Danny Carey and John Ziegler talk Volto!, Tool, improv and Rick Springfield

31st Jul 2013 | 15:01

Danny Carey and John Ziegler talk Volto!, Tool, improv and Rick Springfield
Danny Carey and John Ziegler talk Volto!, Tool, improv and Rick Springfield

The English translation of the Italian noun "volto" is "face," but according to John Ziegler, who plays in the improvisational-based band Volto! with Tool drummer Danny Carey and bassist Lance Morrison, the group's moniker is, in fact, a tribute to a certain lovable pooch.

“A friend of ours, Scott Henderson, rescues dogs," Ziegler explains. "He had this one Doberman Pinscher that would always freak out on me, jumping all over me and getting excited. The dog’s name was Ashes, but Scott started calling her Volto, because she would act as though she were electrified, like voltage running through her. She got cancer and passed away, sadly, but when we started the band, I remembered the name. I just like the way it sounds, and Volto was a cool dog, so she lives on now through us.”

The band's debut album, Incitare, a potent and thoroughly captivating mix of spacey art-rock, prog and jazz-fusion, is out now on Fantasy Records through the Concord Music Group, and Volto! (augmented by keyboardist Matt Rodhe, who also performed on the record) are playing a string of dates, which includes a spot on Yes' Yestival this Saturday, 3 August, in Camden, New Jersey.

Ziegler and Carey spoke to MusicRadar recently about how the band came together, their love of improvisation, why they recorded to tape and... Rick Springfield.

Incitare certainly sounds like a live record, all of the musicians playing together in the room. Was that the case?

John Ziegler: “Definitely. It’s pretty much a live interpretation of what we’ve been doing for a few years. We didn’t really sit down and plan out ‘We’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do that,’ and that kind of thing. We’re really like a neighborhood bar band.

“When we went in the studio with Joe Barresi, I originally thought that we were going to track it – you know, do the drums, the bass, the guitars all separately – but Joe was like, ‘What, are you kidding? You guys can jam, so let’s do that.’ So that’s how we went.”

Danny Carey: “Three or four of the songs are first takes; on the other songs, we used either the second or third take. So the cool thing is, when people see us, we’ll sound like the record – hopefully louder and more exciting, though.”

Ziegler: “People know Danny from being in Tool, this really big band, but we’re totally opposite from that. Tool plays compositions, but we jam. Everything we do is different every time; we never know how things are going to turn out. One time you see us, a song could be three or four minutes long; next time it could be eight or nine minutes. Who knows?”

Danny Carey and John Ziegler talk Volto!, Tool, improv and Rick Springfield
Danny Carey and John Ziegler talk Volto!, Tool, improv and Rick Springfield

John, you and Lance have both played with Rick Springfield – is that how you two know each other?

Ziegler: “Yeah, I started working with Rick, and Lance was playing bass, so we became friends from that experience. Volto! started in 2003, and the original bass player maybe played half a dozen gigs with us. In 2004, he decided that he wanted to do more bluesy stuff. I started thinking about all of the bass players I knew, and I always thought that Lance was rock solid; I thought it would be interesting to see him coming from a very pop place to working with Danny, who is so experimental. And it worked. The first time they jammed, it was awesome.

What is your musical common ground? When you get together, what bands or albums do you talk about?

Ziegler: “I met Danny in 1999. We used to hang out in this jazz club over in Studio City. We became friends, and he told me that he played in this band Pygmy Love Circus. I told him, ‘Man, I love that band. If you ever need a guitar player, let me know.’ After he finished the Lateralus tour with Tool, we got together and fired up the band up again. It’s kind of like biker rock, real straight ahead stuff – Thin Lizzy, Motorhead. But we also found out that we liked the jam stuff from the ‘70s, like Jeff Beck and Billy Cobham, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report – stuff like that.”

Carey: “We listen to prog rock, jazz-fusion. I think we draw inspiration from lots of different places, which is cool – you don’t want to all be coming from one place. I’d say our real meeting place might be Tony Williams, Cobham, Bill Bruford and Allen Holdsworth. We’re pretty eclectic.”

What about Rick Springfield? [Both men laugh.]

Carey: “That’s about it. Yeah, Rick, well, that would be John’s inspiration.”

