A Conversation with José James
Mike Ragogna: José James, tell us a little something about yourself.
José James: I'm a man that's unique to the world. That's kind of the star I was born under--on the cusp of Capricorn and Aquarius. My mother is Irish-American and my father is Afro-Panamanian, so it's kind of been the story of my life to be a bridge between different cultures and different styles, and musically, that's between jazz and R&B.
MR: You just recently celebrated a birthday. What kind of evaluation of your career, or maybe even your life, did you have on your birthday?
JJ: I felt pretty content, you know? I just turned 35. I released my fourth album, and it's getting an amazing response worldwide. I think I just got to the point where I really trust myself as an artist, which is always a good feeling. It was a really good birthday.
MR: There are some people you've been compared to, like Gil Scott-Heron, D'Angelo and Donny Hathaway. How do you feel about those kind of comparisons to you and your music?
JJ: It's funny because I almost wish people would compare me to female artists. I think comparisons are very on the surface. If I sing, like, "Park Bench People," and there's kind of a social undertone, people will say I sound like Gil Scott-Heron. But for me, the more insightful comparison would be a Roberta Flack or Nina Simone--people who really mix different genres of music. At the same time, it's a great honor to be compared to those legends.
MR: I especially can see that comparison with Roberta Flack. It's that "slow burn" meets gospel kind of thing that you share.
JJ: Exactly. I'm a big fan.
MR: Let's talk about your new album, No Beginning No End.
JJ: It took a long time, first of all. That really shaped it because I had the whole time to write it, think about it and record. It was a solid two years of writing, working and recording, which, for me, was a long time. The approach was trying to write without genre and trying not to censor what was coming out. I think a lot of jazz-trained musicians do that. If something a little more simple comes through, we say, "Oh no, that's not advanced enough." This is the first time I really just wrote things down and took it all without prejudice, and it's really interesting what songs came through. I also collaborated with a lot of people because I wanted a more global perspective. I worked with Hindi Zahra in Paris, Pino Palladino in London, and I just tried to make a more cohesive, global statement. I was also just kind of enjoying being a singer as well. I didn't write two songs on the album. Emily King, a great singer/songwriter in New York, wrote those--"Come To My Door" and "Heaven On The Ground." I loved those songs and said, "Yeah, I really want to sing that song. There are a lot of different facets of my strengths on this album--me as a vocalist, me as a producer and me as a bandleader and composer.
MR: What is it like when you collaborate with Emily King?
JJ: She's a kindred spirit. She's coming more from the singer/songwriter, pop-rock stuff, but she's really soulful. I really wanted to build off of the kinds of albums we've been referencing--Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway--things in the late '60s early '70s that combine a lot of different styles. To me, she's like a modern day Carole King. She writes really beautiful melodies that can be interpreted by a lot of different people and it's still soulful, so she was kind of a no-brainer. I also wanted some female writers and energy to come help. I've been working with a lot of guys since I started, so it was like a nice balance.
MR: Speaking of balance, you had Pino Palladino producing with you. What was that like in the studio, when you were getting together to map or chart stuff out, or even when you were out to dinner after a session? What was your relationship like?
JJ: Pino, you know, he's the world's best bass player, and possibly the world's most complete bass player. It's really such an honor to work with an artist on his level. You just think about a handful of artists that he's worked with and it's pretty stunning--D'Angelo, John Mayer, Herbie Hancock--it's pretty crazy. He's very focused, he's very relaxed, and he gets the job done. There's not a lot of messing around, but it's not ever stressful. For example, he was working with D'Angelo in the evening and tracking with us during the day, and it was very easy. He would just show up with his coffee, have a little breakfast, and then knock out some takes. Then he'd go work with D'Angelo from 5:00 pm to three in the morning; he did that four days in a row. His work ethic is so insane, and I think any new artist or young artist should know that the people who are in it the longest, and are now the most respected, still work the hardest.
MR: You had a lot of other amazing talent on this album, but this seems like "your" album regardless. And to that point, it seems like the one on which you most clearly identify who José James is musically. Would you say that's fair?
JJ: That's totally right. This is the first time that there was actually no label involved, so I just got to do what I wanted to do. I think when you're a young artist and you're trying to get signed, that's the whole focus. You want to get into mainstream, you want to make music, and it's really exciting, but I think you're also more open to compromise. That's not necessarily bad, but I was definitely at the point where I didn't want to have four-hour meetings with A&R trying to show them that my music was important. It was really refreshing to have the opportunity to do what I wanted. I think a lot of times we think of music as being different from other art forms. You would never ask a sculptor or painter, "Go paint this because you'll get paid more," you know what I mean? Some of that kind of does happen, obviously, but it's a different thing. So, this kind of reminded me that music is art. Music is something that, in its best sense, should be removed from a commercial setting, and that's what happened. Thankfully, I had the resources to make it happen, and the time. I think it's all really worked out for the best.
