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The members in Illadelphia/Astoria punk-jazz trio Many Arms are quite the busy dudes. Ace guitatorrist Nick Millevoi counts two intrepid solo records under his belt, bassist Johnny DiBlase leads his own skronk-heavy Quartet and provides the low end for jazzmongers Zevious while drummer extraordinaire Ricardo Lagomasino has toured with Fugazi’s Joe Lally and plays in local Philly avant-rock monster unit, Split Red.
But Many Arms remain their main gig and it’s when the three converge in that dynamic that the massive shred-fest commences, so much so that the cataclysm of riffage prompted downtown icon John Zorn to release the trio’s critically acclaimed eponymous third record via his revolutionary Tzadik label.
Fiercely frenetic, blaring and precise as hell, Many Arms mathy-cum-berserk cacophony journeys into a Brainiac universe of face-melting prog-guitar lickage supported by a ridiculous rhythm section whose time signature chug-chug fries minds. As a vital part of a fledgling avant-gardist pool of shred overlords that includes Mick Barr, Brandon Seabrook, Mary Halvorson and Andrew Hock, Many Arms come clean, divulging their innermost secrets of shreddage and thereby giving us posers some hope.
Many Arms play The Stone (corner of Avenue C and 2nd Street) tonight at 8pm
Before you let us in on your shred secrets, let’s get some Many Arms background info. Last year, your self-titled record came out on John Zorn’s Tzadik label. How did your getting on Tzadik come about?
Millevoi: When we decided to record our last album, I just sent John a letter with our previous two releases and he sent me the most gracious response I could have ever imagined. Even though I sent it, I was not expecting we’d ever end up on Tzadik! Once the record was mixed, I sent it to him and I think it took 30 minutes before I got a response that John was down to release it.
Had you crossed paths or known John Zorn before getting on Tzadik?
Millevoi: Never, but I’ve just been a fan since I was a teenager.
There are shit tons of Tzadik releases. How many Tzadik releases do you actually own own?
Millevoi: I’m not sure how many I own, but it’s pretty likely that I own more records on Tzadik than any other label. It’s my favorite label and I have a ton of respect for Tzadik.
Can you name a fave Tzadik release?
Millevoi: I can’t name one particular favorite, but here are three favorites:
John Zorn’s Classic Guide to Strategy; John Zorn’s Book of Angels Asmodeus album, which is played by Marc Ribot, Trevor Dunn, and Calvin Weston; the new Bill Frisell album, Silent Comedy. But it’s so hard, every release by Naked City and Masada is amazing, so those are all favorites.
You recently had a gig with a sax player (Colin Fisher). Is that the direction Many Arms is going into or was that a one-off thing?
Millevoi: That was sort of one off as a project, but we did record an album. We may play together again with Colin once the record is released, but he lives in Toronto, which could make it hard. We’ve known Colin as long as our band has existed (we shared a bill at our third show) and have wanted to do something with a sax player for a while. Colin is the right kind of hard blowing shredder to fit in with us too.
It’s definitely the direction that we’re going for a little while as far as collaborating with others though. In April, we’re doing four concerts and recording with Toshimaru Nakamura, who plays no-input mixing board and is coming from Tokyo to work with us. His music is really different from ours, so I think we’re going to have some exciting results.
Now, on to shredding. Nick, where and what age did you learn to shred?
Millevoi: I think for the most part I learned to shred when we started Many Arms! I used to play pretty slowly for the most part and envy people who could play fast shred stuff. I had a guitar teacher in college who was a heavy duty shredder and tried to show me some things, but I couldn’t get my right hand together. When I was 23, I was in a car accident that resulted in 6 months of physical therapy, which helped me work out a lot of tendonitis issues I had. I figured out how to hold the guitar and a pick in a way that I could pick a lot faster and that was right when we started our band.
Can you point to a particular person/musician/record that sent you on your shred-worthy way?
