Something Else! Interview: Nels Cline Singers drummer Scott Amendola discusses his ambitious Fade To Orange project

Recently, we touted a crowdfunding drive launched by Scott Amendola to make an album out of a symphony piece he wrote a few years ago called Fade To Orange. A veteran of both the groundbreaking funk-jazz unit T.J. Kirk, and the always-unpredictable Nel Cline Singers, this drummer being the mastermind of an orchestral piece seems so far removed from what he’s known for … except that he’s also known to take on just about any type of musical project led by diverse, creative figures ranging from Madeleine Peyroux to John Zorn.

An affable, do-it-all drummer with a wicked backbeat, Amendola joined us for an SER Sitdown to discuss key aspects of Fade To Orange, such as why it’s important to him to commit it to tape and the secret weapons that he’s bringing to the affair that will ensure that this will not be your run-of-the-mill classical music indulgence …

S. VICTOR AARON: Describe how you came to compose a symphonic piece for the Oakland East Bay Symphony.
SCOTT AMENDOLA: A friend called to inform me that the Oakland East Bay Symphony (OEBS) was looking for composers that have never had an orchestral piece performed live to submit applications for a possible commission. So I came up with a proposal that involved Nels Cline, Trevor Dunn, and myself. My initial proposal involved the orchestra improvising more along with us. But once I started writing, the direction became more clear.

S. VICTOR AARON: What inspired you to bring Nels and Trevor into the performance of the piece and what extra dimension did they bring to the piece?
SCOTT AMENDOLA: I’ve been playing music with Trevor since about 1992, and Nels since around 1994. Nels, Trevor, and myself, make up The Nels Cline Singers. My thought was to take our thing in the NCS and just, you know, an orchestra! I also wanted electric bass to counter the upright basses in the orchestra. But what really compelled me was that Nels and Trevor are fantastic musicians, people, friends. No matter what I wrote for them, they would do their thing on it, and have a great time doing it. I know they would be down for whatever I was going to have them do, and whatever the experience brought. But also, they would bring some incredible things to what I had in mind.

S. VICTOR AARON: What’s the impetus behind re-performing and recording the piece three years after the original performance and recording?
SCOTT AMENDOLA: This project is about recording Fade To Orange in the studio with a microscope. Getting into all the nuances, details, etc. Using the studio as a canvas will allow me to get as deep as I need to with what I’m hearing in my head. I want to do it justice and document it properly. I want people to hear it for what it is, all of it: the nooks and crannies, etc. I have all the pieces of the puzzle together as far as the musicians, recording engineer, conductor, studios, and so forth. I’m over the moon about all the people I have involved. It’s taken me a very long time to get it together, but it was worth it. I cannot wait to get into the studio!

S. VICTOR AARON: Tell me about the remixed tracks you are planning for the project. What inspired you to have these on your record and how did you decide on Yuka Honda, Mocean Worker, John Diertrich (Deerhoof), and Beautiful Bells to do these?
SCOTT AMENDOLA: FTO is approximately 22 minutes long. And I’m releasing it on 180 gram vinyl. So, there’s a side B. For a while I had the idea of writing some more music for side B to record at the same time. But it wasn’t sitting right. Then it struck me: REMIXES! Yuka was the first to come to mind. She’s a genius. Taking things, tracks, sounds and making something interesting that is HER sound. AMAZING! Mocean Worker (Adam Dorn) as well. He’s got an old school sound, and super creative. Beautiful Bells (Justin Peake) has a very interesting, and ambient sonic pallet. And then there’s John Dietrich who plays in one of the most original sounding bands of the last 30 years. I can only imagine what he’s going to come up with, it got me really excited. And they all said YES! How fortunate!

S. VICTOR AARON: What did you learn from the experience of creating and performing Fade To Orange that changed you as a composer and how might it impact your future projects?
SCOTT AMENDOLA: Think small! HA! No no, it was incredible. I focused on being true to composition. In other words: I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to write for a symphony orchestra again. But that doesn’t mean I have to write something that incorporates everything I know as a composer. So be true to what’s coming out during the writing process and go with that. That’s nothing new to me, but the situation was new. Less is more. Emotion over technical ability. I think writing Fade To Orange solidified things for me as a composer. It was the most incredible feeling when I first heard the orchestra play my piece at the first rehearsal. Chills…I couldn’t believe it. IT WORKED! I mean, you can’t just get an orchestra together and “check it out.” That was it. It was done. And it worked. I was very happy with what I was hearing. I’ve composed for solo drums and electronics, to a full ninety piece orchestra, and things in-between. I feel very fortunate to have had these experiences. I’m inspired to do more of it all! As for future projects, there are lots of ideas floating around in my head, besides the projects that I’ve already got going that I want to continue writing for and recording. So, yes, more to come!

*** Pre-order Fade to Orange ***

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.

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