Borderlands Trio – Interview with Stephan Crump

Borderlands Trio: “A lifetime of preparation for that moment”

Kris Davis, Stephan Crump, Eric Mc Pherson (Photo: Jimmy Katz)

Borderlands Trio is the formation of Stephan Crump (bass), Kris Davis (piano) and Eric Mc Pherson (drums). On 27th of January they will be performing at Stadtgarten Cologne.
Beforehand they were so kind to answer a few questions.

Stephan, the Borderlands Trio release on Intakt is the newest of your long run of collaborations for the label. What makes Intakt such a good place for your improvisational projects and in general for music?
Stephan Crump:Well, it comes down to the fact that Intakt is run by good people. They care about art and those who create it. It’s not an elaborate arrangement, given the economics involved, but they’ve always shown me respect and support toward making the recordings as I envision. I love all the albums we’ve released together, and I’m extremely grateful for my relationship with them.

Stephan Crump (Photo by CRAIG MARSDEN)

Maybe we start at the beginning: How does a band like Borderlands Trio find its existence? Could you describe the transgression process from just hanging for some improvisational come togethers to a more shaped unit.
I met both Kris and Eric through being on the scene here in New York City. I’ve played with Eric in a number of groups over the years, and always found it to be a uniquely powerful experience they way we interact, especially in regard to the time. It’s always felt like there was a strong gravitational pull to our connection. Also, I’ve found that spontaneous composition (improvisation) is a mode of music-making that engages Eric most holistically… and I might say the same for myself, and for Kris.
With Kris, I discovered her playing through one of her solo albums, “Aeriol Piano,” and was knocked out by the individuality of her voice, her rhythmic clarity and strength, as well as her interest in exploring unconventional sonic areas of her instrument… all aspects that I also feel strongly about with Eric’s playing. Kris and I got together the first couple of times just to play duo, and it was sparks right from the start. Because the two of them share those aforementioned characteristics and interests in music-making, I thought it could be good to get the three of us together. The album recording was probably only the third time we played as a trio. It’s all spontaneously composed, so the group’s development is about an ongoing conversation. As far as it becoming a “more shaped unit,” that develops each time we play, but as you hear from the “Asteroidea” album, there’s a shared sense of unfolding logic that has been there from the start. We’re able to keep things growing while simultaneously having them sound logical, even pre-determined, or inevitable.

Could each of you explain what you find most fascinating/interesting/challenging… about the way the others play?
Well, I think I mentioned some of the larger themes in the last question. I’ll add that they (and I think we) share a strong sense of structure, composition, and orchestration and, most importantly, an embrace of the importance of giving oneself over to the music…of attempting to transcend the egoic and, in doing so, tap into the underlying truth of our fundamental connectedness. Revealing this truth to ourselves and to others may be the most important duty of the artist.

I like the album title quite a lot: „Asteroidea“. To me it openes up underwater society myths like Atlantics or Drexciya, but in a much lighter, playful way. What´s the storyline of you three with the title?
Asteroidea to me touches on two key aspects that make this group special. The “astero” part refers to stars, evoking outer space, the universe, celestial bodies and their interactions. I mentioned gravitational pull, above, in regard to the feel connection I experience with Eric… and I should add Kris, here, to that category, as well. I strongly believe that the life in the music exists within that magnetic or gravitational relationship between and among the musical gestures within a group. It’s all about relation. This aspect of the music is extremely apparent to me in Borderlands Trio. The magnetic field within and around the group is so powerful.
Now, the other aspect in regard to the name… ”asteroidea” is the scientific name for the starfish, which is one of the few creatures that can regenerate limbs. To me this also made for a good reflection of the band, as we’re always connecting while continuously shapeshifting.

