The Boston Metro
Club d'Elf: A Musical Meeting of Spirits
Name: Mike Rivard (aka Microvard)
Gig: Bassist/Ringmaster of Club d’Elf
Favorite all-star summit CD: Gift of the Gnawa, with Hassan Hakmoun and Don Cherry
A first-call session bassist who has worked with the Story and Shawn Colvin as well as Natraj and Either/Orchestra, Mike Rivard is the guiding force behind Club d’Elf, a dub-jazz-trance-groove collective that is growing from its semi-weekly Thursday residency at the Lizard Lounge to shows around the Northeast and even Japan. Begun in 1998, d’Elf augments a revolving core of musicians who improvise off composed grooves with guests including John Medeski, Mat Maneri and Reeves Gabrels. The Minnesota-bred, Berklee-schooled Rivard grew up on everything from Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa and the Grateful Dead to Miles Davis, the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Fela Kuti. In addition to developing touring opportunities for d’Elf, Rivard is working on a studio followup to the group’s expansive, live double-CD “As Above”.
How was the name Club d’Elf inspired by author Terrance McKenna?
He did a lot of explorations in the Amazon with the people there, studied with the shamans, and did a lot of work with Ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic brew used by the shamans that’s a mixture of a couple of different plants. And amid his experiences, he would describe these contacts with self-transforming elves and hyper-spatial entities and it appealed to my science-fiction mind… I like the macabre element, that [the name] sounds like clubbed elf.
How are other shows different, pro or con, from your setup at the Lizard Lounge?
It’s always good to blow minds. At the Lizard, oftentimes it’s like preaching to the converted, or screeching to the perverted. It’s our home. It’s where we feel comfortable. It’s great to play in the semicircle, and playing in more traditional clubs and rock venues, it’s a little more difficult to do that. But it’s great when you’re playing for new audiences, like you have to win these people over. A lot of them have no idea of what we’re doing, and it’s a challenge. I’d like to keep the Lizard as long as we can, but it’s also nice to think about playing some larger rooms.
You’ve played with Moroccan musicians and people with samplers, turntables, tabla and oud as well as conventional rock and jazz instruments. How do your stylistic interests fuel what Club d’Elf is, and vice versa?
Club d’Elf pretty directly reflects my stylistic interests. I listen primarily these days to a lot of Moroccan music and free jazz and electronic music. As far as how Club d’Elf influences what I do, I’m influenced by the musicians. It’s one thing to listen to a record like John Coltrane or Miles, but I didn’t know those people. The music is incredibly inspirational to me, but nothing really replaces the direct human contact of playing with somebody.
It seems your confidence has expanded as both a leader and a bass player.
If I’m going to stand in front of people like Medeski and [Moroccan player] Brahim [Fribgane] and conduct them and tell them what to do, cue them when to stop and start, I have to be incredibly confident… It has required a lot of discipline and effort on my part, in that a lot of what I do is very repetitive and mantra-like… It requires a lot of stamina, especially on the double bass. To be able to play at the level I want, it’s made me alter many aspects of my life. I do yoga and Pilates and body work to keep my body in such a state that it doesn’t kill me.
What led you to alter your strings with alligator clips and drumsticks in addition to using effects pedals?
I just think of them as colors, different ways of altering the sound. I’ve been listening to a lot of electronic music, and electronica has really influenced me in ways of hearing the instrument anew, and not just electronically altering it… But what I try to do is incorporate that into a groove or riffs rather than just making them sound effects. An effects sound or putting the clips in a certain way will inspire a compositional device or a different rhythmic thing.
For a guy who’s usually so stoic onstage, you’re also influenced by comedy?
I’m laughing in the music. I may look stoic, but the music is the joke. It seems so crazy to have some of these elements existing together, like a Berber song with a DJ scratching along. Or some Squarepusher thing happening with a tabla bowl. And it’s just these strange juxtapositions which are the sort of things I find in “Mr. Show” and “The Simpson,” just those things that suddenly twist your heads 180 degrees around and just thrust you into a new way of thinking.