A Conversation with Herb Foutainbleu of The Jazz Examiner and Victor Acker about “If That, Then This”
HF: What made you want to record this CD now? What was the catalyst?
VA: It was time. It had been two years since "Swingin’ Singles" had been released and we wanted to keep up the momentum we had going.
HF: How long have the Acker Bros been recording together?
VA: In total, about 35 years in one form or another. The Acker Brothers first legitimate commercial release “Behold The Donkey Head” happened in 1995. Although some sinister, legal tomfoolery held it up for about a year.
HF: How about the rest of your personnel on this record? Are they new to your group?
VA: We’ve been working with John Soukey since the 1970s. I met him in 7th grade gym class. His twisted style of keyboard manipulation and impeccable manners always seem to have us bringing him back into the fold once the projects start rolling. Lee Goodness is a new and welcome addition. He was Curtis Mayfield’s drummer for years and has played with a bunch of other folks. He is a hell of a nice guy to boot.
HF: I hear such a variation of styles and influences in your music. Who would you count as some of your chief influences?
VA: Well, we try real hard to sound like us, but it’s difficult for us not to draw inspiration from a few heroes. Zawinul, Jim Beard, Scott Henderson, Jobim, I was listening to a lot of Donald Fagan during these writing sessions and kind of got lulled into some of those 70s grooves. It just felt too good to deny them. Is that so wrong?
HF: From a writing standpoint, what comes first for you?
A stylistic choice, e.g. this one is gonna be a samba style piece or does the melody and harmony dictate where a song goes?
VA: Wow, that’s a good question. I’d have to say that for me; the stylistic decision comes first, which in turn dictates what the harmony will be like. i.e. Samba equals, lush pretty chords, while a Tarantella might call for an Ebmin7(b5) (btire) with a twist of Limon.
HF: What is your primary writing instrument, piano, guitar?
VA: I write mainly at the piano but occasionally find some changes on the guitar which will spawn a tune.
HF: How did the Acker Bros. come to settle in Boston?
VA: The short story is that we both got scholarships to the Berklee College of Music and once we arrived, fell in love with the place. The long story involves a badger and some corn.
HF: Do you find the musical scene there rewarding and satisfying?
VA: We’re very lucky to have so many great artists not only originate here but also perform here often. Boston has a huge jazz history. As far as us being involved in the scene, Dana and I are such a self contained unit that we don’t actively seek collaborators. We also play music which often strays outside the norm for your average Coltrane disciple. We’re not hard bop or bound to tradition and we like to add abstract humor into the music occasionally. There are not a lot of people who get that sort of aesthetic or are willing to risk being labeled non-serious. We are certainly open to collaborating with players that can appreciate what we are trying to do but we don’t go looking for them and for that reason, I’d say we are outsiders to the scene. Which I like.
HF: You have stated in other interviews that this will be the last record for you guys in this style. Why?
VA: We’ve flown the Fusion Freak Flag for a very long time but I think we’d like to move beyond the loud guitar over groove music formula.
HF: What then is the direction you wish to take the group in for the next recordings?
VA: We’re both real interested in creating some real abstract stuff tempered with some pretty melodies. Sort of Joan Miro meets Norman Rockwell. Something familiar and odd at the same time. Of course abstract for us, may be Hydrox Cookies and Milk for other folks. I dunno, I guess I like when people’s heads crank around and say “What the hell was that?!”
HF: What are you listening to now in your home CD player?
VA: Scott Kinsey, The Beatles, Zawinul, Jim Beard, Eliane Elias, Rosa Passos, Bireli Lagrene, Sylvain Luc, Jesse Van Ruller, Matthew Garrison, some Beatlesque pop.
HF: How does writing happen for you - is it a constant thing or does it come in fits and starts? Do you find yourself getting a vibe and having to follow it or can you put it down and come back to it? Is it immediate?
VA: An age old question. It comes every which way but loose. Mostly I bang around on the piano looking for the lost chord or I’ll lay down a drum groove I know I want to write over. This is of course all done with me in a kimono and with candles and incense burning. Great big bowls of Three Musketeers bars everywhere.
HF: How long have you been playing the guitar? And was it jazz that got you interested in playing?
VA: I’ve just passed my 37th year as a guitarist and although there was lots of jazz around our house, thanks to my mom, I was motivated to play the guitar just like everybody else from that era – The Beatles. I graduated to Johnny Winter, Duane Allman, Eric Clapton and then way later on Carlos Santana to Alan Holdsworth to Pat Metheny to Bireli Lagrene and Sylvain Luc. Lots and lots of guys in between.
HF: What were some of your early recordings like?
VA: Funny as hell. You’d pee your pants. Wrote a dance craze called “The Kokamola” which was a take off on “The Locomotion”. Ridiculous. We were teenage Dadaists as I’m sure all teenagers are at some point.
HF: Where would you like your playing to go in the next few years? What new avenues do you wish to explore musically?
VA: If I’m able to expand my harmonic vocabulary and increase my dexterity and technical facility to the point where it sounds as though I’m Rosemary Clooney singing a wonderful song to you, I’ll be happy. I’d like to say that I’d like to explore everything musically but really, my likes and dislikes are pretty specific. Music that hits some of your buttons, makes some dopamines fire off, makes you scratch your head, maybe makes you chuckle, maybe once in a while makes you say “Holy Crap!” That’s where I want to go.
HF: About the humor in your music. Do you ever worry that this will make you seem not serious about your craft?
VA: There is humor in most music. Ours, however, is intentional.