Living in Harmony: A Q&A with Duncan Phillips

Join Duncan Phillips, Kate MacLeod, Kat Eggleston, and Erin Inglish this Saturday, February 1st at 8pm for their concert– Singer-Songwriters in the Round.

Click here to learn more and to purchase advance tickets.

As the son of Bruce, “Utah Phillips, Duncan Phillips began traveling on the road with his father in the winter of 2000.  Utah referred to Duncan as his “road manager”, but Duncan jokes that everyone knows his father couldn’t be managed.  Bruce always had the dream of playing on stage together with his son, but as a kid, Duncan could never reconcile that in learning to play the guitar, he would be learning one of the very things  that kept him separated from his father for so many years.  Duncan performed on stage just shortly after his dad’s death in 2008.

Duncan and Kate

Along with Utah’s old road-worn Guild guitar, Duncan inherited the songs and stories of the people and places that his father wrote about  over his forty plus years of wandering the country.  In Duncan’s own words: “Well, even though he may be gone, every time I’m on the stage, he is there with me and this my story, so far…”

What are some of your earliest memories of music?

As far back as I can remember music seemed to always fill our house.  Until my parents separated when I was about 5 years old. Then the music literally stopped.

How has your relationship with your father influenced your music?

I say the music stopped when he left Utah, but it was always rattling around in the back of my mind. The music did start again when I became his road manager in the year 2000. After his death in 2008 what I inherited, along with his old Guild guitar, were the songs and stories of people and places. There’s a lot to a question like this. Some of this is better explained at our shows.

How do you balance your personal life with your life as a songwriter and performer?

For me to be able to tour and travel the road all aspects of my life have to be in harmony.  When I’m home I take care of businesses so when I’m on the road the people and towns get my undivided attention.

Tell us a story from your experiences on the road.

Recently while in Nebraska a young server at the diner commented that she thought the word oxymoron meant Jumbo Shrimp– seems simple.  Apparently in the classroom one day her teacher told her that oxymoron meant Jumbo Shrimp but what she didn’t tell her is what the word oxymoron itself meant. All theses years she thought it was just another word for Jumbo Shrimp.

Later down the road in Louisville we found out that the Southern Baptist Congregation had forbid its members to participate in yoga classes based on on its religious overtones.

I see me trying to explain that in Seattle.  For me the road is a collage of people and stories an I hope my shows reflect that.

Who are you listening to now?  What are some of your current musical and non-musical inspirations?

I’ve logged a lot of miles lately and mostly what I listen to is what other artist trade with me while on the road. It’s always to good to hear what other musicians are doing.

Tell us what’s coming up for you– what are you most excited about?

I am going to be writing a play based  on one my fathers live performances.

Click here to learn more and to purchase advance tickets.

Blending Inspirations: A Q&A with Chris Luquette

Join Chris Luquette with Steve Blanchard and Special Guests for a concert here at Empty Sea at 8pm on Saturday, December 14th.

Click here to learn more and to purchase advance tickets.

Chris LuquetteChris Luquette is a masterful solo performer as well as a founding member of the Seattle band Northern Departure. Chris’ musicianship reflects the multitude of musical influences he turns to for inspiration. His acoustic guitar playing really stands out, but this virtuosic, multi-instrumentalist is equally at home playing mandolin, drums, bass, electric guitar, banjo, and Greek bouzouki!  He will joined by well-known acoustic flatpicker guitarist and singer-songwriter Steve Blanchard in this concert at Empty Sea.

You recently won the 2013 IMBA Momentum Award for Instrumental Performer of the Year– Congratulations!  How does it feel?

Thank you very much. Receiving the award from the IBMA(International Bluegrass Music Association) was an honor. Being recognized by your peers and supporters for doing what you love feels very special. The entire list of nominees for the award was incredible, all terrific performers in their own right and I have lots of respect for them. it was an honor to be included in the field!

How did you start playing music and what were some of your earliest inspirations?

I first got an interested in music around the age of 10 from my Father, who just happened to get some CDs by the Beatles and played them around the house and car. I guess something about it captured my ear and interest, it made me want to play music as well!  In the early years I was inspired by the Beatles and all other kinds of classic rock and roll bands, from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin, CCR to The Allman Brothers Band and everything in between. I was also exposed to jazz music while studying the guitar and have been highly influenced by jazz and blues ever since.

You have studied and played a large variety of musical styles– what are some of your favorite genres to play and listen to?  Are there stories behind how you got interested in all these different musics?

I’ve been influenced from everything from rock, and jazz, to ethnic musics from around the world. I’ve gravitated mostly to Scandinavian and Balkan musics, with an emphasis on Finnish and Greek.  I’d say part of the reason for gravitating to ethnic folk music was from my own family heritage. My Mother took me to folk dances in Seattle when I was a teenager and that, coupled with our own family heritage of Finnish and Swedish, made me very interested in listening to music from those countries. The Folk music from Finland is incredible, they borrow from many great genres and have come up with a heavy blend of sounds that is unlike anything else I’ve heard. Very inspiring.

You also play a multitude of different instruments.  Tell us about all of these different instruments and what you feel most comfortable with and most excited about.

Guitar(Acoustic and Electric) Bass, and Mandolin are my mainstays. Throughout the years I’ve dabbled on Banjo, other Mandolin family instruments, drums, and even messed with a Greek Bouzouki for a spell.  Around the Bluegrass scene, it seems like a whole new generation of players is coming up with new ways to play and approach their instruments, that to me is very inspiring. I’m excited to be learning from aged masters and youngsters at the same time!

Tell us about your time with the band Northern Departure.  What have been some of your favorite experiences with that group?

I just recently revisited the 2 albums we made as Northern Departure, and I was quite pleased with what we did as a band. Especially for being young, and just beginning to expose ourselves to the modern stages of the music.   One experience that stands out was when we came in 2nd place at the Experience Music Project’s under 21 battle of the bands called Sound Off!  It is an incredible program featuring northwest bands of all genres and to be awarded 2nd place in such a heavily talented field was an honor. I hope that program continues to thrives. It gives so much back to the community.  Seattle has incredible young musicians and I am glad they, and us, get to have an outlet such as that.

For this concert, you’ll be sharing the stage with Steve Blanchard.  How did you meet and start to play music together?

I’ve known Steve for I’d guess around 5 years now. I’d see him at most of the festivals I went to in Washington playing with his band Prairie Flyer.  Through the years we’ve had some great jams, great laughs and many wonderful times.  He’s a powerful guitar player with a strong musical mind and a great ability to entertain folks.  This will be our first formal performance with each other and I’m excited to see what it brings out in us.

Tell us about your current musical projects.  What are you most excited about?

At the moment, my current band Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen is working new material up for recording sessions in Nashville in February to make another record.

2013 was a great year for FSDK as it found us traveling coast to coast, and even to France to perform!  Our most recent album On The Edge has been receiving great reviews and we are excited about the follow up.   I am also extremely happy to be performing along side the IBMA’s Banjo player of the year, Mike Munford!  He is a musical hero of mine and a great guy to be around. I learn something new from him every night on stage. Looking forward to picking his brain in 2014!

I’ve also recently launched my own website, in order to promote shows for FSDK and anything solo I might be doing. In addition I have been privately teaching guitar students quite regularly and have been enjoying that. Anyone interested can visit the website for more info.

Looking forward to playing at Empty Sea Studios, Saturday December 14th!

The Language of Music: A Q&A with Tarana

Tarana~World Fusion


Join Tarana for a concert and live webcast here at Empty Sea at 8pm on Saturday, November 2nd.

