An Interview

The October Trio & Brad Turner

This interview with The October Trio and Brad Turner was conducted by email during November 2008.

Tony Reif: Evan, Josh and Dan, you met at Capilano College in North Vancouver in 2004 when you were all students there. Could you take us up to that point in your story – how did you get interested in music and jazz in particular, who or what inspired you to follow this path, who had you studied or performed with or been influenced by, and what was happening at Cap for you? In a nutshell, what were the formative experiences that brought you to that point?

Evan Arntzen: I was brought up in a musical family. My parents are both professional musicians and my grandfather [Lloyd Arntzen] is a New Orleans Jazz style clarinet and soprano sax player and singer. He started instructing me on clarinet when I was 7 and I started playing sax when I was about 13. I never really wanted to do anything else!

Josh Cole: I grew up in the house of a church music director (my dad), my first gig on bass ever was with him in Africa of all places, before that I was into playing the saxophone in high school, but then my dad was like “Son, I need a bass player for this trip, and you’re going to be it,” and I never looked back. How I got into jazz? My uncle gave me Coltrane’s Blue Trane when I was in 6th or 7th grade, and I probably listened to that record over a hundred times in the following year. As cliche as it sounds, I was really a big Coltrane fan growing up (still am), and that was a huge inspiration all throughout high school. Then a friend of mine hooked me up with a Metalwood CD, and when I heard Chris Tarry was teaching at Cap, I decided I wanted to go to Cap and study with him. (And I did for my first two years.)

Dan Gaucher: I started playing drums as a kid and loved rock music, punk rock and grunge rock. And Led Zeppelin too. I was lucky to have a hip older brother who got me into lots of cool music (New Order, the Pixies, Zep, Hendrix, Nirvana, U2 etc…). Eventually I was introduced to jazz fusion by a friend (Mahavishnu, Miles electric etc…) and gradually got into jazz. Took some lessons, and went to a school for jazz after high school in Calgary. After that, while still playing lots of rock, I moved out to Vancouver, enrolled at Cap, etc… When I met the boys I was a year or two ahead in the program but they were super fun and excited to play. It pretty much clicked right away – just felt right. Certain things were unquestioned and others, well they were good questions to be talking about. And so we played, argued, convinced each other. And just generally learned from each other. I’ve learned more from these two (either out loud or just by playing) than almost anyone else I’ve played with.

TR: So the October Trio was formed in late 2004 – what did you see in each other that led to its formation and your commitment to it? What were the dynamics of the group in those days, and how did you think about the music you were making? Was there a particular musical or aesthetic focus from the beginning?

JC: Dan and I had played the previous year in an ensemble at Cap together, and we really developed a good friendship. When we came back to school in the fall, Evan was the young hot-shot sax player, and it just kind of happened. What did we see in each other? From my perspective, passion for music. As for what we were thinking about the music? Basically whatever we were into at the time, we tried to study it and learn to play it. That’s what got us so deeply into the odd time thing. I think like the 3rd song we ever played together was in 5.

EA: I think, for me at least, there was a focus on experimentation that I had never experienced before. I forget exactly who approached who about forming a band…I think it was just, like, “Hey, let’s get together and play and see what happens.” Josh and I were enrolled in an ensemble class together and managed to incorporate Dan into that. We were playing tunes like [MilesDavis’s] “Four” and some from Fly Trio and a Montreal Group called Byproduct with Chet and Jim Doxas. I think from the start we were trying to find something that wasn’t standard jazz, but was still informed by sax trios that came before. We wanted to try and see where the boundaries were and how far we could push them in any direction.

DG: We started out interested in learning and exploring the sax trio concept specifically. Then as time went on, it really became a band, and so we just focused on playing music and exploring ideas together. Our ideas started out very music specific and have gradually moved more into conceptual, and expressive/emotional territory.

TR: What were some highlights in those first two years, up to the point where you won the Galaxie Rising Star award at Vancouver’s jazz festival in 2006?

EA: Damn…I don’t remember much…I think we did our first BC/Alberta “on the cheap” style tour somewhere in there. Good times for sure. We did that a couple of summers in a row. We also released live at rime which we produced independently. That incorporated our good buddy Simon Millerd on trumpet on one track – he’s now playing piano out in Montreal.

JC: Playing at Rime a lot, and just having a lot of fun getting into the music, trying all sorts of different things. A lot of them didn’t work, but at least we tried.

DG: Playing “Four” in my basement at a great house party. There was this feeling in the air – like we really had this energy together and we were just starting to realize the potential of that. And it was a good party too.

JC: Oh yeah, I totally remember that party. I was on electric bass (I got a speeding ticket that night) – and yeah, I totally remember the feeling of energy of that night. I think that’s when we first realized that we had something special together.

DG: Our first residency at Rime was super important. Really got us feeling more comfortable taking stuff to the public. And our first two tours were huge in terms of growing the music and the band concept. We really grew fast on those tours. And we also learned a lot about each other, away from the musical realm. We had some epic arguments and agreed to disagree about certain things. I think that was really important. It showed us that we could be individuals and bring really different perspectives to the band, and even if we were in certain ways very different from each other, we could still agree on a musical level very well. It added a lot of depth to the band.

TR: Brad, when did you become aware of the group and what led to producing their next CD Day In?

