(Artist Spotlight and Interview) Tim Daisy

Tim Daisy is a Chicago-based percussionist and composer who has been active in free music since the 90’s. His excellent new album on the ground ‘an amusing mess’, a free-improv exploration of percussion both traditional and non-traditional and found sound will be released on cassette off 1980 Records come November 7ththough it has already had a digital release from his Relay Records. If you are into jazz and art music, you’ll want to pick up a copy, as well as dive into his storied discography, most notably last year’s collaboration with saxophonist Mikolaj Trzaska, In This Moment. I got ahold of Daisy via email to ask him to share some thoughts on music and life…:

When did you start learning to play and what were your earliest experiences playing shows like?

I started playing drums around age of 13. My dad plays drums and would have his set up in the basement while I was growing up. I would climb behind them and start pounding away once in a while. I was horrible! One day my brother told me that I should try playing in time with the music instead of playing randomly. What an interesting idea! Anyway, my brother and I formed a rock band when I was around 15 or 16 and we started playing shows around Lake County, Illinois.

I started taking private drum lessons while in high school with a teacher named Joe Varhula.  He instilled a bit of discipline in me, had me practicing everyday, got me on track so to speak.  I went to community college after high school and continued to study with Joe,  he introduced me to the marimba, had we work on tympani as well. Basically, he was getting me prepared to apply to a four year music school.

When I moved to Chicago in 1997 my plan was to stay for a year and then head out to school. However, once I arrived and discovered the improvised music scene, the plan to go back to school went out the window. 17 years later I’m still living and working in Chicago.

Most of my early free improvised gigs in town were with saxophonist Dave Rempis; we would play at a spot in Lincoln Square called the Nervous Center, a café with a basement performance area where the owners would let us do what we wanted to pretty much.  A little later on I joined the Vandermark 5 and started playing at a club called the Empty Bottle every Tuesday. Things kind of snowballed from there as far as playing opportunities were concerned. The late 90’s were and amazing time to be in Chicago as there was a lot of collaborations between the avant jazz scene, the rock scene, the electronic music scene etc.  I met a ton of great musicians during this period.

What were your earliest musical influences?

I grew up listening to bands like Minor Threat, The Dead Milkmen,  Black Sabbath, Corrosion of Conformity,  7 Seconds, DRI. Tons of punk, hardcore, and metal.  I didn’t get introduced to jazz or improvised music until I was 17 or so. My first experience with improvised music was through the late period Miles Davis records: Bitches Brew, On The Corner, Live Evil. These records changed my life. This was a turning point for me, set me on my path.

You’re established as a drummer but you utilize a wide array of musical instruments and unconventional not-strictly-musical tools on this new album. Tell me about the focal points of your setup, and why you ultimately chose the tools you ended up with:

I have been augmenting my standard drum set with various non traditional and or found objects for almost 15 years now. The inspiration for utilizing these objects came  about through my introduction to the work of American composer John Cage. His ‘Sonata and Interludes” for prepared piano as well as his percussion piece “First Construction in Metal” inspired me to find new ways to make sound on my drum kit using various types of metals and found objects. In addition, meeting the English percussionist Paul Lytton back in 1998 was an important event in my life. Mr. Lytton’s approach to the drums was a breath of fresh air for me, his use of the drums as resonators through which a multiplicity of sounds could be produced really stuck a chord.  Meeting Paul was also my official introduction to the European school of improvisers, many of whom were using a wide array of sound sources along with a standard drum set.  Han Bennink, Tony Oxley and Paul Lovens are a few who come to mind.

Describe the process of recording On the Ground ‘An Amusing Mess’.

On the ground is completely improvised with absolutely no overdubs or edits. I set up my materials on the ground, both electronic and acoustic, and improvise a piece until I feel it should end. No agenda, just honest improvising.

The recording engineer Alex Inglizian came to my practice space and set up four microphones, one in each corner of my set up. We recorded live into his digital recorder and then later dumped the files into pro tools and mixed and mastered it. A simple process really. Uncomplicated, this is how I prefer to work!

Who are your favorite composers?   

There is a long list of composers whom I admire and am inspired by, and I’m constantly discovering new ones. To keep the list short, I’ll stick to a few of the composers who have had the most profound impact on my work up until this point:

John Cage, Earle Brown, Edgar Varese, Terry Riley, Anthony Braxton, Conlon Nancarrow.

What’s the best show you ever played?

I can’t say that I remember there being a “best” show. However one of the most meaningful concerts for me was playing at the Lviv Philharmonic Hall in  Ukraine with the Vandermark 5. There were around 500 people in attendance, this was shortly after the Orange Revolution and there was a spirit of change in the air.  After the concert they brought us flowers. They didn’t want us to leave. Amazing experience for me.

You have worked with a long list of collaborators in your career. What’s important about collaboration and what has it taught you in the long run?   

I think that collaboration, at least in an improvised music context, is extremely important for your development as an artist. All the great musicians whom I have been fortunate to have worked with over the years have helped shape who I am as a drummer and composer. And I could not have done it without them!  When I moved to Chicago in 1997, I started working with Dave Rempis almost immediately; we would get together and play for hours bouncing ideas off of each other, recommending various recordings to check out, musicians to listen to. It’s extremely important to collaborate!  I’m not sure I would have discovered the work of the Abstract Expressionist painters had I not worked with composer/reedist Ken Vandermark who recommended I check out the “New York School” of Painters and Composers.  Also, I have a much deeper appreciation of the work of Bela Bartok through my relationship with oboist/composer Kyle Bruckmann.  These influences were forged through the collaborative process over the years. And I have been very lucky to have lived in a city like Chicago that offered so many amazing musical minds to work with.

What has all of this taught me? Don’t take for granted what you have. It might not always be available to you!

Do you want On the Ground ‘An Amusing Mess’ to evoke something specific, for listeners or yourself?

It is my hope is that I can offer folks a fresh perspective on the art of solo improvisation.


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