Click here to learn more and to purchase advance tickets.

Tarana is a world-fusion group performing original and adapted instrumental music that is inspired by many global genres including Indian, Arabic, Eastern European, Western Classical, Flamenco, Latin and American Jazz/Fusion.​ The members of Tarana believe that music can heal the body and alter the consciousness and enjoy creating a diverse sound that can range from subtle and subdued…to intense and profound.

You describe your music as “world fusion.”  What does that mean to you?

Jason Everett:  This is a great question and while it seems pretty straight forward on one hand, I am developing an appreciation for just how complex a question this is, and the many potential answers there are.  To speak in the most simple terms, “world fusion” is a type of music that blends different elements of culturally diverse styles and has been around for many years…some would say forever.

In a more complex view, there are so many different cultures and their musical expressions around the world, that when you start blending them, the  results can really be anything; the combinations are endless.  I mean really…. ALL music is world music.

Music is a language and as such, it evolves and is influenced by other users of the language.  Slang, diction, and dialects are all different expressions of language.  In music, our language is inclusive of rhythm, tone, scales, timbre, dynamics, and emotion.  Some music can be very structured and some can be totally non-structured.  When a musician hears an artist playing something they like, that influences them and can (and often does) color their own musical expression.

So for Tarana, the four of us have heard and appreciate much of the same styles of music.  It is our shared love of these cultural styles that has brought us together. In our case, we share a great appreciation for Classical Indian, Middle Eastern, Latin, Classical, Jazz, and other styles of music.

We also appreciate the similarities in these styles….for example, Jazz and Indian music are very improvisational in nature and require an intimate listening relationship between musicians.  Classical and Middle Eastern music are often very structured and have very specific arrangements.  We embrace all of these elements.

How do you meld together the different styles you incorporate into your music?

JE: It is actually a pretty natural process for us, meaning that we don’t have to force anything.  As I said before, we are influenced by what we like so, speaking for myself, I love Indian music and also love unison melody.  Indian music typically has a singular tonal center over a drone and does not have chordal modulation.  It is also often in odd time signatures.  Much of my compositions are in this vein.  I will create a groove, and then compose a melody over it.  After that, there is often space for improvisation.  This would be a typical jazz format, melody/solo/melody.

Ann and Kenyon have different methods of composition.  Ann has been bringing some really exciting new work to the group that is in a more classical vein, where there is no improvisation and the entire piece is scripted.  Much of Kenyon’s work is melodically driven as well as rhythmically driven.  It really all comes down to what inspiration we are gifted with at the moment we start writing a piece…

You did not mention any compositions from Anil, your tabla player.

JE: Anil has been studying with the legendary tabla master Zakir Hussein and is one of the finest tabla players I have ever seen.  He has been so focused on his studies that I don’t think he has had much time to compose for the group.   However, Anil has an innate ability to listen and phrase with the other musicians and is involved with the creative process by contributing suggestions to help enhance and refine each piece that is presented to the group.

I am curious about your referencing “classical music.” Can you elaborate about that?

JE: Each musician is building from their musical roots.  Ann, Kenyon and I all were raised playing Western classical music, and Anil as well but more of the Indian classical tradition.  There is quite a bit more common ground in these styles than I would have originally thought.


When playing music from cultures and backgrounds that are not always your own, do you feel a responsibility towards that particular culture?  If so, can you speak to that?

JE:  Again, speaking for myself, I have noticed a historic tension that is constant between the traditional and the contemporary in nearly every art form and probably in many older cultures. When I fell in love with Classical Indian music, I was about 19 and realized then that I could never really become a classical Indian musician because that tradition starts at such a young age.  I also realized that as much as I love it, I love other styles as well.  So we as a band are very clear about our being a “Fusion” ensemble.  We respect and honor the traditional cultures that have influenced our music, but do not claim to be traditional musicians. We love many traditions and choose to let those influences flow through us and join together as something new.

Your instrumentation is somewhat atypical.  How did you come together as a band?

JE:  I would not say that our instrumentation is necessarily “atypical” but I would say we have some unique instruments. There have been many groups that have a similar instrumentation (with guitar, tabla, solo instrument, and bass).  This is not a common instrumentation, but not all together uncommon.  Other groups with a similar instrumentation include some of our influences like Shakti with John McGlaughlin, Oregon, Ancient Future, Trilok Gurtu, and Paul Winter.    Our instruments include a contrabass flute which is seven feet long and is played standing up, a Native American triple flute, the glissentar which is a fretless 11-string guitar, my “Om Bass” which is a seven-stringed fretless bass, and my electric sitar.

Ann, Ken and Anil started playing together a few years before I was invited to join them.  We’ve been collaborating together for the last year, in which time we produced a CD and have performed festivals and venues around the northwest.

You speak of music as healing– please describe this more.

JE:  I think the four of us would probably have different answers to this question.  I will say that from my point of view, music and sound are simply vibration….sonic energy.   Quantum physics has proven that all atoms (including the ones that give us form) primarily exist as energy and can change when affected by an outside influence.  Musical vibration is an outside influence that causes other things to vibrate together.  This is called resonance.

Imagine the musicians on stage all playing in time…inside us we are all feeling the beat and the rhythm….we are resonating at the same tempo…we are connected to each other through sound.  Now imagine that you as an audience member are resonating with us…in the same sonic space and with the same rhythmic pulse.  You too are connected with us through sound.  Then let’s say that like someone guiding a meditation, we take ourselves and our listeners on an internal journey  with the music to a place of beauty and inner peace where the trivialities of daily life fade from our consciousness.  That would be a healing experience, would it not?

Sound healing is actually a rapidly growing field and our guitarist, Kenyon has been studying it quite seriously for several years.  In fact, he works at a hospital playing music for people who are ill as part of their therapy, so there are very practical methods of music healing.  Ann has a Fellowship in Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) and studied with her Aunt and Founder of the Bonny Method of GIM, Dr. Helen Bonny. (

My music tends to have tension in it…I find that in life, there is struggle and that is reflected in my music.  The healing moment in my music is when that tension resolves and the struggle is over.

What’s next for Tarana~World Fusion?  Tell us what you’re most excited about!

JE:   We love performing and taking our audiences on musical journeys.  Our goal is to continue composing, recording and performing in venues both in real space and cyber space.  Since our fan base is distributed around the world, we are excited that our online concert through Empty Sea Studios will provide more timely access and allow our fans to share our musical experience.

Join Tarana for a concert and live webcast here at Empty Sea at 8pm on Saturday, November 2nd.

Click here to learn more and to purchase advance tickets.


Ear-opening experiences: A Q&A with Paul Hemmings

Paul HemmingsWith The Paul Hemmings Uketet (pronounced yook-TET), the unassuming four-stringed Hawaiian instrument takes its place front and center, alongside bass and drums, in a contemporary jazz trio that pushes the boundaries of what has often been considered a mere novelty instrument.  Based in New York City, Hemmings draws upon the ukulele’s inherent warmth and beauty to perform a blend of original compositions, jazz standards, and contemporary classics, all the while showcasing the virtues of the diminutive instrument.  From the Hawaiian Islands to the Island of Manhattan, The Paul Hemmings Uketet combines the warm spirit of Aloha with the vibrancy of New York’s world-renowned jazz scene to offer an original twist on the instrumental jazz trio.

You play a wide variety of music.  How have you been exposed to different types of music and what are some of your favorite styles to play?

