Sep 16, 2010

Interview from 2009: Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra's Stuart Bogie


Stuart Bogie is one of the busiest people in the music business today. He’s a producer/composer, and studied music at the Interlochen Arts Academy and the University of Michigan.

Bogie has either recorded or performed with TV On The Radio, Gomez, Burning Spear, Medeski, Martin and Wood, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sway Machinery, Wu-Tang Clan and The Roots to name a few. He’s also a member of Volney Litmus, Anitbalas and Superhuman Happiness, but his main gig is with Afrobeat super-group Antibalas.

While playing with each of these groups Bogie moves seamlessly between instruments playing the clarinet, bass harmonica, tenor and alto saxophones, keyboards and electric bass. Bogie maintains a relentless tour schedule and is a must see whoever he’s playing with.

The interview

How many different instruments do you play?

Comfortably – maybe five or six. It’s easy to get along between woodwinds, so if you play the tenor, then you can get along on the alto and the bari sax. If you play clarinet, you can get along on the bass clarinet, and the flute comes in there.

Is Antibalas on hiatus?

Yeah, Antibalas is taking a break right now. We did a couple gigs last year and the beginning of this year.

Antibalas is your primary band, correct?

Yeah, I’d say that’s my main thing. That and Superhuman Happiness and The Sway Machinery. I’ve put a lot of time into that too.

Going back to Antibalas – when I saw you guys play for the first time, it was in the Washington Mutual tent at Austin City Limits. Can you tell me about what you guys felt and were thinking before that show and during?

We’ve always wrestled with the issue of corporate sponsorship; it seems like our lives are corporate sponsored. You can get a free pair of shoes if you let the shoe company have a banner at your merchant thing, or you can use your band to support this cause or that cause. There are always issues of endorsing and how it happens; we always wrestle with it. It seemed poetic and ironic in several different playful ways that the tent that we were under – I guess metaphorically and literally – was run by a company that was collapsing and has now been bought out, and eaten by another. I don’t know what that changes for anybody. All of it’s just interesting. I wish I could be more poetic about it.

You contributed to several songs on last year’s TV On The Radio album, Dear Science. Are you going to join them at Coachella?

I think I’m going to play with them. That’s my plan, but I’m not sure of anything until I’m there.

Do you just wait for their call?

We’ve talked about it and I’ve got the date in my calendar, but I’m never sure if a date is certain or not – never. People cancel all the time, and the last person to find out is a sideman. With TV on the Radio, even though I’ve done some arranging for them and put in some creative energy, I’m just a sideman.

But even as a sideman, you played the entire Dear Science tour with them.

I did the U.S. I didn’t do Europe or Australia.

So what are you currently working on?

I’m balancing several projects right now. I have my own group – Superhuman Happiness – and we just finished tracking our record at TV on the Radio’s studio in Brooklyn. That has a bunch of great players on it from different groups. Then The Sway Machinery, that’s a group I’m in and it’s a group I’m a full member of. It’s led by this guy Jeremiah Lockwood, who’s the singer and guitarist and composer. We’re old friends. That band has a strong bond between the members.

What else has been going on with you in the New Year?

Antibalas did a concert with The Roots, which was really fantastic. We traded songs: they played our songs and we played theirs, back to back.

I’m a big Roots fan. They’re incredible.

It was great. We worked for two days together in a rehearsal studio set-up facing each other. I’ve been a fan of theirs since the second record, Do You Want More. I listened to them a lot when I was coming up, so it was kind of a landmark event for me to work with them.

Did you guys play in Brooklyn?

Yes, we did two nights in Brooklyn.

I’m assuming it was packed?

Oh yeah. It was packed and it was fun. The following Tuesday, we did Carnegie Hall. There was a Tibet House benefit that Philip Glass organized and we performed there. Vampire Weekend and Steve Earle was there. We did a song with Angeli Kidjo . She’s a singer from Berlin. We played on a record she did a couple years ago.

I bet that was an amazing experience.

Yeah. It was pretty cool. It felt pretty magical when we got out there. I was very happy.

I’m guessing Antibalas had the most energy.

Yeah. I think Antibalas is one of the greatest bands, and not because of what I do in it. I just hear Antibalas play, and – when I’m onstage with other bands, certain things that other bands do, Antibalas can’t do, but certain things that Antibalas does, other bands can’t – they take control of your body in a rhythmic kind of way and start operating all your limbs. I’ve been listening to it for so long now, its mother’s milk to me. It just makes sense. The rhythm makes sense to my body and to my mind. I always have these moments of thinking, ‘Dang. Antibalas sounds so good.’ I guess it’s just the time you put in. You earn that by playing together over and over again for a long time, and by staying aware through that; not playing yourself into a numb state until you’re checked out. If you stay aware of the music and play it over and over again, it just gets heavier and heavier.

Do you guys plan on touring in the near future?

Stuart: We don’t have any plans to tour. We’re starting to figure out what we’re going to do for our next record, but we don’t have plans to tour currently.

I look at you guys as an event. You don’t get to see a band like Antibalas much anywhere.

I think that’s becoming truer and truer. I feel like playing with Antibalas has become, in the last two years, a major event for me, because we don’t get to do it very often. Everybody’s just involved in other things.

You guys need to do more.

Yeah. It’s difficult. You know, it’s hard to share goals. That becomes very difficult. I wouldn’t say it’s the size of the band, necessarily, but with sort of the shape that leadership takes, it’s difficult to satisfy everybody’s need for trust and those kinds of things.

What do you mean by the trust part?

Well, I suppose if you have people that you want to work with and they need things proven to them, the responsibility goes to you to prove something, and at some point, you’re going to say, ‘Well, I don’t want to spend the energy proving. I can either prove or I can do, or maybe I can do both if I put all this energy into it,’ but the whole thing begins to feel like resistance. If one person doubts, then two people doubt, and three people doubt, you start to scratch your head and say, ‘What’s the point?’


‘What’s the point of trying something new?’ I still know the point of trying something new, but I’m talking about in a specific social situation. If, after a certain point, people don’t feel comfortable or are not satisfied with their proof or results of different people taking the lead, I suppose the friendly way would be to just express that in an apathetic way; it can read that way in the group. I think that happens, but in another way, it only makes it more special when it’s time to play. Then, all the origins come back. They’re deeper and fiercer than ever. The music has more vitality and strength than it ever has, when we begin playing – when we really get into it. That was my experience a couple months ago – it was just on. When we were playing with the Roots, we felt fantastic. It was the time of our lives.

Interview by Rollo & Grady! Thank you!!!

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