MR: To me, this album also feels like it's R&B meets genre benders like Ray Charles.
JJ: To me, I traced the whole evolution of R&B from Nat King Cole. Nat King Cole influenced Ray Charles deeply, and Ray Charles, of course, influenced everybody else--Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye--they all looked up to him. I don't even like calling this album an R&B album or a jazz album. I think there are a lot of different styles of music in it, and I'm just glad people like it.
MR: Maybe you could use the word "soul" without the traditional meaning of "soul" being applied to it, although that's in there as well.
JJ: Yeah, that absolutely works.
MR: Tell me about "Birds Of Space."
JJ: I wrote that one by myself, but the way that it kind of happened came out of conversations with Leon Ware, and my fascination with Marvin Gaye's I Want You, which is my favorite album of all time. I just wanted that kind of feeling. I'm really fascinated with that kind of jazz harmony together with a funky R&B feel. Marvin's a sensitive singer. He's not pushing, he's kind of drawing you in, and that's been a big influence. It was cool to write the song and also to record it because it actually started out as a rehearsal with me and Nir Felder on guitar, a drummer and keys.
MR: Talking with you now, it seems like the title No Beginning No End is appropriate. This album really is like a reset button for you.
JJ: Absolutely. I think this sort of introduces me, especially in the US, in the right way. People get confused--I'm doing a standards album, and then I'm working Flying Lotus--I don't get confused because to me it's just great music. I do now see that people get confused, and I kind of understand a little more the dilemma of people like John Coltrane. He changed at one point from week to week. You kind of do have to slow down, consolidate everything, and put it together in a cohesive way, and that's what this album is.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
JJ: Try everything. Try a lot of different things and see what you like. I think someone like Miles Davis really found his strengths. He couldn't play that high and he couldn't play that fast, so he stopped trying to do that. I think the frustration you can get into as a young artist is when you realize your limitations, but you want to accomplish that rather than seeing that you don't have to do everything. Just focus on your strengths.
MR: So, if jazz music was this beautiful woman sitting across from you at a table, what would you say to her?
JJ: Uh...thank you? [laughs]
MR: [laughs] Any thing else you want to share?
JJ: I'm really thankful to make music and share it with people around the world. It's great to finally have my first solo album out in the US as well. It's a fantastic feeling.
MR: José, thanks sir for the chat, I appreciate it, all the best.
JJ: Thank you so much, man. It was great talking to you.
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney
A Conversation With Otis Taylor
Mike Ragogna: My World Is Gone is your latest album, and the title was inspired by one of the other musicians on the project. Can you go into the story behind that?
Otis Taylor: Basically, Mato Nanji and Chuck Campbell were doing the Hendrix tour in Denver. I was backstage talking to them and Chuck was complaining about things, and then Mato said, "My world is gone." That's when my head snapped back--that's a pretty heavy comment. Later, I said to him, "Why don't you write about it?" He said, "I can't write. People think I'm a protestor." He didn't feel comfortable. I said, "I can write about it, s**t..." I had already started an album and had four songs done, so I just sat down and started writing these other songs about these issues. There was one song I had written a long time ago, "Lost My Horse."
MR: When you write, it seems like you're creating more than music, you're also creating commentary.
OT: I'm storytelling. I'm not telling you what to think, I'm just telling a story. I don't think I said anything that wasn't true. I did get something wrong where I said Colonel Nichols instead of Captain Nichols, so I got a couple of technical things wrong, but besides that, it's true.
MR: How did you identify with this subject matter as you were writing about it? You obviously connected with it on a deep level, but what was the thing that made you need to write about it?
OT: In my younger life, I made my money selling Native American art--old blankets and jewelry--that's how I made my living when I was very young. So, I've sort of always been around that sort of culture. Not their culture, but the culture of their art, which is a lot different than their culture. Buying and selling their art is a lot different than hanging out at their reservation or being a Native, you know?
MR: Did hanging around Mato Nanji and making this album educate you even further about what was going on with Native American issues?
OT: I think a couple of things I learned from Mato. I learned about who Mato is. He's a very quiet person. If you ask him a question, he will answer it completely, but then he may not say anything for half an hour. He has a great sense of humor. He'll laugh at a joke, but then again, he might sit there for twenty or thirty minutes and not say a word. It's a different culture, you know? I had to win his trust and I hope I've won it. Everything was vetted through him. He was sent the songs before it came out. I didn't vet it with the whole Native American nation, but I vetted it with him because he's playing on the record.
MR: What was his reaction in the end?
OT: He was always cool because I was always very sensitive towards it. We were talking about historic photos for the album and I said, "I bet you want no photos of Custer," and he said, "No, I don't." He had a bottom line, but I was always really sensitive, so in the end we just agreed on things.