Well, I was raised by a mother who loves classical music and a father who loves rock ‘n’ roll and the blues, so that provided me with a degree of variety right there.  When I was a teenager and got interested in actually playing music myself, I learned some blues licks from my dad and taught myself just about every Beatles tune that I could get my hands on.  The big awakening for me happened when I went off to college though.  I got a job at a funky little musical instrument shop where I met a group of guys who turned me on to all kinds of music that I had never even dreamed existed.  They listened to everything from Ornette Coleman and Rahsaan Roland Kirk to Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Thomas Mapfumo.  Charlie Parker to John Prine.  Nothing was off limits.  It was such an ear-opening experience for me and it completely changed my outlook on music, and ultimately on life.  I started to realize what people meant when they talk about music being the universal language.  I completely fell in love with jazz and improvised music and realized that’s what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing.  And that’s what it still comes down to…I love to play pretty much any kind of music that incorporates an element of improvisation.

What are your favorite things about the ukelele?  Is there a story behind why you choose to focus your music around this instrument?

My favorite thing about the ukulele, without a doubt, is the timbre of the instrument.  I just love that bright, organic, warm, and focused sound you can get out of a good ukulele, and that has everything to do with why I’ve chosen to focus my music around it recently.  I also really like the fact that the instrument has such a limited range.  Some people look on that as a limitation but I feel like it’s forced me to be more creative in terms of doing more with less, which I think has helped me get closer to the elusive goal of finding my own sound.

You have played at ukelele festivals and jazz clubs around the country– how do the shows differ in these different contexts?

The jazz scene in general takes itself a lot more seriously than the ukulele scene does, that’s for sure.  Ukulele festivals are usually attended by a large number of people who are interested in leaning how to play the instrument for themselves — it is after all “the instrument of the people”, right?  And I really like that about the ukulele festival crowds  — it definitely provides those audiences with a unique perspective.  I’m not sure how many of those same people have a taste for jazz and improvised music in particular though, so there’s not a lot that you can take for granted in terms of familiarity with the music.

In jazz clubs on the other hand, you can usually take it for granted that your audience is pretty well-acquainted with the style and approach to the music so I feel like that allows for a little more room to experiment.  At the same time, that familiarity can often come with its own set of expectations which can sometimes make you feel like you’re playing under a microscope.

I do pretty much the same thing in either context though, so the two kinds of venues don’t really differ all that much from my point of view.  Every crowd is different and every show is different and that’s all part of the magic that happens (or doesn’t!) when you’re dealing with live music.

Who have been some of the most influential musicians that you have encountered?

The great free-jazz saxophonist John Tchicai was a mentor to me at an early stage and was an incredibly influential musician in my life.  I played in some ensembles with him in California when I was in my early 20s and later on, after I moved to New York City, I had the opportunity to collaborate on an album with him, just a few years before he died.  Ray Brown in Santa Cruz, CA, was also an amazing mentor.  Almost everything I know about harmony comes from Ray.  He’s an amazingly talented musician and arranger and has the rare gift of also being an excellent teacher.  Then after I moved to New York I played for a few years with George Reed, one of the last real-deal bebop drummers.  That was an amazing experience and George became a true friend.  He died a couple of years ago too, and I really miss him.  Apart from those three, the most influential musicians I’ve encountered have been on recordings, and their names are far too numerous to list!

Tell us what is coming for you.  What is your next project that you are most excited for?

I’ve got three projects that I’m working on right now that I’m really excited about.  The first is a new album by my working band here in New York, The Paul Hemmings Uketet.  I’ve been working on some new original tunes and some new arrangements and we’ll be going into the studio to record them in the next few months.  The album will be released in the first half of 2014.  I’m also working on a solo ukulele album of free improvisations and soundscapes where I use the uke along with some effects and loops.  It’s a lot more experimental than the music I do with The Uketet and will probably scare some people, but that approach to music has always been near and dear to my heart and it’s nice to have an outlet for it.  I’ve also started working on an instructional book and DVD that will be out next year.

“I love people and their stories…” Q&A with Awna Teixeira

Join Awna Teixeira for a concert at Empty Sea at 8pm on Thursday, September 5thClick here to learn more and to purchase advance tickets.

Portuguese-Canadian multi-instrumentalist Awna Teixeira began her musical career in 2001 performing all over North America and writing songs with various bands before joining Po’Girl, one of Canada’s hardest working international touring acts, in 2005. Over the course of creating five albums and seven years of solid-touring in 15 different countries, on 4 different continents, and playing between 200 and 250 shows a year, Allison Russell and Awna Teixeira have become the core of the highly-esteemed and internationally-recognized band, Po’Girl. Awna, while still working with Po’Girl, is currently embarking on her first solo project.

Awna TexeiraHow many instruments do you play?  Which was your first?

I play around on a lot of instruments. In my house we even have a tuba, trombone and trumpet. Trumpet was the first instrument I picked up really when I was ten. They only had that music class in my inner city school for one year before they cut the funding. So, I didn’t pick up music again until I was 19. I started then with bass guitar. Then guitar. After that it loosely went onto cello, viola, banjo, gutbucket bass, washboard, harmonica, accordion, piano, ukulele and so on. I am self taught and can’t seem to stay very still on any of them. Ha ha. I love them all for what they offer both for feeling and textures.

I write mostly on banjo, guitar and accordion these days. It’s great because if I am feeling uninspired on one I will turn to another.

How did you start playing roots music?

Back in 2001 I used to play with a Gypsy/Roots/punk kind of band called The Derby. We were based out of Victoria BC Canada. That is who I started touring with, kind of cut my teeth with.  We were kind of crazy, and toured all over the country with six people and a baby for months on end…It’s really when I started playing on the streets and getting introduced to roots music. It’s also when I learned to play the washboard and gutbucket bass two instruments that are widely played in Jug Band music. That’s when I really started becoming interested in the history of roots music.  I grew up on classic rock and roll, reggae and old soul, so this world was super new and exciting for me.

I find that all these types of music really tie together and seed from the same melting pots, it’s pretty fascinating where we come from musically!

You describe yourself as Portuguese-Canadian.  How does your Portuguese heritage influence your music?

I am first generation Canadian. My family immigrated from a small Portuguese Island called Madeira when my father was a boy. It’s been a huge influence on my life and my music. I grew up listening to Fado, which is the Portuguese folk music…Roots music….The origin of the name is very hard to trace, but it is a very melancholy type of music filled with longing…I feel like that combined with growing up around a family of immigrants, learning first hand about their hardships has hugely shaped me and my heart. They are very strong passionate people… That type of feeling can very much be heard in many of my compositions.

You recently started to tour and perform as a solo artist after many years with the band Po’ Girl.  What are the major differences that you find in being a solo musician?  What do you like or dislike about it?

Ha! Yes….What a crazy whirlwind it has been. It’s been a hugely transformational time in both my life and music life. I am super grateful for the chance to do it. Being solo is just a whole different ball game. You are in charge of everything, and I think that is taking awhile to get used to. I am so used to working as a team and running everything by other people…It is both freeing and hard at the same time.  I think when you are in the same band for so many years you really become dependent on each other whether you try to or not. In many ways that it great. It can make you think differently than you would just being in your own head. So, it’s been a really big learning process to figure out the world again just on my own two feet. I’m kind of finding myself musically again…I love the chance to really get to do that, though I do miss singing with my family.

The hardest part for me solo is that when things are good, you have no one to share it with. Also when things are hard you are on your own.

What are some of your current musical or non-musical artistic inspirations?

