THE WINNER FINISHES LAST
Mikołaj Zieliński: What is the significance of Mózg club for you? Do you think of this place as meaningful to you?
Joey Baron: That's your question? Um, yeah, I remember very well... For me it was a point of a tour
with my first group Barondown. I just remember it was very cold – it was winter. The thing that I remember is the spirit of the people here as we played. That stayed with me because I was only here twice.
M. Z.: Unfortunately I've never attended any of your concerts because at the time I was elsewhere.
J. B.: (laugh) Well, the spirit of the people that were here was really very strong. It was really an unforgettable evening. I'm not sure exactly what year these performances took place [Barondown – 1996, solo – 2006]. The thing that really stuck with me though, as a band leader, was that it just felt great. I was leading a band and everybody in the band could feel energy, positive energy coming from the audience that obviously felt something positive coming from the stage. The feedback was just amazing and as a band leader it was amazing to look at the members of your team, they felt it too. That's incredibly wonderful feeling for any artist and particularly for one that is trying to lead the group, doing this kind of music, you know, creative music. And then when I came to do solo concert the response was... I mean I just felt like I was in... I don't have a living room but it felt like that was my living room. When you have nights like both of those nights – my solo and performance with Barondown – it just personally gave me confidence, like "Gee, maybe I'm on the right track here". What I'm saying what is special about this place was that spirit and people very open about showing it. It was just like when you are hungry, when somebody wants some food and the food comes: "Oh man, that looks great!", you know? It was that kind of feeling. People didn't say... it might not have been voiced that way but you could feel it. I was just in and out and so I remember the stage, I remember the Sławek was very supportive, I remember that we did this interview and he filmed the solo concert. Someone filmed thr Barondown thing, there were two or three pieces on YouTube or something. What was distinctive that whe just rolled into town, we set up, we played and people were just ready to hear something and they were really supportive of what was going on in both situations. And Sławek... I didn't have a chance to get to know him, you know, because as a band leader... you're on the road, this was a point of a tour in both cases. I spend more time with him during the solo thing. When I was here with a group it was... I remember we were carrying Cds, selling them to help make the tour affordable... It's just all the things the band leader does – the train tickets, the hotel, making sure that everybody knows at what time we play... so I had no time to really socialize because the next day we had to get on a train and go to work. But to me coming back now, after being invited to come now and just spending more time with Sławek and meeting his son... I'm sorry that I didn't get to know him back then, you know? He's very special person. He's what's special. I mean the building is a building. Things happened here and there are memories here but buildings are dead, you know what I mean? It's the people that realy activate this stuff. Just in the last couple of days spending the amount of time with Sławek I learned a lot of things about him, just what kind of a person he is, and he is a fantastic person, he's very special. This town is incredibly fortunate to have someone like that, to live here and be passionate, to work his ass of to get things going here. And he's for real, really believes in, you know, communication between all people. Getting people to be active, participate together as a group and trying to build something positive to change all the shit that is around all of us, all the time. So you asked me what is special about the Mózg. It's not the building. The building, house triggers memories, but the people... You know that was quite a long time ago – my first time here. I'm sixty two years old now and most of the people that I started with, like in promoter side – they are all retired or just casually sitting back and Sławek hasn't done that.
M. Z.: Sometimes he wants to.
J. B.: Oh, but who doesn't? I mean this is really hard. It's not easy when you're working at something that automatically... from very first choice you make, you're going against the grain of society. For me as an artist, a musician, I'm going against the grain completely. Despite whatever level of success I have or whatever level of success I don't have – it's still a challenge, you know? I can only imagine the challenges he faces and the team that's here, trying to keep a place alive in a town that is diminishing. People maybe don't wanna imagine that this could be a possible activity spot, this could be a possible center but you have to believe it. You have to invest some faith, some belief and teamwork to make it happen. You can't just move to a place that's already to go, you know, like New York. I mean 'cause New York isn't that place anymore. That's where everybody thinks you have to go. It doesn't hurt to spend a little time there just to see what's there but in terms of it being a major, active in a present, creative place... I'm not sure that the world works that way anymore. Everything is spread out now and how information is spread among people is completely different now. It's a different time we're living in. Things changed and those dreams of what places are – they need to change too.
M. Z.: Dreams need to change?
J. B.: Yeah, you know, people who dream that they can only make it if they go to New York. That needs to change because that's rigid. At one point that was true, when people could live and work there but people can't live and work there – that's the truth. If you're independently wealthy – you can. But if you're coming out of a music school or an art school, you've got college loans (laugh). You're living with pressures of incredibly high rent and you spend a lot of time shutting things out instead of letting things in and that's not a way to be... I mean how you're going to be creative that way? You get used to isolating, you get used to not listening, not watching, not paying attention. Unfortunately a lot of music has been sounding like that, you know? 'Cause that's what it is. For me that music is different and is changed but it's not better, it's not for the better. I just think that, like what Sławek stands for and what he believes in – I would imagine he would agree with this – is teamwork and team effort, what is important, not isolation.
