by Andrew Dansby
In the seven years since the post-punk instrumental troupe Banyan last released a record, its four members — ringleader Stephen Perkins, Mike Watt, Nels Cline and Willie Waldman — accidentally developed into a band. That quartet is responsible for Live at Perkins’ Palace, due October 12th on Sanctuary.
Prior to Palace, Banyan was a name with an identity crisis The group’s second album, 1997’s Anytime at All, found Perkins hosting a revolving horde of roughly thirty musicians that included the players mentioned above along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and John Frusciante, guitarist Buckethead and bassist Rob Wasserman, to name just a few.
Of course, securing a Banyan lineup is no easy task, as its members aren’t wanting for things to do. Perkins has had a day job drumming with Jane’s Addiction, Watt plays with his Secondmen as well as holding down bass for Igg Pop’s reunited Stooges, avant garde guitar whiz Cline shows up on myriad recordings in addition to recently joining Wilco for a tour, and Waldman’s trumpet is in demand, peppering albums by Snoop Dog, Perry Farrell and numerous others. But their four schedules found some common free time last year to jam. “We’d never pinpointed a Banyan sound,” Perkins says. “It was everywhere. But it’s more focused now than it’s ever been. Floating around with these guys over the years, it feels like a band.”
Though Palace — which will feature tracks including “El Sexxo,” “King of Long Beach” and the ode to Watt “Uncle Mike” — is all instrumental, Perkins says that it’s hardly homogenous. “It ranges from some really hard, noisy shit,” he says, “to some beautiful stuff in a waltz tempo, things you might not expect from us.”
Having gelled as a unit, the members of Banyan havn’t quite figured out how they will plug Palace upon its release. With Perkins assembling a post-Jane’s Addiction band, Watt releasing a Secondmen record this fall and Cline on indefinite duty with Wilco, a full-fledged Banyan tour — with artist Norton Wisdom onstage painting amid the musical mayhem — seems logistically difficult. In the past, Perkins has had no trouble finding instrumentalists to sit in. “Perk is the essential component to this,” Watt says. “He sits right up front on the stage and leads the charge. He’s a great spirit.” But Perkins seems particularly enamored with the lineup: “Now that I feel we’ve captured the true BAnyan on a record, I’m not sure if anything else will feel like Banyan.”
But, if Banyan has a plan, live or on Palace, it’s not having a plan. “A lot of it is improvised,” Watt says, “but not like a jam band. For one thing, it’s much more aggressive. We do takeoffs on Stooges and an intense kind of John Coltrane thing. It’s a different process than with other bands I play in where you go to practice and work out tunes. You don’t do much with Banyan. Just show up at the gig and play your brains out.”
Perkins adds, “We try things in different ways. It’s truly about vibe. If we play in the afternoon it’ll turn out different than in a smoky club at night. It’s about our environment. In theory it’s jazz music, but we’re not jazz players — we’re punks trying to find our way.