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Paul Bailey saw a lot of space between pop art and high art and decided to fill it, rather than just rant about it over fish tacos and soda—although he does a pretty good job at that, too. The jovial, articulate composer/trombonist/bandleader is just as likely to talk about Wes Anderson or Love & Rockets comics as elements of the baroque chamber music his nine-piece ensemble—two violins, cello, vibraphone, synthesizer, electric guitar, bass guitar, clarinet and trombone, augmented by vocalists as necessary—draws on. It's classical instrumentation and architecture, but the amplified guitars are front and center, enough to scare off the furs-and-tiara set. And that's fine for Bailey, who's proud of a distinctly un-academic—though definitely not uninformed—take on classical composition, something between Weezer and Wagner. With many of his musicians coming from Cal State Fullerton, his ensemble is familiar with gigs at local art galleries, churches and other impromptu performance spaces; this month, however, Bailey will debut Retrace Our Steps, a work based on writings by Gertrude Stein, Guy Debord and Jenny Bitner that was commissioned by the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in what Bailey describes as a happy accident.
OC Weekly: So you left Kansas to become a professional musician in California, and you ended up . . . at Disney. How was that?
Paul Bailey: It's Disney. Anything anyone else has said? It's true. I was trained to be a musician, I practiced very hard, and I got there, and I basically had to make farting noises on my trombone and play show tunes. At Disney, you don't have a choice. We played the same 12 songs for four years.
Is that what drove you to become a teacher?
Being a teacher is the only way I can be a composer and a musician and not have my soul taken out of me. Being paid to play trombone or being paid to write music, I have to worry about who's going to pay me next. Now, in a sense, I have no filter. I can write whatever I want. It can be shitty, but at least it's what I want.
So explain why you want to do what you do.
I'm 36. Are people my age supposed to listen to pop music their whole lives? The whole music industry is set up to please a 17-year-old kid. I don't mind listening to that stuff, but am I supposed to live my life through the eyes of a 17-year-old child?
But you told me earlier how much you like Weezer.
I love Weezer. They're one of my favorite bands, but it would be false of me to write pop songs or rock songs. Is rock and pop music the only way you can express yourself in today's culture? If I had drums, we'd be a rock band. Right now, it's very deliberate—I'm not a rock band, although I use rock instruments
So is this something closer to an orchestra?
Fuck the orchestra. Let's burn that puppy down and start over. The orchestra's proper place is the museum. The idea you're getting some cultural experience that's going to make your life better and it's going to expand your mind is total bullshit.
Then how do you reconcile the two forms?
There's the technical aspect where I can say, academically, we're not modernist music. We believe in stuff that has the same chords as Weezer, the Beatles or Radiohead. I'm choosing to deal with music I grew up with and that interests me. But I don't want to make people go through all these things to decide whether they like it or not. In this big piece I wrote, there might be a message, but the actual music takes very little to understand. You don't need to listen to Michael Nyman or Steve Reich or Phillip Glass to listen to my music—although it's based on them. You don't need to have 20 years of musical history in your mind to listen to stuff I write.
The Paul Bailey Ensemble at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Dr., Cerritos, (800) 300-4345; www.cerritoscenter.com. wed., 7:30 p.m. $20. all ages.