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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Interview with Kevin Bartlett, June 2008
    Posted: June 05 2008 at 18:24

I had the opportunity to interview Kevin Bartlett shortly after the release of his new album, "Glow in the Dark."  He was working on a commercial project and coordinating publicity for "Glow" while trying out a new guitar from Joe Veillette, wrestling with Logic 8 and coordinating workers on his new studio.  Plus he was nursing a broken knee.  Yet somehow he also managed to do an online interview.  Clearly the man has several brains and sets of arms.

"Glow in the Dark" is your second solo album available on most sites, but your bio lists many others.  What's that all about?

KEVIN:  From 1983 to 1990 I recorded 9, 90 minute ambient/techno- ish works. Initially those recordings were designed to be atmospherics for then -girlfriend Lorelei Hamm's art/jewelry booth at trade shows. The music was just to be background and mood for a very high tech display of her work. Throughout the run of the show people kept inquiring about the music and its availability. I started taking orders for copies and when the time came for her to change her line, I would compose a new "soundtrack" for the new pieces. 

Over the years, people came to the shows expecting a new album to go along with Lorelei's  new work. The Aural Gratification Label was born and an extensive client and fan base ensued.

The recordings were cassette only releases, primarily because CDs were brand new, pricey and couldn't hold 90 minutes. I keep threatening to re-release those titles someday or at least a "Best Of".

Perhaps when there's a moment to breathe. There have been a ton of requests, but it always feels like when I have the time, I just want to work on new stuff.

Do you feel "Glow in the Dark" is a progression from "Near Life Experience" or something entirely different?


KEVIN:  To me it's a progression. Near-Life felt like such a huge inhale for me. It was my first solo work in a good long time and it was pretty all encompassing. I hadn't locked into an album project to that degree in awhile. I had a lot in me I wanted to get out, and I was also very curious to hear what my musical voice was, left to my own devices.

I spent almost 13 years doing not much more than living the Happy Rhodes experience. Co-producing, playing live shows and marketing her albums didn't leave much time or energy for solo ventures. I was also doing a hell of a lot of commercial work and television. Happy's success pretty much made running Aural Gratification a full time gig as well.

It wasn't until we released a couple of ambient compilations, later in the 90's that I got back into the swing of composing again, aside from what commercial clients were asking for.

So when I got around to doing Near-Life it was kind of a larger than life creature in that I was getting to see my reflection as an artist and what I'd do if I was just going to do what I wanted.

I think I had a lot riding on it psyche-wise. It felt like I was holding my breath.

After it's release and surprisingly high accolades, when I turned my attention to Glow In The Dark (or what I thought might be a new album) there was this sense of calm or confidence or affirmation I guess, that I can actually still do this...... and do it to my liking. The first drafts of the Glow material were interestingly pretty minimal for me. I had a sense of exhaling. A sense that less is more. I felt the material was breathing as opposed to working so hard. It was less conscious if you know what I mean.

Of course once I get going in the studio, production and the sound design part of my head takes over and the finished product features a lot of layered complexity. But the seeds were easy and more open. There's probably more simplicity on Glow in the Dark, although production wise you might not detect a difference from Near-Life.

So I say it's a progression on the level that exhaling usually follows inhaling. The studio was also completely revamped in the middle of recording Glow, so the production quality is quite a bit higher. I hear and know about the "differences" because I was there for all of it, but I tend to think the listener might regard Glow as Near- Life version 2.0 

I notice you don't seem to neatly fit into any musical categories...your music is played on prog stations, ambient stations, you have elements of world music in there, electronic and acoustic would you define your style?


KEVIN:  That's always a challenge. You're supposed to be able to encapsulate your style in a neat little phrase. I'm turned on by many types of music. If it's true, honest, interesting and well done, chances are I'm gonna dig it. And on some level I'm going to emulate what I like to hear through my own filters and abilities. So it's a hybrid of sorts. I grew up playing Blues Project and Paul Butterfield and Willie Dixon songs in bars when I was 13. I was also nuts about all the British invasion material. Then Jimi Hendrix appeared from outer space and sonically the universe opened.

All that stuff turns me on. Electronic noise and timbres, Art rock beauty and complexity, pop melodies and the earthiness of raw emotion. I never know what to call my style. I suppose because it's mostly instrumental that "Cinematic" works. But it ain't John Williams. It's sometimes ambient because I've been playing with synths since 1973 and unique colors to me are irresistible.

I could listen to Eight Days a Week eight days a week and never tire of it cause a good melody is timeless.

All I know is that it's hyper visual music. It's a sonic ride for as long as you want to take it. It won't ever sound the same way twice because upon every listening there's always something new to focus on. I simply don't know what to call it. It's just my music, unique and derivative at the same time.

The credits on your album are minimal...does anyone else play on the album at all?


KEVIN:  Nope, It's all me. Occasionally, I'll use a guest vocalist for some color, not usually lyric per se. There are some players I'd like to get in on some things but if I can actualize what I'm hearing I just go ahead with it. I do use a fair amount of some very cool sample libraries though, so in that regard I'm working with a lot of players, just on different planes. I'm in love with the Ian Boddy libraries so in a way I'm playing with Ian. Someone somewhere assembles and records these amazing tools that we get to license. I think it's all about how the libraries are used and how you can further expand on someone else's creativity. I'm not a fan of just using samples the way they appear. I love to tweak and make some part of the sound my own. There are occasions when some samples blow you away just the way they are. Then I suppose you just credit the creator and say thank you.

