The music world is relatively small. Because of that, what one may think is his first exposure to a particular musician actually may not be the case.
When King Crimson returned to active service in 1994 after disbanding a decade earlier, the quartet I knew and loved (Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, and Bill Bruford) had expanded to six members, or a “Double Trio,” as Fripp called them. Bassist Levin had a new low-end counterpart in Trey Gunn, who played the Chapman Stick (and ultimately the Warr Guitar). Drummer Bruford also had a new foil in Pat Mastelotto.
I had long since proclaimed Bruford as my favorite drummer of all time. I didn’t know what this Mastelotto character could possibly bring to the table. I didn’t understand why Fripp felt the presence of a second drummer was necessary. It didn’t take long to find out.
Mastelotto proved to be the perfect percussive Yin to Bruford’s Yang. With Pat holding down the groove like a rock drummer, Bruford was free to make those “backbeat adjustments” like the jazz musician he truly was. The two of them came to call themselves. “Elvin Ringo,” after jazz legend Jones and the Beatles’ Starr.
My appreciation for Mastelotto’s abilities grew quickly. I came to wonder just where he came from. And that became one of my early lessons on the true size of the music community. Turns out I had already heard Mastelotto a few times in the decade before! My appreciation for commercial radio all but dissipated by the mid-’80s, but not before I heard a couple of singles from a band called Mr. Mister. “Broken Wings” and “Kyrie” were getting more than their share of airplay, and Mastelotto was behind the drum kit.
I’m a big fan of English pop band XTC, particularly an album of theirs called Oranges and Lemons. I had read the liner notes before, but hadn’t paid really close attention to the names. But after hearing the marvelous, driving drumbeat behind “The Mayor of Simpleton,” I looked again. The drums were played by none other than Pat Mastelotto. He was also a member of The Rembrandts, the band that recorded a tune called “I’ll Be There for You,” which became the theme song for the wildly popular American sitcom, Friends.
Between these gigs and extensive session work, Pat Mastelotto was everywhere. Or so it seemed.
When Bruford left King Crimson in 1997, I seriously wondered if Mastelotto would be able to handle the drum duties on his own. Once again, I needn’t have worried. Not only did he hold down the groove, but Mastelotto introduced an exciting array of electronic percussion to the Crimson mix, taking the band into areas few could have imagined. After showing what he was capable within the Crimson sub-groups known as the ProjeKcts, Mastelotto took things to the next level within ProjeKct X, Crimson’s “Double Duo” alter-ego from 2000. While Crimson proper recorded The ConstruKction of Light, Mastelotto, Gunn, and drum tech Bill Munyon assembled Heaven and Earth, the most forward-looking musical output from a King Crimson-oriented band. In my book, I referred to PX as “22nd Century King Crimson,” because it felt that far ahead of its time.
These days, Mastelotto occupies one of three drum thrones in King Crimson, along with Gavin Harrison and Jeremy Stacey. The idea of having three drummers in the same band struck me as a little far-fetched. But where King Crimson is concerned, it is often best for the outsider to trust the instincts and decision maker of founder and guitarist Fripp. The three drummers have forged an intricate, “zero room for error” style that delights and terrifies (in a good way), paving the way for making this Crimson incarnation one of the most popular to date.
When he’s not with King Crimson, Mastelotto can be found behind his kit in a myriad of projects. The most popular of them is probably Stick Men, a daredevil progressive rock trio consisting of himself, Chapman Stick-player Levin, and touch guitarist Markus Reuter. Together (and sometimes with a guest musician), they have forged a path of mind-blowing music-making featuring both original compositions and interesting takes on Crimson and other prog rock classics. Their playing is both high-octane and highly-skilled, and not for the musically faint of heart. They have released nearly a dozen recordings from both the studio and the stage.
Mastelotto also continues his work with numerous other projects, both as a band member and studio ace. Most recently, his work with O.R.k. on a project called Ramagehead has kept him occupied when not with Crimson or Stickmen. The discography contained on Wikipedia strikes one as both massive and incomplete.
I first met Mastelotto in the summer of 1996, when the Double Trio edition of King Crimson was opening the H.O.R.D.E. Festival. At the time, I was hoping to meet Adrian Belew. But as luck would have it, I wound up having a very pleasant 20-minute conversation with Pat, who seemed stunned that someone would call his name from across the crowded festival grounds. We’ve traded emails and had a few pleasant chats since then. In my book, I document how he very nearly produced my band’s second album. Had the band not imploded several months before the recording date, who knows what may have happened?
Mastelotto calls Dripping Springs, Texas (located just outside of Austin) home, but finding him there can be a challenge. Indeed, when I caught up to him, he was on the road with Crimson in Guadalajara, Mexico. From there, Pat Mastelotto was kind enough to answer Seven Questions from CirdecSongs.
CirdecSongs: How would you define your approach to the drums?
Pat Mastelotto: Around the floor toms and over to the seat (laughs).
Tell me about your approach to a session as opposed to being part of a band.
Not much different. I’ve been in bands since I was about 12, so that’s the way I think. “One for all, and all for one.” Follow the leaders, but also pick up the slack and heap the coal into the engine room. Basically, the artist or the songwriter is always right, even when he is wrong. I try to follow their vision, but also offer alternatives.
When Robert announced the next King Crimson incarnation would have three drummers, what was your very first thought, and how did that help you move forward?
I thought that’s a pretty wild idea! I forgot to ask who the three players would be, so my imagination was running wild with the possibilities. How it helped me move forward was it opened up a lot of new ideas for Crimson music, and also it’s an opportunity to exchange ideas with very musical drummers.
You were allowed to “re-imagine” your parts for The ConstruKction of Light (prior to being re-mixed, it was learned that Mastelotto’s original drum tracks had been lost — Ed). The result was essentially a new album, which was dubbed The Re-ConstruKction of Light. How much of the original drumming did you use as a frame of reference, and how did that bring about changes?
I pretty much went from memory. I didn’t go back and listen to the old record. And as you probably know, the songs changed and developed over the years while we played them live on tour. Of course I did have a lot of memories, but not always the correct ones. “Was that two bars of 4/4 or a bar of 6 (laughs)?” That made me ask myself why did we choose, at that time, to do it that way? There must have been a reason, so I was trying to follow the thread back to the original motivations.
In what musical context (band or style) do you feel the most free to express yourself through your drumming?
When I’m home alone. A pot of coffee, a bag of Girl Scout cookies, and a tape recorder. That’s my idea of a party!
ProjeKct X never fails to fascinate me. How did you know what you had as the record came together?
By listening. I knew what we had as we played it. Things were happening, but not all of them were going to be used for Crim. So I started stockpiling and feeding bits to Munyon to keep him busy, and justify his presence. (ProjeKct X), like most everything I do, is a labor of love. I really enjoy making records. The actual recordings process is much more satisfying than trying to finish and sell it.
How do you view the economics of the modern music industry? For instance, how much more difficult is it to make a living today than say, 20 years ago?
Actually, I feel very fortunate. I was lucky to get in the music business at the end of the money curve. So I’d say the backbeat has been very, VERY good to me! I was blessed to work with some very honest and fair people who treated me better than they needed to because that’s the kind of ethics they maintain. The current Crim is making about the same kind of income the Misters made with Number One records! And Crim stays in better hotels, even with twice the players and a bigger crew. The DGM (Robert Fripp’s independent label) business model works!
So I’m doing ok. But for up and comers the future looks bleak, since music and musicians have covered the globe like locusts. I feel sad for younger musicians that won’t be able to make a living from their passion.
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