A highly musically educated new release is coming out of New York City and it is in the form of Gideon King & City Blog. King’s musical IQ is off the charts and his jazz-rock fused new album City Blog will illustrate that point from beginning to end. He recently spoke with us about the new album, the jazz scene in New York and his influences:
Me: The music scene in New York was once booming for rock and jazz bands. Is that still the case? How has the music scene changed for the better or worse?
Gideon King: I know the music scene for Jazz a bit more than I know the music scene for rock. What I can say is this: there is no shortage of great musicians playing great music at local jazz clubs. The problem is money. From what I see it is brutally hard to make money. Someone should write a book called The Broke Virtuoso about very talented jazz musicians struggling to keep the lights on. Unless you somehow transcend the genre of jazz-or any genre for that matter– like Pat Metheny or Herbie Hancock or Wynton Marsalis, it seems a struggle. That being said, on any given night there is great music happening, even if it is at some Lounge like Kitano(which I went to for the first time the other day) where the people behind you are banging the forks around just loud enough to be annoying. How loud does someone have to be when eating their Roast Chicken? Anyway, I saw great music there the other night. Little clubs like The 55 Bar and Mezzrow and Smalls, when added to the mix of the bigger clubs like The Blue Note, still make for a pretty vibrant scene like no other. If you want to hear great music on any given night I think you can if you seek it out. I often go to see the guys that played on my CD playing at these places and it is one of life’s last remaining bargains…….to see the best of the best play for just a cover charge. The New York Jazz scene, notwithstanding the proclamations by many that it is dead, still is a source of intrigue and joy for me. As for the rock scene, I don’t have a comment there.
Me: The new album is very eclectic sounding with a bunch of interesting musical arrangements. Can you tell me about the recording process for the album and the most difficult part of it?
The recording process is painful, slow, disappointing, and totally addicting. With all the digital technology out there the fact remains that having the best musicians in front of the microphones remains the secret sauce if you ask me. There is only so much you can auto-tune someone before they sound like they should be saying, “this message will self-destruct in 10 seconds.” It’s true that you might heavily edit a solo but if there are great ideas flawlessly executed left and right the editing, if any is needed, comes lots easier.
One thing to mention is that the recording engineer is incredibly important. People treat these people like interns and computer wonks, but the truth is if you have an engineer that is technically proficient, musical, and tasteful, you have a very special partner in making music. My engineer, Matt Powell, is a great guy, very musical, and makes me feel very technologically stupid on a regular basis, which is of course why I love him. Also, he didn’t yell at me recently when I spilled an entire cup of coffee into the recording console. That was forgiving on his part.
For Gideon King & City Blog, the formula amounts to no short-cuts whatsoever. First, I try and write some music that opens up possibilities for great musicians. Second, we record in the best sounding recording rooms that were built for one purpose….making music. We try and use great equipment, including mics, custom amps, handmade drums, and shockingly good and real sounding midi software. We try and use real instruments as much as possible! Then we attempt to coerce the best musicians to play as many takes as possible, even if their hostility at the repetition becomes evident. Then we take a break. Then we do more takes. Then everybody goes home wondering what the hell just happened and the editing starts.
The editing takes months and happens in stages. We start with gross editing….literally choosing what is to be heard. Sometimes this happens quickly and sometimes it fails and things get re-tracked later when people are reinvigorated. Then over the months, after listening on many different systems and monitoring devices, we shape the sound, the vibe if you will. Usually we add too many effects and then gradually peel them back, reeling from excess reverb usage and the like.
Finally, months and months later, I exchange a number of frantic emails with my engineer, usually late at night when I don’t sleep anyway, making fine adjustments. It is weird and annoying how you keep hearing things that bother you for the first time 8 months into editing. It is like some vicious hazing cycle. Eventually it just has to end, and so it does. Sort of. What is horrifying is that sometimes when you think you are done, the mastering process, making the volumes uniform in a series of tracks, introduces new issues. Anyway, you get where I am going with this. It is truly an endless process that somehow ends at the point when you literally can’t stand the music anymore. What is cool is when you finally let go of the tune and listen months later. That first listen months later is the reason I do it. All the work suddenly seems justified again.
