Guitarist Lage Lund’s interest in the writings of Kurt Vonnegut then comes as no great shock to fans of both artists’ individualities. Complexities and paradoxes of the human condition abound in both Lund’s and Vonnegut’s works. Finding ways for his own artistry to interpret and coexist with Vonnegut’s became the focus of Lund’s Jazz Gallery Fellowship Commission project, aptly titled “Rebuild the Rubble.”
The Jazz Gallery: Would you talk a little bit about what sparked the idea for using Vonnegut’s works in the first place, and how you came to conceive of “Rebuild the Rubble?”
Lage Lund: The idea is that so much of the fabric of our society seems to have torn, or has turned out to be in worse shape than we perhaps realized. That constant barrage of abuse our senses are subjected to—emanating from this one orange asshole—can lead to paralysis and inertia.
In a larger perspective, so many things seem not good, pretty bad or terrible. So I think the need is to look to your immediate surroundings—the beauty of the people in your life—and draw strength from that. Otherwise, rebuilding the rubble just seems insurmountable. Kurt Vonnegut’s writing describes all of this so precisely and beautifully and, to me, he also represents a moral authority and voice of reason that is so sorely needed.
TJG: Had this concept to draw inspiration from Vonnegut’s works—and vibe—been brewing for a while?
LL: Initially, I had a series of sketches that I thought to develop into a coherent piece while doing the residency at the [Marcel] Breuer House, but in the end, I really wanted something to start from scratch, and as soon as I had these specific musicians in mind, it made the writing much faster and easier.
TJG: In my non-expert opinion, Vonnegut seems to have this pervasive sarcastic sense of humor in his works that’s generally tinged with tenderness and love, and I could draw many similarities in your music. Had you considered any other similarities while you were incorporating Vonnegut’s works into your own creative narrative?
LL: In my non-expert opinion that’s exactly right, and precisely why I’m drawn to his writing. I pretty much read everything he wrote while in college, but I recently got a book of letters he wrote, and in one of them there is a poem he wrote about his two young daughters. As a father of young daughters, it really resonated with me, and for the first time ever I started toying with the idea of writing music with words.
TJG: You have some of the music’s most creative voices on board for this project, both experienced artists and those from the new generation of artists. Do you want to talk a little bit about why you called the specific personnel involved in “Rebuild the Rubble,” particularly as you were handling lyric-writing for the first time?
LL: Once I had the idea of writing for a singer, I reached out to Theo Bleckmann. Not only is he an incredible musician, but he was also able and willing to create these beautiful lyrics from very opaque directions from me. Obed I think I approached as soon as I had the dates set. I had no clue at the time what the music or band or anything would be, but I knew that whatever it would end up being, he’d be perfect.
Once I realized I’d be writing for a voice, I wanted to be able to surround it with some occasional huge chord-walls, so I figured guitar, piano and keyboards would be the way to go. Micah Thomas has been doing gigs with my band for a while now, and is a spectacular pianist with a strong unique voice. Pete Rende is, I think, just really good at everything. Need a great pianist? Recording engineer? Carpenter? Inventor? Marine Biologist? Call Pete! But specifically, I knew he had the right sensibility, aesthetic, and sounds that I’d be looking for from the synths. And Ben Street is just one of my all-time favorite bass players.
TJG: What specific works of Vonnegut are the focus of or inspiration for “Rebuild the Rubble” and, also, throughout the writing process, did you hold any specific quotations from Vonnegut’s novels or stories in your mind as you were composing or arranging?
LL: The idea started with his Untitled Poem (1961), so I contacted the Vonnegut estate with the music I’d written for it and got the rights to use it for these performances. Some of the others have incorporated quotes from Vonnegut that Theo used as a springboard in crafting his lyrics:
Untitled Poem (1961)
poem by Kurt Vonnegut
Two little good girls
Watchful and wise—
Clever little hands,
And big kind eyes—
Look for the signs the world is good,
Comfort themselves as good folk should.
They wonder at a father
Who is sad and funny strong,
And they wonder at a mother
Like a childhood song
And what, and what
Do the two think of?
Of the sun
And the moon
And the earth
Other quotations as they relate to compositions include:
“I Know You Know”
And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.
Behind a cool and collected composure, there are weird fires burning behind the eyes
I went to New York to be born again.
And when the train plunged into a tunnel under New York City,
with its lining of pipes and wires, I was out of the womb and into the birth canal.
TJG: What do you hope listeners will bring with them to the performance?
LL: An open mind, I guess? I’m pretty curious to see how this will come out in the end, but it’s going to be pretty different from seeing me with my quartet or trio.
The Jazz Gallery presents the world premiere of Lage Lund’s Fellowship Commission, Rebuild the Rubble, on Friday, November 30 and Saturday, December 1. The band features Mr. Lund on guitar, Theo Bleckmann on vocals, Micah Thomas on piano, Pete Rende on keyboards, Ben Street on bass and Obed Calvaire on drums. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $25 general admission ($10 for members), $35 reserved table seating ($20 for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.