The road leading from our time back to the 1980s is littered with broken LPs, scratched-up CDs, empty tubes of glitter and eye liner, and faded promo shots of artists who were once vital but exist now either as nostalgia acts or answers to music trivia questions.
That is positively not true of Pat Mastelotto. Sure, he was right in the front ranks of glam-era trendiness, as drummer with Mr. Mister. True to performance practice at that time, his kit boomed in the mix like artillery firing up from the bottom of a canyon. But as the thunder of that era’s backbeats began to fall from favor, Mastelotto adapted, to the point where much of what he plays and programs these days seems utterly unrelated to his earlier persona — an impression that’s totally incorrect, by the way.
Yet that reaction is understandable when listening to Recidivate, the two-CD Mastelotto career retrospective released in March by 7d Media. Organized into two distinctive collections, it features primarily acoustic drums and percussion on the disc labeled “Traps” and electronic performance and programming on the other, whose title is “Buttons.” There is some gray area between the two, of course, and Mastelotto acknowledges that one cut actually wound up under the wrong header. (That would be Peter Kingsbury’s appropriately named “Makes No Sense,” filed under “Traps” yet composed of Linn 9000 sounds triggered from pads.) Still, the panorama unfurled in all these 42 selections is consistent in its relentless experimentalism and search for new ways of applying rhythm to wildly varied and adventurous settings.
When you listen carefully to the Mr. Mister catalog, wild adventurism is exactly what Mastelotto was after even then, before beginning his journey from the mainstream toward further shores. Where most of his contemporaries might have kept slamming the beat right from the top of “Kyrie,” for example, he suggested delaying its entry all the way to the end of the first verse for maximum surprise and impact — and then pulling everything but the drums out for a massive a cappella lead-in to the finale, for musical effect as well as to allow the radio DJ to back-announce the tune on the air.
“Actually, I was experimenting before that, as a teenager, not even knowing what I was doing,” Mastelotto recalls. “When I was 19 or 20, I used to try to record one or two frying pans around the house that collected leaking water that was dripping from the ceiling and try to record it when I realized it was a polyrhythm. I’d play disco or with a country band that night, but in the day I was goofing off with all these other tangents.”
That curiosity flourished despite (actually, in part because of) Mastelotto’s sketchy drum training and endured his detour into stardom with the Misters. Today, his catalog is a who’s who of outside-thinking innovators, from the prog juggernaut King Crimson in its later, daringly inventive incarnation and the Chapman Stick virtuoso quartet — known sensibly as The Stickmen — to little-known and under-celebrated musical iconoclasts in Russia, Turkey, Finland, and even his current hometown of Austin, Texas.
Mastelotto’s extraordinarily broad compass is documented on Recidivate, yet he is reluctant to describe it as a solo project in any traditional sense. “I never had the desire to do a record under my own name,” he says. “I’m useless on my own; I’m a collaborator. But everybody else had one by the late ’90s, and people kept asking me, ‘Where’s your solo record?’
“So fast-forward to when Crimson did its last studio record, which was The Power To Believe . Matt Chamberlain and Trey Gunn shared a studio loft in Seattle at that time, and I went there to use his gear and make a record with Trey called TU. It was my idea to call it TU because we could say ‘TU + 2’ when I wanted to keep adding other duos in these once-in-a-lifetime projects. The first two we added were these Finns — this crazy accordion player Kimo Pohjonen and his percussionist Samuli Kosminen, who plays also with Bj...rk. That was a really great little quartet. From that came Tuner, with the touch guitarist Markus Reuter, and Tunisia, with the Theremin player Pamelia Kurstin. This was my way around having a Pat solo album, which still wasn’t on the radar screen.”
He crossed that line, in his own way, while preparing for his second marriage nearly three years ago. Mastelotto put together a compilation record for his wedding guests, which prompted Gunn to begin bugging his friend about developing it into something that could be sold at gigs. Inspired when Steven Wilson gave him permission to include any of the several remixes Mastelotto had done on his works, he set to work on what has now emerged as Recidivate.
The traps/buttons division suggests that Mastelotto harbors two distinct personas, or at least that they should be appreciated as complementary, if not separate. Not so, the drummer insists. In fact, where many of his peers felt threatened as drum machines began hitting the market, he saw the technology immediately as a tool with which he could stimulate his creativity.