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Jazz Sounds from the Pacific Northwest: An Interview with Arne Livingston of the Living Daylights
By Brian Knight

During the summer of 1999, a small musical force came down from the Pacific Northwest and raided the East coast with its vanguard of funk-free-fusion jazz. This trio, known as the Living Daylights, raided small clubs as well as being one of the main acts at the Cambridge Music Festival as well as Phish’s grand event in Oswego. Since their rampage of the east, in which they created quite a stir, the Living Daylights have since retreated to their home base to work on some side projects as well their third album.

The Living Daylights have a unpretentious lineup: bassist Arne Livingston, saxophonist Jessica Lurie and drummer Dale Fanning; but their sound is beyond simple. The three are veterans of the Seattle music scene in which they have played every type of music imaginable – African worldbeat, psychedelic and avant-garde jazz just to name a few styles. In 1995, the three got together to play a type of jazz that is definitely funky; it is definitely avant-garde and it definitely has a rock and roll beat. Livingston keeps the funk going with his fretless bass and Lurie’s extended solos evoke imageries of Coleman, Coltrane and Zorn while Fanning propulses the band in every direction imaginable. Since their success of their second album 500-Pound Cat, the Living daylights recorded and released a session with their east coast jazz trio counterparts – The Slip. This release is called the Slipping Daylights and is a great meeting of the two coasts. The album was recorded at the High Sierra Musical Festival and features an all out improvisation between the two trios – two drummers, two bassists, one guitarist/pianist, one saxophonist. The albums get spacey, it gets funky and above all, it jams out continuosly. As you read this article, the band is working on their third album and this is when we were able to catch Arne Livingston for an e-mail interview.

Vermont Review: How did the Living Daylights get together?

Arne Livingston: Jessica and I met in high school. We played in a funk band together. Dale and I met in '87 playing Zairean Soukous for the first time. We became fascinated by all things African, Cuban, Folkloric, etc. We did a lot of sideman stuff, just about everything imaginable over ten or eleven years. So the Living Daylights was a self-indulgent project where we all got to do whatever we wanted, with or without a concept rooted in tradition. More like making up our own tradition on the spot. And the chemistry and friendship factor was large. It was really the first time I ever played the bass for me. I was a good chameleon as a freelance guy.

VR: When you do a web search for you guys, you three split the sites with the bond movie. How did you guys think of the name? And are you 007 fans?

AL: I was between bands so I had a list of names I was keeping in the event I ever needed a band name or song titles. Living Daylights was my favorite. I had been in SE Asia for six months so I had no idea about the James Bond Movie at the time, or I never would have named us Living Daylights, but I love James Bond.

VR: How has your sound evolved since your first gigs together?

AL: We have a larger vocabulary to draw from after 5 years. Our improv sections go further and last longer and have more focus all the time. I still think we write cool tunes. We'll always be "LD" as long as we have that.

VR: What was your first concert?

AL: Rush-Moving Pictures Tour-5th row center at the coliseum. Now there's a trio that sounds larger than three people.

VR: How many albums have you recorded? How do your albums differ from the Living Daylights live experience?

AL: We have two albums and we're working on a third. We initially released a cassette that's got some really cool stuff on it, but we've re-recorded some of that material and we don't play some. There's no question that live and studio are different animals. Spontaneity live is easy. Studio is more about the performance of the tune, and solos have to speak, and that's hard for me in the studio. I've decided I prefer soloing when a bunch of drunks are yelling at me. It's more exciting. I always think Jess and Dale do a fantastic job in the studio. But I think they would tell you that they feel awkward or a little under inspired and that they struggle with the neutrality of a studio.

VR: Was there a musical event that led you to picking up a bass professionally?

AL: I could always play the drum set and the bass from about 12 yrs. old, on. I tried piano, harmonica, guitar, choir and couldn't do any of it. I took dance classes and played rhythm instruments and my life turned around. My mom was into dancing so I started young and I'm sure that's where I got the knack for bass. I was not very devoted to academic pursuits so it seemed natural to follow the thing I was good at.

VR: Tell me a little about your music education.

AL: I studied with Steve Kim in Seattle for a year when I was fifteen. Bush School had scrapped what was left of their music program so I transferred to NW School of the Arts, Humanities, and Environment. The place was an art and music heaven. You couldn't believe the talent of the students there. I went to Cornish College of Music in Seattle for a year and a half and to Berklee School of Music in Boston for only one semester. I'd say almost everything I know and use and feel comes from the day to day experience of playing with people. I've played with really good musicians from literally all over the world and it's an education you'll never get in school.

VR: Naive question of the day: what is the significance of the fret-less bass?

AL: I don't know. It's a great instrument to play. I think of playing fretless notes like putting "English" on a cue ball. You can make them buzz or growl or whine or bloom. The nuance is incredible. Also, for an electric guy it's the closest he'll ever get to an upright tone, if he tries (and hopefully he won't). But all the jazz and Latin guys want the real thing. Fretless doesn't have the same attack, sustain, and decay of an upright. So it's just a cool sounding electric bass.

VR: Do the three of you have any collective influences?

AL: I suppose we all have listened to a lot of traditional jazz. Being a musician you tend to listen to everything. It's a funny question. I'm not sure I could name one album that all three of us own.

VR: So many descriptors: free, funky, avant-garde, fusion. Without falling into a trap of labeling yourself, how do you describe the sounds of the Living Daylights?

AL: There are a lot of ways to answer that. One is, which bin are you in at Tower? That's pretty sarcastic but it's pretty damn true. I like to joke that we play "local" music because we should be in the "local" bin. But they put us in jazz. Another thing I like to say is that we don't have a style, we have a sound. We "sound" like the Living Daylights, which is a big style-stew. But that doesn't satisfy anyone. So we go for the "funky-jazzy-etc." thing because it's the clearest way to use words to describe our sound.

