An Interview

The October Trio

This interview with Josh Cole, Dan Gaucher and Evan Arntzen was conducted by email during December 2011.

Tony Reif: So it’s been exactly three years since your first Songlines release came out, the collaboration with trumpeter Brad Turner, Looks like it’s going to snow. Can you update us on what’s been happening with the band during that time?

Josh Cole: Probably the biggest change is that we’re all living in different cities than when we recorded Snow. So as a result it’s a lot harder to get things done as a band, but at the same time more rewarding when we do get things done, like making a new record or touring. Over the last three years we’ve done some touring (not as much as we would have liked) in support of Snow in Canada and the US, while at the same time developing the music for New Dream on the road (it’s the only place we could find the time to play together).

Evan Arntzen: And, on a more personal note, we all got either married or engaged! Weird…

Dan Gaucher: Yes, a lot has happened outside of the project in our individual lives. In terms of the band, we’ve just been trying to move things forward at a natural pace, while allowing for work with other projects. We are in for the long haul when it comes to this project, and so we don’t feel the urgency to be moving forward at an unnatural pace. We know this band will be around for a long time, so we’re just trying to incorporate what we all learn along the way in our other endeavours.

TR: How do you think this record builds on Snow and your previous trio record before that, Day In? How have things developed, in terms of the writing, the playing…and how has the band vibe evolved?

JC: The biggest thing you’ll notice about the music is I think we’re learning how to make ‘bright’ music that still has emotional depth. For me that has always been something really challenging, and up until now I never felt I was successful at it. But after the sombre tone of the last record we made a conscious effort to build a body of music that had more of a bright, ‘aggressiveness’ energy. I think also we’re talking about very different subject matter than that of the last record, so inevitably that’s going to be reflected in the tone as well. Snow was talking a lot about family, and loss, and was very introspective to the self.

New Dream is very outward looking, dealing with the world in its current state, and trying to have a positive effect on it. As for the playing? Well, something that’s very different about this record is that for the first time we didn’t play a lot together, outside of a couple tours, for two years after Snow, because Dan moved to Toronto. [He’s planning to move back to Vancouver sometime next year, but Josh is staying in Toronto. — TR] So as a result we all kind of developed in different directions, playing with different people a lot more then we had in the past. If anything, that forced our concept to expand because we all had a lot of new musical experiences that we were drawing from and bringing to the band.

DG: The new album pushes some of the concepts we explored on Snow such as a move towards more of a rock or hip hop influenced approach to groove. The band seems to be still on a gradual trajectory away from a straightforward ‘jazz’ sound, though the jazz tradition still heavily influences us conceptually and in our overall approach.

JC: We still listen to lots of jazz and will always be jazz, and we’ll always be the kind of musicians who play really open and free — but inevitably, since Dan and I are listening to a lot of hip-hop/beats based music, I think the rhythmic underpinning has shifted towards that more than swing per-se. But how we interpret that underpinning will still be the same way we interpreted the swing underpinning.

DG: As far as living in different cities is concerned, so far so good. It seems we did enough regular work when we all lived in Vancouver that we created a band feeling that hasn’t declined in the slightest. In fact, a year or so back, having not played together for almost 8 months, we came together for one gig, and the feeling was there immediately. It was so potent that it surprised us all, and we played our asses off!

EA: I think there’s a general maturity in terms of the execution of the music we’re trying to play that’s come a long way since the last record, especially when it comes to stretching out improvisationally. We’re all able to do that in a more comfortable way without fear of things falling off the tracks. I do think there is some more aggressive, effervescent, fun material on this album, but also there’s a certain amount of emotional/introspective whimsy that is inherent in the October Trio’s music. And, just for the record, I’m getting myself back to Vancouver now. Playing with Jim Cullum in San Antonio was a good experience for me but now it’s time to move on to some other things.

TR: Can you talk a bit about the two cover tunes, and why those ones in particular?

JC: The Bjork cover, “You’ve Been Flirting Again,” is a song we’ve been playing live since the beginning of the band that we never properly recorded. And it was like, “Ok, we’re still playing this one after 6 years, and it still feels fresh, why haven’t we recorded this?” Truthfully we were also searching for a ballad or two to offset the uptempo pieces (the opposite problem from the last record). So it kind of just made sense to include it. As for the Dirty Projectors cover, “Imagine It,” I wanted to reflect the energy, excitement and passion that I experience listening to the Dirty Projectors. Also the song title fits in with our theme for the record. So it just seemed logical to do it.

EA: For me this band is an exercise in experimentation and melding different musical styles. I come from way more of an old school jazz approach than either Josh or Dan, and they’re both way more plugged into contemporary music of all styles than I am. That said, I think we all have a lot in common in terms of taste and how music sounds, and we all appreciate what each other has to bring to the crazy mix. It has led us in some very interesting directions, as exemplified by these two covers.

