INTERVIEW: JC Denison on Terry Riley, GRL, and Voodoo!

JC Denison is an interesting voice in the musical community, whether that is as a performer with A7A, in Brenda, or with Exacta Cube, as a voice on the airwaves, or through his work with auralgamiSOUNDS, the label that he co-runs with Matt Dodds. Tomorrow, Denison is performing at Zanzabar, again as part of the novemberGroup, an annual troupe of musicians that he assembles to play Terry Riley’s famous In C, with proceeds from the door going to help fund Girls Rock Louisville. You can listen to A7A below, also performing tomorrow along with Sara Soltau. We caught up with Denison to ask about his appreciation of compositional music, GRL, and a Trump kid MMA match!

Never Nervous: Why do you play In C every year? How did this tradition begin?

JC Denison: Well we did it the first year, I think, as a challenge to see if we could even pull it off and get all these all-stars together. Oscar Parsons and I set up the show; we wanted to play in the tunnel at Tyler Park, but ultimately settled on Land of Tomorrow. Now, I feel responsible to help keep the tradition alive, both as an homage to Mr. Riley’s music and to the folks who play with us every year. Honestly, it’s a bit selfish, because it is the one excuse I have to see some of these people once a year.

NN: Is there a reason it’s this piece in particular and not just something else? If you were to do a different piece, what would you want to do?

JCD: ‘In C’ is perfect because it doesn’t require a rehearsal, is easily researchable, and is specifically non-specific. If you can read music and have a decent attention span, you can just show up and play. To me, it is like hosting a musical pot-luck dinner. There’s a theme. There’s a table. Everyone brings their dish and we all feast. Corny, I know. * Food pun. *
Also Michael Grady and I are dead set on performing Steve Reich’sMusic for 18 Musicians‘ one day.

NN: How do you pick your players? Do you have an idea going in who might work best and why? What do you look for?

JCD: I literally post this to Facebook: ‘Who wants to play ‘In C’ this year? We have our core group, which is essentially veterans from previous years, but then people invite their friends and colleagues to play and it branches out from there. And Joee Conroy is essential in the recruiting. He invites a lot of the players from Ut Gret and the jazz and modern classical scene like Greg Acker, Steve Goode, Jacob Duncan, Jon Silpayamanant, and so many others. These guys are giants to me and I respect the hell out of them and, as mentioned above, I feel clever that I’ve devised a situation in which we get to share a stage.

NN: What are the challenges in pulling off this piece?

JCD: It does require a lot of stamina. I play the pulse, which is essentially me pounding out two high ‘C’s’ on a xylophone for an hour, because I’m an awful sight reader. I feel like the biggest challenge this year will just be figuring out how to organize all the instruments on stage. But that’s really just a fun puzzle.

NN: I understand that it’s a pretty modular composition, meaning that there really isn’t any central instrumentation that’s required. Is that accurate? If so, what instrumentation would ideally have and why? What is your dream team?

JCD: Yes. No specific instrumentation. As long as your instrument can play the score. That’s the beauty of it. Honestly I always wish we had more percussion. Listen to the ‘In C Mali‘ recording by Africa Express (w Brian Eno and Andi Toma from Mouse on Mars). It’s so drum heavy!!! Fucking golden. But honestly the horns always steal the show…And Nick Layman will be playing MOOG, so all bets are off…

NN: Why GRL? What is it about that organization that you want to help support? Do you always donate the proceeds?

“Girls Rock Louisville is pure. It simultaneously supports feminism and the arts, both of which need everything we can give.”

JCD: Girls Rock Louisville is pure. It simultaneously supports feminism and the arts, both of which need everything we can give. Carrie Neumayer is an old friend and we’ve recently gotten closer. I adore her and everything she brings to the Louisville scene. We’ve never actually made any money that we didn’t use to pay for the venue. Vectortone and Zanzabar have been very gracious and given us the room this year for free. I felt weird about potentially making any money playing ‘In C’. It seemed obvious to just pass the money to an organization that works tirelessly to help people make more music.

