The Oral History Of Kid Millions' Man Forever: "A Cross Between Metal Machine Music And 'Dare to Be Stupid'"
Kid Millions is juggling a shitload of action. The drummer extraordinaire just played another epic gig this past weekend with Oneida, the psych-rock jamming savants he's anchored since 1997. Man Forever, the bohemian collective of shape shifters he's united to realize his percussive-based spiritual vision, releases Pansophical Cataract (Thrill Jockey) this week; the group is also making killer videos and even throwing a hilarious, but dead serious, contest where you can actually be a member, at least for one performance.
Sound of the City caught up with a glorious bevy of Kid Millions' Man Forever collabbers and friends in honor of the new record, and tomorrow night's gig at (Le) Poisson Rouge). (Kid himself is absent; on the day the Voice and he were supposed to spiel, he experienced the misfortune of dropping his phone in the toilet at WFMU. Read our June 2011 interview with him here.)
Shahin Motia (Ex-Models, Oneida, Knyfe Hyts): My memory is that Kid put together Man Forever over roughly a one-month span in early 2010. At the time, [Oneida members] Kid, Barry [London] and I were just burning through recording and filming, like, twenty-odd bands at [Oneida's recording studio] the Ocropolis, for a brahject that ultimately became Koozies & Woodies & Beer, a Japan benefit compilation we only recently released. We were so busy then... I mean, we worked day jobs during the day and were in the studio every night. Over a three-month period in early 2010, we recorded 21 bands for the comp, mixed Oneida's Absolute II album, mixed the Sightings album Future Accidents, banged out a few remixes for people, played a few Oneida shows. Somewhere in there Kid saw Fireworks Ensemble perform Metal Machine Music, conceived the first Man Forever album ("It'll be a cross between Metal Machine Music and "Dare to Be Stupid"actual quote), and spent a few days in the studio with Brian, Richard and I banging it out. That MMM concert was on February 5 and we completed Man Forever March 14while juggling like thirty other sessions.
Brian Chase (Yeah Yeah Yeahs): I first got involved when Kid (or John... ) asked me to help with drum tuning on the first MF record. He had the concept and the way in which he wanted to record it, and I came in to assist in tuning the drums to specific pitches. This was back in February 2010, if my memory serves me correctly. I went down to the Ocropolis, Oneida's studio in the basement of Monster Island, and walked up to Kid's drums. Now this is a significant moment for me because Kid has been, and still is, one of my favorite drummers and on this rock scene he's been paving the wayto be the one tuning his drums is quite an honor. I was very careful in handling each drum. I could hear his sound in the way he had his drums set up and I was careful to preserve that in adjusting each drum head. He almost keeps 'em like a jazz drummer would, but of course he rips into 'em like he does. Mitch Mitchell is coming to mind now but I don't know if that occurred to me then. Anyway, I tuned the drums to the intended pitches and he did the recording. He mentioned he had in mind to record the drums in a way similar to the harmonious/harmonic blur that is Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music and having each drum in a specific relative tuning helps enhance that effect.
Motia: That first album is basically a huge stack of passes of Kid just raining on different drums, or combinations of drums. Brian [Chase] had patiently tuned each drum according to visions of potential harmonic calamity, and we proportionately pitched up and down various passes to build up massive sounding chords. At some point Kid got the brilliant idea to have BBIT ("Best Bassist In Town") Richard Hoffman to add something, and the album was finished.
Richard Hoffman (Sightings): My experience of Man Forever is probably different than everyone else, as I have had a lot of freedom with regards to what I play, so I've been able to put more personal expression into it. First and foremost, it's been an amazing way to meet and play with a lot of different musicians that I would probably never have played with otherwise.
I've known Kid for a long time, but my getting involved in MF goes something like this: Kid and Shahin recorded a project I do with Brian Sullivan of Mouthus, called Chaw Mank. It's guitar/bass improv and I tend to use a lot effects. A couple months later Kid was doing the first MF record and asked me to play on it, indicating he wanted something like the stuff he heard me do with Brian. Initially, he asked me to just play on a fourth of the record but after I did that bit he seemed pretty psyched and I wound up playing on almost three-quarters [of it].
