Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Karl Jannuska: "On the Brighter Side"

When I arrived on the doorsteps of McGill University in Montreal during the mid-1990s, it was a very good time to be studying Jazz drums at that school. In addition to the stellar drum faculty of Chris McCann, Dave Laing, Andre White and Michel Lambert, the other students who were also studying there at the time set the bar very high for us incoming freshmen. One of those drummers I looked up to was undoubtedly Karl Jannuska, originally from Brandon, Manitoba and now a resident of Paris, France (*I would also include the likes of Jesse Cahill, Rich Irwin and, a few years later, Jim Doxas and Greg Ritchie in that same crop, among others....)

Karl's innate musicality was evident from the first time I heard him play (incidentally at a now long-gone Jazz club in Regina, Saskatchewan called Cafe '97, backing up trumpeter Dave Mossing and pianist Tilden Webb). A tremendous musician, he's is also one of the few drummers out there who, in my opinion, really transcends the drums in terms of his musical choices. Karl is ALL ears, ALL the time and I am always inspired and impressed by the creative musicality he exhibits from behind the drum set. He's also one of the nicest people you'll ever meet.

Karl has been in Paris, France for over a decade now and is in high demand for his drumming. In his spare time (!) he has also found time to compose and produce his own music. His album "On The Brighter Side" is his most recent sonic offering. Learn more about Karl and his music over at his website: http://www.karljannuska.com

Karl was also nice enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of my questions about his most recent project:

Karl Jannuska - Four on the Floor Interview December 2018

1) Tell us about your latest recording!

"On The Brighter Side" is my sixth recording as a leader. I wrote all of the music and lyrics interpreted by a fantastic young French singer named Cynthia Abraham. I started this album pretty much at the same time as my last one, "Midseason", about 3-4 years ago. Each instrument was recorded separately which is a time consuming process but one that allowed me to really focus in on the sound and nuances of each new element being added to the mix. In September and October 2017 I took Protools lessons and this album reflects some techniques that I learned. I spent a great deal of time at the computer, looking for sounds, manipulating the sounds of different instruments, editing, moving notes around and generally exploring the post production possibilities of the studio. That said, I made a conscious attempt to not try to "clean" everything and make it to polished sounding. I wanted to still make it feel alive. When asked to categorize this music I have a lot of trouble and like to avoid putting it in a box. I think it's a pretty unique blend of jazz and alternative music (which is just as wide a category as jazz...). For lack of a better term, I often call it "Indie Jazz".

2) How did you choose your repertoire and sidemen?

When I started recording "Midseason" I went into the studio a few times and recorded drum parts to a lot of songs - more than could fit on one album. In a way, some of the material on this new recording are the leftovers from "Midseason"! They were songs that I really liked though... I'm someone who composes on a regular basis. I don't wait to have a project to write for. I just compose because it's something I enjoy and is a big part of who I am as a musician. To complete the album, I somehow chose some other songs of mine to record - songs that complemented the other ones and songs that I had written lyrics to. I was actually worried that this album wouldn't be coherent as I didn't give too much thought to the overall picture beforehand. I just started recording songs. Now that it's done, it seems like it's all a part of the same universe. Part of that is due to having the voice of Cynthia as a common thread. This leads me to the next part of the question! I met Cynthia about four years ago as I was looking for a singer in Paris to work with. I worked for a long time with Sienna Dahlen (from Toronto) which was wonderful but the distance became an issue. We did a rehearsal together and I knew within about ten minutes that I had found the right singer for my band. The other sidemen are mostly musicians that I'd worked with before : Pierre Perchaud (guitar) appears on several of my records. The other guitar player, Federico Casagrande is new to my music but we've been friends for a long time. In my live band I use both guitar players and they really complement each other nicely. Tony Paeleman is someone who had a huge role in this. He plays all of the keyboards and he mixed and mastered the album. We play together in a bunch of different bands and are part of the same musical family. Seamus Blake appears on two tracks although, I have a confession to make, I took a lot of post-production liberties with the music he recorded. I would also like to mention Baptiste Germser who plays french horn, bass and keyboards. We had a lot of fun in his home studio searching for different sounds and exploring the possibilities of the studio (check out the end of Parsimony to get an idea). A friend of mine recommended him to me and we hit it off right away. There are ten other musicians that appear on this recording. Most of them I've known for a while but there were some nice musical meetings such as Baptiste.

