Q&A: Floratone

Floratone: II

Floratone: II (Savoy Jazz, 3/6/12)

Floratone: “Move”

[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Floratone_Move.mp3|titles=Floratone: “Move”]

Following its 2007 debut, Floratone was established as a highly collaborative and innovative musical force with no lack of original ideas. Comprised of guitarist Bill Frisell, drummer Matt Chamberlain (Critters Buggin), and producers Lee Townsend and Tucker Martine, the collective concerns itself with the art of “spontaneous compositions,” an approach that crosses from improvised jam sessions to cut-up production work and back again.

Floratone II was recorded over a two-year period, molded from a collaborative process of Frisell and Chamberlain laying down improvised musical motifs that were finished by accompaniments and tweaks from Townsend and Martine. For the second go-round, the members seem to have settled into a stronger dynamism, carving out vibrant layers of well-spaced grooves, rhythms, electronic ambience, and synth bursts.

And if the project wasn’t virtuosic enough, guest spots from Ron Miles, Eyvind Kang, Mike Elizondo, and distinguished soundtrack composer and producer Jon Brion make sure that all grounds are covered. We caught up with Martine to talk about the new record, Floratone’s collaborative process, and some of his favorite producers of all time.

Tucker, you have commented on the richness of tone from both Matt and Bill. Could you expound on its importance and what you all try to achieve with tone in Floratone?

I think that we are all just hoping to stay open to what kind of sonic landscape suggests itself through the initial improvisations of Bill and Matt.

Subsequently, how do electronic textures fit into the group’s goal?

If there is a goal with Floratone, I think it would be to stumble upon some unique, interesting territory in the initial improvisatory process. There have never been any discussions about what those elements need to be. Once we had the initial forms in place, it felt exciting to add a wild card into the mix. That’s when we invited Jon Brion and welcomed him to bring whatever colors he was inclined to contribute. He showed up with a chamberlain, some funky, crusty old keyboards, and a couple of modded tape delays. We gave him a couple of passes at about half of the songs and chose our favorite bits.

Jon was the last one to play on it once everything was pretty much done. When he came in, he had not heard a note of the music, and we always recorded his first pass, which was the first time he had ever heard the song. So his role was brief and spontaneous but added a valuable dimension in several cases.

How do the parameters of collaboration change when an equal amount of emphasis is laid upon musicians and producers?

There is a ton of mutual trust, so it all flows pretty naturally. In a nutshell, Bill and Matt play a bunch of great stuff; Lee and I sort through it and pick our favorite bits. In some cases, we are quite invasive with editing, and in other cases, we try to honor the integrity of a performance. Then Lee and I present those structures back to Bill and Matt. Bill will write some melodic ideas to overdub on some of them, and Matt will usually add the occasional percussion overdub to help tie it all together. Then Lee and I have a lot of freedom at the mix stage for the final realization.

With tracks like “Parade,” “Move,” and “No Turn Back,” it feels like Floratone II builds on the first album’s dark, bluesy roots to take in even more genres. What kind of direction is the new album taking the collective?

Honestly, that might be more up to others to decide. We just enjoy that we can feel free to go down any road that presents itself at any time if it feels like we are collectively excited about it. There isn’t a whole lot of talk about genre or style going into it. It’s a studio-creation-style project, meaning all of the creating is happening in the moment in the studio; musically, nothing is prepared before the tape starts rolling. We would hope that the new record covers some new territory while still being coherent.

Though not the case with Floratone, the importance of the producer often is overlooked. Who are some of your favorite producers (and records if applicable) of all time?

Well, Lee Townsend would be one, of course! There would be so many. Some of the first that come to mind for me are Billy Sherill, Daniel Lanois, Tchad Blake, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Nigel Godrich, Chet Atkins, Teo Macero… Oh, man — I really could go on forever. There are too many to mention!

Leave a Comment