I guess I feel most inspired musically by the people I meet along my travels. There are so many people out there writing and playing music that don’t do it professionally that are amazing. I would never get to hear them or meet them if I wasn’t moving around so much. I love people and their stories as well. There are so many incredible people out there doing things that help others that I find super inspiring.

What is your next project that you are most excited about?

I just finished my first home recording of an EP I will be releasing Oct.9th called Thunderbird. I wrote  and played all the parts and did the artwork as well. That has been a super fun little project. Fun to get to push myself in all sorts of new directions.

I am also excited about the tour I am releasing it on. I will be teaming up with two other excellent Canadian song-writers, Brandy Zdan and Cara Luft for a tour over in Europe and the UK this coming October and November. We will be playing our own short sets and then one longer one all together. We have never worked together before so I am super excited about the musical possibilities. They are both super talented and play multiple instruments and have excellent voices. It will be really fun to branch out in that direction with new folks.

You have been hailed by No Depression as the next ” undisputed Queen of Roots Music.”  What does this mean to you?

Ha ha! Yes, apparently. I haven’t really thought about it. It is insanely flattering, but I am not quite sure of what that means exactly. Has anyone ever actually been given that title?

Join Awna Teixeira for a concert at Empty Sea at 8pm on Thursday, September 5th.  Click here to learn more and to purchase advance tickets.


Introducing our new SSL Console!

After 2.5 years, 35+ albums and nearly 200 shows, it was time to retire the AMEK Angela and install a new SSL AWS900+SE.  Check out this video to watch us perform the changeover and learn a little about the new SSL!


Hooked on Choro: Q&A with Zac Borden of The Brazillionaires

On Saturday, May 11th, The Brazillionaires will appear at Empty Sea Studios for a live concert and webcast.  Click here to learn more and to purchase advance tickets.

Hailing from Portland, OR, the Brazillionaires are a trio with a collective desire to push their abilities through the choro music of Brazil — a dynamic blend of Afro-Brazilian syncopation, jazz harmony and elements of European melody and composition.  The trio throws in a pinch of samba and American old time grooves for good measure.  Learn more about what they do through this interview with band leader Zac Borden.

The BrazillionairesHow did you first learn about the choro music of Brazil?  What drew you to play this genre of music?

I was originally turned on to Brazilian choro from hearing a 2 volume set of recordings by the great composer Jacob Do Bandolim on David Grisman’s Acoustic Disc label.  I owned them on cassette and remember rocking out in my ’76 Volvo station wagon early in college.  But to be honest, I don’t think I was ready to delve into the style back then.  I was big into bluegrass at the time and it didn’t catch.  Although I was actively studying samba in school and loved Brazilian music, the melodies were a bit much for my ability level  at the time.  But these things take time to gestate.  Much later, after teaching, touring and playing many different styles of music, I met and studied with Grisman’s former bandmate Mike Marshall.  He sent me a bunch of sheet music for my birthday one year and I was hooked.  It was all over.  I’m still angry with him about that.  It was like sending me heroin.  (laughter).

You have all played a wide variety of musical genres — have those outside sources influenced what The Brazillionaires do as a band?

Yes for sure.  We all have a wide range of musical tastes.  Peter Fung, our guitarist, started by playing rock in Jersey.  Simon Lucas on percussion has a mastery of many drumming styles and plays with a ton of different bands in PDX.   I think its impossible to escape your influences as a musician.  We take the spirit and feel of this music very seriously and work to get the subtleties.  But you can’t escape your past.  And why would you want to?  I love many styles of music. I think the drive and spirit of bluegrass and American swing comes through.  I think music can really suffer when you try too hard to imitate instead of just being true to yourself.  It drives me a little nuts when people play this stuff like its a static, curated art form.  It’s alive, edgy and always evolving and we like it that way.  The master Brazilian mandolinist Dudu Maia really has encouraged me to just play how I play.  He thinks it’s cool that our American influences come through.  That’s helped a lot to feel the love from some of the masters.  We’ve been blessed to get to hang and play a bunch with those guys.

What has been your experience touring around the world and now living in Portland, Oregon?  How have the places you have traveled and lived influenced your music?

I’ve done a lot of touring overseas with 2 acts you’re having at your venue this month: Casey Neill and Rachel Harrington.  I’ve loved trad. Scottish and Irish music for years.  And of course all those great British songwriters Elvis Costello, Nick Drake, Nick Lowe, Richard Thompson.  Yeah you soak up a lot of great music on tour.

Have you had a chance to spend time in Brazil?

Not yet myself or Simon.  Peter has spent a bunch of time there and studied.  We plan on a long trip down there in Dec/Jan.

Who are you listening to now?  Who are some current musical inspirations?

Oof that would take a while.  I’ve got a huge list of choro heroes including, of course, Dudu Maia, Douglas and Alexandre Lora and Enrique Neto. But also Danillo Brito, Ze Barbeiro, Paulo Moura, Yamandu Costa, Hamilton De Holanda, Alexandre Ribeiro…the list goes on and on.  But I’m big into all kinds of music.  I can’t stay put.  It keeps things interesting.

What is your goal with this group?  What are you excited about?

The goal is to record our first record very soon at Secret Society in Portland then record a follow up in Brasilia, Brasil at Dudu Maia’s place in January/Feb. He’s got a recording studio and we’re looking to have him produce it as well and have lots of special guests. I’ve been offered free classes at the big choro school there as well.  We’re also working on our first west coast and east coast tours in the fall.

“New songs are the fuel for my rockets.” Q&A with Danny Schmidt

This Thursday, Danny Schmidt takes the Empty Sea stage for a concert with a live webcast.  Click here to learn more and to purchase advance tickets.

Named to the Chicago Tribune’s 50 Most Significant Songwriters in the Last 50 Years, Austin, TX-based singer/songwriter Danny Schmidt has been rapidly ascending from underground cult hero to being widely recognized as an artist of generational significance. With lyrical depth drawing comparisons to Leonard Cohen, Townes Van Zandt, and Dave Carter, Danny is considered a preeminent writer, an artist whose earthy poetry manages to somehow conjure magic from the mundane.

Danny SchmidtHow did you first start playing music?

I first started playing music (electric guitar) (loud!) in my room as a teenager as a way to get away from my family, and express a little bit of my teenage angst.  That started my obsession with the guitar.  Eventually as I matured, that obsession found more refined focal points, like the country blues pickers . . . which eventually led to a convergence with my interest in writing.  I discovered the songwriters who hung out with (or idolized) the country blues guys.

Would you describe yourself as a “folk musician?”  How do you define that term?

It depends who’s asking.  If it’s a regular person, then yes, I say I’m a folk singer.  Cause all they really want to know is if I play acoustic guitar and sing  by myself.  If I’m talking to a music aficionado, I’ll usually tell them I’m a “singer/songwriter” . . . just cause it’s a broader term, and more accurate.  I write my own songs, and I sing them.  Beyond that, the songs are really without genre.  I think of songs as pretty loose frameworks, musically, and depending on what sort of instrumental fabric you hang on them, what instruments you choose to add to them, can wind up in almost any genre.

What do you think is the hardest part of this job?  What is an unexpected perk?

The traveling is both the best and worst parts of this job.  I love seeing the world, I love catching up with my far-flung friends, I love meeting new people . . . but I hate not having a steady rhythmic home life.  It’s become more and more obvious to me how much I need a home routine to feel connected to my community and to feel rooted, personally.  And in turn, it’s become clearer and clearer to me how much I need that rootedness to be a productive writer.  So I’ve been actively trying to scale back the touring, and keep a healthier balance in my life.  God, I sound like frickin’ Oprah.