M. Z.: At the same time you play solo gigs, I play solo gigs as many of my friends as well...
J. B.: But solo gigs are not isolated. When you are playing solo, you're the only one making music. If you are not an isolated person, you will take into the account that there's a room full of other people here, you're with them. They're just as much a part of it as if you had another band member actually. And if you bring that attitude to the situation what seems like an isolated event – is not really because I don't believe it is. Hopefully you're reflecting what kind of energy is coming. You're trying to make sense of it and perceive with the passage of time in that period.
M. Z.: The other question that I wanted to ask you is: are you aware of the big influence that you put upon musicians that were among the audience ten-twenty years ago? I spoke to some people that remember that shows of yours. Some of those people said that when you played here – that had a great impact on them and after that some of musicians tried to play like you do. Are you aware of that?
J. B.: No. I'm not aware of that.
M. Z.: But still do you feel that you can influence people like this?
J. B.: Do I fell that I can influence people by playing? Yeah, I mean, that's part of the basic reason why I play because I got influenced when I was a kid by somebody hitting a drum on their back porch. That made me curious about... "How do you get those sounds? I like those sounds". That was my beginning. Then I got inspired listening to other people that already played music. I got inspired listening to whoever they were.
M. Z.: But the main trigger was this person on the back porch?
J. B.: Yeah. I mean at the very beginning I was always tapping on things. I would take out the garbage and there were metal cans in the back yard or the alleyway. I put the garbage out and I made a sound. I would just stay out there and beat on them and then I would hear the neighbor four-five houses down the alley sitting on his back porch he was older than me and he was sixth grade. When you go to seventh grade you can take music or not take music and he was not gonna take music anymore. So he wanted to sell the drum and said that if I wanted to buy it he would sell it to me. I saved up the whole summer cutting grass. I saved up twenty dollars, I bought this drum and I entered the school band at that point. It was the only instrument I had – just this one drum. So I dedicated my life to playing music on this instrument. Along the way I've been incredibly inspired even more to practise and work hard to try to achieve the feeling that I felt from hearing so many great people do this. It's an incredible feeling. It's not something that you want to feel and just keep. You want to spread it around because it's a positive force and it can really save people's lives sometimes. I don't think it's maybe so great for people to try and play like I do, I mean... I don't know. I can't comment on that. I guess it's a phase, like I tried to play like Buddy Rich, I tried to play like Art Blakey, like Jimmy Cobb, Tony Williams, Jack DeJonette. You know, once you get into whoever your favourites are, you want to copy them. That's how you learn. You copy and then you figure out not only what they did, but when you really start having fun is when you figure out why they did what they did. Why did Art Blakey do this press roll at that point? That's where the fun starts. It's like peeling an onion, it's endless. I always say if I can make some kind of difference, and it doesn't have to be music, but I think the world needs that kind of spirit to balance all this shit. If it takes somebodys mind to a place where maybe they have a creative thought, if I kind of instigated it that I think: "Wow! That makes everything worthwhile". And I think it's possible to influence people like that. I don't consciously think, like tonight, about how many people I can influence. I just whink about how we can play better than we did the night before? How can we both be in the moment, right now, with this group of people? I do think it's possible. I'm really happy whenever it happens, that influence. If people were really excited and they want to try and play, I'm very happy about that. I would be even happier if they found out, if they went to figure out just by listening or reading, something like: "Ok, where did I get this from?". Then you really become a part of long line of people who, like I, stand on the shoulders of many. Maybe there are people who stand on my shoulders, I don't now. It's something that I can't help, I just care about this feeling that you can get. In order to achieve that feeling it takes a lot of work, a lot of study, a lot of research.
M. Z.: Ok. Since you have to leave in about five minutes I have the last question for you as a musician to musician. It is kind of personal question. You play for a long time and can you still feel something like chasing the perfection?
J. B.: Oh yeah, that never stops. We were talking about all kinds of stuff with Buster Williams, the bass player. We were on the road, spending hours talking. Actually we were driving through Poland... I'll skip the long story but the basic thing – he said something that I will always remember: "The winner finishes last". To me that's one of the most profound statements 'cause when you think about it – if you've already won, then it's over. It's over – that quest. For me that's a quest for excellence, you know, like I would love to be able to play the instrument on the level of excellence that right now just seems to be beyond me but maybe it's possible to go a little further. I'll never get there, I know that. But the fun is trying. All the great players that I've ever known or read about or talked to – they all agree with that. It's why they do it because they're good at it and they love it (laugh). And they're interested in how they can get better. So it is a quest for excellence – if you ever reach it it's game over. Some people actually, if they feel like they have done it, they just walk away from it. I think that's cool too. I think the whole key is to be able to know yourself and be honest with yourself, like: Do you still love this? Are you tired of it? I understand those people who quit 'cause it's fucking hard. Ratting around on the road... you know. I've spend my whole life travelling and it's work. You ask anybody that comes along with you – it's cool for couple of days. Try fifty years! (laugh) But those moments when you reach a person and you can see it or they come up to you afterward – you can tell if they are being sincere or they're just kissing your ass – you can tell... When you get people that you know you touch them, that touches you and that keeps it going. And – who knows? – maybe some person was a little kid in a concert and maybe they will grow up and become a fantastic recording engineer or maybe a very successful business person that supports the arts because something that happened and that was meaningful for them to get on their path. You never know!
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