Alan Licht

interviewed by piero scaruffi TM, ®, Copyright © 1998 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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Alan Licht has a long and distinguished career, playing guitar in well-respected alternative rock bands such as Blue Humans, Love Child and Run On. How did you start playing, how did you get involved with these bands, and what have you learned from these experiences?
"I started Love Child with friends in college. In high school I had played in cover bands in high school, mostly doing classic rock and AOR type stuff. I also put together a couple of one-off hardcore bands in high school. Anyway, I found out about Rudolph Grey on the Tellus ALL GUITARS cassette, and then noticed Ecstatic Peace ads where his "Transfixed" LP was mentioned as "coming soon." I interviewed him on the radio and later for the fanzine BLACK TO COMM and we stayed in touch--I played on one cut on the MASK OF LIGHT LP and then played with him and Tom Surgal as the Blue Humans pretty regularly for a couple of years. CLEAR TO HIGHER TIME was recorded in '91 but didn't come out til '93 because Rudolph was so slow in preparing the cover art. I was doing Love Child at the same time. Our initial demo cassette got a great write-up in FORCED EXPOSURE, and our first single was taken from those recordings. At the time, that single was pretty well-received--in fact, it beat out both the first Pavement and Superchunk singles in the AJAX catalog's year end poll. We did a 7" covering 4 Moondog songs next. By the time our first LP came out, we had a line up change and didn't really tour. When the second album came out we did tour but were kind of sick of the whole thing so it ended maybe six months later."

Can you tell me something about the Blue Humans and the Love Child albums, which I never listened to?
"In Love child all three original members sang and wrote songs. Will Baum and I traded off playing drums and guitar. So the first album, OKAY?, reflects that. The songs are all short--I think there are 18 songs on that album. Will was gone by the second album (WITCHCRAFT--both on Homestead) which is more Yo La Tengo-damaged. The BH LP is pretty simple--one guitar in each channel, drums in the middle--it's great to listen to on headphones. A great no-wave meets free jazz record."

His collaboration with Rick Brown in Run On dates since 1995 and has yielded two widely praised albums, Start Packing (Matador, 1996) and No Way (Matador, 1997). The sound of Run On relies on the interplay between drums and guitar. Can you tell us more about your work with Brown?
"I used to see Fish and Roses a lot and that's pretty much how I met Rick and Sue. Since the Run On stuff is rhythm based, yeah, I'm pretty reliant on the drums. But I'm more harmonically inclined (not rythmically) and more improvisation-oriented (Rick isn't really an improviser), so in a lot of ways we're opposites. But I guess it works."

Everybody in Run On seems to have another life, or two or three other lives. Is this part of the concept or does it signal a clash of personalities?
"Most of these "other lives" pre-date Run On. I think it's always kind of hurt the band image to have so many other things going on--we never established a collective identity as a band, it's more just these four characters playing together. But that's the way it is."

Licht has assembles his experimental solos on Sink The Aging Process (Siltbreeze, 1994) and Evan Dando Of Noise (Corpus Hermeticum, 1997), to which we must add his duos with Loren Mazzacane on Live In New York (New World Of Sound, 1996), Two Nights (Road Cone, 1996) and Mercury (Road Cone, 1997). He also plays with the Max Factory, which have released Tudor City (Ecstatic Yod, 1996). What do we have to make of your second life as an avantgarde musician? How did you hook up with Loren Mazzacane and what does that collaboration give you?
"I don't see a great difference between what I've done in rock bands and as an "avantgarde musician." A lot of the same ideas are in both, just explored in different ways. Loren and I were both on a compilation LP called BREATHE ON THE LIVING and I started seeing him play when he moved to NY in 90 or so. Somewhere along the line he asked me to play with him. I got to explore some areas I never would have gotten to otherwise, so in that sense it's been a gratifying collaboration. Initally it was weird to go from the loud frenzy of the Blue Humans to playing quietly with Loren but soon I realized they were actually pretty similar situations where I was playing off what the other guy was doing."

Your guitar style seems intent at assimilating free-jazz (Derek Bailey) and minimalist (LaMonte Young) techniques in conventional rock technique, but you have stated that your solos are "heavy-metal guitar playing". How did you embrace the current course of experimentation, and what is your aim?
"I think maybe I meant my solos in Run On. I've always liked crazy guitar solos in non-metal contexts, even stuff like Adrian Belew in Talking Heads "Great Curve" or Eddie Van Halen on Michael Jackson's "Beat It." Ollie Halsall was influenced by Cecil Taylor, and he basically played metal guitar solos in Patto. Although I'm a big fan of minimalism, I don't know what "techniques" I would have assimilated, other than paying closer attention to overtones than the average "rock" guitarist would. I think it's cool that more people are interested in Derek Bailey now--I always thought he could be a guitar hero like Jeff Beck or whoever."