To promote his forthcoming album Black Radio which is set for release on February 28th 2012, Robert Glasper – the lead musician behind the Robert Glasper Experiment – is embarking on a 10 date tour that includes Montreal, Baton Rouge, New York, Philadelphia, and our local jazz venue The Yardbird Suite in Edmonton (Friday February 17th 2012).
Garnering critical acclaim not only for his work within the genre of jazz music with the Robert Glasper Trio, but for his collaborations with artists such as Bilal, Mos Def, Q-Tip, Lupe Fiasco Kanye West, Meshell Ndegeocello, J Dilla, Erykah Badu, Slum Village, Jay-Z, Common, and Talib Kweli (among others), Glasper is known as a blender of genres; a connoisseur of eclectic taste.
Now, more than ever, Glasper looks to “get more creative music out into the mainstream.” He is fighting against the low hanging atmosphere that often stifles and suffocates genre-transcendent creativity.
In my recent interview with the man, Robert Glasper explained that the purpose and drive behind the album Black Radio is directed to combat that very atmosphere directly. In the following dialogue, you will learn how this rogue jazz musician has set out to demonstrate the relevancy of a somewhat antiquated art form. Fighting against stereotypical jazz-snobbishness with the very masterful jazz knowledge technique it values has caused Glasper to become known worldwide. And for good reason.
He also provides an insider’s viewpoint on the way in which torrenting and other elements of the internet age have affected the music industry, and himself in particular.
Sam Maroney: I was reading an interview with the Telegraph where you are quoted as saying:
“We have more music to check out than Trane or Miles did. Their record collection was smaller than ours. [And now] there’s so much information out there.”
How has the evolution of the music industry in the internet age affected you as a musician, both on the business side and the creative side? And, especially now with the new legislation, how do you anticipate that changing?
Robert Glasper: I think that the internet is good and bad. It’s good for promotional purposes. I mean you just gain so many fans, you know what I mean, you can get people who have never heard of you that can check out your whole catalog and check out the gig you did last night and they live in Italy. So you get a quicker fanbase, I guess you could say. And that’s good for business. I could put up a bootleg of mine and sell it for a dollar somewhere if I want, and it could go viral.
The bad thing though, with the internet…a lot of times if you’re selling something, it just becomes free. I mean the people who will buy it, will buy it. But if there’s no internet at all, you’re just stuck with stores. Which sucks. Especially now that there aren’t any stores left
It’s harder to be able to come up with a concept of yourself; to actually be able to craft it so that by the time you come out into the world you already have this big body of who you are… You’ve been molded into something that’s new, that people now can check out. But now, anything that you do that’s new…. people can take that really fast because of Youtube and things of that nature.
You know, if I write a new song today and I play it at a gig tonight, literally thousands of people would hear that tomorrow. So now they’re checking out those chord progressions and that style of what I’m doing, and they’re writing like that.
So now when I come out with my album [his latest release Black Radio is due out on February 28th] it’s not such a surprise. It’s not like a “wow, we’ve never heard this before” because everybody’s already copped it. They’re probably even playing the song. So it’s hard to have a style and have it be our own…they take everything. Even the way you sit at the piano or whatever instrument it is; the way the person dresses. You can try to cop their swagger, their vibe, all that stuff.
So it’s tough now, the competition is higher when it comes to really trying to be an individual. Everybody always wants to be like someone else, and now [that is] easier.
SM: In some ways there are positives to that though, because you are allowed access to so many different possible musical influences.
RG: Right. And, that’s a good thing and a bad thing, because I didn’t get it so easily when I came up, you know? I had CDs that I had to buy. Nobody got free music in 96. But at the same time, I didn’t have so much new stuff at my fingertips.
See that’s the thing, you could have a lot of old stuff at your fingertips, but it made you create something new. While you listen to the old stuff, you’re jogging your mind and without knowing it, you’re coming up with your own new kind of style mixed with the old stuff that you heard. But now everybody has new shit at their fingertips. So, without thinking, they just do that. ‘Cause it’s easier than coming up with your own style – just play the new shit, play the hot stuff.
There was no hot stuff when I was in high school. (laughs) I mean I wasn’t playing the same stuff that the next sixteen year old was playing. You know Sam, I didn’t know any other sixteen year olds playing piano besides me and another guy at my High School.
Now, you get a lot of information. But at the same time, sometimes, that’s bad for you
SM: True, because you’ll never get through it all. If you started now and listened to good music only, you’ll never finish.
RG: It’s the equivalent of all the technology we have now….there’s too much technology. And if you take some of that technology away it makes you better in shape. But everybody has this stuff at their fingertips, so now they can just cop what [someone else] is doing. There’s no depth to what it is. It’s just like “oh this is a hot lick, I learned it, I know it.” But no one has to go through bootcamp, musical bootcamp, to get there like all the other cats did.
