Body/Head’s Bill Nace on Improvisation: “You’re always bound to something when you’re playing.” – AdHoc

Body/Head’s Bill Nace on Improvisation: “You’re always bound to something when you’re playing.”

This article appears in AdHoc Issue 15, a collaboration with The Talkhouse. You can pick up a copy at AdHoc shows around NYC. If you’d like to order a copy, you can do so here for a physical edition; you can download the PDF here.

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Bill Nace is something of an enigma. A fantastic guitarist, improviser, and visual artist, the Western Massachusetts and Los Angeles-based musician seems to have pulled off the rarest of hat tricks: achieving global notoriety in and beyond his field while making some of the most difficult and challenging music around. The guy doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, but he’s spent the last decade touring basements and festivals around the globe, helming a prolific record label called Open Mouth Records, making countless collages and drawings, and collaborating with some of the biggest heads in the free music game, including Yoko Ono, Chris Corsano, Paul Flaherty, Thurston Moore, and, more recently, his Body/Head accomplice Kim Gordon. And he’s done it all without gimmicks, shameless self-promotion, or really any shtick whatsoever.

No Waves, the new Body/Head LP, is out this November on Matador Records. The record was edited out of a live set they played at Big Ears Festival in Tennessee a few years ago; each of the album’s three tracks is longer than the last, with the LP culminating in the epic, 23-minute “Abstract/Actress.” Throughout, we hear their guitars running, jumping, dodging, and weaving around each other; the musicians stay on an uncomfortable texture just a little longer than you’d like, and then flip the whole thing on its head. According to Bill, he and Kim never talk about what they’re going to play before a set; they just go out and rip. And that’s the secret of Bill’s enigma: the guy just RIPS. All the time. In his damn sleep. He’s really nice, too.

We spoke on the phone the other day about improvisation, running an independent label, and the challenges and unforeseen upsides of bringing free and improvised music to a mainstream audience. (Note: Nace also made the art for Issue 15’s cover, pictured below.)

AdHoc: When did you start playing free music?

Bill Nace: I was in some bands in high school and in my early twenties that were a bit more of a traditional band configuration: two guitars, bass, drums. I played bass in all of those. But those bands had an element of improvisation involved, whether it was a process used to generate ideas for parts for songs or [meant] to stand on its own. So the transition was pretty natural. I had always gravitated toward those parts anyway, so it was just kind of focusing more on that aspect of it. I’d say that I was around 23, 24, when I really started to work explicitly with improvising and trying to figure out what that was for me.