Man Forever Is the Andrew W.K. of Percussion
Man Forever is the laid-back, slow-talking Andrew W.K. of the drum kit. If you know the 40-year-old percussionist at all, it's probably as Kid Millions, timekeeper for Brooklyn's People of the North and Oneida, the latter being one of America's greatest experimental-rock bands of the past 15 years. His real name is John Colpitts, font of endless positivity and boss of Brah Records, a tiny outpost in the Secretly Canadian Records empire. One day, Colpitts hopes to meet Justin Vernon.
"Man Forever is me being really mad at drummers," Colpitts says in a phone interview. He claims that Man Forever's recordings—Learned Helplessness in Rats and the 2012 Thrill Jockey debut Pansophical Cataract—are his way of rejecting nerdy drummers' obsession with what he calls "endless black holes of technique. Fred Armisen did that comedy DVD, Complicated Drumming Technique. It's not as funny as it could be, but it's very accurate."
The inspiration for the Man Forever project derives from Colpitts's exposure to the perpetual drone in La Monte Young's Dream House in New York City, minimalist composer Steve Reich's practice of phasing multiple instruments, Fireworks Ensemble's performance of Lou Reed's avant-noise-rock middle finger, Metal Machine Music, and his participation in the Boredoms' 77 Boadrum concert in Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park on 07/07/07—the latter being what he deems "the best musical experience of my life."
Pansophical Cataract consists of two 18-minute tracks, condensed from their 30- and 40-minute live versions. "Surface Patterns" is a relentless, roiling pummel generated by many drummers—including Yeah Yeah Yeah's Brian Chase and Guardian Alien's Greg Fox. The track is occasionally shot through with fighter-plane drones and wildcat snarls; the drumhead reports seem to be churning, as if in a cyclotron. "Ur Eternity" sounds like the intro to the Surfaris' "Wipe Out" going on and on, and then building to a veritable tsunami of tom-toms—an ominous rumble that's eventually augmented by an industrial drone/grind from a bass. Intense and claustrophobic, this composition is like being inside a dryer the size of Neumos with 17,000 high-top sneakers caroming around it. Oddly, though, the overall effect is almost ambient, although a volatile brand of it.
"It's meant to be a meditation," Colpitts says. "As a performer, it's very hard to get to that place, personally, because I have an awareness of the whole thing. I want it to sound a certain way. But for most performers, it's pretty meditative, because they don't give a fuck how it sounds on the big level. I don't mean that negatively; it's just reality.
"I want it to be a static, suspended, tense thing," he continues. "There's tension because it's one thing, and then the feeling of meditation, where you just have to let go. There's nothing to grab onto. The rhythms are so liquid and out of reach. The main emotion is a feeling of surrender in front of something you can't control or comprehend. You just have to let go."
For each city on this tour, Colpitts will enlist local players to help him realize these two massive pieces. In Seattle, veteran hard rockers Kinski and Unnatural Helpers' sticksman Dean Whitmore will accompany Man Forever. Colpitts has very specific instructions for his pickup band.
"The guitar needs to play single notes, sustained, that last seven minutes each. That means they need a freeze pedal or eBow and it has to be a single note. The bass has to do five minutes plus, sustained on a single note. It's impossible to do without tools or knowledge of fucking physics. Then the organ is just a pattern. The drummers, I need to work with them not to accent, play softly and evenly." For some reason, he could not for the life of him find a bassist to adhere to his rules. "It's a simple part, but it's not easy to do."
Man Forever music is overwhelming in a minimalist way—it makes you want to charge headlong into the future and do good, meaningful stuff. "The Man Forever idea was meant to be this positive guy, a persona I created for Oneida a few years ago," Colpitts says. "It was about being positive about humanity. Because everybody thinks there's no hope, no way we can come together, we're going to destroy everything. Man Forever is a guy who believes that human beings can actually solve the problems we've created for ourselves." He chuckles. "Now it feels even more naive than it did six years ago."