Gary Heidt says he has “two poles” between which his music oscillates.
At one pole is country and pop music. At the other pole is experimental music. He counts Ray Charles as an influence. He once staged an opera based on the work of Gertrude Stein. And he is one of the founders of Lovesphere, a long-running musical event that started in 1996, and which he hopes to host annually until it reaches its 67th year.
He is also a veteran of the CBGB stage, a literary agent and a creator of crossword poems.
In a recent interview, Heidt spoke about his various sonic pursuits, about what brought him to Greensboro, and about helping start a religious organization.
How did you get your start as a musician?
I started playing in a band in high school. Susie Ibarra was on drums — she’s become pretty famous in the experimental music world. It was called Devil Donkey. I started off as a singer in the band. They didn’t let me in the choir in high school, but I was a punk rock singer.
In college, I was involved with the radio station, where I learned a lot. After college, I moved to Austin for a year and played for a couple of bands there. Then, I moved to New York and started a band called Mammals of Zod. We played CBGB, the Cooler, Knitting Factory. I did some off-off-Broadway theater.
I also got into doing some performance arts events, like Lovesphere, which is now in its 26th year. Every year on the equinox, we do a performance or series of performances. They’ve been up to six days long.
Later, I had an alt-country band Fist of Kindness, and we staged an Americana opera of Gertrude Stein’s “Tender Buttons.”
In that period, I also wrote three musical theater pieces and three opera librettos.
In 2012, I started the Perceiver of Sound League, which began as a group to study sound. It was organized as a religious organization, a music ministry, in Hudson County, N.J.
How does one register or establish a religious organization?
I was living in Jersey City, so that’s where I had to register it. We came up with some bylaws, had a group of elders, kind of like the general board. And it’s non-dogmatic. It’s more like a think tank.
But, in every religion the use of sound and music is so fundamental. All of our musical traditions come from the sacred traditions. At the same time, you can investigate and do real science with acoustics. And it’s fun to do science. It’s not just for the muckety-mucks in the white coats.
What brought you to Greensboro?
Family. My wife’s family has been living down here for a long time. I stayed in New York for more than 20 years. And it’s fun when you’re a kid. But, it gets old. It’s so freaking expensive. What a grind, just to cough up enough dough for your rent every month.
Who are some of your musical influences?
Right now, I’m writing a five-song EP about Lenny Brown, who was the bass player for (R&B group) The Impressions.
Probably, also, Waylon Jennings, Ray Charles, (jazz guitarist) Sonny Sharrock, and Willie Nelson.
What’s your creative process like?
Nowadays, I work very deliberately. When I was young, I used to get inspired and write songs, and they’d either come out perfect, or they would not. But, now I have all these kinds of systems and processes that I have to work through to get what I need ... If you put in the time, if you have an idea of what you want to do, you just work through it, and then you get something.
Writing music and improvising really complement each other, and I feel everybody should do both. There are these musicians who think they can’t improvise, which is so strange, because children can improvise.
How did Lovesphere come about?
In New York back in the ‘90s, I was in Mammals of Zod with Lipbone Redding, who’s from Washington, N.C. We were always trying to come up with schemes and trying to outdo each other. I was like, “Let’s do a long-duration improvised musical.” And he says, “Oh yeah, let’s do it for 36 hours, and then let’s do it every year for 67 years.” The first one was 36 hours, with a bunch of different musicians in this place called the Museum of Sound Recording. We started off with an anarchist wandering band going through the streets of Brooklyn. People brought sleeping bags, camped out and when they woke up, it would still be going on.
The last couple of years, it has been live on WUAG (UNCG’s campus radio station).
If you could open a show for any artist, who would it be and why?
I have opened for a few who would be on that list. I opened for Lou Reed once. And right here in Greensboro, I opened for the great Eugene Chadbourne. But if I had to think of somebody else, I wouldn’t want to open for a demigod ... What are you going to do, open for Beethoven?
Do you ever sing karaoke or sing in the shower, and, if so, what do you sing?
I have, over the years, really wanted to sing more karaoke. In my day job, I’m a literary agent, and I was at a writer’s conference in Mississippi, and I was doing karaoke with a bunch of pipefitters, and that’s one of the only times I’ve done karaoke.
But one other time was at (Greensboro living art museum) Elsewhere, where they have an open-mic every other Saturday. And I did karaoke there. I did “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean” by Waylon Jennings, and I massacred it. And I used to sing that one live all the time, so I should have done better, but it was bad.
What’s the funniest or weirdest thing that has happened at one of your shows?
One time the Mammals of Zod, we were playing at CBGB, and Ricki Lake and her entourage were throwing cake at us, and half the band was naked. It was completely bonkers.
What’s next for you?
The Sound Research Series with the Perceiver of Sound at Elsewhere. We’re going to talk about mantra, about the music of the spheres, stuff like that, then we’re going to have group vocal work, large group improvisation to work out the concepts. We’re going to investigate the scientific and spiritual properties of sound as a group in the series.
We have a panel of experts, like Son Pham from the Thousand Buddha Temple and Laurent Estoppey, who’s a Swiss saxophonist. There’s going to be a little bit of talking at the beginning, where we’re going to give some very succinct but powerful concepts about whatever the subject is that month. Then we’ll do some work with it, vocally, sonically. It’s going to be scientific research/discussion group/book club.
— As told to Robert C. Lopez, email@example.com