DG: They both entered the band book in very natural ways. We were listening to this music, and heard something in it that fit the October Trio thing. I guess the Björk tune is a way for us to get as close as we might to having a singer, I know we all hear her voice when we play that song. The DP song came about I believe as a means of challenging the band, and going for something a little different than we might in our original tunes. The experiment went really well, and I think it actually affected the originals, to have done all this work on “Imagine It.”

TR: Wayne Shorter is someone you (or Josh and Evan anyway) have mentioned as a major influence, but I’m wondering what other jazz and non-jazz musicians have been inspiring you recently, individually or as a band. Tony Malaby? And Evan, maybe Steve Lacy? How about on clarinet, which you’re using for the first time on an October Trio record, though you have a whole other career as a trad clarinetist. And Josh and Dan, you each have regular bands of your own, quintets — how does the aesthetic you bring to the Trio mesh with (or depart from) the music you’re making in those groups?

JC: Around the time we recorded this music I would say the main people that I was checking out were Paul Motian, Tony Malaby, Eivind Opsvik, Flying Lotus, Sam Amidon, Nico Muhley, Thomas Morgan, and the Dirty Projectors. The show we saw in NY at Cornelia Street Cafe of Ryan Blotnick’s band a couple of weeks before we recorded just floored all three of us. That band was Bill McHenry, Chad Taylor and Thomas Morgan. Also the Bad Plus, the record that’s all covers with the singer Wendy Lewis, For All I Care, that record also had a big influence on us wanting to do a couple of cover songs, and also to reach for some greater dynamic ranges.

EA: Wayne’s music is something I’ll always hold dear, to be sure. These influences probably still come out, although I don’t think I’ve really listened to his music much over the last couple of years. I think Josh mentioned most of the key things we were all listening to as it pertained to the October trio. I was also listening to a lot of Thelonious Monk’s music as well at that time. I’m interested in anyone who’s found a way of making a pure, honest statement in music, regardless of the style. My own musical path has been so varied within the world of jazz that it’s difficult for me to synthesize sometimes! On clarinet, I’ve mainly been studying the masters of New Orleans (Sidney Bechet, Jimmie Noone, Omer Simeon, etc.) but I feel like I want to check out some more contemporary clarinet styles over the next while.

DG: I don’t personally think a lot about what influences us as a band. I prefer to let it happen naturally. I will say that what, for me at least, does have a tangible impact on the music we create in the October Trio is the work we do in other projects. I try to let the various music I play really influence how I think about things or approach a piece. So I suppose my biggest influence for the October Trio is the work I’ve done with other projects such as Fond of Tigers, Sandro Perri, my own band Stop Time. Of course I do listen to a lot of music — some of my current obsessions are J Dilla, Flying Lotus, Billie Holiday, Monk, Paul Motian, John Cage, Steve Lehman, Tyshawn Sorey, John Fahey…

JC: As for how my regular band, Josh Cole 4tet+1, is different from or the same as the Trio — well for one thing that band has chords, and of late we’ve been getting away as much as possible from writing chord symbols in the Trio. And the Trio is a relatively open concept in terms of what can happen in any given song, whereas my band is more focused on longer composed sections with minimal improvising and pretty set ideas about how the songs are going to go. So technically there are two totally different concepts, but the thread that connects them is a strong sense of melody and narrative in each song.

TR: Sincerity is a tricky word to use in relation to art — too often it seems to be a substitute for real craft — but to me The October Trio has both great sincerity and the craft to express it. But sincerity in art isn’t the same as a confessional (irony can be just as sincere as the most heart-on-sleeve emotion, sometimes more so), and artistic statements also need to be considered in relation to the audience you want to address. I know you’ve been thinking about all this, and the title of the record, New Dream, relates to it. Anyone want to elaborate? And does the shorter length of this record (relatively short tunes, and shorter overall time) have anything to do with this?

EA: I try to play music that sounds good!

JC: I guess yes, we’ve found it difficult to express in words what we desire New Dream to communicate without it sounding naive, or lacking in sincerity. Which is why we decided to avoid an artist statement in the CD. It’s not that we don’t have a clear idea of what we’re trying to communicate to the audience — we do, but every time we try to put it on paper it either sounds, for a lack of a better word, cheesy, or the opposite problem is it sounds too academic or formal, which takes away from the re-discovery of innocence or youthful energy that we feel is important to the concept of New Dream. It’s almost like you need to sit down with us, get to know us, and have us explain it to you in order for it to be made clear. As for the length of the record, yes in a way it is reflective of a desire to communicate to a certain audience, but hopefully not to the exclusion of those who prefer longer works.

TR: Where’s the band going from here?

DG: To the moon of course!!! (and hopefully Europe too…)

JC: Going to try and tour this new record as much as life will allow us over the next two years, right now a bunch of Canadian dates are booked for March and June. Hopefully we make it back to the US again, I have a good feeling we will. And maybe if the stars align we can make it to Europe. And I’m sure once we start playing together again new music will just kind of happen, and we’ll probably feel a desire to record again.

EA: I’m looking forward to living in the same city as Dan again!