Got a chance to interview Eric Harland of James Farm, who play Jazz Alley for three nights next week, September 27-29. He a monster drummer among a group of monster players in James Farm, also including saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Aaron Parks and bassist Matt Penman. These guys are all amazing but perhaps most interesting is the democracy, respect and interaction between them. Chatting with Eric was great – he’s got lots to say about jazz and life in general.
Q: Caught you guys last year when you played Seattle. Nice to see you coming back for a 3 night stand this year.
A: Man, it’s gonna be great. We all love Seattle. It’s an eating town… (laughes)
Q: Glad you’ll be able to hang out a little longer and see the city. So, I’m excited to talk to you as the drummer. Seems like there’s a lot of syncopation going on between the players. How do you guys interact with one another rhythmically? The beat is there but no one tends to play on the beat.
A: Yeah, everyone in the band has a fine grained sense of poly rhythms. And each player brings their own influences to the table, so that all the ideas tend to bounce off of each other and we learn from each other as we go.
[note: the recording got all bolloxed up here (damn you Pretty May Call Recorder for Skype) and Eric had a ton more super eloquent things to say about how the band members interact rhythmically and the idea of music as a language – all I can say is go check ‘em out live to hear for yourself]
Q: Sometimes, when I heard you guys last year, I noticed that songs would just spiral off into outer space and then out of nowhere, you’d hear the head or a strain of melody. And it wouldn’t be just one guy, but everyone knew when to coalesce again.
A: Yes, when we play a song with a structure, we have the ability to float off away from that or remain in the structure. But we all make the journey together and then whoever brings the song back, it’s not like there’s someone holding anyone back , like a ball and chain. You have the liberty to freely explore where you want to go. And we’ll go there with you and come back together. That’s the secret.
Q: Every now and then, you bust out into a funk beat or groove. For the most part you guys don’t do that. It was a curve ball in what you expect to hear.
A: Yeah it’s nice. You’ve got to give a little taste of everything. Being a jazz musician, I am definitely influenced by so many different styles of music. If I have the opportunity to display all of those, I’m happy, because that’s me getting a chance to display myself. Which is sometimes a rarity. Sometimes you meet people, it can be hard from them to get to know them, on a personal level, they draw so many different types of conclusions in the moment. Someone might have a sense of humor, but you don’t know it from the first meeting. It takes time to get to know someone.
But in music you can display yourself the way you want. Now sometimes it can take awhile to figure out how you want to express themselves the way they want to. But we are so close in this band, it is natural that anything goes. There is no judgment. And if there was a mistake, nobody is going to be trippin’ about it. It’s all love. It’s cool.
Q: Well, it seems like you guys have a good thing going on and it keeps on going. I wanted to ask you about that. Where’s the James Farm headed?
A: We don’t know, which is what I like about it. And that’s pretty much the way life is – you don’t know what’s going to happen. If you want something to be the real deal, you have to allow it to be open ended. Life isn’t something that you can predict. So you just have to enjoy the moment and be grateful for what that is. In the band, that’s what we are doing. Just enjoying the moment, the ride, the here and now. The up swings, the low swings, whatever may come with it. Fortunately, right now, everything has been going very well. The response has been great.
The only thing is that some people have questions about the name. It kind of baffles me, cause it’s funny, because we didn’t think it would. In the jazz community, there is a tradition where a name is highlighted, like Miles Davis or John Coltrane or Thelonius Monk. But over time, there have been groups that had a band name, like Four Play, Yellow Jackets or The Weather Report. So we figured people would catch on. Because we all have our own individual projects that use our own names. The most important thing about the James Farm is the style of music and it could be something that is known by the name of the band. We are trying to form a band sound for this band, not bringing in the influences of the individual projects. And it is something very beautiful, very unique.
Q: Well, and you guys all write compositions for the band. It seems like a real democratic band if you will.
A: Yeah, which is the best part about it.
Q: One last question: do you always wear the shades?
