Interview: Jon Batiste and Stay Human
Mon, 27 Jan 2014 10:37:52
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"We're on the road, making a pit stop to get some breakfast at a diner somewhere in Iowa," says Jon Batiste. "We just left Indiana at 6am this morning. We had a show last night. We'll be here in Iowa a couple of days."
Jon Batiste and Stay Human have been tirelessly delivering their latest album Social Music to the masses live, and those same masses are responding with overwhelming enthusiasm. The Louisiana piano virtuoso is keeping old school jazz alive with his impeccable chops and irresistible song craft. Simply put, Social Music is immediately impressive, conjuring the spirit of Thelonious Monk for a new age. Yet at the same time, Batiste is his own musician, and that's why his legacy will endure as well.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Jon Batiste talks all about Social Music and so much more.
How did you approach Social Music? It flows as a cohesive work of art.
The album is one piece from beginning to end. It's great to hear you feel that way when you listen to it. That was the concept. The idea was to create a different montage of musical traditions and put them together in a cohesive statement. It wasn't to touch on everything under the sun, but really to use the chemistry of the group and the concept of Social Music and present it in its first installment.
Are the threads musical, thematic, or emotional?
When you listen to the album, it's a reflection of a lot of different things. One of the main things is my time in New York. Being there for the last ten years, it's representative of the album starting at night. It's raining, and you're inside playing the piano. You hear the thunder and the sound of rain against the windowpane. It's the poetic experience of playing the piano and looking out the window. It turns into a joyous morning as the next track continues. The day starts to go on. As the day goes on, you get into the funk of it and the flavor of the city where you get to express yourself. It continues on. There's also the darker side of the city where you have a lot of homeless people and others who are struggling. In the heart of the city, there's a lot of grit. You hear that when you have Eddie playing on "Lonely Cry in Manhattan". It continues on through a day in New York until you get back to what I consider twilight or dawn in the last track "The Spirit is With Us". That's reflection. That's the concept as far as the setting goes. I'm always trying to think of a narrative for the setting. That was definitely what I was thinking of for New York City life.
How did "The Spirit is With Us" come together?
Well, I'm a closet electronica fan. I'm very much into a lot of what is going on in the emo scene as well. There are a lot of things happening, and I feel like you can't fit everything into one album. I thought it was appropriate to go in that route for the last track of the album. It leaves you in a certain place. It's the end, but it's the beginning. I created that one based on the theme of "Let God Lead", which is the second song on the record. That thematically ties everything together after the introduction. I created that with the melody of "Let God Lead".
What does Social Music mean to you?
In regards to the genre, it's whatever you want it to be. The idea of calling our music Social Music came from trying to avoid the dispute and the angst you hear in the artistic community about genre allegiance and this or that and really name the music based on the intent. The intent is to bring together from all different backgrounds. The spirit of the music is about people coming together. That's the energy we bring to our concerts. That's the energy we want to bring to our album. If people want to call our music something, call it Social Music.
What song speaks to you the most right now from the album?
We're touring right now, and we're playing a lot of these songs. They've been evolving. When you tour with a band, the songs obviously don't come across the way they did on the record. They evolve, and parts are added. I'd say "Express Yourself" right now. We've been really adding cool things to it.
What artists shaped you?
On the drive here, we were listening to Stevie Wonder. I've been a fan of him for a long time. There are so many different artists. If you were looking at the jazz influence, I'd say Duke Ellington. If you were talking about piano, it'd be somebody like Thelonius Monk. He was a big influence. I love the way Nick Drake writes even though he's got a lot of dark material. It's not the direction I'm going in, but it's in the way he puts the songs together and the melody.
Have you heard Jon Batiste and Stay Human yet?