How have the places you have lived influenced your music?

Very much so.  I grew up in Austin which taught me that music is (and should be) ubiquitous and eclectic and collaborative and common.  I lived communally for five years where music was a part of our daily life.  It wasn’t a stage or performance affair, it was daily on the porch.  Then I lived in Charlottesville, VA just as I started getting serious about songwriting, and immediately fell in with a brilliant community of upstart songwriters that to this day remain huge influences on me . . . they’re the voices in my head that help me edit my songs, and judge them when it’s judgement time.

You’ve received high praise from many, many music publications – Sing Out calls you a “force of nature, a blue moon, a hundred-year flood, an avalanche of a singer-songwriter.”  Is that a lot to live up to?  Does it feel strange to be described as a person by reviewers you may never have met?

Yeah, it takes awhile to get used to the idea of being “reviewed”. . . it’s kind of a polite way of saying “being judged” really . . . and that’s not a super comfortable position to find yourself in!  Eventually, though, you just kinda stop paying much attention to any of the reviews, good or bad, cause you have your own internal barometer for whether what you’re doing is any good.  I could argue with any glowing review and tell them all the things that are wrong with the album that they missed.  And I could argue with any bad review and tell them all the brilliant themes they missed!

What are your current musical and non-musical sources of inspiration?

I love podcasts.  I listen to a lot of great talks online while I drive . . . they’re really what gets my brain cranking these days.

What are you most excited about now with your music?

It’s always the writing that makes me excited.  New songs are the fuel for my rockets, for sure.  I’m kind of excited to be shifting back towards complexity rather than simplicity, too.  For awhile there I was trying to simplify the songs, to distill the ideas and make them more accessible.  And I think that was a good process to go through.  I think it helped my writing.  But I’m excited to be shifting back the other way now some . . . embracing the complexity and the the mystery and the code of complicated ideas . . . to allow the listener more process and unfolding.  I don’t know if that’s my intent, per se . . . but that’s the result.  The intent is just simply that I’m enjoying the process of writing songs that are multilayered, and heavily folded and twisted . . . and I’m indulging myself in that.  Hopefully folks will enjoy the new tunes.

Spaciousness and heartbreak: Q&A With Tylan

Tonight’s CD release shows with Girlyman alum Tylan are particularly special for us here at Empty Sea – since June of 2012, Michael, Jordan and the gang worked their butts off alongside Ty to create her solo album debut, One True Thing. After many long hours in the studio, the album is complete and ready to release to the world!  We can’t wait to check it out in person.

Tylan was gracious enough to answer a few questions in advance of tonight’s show.

For maximum effect while you read the Q&A, check out the first single from the disc, “Already Fine” featuring the Indigo Girl’s Amy Ray:

How did you first start playing music?  Why did you decide to focus on the kind of music you’ve played?

Cover art for One True Thing

I started playing guitar when I was 10. My dad is an upright bass player now playing with the Chad Mitchell Trio and Tom Paxton – he taught me my first chords and introduced me to folk music and specifically harmony groups. That led to my time in Girlyman, where our signature was tight, inventive 3-part harmonies. I also learned a lot about songwriting and the importance of lyrics through that mentoring.

10 years together on the road with Girlyman must have left you with a lot of stories.  What’s your favorite?

Oh, there’s too many to name. We laughed our asses off a lot of the time simply because we found ourselves in absurd and absurdly exhausting situations over and over again. Driving to some tiny town in Europe on a road that barely fit our van in the middle of the night to play for a pub with no one there. From that to playing to 7000 people when we opened for Indigo Girls. It was an amazing decade. I feel very lucky to have experienced so much with those guys.

Describe your new album One True Thing and your decision to make a debut solo album:

I’ve written a lot more songs over the years than I was able to fit onto Girlyman albums, and this is a collection of some of my favorites, plus new stuff I wrote over the past year or so. I decided to make a solo album mostly because after so much intense collaboration with one group of people I was really interesting in knowing who I was musically apart from Girlyman. I think what I’ve discovered is that I do have a different voice than the overall band sound. One True Thing is very orchestral and lush and relaxed sounding, I think.  And the songs are really lyric-oriented and metaphorically layered – I spent a lot of money making 12-page booklets for the CDs with all the lyrics! I know no one does that anymore but lyrics are really important to me, I guess. Also, Girlyman’s albums were usually recorded to a click track and Michael and I hardly used the click at all. So right from the beginning there was a different kind of spaciousness.

What are you most excited about with the new album?
I’m excited to perform these songs live and give them a whole new life on the stage. And I’m really excited for people to hear this record. I’m very proud of what Michael and I made – we just laid it all out there. Very raw and exposed, a bunch of heartbreaking metaphors on a bed of lush strings. Apparently that’s who I am apart from Girlyman!

Musical Chemistry: Q&A with Impossible Bird

This Saturday, Impossible Bird will take the stage at Empty Sea.  Click here for more information and to buy advance tickets.

Impossible BirdFormed by Nick Drummond and Tyler Carson, Impossible Bird is a duo that will shake your bones. The genre smashing duo from Seattle has been turning heads up and down the West Coast of North America with their blend of infectious songs and playful live shows.

How do you describe the music you play and how were you first drawn to this music?

Tyler Carson: I’ve been playing the violin for 24 years. I started with classical modified Suzuki lessons when I was five years old and my teacher who was of eastern European descent told me – “Tyler, you are very talented, but you are very lazy!” (I was practicing for ‘only’ 30min per day). You see, she wanted me to practice for at least an hour, 2 by age 8, 3 by age ten… I love it. But she also was very smart and said much to her personal disinclination, that maybe I should try playing ‘fiddle music’. And that was the beginning of a life time pursuit!

When I was 11years old I played in front of 60,000 people (fiddle music) at the Commonwealth games and I am told my feet didn’t touch the ground the whole performance (I tend to be… enthusiastic in my performance). When I was 13, I played as a solo guest artist with the Victoria Symphony half classical and then send half fiddle music. And that has been a blending experience I have always had in my playing which eventually incorporated jazz, rock, country, Celtic, bluegrass… all of these genres I performed in professionally until my recent work with Impossible Bird that was the first time that I brought all of these influences together under one project. I love it!

Nick Drummond: We actually have a pretty hard time describing what we do! Neither of us are quite sure we’ve ever heard anything like it before, as it is simply the alchemy of two players who share a whole lot of musical chemistry. But what we are sure of is how much we enjoy creating it! Fans will often tell us how our sound is way too big for just two players, and how they feel they’ve been taken on a journey by the end of a show. And frankly we agree, because we feel the same way a lot of the time. When we get painted into a corner and forced to describe what our music sounds like we usually say its a cross between Paul Simon, Radiohead, and Dave Matthews. But even that doesn’t quite seem to paint the whole picture.

How did you each first start playing music and how did you meet and start playing together?

Nick: I started out writing songs and playing in a band called The Senate. Tyler came through on tour with The Paperboys and we opened for them, and immediately hit it off. There has always been a spark between us when we play, and we both felt it pretty much immediately. Then my old band broke up, Tyler toured the world, and we reconnected at a great time for both of us. This band has been together for 18 months

Impossible Bird is such a wonderful name.  Where did it come from?

Tyler: Nick’s sock drawer.  Nick you want to take it from here… ? ;)

Nick: Ha, yes. My sock drawer.