Do you find it harder to be creative without other musicians to bounce ideas around with?


KEVIN:  Not at all. I spent most of my life playing in bands and became completely anti-democracy. I know what I want to hear period. I don't want to debate it or have to sell it.

There are people I love to play with, but that's playing not recording and not composing. Writer's block has never been a problem. The problem is having enough time to get all the ideas down.

I have a discipline around listening. My goal is to get really good at hearing all that's out there and becoming a finely tuned stenographer. I practice in the silence and listen. Usually if I don't do that, what I bring to the piano or guitar is, to me, contrived. The stuff the universe sends me is far more interesting.

You've got every instrument known to man at your fingertips thanks to the computer...yet you still play guitar.  Why?


KEVIN:  Chicks dig the guitar !  Seriously though, while the keyboard as a trigger is an amazing tool's a trigger. It's a controller. Its expressiveness is limited. I'm not talking about a grand piano or a Hammond B3. An electronic keyboard controls voltages and sends out messages to a CPU, very cool but pretty static.  Expressiveness comes from mathematics and dynamic choices and of course, timbres.

Not exactly like coaxing another second of sustain from a piece of wood with your bare bleeding hands. Acoustic instruments, even electrified ones require a different technique and a physicality.

You need your body to play an instrument and that makes for an entirely different experience. That's true of an oboe or a viola or a kazoo.

The guitar itself is an amazing creation whose potential is still untapped. Look at Hendrix, David Torn, Segovia, Eddie Van Halen and Kaki King. It just doesn't stop does it ?

If you could, would you prefer to have all your elements played live, rather than with computer samples?  Why or why not?


KEVIN:  I think I use too many elements to make a sample-less live show. I would prefer live synthesists triggering some of the electronics to having a computer running if that's what you mean.

Here's the thing. On a record, especially with today's technology and hard disc recording tracks aren't an issue......taste is.

But with any composition it has to stand on it's own two legs. To me a piece of music has to be able to achieve it's desired emotional effect, be it on a guitar or with a full orchestra.

Sure you want to actualize your vision sonically, but I'm just as happy putting a piece across with two 12 string guitars as I am the same piece as it appears on the album in full blown regalia.

If you wrote it well it should stand up. Just listen to modern bands "unplugged" sets. The good material translates.

How often have you considered tossing your computer out the window and what's stopped you?


KEVIN:  Very often. But only when it's doing its computer bullsh*t. When we're humming along it's my best friend. It's my "tape recorder" and my archivist. The frustrations are generally compatibility issues.

Software designers present us daily with tools that send our creative glands into overdrive. What they purposely fail to tell us is that we'll unwittingly become their Beta testers.

They compete for our dollars at our expense and don't fully consider what other manufactures products may or may not require. It's exhausting to have to continually upgrade as well as find out if you have to upgrade. I'd love to see more cooperation but that I suppose defeats the nature of competition.

The continual "leap frogging" is a drag. You see more and more artists not upgrading and staying with operating systems and versions that just work. The upgrade path is daunting and there's no guarantee that your favorite programs will make the transition.

I would throw my computer out the window if i could be assured that it would hit Steve Jobs squarely in the head.

What stops me is that I'm usually in the middle of a film score or album track and tomorrow I'm really gonna need it.

Your music has many different elements and layers, almost as complex as a symphony.  Does that make it impossible to play live?


KEVIN:  Back to your other question. It doesn't need every sound to get across. The melody, the rhythm, the mood, the dynamics is the music. The sounds or instruments are secondary. As long as the parts are covered, at least the parts that are compositionally crucial, it's playable. I would love to orchestrate my work for a full orchestra and most likely will at some point, but when I consider things like budgets and rehearsals I have a nice 7 piece ensemble in mind. Most players I consider and have worked with are all proficient on a number of instruments. I have a bassist for instance that can strap on a 12 string guitar, play pedals with his feet and is always good for a keyboard part when needed. You get 7 people like that and you can cover a lot of ground. Gentle Giant is a great example of that kind of ensemble.

What's your dream gig and who's playing with you?


KEVIN:  My dream gig is playing third base for the Braves and hitting .400 but they already have a guy for that.

My first impulse was to choose all these great famous monsters that I love to listen to, but my dream team would actually be a bunch of relatively unknown cats that I've worked with in the past.

People who appreciate what I'm doing with my writing and don't mind being shocked with a prod when they play something other than what I want.

I suppose the dream gig is a hall full of people who've come to listen and have a sense of the album and your work. I've had that experience of playing the first few notes of something and the place goes wild. It's a thrill like no other. The sense of receptivity lifts you to an incredible high and there's nothing more you want than to deliver them the best possible version of that piece. All of a sudden there's nothing existing but the music. It's not always like that live, but it's a place you're always striving to honor and be. It's an

absolutely amazing exchange of energy. You become pure electricity and you can't tell where the music ends and you begin. That's the dream gig.

Thank you very much for your time, KB.  Best of luck to you. 


KEVIN:  Thank you, it's been fun chatting with you.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 27 2008 at 03:52
kevin bartlett  who is the famous album  creater  "glow   in the dark "  thorough he is working on the  commercial  project and coordinating his dream project to came true to be in a position to find out  which album holds good in the mean while process to be ensured.

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