Saturday, January 31, 2015

John Coxon 13 Questions

Photo Fabio Lugaro

John Coxon is a London based british musician, and record producer most often associated with

Spring Heel Jack, with Ashley Wales. Formed in 1993 in London, England, Spring Heel Jack began their career exploring drum and bass and jungle, but have since branched out into free improvisation and jazz, collaborating with many musicians from Europe and the United States. The cinematic Disappeared (2000) marked a transition for Wales and Coxon, and featured the British saxophonist John Surman, whose appearance was a harbinger of later changes. Masses (2001), the first of several albums for the cross-genre Blue Series of Thirsty Ear, was an even more radical departure. Collaborators included Evan Parker, John Tchicai and Tim Berne, William Parker, Roy Campbell, Kenny Wheeler and Wadada Leo Smith, Paul Rutherford,  Mat ManeriHan Bennink, Matthew Shipp, and Jason Pierce.

Spring Heel Jack, with Ashley Wales.

Spiritualized with Jason Pierce. Spiritualized are an English space rock band formed in 1990 in Rugby, Warwickshire by Jason Pierce (who often goes by the alias J. Spaceman) after the demise of his previous band Spacemen 3.

with Wadada Leo Smith  Photo John Sharpe

About Group, with Charles Hayward, Pat Thomas and Alexis Taylor. About Group was formed to make a record of improvised music for the Treader label in 2009, having never played together as a whole before the day it took them to make their first album. They have since recorded two lps for Domino records based around the songs of Alexis Taylor. They are quite different from the Treader release.

with John Edwardsm Wadada Leo Smith, Mark Sanders and John Russell. Photo Andy Newcombe

Primarily a guitar player, he is interested in improvised music, playing with the already mentioned Evan Parker, John Tchicai, Han Bennink, Alex Ward, Paul Lytton, Wadada Leo Smith, Mark Sanders, Eddie Prévost,  John Russell, Steve Noble, Alan Wilkinson...

He has his own record label Treader, mainly dealing with improvised material
Recent art related collaborations include; The End with Henrik Hakansson @ the modern, and
institute in glasgow and Disarm with Pedro Reyes @ the lisson gallery

Pedro Reyes: DISARM - London 26 March 2013. Performance produced by John Coxon.
Musicians: Eben Bull, Rupert Clervaux, John Coxon, Beatrice Dillon, Charles Hayward, Tom Lamb, Ashley Wales

What do you remember about your first guitar?

i was determined to get an electric guitar when i was 13 but i had no money and my parents wouldn't help me. luckily i went to live with my grandmother for a while and she bought me one from a local pawnshop called duncanson’s in edinburgh. it cost £9.00 and was a woolworths quality SG shaped copy with one pickup. it wasn't bad really but we all dreamed of owning a hondo les paul or a bit later [1979] a gordon smith gs 1 which had just come out]. i played it through my mum’s cheap music centre-plugged into the headphone jack with the cassette deck in record and paused.
there was absolutely no way i could afford an amp-although my friends brother had a selmer treble’n’bass which i used at band practices-we all used it at the same time.

What do you recall about your playing learning process?

i recall that i was very disorganised and reluctant to practice. i wish i’d practised more when i was younger

Photo Andy Newcombe

Can you describe a sound experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a musician?

my mother singing and playing the piano when i was very young

Which was the first and the last record you bought with your own money?

The first record was Dixie chicken by Little Feat. a bit of an odd start but it had been recommended by a boy at school who i looked up to. i found a second hand copy for £1.50 i think. i was 11 or 12 and this was pre-punk so we really had nothing that we could call our own at that stage-just trying to find something we could connect with.i didn't really like it-it was too american; i had no connection with the words or the southern u.s. sound although i did quite enjoy Lowell George’s slide guitar.

the most recent records i bought today from discogs: Now is early by Nicolette on Shut up and dance records, really for the track A single ring. at the same time i bought Kyzysztof Penderecki Dies irae/polymorphia/de natura sonorous on polskie Nagrania Muza. i have this record -Ashley Wales gave me a copy- but it was damaged by a flood in the autumn and this is to replace it.

What do you expect from music?

I dont think i expect anything from music -it’s not a thing or a being in that sense to me- it is something that i do. i’m only really happy when i’m either making it or have an ongoing project of some sort… and i feel depressed if i’m not in this process in some way.
you don't give something to ‘music’ and expect something in return.

Which work of your own are you most surprised by, and why?

The sweetness of the water Spring Heel Jack with Wadada Leo Smith, Evan Parker, Mark Sanders, John Edwards. this recording is my favourite of all of those i made with Ashley Wales
it seems to me that it represents most completely our ideas. the improvisatory mastery of the musicians we worked with here seems completely at one with the ideas we presented them with. it also marks the start of my personal involvement with pure improvisation. the duo with Mark Sanders was a revelation to me at the time.

