You've been on a world tour in the last year with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Can you explain what that's been like and what you've seen that’s blown you away?
First and foremost, being able to say that music has given me the opportunity to travel the world is pretty amazing. Since September of 2013, I've travelled to over 18 countries around the globe with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, and I'm very thankful to them for that opportunity. To express the sheer impact that much traveling and exposure to the world abroad has had on me is hard to encapsulate with any sort of brevity, but it has been eye-opening, to say the least, and also inspiring for my own creative writing in music. Some of the most stand out spots that I had a chance to see were: The Zen Buddhist and Shinto Temples in Kamakura, Japan; The Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, and the 100 Islands in Alaminos, Phillipines. I think also seeing a powerful song like, "Same Love" and have audiences worldwide singing along to it (regardless of race, background, upbringing etc.), has been stunning.In the time when you've been home recently you've done a lot of string arrangements for incredible musicians. Let's rapid fire - I'll mention a handful of artists and you explain in a sentence or two the style in which you've composed:
David Bazan - David Bazan and myself are currently in the middle of working on a joint album together, and it features my group the Passenger String Quartet. Bazan and myself first had the opportunity to collaborate back in July 2012 for a show, and it's exciting that we are finally able to take that performance and crystallize it on a record. I've also been a huge fan of Bazan and his songwriting ever since Pedro the Lion. Stylistically, my string arranging for this album seems to be a healthy cross between the There Will Be Blood soundtrack, and Bjork's Family Tree. Plan on seeing the album out in the latter part of 2014 with a tour to follow.
Kris Orlowski - I've had the pleasure of working with Kris Orlowski for a number of years now, since our first release together, Kris Orlowski with the Passenger String Quartet Live at the Fremont Abbey. We released a joint album together called, Pieces We Are, which had me writing full orchestral scores - brass, woodwinds, and full symphonic strings. We were going for a more folk/pop vibe, so I tried to write the music in that vein.
Mark Lanegan - I worked with Mark Lanegan on his latest release, Imitations, which was a cover album of old classics like “Mack the Knife”, “Autumn Leaves”, “You Only Live Twice”, etc. The fun thing for me was that I had to dig back through all the old John Barry, Andy Williams arrangements and create my own take on them, and definitely give it that dark, gloomy, Lanegan spin. Was awesome to be a part of that!
Susy Sun - In October 2013, Seattle songstress Susy Sun released her album, Wanderlust which I contributed 5 string quartet arrangements to. Since her music and singing is much more delicate, I had to make sure that my writing was extra sensitive to the vocals, and matched the beautiful tracks that she wrote.
Judy Collins - In January I worked with folk legend Judy Collins for a short string of shows in the Pacific Northwest with the Passenger String Quartet backing her. I arranged a small set for her (to a couple of her classic tunes like “Mountain Girl”), and also composed an original set of my own music which we showcased as the opening act for her while on tour. Having an opportunity to play my own cover of Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah” for her was a musician's dream.
Kevin Sur - Currently I'm working with songwriter/composer/Artist Home director, Kevin Sur for a collaborative album involving PSQ. Will be going into the studio in Mid-May. Stay-tuned...
Tell me about the Passenger String Quartet - when did it form? What's the thesis of the group? Is it something that aims to be able to fit any situation musically?
The Passenger String Quartet is an extension of my own arranging/composing, and is a stellar crew of string players that I put together from around Seattle. I use it as a platform to perform my own original neo-classical/avant garde arrangements, but also as a group that can back a wide-variety of artists that I work with in and out of the studio while composing for their albums/shows. Essentially the group does aim to be able to fit any situation musically, because it continually challenges me to write string based compositions for everything from rock, to hip-hop, folk, country, electronica, and more.
The group initially came together back in 2010 when we were first hired to backup Suzanne Vega at the Moore Theater. The name for the group is a slightly longer story though. I was a music/English student in college, and studied Charles Dickens a lot, and fell in love with a part from The Christmas Carol:
"But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."
Just always thought that was such a beautiful line of writing. Ever since then, I wanted to start a band called 'Fellow Passengers To the Grave,' but it seemed a little too cryptic out of context. Once the string quartet formed, it seemed natural to just apply that name to the group in a modified form. Win-Win!
How does Seattle inform your work? How long have you lived here? What does the city offer you in terms of inspiration?
I moved to Seattle shortly after I graduated Western Washington University, around 2006-ish. I've always loved how vibrant and communal the music scene in Seattle is - and it is also incredibly multi-faceted. Between organizations like the Bushwick Book Club (which recruits songwriters/composers from all over Seattle to write original music for a specific show), Love City Love, The Seattle Rock Lottery Benefit, and The Seattle Rock Orchestra (which taps into singers/bands from a lot of different genres for their tribute shows), Seattle does a great job with encouraging collaboration between artists (visual, written, musical, and beyond).
It is this idea of collaboration that has influenced a lot of the work that I do as a composer and arranger, and it is continually pushing me to become a better artist. To this day, one of my favorite collaborations I have done in the past, is I wrote a full orchestral score to back a spoken word poem by Roberto Ascalon for a show at Town Hall. Was beautiful and stunning. Seems like a pretty Seattle thing to me.
Some more quick hits…
If you could only use one Key (A-minor, F#-major, etc.) what would it be?
D minor. One of my favorite Bach pieces of all time is the Partita No. 2 (Chaccone) for solo violin in D minor. With what Bach did with a single key, and how much he expanded on it.... I could only hope that one day I could write something even remotely close to that achievement.
If you could compose music underneath any poet’s language, who would it be?
D.H. Lawrence with his work. It is very sublime, yet raw, and I feel like I could write some beautiful music as an underscore. Couple runner-ups: Alan Watts (with his lectures and written works), and/or John Donne with his shorter works.
If you could teach one famous person the violin, who would it be?
David Bowie or Harrison Ford (it would just be such a kick with either of them).
Lastly, what’s coming up next for you?
I'm currently writing my own solo debut album of original songs (set to full orchestrations), which I will then bring to different singers (based on the needs of the various pieces). It will be kind of like a musical equivalent to Cinderella, and trying to find the right person to fit my glass slippers! Currently some of the tracks are in a dark Portishead/Bjork vibe right now that I'm actually surprised came out of me! It is fun and very revealing to finally let my own creative voice come out after all my collaborations with so many different artists.
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