Guitarist Nels Cline

By Michael Davis
(First appeared in BAM, 4/5/96)


With Mike Watt back in Pedro writing his next album, the Crew of the Flying Saucer (as Watt's backing band was known) had been grounded. Guitarist Nels Cline had just settled back into his "routine" of hosting the Alligator Lounge's New Music Mondays series, pushing ahead with an intense caseload of collaborations, when a distress call was sounded. Daniel Keenan, the lead guitarist in his favorite new LA group, had developed tendinitis; could Nels sub for a couple weeks worth of dates? So it was that for "two of the greatest weeks of my life," as he puts it, Nels played his Hagstrom behind Carla Bozulich in the Geraldine Fibbers. And Cline is currently preparing to go back on the road with the Fibbers for another two months. "[The Fibbers] have too damn much music in their music," Nels rages, "and people don't understand what that is."

He could be describing himself. This is a unique time for Cline. After his period of maximum public exposure with Watt, Cline has innumerable projects in the offing--some already completed; others still in the planning stage. Solo improvs for the Ecstatic Yod label's 45 series are in the can. Recording projects with Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo are ongoing. But the big one is the long, long overdue release of his own album, Chest, on the Little Brother label. Most of it was recorded in 1993 and captures Cline finding his own voice…with a vengeance.

Cline plays a 1996 Fender Jaguar with the Nels Cline Trio, and a 1959 Fender Jazzmaster that he bought from Mike Watt. The Hagstrom is used for alternate tunings. The signal goes through a bunch of boxes, including the band-manipulated Electro-Harmonix 16-second delay that Bill Frisell turned him onto when they were both part of the late jazz legend Julius Hemphill's mid-'60s band. It comes out of a 50-watt Hi-Watt prototype head into a pair of extension cabinets with 12" Electrovoice speakers in them.

But Cline's favorite new toy is an institutional-sized egg whisk given to him by New Music Monday regulars Bonnie Bernett and Richard Wood. "It's the kind you could make a prison full of scrambled eggs with," he chuckles, "yet it's light enough that I can wail away with it without hurting my guitar.

"Actually, the guy who works on my guitars thinks I'm a brute," he admits. "You should see that Jazzmaster that I've been playing on the road. It had a delicate finish at one time and it was kind of a black color. Now it has a Jackson Pollack sort of look to it."

(c) 1996 Michael Davis

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