The first piece we did was just free improv for me, with a solo section in the middle. It was a vehicle for probably the two best solos I have ever played, and those shows really stand out for me. One was in Portland, Maine, and the other was at Monster Island. Obviously, any show we do that gets good crowd response is a good thing, but most MF shows go over well, especially since we started doing the pieces on the new record. Honestly, I am pretty critical of my performance so my enjoyment of the shows has a lot to do with how well I play.
Chase: I played MF's first shows, which were in the basement at Monster Island. It was a great crew and camaraderie was strong amongst those playing. And, I was thrilled to be playing with Richard from Sightings. He is definitely one of my favorite bassists and to hear him bring the sonic shred that is his electrocution strategy was mind blowing. He's the one that can fill that role of being one bass player amongst six or seven drummers. And, then there was the time we played with Mark [Morgan], Richard's bandmate in Sightings, at Bowery Ballroom. I remember being positioned right in front of his guitar amp. Mark, like Richard, shreds ear-splittingly and I knew this was probably gonna hurt a bit, but the only way through it was to embrace it and just get into the sonic assault of bliss. Those are some of my favorite times in MF, when my head is positioned right next to Richard's amp. The second phase of MF (which I refer to as starting with the development of the "snare drum piece") involves a sort of inverse approach of the first phase (the multi-drumkit piece), and is a logical development of the initial concept. Instead of drummers playing many drumkits simultaneously, this is drummers sharing and playing a single drum simultaneously.
The idea came about when Kid and I were getting together to plan for what we were gonna do for a radio spot that was scheduled for WFMU's Seven Second Delay. There was limited space at the venue and we were being encouraged to keep [the] setup to a minimum... plus Kid was thinking of evolving what had already been done. We first met at a bar and drew out ideas on a napkin, which involved two drummers sharing a single drumkit and such... then we later met up at my practice space to try out some possibilities. We were like, "what if we did this.." and eventually got it down to less and less drums to the point where we were both playing a single snare drum. The sound was hypnotic and the concept was so simple that it was like, "How could we have not thought of this before, it's brilliant," like how often many of the best ideas tend to be. The original premise of the MF inspiration was still intact, and here it was being played and solidly represented on a single drum. The set we played on WFMU I believe is archived there, this first presentation of the second phase of MF. When we would play the snare drum piece, which I heard drummer and MF alum Allison Busch refer to brilliantly as "crossing the streams," or the organ piece, a.k.a. "Surface Patterns" from the new record, I would get so high! Not in a drug way, but a real natural high, like an experience from meditation or a great yoga practice. Those pieces are a trip, very much like a meditation, and blur the mind to single pointedness all the while a tremendous energy is being built through the action of doing the performance. The tone is very steady yet with an infinite variety of fluctuations that cancel themselves out into this pleasingly detached space. The performance requires much endurance and a grace in technique that is very challenging, yet relaxation is essential, at once effortless yet engaged. The only way through it is to let go. After a while the mind starts to loosen and the dancing tones of the single shared drum start to pop out and present themselves. The action becomes less about what I am doing and becomes more of riding the wave of being present in the action. I am sharing a drum with somebody and the sticks together bounce on a single drum skin. Time and space stop, leaving sensation and infinity as the expression in the experience.
Ryan Sawyer (Lone Wolf & Cub): Man Forever is constant refinement. It has a post-modern Zeno's law of halves thing going on. Kid's concept for this group is elegant, raw, and ultimately brilliant. It makes me a better drummer every time I play with this group, but that is part and parcel to how much it makes me a better person. It would be a surprise if anyone participating would say differently.
Kid and I met in the late '90s in Williamsburg sharing bills. He played in one of the coolest bands around, Oneida. He was always a deeply encouraging and inspiring musician. I imagine our involvement as captains in the Boredoms 2007 Boadrum in New York solidified me being a part in this project. It is difficult to overestimate the impact that concert had on the drumming community in New York.
Motia: Here's something funny: Kid was not playing a lot of drums at that time He had taken a few months off to deal with a hand injury, beginning shortly after Oneida's very first ten-hour improvisation at All Tomorrow's Parties. Man Forever was probably his first recording session playing drums in, like, half a year. The members of Oneida often joke about how, looking back, that performance temporarily screwed up Kid's hands and permanently screwed up all of our brains. The music that we've been making together since that time [September 2009], in whatever comboOneida, People of the North, Man Forever, probably other shit I'm forgetting... there is an ongoing thread there that's harder for me to speak about because I'm currently inside it and it's happening but I'm telling you, dude: Brahs are onto some heavy shit right now, how do you feel about that? Hahaaha.
