Ever since Weasel Walter relocated to Brooklyn a few years back, no wave’s ambidextrous enfant terrible has been almost obnoxiously busy. His countless performances at Death By Audio, Zebulon and Issue Project Room have single-handedly made our loft-punk and freak-jazz shows exponentially uglier, meaner, more violent, more savage and more awesome. As a performer, Walter values speed, volume and venom, all of which are amply present on Ominous Telepathic Mayhem (out now via ugEXPLODE), his collection of high-velocity freestyles with some of New York’s most bleeding-edge improvisers (Peter Evans, Mary Halvorson and Darius Jones) and London’s Alex Ward. Walter is obviously adept with the Joey Baron-style jazzblast that usually makes his wall-of-sound improvs bustle with bile, but presented with only one sparring partner at a time, his sputterburst is both violent and fragile. On “Let’s Get ‘Em,” he teams with YIMBY grad Mary Halvorson in front of the stage at Zebulon for a slapstick blur of punches, stabs and Beefheart grindcore.
Why did you want to work with Mary Halvorson?
Oh, where do I begin? The first time I saw Mary about five years ago, she was performing a duet with a drummer—who shall remain nameless—and she proceeded to play absolute circles around him, constantly pulling the rug out from underneath this poor guy. I stood there and watched her masterfully manipulate the situation like a game of chess—with that dry, hilarious poker face of hers—and thought to myself, “This is exactly who I need to be playing with!” There was a shrewd, highly intelligent logic to every single move she made, and no hesitation whatsoever. She’s interested in the same sort of acute intervallic angles and harmonic dissonance that I utilize when I write or play on instruments other than the drums. Everything she does has a crystalline clarity I admire. To put it bluntly, she possesses an extremely distinctive musical voice and is exactly the kind of musician I prefer to play with. You can tell it’s Mary after hearing one bar. I cannot say the same thing of most other guitar players.
What does Mary’s playing bring out in you?
Well, she is highly structurally minded and when she begins a phrase, it’s very clear where she’s going—that is, until she changes route on a dime. It’s not that she brings out anything particular in me per se, but rather that playing with her allows me to draw on all of my possible musical resources, often in extremely rapid succession. When improvising, I want each moment to matter. Improvising with a musician on the level of Mary Halvorson allows me to participate in the sort of maximal structuralism, which I greatly enjoy. I believe that when we play together, she feels comfortable that she can do absolutely anything at any time and I will respond in kind. That’s what real musical freedom is all about. You constantly say “yes” to each other… I’m sure some people with no ears think we’re not listening to each other. Their loss.
What’s your favorite thing about the duo format?
An improvised duo is the most intimate group setting possible. There’s simply nothing to hide behind. All decisions become extremely obvious instantly and everything must be clear and focused at all times. In a duo, one can determine pretty quickly what each musician is made of. I like to have my musical mettle tested, so the format is perfect for that.
How did you decide upon the title “Let’s Get ‘Em”?
All of the song titles on the album are a reference to aspects of each sparring partner’s personality. This particular song title is a reference to some stupid viral YouTube video Mary thought was hilarious a few years ago. Something about “buying shoes” or some crap, i.e,. a catchphrase I had to endure coming out of her mouth constantly on one of our tours together. Now it’s immortalized! We like to have fun.
What’s the most memorable show you’ve played in New York City?
Oh, that’s quite easy. That would have been the To Live and Shave in L.A. performance at the Cooler in late 1999. At the time, the ensemble featured Tom Smith, Rat Bastard, Nondor Nevai, Misty Martinez and myself—a very motley crew of pure iconoclasts. All the males in the group were, how shall we say, chemically augmented in a manner where we were performing with maximum aggression, and we literally tore that place up. It was one of the most insane displays of total non-idiomatic improvisation ever conjured by humans. Thurston Moore saw it and remarked afterwards, “That was the greatest show I’ve ever seen.” Of course, he says that to everybody, all the time, but I’m pretty sure he was correct.
I performed on fretless bass—which I also used as a chopping axe on one of the monitors—an archaic and out-of-tune C melody saxophone, a cheap 12-string guitar and a smoke machine. Backstage after the show, a good amount of debauchery and sordid mental insanity took place. Pretty legendary stuff. I’ve been pretty lucky to have been a part of things like this throughout my career. I’m definitely not some academic little improv wussy-boy. I can get down.
What’s your favorite place to eat in New York?
Manna’s on Broadway in Brooklyn. Soul food by the pound. It’s a great comfort to me when I’m overwhelmed by how fast life is moving. Fried chicken, sweet potatoes, black eyed peas, fish cakes, mangoes, lasagna, you name it!