NN: Changing gears, what can you tell us about auralgamiSOUNDS? Any new releases we should expect?

JCD: Oh yes. Well, our beloved artist Sara Soltau (Sara Calloway now since she married the dashing Dan, but I do miss the alliteration) is opening this show. Her tape ‘In Parts’ sold out immediately, so we had a second batch made up and they will be available. Also, a new cassette by Mt. Yugen is coming out 12/22. Badass thumping electronic wizardry on pink and orange shells….We’ve been a little quiet lately, but I promise we’re still here….

NN: When can we finally get new music from Brenda? Any other projects you’re working on? Are you still playing with Exacta Cube? Come to think of it, all of your projects absolutely rule.

JCD: BRENDA has just finished mixing our new record…so soon. Come see us play 12/23 at Double Eve at Cure Lounge, and you can at least hear some new tunes…Exacta Cube is recording a record in December. I love that band and hope I’m always in it. They are my dream team and let me play whatever I want. Dream gig. Dennis Stein is my hero.
Also, I am in an improvisational trio called MINEcONTROL with Charles Rivera and Nick Layman. We just started recording a record. We play with the legendary Chris Brokaw 12/7 at Kaiju!!! AND, keep an ear out for Das Experience Maschine (name pending) featuring Dane Waters, Sara Soltau, and me…AND A7A is premiering a brand new piece that I wrote called ‘PVXG1’ before the ‘In C’ performance. 2 keyboards, 2 vibraphones, xylophone, and glockenspiel. Thanks to Michael Grady, Zach Driscoll, Regan Layman, Meg Samples, and Greg Ward for joining me…

NN: Tell us about your upcoming podcast. What should we expect and when should we get to hear it?

JCD: It will be called ClifTones. I lost my radio show so I kept the name. Essentially it’s a rip-off of WTF, but for Louisville musicians. I’ve interviewed Ray Rizzo, Kevin Ratterman, Carrie Neumayer, Rachel Grimes, Britt Walford, Ryan Davis, Bundy K. Brown, Johnny Siegel, Tim Barnes, & Evan Patterson so far, so those will be the first 10 episodes. I really hope it comes out soon!!! Just having a few snags in figuring out where it will land…But stay tuned please….

NN: Karate or voodoo. You’re a master of only one. Which do you pick?

JCD: Voodoo. I’m not very hands-on when it comes to attacking my enemies.

NN: Trump’s kids join the MMA. Who wins the cage match?

JCD: The advertisers.

NN: What non-musical things have you fired up lately? Have you read, watched, drank, or eaten anything worth talking about lately?

“I watch SNL every week no matter how bad it may be. My friends Drew and Lacey and I make food and drink everything in sight and just laugh. Favorite part of my week.”

JCD: I’m addicted to all things funny. I try stand-up comedy but I’m not very good. Just watched Jim & Andy. Incredible. We all knew Andy Kaufman was a genius. But damn, Jim Carrey too. Stunning. Just saw Lady Bird in the theater. I was on a date and I still cried. Couldn’t fake it. I watch SNL every week no matter how bad it may be. My friends Drew and Lacey and I make food and drink everything in sight and just laugh. Favorite part of my week.

NN: Tell us three albums that have been killing it for you lately and why.

JCD: I’ll tell you a few extra because these have all been in rotation lately and I can’t decide:

  • Battles– La Di Da Di: a jammer!!! Good for the gym. Those who think Mirrored is their best/only album aren’t paying attention.
  • Kaitlyn Aurelia SmithThe Kid: She’s perfect. Beautiful buchla synth washes with singing. Ethereal much!?
  • Horse LordsInterventions: Holy shit! This is the band that I want to be in. Repetitive and fun and danceable and weird.
  • Santigold – 99 Cents: Again, good for the gym. Her voice kills me.
  • Philip GlassNorth Star: Listened to this over and over while on the road with BRENDA last week. Perfect for autumnal dusk driving through hills. Please check this out!