What's the relevance of technique in music, in your opinion?

technique is critically important in music of course, but the greatest musicians -Evan Parker and Wadada Leo Smith [who both play on ‘the sweetness of the water’] for example never let the their technique override the music.
for some reason this seems to me to be particularly important with the electric guitar -i’m amazed by the harmonic technique of Joe Pass, the extraordinary telecaster mastery of Danny Gatton, the speed and accuracy of John Mclaughlin, but i never listen to them [well only John Mcgaughlin with Miles Davis which i love] -i don't like too many notes on the guitar. John Lee Hooker’s technique is more important to me than being able to play a million notes a second. i was talking to my friend about this and he said watching and listening to some of these players is like going to a freakshow.
i suppose what i’m saying is that technique whilst important, is no substitute for content. it’s a bit like recording: there’s no benefit to recording something technically well if the music is dull

Photo Andy Newcombe

having said that,the greatest compositional technician -J.S. Bach is limitlessly fascinating to me,
also the saxophone seems to suit a much faster articulation- maybe because of Charlie Parker and all who followed him…
perhaps that widdly widdly guitar style has too many bad associations with gruesome progressive rock or hair metal.

What quality do you admire most in an musician?

commitment an open attitude to music. Alex Ward is a good example.

What’s the difference between a good instrument and a bad one?

almost anything can be used as an instrument. great music can be made with very simple instruments.there is a great pleasure to be had in playing a really fine instrument but a lot of awful music is made on well made instruments. i have a 1940s Epiphone blackstone which i marvel at every time i pick it up-made with great craftsmanship and it has a great tone.but i also have a 1950s Silvertone Sears catalogue guitar which i love playing-it’s virtually made of cardboard.
accurate intonation is very important in a fretted instrument

What are the challenges and benefits of today's digital music scene?

i really dont know how to answer this. i love and collect records and have thousands of them. they’re as much part of me as my guitar playing is. i hate the idea of living all parts of my life through the computer. most of my younger friends never buy cds or even records -it’s just not part of their lives in the same way. it was very hard to find really good music in the mid 70s -you just couldn't buy it in scotland- i spent years wondering what ‘can’ sounded like.

Pat Thomas - Piano,Keyboard, John Coxon - Guitars, Mark Sanders - Drums

 Define the sound you're still looking for

i’m not -sounds appear during exploratory playing- i don’t preconceive them and then work out how to make them.

How would you define order?

i dont know what you mean -music has been defined as ordered sound but aleatoric and chance elements are part of a lot of music that I'm interested in.

Photo Andy Newcombe

What are your motivations for playing music?

it’s partly habit -i’ve always done it, and i’m a person of habit. also it’s my job and i want to do my job as well as i can- i think i’m lucky to have been able to keep making music on my own terms for a long time and that i should make the most of it.

What's your best musical experience?

all of the time i have spent making music with Ashley Wales. playing with Mark Sanders. playing with Jason Pierce. playing with Evan Parker. playing with Han Bennink. playing with Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith. playing with The founder effect group……many others!

Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith, John Coxon, John Edwards, Mark Sanders @ Cafe Oto 24.7.10

Dream about your perfect instrument

i have a National Trojan guitar from the 1930s that i bought in a little shop in new orleans. i used this for the ‘acoustic trio’ recording with Ashley Wales and Eddie Prevost [amongst many other recordings]. i remember Eddie saying ‘the perfect instrument’ because it has both a membrane and strings. i always wanted to be a drummer really!

What is your relationship with other disciplines such as painting, literature, dance, theater ...?

i have collaborated with several artists.most recently with pedro reyes in his ‘disarm’ project [lisson gallery, london 2013] and with henrik hakansson in his The end project [the modern institute ,glasgow 2011,sydney biennale,2014] i’m very interested in this kind of cross disciplinary work.

Where are your roots? What are your secret influences? 

my roots are classical from my mother, punk from my peers at school, electronic dance music and the so called avant garde from Ashley Wales, rock’n’roll from Jason Pierce and free music from Evan Parker et al…..all over the place.

with Wadada Leo Smith and John Russell. Photo Andy Newcombe

What would you enjoy most in an music work?

it depends where i am and what i’m istening to.

Henrik Håkansson, THE END, 2011 and 2014, (film still), 35mm film, 12:40 mins.

Which living or dead artist would you like to collaborate with?

Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, Peter Broetzman…..all saxophonists!
there are many more but those three come to mind
i never used to like the saxophone -i loved the sound of the trumpet when i was a kid.