A: Well, yes and no – I just like the look. You know… fashion…
Q: I had to ask because as I poked around on the web, all the pictures of you featured the shades.
A: Yeah, well, I started wearing the shades because of the lighting on stage. The thing for me is that I am really looking at the musicians, see the body language, the movements, gathering as much information as I can. Sometimes the lighting was so bright I felt like the sun was over my head. So sunglasses were perfect. Then it just became my style. People would be like, “Man those shades look good” so I figured I guess I’d keep ‘em.
The Mommyheads just released Finest Specimans. Got a chance to catch up with Adam.
Artofthemix: What’s going on? How’s New York City?
Adam: The weather is changing.
Artofthemix: Fall is upon us.
Adam: Yeah more root vegetables in my food.
Artofthemix: Well you guys got this record coming out so that’s kind of exciting: Finest Specimens.
Adam: It is cool. Actually wasn’t even our idea, we were sort of ‘brought’ over to Sweden. There’s a group of people there that got into the band in the 90’s and were waiting like 10 years to see us. They just were like, “you need to get back together and come play here and we will set some shows up. We will have interviews ready for you and we will take pictures.” So we did that.
Part of that whole package was the concept hey we will make a greatest hits record. We will find a label, etc. It was nuts. It was sort of their socialist upbringing of getting things done. You know as a community, where everybody puts in to make a project happen. We never experienced that before and it was amazing.
And so then basically now we are reissuing it here [in the states] because it just ends up being kind of a cool record. It’s a good introduction to a lot of people who don’t even know the band here.
Artofthemix: I was wondering who picked the songs. It feels like a mixed tape you would make if you were trying to turn your friend on to the band.
Adam: Well, this guy Burt, he works at a cultural agency there in Sweden. It’s adult education organization that gets funded, I think by the government. I am not totally sure but it’s sort of like a free standing government organization for the arts and they have 4,000 bands that are part of the organization and they can put shows on. They said well come on over and teach some clinics and so we each spoke for about an hour on different subjects and that paid our airfare and lodging to some degree. And so this guy Burt, who always liked us, basically masterminded it. He basically would send me emails saying “if I have my way, this would be the record” and I said “well you know you don’t know one or two of the records as much as I do, let me suggest some stuff” so I would send him my ideas. It just went back and forth until he agreed it was good and the band agreed it was good. So it ended up being like the mixed tape that you want to send somebody to introduce them to the band you know.
Artofthemix: I listened to your stuff back in the day so it was fun for me to listen to it. I haven’t listened to some of those songs for years!
Adam: Me too![laughes]
Artofthemix: The stuff from Acorn was sounding really good, I got to say.
Adam: Well I did my own mastering on this because there were so many songs it would have cost too much. I tried to equal the quality of the last record, which is sort of modern and has a lot of like sound qualities that we couldn’t achieve back in the day. So I just tried to make it even and actually some of the older tracks started to really come alive you know, some of the songs from Acorn especially.
We definitely didn’t go for radio ready Bob Broderick mastering job, we just wanted to even it out. It’s kind of a cool record. Just to see the different years all the way to 2008 and hear it all together. It’s just weird because for like 10 years, or at least 8 years, I didn’t think about the band at all. And now it’s like it’s been the year of Mommyheads. It’s insane!
Artofthemix: I remember when Acorn started making the circles among my buddies. It was like this cult thing like, “hey do you know The Mommyheads? They are amazing!” So it’s really exciting to see this come out. What I am curious to see is if you will pickup new fans?
Adam: It’s a crap shoot, there’s a lot of stuff happening. We are in a commercial right now.
Artofthemix: Really! [And here it is]
Artofthemix: So the Matador 21 birthday party show just happened. All these bands from the 90s. And you guys are back. Is there something in the water, what’s going on?
Adam: Well 10 years is a good break for people to have.
Artofthemix: I hear Babe The Blue Ox is back together.
Adam: Oh totally we played some shows with them, they are awesome. They are still better than ever. All these bands are better than ever in my opinion you know.