3) What inspired you to pursue the vibe and instrumentation that you did?

I tried to let myself be guided by the phrase "do what's right for the song". Basically each song has a different instrumentation. There's even one song with no drums - odd for a drummer's record! As for the vibe, that just came naturally when I followed what each song needed. I've really enjoyed having vocals on my music for the past few records. It just seems natural.

4) Was there a particular message you were trying to convey to the listener?

Not really. To be honest, I didn't give any thought to how this music would be perceived while I was recording it. While writing a description of my music for a presentation, I said that, if my music could have one super power it would be the power of levitation. It's not a message but a sense of floating away is the effect I'd like my music to have.

5) Who are your influences with regards to this style of writing and playing?

The bands I've been listening to recently are Dirty Projectors, Deerhoof, Radiohead, Syd Matters, The Barr Brothers, Bjork, Kurt and Chris Weisman. I don't think this music sounds like any of them but those are some groups that have influenced me recently.

6) What are you practicing/studying/listening to/researching these days?

Well, I've been listening to the bands I mentioned above, plus I spend a lot of time listening to the repertoires of the musicians I play with in Paris. Most are not known outside of France. I don't practice that much anymore. I have almost as much technique as I would like to have. When I do practice it's just to keep my hands and feet in shape and to have fun exploring different grooves - some of which become drum parts for new songs. For me, working on a new album and having input from the musicians I play with. Also, digging deeper into the possibilities of the studios and learning the program Protools is something that interests me more than working on playing faster or more complex things on the drums.

7) What other current and future projects do you have on the go at the moment?

I'm a part of the band called The Watershed with Tony Paeleman (keyboards), Pierre Perchaud (guitar) and Christophe Panzani (saxophones). It's all improvised music (though we like to call it spontaneous composition). We just had a tour in Mexico in September and it was amazing. These guys are fantastic musicians and we never seem to run out of ideas! Check out www.thewatershed.fr for more info. Together we've started the Shed Music label which is the label that "On The Brighter Side" is on. Aside from that, I'm an active member of about ten bands. Never a dull moment!

8) How do the drums and your overall approach to rhythm factor into your compositions and concept?

Some songs have been written around specific drum grooves. "On The Brighter Side" is a good example. One exercise I work on with drummers is playing a steady stream of 8th notes around the drums leaving occasional breaths in the line (half random, half controlled). Listening back to my song "I'll Find You" where there are three different takes of drums layered on each other, I can really hear how this exercise is directly linked to my music. I'm sure someone like Sherlock Holmes would listen to my music and sense that it was written by a drummer. The drumming isn't showy or demonstrative I think but the drums are up pretty high in the mix and, even if it's hard to put into words, it's innate in the music I write.

9) What drummers (or other musicians) do you consider as influences?

Where do I begin??? Brian Blade is a big influence. He's versatile and has the whole spectrum of being a sensitive accompanist to roaring and bringing the fire to the music. Joey Baron is big too. Again, very versatile. Really fun to watch as he just looks like a kid exploring the sounds of the instrument. Deep groove. Jeff Ballard has this really percussive thing that I love. I've been listening to him for years and it always seems fresh. He's one of the few drummers that I don't hear a lot of younger people imitating. He's really got a unique approach. In another style Greg Saunier from the band Deerhoof blows me away. He's got an incredible time feel - very elastic. I've seen the band live about five or six times and he's into the music completely. He's also a really great composer.

10) What advice do you have for younger, aspiring jazz musicians?

Don't do it halfway. 
Be curious. 
Listen to everything and play with as many different musicians as you can. 
Leave all of your doors open. 
Really listen to music. 
Put your phone down and really listen to what's going on. 
When the record is done, listen to it again. You'll hear new things you missed the first time. 
If you love what you're doing, you'll manage and you can make a career out of this but only if you're willing to devote yourself to it fully.
Practice a lot but don't forget to live. It's a balancing act - as is life. 

As you get further along in your study of music you may lose sight of the joy you got from playing your instrument for the first few times. Don't forget how that felt and try to keep that spark alive.
It's precious. 

Also, don't forget to breathe!

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