If Vincent Gallo turned himself into pure music, what would it sound like? For now, I know how the Gallo I'm talking with sounds: enthusiastic, upbeat - occasionally letting loose an endearing rascally cackle - and extremely alive. Over the course of a great couple hours, he's raved rather than ranted, giving himself over to rapture while rapping about everyone from Joe Spinell (star of 1980's gory Maniac and bit-part actor extraordinaire) to Michael Jackson. Vibe, connection, beautiful, and phenomenal are key words in the current Gallo lexicon, and his passion reaches its peak when he discusses RRIICCEE, his new group with Corey Lee Granet and Eric Erlandson, which will be premiering at this year's Mission Creek Music and Arts Festival.
"I'm in love," Gallo says. "I'm so proud when we're playing together. Not proud because I think we're better, but proud I was able to make myself open in this way."
Openness has been key to Gallo's music to date, as the snaky, at times Moondog-like press-record-and-play charms of his 2002 collection, Recordings of Music for Film (Warp), prove. While Gallo refers to those songs as "documents of creation," he's still in the discovery process with his new band. To prioritize recording is to "be part of the problem of music," he says, paraphrasing what Erlandson told him during an encounter at a health food store that led to the group's formation.
"Someone said today, 'It sounds like a jam band,' and that was the most gross comment I've ever heard in my life," Gallo goes on to clarify, lest anyone mistake his current activities for hoary hippy shtick. "A jam is a disorganized version of the most ordinary cliche habits - that's the furthest thing from what we're doing." While he's quick to distinguish his current project from what he calls the "cabaret" mentality of big-name acts, the man also known as a cinematic lightning rod is out to divine something, perhaps something kindred to the current free-jazz renaissance: "Improv is not a good word [for what we're doing]. It's more a gesture of composing and performing at the same time."
The main difference between the Gallo I'm talking with and the one I briefly met during his 2004 road tour for The Brown Bunny is that this guy isn't as road weary and battle scarred. Understandably so - it's hard to think of a little movie that sparked such a big furor, not to mention so many misunderstandings. "To hear people say, 'Oh brilliant, you made a film just so you could get blown,' in a world where it's so hard not to get blown," he says, with some exasperation.
I mention that long before he made The Brown Bunny, Gallo once compared its portrait of an unredeemable man to the one within Michael Powell's 1960 Peeping Tom. "I guess it had a similar effect on that filmmaker's career," he agrees. "People have a hard time swallowing a person like me. I evoke, I irritate in general. I wish that people liked me. I'm just not willing to become anything different to get that [approval]."
A little later, while discussing the way the media can directly distort some talented people's sense of their own gifts, he utters a telling aside. "Maybe secretly I'm smart enough to know that even in what appear to be self-destructive gestures I have to solve the problem again."
The name Vincent Gallo might not fly to mind when the term likable is invoked, but in fact he's a charming interview subject, as quip-flaired as Morrissey was once upon a time and genuinely humane in an old-school manner that differs from today's era of abbreviated cell phone chats. Most of all, he's in love, and not just with his new group.