MR: What was the recording process like?
OT: No problems. I don't do an album if I can't record with somebody. I had jammed with him when we were really young, so we already had music history. So, I wasn't worried about that. Playing with him was the easy part--a cake walk.
MR: Can you tell us more about what happened at that Jimi Hendrix tribute concert, where Mato said those words, "My world is gone."
OT: Chuck Campbell was there, and he had played on a couple of my records. So I was talking with him about coming to my music festival. I put on a festival called the Trance Blues Festival, and that's where they get hundreds of people sometimes playing in the same room. That takes place in Boulder, Colorado, and Mato's been there twice.
MR: What was Mato's reaction when he heard the album?
OT: He liked it. It was cool. It's not a long process to like it. it's a lot of fun. You can't get a lot of words out of him sometimes, but if it's negative, he'll say something, believe me.
MR: We talked about how you're a storyteller with your albums, be it My World Is Gone, or your last album, Contraband, about American slaves during The Civil War. I'm curious about what drives you to a topic that you take your theme from?
OT: It's really simple. Number one, I guess I just don't care if I make money. Number two, I'm looking for interesting stories. Number three, I'm black, so I'm a little more familiar with the black experience than I am with the white experience. It's nothing complex--I'm just not deep. (laughs) Dylan had a lot of lyrics--I don't have a lot of lyrics--I'm like the anti-Dylan.
MR: On the other hand, what you say with brevity is a lot larger than what many others might say with thousand dollar words.
OT: Well, you tell the story, and then you help the people imagine the story. They have to imagine children starving, or they have to imagine a massacre, you know what I mean? You don't go into the details of the massacre, you just say there was a massacre and then people can go in their minds for the detail. So that's how I write. I give people the room to imagine what they want to imagine. I don't tell them what to think, I'm just reporting a story. "My World Is Gone"...is that a political comment, or is that just the truth? A writer uses words, but I use words and music to tell a story. A filmmaker uses words, music and film to tell a story.
MR: At this point in your life, what is your observation of your musical adventures?
OT: I'm just trying to stay above water, you know? [laughs] I'm a not a rock star--I'm too old to be a rock star--so, what am I going to be?
MR: On the other hand, the quality of your music and writing has led to movie and television uses, and that's not the story with most people.
OT: I hope it gets to be the story even more. [laughs]
MR: And best of luck with that. Otis, your style of blues is very different. It incorporates more instruments, and it takes more left turns than most blues.
OT: Well, I'm trying to be an artist. I'm not a blues interpreter, I'm a blues artist, and there's a difference. In a classical orchestra, you have interpreters. They interpret how you play Bach. Then, you have a conductor and you have a composer, right? I consider myself more of a composer, not an interpreter. I'm an artist, and I'm searching for all these different things. I know who I am...I'm an African-American, I'm a black man, and I'm not worried about my roots. I wake up in the morning, I look at my hands and I go, "Ooh, another negro in the room." I'm not going to forget who I am, you know what I'm saying? It's not possible until I go blind or something, and then I'll rub my head and go, "Hmm, kinky hair." I have this theory that sort of freaks out the blues world. I go, "What if the greatest blues musician hasn't been born yet?" There's still depression in the ghetto and it's worse than ever--kids killing kids. Do people think that it's gotten less depressing or that there is less blues in the ghetto than there was in the 1900s?
MR: In the same way, gangsta rap, to me, is really folk music.
OT: It is folk music. Folk music is a music of the people, that's what folk music is, and classical music is music of the upper class.
MR: In addition to being folk music, I was going to say it can also be considered as being the blues.
OT: See, that's the whole thing about blues. I don't have a lot of chord changes in a lot of my songs, and I get a lot of shit. You know, John Lee Hooker didn't have a lot of chord changes sometimes, and rap music and hip-hop doesn't have a lot of chord changes, so that's more like trance music.
MR: I've never heard it put like that.
OT: I get a lot of shit for not having a lot of chord changes, believe me. They wanted me to play twelve bar blues, and that wasn't going to happen. In thirteen albums, I've only done one twelve bar blues song.
MR: That's part of why I was saying earlier that your blues is not a traditional blues.
OT: To me, it's traditional because it's the way I come about it. Blues is a thing that comes from Africa, and it's a reply. That's the attitude of blues--BB King sings a line, and then he plays a line--that's the blues. That's what I think the blues is.
MR: What brought you to the blues?
OT: I don't know. I discovered it when I was a little kid. I was playing with my mother's ukulele and broke a string. So I walked into this folk music store that had music and instruments--it was the '60s--and it became my third place. I just went there every day after school. The teachers taught me for free between classes because I didn't have any money. I saved up and I bought a banjo.
MR: I love how you discovered the banjo. Can you go into that?
