Nels Cline, Alex Cline Interview: An Avant-Jazz Fraternity The twins, both veterans of rock, improvisation and new music in Southern California, have released new albums simultaneously. And though they don't play on each others' discs, their shared aesthetics date back to the womb.

For Nels And Alex Cline, An Avant-Jazz Fraternity

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You may not have heard of guitarist Nels Cline, but if you're a fan of the band Wilco, you've probably heard it.


HANSEN: That's him playing a solo on Wilco's latest record. But for his new album titled, "Coward," Nels Cline is a one-man band. He's overdubbed himself on guitar and several other string instruments.


HANSEN: Not that he doesn't have anyone to play with. For years, Nels has played guitar in many experimental rock and jazz bands, and he grew up practicing with his identical twin brother, Alex Cline. Alex is a percussionist, and he also has a new album out, scored for a jazz quintet, with cello and violin. It's called, "Continuation."


HANSEN: Alex Cline joins us not far from his home at NPR's west coast studio in Culver City, California. Hi, Alex.


HANSEN: And Nels Cline joins us from the Wilco loft in Chicago. Welcome to the program, Nels.

NELS CLINE: Thank you very much.

HANSEN: Nels, let me start with you and your project. Your guitar, I mean, you can really shred this thing - loud and flashy. I think I read that you once used a whisk. But the recording, this new one, it's very meditative and the pieces build slowly and gradually. So, what was it that inspired this project?

CLINE: Well, I've been thinking about it for 20-plus years.


CLINE: The initial inspiration came from some '70s records. Among them, the John McLaughlin, "My Goal's Beyond" record, where he double tracks two acoustic guitars on the B-side of the album. I think you can also hear elements of microtonal playing. Also, maybe the music of people like Harry Partch or Asian music. And I think that all these things combined with an idea of sort of revealing a kind of - a personal aesthetic.


CLINE: Pretty self-indulgent. I just thought I wanted to do it for me and for my friends to listen to.

HANSEN: I don't know if it's such a bad thing to be self-indulgent sometimes, you know?

CLINE: Oh, I can't help it, so, I'm not going to worry about it too much.

HANSEN: How much of this piece was improvised? How much did you write down?

CLINE: A large amount of the material on the whole record was written in the studio with just the idea of it being in my head.


HANSEN: Let's bring Alex in now. "Continuation" - I'm looking at the liner notes and the picture in there, man, that is one huge drum kit.


CLINE: Yeah, that particular set-up doesn't leave the house much anymore.


CLINE: But for a project like this, I drag out all this stuff, and I rent a second pickup truck and we head to the studio.

HANSEN: You accomplish a lot of things with it, though. I mean, there are textures that you're exploring. But you also, you know, just seem to look to swing. Is that true?

CLINE: That's true.


CLINE: I have a pretty broad musical landscape that I like to inhabit, and it does move from swinging jazz to a pure sound. Whether that's a single bell resonating or something like an enamel chopstick being scraped on a cooking pot.

HANSEN: It sounds like you and your brother have a lot in common.


HANSEN: I mean your brother, Nels, you're using all kinds of gadgets. I mean, I'm looking at some of them that are called the Kaossilator, a megamouth?

CLINE: That's a toy megaphone.

HANSEN: I just love it.


HANSEN: Let's talk about the both of you together now. You know, as I said, there are some similarities, but you grew up playing in a lot of different kinds of bands. When you were kids, what were you playing together?

CLINE: Rock and roll at first. That's Nels speaking here.

HANSEN: Alex, is that true?

CLINE: That's true. Our first band was called, "Homogenized Goo," formed when we were 12. By the time we got to high school, Alex and I, who grew up being each other's best friend, kept moving into musical areas that were not particularly of interest to anyone else. We played everything together up until, gee, well into the '80s. So, I think that, in a way, the sort of ease of communication became a little bit too familiar. And I think it was good to grow into different areas.

HANSEN: But you have collaborated frequently. I mean, is it tough to play with someone that you've known since birth? Do you end up finishing each other's phrases or something?

CLINE: Oh, that's not tough; that's fun.



HANSEN: Both of you dedicate pieces to your mom. Nels, on your album, "Coward," the last track, "Cymbidium."


HANSEN: That's a kind of orchid.

CLINE: Yeah, our mom had orchids. I think our mom realized after our dad passed away in 1985 that she kind of had a green thumb. 'Cause before that it was sort of the dad domain, the yard. And the orchids would periodically just bust out.


CLINE: So, I just wanted to have a symbol, in a way, of her be the title.

HANSEN: Yeah. Alex, talk about what you're trying to convey about what your mom meant to you in your music.

CLINE: Well, this, I think, came much more clearly into focus when I became a parent a few years ago. And I think that's where my mother comes in. My brother and I, I think, grew up always knowing that we were really loved and we were really supported, including in doing this kind of odd music that we've come to be so interested in for so long. And we couldn't have done all of that and none of this could've happened without her.

HANSEN: And her enthusiasm. I mean, she never said to you, all right, that's fine but, you know, go get a day job?

CLINE: Not really, although maybe she should have sometimes.



HANSEN: Nels, I mean, people know you for the work that you've done in rock music. You played with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and, of course, Wilco. Do you get crossover in kind of your fan base when you play this more, you know, jazz avant-garde setting?

CLINE: Well, to a certain extent. When I go out and play with my trio, the Nels Cline Singers, it's been incredibly helpful to have Wilco fans, who are either just generally supportive of curious, show up. Because otherwise we'd have difficulty finding enough people to fill a club. And so, I'm encouraged to continue to do my own thing.

CLINE: Actually, what Nels just described has even overlapped and touched me, as well. I actually, for example, this week got an e-mail from someone from Wilco's management telling me how much he likes my new CD.


HANSEN: So, maybe a duo recording maybe?

CLINE: Oh jeez. It would be fun to do. I think if we did it, we would both like to do something where we use the studio capabilities rather extensively and do something having a lot of instruments that we could layer.

HANSEN: Alex, what do you think?

CLINE: Yeah. I also sometimes think the total opposite - something just completely live and kind of messy, although, probably not as messy as our last gig, I hope.


CLINE: I wouldn't hear that back over and over. But, you know, somehow the idea of hearing, you know, two identical twin brothers just kind of whip it out and total spontaneous in the moment, I think, might have its charm.

HANSEN: Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us.

CLINE: Thank you.


HANSEN: You can hear more from the interview with Nels and Alex Cline and hear full songs from their new albums at

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