The Countless Worlds of Colin Fisher
Thoughts on his new album, Daniel Carter, collaboration, and more.
Toronto’s Colin Fisher doesn’t seem to ever stop. When you dig through his maze-like discography, there’s a huge assortment of solo works, collaborative releases, ensemble pieces and just about anything else in between. His ability to jump between a variety of instruments - saxophone, guitar, drums, and well beyond - adds not just to his versatility, but creates a bit of an aura. On March 26th, his latest solo effort, Reflections of the Invisible World, is officially released on Toronto label Halocline Trance. It’s a lush tangle of interconnected sounds and ideas that create a sonic universe unto itself that truly begins to show its vivid colors after repeated listens. Colin graciously answered my questions in early March about the album, his approach, and other projects he’s working on.
So first, tell me about some of your earliest memories related to music - what kind of stuff first made an impression on you and all of that?
A golden thread through my earliest memories with music is the sublime and psychedelia.
I can remember having full trip like experiences dancing around to the theremin/psych section of “Whole Lotta Love,” swooping around the room like I was caught in some sort of gale, examining objects in micro detail... mouth agape in some sort of state of possession. My mom is a pianist and she grew up playing boogie woogie and rock (my dad is a bagpiper who plays pibroch) and she used to play a particular boogie woogie tune in which my sister and I, in ritualistic fashion, would dance around in circles until we fell over laughing and the room would turn upside down. I also remember several experiences in church... hearing the old church goers improvising vocal harmonies (and feeling the freedom to attempt to imitate them, my first experiences with improvising) .. also I had this naive desire to seek divine presence (that I wasn't finding in the proceedings) and at the end of every service the church organist would play secular music... the organ music would give me full body chills and a feeling of subliminity.
And following on from that, what was it that made you want to actually learn an instrument and start playing yourself?
I took piano lessons for a while, because my mother wouldn't let me play drums, but I didn't stick with keys. Eventually picked up guitar when I was 12-13ish.
At what point did you start getting into jazz and experimental music and what not?
Around 19 or 20 yrs old. Inspired by selections such as Bitches Brew, The Shape of Jazz to Come, Paul Bley's Jaco, etc.
You've been in a lot of bands and done a lot of different collaborations through the years - hell, I'm just starting to scratch the surface of those - what's the biggest challenge when it comes to doing collaborative work? At the same time, what aspect of it inspires or motivates you the most?
I think collaboration is such an essential part of music making for me (highlighted by these times where there is a profound lack) as an improviser. Some challenges in collaboration are obvious I would imagine, peoples egos, the lack of money, support and space to make them happen, etc.. Maybe less obvious are the aspects of collaboration that stretch your musicality and ability but are often the most rewarding because the process of learning and growth is so important.
In that same vein, on the new record - Reflections of the Invisible World - is your second time working with producer Jeremy Greenspan. What's that collaborative relationship like and how it is similar (or maybe more importantly, different) to the collaborative relationships with other artists that you're in a project with or improvising with?
Working with Jeremy is effortless and a total pleasure, I can't wait to make more music/recordings together. Our tastes have lots of overlap and working with him brings out qualities of my playing/performance that wouldn't be highlighted otherwise. I suppose I probably get pigeonholed as a wild card/weirdo but I like a lot of different music and rarely get to explore certain corners of my palate just because there isn't enough time or people interested in making it happen. With Jeremy the musical relationship, so far, is just studio work (although we did technically play together once with Caribou at an ATP festival). The first record we did together is me playing live processed guitar, this new album involved a lot more overdubs and strategy (even though we finished recording in 2 days with no work prepared beforehand). An improvised collaboration is such a high level of listening and response, it's a completely different discipline. An improvised setting is generally where I find myself so doing studio work is always an interesting shift/challenge but I love the process.
The new album has a really different feeling to it compared to your other work I've heard. Reflections of the Invisible World gets into more ethereal, textural, and soundscape, ambient type spaces. Where'd the ideas or motivations come from to explore these new, at times even intimate or introspective, zones?
It's parasympathetic to the sympathetic of some of my more 'active' work. I love glacial music of many different sorts and working with effects pedals allows the guitar to be shaped into this sort of world. Listening to glacial/ambient music can really affect one's perception of time and place that a lot of active music doesn't do.
Something else I've been thinking about a lot that's kind of related - especially this past year - is how music can basically create new worlds and transport listeners and all of that. This record, to me, not only doesn't really sound like anything else, but it causes my mind to go in all these directions to where I feel like I'm on some alien planet. Have you had any memorable experiences like that whether it's listening to something or getting into a zone while you're playing?
In both playing and listening I've felt transported into deep recesses of consciousness.. in just listening I've felt like like I've fallen into a deep chasm of the earth or space suspended in what seemed like an eternity.. in playing I've had these moments of feeling like I'm in the center of the cyclone.. almost like time stops or that the movement of time is an illusion.
I also wanted to mention the cover for the album because I think it's an excellent visual representation of the music itself. I think I said something along the lines of "bright colors, indescribable shapes, organic backgrounds, and a hint of psychedelia" when I reviewed the album, and I feel like those things could describe the music just as well as the cover, so I'm just curious how involved in the process of the cover design you were and/or if you have any specific thoughts about the art?