OT: Well, thank God for NPR. Nobody told me. I'm not a learned person. I don't read a lot, so I'm not the learned, deep, intellectual person people like to think I am. I'm not stupid. My wife calls me a low-grade genius--low octane. I'm not even like a half-a-genius.
MR: But there are those who think you're a genius regardless.
OT: That's fine. I get to be low-octane.
MR: [laughs] Otis, you're married to Carol Bjork.
OT: I married Carol Bjork, but she's Carol Taylor now.
MR: And you have two daughters, Cassie and Jae?
MR: And it's Cassie that has been on a lot of your releases, right?
OT: Yeah, but she's not on this one. We cut her off when she was twenty-four. She's got a new album coming out with Yellow Dog Records. She just produced and wrote it herself, just like I did.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
OT: Well, if you don't give up, you might find out something, but if you give up, you'll never find out. Does that make any sense? It's also serendipitous. So, you have to have your preparation ready for your luck. Who's to say who is good or bad? It's all subjective. All the people who are good think they're good, and all the people who are bad think they're good, so I don't know. I'm mean this sincerely. So, basically, you have to believe in yourself and not give up. That's all you can do, if that's what you want to do. If you want to be Jesus, you're going to get crucified.
MR: That's a wonderful line.
OT: I think I made that up, I can't remember.
MR: Will you be going on tour?
OT: Yeah, The Blues Cruise was a tour, believe me.
MR: Right you just came of the cruise. How was it?
OT: Well, we have a kick-ass band. I don't want to get cocky, but that's why we got invited again; the band that we had was really amazing. I remember as a little kid I saw an interview of The Kinks, and they said "We're the best band in the world." I thought, "That's really arrogant." Our band is pretty amazing, but I don't like to say that arrogantly. I've had fifteen years of putting together good bands, but this band is the best I've ever had, and people are responding to it. It's the same people who played on my album except Ron Miles isn't in my band, and Brian Juan--the guy who plays organ--he's in medical school. He's so good I just bring him into the studio.
MR: Though this album is about to come out, do you already have an eye on the next project?
OT: I drive the record company crazy because they say, "You never give the last album a chance to do what it'll do." I say, "I'm almost sixty-five and I have a finite time." In my family, we've had a lot of medical problems, and I've had some major operations--you know, we don't know when we're going to die. This is my legacy, so why should I wait to make a record? When I have enough material and I'm in the mood, I make a record. I don't make records, like I told you, to sell millions, I just make them when I can put them together. If you search through my records, you'll find that they're all different in a funny way. It's really hard to be the same, but different, and it gets harder every album. I have a lot of friends go, "Oh, that's your best record." Then I'll do another one and they go, "Oh, this is your best record.' Then I do another one and they say, "No, this is your best record." It's hard to paint that painting.
MT: Do you feel like My World Is Gone is your best album?
OT: I'm really proud of it. Different albums are good for different reasons. I had an album called Below The Fold, and I thought I put together a sound that people had never heard, but it wasn't that successful, you know? They're all different for different reasons. This one is different historically. The banjo record was very historical. I'm really proud of this record because Contraband was considered a work of art by some people, and people didn't really expect me to do one as good or better. Some people say it's as good or better, and the response of people who know my work is that they're pretty impressed.
MR: Well, it really is a one-two punch to have an album like this following Contraband.
OT: I did a thing called Pentatonic Wars And Love Songs. It was supposed to be about love songs, but I'm so twisted that it was about love songs; they're pretty dark. Eighty percent of the songs you listen to are love songs, so it's like people don't need any more love songs because there are a ton of them. So I tried to go in a little different direction. My live concerts are very high energy. They're very psychedelic, very trance like; they're not like the records. People say, "Why don't you do a live album?" I say, "When I'm dead, they can do my live albums." I'm a songwriter, and Otis Taylor is going to play Otis Taylor songs as Otis Taylor. I don't see a reason to do a live album. I think a lot of people do a live album because they don't have any songs. That's how I feel. I have enough live takes that somebody can make a live album someday.
MR: Hopefully, you won't have to worry about that for a very long time. Otis, thank you for the chat, have a great release and future.
OT: Thank you, Mike.
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney
A Conversation with Erin Boheme
Mike Ragogna: Erin, "What A Life," huh?
Erin Boheme: You know, it's definitely interesting. I'll give it that much.
MR: Tell me about all the things that have been happening to you lately.
EB: It's been an interesting road, but we're just trying to make the best of it, and that's what I'm trying to do with What A Life. I'm kind of letting everyone know that you're not alone. We all get our hearts broken, we all cry, and we're all excited. That's kind of the excitement for me.
MR: It sucks when you get into a relationship that seems perfect and then, BAM.
EB: The thing of it is--and this is sometimes a great attribute and sometimes it's not so great--that I'm an absolute romantic, and I really do believe that everything happens for a reason. So even when things that you think are so wonderful fall apart, it's only happening because better things are starting to fall together.
