21ST CENTURY SCHIZOID MAN: Q&A With King Crimson Lead Singer & Guitarist Jakko Jakszyk



Jamie_Knerr_SunglassesBY JAMIE KNERR PROG-ROCK CORRESPONDENT Prog-rock lodestar King Crimson has made smashing musical boundaries their stock-in-trade since its inception in 1968. Nearly every adjective and superlative has been directed their way in the 49-odd years since they first burst onto the scene, ranging from the fawning to the not-altogether-flattering. They’ve been labeled everything from “pompous”, “bombastic” and “overly-intellectual”, to “brilliant”, “complex”, “challenging”, “futuristic” and “pure genius.” On one point there is little disagreement: From one project to the next throughout the years the band’s transformation has repeatedly defied convention or even definition. Under the leadership of acclaimed virtuoso guitarist and composer Robert Fripp, change has been one of the relatively few constants in the band’s narrative.

The list of King Crimson’s member musicians is long and illustrious, including 21 amazing players in a variety of line-up configurations. Stylistically the band has moved from the pastoral, soothing and thoughtful to the jarring, blunt and heavy, and back again–and all points in between–with seeming ease. Their recorded output and live performances over the last five decades have earned them rightful permanent residence at the very pinnacle of progressive rock. Ever-nomadic, King Crimson has taken on yet another form as of late, currently on display with their Radical Action World Tour. These days they perform as an eight-piece, including three (!) drummers. In advance of their performances at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia on November 2nd and 3rd, we spoke with lead singer and guitarist Jakko Jakszyk [pictured below, second from left] about the current tour and all things Crimson. Here’s some of what he had to say:

PHAWKER: Who were your most important influences as a young and aspiring musician/ singer?

JAKKO JAKSZYK: As a young kid I was always drawn to English singers who sang in an English king_crimson_nowaccent. Anthony Newley and Matt Monroe, initially. But then the likes of Greg Lake, Peter Gabriel, Robert Wyatt and Richard Sinclair when I was older. As for guitar, it was Robert Fripp. That’s why I wanted to play guitar.

PHAWKER: Can you describe the path that lead to your current role as guitarist and singer for King Crimson?

JAKKO JAKSZYK: I guess I began as a fan. Saw the band in ’71 and was amazed, intrigued and smitten. I got to know [King Crimson co-founder and lyricist] Pete Sinfield in the ’80’s, he invited me to the launch of the ‘Epitaph’ box set. This in turn lead to the formation of 21st Century Schizoid Band. Everyone in the band apart from me (ironically enough) had been in Crimson. I sang and played Robert’s guitar parts. Robert called me after a week or two of rehearsals — I’d never spoken to him before. He asked how rehearsals were going. I told him they had been the most unpleasant couple of weeks I’d ever spent in the music industry. He was very sympathetic, and we’ve kind of been friends since then. I began mixing Thrak with Robert for 5.1 surround sound and he asked me to record with him. That turned into an album called ‘A Scarcity Of Miracles’. And this kind of lead up to the reformation of Crimson in 2013.

PHAWKER: How does one prepare for some of the more unique and extreme musical challenges presented by King Crimson material?

JAKKO JAKSZYK: Practice!!!!!

PHAWKER: Can you describe the rehearsal process of the band in preparation for touring?

JAKKO JAKSZYK: Gavin [Harrison] and I usually create demos of the tracks we plan to add to the set, whether this is classic repertoire or new tunes. This enables the other musicians to learn and rehearse prior to the full band rehearsals. I often spend time with Robert going through parts and KING CRIMSONrearranging. The three drummers rehearse for a week, or as a duo, on their own, too. There’s a great deal of rehearsal in this band.

PHAWKER: What are your favorite aspects of touring with Crimson?

JAKKO JAKSZYK: We all get on. We travel in comfort. We mix up the material night by night. This was a childhood dream made flesh! What’s not to like about that?

PHAWKER: Do you have a most beloved era of King Crimson material?

JAKKO JAKSZYK: Well, I like it all, but I have a particular soft spot for the Lizard/Islands era…

PHAWKER: Are there unique challenges presented by playing in the larger KC band (three drummers, etc)?

JAKKO JAKSZYK: Some of the pieces become like a jigsaw puzzle. You have to concentrate because if anyone makes a mistake you can’t just jump back on the bus. This isn’t 12 bar blues.

PHAWKER: What do you see on the near horizon for King Crimson, beyond this current tour?

JAKKO JAKSZYK: More touring, more writing, more making music in general. It feels like we’ve hit a special spot, so let’s keep going while the vibes and muse exist.