Rude Unkal is a new garage jazz band from NY that’s playing on Tues, Aug 18 at SPACE in Evanston. This is an interview with drummer Eric Harland (Voyager, Dave Holland’s Prism, James Farm, Charles Lloyd, etc.) and saxophonist Daniel Rovin (Karl 2000, Ratcake, GSI Studios).
Born in Paris, raised in France and Lebanon, now based in New York City, Karim Douaidy is an eclectic guitarist, composer and producer. Watch his amazing performance on Beirut Jam Sessions:
Besides working on his solo projects, Douaidy has also composed for a lot of different movies and other media. He composed “Dawama” for the Volvo Ocean Race; the very catchy song could be best described as Arabic Electronica, take a listen here:
What kind of music do you compose? How would you describe your style?
I work part-time for a music production company, so two days a week I work for this company. I’m a staff composer so I do everything, from jazz to electronic music, to dubstep. I just worked on a Latin jazz piece today for them. As for my kind of music, whenever I have time to work on my things, it’s hard to describe and I don’t have a term to describe what I do. I’m interested in Middle Eastern Jazz. This is definitely something I want to start exploring more.
What is Middle Eastern Jazz? How is it different from regular jazz?
The essence of this kind of music is definitely jazz, so it usually involves traditional jazz instruments, whether it’s a piano or a bass, a guitar, maybe brass too. But it incorporates Middle Eastern influences, like Middle Eastern scales and flavors and colors. One great example is Dhafer Youssef, who is a Tunisian composer. He’s actually a Sufi, he plays oud and he has a beautiful voice. His music actually describes the kind of music I’d like to get into. Basically it’s like conventional jazz set-up with a Middle Eastern touch, whether it’s the instrument that you add to it, or the scales, maybe introducing some micro-tonal instruments. Like how Arabic instruments have a very different music system, where it’s based on the quarter tones and microtones, which don’t exist in Western music. So the smallest division in a Western instrument is the semi tone; in Arabic music, it goes even smaller, so it’s a quarter tone. There are more notes and more frequencies; whatever that’s considered here as out of tune or off-pitch note is actually very legit in Arabic music. Whenever you hear the quarter tones or microtones in an Arabic piece, they make the music distinctive. It’s what makes Arabic music and Middle Eastern music in general so special. Persian and far Eastern music also involve that.
Are the quarter tones and microtones usually performed on Middle Eastern instruments?
Yes. And you know with Western music scales, there are minor and major scales. In Arabic music, you have Makam, and it involves microtones so it’s a very different approach to music. And I’d like to incorporate this into my music. There are many bands and establish artists who actually do that.
When did you start playing the guitar?
I was really young; I started when I was 7.
Do you have any goals for your music in the future? Would you stay in the music production industry or would you pursue more of your original music?
Ideally, what I’d like to do is to write my own music. To be self-sufficient just writing my own music. It’s really hard to make a living just by being a performer.
Have you tried being a full-time performer?
No, I really want to start focusing on that. I come from a very different background, and music is fairly new to me. I worked in genetics research for the longest time before switching to music. I’ve only been doing music professionally for 3 years now. I have a master’s in Biotechnology and Genetics. I worked in Harvard Medical School for the longest time before switching to music. So it’s a long process; step by step, I’ll definitely get there. It’s definitely my intention.
You’ve been playing the guitar for a long time. Did you never think about pursuing music full-time before you went to Harvard?
Back in Lebanon, it was not even an option back then. Now things are changing; the industry is definitely developing, you have more platforms and they are more accessible to young musicians. When I left 10 years ago, I didn’t even consider music as a viable career. I’ve always produced music on the side, and then I worked on this movie soundtrack. The director is one of my best friends, and that was when I kind of realized I wanted to do music full-time.
Which movie is that?
It’s called Ba’Adana. And this is definitely something I’ve been working towards, especially through Beirut Jam Sessions. The founder, Anthony Semaan, is my manager and we’ve been talking about taking my music career to the next level. Beirut Jam Sessions only started three years ago and they’ve been doing wonders in Lebanon. They’ve been bringing people from abroad, as well as encouraging local acts.