Ziegler: “Hey, if you’ve ever seen Rick Springfield live, he brings it. The guy is a showman.”

Carey: “I’ll bet he is.”

I have seen him live, and yes, he does give it his all.

Ziegler: “He’s like Pete Townshend meets Elvis. He smashes the guitar, jumps in the crowd – he’s all over it.”

Carey: “You gotta love that.”

Danny Carey and John Ziegler talk Volto!, Tool, improv and Rick Springfield
Danny Carey and John Ziegler talk Volto!, Tool, improv and Rick Springfield

Ziegler: “So back to our common ground – we have the rock and the jazz thing going on. When we started Volto!, we were doing half instrumental tunes and half vocal tunes, everything from Allman Brothers to Zeppelin to Mahavishu and Tony Williams. Slowly, we started incorporating original material.”

Danny, was improvisation something you really wanted to explore as a contrast to Tool?

Carey: Definitely. That’s one of the biggest reasons for me to do it; I wanted to work on my improv. It broadens your horizons anytime you play with somebody new. John and Lance and Matt are all great musicians in a whole different way from the guys in Tool. I learn something new every time I play with them.”

Originally, Volto! was going to be a vocal band. What happened there?

Ziegler: “At first, our keyboard player was Kirk Covington, who in addition to being one of the best drummers in the world also plays keyboards. The guy’s like an idiot savant. [Laughs] He’s can play keyboards in the vein of Herbie Hancock and Jan Hammer, but could also sing his ass off on the Zeppelin and Allman Brothers stuff. But the band is really a vehicle for us to do solos – not to put vocals down or anything. We were going to do the original tunes with vocals, but right when we decided to do the record, Kirk decided he didn’t want to do it. Plus, he was moving to Texas, so that pretty much killed that.”

Even though the music is improvisational, does somebody in the band start to tunes? Who brings in raw sketches of songs?

Carey: “For the most part, John is the main writer. He’ll come in with a basic idea, and then we’ll help him arrange. There is a framework that we work from, and some of its pretty intense – some complicated heads and changes. There’s a level of consistency we strive for as far as actual form, but we always leave room for improv.”

Ziegler: “I might come in with the ideas, but I consider Danny to be the real writer. Playing with him for a long time now, I won’t bring him something that won’t fit his skills. I know what his strengths are, and so when bring him something, I have his playing in my head. He’s got his own voice on the drums, so that’s something you want to use.”

Danny, speaking to that, were there elements of your playing with Tool – your technique, your approach and even your equipment – that you didn’t want to bring to this band?

Carey: “No, that’s never really come up. I think we’re all true to our situations. It’s just a different combustible mixture when the four of us get in a room together compared to the four members of Tool. We’ve never had to think about sounding too much like each other. There’s definitely some similarities, but because the personalities and talents are so different, I don't have to worry about changing anything one way or another.”

Danny Carey and John Ziegler talk Volto!, Tool, improv and Rick Springfield
Danny Carey and John Ziegler talk Volto!, Tool, improv and Rick Springfield

Volto! recorded to tape. Are you devout analogue fans?

Carey: “Every record I’ve ever done with Tool has been on tape. There have been a few things, side stuff and what not, that weren’t. But whenever I record my drum parts for Tool, it’s always on tape; the sonic quality is unbeatable, even at this point. Not to say that Pro Tools can’t catch up, but the way that computers capture sound and process information, they can’t compete with two-inch tape.”

So Danny, I have to ask: You’re playing with two guys who were in Rick Springfield’s band. Do you ever say to them, "C’mon, just once, let’s do Jessie’s Girl"?

Carey: [Laughs] “That’s good. Somehow, that’s never come up.”

Ziegler: “Hey, man, I could see Rick Springfield coming on stage with us. That’d be awesome!” [Laughs]

Carey: “Without a doubt. That’s the beauty of being an instrumental band – we can be adaptable. I love having people come and sing with us. We’ve had the guys who do Zappa Does Zappa and some pretty badass dudes. We leave that seat open to whoever wants to join in, because you don’t get tied down to one person’s style.”

So Rick Springfield singing with Volto! is a distinct possibility?

Carey: [Laugh] “Definitely. It could happen. Why not?”

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