I got two opinions about that, one is back in the day you had to play in tour and you had to be really good and so when those bands get together, if they just play their catalog, it’s fun, it’s like a good show. Now bands spend too much time on Twitter or their iPhone, they spend too much time making videos, too much time doing content and they don’t just woodshed. You know so it’s kind of like a weird syrupy pleasure to see these bands get back together that woodsheded and toured for 10 years in the 90’s and had no distraction. Because you are just like “wow their material, it’s different. There’s something about it.” It’s about playing together and it’s not about being cool or being hip or you know, it’s a different vibe those bands have from the 90’s you know.
And they have catalogue, you don’t get bored during the set if a band put out 10 records and they took a break for 8 years, you know there’s going to be 45 minutes set of almost complete sound and music you know – no clunkers.
Artofthemix: So if we get nostalgic can we go back, can you talk a little bit about when you guys recorded Acorn and sort of what was the context, where did Acorn com out of?
Adam: Well New York was full like a hotbed of same music, I mean there was, the downtown scene, it’s like the weirder your work was, the cooler it was. The Knitting Factory was a little place that was turning out crazy music you know, people screeching on horns, trying to be Ornette Colman but they were white! I mean it was like and New York was a different place, it was edgy and tough, there were no Whole Foods in the lower east side.It was just very eclectic, the bills were nuts you know, there was no theme nights, it was pretty insane. And Acorn just came out of sort of like that John Cage meets Pop you know. We wanted to make our own instruments like the original drummer Yon passed away was playing hub caps! There was a shock value.
Parson Red Heads play a sold out show tonight with Avi Buffalo and The Head and The Heart at Neumos. Flotzam has reviewed Parson Red Heads before. Got a chance to ask them a few questions:
How's the NW treating you? Miss LA?
The NW has been really great so far! It has been a really nice change of pace, something I think I needed more than I realized. Slowing life down, simplifying things a little, has been good for all of us. I've been able to really focus on songs and becoming a better musician, I think the same could be said for all of us. On top of that, we've already been able to get together and play shows with some great musicians from Portland / Seattle ... there are a lot of great folks up here, a lot of great players, and it's been fun getting to know new folks and put together new recording projects and show ideas. Definitely hasn't been all vacation - we immediately starting rehearsing and working on new songs, and have already played a sizable string of shows. We're booked pretty solid all through January, so we kind of moved up and put our noses to the grindstone right away.
We definitely miss LA in waves ... I think the people in LA more than the city itself. We miss all our friends from the music community up there, and the venues we love. But we're trying to focus on diving in and building a community of musicians around ourselves that will be great and that we'll learn a lot from. It took a while in LA to find our niche and find the community of people we felt at home with, so we're jumping in head first and really trying to get involved with the scene as much as possible.
Would you rebuke the term hippie if it were applied to you?
Haha - that is a good question. It's tough, because I guess it really depends on what the term hippie means to whoever was applying it to me! I think if anyone really got to know me - or any of the folks in the band - they probably wouldn't label us hippies anymore. But we happen to wear white when we play live, and have a strong vibe of love and community in our music ... and we get along with each other really well, we have a real family-band vibe. We definitely have a feel of a 60's band in a lot of ways. That leads people to saying we're hippies sometimes, and that is fine by me! In short ... I wouldn't reject it, if someone decided for themselves that we are hippies. But I wouldn't ever call us a band of hippies myself. =)
Facebook or MySpace?
You know, I was a staunch supporter of Myspace for a long time ... I really tried to stand by it through thick and thin. But I've had to face facts, and the facts are that Facebook is a better program. Much easier to use, and the fact that EVERYONE uses it is a plus, too. Although I still think that Myspace is better for bands / musicians. Facebook's band pages aren't quite up to snuff, in my opinion.
Microsoft or Apple?
Definitely Apple ... I don't have much to say to support that. But I have an iPad, and it made the last tour we went on a breeze ... didn't get lost once, and always had quick access to e-mails and what not. And it has a great version of Tetris.
