(Top photo by West Virginia Public Broadcasting)
I’ve wanted to talk to Trey Gunn for quite some time. He is one of the more innovative musicians to occupy shelf space in my collection.
A lot of what I love in music can be traced back to King Crimson, and this is no exception. When my favorite band announced they were coming back in 1994 with an EP called Vrooom, I was tingling with excitement. Sure enough, my favorite Crimson lineup — Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp, Tony Levin, and Bill Bruford — had returned to recapture their 80’s glory.
Except now they had two more guys. One was a drummer named Pat Mastelotto. The other was Trey. He was playing a Chapman Stick (which Levin also played in addition to bass). Who was this Gunn guy? What could he possibly add to what was already a brilliant quartet?
Initially, it was kind of tough to tell. Crimson’s “Double Trio” packed a mighty wallop, but it seemed to overwhelm Trey’s sound. I often had to dig pretty deep — usually with headphones — to figure out what the new guy was doing. Things got a bit easier when Trey switched from Stick to Warr Guitar, an instrument similar to what he was already playing, but it had a body and additional electronics. Trey’s sound began to poke through the din, and it was always interesting.
As it happens, I had already been hearing Trey for some time without realizing it. He performed with Robert Fripp in a band called Sunday All Over The World. When I realized that Fripp had produced other works during that same era, I found Trey working with the League of Crafty Guitarists and the Robert Fripp’s String Quintet. Clearly, Trey’s skills made him valuable. I figured it would be a good idea to keep track of his musical movements.
The hunch paid off, as Trey released some remarkable solo albums, including The Third Star and The Joy of Molybdenum. Now that I could hear what he was doing on his own, it was easier to pick him out of the Double Trio’s din. He also contributed brilliantly to Crimson’s experimental ProjeKcts, making appearances with each Crimson subgroup.
When Crimson reduced itself to a quartet — sorry, a “Double Duo” — Trey and Mastelotto became the rhythm section. Trey was now the bass player. His grooves and countermelodies took possession of the band’s low end. He also used his Warr Guitars to create some gorgeous solos, one of my favorites being what he brought to “The Deception of the Thrush,” performed live in Japan. His ethereal sound could induce tears.
Trey and Mastelotto breathed some more youthful air into the traditional Crimson mix. From where I sit, the band was better off for it. They were metal-like, electronic, and aggressive. But a rubber band can only stretch so far. Fripp eventually took Crimson back to its progressive rock roots and Trey was on to other things.
That’s not to say Trey hasn’t been busy. In addition to playing, he’s been scoring, transcribing, and educating among his many activities. I was really happy to get time to talk to him. He’s a kind and genial man with a great sense of humor and definitive presence. He knows what he’s doing and how he’s going to get there.
I’d like to thank Trey Gunn for taking the time to participate in this CirdecSongs Interview.
Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell.
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