An Interview

Brad Shepik (I)

This interview with Brad Shepik took place during November 2006 by email.

Tony Reif: How did this trio come together? You had incredibly tight trios with Tom Rainey and acoustic bass for at what, at least five years? There were two beautiful CDs on Knitting Factory with Scott Colley [which since the demise of the label are now only available directly from Brad] — so why organ now, and why Gary Versace in particular?

Brad Shepik: I had been playing a few little gigs in New York and Brooklyn four or five years ago with Gary and was hoping to eventually do a project with him. We had a short tour in the summer 2005 and our bassist Matt Penman wasn’t available. (Matt had done the previous tours in Europe since Scott wasn’t available for those.) At that point Gary was able to step right and just kill it. He is one of the most in-demand musicians I know for good reason, he has incredible ears, taste and chops. I’m really lucky that both he and Tom are into this group.

TR: Has the new trio configuration with Gary had a significant effect on your composing? Your playing? The group concept and improvising?

BS: Yes, Gary has definitely added a new dimension to the group. I think we don’t really know what it could be. We just have to play to find out, which basically means I have to get busy and get us some gigs.

TR: On most of your records you like to include a piece in the Indonesian pelog tuning system, a set of related 5-note modal scales for gamelan (or at least its tempered equivalent) — here it’s “Batur,” named after the sacred volcano of Bali. What attracts you to this mode?

BS: Beyond the sound of it I don’t really know.

TR: Your previous CDs on Songlines, The Loan and The Well, and more recently your Lingua Franca collaboration with Peter Epstein and Matt Kilmer, have integrated a lot of other world music influences, from west African and North African to middle Eastern to Balkan to Celtic to reggae. Over the years you’ve spent a long time studying and working with Arabic, Turkish and Persian music, playing it on guitar and especially on saz and other ÒethnicÓ instruments. When doing a “jazz” record like this, how do you think all those other musical styles and materials which you don’t overtly bring into the record have affected your composing and playing?

BS: I don’t think too much about the surface or the style that might be hinted at when composing or playing. I don’t aim for anything in particular in that area mainly because I’m not well enough versed in any tradition other than jazz to really express myself. With the composing for this group I think more about if something will be fun to play. If a piece requires us to play it the same way every time it won’t hold our interest, it’s betterTo just play free at that point, which is something we haven’t yet done per se but probably will. Whether it’s true or not, I like to fool myself into thinking that any piece can be approached several ways, and that it leaves a good amount of room for everyone to interpret and put something of their own into it. For that reason, I’m not really as interested in the surface or style of the music as I am in having some kind of a conversation with the other players and with the piece itself. To me that’s the essence of what I like about great jazz performances that I hear on records and in person. The surface is just that, I’m more interested in the weave and the unfolding of the music.

TR: What does the label “Americana” mean to you, in relation to the music on this record?

BS: Not much but it might interest some people, it could turn others away, and still others could read that then listen to the record and go “Huh?” That’s definitely happened to me as a listener. I’m not against using words like that, but besides being subjective and relative they can often just plain fall way short. In the end the actual music is just that, not a name, and it’s up to the individual to find what they can in it for themselves if they want to. As a listener I like what I like because of how it sounds,not for how it’s called.

TR: Your electric guitar sound has evolved over the years. People sometimes say that a jazz guitarist’s most personal possession is his sound. You don’t use a ton of effects, although you’ve been partial to harmonizers/octave dividers and delays. And of course you’ve used different guitars, from strats to archtops to acoustic. On this record it seems like you’ve preferred quite a traditional jazz guitar sound, one closer to say Jim Hall than than to Frisell or other guitarists you’ve sometimes been compared to in the past. What role does your sound/do your sounds play in the music you make, and how do you think guitarists, who are so dependent on electronic technology compared to wind players etc., can best personalize their sound?

BS: I don’t have any hard-and-fast views about using effects on the guitar, it depends on the music, the group, the band sound, how I feel about it. The only the thing I’ve noticed about effects is that they can sometimes cover up your touch. You hear the effect more than the hands, not necessarily a bad thing but what’s more personal? I do enjoy the refining and searching that goes on with trying to make it happen with the guitar and the hands (and the pick of course).