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New Kid in the Crimson King's Court —
The Jakko Jakszyk Interview

Jakko Jakszyk is one of those working musicians who seems to have spent most of his career under the radar of most listeners, but his resume includes a who's-who of English pop, rock, and progressive rock. Perhaps his most high profile work has been with the 21st Century Schizoid Band, playing mostly classic King Crimson music from the 70s, but Robert Fripp tapped him for the 2014 reformation of Crimson itself. I was happy to catch Jakko in a brief period in between rehearsals for the upcoming US Crimson tour this fall.

by Jeff Melton, Published 2014-09-07

Jakko JakszykFor you, what were the pros and cons of the being in the 21st Century Schizoid Band?

The pros? I would say just playing that music with the guys partly responsible for it in the first place. The cons would be the politics. The initial rehearsals were four of the most unpleasant weeks of my life as a musician. Things changed immeasurably when the late Ian Wallace joined. Then it became fun! No, there was no way that we could have continued as a going concern. What I, and Mel, would have wanted to play was a very different concept to how some of the others saw it. It was never going to happen.

How did you get the news that Crimson was a go and you were in it?

Robert called me and told me he was reforming King Crimson. Did I want to be lead singer and guitarist? I had to think about it. It took about three seconds. He told me that had I said no, he wouldn't have done it at all. He said this to all the other members too.

How do you consider your role in the new Crimson to differ from that of Adrian Belew’s? You are not necessarily a replacement...

I genuinely do not feel like a replacement for Adrian. In the same way as I'm sure Adrian didn't feel he was a replacement for John Wetton. This is a very different band. I don't feel like a front man, but a band member who sings.

King Crimson, 2014 editionWhat’s it like for you to play in the back line with drums up front? Is it kind of like throwing the gauntlet down, challenging the tuned instruments to take on the percussion-based wall? How would you describe it? Having Gavin there in it is kind of blessing, wouldn’t you say?

I had my doubts about how the concept would work, and those doubts were completely unfounded. It works in a way I wouldn't have thought possible and the difficulties I imagined just didn't happen. No, it doesn't feel like a challenge. It really does feel like a band, whether playing parts or improvising. Everyone feels like part of the whole. I can't comment on what we are or are not playing, but I will say this: that Robert and I have completely re-addressed parts; we re-voiced them and re-looked at the parts as they had, on occasion, been lost and played with a familiarity (and we know what that can breed!).

Gavin is two things to me: he's one of my oldest pals but also one of my favorite drummers in the whole world. He has really worked so hard to make three drummers work by re-imagining parts into an extraordinary music jigsaw. He knows the music the inside out and everyone defers to him. My admiration for him is boundless, just don't tell him!

How rewarding is it for you to play the 70s back catalog with a modern kick?

It’s absolutely amazing, but at times challenging and scary. I grew up with this music — I saw Crimson when I was 13 in1971. Now here I am, in the band with both Robert and Mel from that evening. Quite frankly it's amazing, like some teenage dream made flesh.

What is scariest element in the new band for you?

Scariest? Well there's a couple if moments where I play Robert's original parts as he now plays in a different tuning, which makes it hard, if not impossible, for him. There are a couple of moments where I'm exposed and on my own. There is always a sense of perspective!

Dizrhythmia - Dizrhythmia coverLet's switch gears to your other work. Can you clarify why there has been no follow-up to the incredible Dizrhythmia album? Are there outtakes from those recordings?

We've been working on a follow up to the first Dizrythmia album for years. It's finally finished, we just have to mix it. Not sure when we'll do that, hopefully later this year after the Crimson tour. Hopefully to release in the spring of 2015.

Oh! That is very good news. Glad to hear it!

How long have you been friends with Gavin? When did it dawn on you that he was going to be a monster session man? Did you and Gavin ever actually imagine yourselves in King Crimson? What did you think about the first time he got the nod and had to work up the 80s material?

In the early 80s a pal of mine mentioned this amazing local drummer. He was a fair bit younger than me. So a teenager I guess. He had loads of technique. I booked him for a session and made him play time. The next session I made him play just a snare and bass drum with a delay. I think he hated me by then. In the third session he played on a song I'd written called "Drowning Not Waving," and I let him do what he wanted. It absolutely blew me away. Right then and there I realized he had the ability to be just about the best drummer in the world if he chose to be. I reckon I was proved right. He is always my first drummer of choice. Unlike me, a Crimson devotee since I was a kid, Crimson meant nothing to Gav. Robert Fripp, following Ian Wallace's memorial (where I sang “Islands” accompanied by Mel Collins) invited me to his house for lunch. I got the impression that day that he was sounding me and Gavin out for a future King Crimson. Indeed, I called Gavin on my way home to tell him just that. Sure enough Robert asked him to join the 2008 line up. So I wasn't remotely surprised when it happened. He didn't ask me, though I was very pleased for Gavin as I thought he was the perfect fit for the group.

Are you still in contact or friends with Mark King from Level 42? Is there any unreleased music with Mark that you would like to see the light of day?

I like Mark and think he's a very talented man. I saw him for lunch at Easter on the Isle of Wight where he lives. I was never really involved creatively as much as I would have liked during my time in Level 42. While there are a couple if things we did that I don't think we've released, I'm not sure they're of much interest.

Jakko M. Jakszyk - The Bruised Romantic Glee Club coverAre you planning a follow-up to The Bruised Romantic Glee Club album?

TBRGC was such an epic piece of work it's hard to know how I might follow it up. There are a few things I'm involved with or committed to beyond Crimson, so whatever happens it won't be for while, I wouldn't think.

