John Cale says hip-hop is the avant-garde of today.

John Cale says hip-hop is the avant-garde of today. / AFP via Getty Images

With a legendary musical career that spans decades, John Cale is still restlessly creating and collaborating on new music.

Who is he? The Welsh musician, producer and avant-garde royalty was one of the founding members of The Velvet Underground, and had a part in some the most iconic experimental music of the late 20th century.

  • Cale has collaborated with and produced for artists like Nico, The Modern Lovers, The Stooges, Patti Smith, David Byrne and Nick Drake, just to name a few.

Want more on musical legends? Listen to Consider This dive into the life of the late Tony Bennett.

What's he doing now? At the age of 81, Cale is still performing, collaborating and finding inspiration.

  • His most recent Album, Mercy, was released at the start of the year and includes collaborators like Weyes Blood, Sylvan Esso and Animal Collective.

What's he saying?
Cale spoke with All Things Considered host Juana Summers earlier this year about the longevity of his music career.

On why he wanted to work with these specific artists:

Most of the artists that joined me on the tracks, they had their own atmosphere to them. And I didn't try and push them in any direction. I just let them be and really inhale the spirit that they brought to the song. The emotion of the song really was joined by their performance. Weyes Blood has a very deep and emotional voice. She just warms the track. And Animal Collective really has this multi-voice personality. So I laughed a lot when we did Everlasting Days.

I've always enjoyed Sylvan Esso's style of harmonizing. And I was hoping that our paths might cross, but as I was putting the finishing touches on this song, I got a call saying Amelia and Nick were in L.A. and would love to drop by and say hello. And it was then I thought that the perfect time to see if they'd want to guest on the track that I was working on. I guess that's the perfect example of serendipity, but it was a natural fit. And I couldn't be happier with the results.

On being influenced by trap and hip-hop:

I mean, I sort of fell in love with hip-hop. It has so many lively approaches to songwriting. Hip-hop is the avant-garde of today.

They are unconventional approaches to emotions and creativity. They have no respect for solos and for all the other usual trappings that you have in songwriting.

On pushing himself past musical precedents he has set before:

I realized a long time ago that if you start a song with just any kind of melody or rhythm that you have, you don't just stop because you haven't got a solution yet. You're better off working at it and helping it advance its ideas, whatever they are. And your audience is then your friend.

So, what now?

  • Here's Cale on what's next for him: "I have this uncanny kind of idea that if you go and end up in a corner that you feel uncomfortable in, something will happen, and you will come up with a solution. So that's kind of my mantra."
  • Mercy is out now.

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