Bill Rieflin will be on double duty next week when he appears at the Triple Door on April 14 and 15. The multi-instrumentalist, who boasts a wide-ranging resume (Ministry, R.E.M., Nine Inch Nails, Robyn Hitchcock), will headline both shows with his improvisational group Slow Music, which also includes legendary English guitarist Robert Fripp, as well as playing in the evening’s opening act, the Humans, which features Fripp’s wife, English singer/actress Toyah Wilcox.
“Believe me, it’s not my idea,” Rieflin said of the double billing. It all began when Rieflin was recently out dining in London with Fripp, Wilcox, R.E.M.’s Peter Buck (another Slow Music member), and Young Fresh Fellows/R.E.M. guitarist Scott McCaughey. “We were all having a very fun dinner, drinking lots of bubbling solutions,” Rieflin recalled. “And someone began to reminisce — ‘Ah, Slow Music, that was fun, wasn’t it?’ And I won’t say who, but someone else said, ‘Let’s do it again! Let’s do a Slow Music show.’ And Toyah pipes up, ‘Yeah! And the Humans will open!’
“And there was so much enthusiasm for it, I wasn’t going to be the guy to say no. So I said ‘All right, fine.’ And the next day Toyah wrote to me and says, ‘I remember what you said last night!’ And so by then it was on. It requires some extra effort for me. I have to do lots of extra things I wouldn’t have to do if I was just being a drummer.”
And though playing play keyboards in Slow Music — who haven’t performed live since 2006 — and bass in the Humans, Rieflin first made his name as a drummer, starting out in post-punk Seattle acts the Telepaths and the Blackouts in the late ’70s (a time when “People were wearing flannel shirts unironically,” he noted). In the early ‘80s, the Blackouts left town in search of greener pastures, but eventually split up, after which three of the members, including Rieflin, worked with the industrial band Ministry.
Rieflin returned to Seattle in 1990. After leaving Ministry in the mid-‘90s, he played with Krist Novoselic’s first post-Nirvana band, Sweet 75, as well as Scott McCaughey’s side project band the Minus 5 (which also featured Peter Buck), later joining McCaughey in R.E.M. after drummer Bill Berry’s departure, to name just a few of his other projects.
By then he’d already met Fripp, while brushing up on his guitar skills in Fripp’s “Guitar Craft” workshops. Fripp later performed on Rieflin’s solo records, and was tapped by Rieflin to join Slow Music in 2005.
The freeform group resists easy categorization. “Every time I talk about Slow Music I describe it in different terms,” said Rieflin, who was jointly inspired by his own experiments with sound, and “this idea of so-called ambient music and how most of it’s really made by some dude and a computer. I thought, what happens if you get a bunch of people together, really good players who know how to work with space as an important ingredient to the creation of music?”
Improvisation was also key to the project. “When you have situations where you are absolutely certain of the outcome, then what’s creative about that? It’s just a clock winding down. But when you’re in a situation and you really don’t know what’s going to happen, there’s a different energy.” In addition to Reiflin, Fripp, and Buck, the group’s other members are bassist Fred Chalenor and drummer Matt Chamberlain.
Clips of the band’s music available online evince a gentle delicacy. In contrast, the Humans latest release (“Strange Tales,” released last month) has a full-bodied rock sound. But the band’s roots are more unconventional. Wilcox formed the group after the ambassador of Estonia invited her to tour the country; the band’s first performance was in October 2007 in front of the Estonian president (“He was convivial and good humored; a very nice man,” said Rieflin) and other dignitaries.
More unusually, the live group originally consisted of simply Wilcox and two bassists (Rieflin and Chris Wong). “She wanted to do something that really got out of the way of her voice,” Rieflin explained. “I think she was tired of struggling to sing over loud guitars and other instruments that occupy the same frequencies as vocals.” But the musicians play additional instruments on record (husband Fripp also appears), and Reiflin describes the band’s latest release as “really produced and filled out. The two previous records are far more spare, very, very minimal. On the third record, I came to the decision as producer that if we wanted any chance of any sort of success, moving slightly beyond being the arty rock band of two basses and vocals might be a good idea.”
The shows will mark the Humans’ debut appearance in Seattle. They’ll also be a welcome return for Slow Music. “The previous Slow Music shows I found incredibly rewarding,” Rieflin said. “I found them very rewarding as a performer, and as a musical event I found them very exciting. And based on the feedback I got from the audience, it worked past the stage as well. We ask as much from our audiences as we ask from ourselves — which is hang on and let’s see where we can go with this.”
Slow Music, The Humans
7:30 p.m. Monday, April 14, and Tuesday, April 15, at the Triple Door, 216 Union St., Seattle; $15-$50 (206-838-4333 or www.thetripledoor.net).