So tell me more about your background, your story is very inspiring. When did you come to the U.S.?
I was born in Paris, and lived in Paris for 10 years. Moved to Lebanon when I was 10 with my family, and then went to middle school, high school and went to the American University of Beirut, where I got my Bachelor’s in Biology. And then I left and went to Boston to get my Master’s in Biotech and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Then I graduated and worked for a few years. I’ve always made music on the side and the transition happened naturally. I’ve always told my parents that one day I may go to them and announce that I want to quit my job and do music. I kind of lucked out too, because it worked well for me. I quit my science career and applied to NYU. I put together a pretty substantial portfolio with the music I produced for movies. I wasn’t really expecting to get accepted, but I did. And it’s been amazing; I learned a lot from a composition perspective and a technology perspective. My Master’s was in 3D Audio with a concentration in film scoring.
How did your parents react when you told them you quit your science job?
They were kind of expecting it… They were really cool and very supportive. I’m a pretty lucky guy.
Do you want to play with a band?
I’d like to produce my own music, which is probably just a solo act that involves looping. So probably come up with things on the fly while having some pre-recorded music. That’s something I really want to do, which is the one-man band approach. I’d love to play with other people as well. I actually play in a band now; it’s a progressive rock band. We play progressive rock metal.
Tell me a little bit about your song “Dawama.” I absolutely love it!
You just made my week! I love hearing those things. I composed the song in my bedroom. It was initially for the Volvo Ocean Race; they commissioned me to write the piece with some Middle Easter flavor. It all started in my head, and then in my bedroom and then I recorded a few things in Lebanon with friends, I got them to sing and stuff. It’s amazing that people miles away listen to my music. It really makes me happy.
I really like the beats in the song. They’re very catchy.
That was my intention. I wanted to do something very traditional in a way. The middle section was very traditional Arabic music, and then I incorporated those heavier beats for it to sound more electronic.
I think that’s why it sounds so different. Traditional Arabic music and electronic music fusion, I’ve never heard anything like that. It’s so great!
Great! I will do more things like that then.
Featured image via Beirut Jam Sessions.
Maddie Higgins’ Interview with Chris Clark
We spent the majority of our brief Friday night at the Standard. A small warehouse with concrete floors, a makeshift bar, and standing room only, the Standard was the temporary home of the artists deemed more “electronic” performing at Big Ears. Around 10:30pm, Chris Clark occupied the stage in a plain black t-shirt that matched the black tape obscuring his Macbook Pro logo. His head bobbed to the rhythm as he manipulated the live set controllers spread in front of him. We, too, bobbed along in the crowd, our idiosyncrasies manifesting in kinesthetic form. Yet, some of us felt an unpleasantly familiar sense of inhibition.
The mass of bodies pulsed self-consciously, oriented towards the stage, eyes locked on the DJ. I reeled through memories of concerts and club nights in my head and recalled the typical and strange disconnect between the two distinct spaces of musical enjoyment. At clubs, where the DJ is often nestled in a booth or somewhat removed from the spotlight, dancers let loose individually or in groups. They fully utilize their spatial circumstance as they lock into a “flow” for hours. At concert halls, on the other hand, you get an effect similar to the one at the Standard: hesitant shuffling, with an occasional enthusiastic dancer as the exception rather than the norm. Amidst the shuffling, I thought: “Are we here to watch music or here to listen?”
As the set drew to a close, I wondered if Clark had an opinion on the matter. Jay and I spotted him standing at a table near the bar with his manager and felt compelled to interrupt. We didn’t get the first part of the interview–and the full answer to our original question–on tape, and our attempt to follow up with Clark’s team after met with failure. A nonetheless engaging conversation ensued. What follows is a transcript of our discussion, beginning at a moment when Clark mentioned moving around stage more than usual during his Big Ears performance. His manager had just offered some insight on the matter.
Clark: Testing, one two. Ok go on. If you’re not like, uh–the less you do on stage, the more, like, the flaws of the music show up really, really brutally. When you’re not trying to cover it up with a dance move. Is that kinda what you’re saying?
Manager: Yeah. Yeah, i think so. I think it’s because–
Clark: You said it better earlier.
