Recently I had the opportunity of meeting up with prolific longtime artist of many genres Bill Laswell, who, unlike the average artist, just keeps tirelessly making/recording new music and avoiding repetition along the way. "I couldn't imagine being in some rock band that only makes ten records their whole life. And then plays them over and over and over and over. I just don't know how they can do it," the New York City based artist told me when I caught up with him in his Hells Kitchen area apartment. Laswell, who estimates he has about two thousand releases credited or directly related to him (under various names, collaborations, and acclaimed lineups including Praxis, Material, & Tabla Beat Science), epitomizes the term prolific artist. The trippy video below is "Animal Behavior" by Praxis featuring Laswell along with Buckethead, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, Brain, and Nextman Flip.
For three solid decades now, the tireless musician/producer/remixer has built a strong reputation for consistently and successfully melding together seemingly disparate and divergent musical styles, drawing from, but not limited to, funk, dub, jazz, turntablism, hardcore, ambient, African, Indian, and various other world music sources. His most recently released project, the collaborative Method Of Defiance's Inamorata, is an effortless hybridization of free form jazz, funk, and drum n bass. A talent-packed affair, it features numerous artists, including input from such longtime heavyweight collaborators as avant-garde composer/saxaphonist John Zorn, keyboardist Bernie Worell, guitarist Buckethead, and jazz pianist/keyboardist Herbie Hancock.
In fact, of all of his myriad of musical cohorts over the years, it was with Herbie Hancock, as producer, co-writer, and bassist for Hancock's wildly successful 1983 album Future Shock featuring the hit single "Rockit," that Laswell experienced his career's greatest commercial success (see classic video for it below). And that success came as a total surprise to Laswell. When first invited to collaborate with Hancock, Laswell insisted on incorporating into the jazz form the (then still in its infancy) hip-hop turntablist element and enlisted Bronx DJ Grand Mixer D. ST (pictured above with Laswell). In the Downtown recording studio, handing the DJ a bunch of esoteric records to scratch on in rhythm patterns, Laswell offered solid advice. "I said, 'Don't just do 'fresh' like we had done before on the Fab Five Freddy record,'" recalled Laswell, referring to another classic legendary hip-hop record he also worked on. "And we did it in like an hour and then brought it (the basic track) to LA and there had Herbie, who didn't know what to make of it at first, add in his parts. And we mixed the whole thing inside an hour and a half. We didn't have a clue what it was or what people would think. We were just laughing about it," he said. A little later, on their way back to the airport, they stopped at an audio store to check out big speakers. For want of something appropriate to hear, Laswell handed the clerk a cassette copy of the freshly mixed "Rockit" to blast at full volume. "And then we turned around and there were about fifty kids gathered going 'What the fuck was that?' And I looked at D ST and said 'This just might be something!'"
Fast forward two and a half decades and countless juxtaposed sound recordings later (including a Nine Inch Nails remix he recently did), and Laswell is still looking for that perfect beat. While in his walk-up, open-space Manhattan apartment I asked him just exactly what it is that drives him to remain so prolific to this day. "In the beginning you're just interested. And later on you're obsessed. By the end it's necessity," he said.