SMS or Email?
Email for sure. Texting is fine, but I am terrible at it ... it takes me forever to text a really simple sentence.
Digital or Analog?
I am still on the side of Analog. I can't deny that digital has come a long way - there are ways to make an all Pro Tools recording sound really great, really warm. But there is something about analog that goes beyond the immediate sound. I think just the fact that digital recording makes it so easy to make anyone sound good ... with autotune, with the kind of precise editing and punching-in that can be done ... pretty much any caliber musician, any caliber singer, can be made to sound like a pro in the studio. But when you're recording straight to tape, not only does it have this unbeatable sound (maybe a sound that be closely mimicked, but never topped), but it really requires you to be on top of your game. There isn't any technology to hide behind, or to cover up your mistakes. It is by far the most pure way to record music, and for me the most enjoyable.
Beatles or Stones?
The Beatles, without a doubt. Sam Fowles, the other songwriter and guitar player in the Parsons, was once interviewed and he boldly said the Stones. He has a decent argument for his side, but I can't go with him there. The Beatles changed everything, and no one did more to further pop music than they did - they really expanded the boundaries of what was considered do-able in popular music, especially in the studio. They created brand new sounds. And although the Stones were great at what they did, I wouldn't say they often, if ever, explored uncharted territory in the studio.
20th Century or 21st Century?
At this point, the 20th Century has the upper hand on the 21st Century. Ask me again in 90 years, we'll see if my answer remains the same.
Infected Mushroom (check out crazy Adobe Flash mechano-shrooms on their website!) are part of the rave jamboree that is Freaknight this weekend in Seattle. Got a chance to ask them a few questions:
1. What buzzword term do you feel most aligned with: psybient? psydub? psychedelic trance? something else?
2. How do you balance tension between conforming to a genre and pushing a genre?
Well, you don’t. You just do what you do. The natural evolution of what you do is hopefully a “pushing” of the genre. The only question is whether dance floors will like it and fortunately for us, they have.
3. You've been doing a lot of collaborations lately. Can you talk a little about some of the folks you've worked with and how's that's gone?
We have been really fortunate to work with some of the people who have influenced us the most. Paul Oakenfold, of course, was a big help to us on the last album. He also did a remix for us. We also worked with Jonathan Davis from Korn who did vocals on Smashing the Opponent, as well as Perry Ferrell from Jane’s Addiction, who did the vocals for Killing Time.Besides the album, we have been working with Matisyahu a lot lately. Our remix of his track One Day was number one in Israel. We look forward to many more cool collaborations in the future.
4. How does your classical training influence your compositions?
Well it is clear. Our tracks make reference to a lot of cool scales and melodies ;)
5. Looks like you are on the road a lot --- what do you usually do between shows?
With the family (we both have little babies), and we work in the studio at night! Not too much spare time on our hands.
6. Have you played Seattle before? If so, when and where? And what are you impressions of our city?
Oh yes, many times. We love Seattle – ALWAYS a good party. Besides that, a beautiful city!
7. Facebook or MySpace?
8. Apple or Microsoft?
Depends which one of us you ask ;) We produce music on a PC, but we both like Mac accessories.
9. SMS or email?
They both serve a purpose.
10. Blogs or magazines?
11. Nature or culture?
Not sure what you mean by this, but I’d have to say a little from “column A” and a little from “column B.”
Elf Power plays The Vera Project Wednesday. [You can read a review of their last show in Seattle here.] They are on tour with a new record. It’s got that mesmerizing Elf Power indie rock sound, the melodies familiar yet distinct, the vocals subdued yet strong, the lyrics grounded yet mystical. Got a chance to catch up with Andrew Rieger and chat about the making of their new record – interesting how they combined both studio and home recording. Also chatted about the narrator of the songs, although Andrew didn’t reveal much.
Artofthemix: Hey Andrew how is it going?
Andrew Rieger: Good - how are you?
Artofthemix: Oh good, it’s rainy here. We’ve had this Indian summer in Seattle and it’s still warm out but it’s been raining non-stop.
