Club d’Elf brings alien jams to The Press Room
By Christopher Hislop, Posted Jan. 1, 2015
One of the more innovative bands in our region resides down in the Boston area. It’s a collective of musicians who take different shapes at different times – all the while being held in a loose state of continuity by frontman Mike “Micro” Rivard, a revered bassist and sintir player. The epic tribal-inspired jams that ensue are gripping and, at times, spiritual in feel. The music draws you in and forces your mind ajar, expanding your musical horizons and worldly vision simultaneously.
The band has played bi-weekly at Cambridge’s famed Lizard Lounge for what has amounted to a legendary residency, running for the past 16 years with an end-date nowhere in sight. Lucky for us, they’re calling in the New Year by traveling north a smidge to play The Press Room on Saturday, Jan. 3. Spotlight caught up with Rivard to ask about all things d’Elf.
Spotlight: Tell us about Club d’Elf. How did this all begin? What’s in the name?
Rivard: In 1998 I was playing a lot with Mark Sandman of Morphine in a band of his called Hypnosonics. He was busy touring with Morphine and got exasperated at my griping about no gigs for Hypnos and finally said, ‘Rivard … You need to start your own band.’ Of the names I came up with he liked Club d’Elf best, as it sounded vaguely French. I got all of my friends from various music projects involved, and it kind of took off. Terence McKenna, who I was reading a lot of at the time, inspired the name. Also there’s a macabre aspect when you say the name … it sounds like ‘clubbed elf.’
Spotlight: Music. What is it good for? Why do you seek it? Why do you create it?
Rivard: Like Frank Zappa said, ‘Music is the best.’ It cuts through all of the baggage and obfuscation that comes with culture and different nationalities like a laser-beam and connects to that which is intrinsically human, in a way I have found nothing else does. I don’t seem to have any choice in the matter, and it just kind of comes and takes over, like being ridden by a spirit entity. It makes me feel better and people seem to like it, so it just seems like a good idea all around.
Spotlight: How would you describe your music to someone that may not have heard it before?
Rivard: Music that comes from the place before you were born and after you die. Crazy, alien love songs that you can dance to. Or sounds like what a bunch of guys who grew up on Led Zeppelin, Philip K. Dick, James Brown, Fela Kuti, Arts Ensemble of Chicago and electric Miles Davis and then got into dub, Squarepusher and DJ Shadow, would play.
Spotlight: What are you looking for folks to take with them when they experience Club d’Elf?
Rivard: A heightened sense of belonging to something tribal and communal, and maybe some healing or at least working some stuff out. Experiencing the creation of something that didn’t exist two hours ago, and may never exist again that they and all those present helped to create. And maybe take home a CD or two to help us keep it going.
Spotlight: Let’s talk about the live album you put out a year ago. It’s a digital-only release. Was that by design? What is your stance on tangible vs. digital releases?
Rivard: I prefer physical, but the reality is it costs too much for that to always be viable. Mp3 files just don’t sound that good, so the audio purist in me rails at that, but I accept that this format isn’t going away anytime soon and people just seem to prefer the convenience of it. I’m glad I grew up in the era of vinyl albums where there seemed to be more intentional regard to the listening of music – actually holding the album, reading all about the musicians and making of the record, appreciating the artwork, and actively being involved in making the music experience happen by placing it on the turntable, dropping the needle, and sitting back with friends to listen communally. But that’s just an old fart talking …
Spotlight: Who wins in an arm-wrestling match: Sun Ra or Frank Zappa?
Rivard: Sun Ra. He’s got space juju that Frank just can’t match. I think they’d have better things to do than arm wrestle, though.
Spotlight: You’re coming back to The Press Room! What excites you about getting back to the Seacoast area? What do you like about The Press Room?
Rivard: We like to play rooms where the vibe is cool, and The Press Room fits the bill. Our show there last May was tons of fun and people are ready to go for it without holding back, and we appreciate that. Tristan and the crew there treat us well, and its just a fact that you play better when you’re treated well. Plus we had the pleasure of the lovely Jazmin Jade dancing and hooping to our set, and she’ll be joining us again for this show. Much nicer to watch than a bunch of geezers playing their instruments.
Spotlight: How do aliens influence the music of this band?
Rivard: The aliens have landed among us, and that’s just a given. Our brains are no longer the bosses, and I learned long ago that I am at the service of beings not from around here. They seem to be half-feline and half-snake, and I’ve always resonated with cats and snakes so I kind of welcome it.
Spotlight: Tell us a little bit about the sintir. What was your introduction to the instrument, and what kept you interested in it?
Rivard: It comes from Morocco and is used by the Gnawa people in their trance healing ceremonies. It’s got three strings made of gut and a camel skin top, and is like a bass and a drum all in one. The sound is like nothing else – percussive and punchy, like a tuned drum. As a bassist I was drawn to it from the first time I heard it when my friend Rich Ehrman made me a mix tape of some Gnawa music, and after Sandman turned me onto Hassan Hakmoun’s ‘Gift Of The Gnawa’ album I knew it was my destiny to learn to play it. The instrument comes from a tradition of healing and trance, and I have always been drawn to that aspect. I take it very seriously and say a little prayer whenever I pick it up to play. It’s no joke.
Spotlight: Have any sintirs ever been harmed in the creation of Club d’Elf music?
Rivard: Ha, no never. I have broken a bunch of strings along the way … Intestines are susceptible to temperature and atmospheric conditions that steel strings are not. And you can’t run down to Guitar Center to grab a new set!
Spotlight: Moving forward, what’s on tap for d’Elf in 2015?
Rivard: We’re re-releasing as single albums the two that comprised our last studio release – E’lectric Moroccoland’ and ‘So Below,’ with a bunch of additional tracks and source material, as well as two live albums. The dream is still to take the band to Morocco and bring what we have done with that music back to its source. It’s a hard band to promote, as the lineup changes for every gig and promoters can be hesitant about that, not to mention the music biz has gotten very conservative and bottom-line driven. However we have the aliens on our side and seem to be part of some larger agenda, so we’ll see.
Spotlight: If you could have a dozen of anything, what would that something be?
Rivard: Maybe 12 sintir strings? They’re hard to come by. I may have to slaughter some goats …
If you go
What: Club d’ElfWhere: The Press Room, 77 Daniel St., PortsmouthWhen: 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan 3, Cost: $10. Info: 431-5186 or www.pressroomnh.com