Maddie: No, yeah, you did say it– you definitely said it well.
Manager: The way that I look at it is: when you go to a performance, and you’re in the audience, you are–there’s a relationship between the person that’s playing music, no matter what style they have, and you, in the audience. And if you’re not doing very much then there’s little, um, dialogue.
Maddie: Yeah, room for error.
Manager: There’s less body language, and less–there’s less information.
Maddie: Less perception, like fewer senses. Yeah.
Clark: I was thinking about this the other day. When you look at someone on stage, you’re looking at the effects of the music. And if they’re doing a lot of stuff it distracts you from the cause, what’s coming out of the speakers, and the actual cause is the musical decisions and the thing that you’ll judge the music on purely by its own merits. And if you can just like, do a little bit of a twirl…they’re like social effects. It’s like social or cultural rather than the actual music. Whereas if you’re just like, well I might as well not even be here, you’re opening the music up to severe criticism. But, at the same time if your music’s good, people will be like “well okay, this guy’s not gonna do a bit of musical theatre, he’s not in pantomime, he’s not an actor, he’s not like, he’s not a break dancer, so I’ll just listen to the music.” And if you’re music’s good enough, then I think people are really into that. When you’re just like, “Well, no, I’m not gonna ask the crowd to applaud after every breakdown.”
Maddie: No, of course.
Jay: What about from your performance aspect? Do you enjoy it when you’re kinda up there, putting on a show?
Clark: Not always, no. I enjoyed it tonight.
Maddie: I would agree, I would agree. not always.
Manager: No, definitely not always.
Clark: Sometimes it’s awful.
Maddie: Especially when you get discouraged. Like, if something–sometimes–I don’t know. For me at least, something bad happens and I’m just like “Now I don’t wanna–” I mean, I know I gotta keep going but it just–
Clark: Yeah. I think as soon as you start thinking too much about what people are, you know–
Maddie: Perceiving, yeah?
Clark: I mean, just people are. You know, you can’t look at it like it’s like uh, I don’t know. I just can’t. I wish people–well, I don’t wish this at all actually, but like people–
Manager: Disclaimer, that was a disclaimer.
Clark: People are so unpredictable. You can’t get into this mentality that you know what people like and you just need to think about what they want. Because it’s chaos–it’s utter chaos. Every human on this planet is far too intelligent to have one clear motive. So, if you just think of like, you’re playing to an audience of everyone who’s totally different in their own world, with different expectations–they might hate what you do, they might love it–and then you’re just like, well, fuck it, I’m just gonna do what I wanna do. Because you can’t–there’s no way you can–
Maddie: You can’t please everyone.
Clark: It’s not like a focus group, you can’t ask them “do you want to hear a kick drum? Do you want to hear a melody?”
Maddie: Like, how does this snare feel to you, can I make it a little tighter?
Clark: Yeah. It would be really bad, if it was like that. If it was so proscribed, it would be actually–not good.
Maddie: Yeah, that actually brings up another question for me. I guess, for me, when I’m DJing, I’m always wondering…because I have friends who say different things. Some of my friends say, “forget the crowd, just play what you wanna hear, and if you’re really passionate about it then it should come through,” right? And then I have other friends who say, like, you know, “try to tailor what you’re interested in also to the crowd and shit…”
Clark: Oh, fuck that, no. I would reject the second one. Quite strongly.
Maddie: Okay, true. Good, good to know.
Clark: But then–
Maddie: You gotta have a good time, you know.
Clark: Yeah, but then I’ve really gotten into trouble in the past by doing that.
Maddie: Of course it doesn’t always work.
Clark: Yeah, doesn’t always work. Because I’ve just got–I’ve got really shitty taste in music. Like I really love that Beyonce track–this isn’t on tape right?–that Halo track.
Maddie: Which Beyonce track?
Maddie: Oh Halo, yeah! it’s not bad.
Clark: My girlfriend caught me listening to it. I listened to it in the morning on headphones, like while I was making coffee. I had it on like four times in a row on loop. And it was like a guilty pleasure.
Maddie: She doesn’t know.
Clark: She was like, “Have you–are you just there? Listening to that? You’ve just been listening to that for about half an hour on loop?”