Andrew Rieger: Yeah that’s not unusual for you guys I guess. [laughs]
Artofthemix: Yeah, the rains are here. Fall is here. Where you at right now?
Andrew Rieger: I am in Charlottesville, Virginia. We are on tour and tonight we are in Charlottesville. Everything is going fine right now. I just stepped out and I am walking down the street talking to you.
Artofthemix: Nice, nice. How’s the weather out in Virginia right now?
Andrew Rieger: It’s beautiful. I am wearing a short sleeve shirt and feels great. It’s a little breezy but it’s not cold, very nice.
Artofthemix: So you guys got a new record out.
Andrew Rieger: Yeah it just came out a couple of weeks ago.
Artofthemix: Tell me more: I would love to hear more about who produced it and kind of how you guys made it, how you went about making it. Was it a long process or short process?
Andrew Rieger: It was a long process. We spend about 8 or 9 months writing and rehearsing and coming up with arrangements in songs. That’s a little longer than we usually take. Sometimes we have written the majority of the songs and acoustic demos and brought them to the band and then we work up arrangements together. But this time I did some of that but also some of the other band, they brought music and I would write vocal melodies and lyrics to their music. Thi was really fun and something different and kind of challenging for me. Then sometimes we would just make up stuff. I would come in with may be five minutes of song and we would work it into a full song and other times we have full song but it didn’t turn out that great. So we would take one part from it and put it into another song. So it was a long process of just pulling through tons of different music and coming up with 12 songs we really liked.
Artofthemix: Well the production is super pretty. There’s some a lot going on some of the tracks, flutes and various over dubs. It’s a rich production.
Andrew Rieger: Yeah we approached the recording differently than we have done in the past. We recorded the basic tracks with Andy LeMaster at Chase Park Transduction, which is a nice professional studio in Athens. Then we took those tracks home and spent a lot of time experimenting and trying different things. Having more time to just experiment, to try indulge any kind of whim we casually felt.
Artofthemix: Oh interesting. You didn’t have the pressure of being on the clock in the studio!
Andrew Rieger: Exactly. We took everything back to the professional studio and mixed and mastered it there. So it’s kind of perfect mix between recording in a professional studio setting and also having the freedom and the time to try all the different things in the home recording setting. So yeah it was cool and definitely a different way of doing things for us.
Artofthemix: On the production front then is that Pro Tools you are using at the home studio or are you analog? How does that all come together?
Andrew Rieger: Well when we were at the professional studio we did everything on tape and then threw it on the computer and then we used Pro Tools at the home studio so it was a mix of analog and digital. The stuff we did at the home studio was all digital recording.
Artofthemix: I have to ask you because I have been listening to your songs for many years now and there is this certain narrator that seems to come up in your songs so often. The I, the first person. I am just curious, who is that? Who is this character, has he or she evolved over the years, can you speak to this narrator.
Andrew Rieger: Well I guess it is just me.
Artofthemix: So it is you then.
Andrew Rieger: I guess it is just me or whatever kind of character I am creating in whatever scenario is in the song. But you know it is pretty much just me I guess. There is no weird serious character or alter ego for fun. I mean I guess I am just singing it all myself and my life. It will be sometimes in a veiled and abstract manner.
Artofthemix: Right well, that’s funny you call it veiled because a lot of the time the songs are about taking away veils and opening up doors and going up stairs that you didn’t know were there and peering into dimensions that you weren’t aware of.
Andrew Rieger: I like to let listener kind of decide what the lyrics are about sometimes and I will try to not make it to straight forward and literal although sometimes I like to try to tell a story as well.
Artofthemix: I always feel like I end up on some sort of journey in your songs. So what did you have for breakfast this morning?
Andrew Rieger: For breakfast this morning, I had an egg and cheese everything bagel with fake bacon at a place called, Cajun’s Peacock, in Greenville, North Carolina. I’m sure that’s fascinating for your listeners but it’s the truth.