Friday, April 5, 2019

Justin Wright [Interview # 213]

1) With the title "Music For Staying Warm", do you believe that music has its own seasons?  I know that there are certainly albums I listen to in winter months that I don't also listen to in the summer months.  

I really do. I imagine it varies from place to place, but here in Montreal there's certainly a strong feeling of a collective spirit as the seasons vary from brutal winters to hot summers to gorgeous falls (spring isn't really a thing here...). There's a funny phenomenon here every late April/early May, when we have our first day that teases us by feeling vaguely summer-like, and you'd swear everyone in the city is outside having a picnic or tanning, often with a melting snowbank not too far away. I don't know why nobody's come up with a name for that yet. But our synchronous determination to break free of our winter woes is definitely a defining aspect of our local culture, enough that you can hear the music all around you change with the weather. 

That being said, nobody is one-dimensional, so I think there's time for introspection in any season. And "Music for Staying Warm" is not just music to put on as you light your fireplace in the depths of winter, it's also about internal warmth and, even more so, an exploration of our attempts to find it.

2) Would you consider your sound to be neoclassical and what do you think of that as a genre name?

I don't really like the name neoclassical for my music, but at the same time, I understand that it gives people a vague idea of what I sound like, and nobody likes a pedant, so I don't really complain. But when I think of neoclassical, I think of a return to the Classical (capital C) period of music, or to classical antiquity, or, at the very least, a return to an aesthetic that has fallen out of favour centuries ago. I'd rather see this music as a continuation of a progression, even if it does draw on influences and use instruments from centuries ago, and an incorporation of current styles.

The other reason I don't like to complain is that I'd have a really hard time coming up with a genre name that's actually good! I'll take suggestions - anything that conveys that it's contemporary classical music ...but not the weird kind.

3) What are the differences for you between playing something you composed yourself and something someone else composed?  Do you have a preference?

I guess it's a bit like acting versus just talking about your feelings. When you play someone else's music, you're trying to realize their personal vision and convey their narrative. I think it's definitely a weird and awesome feeling to channel the emotions that someone felt 300 years ago, and realize just how universal and ever-present they are. But I've also come to terms with the fact that the need for personal expression seems to be a bigger motivator. I'm shy and I'm not the most emotionally-available person out there, so having an outlet where I can open up and express the things I can't normally express is a godsend.

4) Do you feel you would rather be asked to play with others, play by yourself, ask others to play with you or it doesn't matter?

While I love being asked to play with others, playing my own music is what I enjoy the most. But I never write with live performances in mind, so performing these tracks is an evolving challenge, and I don't know if I'll ever settle on a permanent setup. I'm toying with ways to play my tracks solo, but only out of the occasional logistical necessity. Playing with others is comforting and fun, and when you REALLY lock in and play TOGETHER, it's a feeling like no other, and I think it will always be a better experience than looping or relying too much on backing tracks in a live setup.

5) What was it like working with Jeremy Dutcher on "Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa" (one of my favorite albums of last year)? 

Jeremy is a goofball and a total sweetheart, but when he played his music it was immediately obvious that he was doing something special. Our session itself was really fun! I don't think people realize how tight the budget was for that album; we recorded the strings in a random classroom in the Concordia music department. Devon Bate, Jeremy's producer, set up a few mics and somehow made the room sound great, while Jeremy put on his glasses and wrote out parts on the chalkboard for us, and sometimes just gave us instructions for improvising. But definitely nothing prepared me to hear the final result with the wax cylinder recordings incorporated.

I'm really happy with where this album has gone, and not just because I got to be involved. Every musician watches their peers find success in their careers, but I don't think I've seen anyone deserve it more than Jeremy. It's so reassuring to see him not only getting the recognition he deserves, but also taking his platform and making his important message heard.

6) Are there any artists in particular you would like to work with who you haven't yet?

So many! Too many to list! But more than anything I would love to work with artists in different fields. I'm a big fan of Lucinda Childs's choreography and my life would be complete in the unlikely event that we worked on a piece together. I'd love to do some proper film soundtrack work if I had a bit of creative leeway. Eventually I want to do some larger opera-esque stage productions that incorporate a range of media, but I think I have a long way to go as an artist before I'm ready for that.

7) Do you feel there is a need for physical media in 2019- records, cassettes, CDs- because music should be more than just digital?

I think vinyl will be around for a very long time. I think it satiates our need for the ritual of physically "putting on music", having a real mechanical process, and forcing you to listen to an album as a whole, but also retains enough sound quality to be a viable format. But I don't see much need for CDs, and I grumpily feel that tapes (as a product) are mostly some sort of in-group identifier that will hopefully die out soon. I used to be a scientist, so the rational/cynical side of me doesn't always understand the romantic notions of obsolete physical formats, and I'm ashamed to think about how much time in my life I've wasted arguing with people who actually think vinyl or tape have higher fidelity than high-quality digital formats. You wouldn't believe how many people actually think that sound waves from digital formats literally have square corners because they saw a bar graph once that tries to visualize sampling! Ironically, in my recording process I really enjoy using analog and outboard gear, and hope to do some work with tape loops in the composition process, but that's more about my workflow than anything else.

8) Final thoughts, shout outs, etc.?

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