Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I have a day job at a popular music media company called genius.com. I’m their senior audio director. So, weekdays I'm working on all things audio for them. I’m grateful for that, it helps me pay my rent and student loans. Pre-pandemic I was also grateful to have a pretty regular gigging schedule, so where there is a gig, there is a rehearsal and travel which is always fun and is an opportunity to write more and workshop the music more. I also take on as many interesting side composition projects as I can. Right now, I'm composing music for a noir pixel-art raccoon detective adventure game. The soundtrack is mostly doom jazz. So, while I wouldn’t really say there is a fixed schedule besides my day job, I make sure things fall into place. Evenings and weekends are almost completely consumed by my music work.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Most recently it is this trio I’m in with Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily. Vijay and I were the same show bill one time, performing one after the other, and he suggested backstage that he and I just go on stage together and improvise something. It was the smoothest, most awesome music moment I’ve had in so long. So, a couple of years later we did it again, with Shahzad, and that made it even more crazy. We did a whole 45 minutes at The Kitchen for Vijay’s “The What of The World”. We played it at Joe’s Pub, we’ve now played it at The Jazz Gallery. It’s a purely intuitive improvised performance and each time it turns out different. We have also recorded it in the studio, the album will be coming out sometime this year. We are calling it Love In Exile. I think for all three of us, its weightless and water-like performance quality really gives us a break from the more rigorous and planned/organised music work that we do.
The fact that we communicate solely through music (and maybe some telepathy to be honest) is crazy, and kind of affirms our sense of unified music vibrations with each other.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I doubt there is an ideal state of mind for creativity. I think for me it’s always been sadness. But that could change.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I personally use music to heal my own inner anguishes. I think it does translate to some degree to my listeners. They say it makes them feel calm as well.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I actually sometimes feel very crazy about this. But it happens so much in so many forms in the entire music industry that I don’t even know what to do about my feelings. Like a band of really intelligent musicians from Europe, who are capable of very good accurate music analysis, who then take a drum groove from Turkey or a modal structure from Egypt and dress it up differently with their superior music knowledge and perform it as their own, what is that? I am not into that. I don’t know. Music is meant to be shared and influential but sometimes it feels as if it’s quickly lifted and repurposed for personal gain. That feels weird to me.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
This may not answer your question directly. But for my new record Vulture Prince I collaborated with an Egyptian French-Canadian perfumer Dana el Masri. Her connection of scent with music is very strong, and it’s been really interesting to work with her on an album-specific scent.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
My music doesn’t literally convey a social message but that doesn’t mean that I am excused from my responsibility to raise my voice when the mic is handed to me in situations like interviews or on stage between songs.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I think to answer this question you must listen to my latest album, as it is me expressing my feelings around life and death.