SM: Even now, how easy was it to talk from Brooklyn, New York to Edmonton, Alberta Canada?
RG: Exactly. Right? (laughs)
SM: How do you see this ever expanding library of music affecting your sound? Do you see yourself becoming sequestered in your own little niche? Or, do you think you’re going to grow and try to find out about more and more?
RG: I think it’s better that music keeps changing and libraries keep growing. I think I’ll change. I mean, I’m always gonna love playing piano trios. That’s going to be something I can always go back to, if for some reason I change into something else. I can always fall back on that, ‘cause I love that. I love that.
I can remember people laughing at me for getting tapes,(laughs) they’re like you gotta get a CD man. And now CDs are what people laugh at.
For me, going back to the piano trio is like going back to vinyl. There’s nothing like it.
You can play all the keyboards you want. Whatever it is you do musically you can do onstage with a computer. But for me, just having a bass, drums, and keys there and being able to produce something that might sound like you’ve got a computer…that’s where the real shit is, you know?
SM: So you can bring your own spin of the present back to the classics and pay them their dues. But then put yourself right alongside.
RG: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. Exactly.
Because everyone does the loops with the computers. Even with keyboards; I don’t like keyboards too much. Because, to me, it just becomes a big thing of tricks. Everyone has triggers and everybody’s putting delays on the sound and you know what i mean, i don’t need all that. I like to do that stuff naturally.
Like “yo, do you hear that delay?” And it’s actually me playing the delay. To me that’s doper. That means I’m dope. If you put a delay on your keyboard… your keyboard’s dope.
And same with everybody in the band. [Chris “Daddy” Dave] is the king of that shit on the drums. He’s sick. If you just listen to him, you’d think he went and overdubbed three tracks of drums, if you closed your eyes. And he does all that stuff live with no loop. He is the loop.
I’m not saying that adding certain things is not cool; it is cool. But don’t depend on it. If I use it, I would see it as an additive, you know, something extra. I see a lot of people depending it and using that stuff so much. It’s so easy to do, I’d rather just do this myself.
SM: I’ve noticed, with your early albums, even right from Mood that you have that really attentive approach to the vibrations form the attack. I mean, you hit the key and let it ride out, and the sound emanates in just the way you want it to. It an endorsement of a sort of physicality of music. Do you feel like you get more out of music than the casual consumer?
RG: Yeah totally. Because that’s what we do. Right, like, I’m not an actor so I watch a movie, and I like the movie, it was good, right? But when an actor watches a movie, they’re checking out so much more than I’m checking out. They’re looking it at it so much differently….So when I listen to music I listen to it in more detail. Just more than a person who likes music, I’m listening for other stuff.
SM: Have you taken that same “musician’s approach” to getting new influences? When you stumble upon something in another genre that you like, you’ve got to use a different approach, right? How do you go about it? When you mixed Radiohead’s “Everything in its Right Place,” what brought you to say, ‘this could really fit, I like this.’
RG: It’s a very natural progression. It’s something I don’t really think about, I just kind of feel it out. To be honest, I don’t even know how I put those two together (“Maiden Voyage” and “Everything in its Right Place”)…. I know it happened at my house (laughs) and I know I was playing piano. It literally just came together. I think that’s what happens when you listen to a lot of different music. At one time, stuff stars cross-pollinating without you even thinking bout it.
If you just be honest and let your mind be free, if you like other music and you listen to other music, the work is already done as far as you listening. That’s practicing. Listening is a part of it too. I tell my students that whenever I teach; we’ll have a listening session where we don’t even touch the piano. Listening is a big part of everything. If you listen to a lot of stuff and keep your mind open and don’t have any preconceived notions of “oh you can’t do this and you can’t do that,” all kinds of things will flood into your mind. And, if you’re okay with everything, you’ll have so many ideas.
So when you’re playing jazz, if you have a preconceived notion of what can or can’t happen, or how it’s supposed to sound…you kind of block influences or other things that could be cool.
SM: Do you view genre as distinct?
RG: No, I don’t mind genre – I mix genre. I’m not one of those people that’s like “there should never be genres” because that would be fucking confusing. I kinda want to know a little bit of kind of what I’m going to see. If a musician comes up to me and says “I play the guitar,” I want to know what he plays. If he only plays Bar Mitzvahs or something (laughs) then he’s probably not going to be someone I want to play with.
So genres, you kind of need. I don’t mind genres, I’ll just tell you all the genres I’m mixing together. And maybe that’s another name for another genre.
It’s like, if you have a buffet of food…it’s not…it’s just a buffet of food! Soul food over here, Mexican food over here, Chinese food over here. We like all of this, it’s all here. I’m not going to be like, ‘I don’t know what to call it, just eat it, it’s food.’ I want to know what the fuck I’m eating. But I don’t care if you have a lot of different kinds of it. Just tell me what it is. I want genres. Because sometimes if you don’t have a genre it will stop you from getting an audience.