MR: I like how you say that. I guess sometimes, we should just cross our fingers.
EB: That's what I did.
MR: You have that theme running through the album, and there are a couple of songs like "I Missed You Today" that so nail it. Obviously, that came after the break up, right?
EB: You know what's funny--and I'm going to be real and break it down for you for a second--is that I've had a series of incredible relationships, but I've never been the girlfriend or had a boyfriend. I've just never found someone that I really wanted to attach myself to like that, and I'm very blessed now and have an incredible guy in my life. This was after one of those relationships where it was all going well, but then life got in the way. It just didn't end up working out, and I was reflecting on these great times that we had--and we did--but it ultimately didn't end up being the situation. So, I took it, I learned from it, and I was grateful for it, and I got a nice little song out of it, I think.
MR: I also find it interesting that you have your cover of Coldplay's "In My Place" leading right into "In My Shoes." And it seems that there are a couple of ways to interpret "In My Place" in this context.
EB: Actually, my mom and I have just been talking about it. I've been working on the record for six years, and she's been living with it for six years. She and her friends were familiar with the original Coldplay interpretation, but the way that we interpreted is was that it's a woman seeing a gentleman who is not quite done with another relationship--he's in the process of moving on. This is my plea, saying, "How long do I have to wait for you to be ready?" In the first chorus, it's "how long do I have to wait for you?" Then the second chorus is "how long do YOU have to wait." So, that was kind of how I looked at it. Michael Bublé was such an integral part, as the producer. We kind of put our heads together because we're both huge fans of Coldplay, and particularly this song. We kind of wanted to do justice to the song, but give it a little different treatment, particularly from a woman's perspective.
MR: Tell me about your relationship with Michael as producer, like how did you guys get to work together, and what was the dynamic like in the studio?
EB: Well, Michael and I have actually been friends for about nine years now. I just admired his work, and we had a mutual friend in Mike Melvoin. Michael had worked with Melvoin on his first album. Also, Mike Melvoin, who has since passed, was from my hometown, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. When I first came to LA, I started working with Melvoin and he said, "You've got to meet Michael Bublé. He going to be a big star. He's going to do nice big things." So Michael Bublé and I met after one of his shows one evening, and we just hit it off. One night, Michael Buble was in LA and he called and said, "Hey, let's meet for dinner. I'd love to catch up on your career." This was a little bit after my first album was released, so he and I were catching up, and I told him that I was looking for someone to produce my next project, and he said, "Well, I'd like to produce your next project." I was taken a little bit aback--even though he's my friend, he's still Michael Bublé, come on. It ended up working out. I contacted my label and let them know that he was interested in producing this project, and they got in touch with his people, and the thing ended up happening. It was great. It took us a couple years to get done, but it was worth it because Michael's career was just blooming at the time and he was touring, so I was blessed with time to occupy. You know, when we began this project, I was nineteen, and now I'm twenty-six when it's coming out, so there was a lot of life in those years. I was going from being a girl to a woman, and finding who I am as an artist. So, I would do a lot of writing in those years, and we would get to the studio, add song after song, and for me, journal entry after journal entry. It really became this great book of my journey so far. It was great how Michael helped me narrate the journey throughout, and now here we are and it's coming out.
MR: The album ends with "I'd Love To Be Your Last." In it, you're wishing that for not only for the other person, but for yourself.
EB: Yeah, that's totally true. As human beings--man, woman, gay, straight, black, white, whatever--the greatest thing is that we can all relate to the human condition. We all hurt, we all feel love, and we all go through these cycles. Not only as a songwriter and singer, but also as a listener, that to me is what makes an album so wonderful and makes me gravitate toward it. We can all relate. You can still put on a Cole Porter song, regardless of which decade you're in because we've all been through it. That, to me, is what makes it so exciting to be a songwriter--to be able to share that with each other.
MR: If you were to tell somebody that they must listen to just one song on this album, what is that song and why?
EB: I would say "What A Life." I would say that because it's a dream for me--again, the dream of a hopeless romantic. I love the idea of finding someone and realizing that you want to spend every single day together. It's not saying that every single day is going to be perfect, but it's going to be wonderful because regardless of whether it's good or bad, you're going to be doing it together. Finding the person that you want to do that with, I think, is the most spectacular thing that you can have. Careers come and go, money comes and goes, but if you have that person to do it all with, that's the most amazing thing in the world. That's what I'm trying to say in "What A Life."
MR: Have you been influenced by other artists?
