Sir Richard Bishop Speaks About His "Constant State of Creation"
In this week's issue, we speak with guitarist Sir Richard Bishop, whose path from Phoenix and his days in the Sun City Girls has found him at the forefront of guitar experimentation from his home base in Seattle and around the world. Deftly blending and/or shifting between Middle Eastern ragas, sauntering western swing, jazz, folk, surf, and psychedelic rock, Bishop's playing once inspired independent label pioneer and folk legend John Fahey to proclaim: "You play like the Devil."
Tim Bugbee Sir Richard Bishop
We crammed as much as we could into our print feature, but there's more worth reading. Enjoy.
Up on the Sun: Intermezzo is a beautiful record. It really touches on all of the styles you've explored with your different projects. How much of the work is improvised? Certain tracks, like "Dance of the Cedars" have a very free feel, whereas others ("Molasses," for example) feels more mediated. To what extent is your work improvised?
Sir Richard Bishop: Intermezzo was mostly improvised. "Dance of the Cedars" was actually one of the only pieces that had some structure ahead of time.
Does the same go for Rangda?
On the other end of the spectrum is Rangda's latest album [Formerly Extinct] in which every song was pretty much composed; the only totally improvised parts were the guitar solos from Ben [Chasny] and myself. When playing solo I prefer to lean heavier on improvisation mainly because it helps to keep me in a constant state of creation. The audience may not care one way or the other but if I get too comfortable on stage it can prevent me from attempting new things.
That being said, I may play many of the same "pieces" night after night but there are always different ways to approach them and I always like for them to be different each time. With Rangda, I know that Chris [Corsano, drummer], Ben, and myself are totally capable of improvising endlessly if we choose to, but I think our main strength as a collective unit is to be able to focus on structure first and then rely on improvisation if things start feeling too hemmed in. It will be interesting to see how Rangda develops over the next couple of years. I think we can go in any direction we want to -- we just haven't decided what that will be yet.
You're one of the most prominent examples of musicians exploring the sort "Takoma/American Primitive guitar style. Barring someone like Ben Chasny -- as you obviously dig his work -- do you find yourself checking out work by other artists exploring the field, folks like Daniel Bachman, Steve Gunn, James Blackshaw, or others? Do you listen to much stuff like that, or are Sublime Frequencies releases generally more indicative of your listening habits?
Over the years I have listened to a lot of acoustic players who have or are continuing in that style: Jack Rose, Glenn Jones, James Blackshaw, and a number of others. In fact, there are almost too many people out there currently who are doing that. In the past couple of years I have stopped listening to, and playing in that style only because I've heard too much of it.
It's not that I don't like it -- it's just that after a while it all starts to sound the same to me. I don't want to get caught up in all of that and don't want to be solely lumped into that category. For that reason I have been concentrating on playing more solo electric guitar because it can offer a larger palette to work with, at least for me.
I could actually apply the same ideas to the Sublime Frequencies catalog, though those recordings are a little closer to my heart. But recently I have found myself not really listening to much other music except what I am doing myself, trying to avoid any and all influences in order to try to come up with something new. I try to concentrate on the sounds that I hear inside my head, you know, demons screaming and things like that.