Henrik Håkansson, THE END, 2011 and 2014, (film still), 35mm film, 12:40 mins. Courtesy the artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow. This version was created for the 19th Biennale of Sydney - See more at:
Henrik Håkansson, THE END, 2011 and 2014, (film still), 35mm film, 12:40 mins. Courtesy the artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow. This version was created for the 19th Biennale of Sydney - See more at:

What instruments and tools do you use?

i have quite a lot of guitars that i have collected over the years but usually i play guild starfire 2 with either a 1972 fender pro reverb or 1966 fender princeton reverb.
i use a colour sound wah, a RAT distortion pedal, a boss tremolo.
for rocknroll gigs i usually play a 1966 gibson firebird with either the pro reverb or a 1964 AC30
the dates are important because most of the reissues are shit.

i also have an amazing amp made for me by my friend HS Levi.its a class A british type amp which i use with a 1x12” cab.its the best sounding amp i've ever had.
i also have a roland MKS 80 synth which i love -i dont often use it,but it can be heard on some treader recordings. i also use a novation synth and a CDJ-400 for sampling in some lineups.

Photo Andy Newcombe

What do you like the most about being a musician?

the mystery of music.

What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?

working on the next 3 treader releases. perhaps i’ll do more acoustic playing and recording - my ears are getting tired of loud electric guitar.

Treader Label

Evan Parker with Birds: The celebrated saxophonist duets with Northern European birdsong. A tribute to the late Steve Lacy.

Energetic fussing from trio of Evan Parker [tenor saxophone] Mark Sanders [drums] and John Coxon [Roland MKS 80] interspersed with double grand piano and percussion interludes by John Coxon and Ashley Wales. Inspired by the Sun Ra album Nuits de la Fondation Maeght.


Mark Sanders, Swallow Chase: First solo recording by one of the world's great improvisors. Recorded from the drummer's perspective, a beautiful virtuoso performance in 9 parts.

Acoustic trio with john coxon [acoustic guitars] ashley wales[found percussion etc.] and AMMs eddie prevost.a slowly evolving and spacious piece originating from reading eddie's book 'minute particulars'

The great afro danish saxophonist who played with albert ayler, recorded with john coltrane, archie shepp and don cherry duets with orchestral strings and beautiful soundscapes. Recorded during a rare visit to london in 2005.


The first solo recording by j spaceman of spacemen 3/spiritualized fame. A strange and lovely work


A long planned collaboration between John Coxon and Wadada Leo Smith finally comes to fruition with this odd, fresh sounding recording. Coxon on harmonica, electric guitar and 12 string acoustic with master trumpeter Smith in a duo with Gagaku and Blues undertows. Recorded by Zorn collaborator Jamie Saft in his Brooklyn studio.


Legendary Dutch drummer Han Bennink recorded this electric session with John Coxon [Electric Guitar] and Ashley Wales [Electronics] during his visit to the U.K. at their invitation last year. Loud, fierce and darkly mysterious, the velocity and extraordinary momentum of Bennink is forcefully counterpointed by Wales' imaginitive soundscapes and Coxon's irascible guitar.


Evan Parker appears again on the Treader imprint. This time in the company of U.S Free Jazz luminary Matthew Shipp. The Famous Abbey Road Studio 2 was the location for this meeting and the vivid sound does great justice to the first duo recording of these two giants of improvised music.


Spaceman and Shipp return to Treader with a collaboration first outed for Patti Smith's Meltdown festival. This is their studio corollary to that concert. Magic golden voice drone followed by celestial ecstacy.


Extraordinary clarinetist Alex Ward in his first solo recording. In the tradition of 'For Alto' and 'Monoceros': one musician and one instrument.


Exclusively tailored in places, planes, hotel rooms and at home. 15 bespoke songs and instrumentals by Alexis Taylor.


Treader arranged a concert at St Giles-in-the-Fields church in the West End of London on 15th February 2008. Ashley Wales recorded the event and this CD is the result. A peerless lineup with a dramatic reverberant sound.


John Coxon's prepared compositions combined with Wadada's uncompromising musical philosophies were the springboard for these unique, complex group improvisations. The brilliance of Pat Thomas [electronics and piano] and Mark Sanders[drums] complete this quartet.


A new group for 2009 incorporating revered This Heat drummer Charles Hayward, Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor, Pat Thomas and John Coxon. Charles' relentlessly inventive drumming provides the solid centre for these four bold improvisations.





Recorded live in 2007 at the WIM free music festival,here we have Spring Heel Jack’s penultimate live concert. This beautifully recorded set featuring the great Pat Thomas,Alex Ward and Paul Lytton captures the vivid and multilayered musical imaginations of this quintet brilliantly.An essential record.


John Tilbury solo using two pianos-one prepared,the other not, the former being the famous old piano which once belonged to to Myra Hess. Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith solo accompanied by the spectral sound of sympathetic strings from John Tilbury’s prepared piano,followed by a long and utterly absorbing duo from these two masterful musicians.


Following in the august footsteps of Berg,Webern,Messiaen and Ligeti,Richard Barrett and Paul Obermayer assembled this wonderful international octet for the Donaueschingen Festival in 2012.Their live improvisation with Phil Minton,Ute Wassermann,Lori Freedman,John Butcher,Rhodri Davies and Paul lovens was then used as material for the beautiful studio work Hmyz,recorded on the following day.

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Photo Tim Ferguson