Interview | Wally Shoup

On Wednesday, March 23, Ars Nova Workshop presents a trio performance by saxophonist Wally Shoup, violinist/electronicist C. Spencer Yeh, and percussionist Ben Hall at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery. Shoup, who is also a visual artist and writer, has worked with many leading experimental musicians, including LaDonna Smith, Evan Parker, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Nels Cline, Reuben Radding, and Chris Corsano. Based in Seattle since the 1980s, Shoup helped organize the city’s first Improvised Music Festival. An early explorer of the relationships between free jazz and noise, Shoup frequently collaborates with Yeh (Burning Star Core) and Hall, two young artists who similarly traverse the margins between categories. ANW caught up with Shoup for a brief conversation about the Improvised Music Festival, improvisation as liberation, and his upcoming LP, Lunar Roulette

There has been a lot of press recently about Seattle’s jazz scene. What changes have you seen take place since your arrival in the mid-1980s?

Players are getting younger and more adventurous.

Can you talk about your involvment with the annual Seattle Improvised Music Festival? Did you play in the festival debut 26 years ago?

The Seattle Improvised Music Festival is the longest running festival of its kind in America. I played the initial fest in 1986 and continued to play and help organize the next 18 festivals. Since that time, Gust Burns has been the primary organizer. I played at the 25th Festival in 2010.

You've written about the connections between free jazz and punk music. How has punk inspired your saxophone playing?

The Stooges’s Fun House was a huge influence. It helped me hear the saxophone in a new way, equal to the electric guitar in its power.

In a past interview you claimed that improvising provides access to and liberates the spontaneous self.

Improvising exercises intuition muscles by stimulating free association and quick responses. This, in turn, frees up the spontaneous self to let the music take over and steer the bus or bust the steer, whatever the situation calls for.

How does this experience differ when improvising solo, on the one hand, and with an ensemble, on the other? In an ensemble situation are the players accessing and liberating a collective spontaneous self? 

With fellow players, there's more going on and, therefore, less chance to become overly self-conscious and inhibited.

On March 29, your project with C. Spencer Yeh, Chris Corsano, and Bill Horist, called Sych, will be releasing an LP titled Lunar Roulette. Can you tell me about this new album and how the project arose?

For the 25th Seattle Improvised Music Festival, I imagined a group with Chris, Spencer, Bill and me would seek and find some strange music worlds, and we did. The recording comes from a live, on-the-air radio show. It's a great recording - very alive and layered - and the music, though intense, is very accessible and beguiling.

When was the last time you played Philadelphia?

I played at the Rotunda with Toshi Makihara and Reuben Radding in 2007. My first Philly show was in 1984 - with dancer Mary Horn - and I have nothing but great memories of playing there.

Wally Shoup, C. Spencer Yeh, and Ben Hall will perform on Wednesday, March 23 at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery (1616 Walnut Street).