Millevoi: I’ve spent a lot of time being attracted more to people who have a big sound than fast, shredding technique. Really the main reason I started playing fast was to try and emulate Pharaoh Sanders-style heavy blowing on the guitar. I discovered that the way for me to make the guitar scream as much as possible was to dig in hard and play fast! My main shred-worthy guitar influence is Joe Morris. He’s the ultimate free jazz guitar shredder. His technique is incredible and so fast! His music was a huge influence on getting me to just hear ideas at a high speed.
But here’s another thing: our band was started in a whirlwind in that we rehearsed a bunch of times and then our first show was the first show of our first tour, so we didn’t take a lot of time to figure out what we were doing before we hit the road. I remember the night before leaving for tour watching a bunch of Mick Barr videos on YouTube. I’m sure that probably had some influence on why I decided to try and play fast in our band and it just stuck.
Can you differentiate the types of shredding you employ when playing in Many Arms as opposed to your solo records like In White Sky and Black Figure of a Bird?
Millevoi: In Many Arms, I generally use a simple tone and try and cut through the maelstrom that Johnny and Ricardo create, whereas I think about creating a bigger picture with my solo music. In my solo music, I try and play the amp as instrument a bit more too, though some of that stuff has been working its way into Many Arms stuff as I get deeper into using feedback. Ultimately, I don’t think my solo music is too shredding though since a lot of it is slower and often the closest thing to shredding I’m doing is literally shredding the strings as I dig metal into them.
Johnny, you shred on both electric bass in Many Arms and Zevious and on stand up bass in your Quartet. Which instrument is easier to shred on?
DeBlase: Definitely electric is easier to shred on. I often go back and forth between playing with a pick and playing finger style. Each has its own sonic characteristics and limitations that influence the ideas I come with while improvising. On upright I tend to play more sparsely.
Who’s a favorite bass shredder (or shredders)?
DeBlase: I’ve never really thought about that in terms of the bass… when it comes to playing fast and textural I’m probably influenced by Nick’s playing more than anything else!
Johnny, you also play with Nick in your Quartet and in Zevious you play with Mike Eber. How do Nick and Mike differ in the shred department?
DeBlase: Nick and Mikey are both amazing guitarists with unique approaches to their instrument and I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to create so much music with them over the years. If I had to compare them, I’d say that Nick has an aggressive textural approach, trying to pull out all of the sonic potential available to him to create an energetic mass of sound. Mikey has more of a ultra-melodic approach, weaving complicated note patterns in and around each other that sort of spiral around the surrounding rhythms.
The Tzadik record has three songs, each well over the 10-minute mark. How difficult is it to shred that long?
Millevoi: I think if anything, it’s more difficult to remember to stop! Sometimes there’s so much information to deal with between the composition and group interaction that 10-15 minutes goes by so fast! Once the room starts levitating, it can be hard to be sure how much time has passed.
DeBlase: It’s something we definitely had to consciously work on over the years. What’s difficult for me is not just playing for that long but keeping the energy high and ideas focused.
Lagomasino: If you do it a lot, it gets a little easier. After ten minutes, I’ll just start to feel warmed up. On tour, I’ll be ready to go as soon as we’re set up. You get so used to expending that much energy on a daily basis that your body starts to crave it. But, it’s usually within the last third of the set that I feel the best. By the time we’re done, I feel like a normal human being again.
Nick, you offer private guitar lessons. Can you teach budding guitarists how to shred?
Millevoi: Absolutely! Most of my students don’t really want to learn how to shred, but I get a lot of them working on solo violin music, which is probably the closest stuff to traditional shred music that I know anyway.
Is there another guitarist in Philly that is a future shred king?
Millevoi: Stephen Buono of Split Red is one of the best industrial strength paper shredders in the city, if not the whole tri-state area. Ever since they toured with the Melvins, they’ve been the loudest band in Philadelphia, but the new drummer could rock harder.
What is the Many Arms shred secret?
Lagomasino: While actually performing I have to keep my breath slow and steady. It helps keep my mind and body as calm as possible. If I don’t, my ideas suffer and I start to feel like I could pass out or barf. I’ve never actually done it, but I’ve come close. Singing and humming long tones helps.
Millevoi: Long drives, loud amps, and a drummer who hits really hard.
DeBlase: Meditation and vitamins.