Confessions of a Non-Twirler: An Interview with Pat Mastelotto

Pat Mastelotto is many things – but definitely not a slouch.  Best known as the percussive genius behind current iteration of progressive uber-band King Crimson and as the drummer for the best-selling ‘80s favorite, Mr. Mister (remember “Broken Wings” and “Kyrie”?), Pat has also been a session drummer for many artists such as XTC, Scandal, Al Jarreau, the Pointer Sisters, Kenny Loggins and Martin Briley.  In his copious spare time, he’s a core part of a vast number of Crimson spin-off projects as well as various progressive “supergroups” that have featured renowned musicians such as Terry Bozzio (Frank Zappa, Missing Persons), Allan Holdsworth, Eddie Jobson, the California Guitar Trio and a host of others.

He’s recently finished being a part of the “Three of a Perfect Pair” Camp, a week-long music camp in New York state that allowed its campers – musicians and non-musicians alike – to learn from, jam out and hang with him and two other members of the Crimson court: Adrian Belew and Tony Levin. He’s currently on the road with Belew and Levin on the “Two of a Perfect Trio” tour which pairs Belew’s Power Trio with Levin’s Stick Men trio.  The show closes with “an extended Crim-centric encore.”

I caught up with Pat just before embarking on the “Perfect Trio” tour and we covered a broad range of topics including the Camp, the tour, and being a member of King Crimson as well as his past involvement with other musicians work and ongoing work with the myriad of musical projects of which he is a part.  He also shared his thoughts about a certain percussion-related virally-famous YouTube video – and we even found out why an iPod wouldn’t be a bad item for him to find under his Chrismas tree this year.

Dave Picton: How did the idea for the “Three of a Perfect Pair Music Camp” come about and how did it go?
Pat Mastelotto: The idea for the Perfect Pair music camp came up about a year ago.  One of our tech guys was involved with Danny Heaps the guy up at the camp.  They had done Modeski Martin &Wood and Todd Rundgren and some others so they approached us about doing it as a great Crimson type of concept and it sifted itself down it became the three of us.

DP: What was the genesis of the Two of a Perfect Trio tour?
PM:  Because we got together to do the camp, we got a couple of offers to do some gigs like the Iridium in New York City. After a couple of gig opportunities had been presented to us, at first we said no but then it started to look like an agent could patch a whole tour together, so we pursued it and came up with the concept of having each of our trios play together as well as Adrian [Belew], Tony [Levin] and I as a trio and add the other people back in.

DP: How did you wind up becoming a member of King Crimson?
PM: The quick answer is Robert Fripp invited me.  The longer answer is that I had spent about a year on the road with Robert. Before he invited me, I was out with Robert and David Sylvian.  David and Robert had a band with Trey Gunn and myself and when that tour ended, he asked me to join Crimson and presented the idea of a double trio with Bill [Bruford].

DP: The King Crimson “Thrak” tour featured the “double trio” band line-up that paired you with Bill.  What was it like playing live with him?
PM: Well, the best example I can give is an arcade game like a pinball game.  You just try to keep the balls in the air and react to what’s going on.

DP: The 80’s saw you as the drummer for the highly-successful Mr. Mister. What was your experience like with that band?  And what was up with the wacky hairdo?
PM: The band is hard to describe. When we met there was no record deal.  We got one fast, though, and we made a record that didn’t do so well and then we did a record that exploded [1985’s “Welcome to the Real World”].  So it was an interesting revolution watching the audience change as it became sort of massified all over the world.  It was a good experience. As far as the hair goes, hey, what can I say?  It was the times. That was the ‘80s. It didn’t seem so wacky at the time.

DP: You played on – in my opinion – one of the most underrated albums of the 80’s, XTC’s “Oranges and Lemons”.  How did that come about and, given that XTC stopped performing live in 1982, do you wish there had been a tour to support the album?
PM: I saw the band play a few times at the Whiskey and later at the Santa Monica Civic after “Drums and Wires” and after “English Settlement”.  I was at the show at the Palladium when Andy [Partridge] had stage fright, so what would have been their last show – the show that didn’t happen.  I was in the audience for that too.  Way back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I had turned my friend Paul Fox onto the band – I think it was “Mechanik Dancing” from “Go 2” or one of those songs from that album.  Paul was a session keyboard player that I hung out with who later became a producer and, when he got the gig with XTC, he rang me. So that’s sort of how the connection happened.  I wish there had been a tour.  There was very close to being one. XTC set out on a small radio tour and then booked me to come over to England to do a live performance in the studio. They were going to bring an audience in try to make a controlled situation for Andy.  It was just on the brink. They talked to me about leaving on a Friday and booked the flights the following week and then I think the single [“The Mayor of Simpleton”] didn’t do as well on the charts the following week and they postponed it and it never happened.  We still stay in touch Andy, Dave [Gregory] and I.  I’ve emailed with them all within the past year or so.  Dave coincidentally appears on a record that I did with an Italian by the name of Fabio Trentini.  He was talking about how much he loved Dave’s playing and I said “Well, let’s get him on the record”. It’s called “Moonbound” and if you look around on my site or on Facebook, you can find the record and you’ll hear Dave and I playing together on that.

