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NewCityNet Mr. Mustelid

By Dave Chamberlain

JULY 31, 2000:  There are two characters who go by the name Weasel in the Chicago area: Ben Weasel, lead figure in Screeching Weasel, a punkrocklite band, and Weasel Walter, Ben's polar opposite.

Walter is the man-about-town sporting hair horns (or antennae), who has spent the last decade as the primary force inside the Flying Luttenbachers, a no-wave/noise band that--in their earlier days--created an extreme fusion of free jazz and death metal.

Though the Luttenbachers' roster never remains static (for example, Hal Russell and his NRG Ensemble protege Ken Vandermark both played in the Luttenbachers; the present incarnation includes Fred Lonberg-Holm), Walter has always been there, bludgeoning his drums at an inhuman pace. "Basically," he says, "I'm the biggest jerk. I have these high-falutin' objectives for what I'm trying to do, and I've just had a lot of different people. It's constantly changing, and the music is constantly changing too."

The Flying Luttenbachers are not for the faint of heart. Nor are they for music consumers who prefer hummable, easily definable, non-challenging music. From the band's early records in the nineties ("Destroy All Music," "Revenge of the Flying Luttenbachers") to last year's release ("The Truth Is a Fucking Lie") to a trio of forthcoming records, Walter's objectives have been anything but mainstream.

While free-jazz takes much more effort to appreciate than the average music consumer wants to spend, it was Walter's introduction to black metal and death metal that rocketed the Luttenbachers into a niche even further underground. "The person who turned me on to death metal in 1993, ironically," says Walter, "was Kevin Drumm. He's known primarily for this extremely abstract music. He played me this album, 'Legion' by Deicide. It's sort of a math-rock record from hell. It was the one where I was like 'This is alien music, and this is what I want to hear.'"

But to marry death metal and free-form jazz, even in the most open-minded of musical circles, was a tough sell. "In the mid-nineties," he recalls, "when I was more openly opinionated and burning bridges, I was real big on this idea that maybe I was educating people to the fact that death metal and free jazz were of the same stripe. Or maybe they were at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but where facism and socialism kind of meet in the middle; there's the same energy. You have total formlessness on one side, and total form on the other, and they're both superhuman in stamina... " He trails off. "You know, I'm not so big on that anymore. At this point, I'd rather let the music do the talking and keep my mouth shut."

And Walter more than lets the music do the talking. He's in (and has been in) an uncountable number of bands, including most recently Hatewave, 7000 Dying Rats, Cock ESP, Strawberry, Vanilla, Adam and the Antz, Lake of Dracula and To Live and Shave in L.A. 2, each carrying its own separate flag and not necessarily meeting the extreme level of the Luttenbachers. In the next six months, he has eight records being released.

Some of Walter's projects are metal bands, some are straight pop bands with twisted intentions; Adam and the Antz was a direct tribute band that covered the originals by the band of the same name. "A bunch of us decided we were going to have a tribute band to Adam and the Ants which followed the chronology exactly twenty years to the date. We recorded the first three 'Peel Sessions,' and released them on the correct dates, twenty years to the day. We would play dates on the same days they did if they happened on the weekends. We would actually wear the same clothes they did on those dates, because we had the documentation. It was sick. But people did NOT get it."

Despite his love for aggressive, abrasive musical forms, Walter the person is incredibly easy going, washing over his insane persona with a good sense of humor and a powerful work ethic ("I have a work ethic that's pretty severe" he offers.) But his ideas about music--and what he wants to do--are exceedingly direct. "I'm interested in creating an abstract music that is harmonic, melodic and rhythmic in ways people haven't conceived of or executed.

"I was joking a few yeas ago that I wanted to make the 'Nevermind' of free jazz, where it would take elements of free jazz and make it accessible on a ground floor level, so that some of the intellectual or egotistical precepts of it would sort of be stripped away." He stops. Pauses. "I haven't done that."

When the Luttenbachers play this Thursday at the Empty Bottle, wisdom says not to expect anything, instead just to let the music flow. Walter and Co. have moved away from the death metal elements, entering an arena of tightly composed, even more abstract music.

"We really have rehearsed and conceived the music that we're playing right now, aesthetically. It's not just us whacking off on stage, instead we're trying to do something specific. It's not just four dudes doing a free improvised music session, it's a cohesive group that's been together for two years.

"The Luttenbachers are more uncommercial now than they ever were."

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