By the way, playing in front of a mic is frightening. I am getting better at it but it is still unsettling to play to small missiles made of wires and metal mesh that cost too much and don’t clap when you play well. Makes me more nervous than playing live because you have to stay in one position. One can always go directly into the machines for recording but good mics just sound better for some reason.
The only other thing to mention is that we like to sparingly but notably use the technology that is available to us in order to make cool ambient noises that add texture to the music. I guess the process is fun, notwithstanding the madness and the incredible and costly time drain.
Me: When you were writing the record, was there one track that stood out to you as the catalyst for the album? Or one that made you believe you were onto something special?
Yes, for sure, the tune “City Blog.” Simply put, “City Blog” confirmed my belief in the idea that I could write these fusion tunes with lyrics and free-flowing musicianship meeting in the middle and getting on well. Check out the drummer and the bassist on that tune. They are doing some really cool things interactively. “City Blog” confirmed for me that this type of music could work, that certain things can happen in the studio and only in the studio, with the admixture of great musicians and great technology. Also, the lyrics to that tune, which are all about certain people and concepts in NYC, seemed to open the floodgates to having the city as a character in the album.
The other day I was on a small sailboat in the Hudson River way up north. The fourteen-year old son of the captain was a groovy looking kid with long hair and many strong opinions. I asked him what music he liked and he sounded off about Jimi Hendrix and Lynyrd Skynrd and the Eagles and how great their lyrics were. He waxed poetic about the solos on “Free Bird.” He then told me he liked jazz and mentioned some jazz legends. I asked him if he liked the new stuff and he said, “not really. The cool kids don’t like it.” The kid expressed his desire to hear people actually play. Why are the fourteen year-olds going back in time?
It would be totally silly to say there are not many great pop musicians today but are there any Stevie Wonder’s out there? Any Stevie Ray Vaughan’s out there? Anybody hear anybody playing solos like Peter Frampton? Any people singing with as much soul as Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin? Any tunes with lyrics and solos like in “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd? Maybe its just me but I think it is a touch depressing that huge concert venues are sold out and a guy shows up with a laptop on stage. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with it I guess and it is not going to change much but to me there is nothing like the excitement of hearing someone tear a solo up. Eruption was such a great musical moment and a chance to see such a unique guitar player in full flight. People should have to prove themselves a little, no?
I guess it is always easy to fall in love with the past, but to me the music industry doesn’t put the same effort in anymore. I mean let’s just look at “Hotel California.” Are there any tunes with epic guitar solos like that now? With extraordinary lyrics like “we are all just prisoners here of our own device”? That was clever stuff. Again, though, there are some great bands out there. One of the singers in Gideon King & City Blog pointed me towards the band Hiatus Kaiyote. They are really interesting and good. John Mayer seems to be a gold standard for so many young singer-songwriters. I can understand that. When I listen to his albums the effort and hard work comes through. The guy plays some nice solos too! Thankfully there are acts like that, but for the most part the effort is just not there. Less people put in the effort and less effort seems to be demanded.
Me: Who are some of your musical influences?
Steely Dan is my favorite. They wrote the book on melding together rock and jazz concepts. On the rock and soul side I love Earth Wind & Fire, Seal, Neil Young, Hendrix, Stevie Ray, and tons of others. On the jazz side, for composition it would be Wayne Shorter; he was a composing god. My favorite jazz album is Alone by Bill Evans. Some of the most haunting and beautiful piano playing ever. In terms of guitar influences people like Scofield, Metheny, Ralph Towner, Wes Montgomerry, Wayne Krantz, and Kurt Rosenwinkel are truly special and worth studying. My brother was a big influence; he is a great jazz piano player. I always aspire to have his knowledge of harmony and his ability to play with others. I suppose it would be more interesting to name a bunch of obscure musicians that I listen to. I’ll spare you. Anyway, the list goes on forever but you don’t have forever and I don’t want to be the guest that never leaves
Me: Will there be any shows coming up to promote the new release?
Gideon King & City Blog will do live shows if we feel we can create the same exact sound that we create in the studio. Not sure if that can happen. I appreciate your interest and the interview.
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