Nick, What do you think about when writing music?  What are your goals and what do you want to say with your songs?

Nick: Songs are a fascinating window into who is writing them, I find. Some songwriters leave you with the sense that they feel squeezed from all sides simply by their own existence, and others show you just how deeply one can think about the world and what one experiences in it. And some are just fun. I guess I think of myself as a combination of all three… at least on a good day. I think I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve and so what I write tends to be a reflection of where I’m at as I struggle to be the best version of myself I can. Plus I love women and dancing and babies and the idea that we are better when we come together. If I had to distill that into a single message or idea, I think it would be “love wins.”

Tyler, You play the stroh violin (a violin which uses a metal horn instead of a wooden sound box)  as well the violin or fiddle that most people know.  Could you describe this instrument and tell us why you use it?

Tyler: It is from the late 19th century and designed to be more effective in the recording medium that was the gramophone. It has a more nasal and higher frequency sound that causes it to etch into the wax more deeply. They actually made full orchestras of these instruments – they even had stroh cellos!

When I heard it the first time, I just had a sense that it was important to me. Didn’t know why. 2 weeks later, Nick sent me the first song that we collaborated on – Sand and Stone which is absolutely marvelous. Deeply haunting and personally questioning and I knew why I had found the stroh.

What are you listening to now?  Who are your musical inspirations?

Tyler: Being a musician and keeping late hours by necessity, I was disappointed that I couldn’t fall back asleep at 7:30am. I had a lot of things running around in my head and then I listened to “In Rainbows” (Radiohead).  It gave me all the answers I needed and I was back to sleep.

Tom Yorke is a wonderful lyricist and possibly, no absolutely a more brilliant vocalist. He takes words and changes vowels at the most perfect time so that the word has still been spoken but it also turns it into something completely different and much more “instrumental.” He’s blurring the definition between vocals and instrument which I appreciate very much, from the opposite point of view…

Nick: Right now I’m listening to a lot of Elbow and Radiohead. Pretty standard for me in the winter. :)

What’s next for Impossible Bird?  What are your goals with this group?

Tyler: I’m very much looking forward to getting into studio again this spring and bringing that record to a number of festival performance this summer!

Nick: Next up we are working on some new songs and maybe heading back into the studio before too long. Then it’s off on the road again.

Songwriting, a life pursuit: Q&A with Nick Jaina

Nick will be perform at Empty Sea on Wednesday, January 23rd, with Esme Patterson and Robert Sarazin Blake.  Click here for more information and to purchase advance tickets.

Nick JainaNick Jaina is a musician and writer from Portland, Oregon. He has released several albums on Hush Records while touring North America with his band. He has written several ballets for a group featuring dancers from the New York City Ballet, in addition to writing music for plays and film. His new album Primary Perception will be released on Fluff & Gravy Records this spring.

What does it mean to you to be a musician and songwriter?  How would you describe your musical identity?

Songwriting for me is a life pursuit. It’s a craft that I’m interested in improving as long as I’m still living. I believe in using that craft to also try to improve myself as a person. I think the songwriting and the being a person thing are intertwined and share the same path. I am endlessly interested in how to open myself up more through my writing, challenge myself to do something new, and try to write the best song ever.

What has been your experience in writing music in various different contexts?  How does your process change when working with artists of different backgrounds: in dance, theater, film, etc.?

Recently I’ve been writing music for ballet and film and theater. It’s a very different experience than sitting in a room trying to write a song for myself. It’s nice to have someone come to me asking me to fill a certain role and create music for their project. It makes me feel like a cabinet maker or something, to have someone come to me and say they have a kitchen that’s yea big and they have a specific space and can I make a fine cabinet to fit in it. I like getting into the bricks and mortar of songwriting, of sitting down at the piano with a project that has parameters and a deadline and making it work. I would’ve liked to live in a time where that kind of songwriting was a valued profession, where people worked in buildings creating songs for singers to sing. I mean, people still do that today, but not in the genres that I would have any idea how to write in.

What are you most excited about right now musically?  What are your current goals?

I’m excited about this new album I have coming out called Primary Perception. The title refers to the gut instinct or sincere spontaneous genuine emotions you have in a given moment, versus the calculated thought-out response that comes after. There is this famous study by this scientist in the 60′s who had hooked up some plants to lie detectors to find their stress levels under certain circumstances. He wasn’t getting any responses to his tests and got frustrated and spontaneously thought about burning one of the plants with a match. The plant freaked out and all the sensors went crazy. He tried to recreate the result by consciously thinking about burning the plant, but nothing happened. Basically the only way he could get any response was when he had a true, non-scripted emotion. Which makes sense, when you think about what a plant can actually perceive, it’s not going to be fooled by visual cues or the words someone uses or anything else. If it can respond to anything, it’ll just be able to pick up the “vibe” of a situation, and that can not be faked, it has to be genuine. I took that approach to the recording process, gathering people in the studio who wanted to be there and figuring out what song to play while we were there. Often no one had heard the song before and the four to eight of us would just work out an arrangement right there in the studio, sometimes with three guitarists working at the same time. Almost all the instruments you hear on the songs were done live in the same studio at the same time (not the vocals) and I think it really helped for everyone to be really excited about the song at the moment, and arranging their part while they could simultaneously hear what everyone else was doing.

In the Studio with Mäd Fiddlu

Seattle-based band Mäd Fiddlu plays Swedish traditional music featuring the nyckelharpa, a keyed fiddle with sympathetic strings. They stopped by Empty Sea Studios to continue tracking for their upcoming studio album.

Check out this video to learn more about the band and this unusual instrument!

Concert Review: The Kora Band at Empty Sea

This entire concert is available on demand in HD on Empty Sea Television.

The Kora Band

(left to right) Andrew Oliver, Kane Mathis, Brady Millard-Kish, and Chad McCullough

Friday, October 26th — 6:00 PM

Two hours before showtime, the studio was already a buzz of activity:  staff engineer Jordan Cunningham unwound cables and set up mics while camera operators chatted busily over tripods and readied video equipment.  Meanwhile, The Kora Band had just arrived to prepare for a live concert and webcast from Empty Sea.

After a tour of West Africa with the U.S. State Department’s Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad program, Portland’s Andrew Oliver founded The Kora Band, which blends West African music and jazz.  An accomplished jazz musician who had led many jazz groups around the NW, Andrew was changed by his West African tour:  “I’ve always loved rhythm and specifically the kind of cyclical rhythmic and harmonic patterns that characterize much of West African music’s core.  However, I was not particularly knowledgeable or educated in the specifics of this music before the Rhythm Road trip.

Kane Mathis and Brady Millard-Kish

Kane Mathis (l) and Brady Millard-Kish (r)

When he got back to the United States, Andrew teamed up with Kane Mathis, a well-respected American kora player, to create The Kora Band.  Completing the band are Chad McCullough on trumpet, Brady Millard-Kish on acoustic and electric bass, and Mark DiFlorio on drums and percussion.

The Kora Band has unusual instrumentation for either the United States or West Africa: a classic jazz rhythm section with piano, bass, and drums; a trumpet playing melody lines and solos; and the kora itself.  The 21-string harp is the favored instrument of Mali, The Gambia, and Senegal’s griots – the bard-like musicians who compile and maintain West Africa’s oral history through song.  In The Kora Band, the kora’s repetitive, rolling grooves serve as a launching point for the rest of the ensemble, creating a base for improvisation and interplay.

