By: Harrison Giza
The reason I love music so much is because it can take you away from whatever you’ve got going on in your life. Music can capture moments, feelings, and tell stories while you’re having a cup of coffee with your headphones in. Listening to a song makes living become a daydream… and there are few artists these days that share their individual dreams.
Bill Laurance thinks up genre-bending compositions as if it were easy. Laurance, Grammy award – winner and keyboardist for the critically-praised Snarky Puppy, is a master musician. He lives in his philosophies, limiting himself to a “less is more” aesthetic. He wrote “Chia,” my favorite piece of his, in a tea house in China and just combined China and tea to get the title.
I bring this up because it shows the assertive simplicity of Laurance’s work. Tracks like “Flint” and “Neverending City” have traits from multiple musical tiers, all used at the right time. In “City” the bass is bumping and thumping and pulverizes with punches of rippling bliss. And then, this melted-Daft Punk sound rips through the low-ridden funk. The drums step up. The piano dabbles around. Each song the man makes is a full course of flavor, never over-cooked and perfectly roasted. He’s the Joe Hishashi of a snarkily-pupped world.
I got to talk to Bill shortly after he left Brazil and headed to France. We talked about musical mindsets, writing his album “Flint,” and his love of French jam.
HG: What makes a good song?
BL: Clear intention through the use of strong melody, infectious rhythm with an original approach to the arrangement/orchestration.
HG: What is like to be admired by Ahmad Jamal?
BL: It’s pretty strange to be meeting the people who have inspired me. It was a huge privilege to meet Ahmad. He’s such a gentleman and so humble. I’m hoping to meet him again in August to talk more about life and music.
HG: Do you have a favorite piece of his?
BL: Poinciana has always been my favorite. The understated quality of that composition is so powerful.
HG: How do you know when to end a song? What makes you pull the plug and finish a piece?
BL: I try and let it be a natural thing. If it feels like its time to end, then I end. If it feels good then I keep going. Then I go back and edit further afterwards. I try to maintain a less is more philosophy.
HG: Describe your perfect breakfast.
BL: Warm croissants with French jam, fresh peaches and coffee in the sun.
HG: How do you write? When are you most creative?
BL: On the move. I find I write best when my surroundings are changing frequently. Particularly whilst on a mode of transport. I often use the rhythm of the vehicle to keep the song in motion. I also use the places I go to inspire the themes and titles of the songs. Never-ending city I wrote about Tokyo and Flint was inspired by a visit to Flint Michigan both whilst on tour with Snarky Puppy.
HG: Why the keyboard? Do you remember your first lessons?
BL: My Grandpa’s old piano was in the house I grew up in and I was always messing around with it. Then my first teacher was a ragtime player. That got me hooked from the age of 7 and that’s what got me through the grades, just wanting to play ragtime.
I feel lucky to have ended up as a pianist. To me its the ultimate instrument with the widest vocabulary.
HG: Name the songs that keep you sane.
BL: Greek song – Rufus Wainwright
I Can’t Run – Paul Simon
Micheal Jackson – Remember the time
Aretha Franklin – Love for sale (live)
Come running to me – Herbie Hancock
Drive – Bobby McFerrin
To name a few…
HG: Towards the tail end of “Chia,” about the last minute, you get a surreal mix of instruments. To me it sounds like something out of an adventure film or maybe even a Zelda title. How do you decide when to escalate or brighten a particular song?
BL: Again it has to feel natural. It’s also knowing when you need an extra lift. We knew Zack Brock (Violin) was going to play something amazing for that solo so we had to follow it with a strong outro. I had the chords written and Mike League added the horn melody to bring the section to a climax.
HG: Do you have a favorite film? A guilty pleasure album?
BL: Film – Danny the champion of the world.Guilty pleasure – Now that’s what I call music ’90
HG: Those glasses. What brand and when did you start wearing them?
BL: They’re designed by Spex in the city in Covent Garden, London.
HG: Where do you see the future of music going? Where will you be in it?
BL: I’m interested in braking down the boundaries between genres. I want to show how deep groove and classical sensibility can sit happily side by side. I think we are in an exciting time where people have much wider access to music than ever before which is encouraging artists to cross pollinate genre and style. My goal is to bring different genres together and show how all music ultimately comes from the same place.
HG: How easy a transfer is doing solo work when compared to working with Snarky Puppy? Do you have more freedom alone?
BL: Its a move I’ve been waiting for for some time. But I didn’t want to do it till I felt sure what I had was truly me. This album is the result of all the music I have come to love and I wanted to emphasise the eclectic element.
HG: I find that your compositions are hard to stick a name tag on. If you could, how would you describe your own personal genre?
BL: That’s a tough one, but if i had to i would go for Classical Soul.
BL: Snarky Puppy gave a performance in Flint Michigan and it had a profound impact on me. I’d never experienced such a true hunger for live instrumental music. I was working on the album while we were touring there and the name of the place stuck with me. Flint also represents the first spark of inspiration. The beginning of things.
HG: What can someone expect from seeing you live?
BL: Deep groove with classical sensibility. Classical Soul!