While already looking at the wordings of your sound universe, I obviously have to follow up the „Borderlands“ in your name. „Border“ is one of the faux-pas words of our times, at least for people like us who believe in an open world without borders in which culture is the key to an unhierarchic communication. That said, I am curious to hear more about your borderlands and what you are doing out there?
In this case, it’s more about personal borderlands. For instance, above, I mentioned trying to break beyond the egoic state of being into the more universal and interconnected. It’s really the beauty of this mode of music-making, and its great challenge. That’s one internal borderland that we all need to explore more fully, and I’d venture that if we did it would take care of the problems you refer to in your question.
Then there’s another way of seeing and approaching this notion of spontaneous group composition, and what it requires of one’s engagement… which is total, really. That is what I meant earlier when I said this mode elicits a holistic approach to creation, calling on every bit of who we are, and giving that over maximally to the music, attempting to become the most unimpeded conduit possible, allowing the universe to flow through us. I’m describing the ideal, here, accepting that this is a parabolic pursuit…that we never reach the axis, but together we push ever closer. That’s what if feels like. To me, those are the borderlands that we explore.

Kris Davis, Stephan Crump, Eric Mc Pherson (Photo: Jimmy Katz)

You recorded the album just on one day in December 2016 at The Samurai Hotel, Queens, NY. For a non musician like me unimaginable. How challenging is this such a thing even for professionals like you?
In a way, it’s of course extremely challenging, and elusive. But then, when things are working within a group and the studio setup is comfortable enough and sounding good enough for all to feel able to let go and express, then suddenly it’s the simplest thing ever. Just us, having a conversation. But there’s so much trust involved. Trust of one another, and also trusting yourself enough to let down your guard, to reveal yourself, to become so fully sensitized that it’s almost like turning yourself inside-out. That can’t happen in just any environment or with just any group of people.

„Borderlands“ is also the title of the epic opening song of the album, an fascinating rhythmic experiences, somehow managing to be both at the same time a narrative song and experimentell soundscape. Coming from the length of 26 minutes (in opposite to rather regular lengths of the other songs on the album), do I imagine right that finding „Borderlands“ was the main rush of the recordings? When on this day did this happen?
“Borderlands” happened about an hour into the recording process. It was the third piece we made. We had no intention regarding song length for any of the recordings except “Carnaval Hill,” for which we specifically planned to make a short, energetic piece. Otherwise, the concept in the studio was completely open.
How “Borderlands” happened was as simple as Kris starting that riveting low piano ostinato, and us just taking it from there. I’ll admit that I was quite scared when Kris started that intro, because it was so good and so strong I just hoped I wouldn’t mess it up. (That’s where you have to let go and trust yourself… dive straight into the fear.) Plus, she had the low end covered, playing a bass role, which pushed me to come up with something to counter. In that moment it occurred to me I needed to inhabit a more lead or vocal role, so I grabbed the bow and jumped in. After this, it was, as always, about creating relation from one moment, one gesture, to the next. That process happened to last 26 minutes, in this case.

Funnily you do not need length to cultivate this compression of the world. Even „Carnaval Hill“, with two minutes the shortest song on the album, is after a short playful part ready to be deconstructed. Are those shorter arcs of tension more challenging to you?
It’s all very challenging. As I mentioned, this piece was the only one for which we had a predetermined goal… short and energetic. As I recall, we laughed after finding the ending and discovering just how short the piece was, because we’d planned for more like four to five minutes. We laughed at our inability to stick to even that limited a script. But, sure, it is a different type of challenge to have things this compressed and moving so quickly and still find logic and cohesion. But it still comes down to trust and letting go. And, yes, a lifetime of preparation for that moment.

You live and work in New York, a city under immense economic pressure for decades now. Why is it for you guys still the place to be for producing your music?
That’s a fair question, and one that seems up for grabs from moment to moment. When exactly will this lamentable and inhumane phenomenon reach its tipping point? When will it no longer make sense for artists from all over the country and the world to find one another here, to grow and learn together? So far it somehow still makes sense for me and enough others to be here. That can certainly change at some point, but as long as enough creative spirits still keep coming and staying and making it work here, this will remain the place.


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