What kind of challenges did you face when remixing Thrak? How would you compare the results to other remixes by Steven Wilson?

Thrak was a challenge but in a (certain) way. If ever there was an album designed for 5.1, it's this record. I was able to spread all players around and within the room. The stereo mix sounded pretty squashed and crammed together by comparison. I was a big fan if the album when it came out — it sounded like a step forward for Crimson. As for Steve, he does what he does and I do what I do. It's not a competition. We're pals and live very near each other. He's forever recommending me when he's unable to do something, which is great of him. In return, I've been recording and arranging backing vocals for him, as I did on Raven.

Please tell me about the 5.1 SRS mixing working you’ve currently been doing.

I did a remix of ELP's Brain Salad Surgery which came out earlier this year to rather good reviews, and I've just finished remixing Trilogy in stereo and 5.1, to be released this autumn; I also mixed a live version of Thick as a Brick for a DVD which comes out in a couple of weeks. And I mixed Ian Anderson's new album which came out in April — I'm doing more when I get back from tour.

Neil's Heavy Concept Album coverPlease describe your ongoing friendship with Dave Stewart. Must seem likes eons ago when you and he formed a band in the 80s and worked on Neil’s Heavy Concept Album. Is there any unreleased music that you feel may be worth to see the light of day?

I have known Dave Stewart since about 1977. I met him backstage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. I was a huge fan of Hatfields and National Health. He was rather kind and encouraging, and he came to see my band, 64 Spoons, at the Marquee with Bill Bruford. He asked me to sing on his version of “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,” although I was eventually replaced by Colin Blunstone. He then asked me to be in his band Rapid Eye Movement with Pip Pyle, with whom I toured and recorded. We've been pals ever since. I've played on lots of his records and he produced me too, so it's been an ongoing musical relationship. He's a brilliant musician. There is some unrealized stuff we've been working on and even some new things that I had hoped might be released by now, but soon I hope.

Very cool news as well!

Did you do the write up on your Wikipedia page or did you commission Dave Stewart to do it?

Ha! No I didn't write it and neither did Dave. I think most of the work was done by UK journalist who likes what I do, and has been added to by others. I'm amazed how detailed it is and how fairly accurate it is too.

Van der Graaf Generator - Pawn Hearts coverPlease tell me about working with Dave Jackson from Van der Graaf Generator. Those singles listed on the Wikipedia page look kind of cool. I take it you’re a Hamill fan as well?

When I was a kid one of my favorite albums was Pawn Hearts. When I got my first record deal I asked the company if they could track down Dave Jackson, and I asked him to play on my stuff. We became friends and I saw a lot of him and his family. His daughter, Dorie, was about two or three when I first met them. She sang recently on my Radio 3 piece about Groucho Marx and T.S. Eliot. And yes, I was a Hammill fan.

What albums from your back catalog would benefit from a remix or SRS 5.1?

I'm not interested in remixing any of my stuff apart from Bruised Romantic.

Jakko - Are My Ears on Wrong? coverWhat is the story behind the cover artwork for your album Are My Ears on Wrong?

It's an extraordinary picture of my father after he had botched surgery in his ear for skin cancer.

On the Kingdom of Dust EP, you worked with Steve Jansen, Mick Karn, and Richard Barbieri. Was working with three fourths of Japan fun for you?

I thought Tin Drum was just about the most original album of the 80s. The way Steve and Mick reinvented the concept of the rhythm section. I jumped at the opportunity to work with them. They turned out to be great blokes too, and I remember that time with great affection and laughter.

Was working with Peter Blegvad a good chemistry for you? What was the situation with The Lodge? Was it a one off or a band that just didn’t take off?

Peter Blegvad is something of a genius as far as I'm concerned. He is the most well read, intelligent and truly hysterical human being that has been my pleasure to know and work with. His lyrics are frequently astounding, and lyrics are a much maligned and underrated skill. The Lodge was initially a follow up to John (Greaves) and Peter’s Kew Rhone, one of my favorite albums. It ended up being a band based in New York. So I headed out there for the summer of '87, as I wasn't going to miss this. I really enjoyed it. We finished the record in England and were about it tour with the Lounge Lizards, but I think Peter wasn't a fan of the more 'rock' nature of the sound, which was doubtless my fault, so it ended after just the second gig at the ICA in London.

Henry Cow - Legend coverI've read that Legend is your favorite Henry Cow album which is your second favorite and what did you think about Desperate Straights? If you could do a 5.1 SRS sound mix from Henry Cow master tapes which one would you like to take a crack at?

Unrest. I'm not that fond of Desperate Straights. I would love to remix Legend.

Have you met Fred Frith and considered a project? Did you see the band live in the day and what kind of impression did it leave on you?

I met Fred along with the other members when I was 15. I haven't met him as an adult. I saw Henry Cow about 12 times when I was a teenager. Indeed the band started to say hi to me from the stage as I turned up to so many shows, this young kid on his own! At one show about 10 miles from where I lived the band van pulled up when they saw me walking. I had missed the last bus home and had no idea how I was going to get back. They offered to drop me home. They went to eat first and bought me my first ever Indian meal. Then they drove me home to my parents’ house. I invited then in for tea, and they did indeed come in. I'm 15 and have my then current favorite band in the world in my living room!

And here is a bit of video of Jakko demonstrating some acoustic guitar skills.

Filed under: Interviews

Related artist(s): Robert Fripp, Peter Hammill, Jakko Jakszyk, King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator, Peter Blegvad, Henry Cow

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