EB: Yeah, absolutely, though not necessarily in very clear ways. I'm influenced by the story people are telling. I like Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and Carole King because these woman tell stories that are so incredible. In the writing process and in the recording process, that's what is so exciting, because I could feel a sense of connection with them. I was very blessed to grow up with parents who have, in my opinion, exquisite taste in music. My dad raised me on Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Dean Martin, and then blues singers like Aretha Franklin, Muddy Waters, and all these different people. Then my mom got me into Al Green and Earth, Wind & Fire, so I clearly was very influenced by all that stuff because that's where I started. That said, I'm a twenty-six year old woman in '13 who listened to Alicia Keyes and Coldplay. I try to reflect and do justice to all these people, no matter what genre I'm in. Just tell the story. Getting to work with Bublé's touring band, who are incredible and made this record with me, some of his stuff ended up in there for as beautifully as Michael interprets a song, he's a great songwriter too. So, it all kind of came together.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
EB: Be true to yourself. We live in a world and a time that can be so complicated, and it can tear you in a million directions. But the most beautiful part of you is that you're the only one. You are the only "you" there is ever going to be. So, just be grateful for it, appreciate it, and celebrate it.
MR: You spoke earlier about Mike Melvoin. What did you think about Wendy and Lisa's music?
EB: I love Wendy and Lisa's music. When I first started working with Mike, I was sixteen, and he was so proud of them and would play me their music with Prince. They're great, alternative, witty, and they're soulful in their own way. I think they're wonderful.
MR: I'm a big fan of Mike's, so I'd like to take this moment to ask you if there were something you could say to Mike Melvoin, what would that be?
EB: Thank you. I mean, he had such belief in a kid from Oshkosh, and I think it helped that he was also a kid from Oshkosh. Thank you for taking a chance on me. We would sit in his studio for hours making demos. He's the one who brought me to Concord Records. I'm just overwhelmed with gratitude towards his kindness. He did it not to advance himself in any way, but he did it because he loved music. I'm so grateful for his love of music because it touched me and made me want to be better. He lived an incredible life, and we should all be so blessed. It was cut short, but he had so much life in him for years that if we should be so lucky to have that, then we would be very fortunate. I'm very grateful to have had the honor to get to know Mike.
MR: What would you tell Michael Bublé?
EB: I'd say, "We did it, Bud!" We have had quite a ride with getting this whole thing done. There have been high highs, some low lows, and we've laughed about it and cried about it, but we did it. I couldn't be more proud or thrilled to have had him as my partner.
MR: Erin, why do I love "Do I Do" so much?
EB: [laughs] I don't know. Thank you for loving it. It's a fun song, and sometimes, you just want to be silly and fun and bright. The record is a little bit deep and a little bit dark, and sometimes it's nice to have that relief of "this is just awesome and I'm going to have fun." I think that's part of the charm and appeal of "Do I Do." You can brood and be deep and all that, but just take a minute and be loving.
MR: What is on your horizon?
EB: We're launching the album, which is very exciting, my music video is out, we're setting up different television shows, and we're getting ready to set up tour dates. People can peek into that on my website, http://www.erinbohememusic.com. Hopefully, we'll be in your neighborhood so you can come see us, hang out, and have some fun with us.
MR: Erin, this has been fun. I appreciate the interview and your chipperness.
EB: Well, I'm from Oshkosh, I can't really hide it. Thank you so much for having me.
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney
A Conversation with Renaiszance's Ravé and Radha Mehta
MR: Greetings, Ravé and Radha.
Ravé: Hey there, Mike!
Radha: Hi Mike!
MR: So Renaiszance is a brother-sister duo, but you're a relatively new act. Tell us a little something about yourselves, like where you grew up, all that.
Radha: Well, Ravé and I were both born in Illinois near Chicago, but grew up, for the most part, in Orlando, Florida. Our parents immigrated to the US from Mumbai, India, back in 1969, so we are both first generation Indian-Americans. When we were kids, Ravé and I lived in India for a couple of years...wow, was that an experience. Music and entertainment in India is so deeply rooted in our culture that it definitely had a huge impact on us while growing up.
MR: How did you both get into music?
Radha: I've been singing since I was five. I started by trying to mimic my mom since she was always singing around the house. While growing up, I was in school choirs and eventually, in an all-female a cappella group in college. Our groups won various local, state, and national competitions, so that inspired a lot of confidence in me over the years. In college, I got my degrees in computer science, so after I graduated, I got a job in New York City working for UBS Investment Bank and was later transferred to work in Zurich, Switzerland. In Zurich, some of my co-workers told me about a popular local band that was auditioning for a lead singer, so I tried out and got selected. When we started performing around Zurich, it didn't take me long to realize that singing and performing was way more fun than my job at the bank. I later moved back to the US and submitted a recording to a Clear Channel radio contest. They called me and said I won, and the prize was to sing the National Anthem as the opening act for Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac and Gin Blossoms in front of 15,000 people. Wow, talk about being intimidated! I was super-nervous that first time, but all went well and that led me to many more opportunities.
