And suddenly, Kid Millions is hard to get a hold of: Often quick to reply to email, if partly because he's been lashed to a desk job for the past 10 years, the longtime Oneida drummer finally quit. But now he's on the loose, getting ready to hit the road this spring with a new iteration of Man Forever, his extraordinary and unique drum-drone project. Coupled with the occasional Oneida gig and sessions for a much-buzzed indie popstress he's not sure he's allowed to mention in print, Millions has been busy at home, too. And he dropped his phone in a toilet, so it's been sporadically dying.
But it's not like he wasn't busy before. Born John Colpitts, but rarely addressed as such, Millions has long been a workingman's bro and a Brooklyn hero. Between all the Man Forever shows, running Oneida's studio and label (Ocropolis and Brah, respectively), and a web of other projects, it was sometimes difficult to see Man Forever as anything but another side project for an overworked musician. Originally launching Man Forever as a drum quartet—four drummers on four tuned drum sets, plus noisy bass—to recreate a Metal Machine Music-inspired, overdubbed-drum album he'd recorded, he stripped it into something far more manageable: two drummers, one snare, snare turned off. Then he tinkered.
First, he faced off against Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Brian Chase across the snare, each drummer playing single stroke rolls. As Millions added and subtracted instruments, his snare partners changed. "You really learn about their technique quickly," Millions says of the intimacy he has shared with more than a dozen drummers over the past year. "If it's not good, you really know it right away. I don't mean that as a critique. [Playing in Man Forever] isn't necessarily a technique you need to be a good drummer, but you see if they hit hard, what kind of sensitivity they have, if they do or don't know how to play long phrases."
In Man Forever's defining piece, known as "Surface Patterns" on the new Man Forever record, released by Thrill Jockey, bass, guitar and organ gradually swell into the mix, each very loud, each cycling slowly through two or three notes. Eventually, the din swallows the monastic, insistent snare rolls in a roar of rippling noise. The crew of regulars swelled, from Chase and Oneida guitarist Showtime to Yo La Tengo bassist James McNew, Sightings' Richard Hoffman and a half-dozen others. The project seemed like a band—an always-shifting band with a clear leader, but a band nonetheless. That evolving cast also made it hard to decode what Millions was doing.
As will happen in every city of Man Forever's 40-plus-date tour, when Millions pulls into Chapel Hill this week, he will meet a new crew of musicians, most of which he likely will have never met before. As the primary English-speaking drum deputy for many of the Boredoms' American tours, he has a good line on how to find drummers in most towns, but that will only get him so far. Ahead of his arrival, hopefully, the musicians will have viewed Being Man Forever, a 12-minute movie introducing Man Forever to its latest indoctrinates, breaking down "Surface Patterns" while offering an entertaining and heady YouTube break whether or not one is playing in the band, or has even ever heard of Kid Millions.
"It's not a jam, though some people think it is," he says with typically bemused sheepishness about the reason for the video's existence. "There was one time the organist was really there to jam. It was not good. I was really upset. But in a way it was my fault because I didn't insist on explaining it in advance. I'm learning every show how to corral people."
While certainly relying on the personalities and chops of musicians contributing, Man Forever isn't a band, a jam, or even a solo project. It's a piece of music, the kind of composition that can be taught to other musicians. It stands in the post-rock canon with pieces such as Rhys Chatham's Guitar Trio, Glenn Branca's works or a half-dozen other avant-classical staples—a clockwork set to be wound and released in an exactly assembled way. This, in turn, makes Kid Millions more than one of the best drummers drumming. It makes him a composer, one whose pieces rarely get performed outside of New York, and whose staging is a rather special occasion.
"It's meant to be a meditation," he says. "James [McNew], I know, really gets deep. I'm really, like, listening and getting a bit uptight about the changes, if somebody's playing too loudly. There's a little more noise in my head than I'd like. Once we start, I'm the first one that's playing, so I can't really stop and do anything about it. I feel a bit, like, oppressive when I want it to look a certain way on stage, all the drums lined up. I feel a little bit weird when I'm like, 'Dude, could you move your bass amp a little to the left?' But [while playing] I'm really trying to focus on evenness."
His body instinctively straightens into drum posture: "Then after a while, I really don't know what I'm doing. I can't even tell."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Kid forever."