Manager: That’s almost grounds for divorce isn’t it?
Clark: It’s a fucking amazing tune.
Manager: No, no, I know, I was joking.
Clark: That track is amazing.
Manager: I know it quite well. Why do you think it’s bad to listen to?
Clark: Well, no. It was more the fact that I was–it wasn’t the track, she loves it as well–it was more that I was like listening to it in the morning on headphones, almost like I was looking at porn or something and she’d caught me having a wang.
Manager: And you were in, like, a white vest.
Maddie: A moment.
Clark: Because I was just sitting there, like, with my tea.
Jay: Did she interrupt the moment? Or did she let it flow?
Clark: No, she just, like, smirked at me and was like “You’ve been listening to that–you really like that song, don’t you?” You know when you’re called out for liking something a bit too much, and it didn’t deserve that much love.
Jay: I feel like that’s where musical tastes are made, though. Like on the fringes–the weird shit that other people don’t like, but that you somehow manage to enjoy.
Maddie: I feel like that’s how genres are made, almost. You know, just kinda take something that’s super on the fringe and make this new genre out of it.
Jay: Not that Beyonce is exactly on the fringe.
Maddie: Not that Beyonce is, no, but…
Manager: She’s had a fringe before.
Clark: She kind of is, because that track is so fucking technically accomplished. It’s like, these insane melodies that she just belts out. And it’s quite easy to, like–I can sing that to myself internally, but–
At this point, a member of the road crew instructed the men to pack up their items and prepare for travel. Our conversation was cut tragically short, leaving us with many questions: what secrets does Clark know about ‘Halo’? When was Beyoncé on the fringe? When will people stop staring and start dancing? We might have to hunt Clark down at Pitchfork to find out. -Maddie Higgins
Featured image via Chris Clark’s soundcloud.
Holly Herndon’s set at Big Ears this year was easily one of my top three of the weekend. Accompanied by visuals from her husband Mat Dryhurst, Holly flowed between songs, mixing improvisation with more formal songs. Rooted in techno and avant-garde electronic music, her music moves in strange but familiar ways. Take, for instance, “Chorus“: Over glitchy waves of sampled browser content, scattered drum hits build into a beat, grooving for long enough to convey the instant familiarity of dance music before breaking back down into scattered percussion hits and glitchy samples.
I got the chance to interview her before her Red Bull-sponsored show last Tuesday at the Empty Bottle. We talked about her compositional techniques, her approach to live shows, and what her upcoming album Platform will sound like. Listen to the full audio below.
Featured image via Holly Herndon’s website.
Los Perros Cubanos, a local band that visited our WNUR studio last winter, will be presenting their newest program on June 14th at 27 Live in Evanston. Roger Sosa, the band’s leader, spent a few minutes chatting with Continental Drift about this upcoming show and their recording plans for the nearest future.
Featured image via Los Perros Cubanos Website
A couple of Rock Show DJs had a chance to sit down with guitarist Mark McGuire, formerly of Emeralds, to talk about his new album, his upcoming collaborations, and his approach to making music. Be sure to check out Mark’s most recent album, Along the Way, out now on Dead Oceans!
Listen to the interview here, or check the text after the jump!
Here begins our rollout of coverage of Big Ears Festival, which went down last weekend in Knoxville, TN. First up, we have an interview with Chicago’s own Glenn Kotche, who you might know as the drummer from Wilco. Kotche is a man of many hats – a percussionist and a composer. Check out his new album, Adventureland, which was released on Cantaloupe Music on March 25.
Listen to an audio version of the interview here, or check the text after the jump.
WNUR News had the opportunity to sit down with Marissa Penrod, the founder of the Dance Marathon 2014 Beneficiary, Team Joseph. We discussed the struggles in starting a foundation, the complications involved in finding a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and the power of the Dance Marathon experience.
You can find more Dance Marathon coverage at WNUR News.
WNUR DJ Jessica Peng spoke with singer songwriter Maris Maeve, a senior student at Northwestern University. Her latest album “Inflection Point” was released in 2012, songs from which were featured in the Spring 2013 issue of NU Helicon literary magazine.
“Playing with Fire”