As I like much of his work, I was glad he agreed to answer some questions:
How did you first come to be involved in the New York City music scene?
I was born in New York City and I grew up in Hoboken, NJ, so I was always around the scene, but it wasn't until I started going to college at the New School that I started to take myself more seriously, and go to every show and schmooze with every musician.
What do you most appreciate about you as a musician?
An interesting question! I don't know if I appreciate anything about my playing, I'm just trying to always get better. I always try to listen as much as possible, and in an improvised setting, I try to find themes in what everyone else is playing, and create variation based on that. I don't really know if I'm doing anything right, I'm just trying to practice and listen as much as possible.
You are very productive, so many releases in the last years. Do you sometimes have creative blocks?
I don't, I feel that as a composer and improviser, it's hard to have a block. I also haven't had a very long “career” to have blocks in. But anytime I can't compose anything I like, I just play more improvised concerts and then eventually I start writing some music I like again. I just love so many kinds of music, and so many particular musicians that I always want to be doing everything all the time, and I think that helps me keep busy.
Can you please describe how New York music scene is?
I've never lived more than an hour from New York City, and I haven't spent any extended amount of time anywhere else to really weigh in on any other scene, but from what I understand, New York is unique. It has more totally individual amazing musicians per square mile than anywhere else in the world, and for the most part, every one is involved in a lot of projects, and support one another. Any night of the week you can go out and hear some of the highest level music, and it's one of the most inspiring things you could possibly have.
How does New York influence your music, the way you write, create?
New York probably has a strong effect on the scattered nature of my music. The fact that there are so many amazing musicians that I want to play with is probably the reason I write so much and for so many different bands. There's just too many people that I want to make music with in this city, so I have to do a lot of writing, a lot of playing, and a lot of organizing. The rewards are worth it though, and in New York, you can literally play any kind of music with someone who's a master in that particular style, and it's humbling to say the least.
How was Big Eyed Rabbit recording session? Hard times, funny times, challenging times?
It was very easy, and very fun! Ross Martin and Jeff Davis are two of the nicest and most talented musicians I know, and being in a band with those guys is a blast. The recording was pretty easy, we just went into the studio and played about two takes of every tune, and what you hear is what we did.
How are your live presentations?
I try to weave the improvised and written sections as seamlessly as possible, and always try to make the music as tight as possible, while feeling as loose as possible. I don't know any other way to describe it, although every band is different, and every performance is different, so I just try to embrace what's happening in that particular day at that particular time.
What musicians are your medicines?
That changes from time to time. I don't tend to listen to music to get me out of a bad mood, or cheer me up, but there are certainly artists I can listen to anytime and enjoy myself. Black Sabbath, early 70's King Crimson, Jimmy Giuffre, Ornette Coleman, Tim O'Brien, Schoenberg, Merle Haggard, Captain Beefheart, Dexter Gordon, and Black Flag come to mind. Although recently I've been mostly listening to Erik Satie, Messiaen, Debussy, Louie Armstrong, and Webern.
Do you still listen the musicians you were hearing when you got into music?
For the most part, yes, although not all the time. I really was into classic rock when I started playing (I started on electric bass), and I still listen to Cream, Black Sabbath, Frank Zappa, King Crimson, and other stuff. I still love that music.
What are the mainly changes from “The Prisoner” to “Big Eyed Rabbit”?
Both groups actually started around the same time in the Spring of 2012, although they're radically different groups. I formed The Prisoner to play my suite of music based on the 1968 TV show of the same name, which features Ingrid Laubrock, Mat Maneri & Tomas Fujiwara. This group has been described by a few folks as very “european” sounding, which is the exact opposite of Big Eyed Rabbit. Big Eyed Rabbit is a collective formed by Ross Martin, Jeff Davis and myself, originally to perform traditional American folk, bluegrass and old time songs in a free improv environment. Since the group has involved to including orignal music by the three of us, and I really couldn't be happier with both groups.
As an artist, do you think criticism is still relevant? Do you read it?
I read everything that's written about me, because even if I agree or disagree, art is 100% subjective. It's nice to see what anyone thinks about what I'm doing because it's nice to see things from all perspectives. That being said, I am going to continue to make the music I want, and if people don't like one album, they may like another one, or they may not like any. You gotta like what you like!
How do other forms of arts influence your music?
I draw a fair amount of inspiration from other arts, I think it's interesting to try to translate art between mediums. I've written music inspired by and based off books, movies and television, and trying to translate the actions of characters, events, settings and dialogue to an instrumental medium is something I really enjoy trying to do. I find that it also helps create interesting non-conventional structures in music.
What projects are you involved right now?
Well, my main band for the last 3 years has been my trio with Kirk Knuffke and Ziv Ravitz, and we've put out two records, Elevated Vegetation (FMR, 2012) and the Invisible Trio (Fresh Sounds, 2014). We have some more concerts coming up this year, and hopefully we'll do another recording in the winter. I've also written some music for that band plus two additional horns (Michael Attias and Ingrid Laubrock), that I'm very happy with. Also, I've been playing with the indie rock band Arc Iris, and we're recording our 2nd album as well. I also have an improv record with Perry Robinson & Diane Moser coming out this winter. Other than that, I have a bunch of gigs, and a few tours, and I'm just trying to stay busy.
Please, if you want, leave our readers a message.
If you want to see what I'm up to, gigs, records or news, you can check out www.maxjohnsonmusic.com Also, go see more live music! Not necessarily my music, but just any music, people rely on the internet too much for musical enjoyment, and it's really not nearly as good. Go see an orchestra! It's way better than listening on headphones. Also, Schoenberg is the best.
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