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Interview: Andy Waddell

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Q: How do you feel you have developed creatively with your new album, Alive?

A: This is an honest trip. It came like Sunday boredom, almost baptismal, a dip in the river after a week’s bend. I've been writing and creating my own music for a long time, but everything on this album came from a different source. My heart finally came up for air after a lifetime of experimental asphyxiation. Every piece came about like a drought’s first heavy rain. It was conceptualized and realized in its entirety right from the start, and the titles for each track were a no-brainer, just had to grab a bucket and collect. The jazz earth was rich from the rain, and the well once again provided. I took a dip in the water and swam the bog of my ideas and emotions.

I remember in my earlier years, I would often start writing something and it would take me weeks or months to finish. I would get stuck and let it go a while, and wait patiently to see it through. Every tune on this album came from one collective conscience. I never specifically set out to write anything in the first place. It just banged into existence, something I hadn't experienced to this capacity before. This new manifest sound allowed me to create with complete freedom. I focused on the emotional undercurrent, generated from specific experiences in my life. I let go and set them adrift, a wild color wheel of star dust and heavy wind. This album moves extensively, in ever-expanding directions. It freezes up and liquefies, melts the mind and rains fire. The astronaut descent bends from mad, sad and lonely to train-brake slow, and just as the tranny slips it catches gear and light speeds of wonder and awe blast off with unmistakable focus. These covert shifts exist between time’s dotted lines and perforated edges.

I did not use a systematic approach, changing speeds from one track to another, but instead changing density from one second to the next, a musical black hole fold like a wrinkle in time. Any melody can represent any human feeling depending on what harmonic colors are behind it. I play reds and greens and gold. I play circles and stars and shapes unknown. That’s the creative 90 between Sunset to 7 and Alive. I realized the telling outweighs the story, and the X dimension provides bread for the empty.

Q: Are there any particular artists who inspired the work on this latest effort, either consciously or not?

A: This project I approached with tact and a universal sensibility, opening my doors to all musical walks. It's people friendly, and accessible, no matter your musical complacency. Soul, R&B, indie, punk, rock & roll - all cats can find their fat on the bone. Although this is definitely progressive jazz with a hard edge, the music seems to have a subterranean love song that swims beneath the hands and keys of the studio, like a school of fish tapping into one instinctive nervous system.

Using this commercial undercurrent, I have the capability to pull people into this art that have perhaps never been exposed to jazz, or just turned their backs to it. Each tune has a theme that always ties everything together in the kind of way that a pop song would have a chorus that it comes back to multiple times. This allows me as a jazz artist to push the boundaries both rhythmically and harmonically while still being grounded in memorable melodies. Just give it chance and it'll take care of you. I've seen it with my own eyes: Country and rock musicians turn in a seconds retrograde push, as they sync to the familiar roads and paths Alive travels down. I have seen shoes start tapping, and hearts start beating fast, picking skeptics up off their seat into a full on jazz frenzy of shake dancing, hip pivots. and air guitar.

My inspiration comes from many different areas going back to be bop which is where my roots are (John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Joe Pass, Bill Evans) up to my modern favorites, guys like Mark Turner, Mehldau, Rosenwinkel, and Kenny Garrett. This album has influences beyond the looking glass, right down into the rabbit hole. On the other side, some of my favorites that I have to clack my glass to are: Elliott Smith, Bob Dylan, Rufus Wainwright, The Flaming Lips; the list goes on deep. I have to give proper due to my dear friend, Joel Walker. His music and song writing skills has served as an endless source of inspiration. I'm truly in awe of just how many musical gypsies the road has offered. Alive is the soft shoe proof of just how the journey unfolds before you. One day I'll look back, but for now I'm going to keep on moving on into the silhouette distance.

Q: What tracks have the most personal connection to you?

A: The opening track, “The 27 Club," means a lot to me. I had a dear friend from earlier days, and I remember him telling me, “You gotta do something different, or join the 27 Club.” I really thought I was going to mess it all up young. I had to find another way to live, and I’m sure as hell glad I did. I wouldn’t have even made it into that club anyhow, under different pretenses beyond the age requirement. This track makes me confront a very scary time in my life. I didn’t want to touch it for a while, but it’s nice to look back with a fresh perspective. All the titles move along this same jagged edge. The title track and “A New Day" show you the space between two distant valleys in my life. This album is that peaceful feeling you get when you let go.

Q: Have you performed any of the new CD in a live setting yet? If so, what has been the reaction?

A: I have been fortunate enough to perform this music all throughout L.A. and San Francisco before and after releasing the album. It's always been a positive experience for me as well as the audience, and I've been lucky to have a lot of support through jazz radio.

Q: Why did you call it Alive? Is there a deeper meaning behind it?

A: I called the album Alive because I'm lucky to be alive. One would think with that title that it would be all uplifting and happy sounds, but it's not. To me it represents the entire array of human emotions, or at least my emotions, which includes everything from darkness, chaos, anger, to happiness and peace, to loneliness and anxiety. We go all go through many different chapters in out lives based on our circumstances, decisions and out minds. Music allows us to throw all of these things together in a beautiful way

Q: How long have you been playing guitar? What kind do you use?

A: I've been playing guitar for 17 years, and have been playing music for most of my life. Starting on piano as a young child. I use a Gibson 335 probably 99 percent of the time. Once I got my sound dialed in I saw no reason to mess with it and use anything else, at least for my own music.

Q: Artistically, how do you stay fresh and keep progressing forward?

A: The main thing is to always be listening. There's so much great music out there to be heard, so much that It could take more than a lifetime to get through it all. Staying inspired is the key. Surrounding myself with positive people and doing my best to keep in a healthy state of mind keeps me creating. There's a lot of artists out there who deal with depression and substance abuse and they think that they need to be miserable to create good art. Maybe for some that is true, but for me personally, I have found that I'm at my best both musically and artistically when I am content, calm and peaceful. That is when I am most driven and motivated to push myself to the next level.

Q: What are your plans for your next album?

A: I'm working on a few different things currently for what I'll be putting out in the future. I've been a jazz Nazi for a long time and found myself branching out into other genres as a solo project after recording Alive. The next album is going to be something completely different and much more mainstream. I've been exploring the possibilities for myself as a songwriter and it has opened my mind to all kinds of new and fresh ideas. So I figure I'll record it. Why not, right? I'll also be working with a very gifted writer friend of mine, Joey Zarnowski, on something completely new and different. It will be a duet project of spoken word intertwined with progressive jazz.

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