Ravé: For me it was a slightly different path. My father played the sitar when he was younger so I grew up with this big dusty sitar in my room. Staring at this sitar every day as a kid made me curious, but I had no idea what to do with it; it looked so complicated so I focused on being an athlete. It wasn't until my first year at college that I picked up a guitar. I remember thinking, "Wow, only six strings, that's way easier to handle." Since then, I taught myself to play the guitar, piano, bass, percussive instruments, and recently, I started learning the violin. Since I never had any formal training, I would spend most of my time composing, playing and producing my own music to keep myself entertained.
MR: So what made you guys decide to create music together?
Ravé: I think watching Radha perform in Switzerland was the turning point for both of us. I saw Radha perform songs she'd written for her band in Zurich and realized how talented she was. When she moved back to New York City, we tried working with a couple of producers but we could never get them to understand or appreciate our ideas or direction. So one night, I remember Radha calling me in tears saying that she didn't know what to do. I told her not to worry, we'll just do it ourselves. The next day, I bought a Mac, a bunch of recording equipment and music software and started teaching myself to record, engineer and produce. That was about ten years ago.
MR: So Renaiszance...tell me about the name.
Radha: We originally were going by our names "Ravé and Radha" when we released our first EP Here and Now. We then wrote the Orlando theme song, "The City Beautiful," and later released our single "Grace & Glory" that we wrote for NASA's final space shuttle launch. I happened to see a sign somewhere that said "Renaissance," and I was like, "That's it!" The French word Renaissance actually means "rebirth," and the Renaissance era produced some of the most inspirational artists who were also logicians, philosophers, inventors and engineers. Considering Ravé and I are both engineers as well as artists and we're constantly reinventing ourselves, I thought this would be such a fitting name for us. So I pitched it to Ravé and he immediately loved it but said it was still a bit generic. It wasn't until Ravé designed the logo and flipped the second 'S' into a 'Z' that gave it the edge we wanted to make it unique.
MR: How long did it take to complete the album?
Ravé: We started working on this album in October 2011, and I finally finished producing it in November 2012. The toughest part was figuring out what sound we were going for. We went through so many iterations and pivoted a few times during production, but once we nailed our sound, it was pretty much smooth sailing from that point on, especially since I had a great team working on it with me. I'm really excited about where we ended up, it's a very different sound than our first EP.
MR: What's your process for writing songs?
Radha: We both co-write all our songs together. Sometimes, one of us is inspired by a personal experience and takes the lead. Like our song, "My Way," Ravé originally wrote it as a poem and when I read it, I thought the prose and message were so cool that a vocal melody naturally came to mind. I sang it for him, and he said, "That's it," and ran to his studio and started to build the track around it. Another example is "Friend In Me," which was a song I originally wrote to sing for my friend at her wedding. Ravé overheard me practicing it on the piano and walked in saying that it sounded really good, but there was something missing in the chorus. So he listened a bit longer and then took a notepad and re-wrote the chorus on the spot. We tried it out and it sounded perfect to us.
Ravé: We definitely make a great writing team and it's really a different experience for each song. A lot of times, I'm jamming on the piano or guitar and will come up with a melody, when Radha appears out of nowhere singing a beautiful aria or vocal melody with no words. At that point, I'm usually scrambling around for my iPhone voice recorder to capture it all before we lose our flow. Once I think we have something, I'll go to my studio and start laying down the track and give it some structure. Once the structure is in place, Radha and I will start writing to it and then I'll finish building out the rest of the track. Sometimes we're melody-driven and other times we're lyric-driven, but in the end, both the melody and lyrics have to come together and make the hair on our arms stand otherwise we'll keep working on it.
MR: Ravé, you mentioned this album was inspired by your graphic novel The Inventor, which is based on the true story of Nikola Tesla. I know I interviewed you about it a while back, but can you tell us about the connection?
Ravé: Nikola Tesla is one of my heroes so I wrote The Inventor mainly to tell his story but in a much more interesting and visual way since I was always into comic books. The Inventor was published last year at the 2012 San Diego ComicCon, and funny enough, Gene Simmons and I were the top two sellers for our comic publisher, Arcana. Gene was actually giving me some great advice on how to make my Tesla cover pop more. Gene told me, "Keep it simple but use maximum contrast," and he started outlining my title with a silver marker. Great advice, so I used his approach when designing our Renaiszance album cover. In regards to the music, we wrote a lot of the songs on this album over the past few years from our various experiences, but I picked the songs that played on the various themes from the AC/DC battle between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison as they both fought the Current Wars to invent the 20th Century. So the songs in this album reflect the 3 main themes from Tesla's story - "Love", both lost and found, "Hope", both scathed and reignited, and "Freedom", both stolen and reclaimed.
MR: In a way, isn't Tesla, basically, the great granddaddy of electronic music?
