocals.
Were there any kinds of challenges in order to get Zappa alumni to perform with PROJECT/OBJECT? If so, please discuss.
Not really. It has happened rather organically, starting with meeting Ike Willis in August of 1984, then again in 1988, and becoming friends on that tour where I saw almost ten shows. After that, Ike and I stayed in touch through the ’90s.
995, I went to see Ike with Banned From Utopia (in my opinion, the all time BEST Zappa tribute band) with Tommy Mars, Arthur Barrow, Ed Mann, Bruce Fowler and others. I gave Ike a cassette (!) of my band at that point. After getting home and hearing it, he called me (on a land line!) and said, “well, I need to come out there and whip you guys into shape, but sure, let’s do some shows!”.
What is your current relationship with Dweezil & Gail Zappa and the Zappa Family Trust?
Well, at this point, I’m happy that it’s at a detente, a quiet place. Let’s just say that there’s been a lot of water under the bridge and at the end of the day, we have always worked within the law in terms of copyright and performance & publishing laws, etc. The only time any of this went to court, it was US taking ASCAP to court for illegally hassling us. The NYC courts threw it out and said ASCAP had no case. So that has been the focus of the Zappa Family for over a decade – lawsuit threats and hassling the clubs along the way. None of it makes much sense to us since, again, we’ve always done stuff by the book.
The family continued for years to speak about “permission”. With all due respect though, no one needs “permission” to perform published works. If that were true, the bar economy would collapse. Every band doing U2, The Doors, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin and Hendrix would stop tomorrow. So, yeah, guess what — performing covers in the USA (and most of the rest of the planet) is totally legal, in the correctly certified, dues-paying venue. It’s also 100% legal, without “permission” to record and then sell cover versions of someone’s published works (CDs or DVDs). You would simply owe an easily calculated amount of dues (mechanicals) to the owner of the copyright.
So, it’s been peaceful really. And in general, the family (well, Gail and Dweezil) continues to speak out against “unauthorized performances” all around the world. I don’t worry about it too much. I am celebrating Frank Zappa’s music, as well as the contribution and role of the many amazing people who performed with him.
Discuss the other bands that you’re currently in and that you have been in.
Currently, I’m in a psychedelic/heavy power trio called DELICIOUS. We’re based here in Asheville, NC. It’s a really cool band. Lots of very long pieces of music that evolve. Since there are no vocals, we really try to work with texture and I use some looping and unique effects.
I’ve been in and out of so many cool bands. Played bass in a couple bands and on a great punk rock album called Infernal Doll by False Virgins from 1990.
Discuss your work as a guitar tech, particularly what bands/artists you work for and have worked for.
I started in road crew work with other artists after Cheri and I closed down our natural foods store. We owned/ran a store in Red Bank, NJ from 1995 to 2005.
The work – long ho
urs! Not glamorous at all. Away from loved ones for ages. Often compromised sleep. A handful of almonds for dinner sometimes. BUT you go to all kinds of amazing places. Now granted, you don’t always get to see much more than the drive from the airport to the hotel and the 3 blocks around the club but it’s incredible fun at the same time and a supreme learning experience.
For all of these artists, there are some goals in common – find out quickly how THEY like stuff to be done and how their backstage needs to be so they are as stress free as possible. The stage setup needs to be so they can walk out and get into a creative space. Learn all of their gear inside out and know what can go wrong and how to fix it. In general a big part of your job is to remove, deflect and negate ANYTHING, any person, any vibe that will detract from playing the music.
Discuss your work as a tour manager and a booking agent.
Tour managers do a lot of babysitting as well as major logistics. It’s like juggling spinning plates while riding a unicycle offroad!
It’s great if you can get into a real high energy state and focus that. It’s about keeping a ton of constantly moving details in your head. And today, using all the available technology in a smart way so that each day is well planned far in advance.
Booking is another type of juggling (more static though since you do that at a desk most of the time) but the same kind of knowledge base about the band and where & when their music will work in a given market. You really have to get into the headspace of the band on the road. In other words, you don’t give them a 13 hour ride into busy NYC on a Friday or book a metal band in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. It’s always interesting dealing with the various club personalities, as well. Booking is also less fun than it sounds but becomes easier if you can establish new connections on the road.
Feel free to mention any of your other endeavors (musical or otherwise)
My solo music – that will certainly be a focus this year. I’m re-releasing my two CDS (maybe for download only). But certainly a whole raft of new music, a lot of ambient and acoustic based music. I will release a lot of it via my Facebook –https://www.facebook.com/andre.cholmondeley
When I’m not doing all the music work, I also substitute teach here in NC. I have done that on and off for over twenty years and also have taught some county college stuff. Really, I’m just trying to re-focus my life after massive losses (my mom and my partner). That’s an everyday struggle and musical therapy is really a massive thing. Music – truly the ultimate creative force as far as I’m concerned. Thank you for the opportunity to tell part of my story.