DP: You’re involved with something of an instrumental supergroup, HoBoLeMa, that consists of yourself, drummer Terry Bozzio, guitarist Allan Holdsworth and your Krimson cohort, Tony Levin.  How did that come about and what does the future hold for the band?
PM: Strangely enough, that started because Terry Bozzio and I both collided a few times.  We both moved from northern California to southern California around 1973 or ‘74 when he had the Frank Zappa gig.  I happened to move at around the same time to Los Angeles and was working with an artist that was on the Discreet Records label.  I was in Frank’s old rehearsal room when Terry was in the big room with Frank.  We crossed paths again in the ‘80s.  He was in Missing Persons, of course, and I was with Mr. Mister.  We were kind of pop bands of the day.  We crossed paths again through some drum events in the late 80s.  In the early ‘90s, I moved to Austin, Texas and, coincidentally, Terry also moved here.  So after a few years of having friends say “Hey, you should call Terry”, one day my phone rang and it was Terry and he said “Hey, my friends have been saying that I should call Pat”.  So after a couple of long phone calls, we hooked up at each other’s houses.  Eventually, we did some jamming together and recorded that.  We released an album under then name of Bozzio Mastelotto and we called it “BoMo”.  A year or so later, we did one show at One World Theatre here in Austin.  It’s a beautiful theatre and the owner, Hartt Sterns, is a friend of ours and is also a percussionist, so he totally indulged us.  We filled the stage with gear – no drum kits, but a lot of percussion and wacky stuff – and did a semi-improvisational show.  Several years later, around 2009, Terry called me to do some shows with him in Japan.  He was doing a few weeks worth of gigs and had different drummers joining him for different shows.  So when he invited me, I was a little nervous about that and I asked if I could bring a rhythm buddy and that was Tony Levin. Tony and I came over to play with Terry. There were improvisational shows and the last few shows were around Tokyo and Terry invited Allan Holdsworth to join us. So we met that day in Tokyo and we didn’t even really do a sound check.  We just made a little noise enough that we could document if we could hear each another across the stage and then buggered off and came back to do our show.  It was a very satisfying night for us.  Completely improvisational and really great and had a lot of really high moments.  Allan’s manager, Leo, was there and immediately suggested booking some more dates.  It took about a year for our calendars to coincide, but a couple of years ago we did a run down the west coast, Seattle down to L.A. and San Diego for about 6 or 10 shows.  We went to Europe later that year and did 20 shows in 20 days.  It was a pretty whirlwind tour.  We intended to do some shows last year in 2010, but we didn’t.  And here we are in 2011.  We’re going to do some shows this year, but it looks like it’s gonna be pushed back to the fall or maybe next year, so I think we’ll go out again as HoBoLeMa – Holdsworth, Bozzio, Levin and myself – but there’s nothing firm about that.

DP: You continue to work with former King Crimson Warr guitarist, Trey Gunn, both one-on-one and with KTU as well as with Tony Levin and Michael Bernier in Stick Men.  What has your experience been like with both of these bands?  Similarities? Differences?
PM: I continue to work with Trey quite a bit.  We have our project called “TU”.  We recently started to do some recording, so we’ll probably have a record out next year – probably.  We did some gigs earlier this year with Chrysta Bell that went really, really well.  We’ve got some videos of that but, again, we’re holding that back.  KTU with Kimmo Pohjonen, the Finlandish daredevil accordion player – we’re not active right now, though.  It might be another year or two before we try to make another record or do some gigs, probably in 2013.  There is a video coming out and a re-packaging of the first and second records that should be out later this year or early next year.  Tony and Michael with Stick Men – two more touch guitar players that play Chapman Stick – each guy is unique.  They come from a different place and play differently.  Mike had to step out of Stick Men last year for personal reasons.  We’re still friends.  I play on his new solo record that’s just been released.  We replaced hin in Stick Men with Markus Reuter.  Markus is my buddy in a project called “Tuner”.  We have about five records out already, the first one called “Totem”, the second one called “Pole”, and there’s a new one called “Face” that’s not out yet.  “Face” is conceived of as “two-faced” record with an a“A” and a “B” side and we’re just about done with the “A” side.  We spent about three or four years on it.  It’s a pretty epic production.  Nothing really to compare that to.  It might be another year or two before we get the “B” side done.  We filled in with a couple of live records as well.  So now Markus is in Stick Men playing with Tony.  He’s a touch guitar player from Germany who lives in Innsbruck.  We did gigs earlier this year in South America and in Europe. He and Tony get along great.  We’ve composed a new Stick Men record called “Absalom” that we’ll have on this tour.  We’ll continue recording later this year after the tour and early next year and have a full release for next year.

DP: If I snagged your iPod and selected “random”, what would I hear?
PM: Well, you wouldn’t hear anything, buddy. iPod bit the dust a few years ago.  It was right around the time that Stephen Wilson was doing that photo essay of broken iPods, so somewhere in his fan base you’ll find my broken iPod.  Which brings me to a good point: I’m on three tracks on a new Stephen Wilson solo record that’s just coming out next month.  I did some remixes for Stephen a few years ago and worked on one of his other projects called “No Man” with Tim Bowness.  I think I’m on one or two tracks on one of their earlier records.  So I keep in touch with Stephen and, man, he’s a super talent.  The record’s great or what I know of it and I can’t wait to hear what the rest of the record is all about.

DP: Any chance we’ll ever be seeing you play like this guy? (See video below)
PM: Hmm…let’s see what you’ve got here.  “This Drummer is at the Wrong Gig”.  Oh…OK.  I’ve seen this one before.  [Laughs]  Yeah.  What can I say about that?  I’ve shared that link with a few people.  Uh…nice outfits.  The guy’s a heck of a twirler.  Will you ever see me playing like this guy?  I hope not.  I’m not much of a twirler and never have been.  I’ve got one twirl and that’s all I can offer ya’.  It’s the one that turns the beat of the stick to the butt end of the stick. So it’s a functional twirl.  It helps me get up on the bell of the cymbal.  But…you know…this guy is a little over the top for me.  I like to sit in the back unnoticed if I can get away with it.