Mark DiFlorio

Mark DiFlorio plays the calabash

Even the classic jazz instruments in the group are often different than one might expect: Mark DiFlorio plays a modified drum kit that includes a djembe and also a calabash, a gourd drum Andrew describes as “the other half of the kora.”  Resembling a half-sphere, the calabash can be slapped, pounded, and hit to create many different sounds.  Chad McCullough augments his trumpet playing with occasional uses of the pocket trumpet, a comically small version of the instrument which provides a complimentary tone color.

Though the band played many instrumental pieces, a number of tunes featured Kane singing in Gambian Mandinka, one of the official languages of The Gambia. As an American-born musician performing to American audiences, Kane has been asked at times to translate and sing in English.  But he explains that the connection between Mandinka and West Africa’s traditional music allows the audience a greater understanding of the musical tradition than if he sang in English.  Speaking after the show, Kane said that singing in Mandinka allows him to “share the sonic experience of language.”  The specific textures and sounds of Mandinka are linked to the music, augmenting the sound of the kora.

In a constantly shrinking world, The Kora Band believes that the ideas of tradition and change are not contradictory.  “I think it’s mainly a western convention to separate a tradition from its modern encounters,” says Kane. “One way traditions really shine is in the keeping of their vocabularies and transmission of their compelling elements in new environments.”

This entire concert is available on demand in HD on Empty Sea Television.

Tradition, Modernity, and Constant Change: The Kora Band

The Kora Band is playing this Friday at Empty Sea.  Click here for more information and to buy advance tickets.

We’re also streaming this show live in HD on Empty Sea Television.  Click here to learn more and purchase access.

The Kora BandAfter touring West Africa with the US State Department’s Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad, Andrew Oliver was inspired to dive deeper into the relationship between jazz and West African music. His exploration eventually led to the founding of the Kora Band, featuring atypical instrumentation that highlights Kane Mathis on the 21-string Kora, a traditional harp from West Africa.

How did you begin playing music?  What were your initial inspirations and musical leanings?

Kane Mathis: I began with piano in the 2nd grade then moved to guitar in the 5th. I played for 5 years in blues clubs until conservatory and then 20 years of study of Africa and the Middle east.

Andrew Oliver: I started playing when I was about 3 years old on the piano in my parents house.  I was initially a huge classical music snob but in high school I began to discover early jazz and ragtime which then led me over the years into many forms of jazz and improvised music.  In the past 5 years I have also begun to investigate and incorporate elements of various world music traditions, specifically Mandinka music of West Africa and Tango into various projects.

Kane, how did you begin to play the kora?  What is your relationship to Africa and West African culture, and how has it changed in the time that you have been playing the kora?

Kane: I got into Kora because I was listening to a lot of music from South America and was tracing the roots back to sub-Saharan West Africa. Kora does a lot of things I was going for on solo acoustic guitar at the time. There was something about the Mandinka Musical tradition that really grabbed me. I felt as if I could contribute something to it, it made sense to my brain. in 1996 I got the chance to begin making trips to The Gambia to study and I have been going ever since. In 2011 I was recognized as a government sponsored musician by The Republic of The Gambia.

Andrew, what was your relationship to West African music initially and how did that change through your tour with the Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad program?

Andrew: I have always loved rhythm and specifically the kind of cyclical rhythmic / harmonic patterns that characterize much of West African music’s core.  However, I was not particularly knowledgeable or educated in the specifics of this music before the Rhythm Road trip.  I had a few CDs of famous kora players such as Toumani Diabate so I was excited when a kora player (El Hajj Cissokho) showed up at our sound check at this club in Dakar called Just 4 U.  He taught us a traditional song (Kaira, which we still play in the kora band) and we in turn taught him some jazz (a simple blues called Centerpiece).  This was an amazing experience and I was really quite surprised at the compatibility of the two styles and instruments.  When I got home I called up Kane (who I had met just before the trip through a lucky coincidence) and proposed a collaboration and we began the group at that point along with Mark (who was the drummer on the Rhythm Road trip) and Brady (a longtime collaborator of Mark).

How were the rest of you first drawn to West African music?  Did you have experience with it before this group?  How has your relationship with both West African music and jazz changed through playing with The Kora Band?

Brady:  I was initially drawn to music from South Africa (via Paul Simon’s “Graceland”), and Cameroon, (via Les Tete Brules) in high school.  Many years spent playing classical, jazz, R&B, and rock eventually lead me back to world music, several years later.  I had no prior experience playing this music before joining the Kora Band, but did have a great appreciation for it/interest in it.  As I evolve musically/personally, all of my influences meld together and inform my approach to music.

What does it mean to you to be mixing “traditional” West African music with jazz, a style that was born out of African music and is now seen by many people as “art music”?

Kane: It’s a cliché that, “the only constant is change”. It’s a very very good one, one of my favorites actually. I feel like the tradition of Kora and Mandinka music has adapted marvelously and it is almost useless to examine the cultures musical environment without taking into account all of the influences born upon it over the years. Mandinka music and the culture of Africa in general has been a picture of adaptation for its entire history. I think it’s mainly a western convention to separate a tradition from its modern encounters, that is one way traditions really shine, in the keeping of their vocabularies and transmission of their compelling elements in new environments. Especially since there would be no existing tradition if it didn’t adapt in someway, generally . Musically speaking, In this regard, Africa has excelled. The Kora, for example, has a tuning named after an instrument that isn’t even a part of the Mandinka tradition. The vocal style came from aesthetic influences that were not even African at all initially. Many of my Gambian friends speak 5 languages, why? Because the more languages you speak the easier it is to trade with people from diverse regions thereby expanding your market. Those are 3 examples. The answer to this question being that ‘mixing’ kora music with jazz means to me that I am participating in the long tradition of having a conversation with a modern art form while maintaining the integrity of the traditional vocabulary without compromising what makes it compelling, regardless of context. I don’t feel like we’re bringing jazz “back to Africa” or whatever. The aesthetics have evolved separately enough that a lot of consideration has to go into how they merge. I’m not one of those people who feels like it’s, “All right there” with Africa, the blues, and Jazz and all one has to do is hold one next to the other and “voila!” I think that’s not true.

Andrew: I agree wholeheartedly with what Kane said above.  Certainly the status of jazz as a sort of “art music” in America is becoming further cemented every day and I am all for this, especially as it relates to performance, funding, and exposure opportunities for jazz and improvised music.  However, all music is born out of tradition and reflects the culture in which it is based so in that sense even “art music” is in some way “traditional.”  For me it is not a “colonialist” endeavor in any way to mix these traditions – as you noted they have a strong history and the fact that jazz was born out of west African music reflects how well they work together in this contemporary context.  In this day and age, genre boundaries are breaking down rapidly and cross-genre conversation is happening very fluidly all over the world.  Just as jazz was itself originally a mixture of musics from a variety of cultures (African, African-American, French Creole, European, Caribbean, etc), what we are doing is to me a natural extension of that sort of cultural mix updated for the 21st century.  We are not simply slapping the two musical styles together but are genuinely working to deal authentically with elements of both traditions and build a new hybrid style.

How would you describe your musical identity as a group?

Kane: The Kora Band is a multi-cultural ensemble whose musical products are pushing beyond the novelty of ‘the encounter’.

Andrew: The Kora Band draws on elements of jazz and west African traditional and contemporary music to create a new sound reflecting important elements of both musical traditions and the increasingly globalized world of the 21st century.

Who are some of your current inspirations?  Who are you listening to now?

