Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Sunday Conversation with John Frazier

Incorporating violins, narrative-like vocals, and off time beats, John Frazier and the 8 Year Olds debut album, Boogieman, tore the mesh off of my speakers within a handful of listens. What makes music so compelling? Is it the unorthodox to rock n' roll instrumentation? Or, is there something else lurking in the depths of the man's creative cortex? Join us this morning as we sit down with John Frazier to learn more about the man's approach to making music.

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, and Simon & Garfunkel, the first time I ever hear Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphanies since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.

What have been your musical epiphany moments?

There are truly and thankfully so many, but here (chronologically) are
five big ones:

1. The "Pinball Countdown" song from Sesame Street (with accompanying
psychedelic cartoon), which I recently learned was performed by The
Pointer Sisters
: My first realization of funk.

2. "Billie Jean" at Motown 25: Michael Jackson!

3. Jane's Addiction's first record (eponymously titled and released on the
XXX label): Redefined rock and roll.

4. Marc Ribot y Los Cubanos Postizos live on Sessions at West 54th Street:
Reinspired my love for the guitar.

5. The first time I heard Rebecca Moore perform: Such powerfully haunting,
beautiful and brilliant songs from someone within my community of friends.

Incorporating violin in a rock format adds some bizarre and intriguing textures to some of the harder edges of your music. How did it come about to utilize the violins?

For that, among so much else, I have Rebecca Moore to thank. Rebecca
incorporated strings (violin, viola and cello) in her ensemble, Prevention
of Blindness
. 8 Year Olds co-founder, christener and bassist,
Dug Winningham, and drummer, Veronica Fox née Olvera, had been
playing with me for a little while, but I knew we needed another member -
someone to handle some lead and melody lines - but definitely did not want
another guitarist. I was fortunate, at that point, to be given the
opportunity to tour in Rebecca's band, and that's where I met Pinky
Weitzman. Pinky was Rebecca's violist. And though Prevention of Blindness
isn't a rock band, and the instrument wasn't employed the same way, Pinky
and I recognized each other as kindred musical spirits, and I knew I'd
found the missing 8 Year Old.

Interestingly, at the same time, Pinky also invited me to join her newly
forming band, Not Waving But Drowning. We've since made our debut
record, 'Any Old Iron', and recently wrapped up our first tour.

Genre's are so misleading and such a way to pigeonhole bands. Without resorting to labels, how would you describe your music?

It's rock and roll. Anything else I could say would just be fashion.
Nothing against fashion, of course. You should see this one pair of shoes
I have. The soles look like they were made from an old globe!

In songwriting, how do you bring the song together? What do you look for in terms of complexity? Simplicity? Time changes?

Mason Brown (of Not Waving But Drowning) often has a laugh over my
unconscious penchant for balancing everyday objects in precarious ways
when perfectly viable and safer options are readily available. I'm
inclined to suspect that this tendency is also at work in my songwriting

I found the lyrics, the phrasing, and delivery of the vocals throughout Boogieman to be unique and, thankfully, not clichéd. How did you decide to take the approach on the vocals the way you did?

By attending to the notion that everybody has a unique
physical voice and mental perspective, and that they can inform and enhance
each other in song if allowed to

For you, what makes a great song?

The understanding and willingness to genuinely deliver it.

What piece of your music are you particularly proud of?

I'm proud of my overall effort more so than any particular piece. But I
distrust pride as an often manipulative deceiver and find it better to
feel gratitude in general.

The business of music is a brutal place. Changes in technology have made it easier than ever for bands to get their music out, but harder than ever to make a living? What are your plans to move the band forward? How do you stay motivated in this brutal business?

I am, and have been, motivated quite a lot by technology. It's what made
'Boogieman' as well as my solo record, 'Outside', possible. I'm also
motivated by collaborating with wonderful and talented people. The music
resonating with folks is what creates the opportunities to move things

Anyone who's spent more than a couple of minutes in the music business
has a Spinal Tap moment or two. Share with us one of your more memorable
Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments.

It's not a moment, but a condition! I am in a constant state of struggle
with my desire to do a free-form jazz exploration in front of a festival

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

CD. Vinyl is too impractical, though the artwork soars and the sound is
rich; and MP3s, though phenomenally convenient, are like aural confetti.
However, in the interest of full disclosure, I confess to not owning a
proper vinyl collection or a proper MP3 player, so I'm somewhat answering
from a position of complacent ignorance sustained by a sentimental
attachment to the many, many CDs I've acquired over the years.

We, at The Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. When we come to your town, what's the best record store to visit?

Downtown Music Gallery, Other Music, Norman's, Sound Fix... New York has a
lot of great record stores.

Any words of wisdom to pass on to our readers?

How about this gem from Canadian author, Robertson Davies: "We all
subscribe thoughtlessly to many beliefs, the truth of which isn't made
known to us until experience gives them reality. Wisdom can be borrowed,
to speak, on the experiences of others, but we buy it at an inordinate
price before we make it our own forever."

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