It was early last month that John Paul Jones was in Madrid, Spain, helping Takehisa Kosugi and the members of Sonic Youth create soundscapes backing up a dance troupe. It all started with a few performances in Brooklyn this April, preceded late last year by some getting-to-know-you rehearsal sessions.
Sonic Youth’s drummer, Steve Shelley, has just spoken with the Detroit Free Press about his experience with the “Nearly Ninety” production, which celebrated choreographer Merce Cunningham’s 90th birthday. In this interview, Shelley clarifies the extent to which their music was rehearsed versus improvised night in and night out:
That was a lot of fun; that was weird. We went and played music at this dance performance at B.A.M. [the Brooklyn Academy of Music]. We had written scores of music to play of various lengths — a six-minute piece, a ten-minute piece — and every night we performed, they would throw down the score in a different manner. Our music would be played in a different order each night, and so it didn’t really go with the dancing in a traditional sense but in a more abstract sense.
We were also performing with John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin and Takehisa Kosugi, a longtime Merce Cunningham compatriot. We were sitting on this weird metal sculpture they had built for the show that looked like a spaceship or building scaffolding, and it was just a very odd but very fun event to be at.
Just before this whole undertaking went to performance mode is when Jones made a solitary offhand comment about having been “working on some other music, which is more rock based, with a couple of other people.” Not willing to let the cat out of the bag, he has since kept his “secret” under wraps.
One account that appeared this weekend suggests Jones has been rehearsing with Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age.
Meanwhile, the blogosphere has been abuzz with a guessing game concentrating on a separately reported Homme recording project. The one person claiming to be in the know is Ipecac Records co-owner Greg Werckman; he tells Rock-a-Rolla magazine that his label’s other co-owner — former Faith No More singer Mike Patton — has been approached about joining Homme on the project Werckman says is “top secret.”
Werckman says his colleague isn’t the only person Homme is trying to recruit now either. “He’s trying to get a lot of people involved in it, too,” Werckman says. Homme would be looking at an uphill battle if he has the Faith No More singer in mind. Werckman says Homme is “trying to convince Mike [Patton] to go out to the desert but Mike hates the desert.”
The report on Jones, Grohl and Homme collaborating didn’t say anything about the desert. In fact, it said they’d been making their music in a good, old-fashioned recording studio in Los Angeles.
L.A., meanwhile is the main stomping grounds for Sara Watkins, who recently completed a headlining tour in support of her debut solo album, which Jones produced. While in New York back in April around the time of his debut performances with Sonic Youth, Jones sat in with Watkins on a late night TV appearance.
Now, Watkins is focused on yet another recording project. Most of the same musicians who contributed to her solo album have returned for the first album under the name Works Progress Administration. From Toad the Wet Sprocket, Glen Phillips usually handles lead vocals. The lineup is actually a lot like the group Mutual Admiration Society that Jones toured with in 2004, except for mandolin player Chris Thile, who’s been playing with the Punch Brothers since Nickel Creek split. But it does include drummer Pete Thomas, who played with Jones on two albums but whose major accolade was backing up Elvis Costello in the Attractions. Also, on keyboards, is Benmont Tench, an alumnus of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
As is typical for Watkins projects, the sometimes-fourpiece/sometimes-eightpiece Works Progress Administration has already played a few dates on the road, including last weekend at the Telluride Bluegrass festival in the mountains of Colorado. Ralph Jaccodine, band manager, says Jones didn’t have anything to do with the album “but we do have an all star cast.”
There’s a pretty good chance that if Los Angeles is Jones’s hangout anytime in the near future, he would sneak his way onto the stage with Watkins and her brother Sean once again. For instance, the siblings will be in the Little Room at Largo at the Coronet this Sunday night, June 28, and the Watkins Family Hour returns on Wednesday, July 8.
On a final note, it would be funny if Jones gets to work with Mike Patton of Faith No More. Grohl may have had his mind set on drumming for Jones for years, but it was Faith No More’s other Mike — Mike Bordin — whose name was mentioned as the other half of a prospective rhythm section with Jones way back in 1991. Bordin was Robert Plant’s suggestion in 1991 for a drummer if Led Zeppelin had reunited at that time.
Quoted in the press back then about a possible Led Zeppelin reunion, Jones said, “It wouldn’t be a bad thing to do. I’m not at all opposed to it. … I think Jimmy feels the same as I do about it.” And yes, 1991 was ages ago. For the highly productive Jones, a healthily growing list of collaborations probably stands in the way of resuming any pointless talks about a Led Zeppelin reunion