What do you call a guy who has formally studied percussion, released solo albums centered on accidental rhythms, and been known to utilize the sound of crickets in his live performances?
"I look at myself as a rock drummer," says Glenn Kotche, and how can anyone argue? The boyish musician keeps the beat for Chicago favorite Wilco, and for all his erudite perspectives on the art of percussion (he graduated from the prestigious program at the University of Kentucky), he has no problem channeling his inner John Bonham when the occasion calls for it. "There's no substitute for being onstage in a rock band. At the same time, it's really rewarding for me to be able to explore these other things, to push myself and do the solo thing."
Somewhere in his schedule, Kotche finds time for On Fillmore (a jazz duo with Darin Gray), Loose Fur (an experimental rock group with Jim O'Rourke and Jeff Tweedy) and his own solo material. This is all when he's not, you know, working with one of the most accomplished rock bands of this decade. "I just get really curious about a lot of stuff," he says. "Thankfully, I still have a lot of enthusiasm. Each project provides a balance for me, but at the same time, one really helps to inform the other. I think I grow as a musician and really find myself being able to understand what I'm doing with Wilco a lot more after I tour solo."
As helpful as it may be, Kotche doesn't indulge himself too often, and it's not only because time doesn't permit. "I definitely have to have a reason to make a record," says the Humboldt Park native. "I'm not gonna just put out solo drum records because there's a need for them."
His latest effort, Mobile, was written almost entirely on the road with Wilco, a long process that really allowed him to consider its merit. "I had a couple concepts that I really wanted to explore for this record," says Kotche, "the idea of negative rhythm, migratory themes, and also the idea of stretching rhythms. It was done kinda piecemeal, but it was nice that way, because I got to assess things in waves."
What he came out with was his first fully composed solo album (the others were at least partly improvised), and one that confirms both his percussive prowess and his interest in expanding sonic boundaries. When Kotche says that what he does alone wouldn't fit in too well with Wilco, he's not kidding. It's hard to see a progression like "Mobile, Pts 1 & 2" fit in between "Theologians" and "I'm a Wheel." Still, one can't help but notice that the unabashedly experimental drummer joined up with the band just before it hit its exploratory stage with the acclaimed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
"I think that was germinating already," says Kotche of Wilco's shift in sound. "That's why I was brought in. I was playing with Jeff already, Loose Fur had already made our first record at that point. He just saw a right fit for the band." Thus far, it's worked out well, to say the least. "The lineup we have right now feels great; we're all communicating and writing well together. There's no drama in the Wilco world."
That's probably a good thing...Kotche already has enough on his plate.
In the beginning:
I was in 5th grade and it was a Bat Mitzvah...it was my rock band, we really didn't even have a singer, but we played Black Sabbath and Judas Priest songs. I think we tried Stairway to Heaven, too.
The coolest thing in my neck of the woods:
I love this restaurant Mayan Sol Latin Grill...and there are all the great Korean restaurants [in Albany Park]. Rick Rizzo [of Eleventh Dream Day] teaches at a school near there, and he told me once that it's the most diverse zip code in the country, I'm not sure about that, but I hear five languages just walking to the L. It's really nice, especially after growing up in the 'burbs.
What I'm listening to:
Chris Corsano, one of my favorite percussionists, has two new solo discs, I don't even know if they're out yet. The Young Cricketer, which is a solo percussion record, and a synthesizer record. I heard both those, and they made me so happy…I hear a lot of stuff, and hearing those records for me was so inspiring.
Fresh from the woodshop:
Mobile was released in March (on Nonesuch Records). We're finishing up a new Wilco record probably by the end of the year. It should be out spring or early summer, but you can never really tell. We try not to put any deadlines on it. We're also working on a new On Fillmore record.
Coming soon to a stage near you:
A double solo tour with Nels Cline in September.