By Flotz
24 Sep 2011

Interview With Eric Harland of James Farm

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.

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