Greg Fox (Guardian Alien, GDFX): I wasn't a big Oneida fan, but I knew who Kid was and I knew about his drumming, and as a drummer I definitely admired him. And also playing with Ryan Sawyer and Allison BuschI've been into their music, but more than that, I was into them as drummers... I'm playing music with people who I've really been admiring. That's been the thing for me with Man Foreverto play music with Kid and to become friends with all these people genuinely and hang out with them sometimes and talk to them about shit. When I was sitting behind Kid at [77 Boadrum] in 2007, I would have not expected this to be the logical conclusion.
Leah McManigle a.k.a. Bloody Powers: I've known Kid a long time and I've worked with him in a few different capacities over the years (most notably at Brah Records). The first time he asked me to play with Man Forever I was so flattered... incredibly nervous as well, but that's not his fault. About 10 minutes after I agreed to play this [Sunday night] show I discovered that my beloved Steelers schedule had been changed that week and their Sunday afternoon game had just become the Sunday night game. Let me also mention that our opponents would be our most hated divisional rivals and the games between us are always the most brutal and, therefore, my favorite... What I'm getting at here is that Man Forever and the Steelers were playing at the exact same. Also, mind you, that Man Forever was playing at a venue that proudly boasts "NO TVs!!" on the front page of its website. Oh how the blood ran cold when I saw that.
I'll admit it, I was panicking... because I knew that I wasn't going to see the game (the first in years); I knew that I wasn't going to perform my superstitious game day rituals; I knew that I wasn't going to be available to return the 2000 texts I typically get during a game from the good people of the Steeler Nation. I knew all of this because there was no way in the world I was going to decline the Man Forever invite. The Steelers lost that game and I still think I made the right decision. I don't think I'm able to give a higher compliment.
Ben Swanson (Secretly Canadian): I first met Kid in '96 or '97, I think, in a basement in Bloomington, Indiana. Oneida had just put out their first record on Turnbuckle and grinding out the basements. They were friends with Jason Molina from his time at Oberlin. Jason couldn't say enough about Oneida, and we were stoked to check it out. If memory serves about six people were at the show, and outta frustration or boredom, Papa Crazee stripped completely naked halfway through and finished out the set. I was maybe 18, from North Dakota, and weaned on second-rate AmRep bands. Up until this point, my biggest punk rock moment was Kathleen Hanna spitting her gum at my brother at a Bikini Kill show for standing in the front rowhis 5'6" frame blocked out the shorter girls, I guess? This felt way more punk to me; totally intimate and off-putting and bizarre and just the "fuck you" spirit you wish you could see in basements today.
Anyway, in the back was Kid slogging through the drums like a fucking machine. They weren't good, but they were tenacious. Over the next several years, Oneida kept coming back. Always playing shitty shows, but always getting better. Kid anchored it all. Finally around the turn of the millennium, Kid Millions blossomed to be one of the most innovative endurance drummers of our time. Oneida was shapeshifting throughout, and Kid [was] exploring more than any other drummer that I know of. For my money, there's Glenn Kotche and Kid Millions pushing the boundaries of what it is to be a drummer today. Glenn is obviously more well-known and has his bigger platform, and he's super innovative. But Kid has been drumming on the fringes for maybe 15 or 16 years now, holding it down and bending minds in the basement, the dirty club and festivals all over the world. I'm sure you could come up with a handful of other contemporaries that are a bit more technical or acrobatic or whatever, but there's an art to Kid's style that I just don't see in anyone else going these days.
Brian Coughlin (Fireworks Ensemble): I have actually never played with Man Forever, but I think Kid probably put me on the list because of our history together and the history of the project. Kid and I go way back (like 30 years) and we started what would later become our music careers in college playing together in a garage bandliterally, in his garage in our hometown of Lakeville, Connecticut. We've taken somewhat different paths since thenhe moved to NYC and started Oneida; I went to graduate school in music (composition and then double bass performanceclassical stuff) for five years, then moved to New York and started my group, Fireworks Ensemble. We've stayed very close over the years, and Fireworks has collaborated with Oneida on a few occasions, and I did string arrangements for all of the Oneida records that have them (Enemy Hogs and The Wedding in particular).
