In December 2001, Cockburn Project publisher Nigel Parry spoke with Andy Milne, a musician whose coming Fall 2002 album will feature two new songs which resulted from a musical collaboration and studio sessions with Bruce Cockburn, and a third song, a reinterpretation of Cockburn's Let The Bad Air Out. Studio photos of Bruce Cockburn and Andy Milne courtesy of Andy Milne. Interview published 19 June 2002.
Nigel Parry: How did you end up working with Bruce? This was the second collaboration of Bruce with someone who is ostensibly a jazz musician, with his appearance on Michael Occhipinti's album. Who initiated the contact?
Andy Milne: In both cases it wasn't Bruce's idea to get in touch. I grew up in Canada, my bass player lives in Toronto so Bruce and I were a few degrees away. I listen to music with sensibilities, with some kind of improvisation, music that has some freedom of expression. In general, I'd have to say the collaboration happened pretty naturally for me.
Nigel Parry: Was it easy to work together?
Andy Milne: We have a mutual admiration for each other's music and a desire to create something special. That was the easy part, however I live in New York and Bruce lives in Toronto, and between both of our touring schedules, it took some doing to find time to get together to create.
During May and June 2000, we started working on ideas. Even after you got together, it took time to get into the zone. It takes a while to feel each other out. You're in a room together, two people who don't know each other very well need to find out each other's space. You need to get to know each other.
In May 2001, the band began recording our new album in the studio, which continued on until October 2001. Bruce recorded his parts with us during a couple of days in May.
Nigel Parry: What did you work on?
Andy Milne: We wrote two songs together and we did my take on one of his songs, a new arrangement of Let The Bad Air Out.
We also worked on a new song, Trickle Down. Bruce had some lyrics but hadn't been able to figure out any music. He showed them to me and banged something out pretty crudely on the guitar to give me an idea of where he thought it might go. The vibe of the lyrics were sort of political and when Bruce gets into his political stuff I like that shit. So I told him, "Let me do something with it."
When you find someone like Bruce, who writes in a way that you think will fit into your band, you want to hang out with them. It's great when you can work with people you like. You begin to write music with them in mind.
Trickle Down didn't sound anything like Bruce's original idea in the end. The rhythms I created Bruce took some time to get into as he wasn't used to them.
We did another song, called Everywhere Dance, but I'm not going to talk about that. There have to be some surprises!
Nigel Parry: Was it a long process?
Andy Milne: We started recording in May. The mix for Trickle Down was finally finished a few weeks ago (late November). The struggle that one song has gone through cracks me up. From tape to hard disk to tape. People all over the place had copies just to contribute little parts to add to the vibe. It was like a suitcase in a Bugs Bunny cartoon with all those stickers from around the world.
Other projects I've done weren't as ambitious as this album. This one had to overcome many road blocks and hurdles. We were going to record in Toronto but the studio cancelled because Rush blocked out a whole year! It cost more money to bring people to New York.
Nigel Parry: Where did you record?
Andy Milne: At Systems 2 studio in Brooklyn, New York. Lot of jazz musicians use it. I've known the people who run it for years. There's a really great piano there, and working in a studio where there's a piano you love is a big plus.
It was an involved recording process. You want it to feel right. I'll look back in 30 or 40 years and laugh. It's even humourous now but not really. It's only funny now because it's going to be funny later!
Nigel Parry: What was the time in the studio like?
Andy Milne: Initially it was hard. Our band had just been touring in Argentina. We came back with colds. I had to work ten times as hard to talk. My voice was raspy like Miles Davis'. The documentary crew there to film the "Life and Times of Bruce Cockburn" was a heavy distraction. There were cameras in everyone's face for the first day.
The process is people and personalities, and time constraints and technical issues. The only way you'd capture that is if you videoed it all. We recorded live, not with a track-by-track process. Too much interplay is needed for this kind of music. Sure, there will be some tweaking later, but the basic tracks have to have the right vibe in order to get anywhere.
Nigel Parry: What was the upside?
Andy Milne: Kokayi, the rapper in our band, is a story teller from a different culture. He's a word person interested in crafting words and images. He was the first person in the band I introduced to Cockburn's music. I forget which Cockburn album it was, one of the last two The Charity of Night or Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu.
"Here's this cat from Canada that I've been into for a while," I said to him, "Check it out." Just to be there hearing he and Bruce, two poets candidly talking, was great. Listening to everyone joking around was just really nice. People were just being relaxed. I have fond memories of the session.
Nigel Parry: There's rap on the album?!
Andy Milne: There's rap. I found a way to bring Bruce into the sound of it.
Nigel Parry: You talk about the recording process being really involved. What characterises this album?
Andy Milne: This record is about songs and grooves. I don't know if its purpose was to reflect a theme. My last record did but this album for me is more about making a beautiful piece of work.
It's very easy to make a CD. Some people put records out when they don't have anything to say. It hurts them because it sounds empty. There are an awful lot of musicians in New York. Everyone's vying for attention. There are lots of people who aren't doing anything interesting. So for me, its really important to create a piece of work that excels in all areas of the production.
Nigel Parry: The album is due in Fall 2002. What's it called?
Andy Milne: I don't know. I don't know. I honestly don't know. I can't name a record until it's done. I'll give it a title when I've heard it finished. People shouldn't expect a straight ahead jazz record though. It won't be like Michael Occhipinti's Creation Dream either. It's something very different.