In which Greg Tate interviews Greg Tate about Burnt Sugar’s New Album ‘The Rites’ and Related Matters

Burnt Sugar vs. Stravinsky? How did we get here? Why y’all tripping?

GT It was really more a case of Burnt Sugar vs. Butch Morris. Uncle Igor was just an innocent bystander who got caught in our crosshairs or our shorthairs as the case might be. This project has an odd circular history. About two years ago Burnt Sugar was approached by the choreographer Gabri Christa who was interested in us coming together to work on a large scale Robert Wilsonesque collaboration we took to calling ‘Rites of The Americas’. I had come up with the idea of adapting motifs from Le Sacre Du Printemps for a series of improvisations. Funding for that project fell through but when Gabri’s company Danzasia was invited to do Central Park Summerstage last year we revived the Stravinsky idea and brought in Butch. Given how many sick bass lines there are in his writing, Stravinsky makes perfect sense for a band that loves to vamp as much as we do. S’no wonder he recognized James Brown as a kindred soul.

I thought Butch was your friend. Why abuse him so? Everybody knows your band doesn’t like to play anything the same way once.

GT I’d been looking for a way to bring Butch into the mix since we started this band back in ’99. Though I always acknowledge that our conduction methodology is based on his, I felt there needed to be a well-promoted and public recognition of our debt to Butch. Summerstage brought him into contact with our audience. In the rehearsals Gabri was so bowled over by Butch she adapted conduction to dance. So we had dancers and musicians being conducted on the same stage. The recording was done several months later after the band had forgotten everything we’d learned for Summerstage so we spent about four hours reacquainting everyone with the basic baton gestures and hand signals. I secretly and sadomasochisticly caught a thrill watching Butch wear their inattentive asses down. Negroes left that session with headaches, Yo. Believe that.

Pete Cosey, Yo! That was a coup.

GT Serendipity all the way Yo. Another icon of every guitar player in this band. We had been wanting to record with Pete since he came and saw us at The Empty Bottle in Chicago. I remember he told us he was so excited by the music he wanted to jump on stage but restrained himself because he didn’t know the format. I told him he was the format. Those 70s Miles joints–Agharta, Pangea, Dark Magus, Get Up With It –are you kidding? Pete just happened to be in town to do an episode of The People’s Court. No lie. This club promoter had royally stiffed his band Children of Agharta so he sued him and won on The People’s Court. No lie. Pete met Butch in the studio and what can you say: he laced the tracks lovely. Re Melvin’s participation: our regular bassist Jared Nickerson was out of town so we grabbed Gibbs. It made sense because he and Pete have played together a number of times since the 80s. In fact they went off to do another session somewhere way out in bonefuckBrooklyn after they were done with ours.

This is Burnt Sugar’s fifth album in three years. Why is the boopsie so obsessive-compulsive?

GT I live to make records. Making music is just a means to the end. Relative to what Toni Morrison and Samuel Delany said about their novels, I make records I’d like to hear but can’t find. I have something of an ill romance going on with all aspects of the process—the recording, the mixing, the mastering, the packaging, the liner notes, the reviews, the release party, the whole damn shebang. It’s the one thing I could do twenty-four hours a day seven days a week and not get krazymadbored with myself. That said we’re actually releasing six albums this year of which ‘The Rites’ is the first—there’ll be another double set of original material coming out in July (BLOODYBLACKSEX YALL LIBERATION & RANDOMVIOLETS), a Miles Davis tribute album coming out in October, a solos, duets and trios set on the heels of that, a ‘Rites’ remix project, and a truly ‘black metal’ thing coming out around Christmas as part of a ten CD box set of all our work to date. Clearly we’re about all self-canonization in the ‘03.

Any other hidden agendas you’d care to reveal?

GT ‘Real time improvisation with contemporary musical technology in contemporary musical vernacular.’ Same as everybody else who never got over their Weather Report period.

Greg Tate. May, 2003