Fox: It's interesting because I had already started Guardian Alien when I met Kid and Guardian Alien was kinda taking similar non-song approaches. As far as back then, Kid was doing a lot of stuff with tuning the drums in specific ways and Guardian Alien was doing a lot of the same stuff, too. It made a lot of sense. I definitely was really into what Man Forever was all about and there was some overlap like [that] in Guardian Alien. [GA] were only playing B flat and with Man Forever we were only playing B, so it was like pretty close. Man Forever was definitely really inspiring for me but I wouldn't specifically say it as far as it being a post-Liturgy thing. It really had a lot more to do with when I got invited to play the 88 Boredoms Boadrum I met a lot of drummers at that show who I looked up to a lot. So when I did that show, it was like a nudge in the right direction towards "Is it a good choice to do music? Yeah. Good choice." So doing Man Forever was a continuation of that same feeling of having this hand reached to me from people who I really respect and admire as musicians to basically come out and play with them.
Coughlin: Fireworks played a version of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music on the composer portraits series at Miller Theatre back in February 2010. The version we did was a painstakingly transcribed and arranged version of Lou's record by Ulrich Krieger for a "classical" ensemble of strings, percussion, winds, accordion, and some brass. I think it was the loudest thing that Miller has ever presented. The version we did really turns Lou's sonic experiment into a piece of contemporary classical music, with all of the different feedback effects and textures that Lou created with the guitars fully notated for the instruments. I think Kid was really interested in the way that we were able to create the textures, feedback "melodies, "and by the particular experience of the ensemble, playing with maniacal intensity for long periods of time. He told me he wanted to do something similar but with drums, and almost immediately got to work on what would become the first Man Forever pieces.
James McNew (Yo La Tengo, Dump: I played bass with Oneida at their most recent eight-hour Ocropolis performance. I had never done anything of that scope before. It was otherworldly; time just slipped away (although I couldn't hear very well for a few days after). That was just a feeling of pure freedom, stream-of-consciousness communication with those guys; I felt right at home. I have played bass & guitar for Man Forever, depending on who else shows up that weeknight and/or weekend. MF for me is like a very spiritual, meaningful weekend pickup basketball game. I love Kid and the gang, and I feel really closely bonded to them through our nonverbal communication.
Swanson: The thing to understand is I love me some Oneida; I love to see them play. I go to see the Oneida show, but I go to watch Kid drum. So a few years ago, my brother and I had a small vinyl only label called St. Ives which treated each release, for better or worse, as a pure art project. Many of the releases were curated. And, I got the idea of asking Kid to do a solo blast beat album. He emailed back about five minutes later with "Yes... and its going to be called Drum & Drummer." In hindsight, I'm glad he changed the name, and he took a slightly different direction with it, but more than rose to the challenge. He created this epic wave of drum for his first Man Forever projectfour to six full drum kits with distorted bass. Its part Basinski, part Hart/Kreutzmann Space Jam, part Henry Rollins doubled over, chewing apart his microphone. It's super intense, and beautiful and very, very physical. They played an early set at a recording studio in Bloomington, Indiana (which became the Helpless Learned Rats record), and you could smell the music as it rolled over you.
Chase: The Man Forever pieces are examples of complete democracy, even utopian anarchy. An open-ended structure is determined with simple parameters to unify the sound, and within that the individual has complete freedom to express his/herself. In everyone doing it together, the individual is absorbed by the collective, resulting in the combined mass of sound in which the parts make the whole yet the whole is there because of the parts. There is great joy in this process. The many drumkits sounding together form similarity of tone that results in a steady "hum" as the density maxes out to a singularity; the interlocking single strokes in the snare drum piece form a seamless undulating succession of waves. The individual is subsumed by the collective as the subjective blurs in to the objective. There is total freedom with complete discipline. In the active participation in willful non-attachment, the sound opens up into a sense of endless expansiveness, a type of "man forever," if you will.
Man Forever plays its record release show on May 15 at (le) Poisson Rouge.
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