Ravé: Ha, yes. Since Tesla was the father of modern electricity, he invented oscillators and other cool devices that laid the foundation for electronic music, so we gave this album some really cool electronic dubstep textures including some tesla coil sounds in his honor. Actually, we wrote the song "I Will Rise" as a tribute to Tesla's story saying that, although Edison won the battle while they both were alive, Tesla's ideas and vision will rise again and inspire us to finish what he started. We're seeing that happen now as more people are aware of Tesla and his vision for a more connected and evolved society based on free communication, energy, education and being more aligned with nature.
MR: Radha, what's it like to work with your brother?
Radha: Ha, that's a loaded question. Ravé, cover your ears! [laughs] Just kidding. My brother is an incredibly talented songwriter, producer, designer and all around creative mind. He's been the creative vision behind us and so many other things. It's fun to watch him in action; once he locks down on a vision, he doesn't stop until he gets it done. He's also really good at taking my feedback and input, which is why it's so easy and fun to work with him. Most importantly, though, he's my biggest fan. He's always been there to support me throughout my life so I'm really grateful to have him by my side. He never stops believing in me and always pushes me to the edge so I'm constantly learning about myself, so it's pretty awesome working with him.
Ravé: Wow, thanks, I'll have to remind you that you said all that. [laughs]. From songwriting to recording to performing, Radha is one of the most talented and creative people I know. She's also really driven, which makes my job much easier. But I think as hard as we work, we have a lot of fun creating and just goofing off. Whenever we feel stressed, we remind each other about that scene in the movie Peaceful Warrior where Nick Nolte says to the kid, "It's not about the destination, it's about the journey."
MR: What genre would you say this falls into?
Ravé: That's a tough question, because we were trying to figure out for the longest time what our sound should be. I think finding one's identity is the hardest part for any artist, and it's an ongoing process. We both love EDM as well as classical music, but we also like folk and country because the songs tell a story, so our music is a blend of all those genres. When I was playing this for some other producer friends, I think it was C.J. Vanston that said that Radha's voice gave this album an Evanescence feel but against cool electronic dance textures.
MR: What are the next steps for this album?
Radha: Well, this album is set to release in early April 2013, so we have a lot of work to do! Our first single is "Friend In Me," which we've been getting some great feedback on. I'm really excited but also really nervous to see what happens once we set this free into the world.
MR: What's the best advice you've received and what advice would you give to aspiring artists?
Radha: Hmm, so although we've been at this for years and years, I feel we're just now starting. I guess the best advice I can give from personal experience is to never give up on your dreams. Every artists owes it to themselves to try their best so later in life they don't regret not trying at all.
Ravé: Some of the best advice I received is when I was at a dinner with Deepak Chopra and he told me, "It's not the ghost that's in the machine, it's the machine that's in the ghost." If anyone wants to know what that means exactly, just ask me later. [laughs] Also, my dad Vipin Mehta is my greatest mentor and wrote the Global Healing book series, and his mantra was, "Change the mindset, change the world," essentially saying that all our problems only exist in the mind, therefore, that's where we'll find our solutions. As far as my advice to other aspiring artists, I would say just follow the 3 P's--patience, persistence and perseverance.
MR: Nice. Well thank you both for all your time. All the best with the album, you apparently are a renaissance man and woman.
Radha: Thanks Mike, this was fun!
Ravé: Yes, thanks for the interview and your support.
Transcribed by Nikola Tesla's Ghost
UNKNOWN COMPONANT VIDEO EXCLUSIVE "FOR ALL INTENTS & PURPOSES"
Today, the new Unknown Component video "For All Intents & Purposes" officially premieres on HuffPost. The clip was directed by Oscar Ward, and was filmed on location over a few months in Australia. This is the third official video release from their latest album Blood v. Electricity, and for those who don't know, Unknown Component is a project by Keith Lynch based out of Central Iowa, with the artist on guitars, vocals, piano and drums--every instrument on all Unknown Component recordings. He is also credited with producing, recording and mixing every album in his own independent studio.
"I really took my time with this album and focused more on the overall sound of each song so that all of the individual instruments were allowed to find their own space," says Lynch on Blood v. Electricity. "I also put together a new, independent studio and was able to update a lot of my recording equipment, which seemed to bring out all kinds of new ideas."
Songs from Unknown Component albums The Infinite Definitive and Blood v. Electricity have been featured on the nationally broadcast radio program Undercurrents, and the song "Set To Begin" off of the album From Anywhere But Here was featured in the film The 4th Life, which was distributed across the U.S. and Canada by Atopia, and was directed by Francois Miron. The music video "When The Illusion Is What It Seems" from The Infinite Definitive received a Silver award at the 2012 ADDY Awards.
Here is the exclusive "For All Intents & Purposes"...
And here is a stream for Unknown Component's latest album Blood v. Electricity...
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008