BT: I had been hearing about the members of the group individually for some time while they were attending Cap College; I wasn’t teaching there at the time, but word was getting around about a number of young, talented players coming up, and Dan, Evan and Josh were at the top of the list. Soon after they formed the October Trio I started hearing through the grapevine about this new group that really had something happening as a band, a quality that doesn’t come around that often. When it does, it needs to be paid attention to. If one is lucky, they get to be a part of it – of course when Josh approached me regarding working with them as producer of their first studio recording, I jumped at the chance.

TR: How did the idea develop for the subsequent collaboration that led to Looks like it’s going to snow?

BT: Josh asked me if I’d be interested in working with the October Trio as a fourth member, playing some music that was written specifically with the augmented lineup in mind (that music being “The Progress Suite” initially). Things developed from there.

EA: As Brad says, it was basically Josh’s idea. When I heard I was, like, “Yes, that’s a very good idea!” Playing with Brad has been a revelation for me. He’s so inspiring as a person and a musician. His attitude is tops. It’s everything you need and nothing you don’t. And he plays the SHIT out of our tunes.

TR: What made or makes making this music an interesting proposition for you all, and how does it intersect (or not) with the music that you make outside this particular formation?

DG: This is a band. I know not what else to say about it. Really, it’s like reading a book, or listening to a story. And you are always interested in finding out what happens next. I’m always excited to see what out next gig will be like. And so this record is really just a snapshot along the way. Taken perhaps at a vital moment, a turning point of sorts. But some of the best music we’ve played was in the weirdest circumstances. And so you never know. Sometimes we’d go into a gig feeling great and come out scratching our heads wondering what happened. And other times the music brings us out of a slump or whatever. So it’s just an adventure with a little musical family….

EA: This band, like any other, has kind of settled into a way of functioning that works for its own ends. Josh provides most of the written music (thanks, Josh), I talk on stage when I need to (and sometimes when I don’t), we all work to get and promote gigs when we can, etc., but when it comes time to play it’s very evenly collaborative. I feel like our primary goal is to have a conversation and that anyone can speak up at any time. Since it’s a fairly stark form of instrumentation, i.e.: no chords, that makes it easy to do this.

BT: For me as a trumpet player, this project has been a rejuvenating experience, in some ways reminding me how I approached making music earlier in my career. There is true sincerity in what you fellows do as a group, and a serious energy to how you distill your musical concepts. A little bit of youthful idealism doesn’t hurt either.

TR: Josh, as principal composer for the group, what guides your compositional process for it? You’ve referred to Wayne Shorter and Bjork as particular influences – could you elaborate?

JC: Probably the biggest ideas I was drawing on from Bjork and Wayne are about form, phrasing, space, and emotional intensity. Both have the ability to make one small idea have a lot of impact. But upon further investigation of the “one small idea” you realize that it’s surrounded by some rather sophisticated concepts regarding form, phrasing and space. My observation was that by focusing in on one idea, and really trying to give it a lot of weight, that allows for the performers to really emotionally invest and explore the idea at a level that might not be possible if you were to present them with a bunch of different ideas in one song. In that way, I guess I was trying to really free up the guys to allow them to do what they want to do.

DG: He really just wants to impress the ladies! Well, and us too I’d hope.

TR: How do you all think of the jazz tradition in relation to this music – and how do you think of it as departing from tradition (or from jazz)?

BT: I think, after all is said (or played) and done, that the jazz tradition, namely the absorption and acknowledgment of musical influences both traditional and eclectic, the synthesis of those things through individual and group musicianship and the art of improvisation (both solo and ensemble) to communicate those elements to the listener, is clearly upheld in the music on this recording.

EA: I like that. I feel like what we play is informed by, but not limited to the jazz tradition.

DG: It’s a fully logical step on the line of “jazz tradition” I suppose. But it’s not really about that. If we want to get at some sort of feeling and to do that we need to use electronics or spoken word or a rock groove, we’ll do that. Is it still jazz because of the instrumentation? Sure, why not. But it’s really just music. We are all aware of the tradition, but not overly aware and/or concerned about it. Nor are we obsessed with departing from it, or being in the avant-garde, we are just trying to be true to ourselves and help one another tell these little stories, whatever they may be about.

TR: Where do you see the October Trio going in the future? Do you have other collaborations in mind for it that would perhaps take the music in quite different directions?

EA: I would like to do some writing for the band at some point (I know, I’ve been saying this for a while!). Basically, I just feel like the musical and personal relationships we’ve built together with this band over the last four years aren’t going away any time soon and that we’ll always be able to get together, play and make something happen. It’s kind of like going home and sitting in your favourite, most comfortable chair for me when we get together now. I feel like we know each other pretty well now and that when play we can bring whatever experiences, musical or otherwise, into the mix and have it feel fresh and new.

JC: I think we’re always going to be a band. Like Evan says, it’s like going home and sitting in your most comfortable chair. I feel the same way, this band is home for me. We just have to work a little harder to get together now. I look at Brad’s quartet, and see them as the model of a group of guys who have been together 10+ years now, and every couple of years they put out another record. And that shit is just sooo deep because of that long relationship they have, you can’t do that with a pickup band. And that’s what this band is about. Being a band, and developing that deep musical relationship over time in order to hopefully make a record 10 years from now that engages at that level of depth that BT’s 4tet is at.

DG: For now, I think we’ll focus on finding a new pace for the band, a new way of working, and all of this mostly because we live in separate cities now. But really, it’s all up for grabs. Who knows where it’ll go. Again, that’s why I keep reading this book called “The October Trio.” –cause I’m intrigued to see what’ll happen next. I’m sure we’ll hatch some crazy idea soon, but first we just want to take our music out to new places. And see what we get back….