Onstage in Octopus Diamond, a back-street venue off Edinburgh’s Cowgate, drummer Chris Corsano is keeping busy all over his kit as part of Hockyfrilla Trio. Wearing an ‘I Believe In Resonance FM’ t-shirt in homage to the left-field radio station, the impossibly young-looking Corsano provides ballast and momentum to an improvised set involving old record players, school assembly recorders and all manner of electronic kit combined to create a set of primitive electronic mayhem.
Normally a duo, the two women who make up Hockyfrilla are part of a burgeoning Edinburgh noise scene that frequents similarly inclined low-level capital venues. For the last year or so, American ex-pat Corsano has been increasingly active in such spaces on these shores too, whether playing solo with assorted customised tube constructions to accompany his rolling thunder drum sound, or else with fellow travellers such as Sunburned Hand Of The Man, and, in Stirling, as part of Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore’s dream/Aktion Unit.
Since taking up residence in Edinburgh a year ago, Corsano has also taken part in last year’s Resonant Spaces project at Hamilton Mausoleum, and, at All Tomorrows Parties’ Nightmare Before Xmas festival, appeared with long-term collaborator, sax player Paul Flaherty and C. Spencer Yeh, as well as drumming for two other outfits on the bill.
This Friday night, however, late night TV watchers will be able to see Corsano on that chirpy barometer of cultural relativism, Later With Jools Holland, when he occupies the drum stool for no less a personage than Bjork. He’s been doing likewise on a world tour to accompany the release of the pint-sized Icelandic whirlwind and sometime superstar’s latest album, Volta, on which Corsano plays as part of a stellar line-up.
This is no sell-out to commercial forces, however, even if it did mean having to turn down the Contemporary Music Network’s recent Free Noise tour, which made explicit the links between the work of veteran players such as saxophonist Evan Parker and the current generation of noiseniks. Rather, given Bjork’s own libertine spirit born absorbed as much from her background in punk as more left-field improvised antics, it’s a logical move in which all parties’ integrity remains intact.
“She knows a lot of different music,” an understandably jet-lagged Corsano says in an Edinburgh hostelry the day before the Hockyfrilla show. “She used to be in punk bands, and I don’t think she ever stopped listening to smaller weirdo things just because she got popular. It doesn’t mean her tastes have changed.”
Corsano’s Bjork connection came about after her record label, One Little Indian, contacted him with a view to playing on Volta. More used to life on the free scene, Corsano wasn’t sure how it would work out, but was relieved over the one day’s recording that “She’s really easy to work with. I’ve not done a lot of stuff like that before, and when I have, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t know exactly what it comes down to.”
Corsano was then offered the tour, which has seen his live appearances with Bjork take in the Coachella festival, as well as a three-night stint in New York and forthcoming headlining dates across the globe including at Glastonbury and, in Inverurie, this autumn’s brand new Connect festival.
“The Bjork thing,” as Corsano warmly calls it, “is different from everything else I do, because it’s not completely improvised. There’s some bits that are improvised, but they’re part of songs, so I really notice the difference.”
Inbetween Bjork dates, Corsano keeps a chock-full diary of collaborations and solo outings akin to the Hockyfrilla gig. By the time you read this, he’ll have played two jazz festivals in Portugal with Evan Parker and former Pointy Birds and B-Shops for the Poor bassist, John Edwards, slipping in a London trip to record Later before returning to Portugal for a gallery show with guitarist Manuel Mota.
This week, Corsano can be seen in Scotland no less than three times, when he makes another brief call home via an Edinburgh show tonight with ex Geraldine Fibbers vocalist Carla Bozulich. Tomorrow night he and Mick Flower of the Julian Cope championed Vibracathedral Orchestra support German art-noise legends Faust, while on Sunday, Corsano braves the too-cool-for-school crowd of Glasgow’s Optimo club where he plays a solo set.
Corsano, then, is not one for resting on musicianly laurels, despite the profile of his Bjork associations likely to make him a player much in demand. It’s these small shows, though, where he thrives, confounding any preconceived notions of how a solo drummer, let alone drum solos, might work in sets that are sometimes riotous, at others more meditational in intent..
“I guess if I treated what I was doing like a job,” he says, “it might be different, but this is what I do, not for fun, but I‘ve played so many shows over the last three years with so many different people that if I’m not doing it I just get restless. From show to show, who you’re playing with changes everything, but my approach to it is the same. It’s not like I have to remember to make the right change at the right time. It’s more about staying focussed on who I’m playing with. I think it hits a different area of my brain I’ve been using more over the past few years than what I’m doing with Bjork, and that’s kind of good to get back to.”
Scheduling his own shows though, is proving increasingly difficult, and this week’s appearances may be the last we’ll see of Corsano on small stages for a while.
“I’m learning that the off-months don‘t really mean off-months,” he says, “because if something like Jools Holland comes up, it can throw a monkey-wrench into my own things. My girlfriend’s bearing the brunt of this, because we were going to have a couple of holiday days in Portugal, but now I have to fly to London. It’s cool, but I don’t want that to keep happening, so maybe in the off-months I’ll just concentrate on recording.”
Corsano moved to the UK three years ago with his aforementioned girlfriend, a marine biologist who took up a research posts in Manchester before taking up as similar job in Edinburgh in September 2006. By that stage, Corsano had already been making his presence felt for the best part of a decade after falling in love with hardcore punk while growing up near Northampton, Massachusetts (home, incidentally, of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon). Jazz was the first music to register with Corsano via his father’s old records, where he picked up first on the music’s rhythmic qualities. He considered taking up the upright bass, but, aged 13, followed in his elder brother’s shoes and started playing drums instead.
Corsano spent years working in record shops, and, in Northampton, even lived in one where bands would perform in his living room.
“I was a record nerd,” he says, “and the more you go into everything from Boredoms to Balinese Gamelan music, it all rubs off, and you try to find where you fit.”
Corsano, though, fits pretty much everywhere, as his solo records, The Young Cricketer and Blood Pressure, recorded at home and sold on CDr at live shows, demonstrate as much as his role in Bjork’s live band. Beyond his current commitments, Corsano will undoubtedly continue a path that’s s instinctive as the music he’s already produced.
“Smaller is better,” he says of his shows this week. “It’s important to make those connections.”
Chris Corsano plays in duo with Carla Bozulich, Henry’s Cellar Bar, Edinburgh, on Friday, in duo with Mick Flower supporting Faust at The Bongo Club, Edinburgh, on Saturday, and solo at Optimo, The Sub Club, Glasgow, on Sunday. He also appears with Bjork on Later With Jools Holland on Friday, and at the Connect Festival, Inverurie, on September 2
The Herald, June 5th 2007