Rounding off the Free Nelson Mandoomjazz series, Colin Stewart (whose electric bass brings much of the structure to FNMDJ’s tunes) takes up the challenge and answers the same questions as Rebecca Sneddon and Paul Archibald…
1. What was your first musical instrument, and what did it mean to you?
My first musical instrument was actually a cornet. I tried out to join the school orchestra essentially because I knew that it would get me out of class sometimes to go and practice. From there I moved onto the euphonium and then the tuba but I was certainly never particularly serious about any of them.
2. What’s your ‘guilty’ listening pleasure? (i.e. something you listen to in secret?)
Shouldn’t it just be ok to listen to whatever you like? I guess if I have a guilty pleasure it would be Bayside who are a sort of emo punk-rock band I used to listen to a lot when I was a teenager and I actually still like. Haven’t listened to their new album yet though. Other than that I’m a sucker for a good rock ballad or power metal anthem.
3. What are your non-musical influences?
Certainly in terms of writing for this band, I take a lot of inspiration from books, specifically short stories. I never used to understand their appeal when I had to study short stories in school but my dad introduced me to Edgar Allan Poe and I was hooked. Obviously with us being an instrumental band, we don’t have lyrics from which to take song names so our songs often end up being named after something that influenced the writing of that particular track. So there are a few like ‘Erich Zann’ and ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ which have taken their names from stories by Poe and HP Lovecraft. There’s a great sense of atmosphere and often building tension that I really like and that I think is represented in a lot of our music as well.
4. What’s the balance of preparation vs. improvisation for the average live set or recording?
Well there is obviously a lot of improvisation. Every time we play a song it’s different. None of our songs are entirely written out but the structure of the song is set by the bass riffs. So my parts don’t really change at all. I just provide the framework for Paul and Becca to improvise over. Paul usually has a reasonably set idea of what he wants to do with a section of a song but it’s certainly never written in strict parts so he’s very free to include fills and to change things up where he wants. Becca again has an idea of what sort of sound she’s going for in a particular section but very little of what she does is scripted. There are obviously a few harmony parts and riffs here and there where she plays a written part but I would say 90% or more of what she does is improvised. Having said all that there is still a reasonable degree of preparation that has to go into making sure that we are all in sync and are all aware of what is going to happen next because the songs themselves change fairly dramatically in length when we play them live. If we’re really feeling a certain section or Becca’s doing something really interesting then we’ll just elongate that part.
(K54 – from the Saxophone Giganticus EP, inspired by Domenico Scarlatti)
5. What have been the best and worst moments playing live?
The best moment was probably playing at the Berlin Jazz Festival just because it was such a big show for us. We’d never really played anything on that scale before and to get a really good reception was amazing. It was actually a longer set than we’re normally used to so we were a little shocked to get called back for an encore which wasn’t helped by the fact that we’d played everything we had rehearsed in order to fill out the time!
I’ve enjoyed all the shows we’ve done as far as I can remember. Obviously sometimes you don’t play to as many people as you might hope but as long as someone’s into the music it doesn’t matter. Actually some of our smallest gigs have turned into our best merchandise sales! The worst thing that happened while we were on tour was definitely when our van was broken into in Bristol at the start of the last tour. We had to drive to get a ferry to France about 4 hours later and we had no sat-nav and a broken window to fix. None of us got a lot of sleep that night.
6. Where do you stand on the streaming/downloading/file-sharing/musicians-not-getting-paid-for-their-music debate?
I think I’ve come to peace with the inevitability of the fact that with the internet being what it is you’ll never be able to avoid some people getting your music for free. When I was younger I downloaded music for free simply because I couldn’t afford to buy everything that I wanted. Although that is still very much the case, nowadays I just settle for buying what I can afford and live with not having everything. I’m not personally a big fan of streaming because someone out there is making a lot of money just for making other people’s music available for (virtually) free. As far as I’m concerned it’s the same as file-sharing only with a corporate face and slightly more oversight but everybody more or less has to do it because the big acts do since they can actually make money from it. For me personally I like having a physical product and that’s why I like to buy vinyl. Most of our sales are physical merchandise because we are not a well known band so I guess for us at this point in our career it isn’t too big a factor.
7. What’s next? (musically, geographically, recording, tours, ensembles, anything…)
We’re in talks with our label Rare Noise Records about scheduling some studio time to record a new album and it looks like we’ll be releasing sometime in the second half of next year with a tour sometime shortly afterwards. Unfortunately, our situation is such that we can’t tour as much as we would like, principally because I live in Abu Dhabi which as you can imagine makes things rather difficult. Hopefully a time will come when it is easier for us all to get together on a more regular basis but that’s not likely to be next year. We’re trying to get out some of the live footage and recordings that we’ve made over the last year to hopefully tide people over until our next album so keep an eye on the Facebook page in the meantime.
“Awakening of a Capital” and “The Shape of DoomJazz to Come / Saxophone Giganticus” are both available from RareNoise Records.