Kane: I am mostly listening to Legowelt, Autechre and a bit of Dutch experimental electronica from around 1950 like Dick Raaijmakers.  As far as African music at the moment I am listening to Guelewar and Karantamba from Senegal/Gambia.

Andrew: I am listening to a lot of contemporary jazz at the moment, Vijay Iyer, Steve Lehman, Neil Cowley, Guillermo Klein.  Also old and new tango music ranging from Carlos Di Sarli and Osvaldo Pugliese from the 40′s and 50′s to contemporary groups.  In the African music realm, Guinean guitar hero Grand Papa Diabate is always on my playlist as well as the Zimbabwean pop group the Bhundu Boys and some more “raw” kora players such as Kausu Kouyate and Sundiolou Cissokho.

What are your hopes for this group?  What are your musical goals?

Kane: In my opinion the band has achieved all of the first round of its goals. I think we are retooling in terms of wanting to play as many shows as possible and tour all the time. For this kind of group there are more savvy and economical ways to get ‘out there’. I personally think it would be great if the band could have maximum fluidity between Jazz and World Music markets while simultaneously contributing to the state of new music in some way.

Andrew: We have recently received a commission from Chamber Music America for a new album-length suite of music.  I am very excited about getting to work writing and rehearsing this music which we will premiere next fall.  I plan to write a suite of tunes based very directly on specific traditional Mandinka tunes but rather than just “covering” those tunes to use elements from them as building blocks for new compositions.  I hope this will allow me to explore what makes the traditional music “tick” and how those elements can continue to create a very unique and individual sound for the group.  I hope that we can craft a style both in my compositions and in the group improvisational aesthetic that sounds fresh and new and contributes as Kane said to the state of new music.

“To play with integrity and joy”: Q&A with Nuala Kennedy

Nuala Kennedy will play at Empty Sea on Thursday, October 18th at 8:00 pm.  Click here for more information and to purchase advance tickets.

Nuala Kennedy is a celebrated traditional Irish musician and internationally acclaimed flute player and singer. Touted as “spellbinding” and “a delight,” by the Irish Times, her live performances over the last few years inspired her return to the studio to record Noble Stranger, a road-tested collection of innovative originals and traditional songs recorded with her touring band. Kennedy uses her traditional music background as a springboard for the new album which offers a 12 song set on which her adventurous instrumentation and progressive instrumentation shine.

Kennedy has recently been calling New York City a home-away-from-home, absorbing and contributing to the City’s growing neo-folk scene. She was raised playing and singing traditional music on the East coast of Ireland – an artistic area steeped in mythology with long historical ties to Scotland.

How were you originally drawn to traditional music?

I picked up a whistle at a young age and liked the sound and there was a piano in our house I used to mess around on. When I was about 7 years old, my parents encouraged me to learn from local teachers. And when I was 12 I joined a local ceili band where I played flute and piano. By that stage I was teaching myself, by listening and copying what I heard. There were several members of the band who were older, and already accomplished musicians. Hearing them play inspired me. We did quite well in competitions and it was a fantastic social outlet, where I looked forward to seeing my friends and much as to playing the music.

What does it mean to you to be a musician doing a mixture of traditional and original work?

Its something I still struggle with at times, in some ways it’s easier to stay within one easily categorized sound. Certainly from a marketing perspective. Traditional music is a broad term, which takes in new compositions as it evolves. And some of my pieces are a little bit more on the more exploratory end of those new compositions. I grew up with a firmly defined idea of what the tradition was. It was a natural part of my life and almost taken for granted as a fully formed existing entity. My interaction with it was one of respect and study within a group dynamic. I don’t recall ever being encouraged to write a tune myself or to feel that would be appropriate. I think it later became very important to me especially during my twenties to follow my own path musically, and to see what is possible for me in the creation of different musical ideas and sounds. Both on a basic level, from my instrument itself, and from producing records to experiment and try different combinations of musicians and instruments. Tune In was especially like that; what immediately springs to mind was combining Flamenco guitar with Hurdy Gurdy on the song The Blooming Bright Star of Belleisle.  But Noble Stranger combines both a live band sound with some Casio keyboards. It’s the band I’ve been touring with at home, and all three of the other musicians in it, also compose new music. So I guess I am in with the right crowd!

How does place influence your music?  Both in terms of your Irish roots and your time spent in New York City?

It’s something which is very important to me. I love Scotland, and living in Edinburgh, it’s a place where you can find quiet and solitude but you can also enjoy the hustle and bustle of city life. And it’s also close to home, where I visit regularly. Scotland has influenced my music a lot in that I was living in Edinburgh in the mid nineties when the folk scene was burgeoning; all my friends were playing music and through forming some bands, I ended up playing full time as well. I’ve spent much of my musical life playing with fiddlers so that has had a huge impact on my own musical style. In recent years I have ben returning more and more often to my native area of Dundalk Co. Louth Ireland, both to see family, but also to work with Oirialla, a band I am in with Gerry (fiddle) O Connor, Martin Quinn on accordion and Gilles le Bigot on guitar. Oirialla is Irish Gaelic for Oriel, an ancient kingdom of Ireland that encompassed our home areas. That music is very much focused on place, on the local area and repertoire. It’s very satisfying for me to play music that is so connected to my own roots as a musician and person.

For some time, I had wanted to spend time in New York to connect more deeply with the musicians there, with whom I had a passing acquaintance over the years, and to live in one of the world’s great cities. I got the chance to spend a year there in 2012, and have been touring a lot in North America since then, venturing to many parts of the States and experiencing many new places. From driving through boiling hot Cleveland Ohio in June, to swimming in lakes in Vermont in September, I have really enjoyed checking out the huge breadth and vast scope of the U.S. It’s a very different place to Europe and interesting to travel through. It’s yet to be seen how these experiences influence my work, but I think they undoubtedly will, everything goes into the pot. Right now, (I just landed in Seattle another place where I’ve never been) I’m still in the thick of a very busy touring phase, and I find it difficult to assimilate and write about past experiences whilst still experiencing a plethora of new ones.

How has your music changed since you started performing?  (Stylistically, philosophically…)

I hope I have grown and improved as a musician. I think about music in a much broader way now than when I first started out. I listen more to what’s going on around me, both musically and in the environment; the atmosphere of a concert, the sounds around me when I am travelling or at home.

What are you listening to now?  Who and what are your inspirations?

I’m verging on an obsession with the American singer songwriter Elvis Perkins at the moment. I love his album Ash Wednesday. I just played at Celtic Colours Festival in Cape Breton where I heard lots of inspiring people perform- Daniel Lapp, Bruce Molsky, John Doyle, Troy MacGillivray, Otis

Thomas, Kathleen MacInnes, Cathy-Ann MacPhee, Wendy MacIsaac, Mary-Jane Lamond, Glenn Graham, Andrea Beaton … the list goes on. I find Cape Breton a very inspiring place to be.

Do you have a particular musical goal or focus in your current tour?

Just to play the music I love with integrity and joy.  There are sad songs of course, heart-breaking traditional love songs and ballads. But also a lot of the music is dance music at its core, and has an inbuilt sense of rhythm and joy. Our show is mix of traditional and also new material I’ve composed, and reflects some other emotions or experiences.

How would you describe your musical identity?  What does it mean to you to be a musician?

It’s a blessing and I feel grateful to be able to pursue my ideas and share them with others. Every concert is a special occasion that will only ever happen once, and I try to be mindful of that. My musical identity is very much linked to my roots in Ireland, but also reflects my own personal experiences and journey through life. I’m excited to be coming out West, this is my first tour here!


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