VR: How much of your set is composition? Improvisation?

AL: These days anything goes. We like to play tunes but we've done them so much that lately we're cutting loose. I think 50/50 is a good guess.

VR: How does a Living Daylights song develop from an idea to a full-blown reality?

AL: Early on Jess wrote most of the tunes. I would do anything I could think of to fill it in so that you wouldn't perceive two linear instruments playing one note at a time. I wanted just the two of us to sound huge. We'd present the stuff to Dale mostly arranged. Nowadays we do that still, but we group write more and entire tunes come in complete sometimes. Often we get a passable arrangement and we start giggin' it just to have some new material. Tunes evolve fast. Usually by the time it's recorded and released it has changed yet again.

VR: I saw you playing last summer at Phish’s Camp Oswego. What was that experience like?

AL: In a nutshell, it was flattering to be invited to play but I thought the2nd stage was pretty underattended. Given that 50,000 people were just "right over there". But it was a great event and backstage was interesting. I liked seeing the detail that goes into such a large production.

VR: What do you think of Phish? Did you get to see any of their show?

AL: They're a phenomenon. The first time I saw them they did their trampoline thing. It was so silly and then after 20 minutes of hardcore improv, I realized not one of them skipped a beat bouncing up and down. I can't say I'm a huge fan or anything but that knocked me out. It's like Victor Wooten, playing the bass is so certain that he has time to work on throwing the bass and spinning and doing his hat trick. I'm psyched if I can play well for an entire night. These guys are beyond solid, they're toying with it, and the audience. I love anything done to that level of obsession.

VR: What kind of fans do the Living Daylights attract?

AL: I don't know. It seems like the enthusiasts come from all walks of life.

VR: I am going to name some musicians. I would like to hear your opinion. Jaco Pastorious?

AL: Tragic Genius

VR: Stanley Jordan?

AL: I wanna play the bass like that.

VR: Phil Lesh?

AL: "plays the bass like he invented it". That's my favorite Phil quote from a friend. It's so true. He doesn't play like anybody.

VR: Soulive?

AL: I love that stuff. Nice guys.

VR: John Zorn?

AL: Jessica's hero. Amazing composer/innovator.

VR: Tony Levin?

AL: Whatever makes it deep. I'd love to meet this guy some day. I saw King Crimson and he had every instrument known to man that could generate low frequencies.

VR: Skerik?

AL: Never ceases to amaze me. A great friend.

VR: Wayne Horvitz?

AL: Cool stuff. I like his electronics, Hammond, compositions, strong musical identity.

VR: Joshua Redman?

AL: Leif and I used to hire him for Freestyle Candela gigs. Then he got huge so I put him on my resume. Sweet guy..

VR: Galactic?

AL: I like their thing and I wish they'd do it with more fire. But that's just me. Then they wouldn't be Galactic.

VR: What kind of playing did you do with the members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden?

AL: I had what I thought was a great jam with Matt and Stone one day. I don't know what they thought. I felt like I clicked so hard with Matt. I was just waiting for him to ask me for my number. I was thinking of all the cool side projects we could do. But he didn't ask. I didn't ask him because of the rock star thing, you know.

VR: Any comments on the Seattle jazz scene?

AL: I like the DJ/Jazz guy thing. I like the Acid Jazz and all these young dudes playing Headhunters style grooves. Where was this when I was 21? I grew up on this kind of stuff. So I enjoy sitting in occasionally. Not too often.

VR: What is the Tone Hole Festival?

AL: There's a lot of new music in Seattle, composed, improvised or otherwise. Jessica gets around this scene a lot and offered up a festival to honor all this music. Tonehole is a nice compliment to the other fests in town.

VR: Can you tell us a little about your teaming up with the Slip?

AL: It was a gas. I hope we do it again soon. Great people. Great listeners.

VR: What about the band Tough Mama?

AL: Dale was in TM for 8 years. They mobbed Seattle clubs playing dead-ish stuff and went completely unrecognized by the Stranger, though they were atop drawing band. I joined at the bitter end. TM was the Northwest’s answer to Phish/Widespread etc. Sad to see it not get the place in the sun it deserves. But our last reunion was one too many for me. We started working on all this new material and that's just not where I'm at with it. Our first reunion (the one on the CD) just rocked. We played the hits and everybody got sweaty.

VR: Any other side projects?

AL: We'll have a place on our website addressing these. I play with Marit Peters who just released her first CD. Jess plays with Kulture Shock and has a solo CD of her own. Dale tours a lot with Magdalen Hsu-Li and gigs around town.

VR: You said you were a fan of Cambridge/Somerville area of Massachusetts. What do you like about New England that Seattle does not have?

AL: I like the pizza joints open 'til 2am and the foliage. Otherwise I prefer the West Coast.

VR: You toured in Europe. What was the experience like?

AL: It was just like touring in America, but it was Europe.

VR: What music are you listening to these days?

AL: I just got a huge order from Homegrown Music. All the Medeski stuff, Charlie Hunter. I like Propellerheads and I recently got the latest 2Critter's Buggin CDs.

VR: What are your future recording plans?

AL: Lee Townsend is going to produce our third record and we're pretty damn excited about it. We've spent all month rehearsing and rebuilding the new tunes.

VR: If there is any thing that you would want a New Englander to know Seattle; what would it be?

AL: Don't move here anymore. It's full.

VR: What else should we know about the Living Daylights?

AL: We won't really hit the road substantially until this summer and fall. So stay tuned at http://www.livingdaylights.com. We've got a friend who updates it regularly now (honest). I know we've been promising a more current site. So we're well on our way now.