My girlfriend who is a formidable artist/photographer/videographer/musician did the cover photo and David Psutka has a graphic designer he works with, Olenka Szymanski, did the graphic design.. so if there's any resonance between the sounds and images it wasn't conscious.
Changing speed a little, how did the Colin Fisher Quartet come together and how'd you end up working with Daniel Carter (someone I am a huge, huge fan of!) and putting that album out with Astral Spirits?
I have connections to New York City through touring and have made friends with lots of musicians in the area.. when I would travel down there I would try to organize shows/jams/recordings sessions with various people I knew or didn't know. I had been talking to Marc Edwards since the MySpace days and had wanted to work with.. he was one of the musicians I knew from listening to Cecil Taylor, David s ware, etc.. and admired from afar. So it may have centered around wanting to form a band for a session with him. Daniel is one of my favorite musicians ever.. Other dimensions in music is one of my favorite bands and their mode of communication has informed/inspired my practice of improvised music so deeply and fundamentally. I can remember him talking during the session about how we're all connected through this shared language of creative music.. It felt like we were old friends when we played together and I think it's because of exactly what he was saying.. that this language and spirit connects us, sustains us.. that this current supports so much of who we are fundamentally that it's like we know each other already. I already had a tape on Astral Spirits with Kid Millions (John Colpitts) and Johnny deblase, Monas, so the connection was already there.. it's such an incredible label who just continue to expand their enterprise. I hope I get to work with them again someday.
Think there will ever be any more recordings from that line-up?
These days uncertainty reigns supreme.. I hope so..
Another one of your collaborations that I've really been digging is the album you did with Ricardo Lagomasino that came out last year. That's a pretty old recording, but any interesting stories about that session? How'd you guys end up working together?
Ricardo and I met through the now defunct band Many Arms, of which Johnny deblase played in as well as Nick Millevoi. I met them when they came up to Toronto on tour for the first time as a trio. We all became friends and when I was in nyc/philly I would visit and play shows.. they're all badass. We eventually made a quartet record "suspended definition" for John Zorn’s label Tzadik.
Ricardo and I ended up having some sessions and hangs. We made two records... the first record, Kin, came out on UK label Tombed Visions.. the 2nd record came out digitally last year on Ricardo’s label Party Tent. I love playing with Ricardo. He's one of the most talented musicians I've ever met.
*There's also a video of us playing, while he was on tour with Lucy Dacus, on my YouTube channel.
You talked a little about how the studio sessions are a lot different - and maybe a little out of your comfort zone compared to live improvisation - than a lot of the music and work you usually do, but you also said you really enjoy the process. Can you tell me a little more about that process? Specifically with the new record, it's incredible that you did the recording in two days with nothing prepared prior... What were those sessions and processes like?
I'm accustomed to playing music being a very spontaneous process, but I'm also a composer… I just don't flex that muscle as much. So when I'm in a studio situation it sometimes takes a bit to switch gears, but I love the creative process of making a studio record. It’s very satisfying to have the end result be something you can listen to rather than a score that a band plays (which I also love doing too (when possible)).
The new record with Jeremy, as I was saying was effortless.. and having someone as skilled as Jeremy makes my job so much easier to do. I'm not a good engineer, but I can function as one at home when I have to. But the job is so much more complicated when you're wearing multiple hats. The process and session with Jeremy was mostly coming up with ideas that then served as the compositional framework for overdubs. However it was much less of a 'ship in a bottle' process that studio recording can feel like sometimes. It was a very immediate feeling and not very laborious. The only tune I spent time with compositionally was “Sanctum,” of which I basically composed the parts while Jeremy was out for a family dinner. Ha! When he came back we constructed the parts and solos and it was finished. I can't speak to the labor of mixing and mastering, but the actual recording was a real pleasure to do.
What else are you working on these days?
So much! I have a handful of records I've recorded on my own during quarantine that need a home (hint hint...). One that’s tunes of mine but me playing all the instruments (not unlike my Tombed Visions release The Garden of Unknowing). I have a bunch of drum/sax duo work, a microtonal improv record, a fusion album of tunes that reminds me of Terje Rypdal, a record my girlfriend Ilyse Krivel produced of tunes of mine that are all groove/pocket based. Aside from that, I have a duo album with percussionist Victor Cirone thats finished; a record with drummer Mike Gennaro; an album with my partner Ilyse Krivel under the name Indweller that’s almost finished - I think that one has a label putting it out (we had a release come out on Halocline Trance last year); a studio record with Nick Storring that is a compositional/song-based project; a near hour long video project with Ilyse of me playing saxophone in interesting resonant locations around the Toronto area; a duo record with the incredible percussionist Matt Weston from Albany; a duo record with Kingston, NY guitarist Alvaro Domene; a quartet record with Alvaro Domene, Alvaro Perez, and Mike Pride; a duo recording with guitarist Jon Lipscomb that we just started; a recording with keyboardist/composer John Farah; just beginning a duo project with multi-instrumentalist/bassist Charles James; in the initial stages with a recording project with Christopher Willes; some little fragments started with viola/electronics musician James Annett; and hopefully something with Chad Macquarie from Vancouver... and probably other things I'm forgetting. Ha!
And lastly, what have you missed most in the past year?
I do really miss playing and going to shows.. and most of all just playing music with friends. It's really my only social life.
Reflections of the Invisible World is out Friday, March 26th on Halocline Trance.