Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
Rob: At home I don't usually have to wake up to an alarm, thankfully. I'll usually just wake up when I'm ready to get up, which is probably on average, mostly between eight and nine. Then I make coffee and hang with my wife until she leaves for work at 11. After that I usually teach a few guitar lessons every day, but it depends on when they start. I love teaching, it's one of my favorite things to do. I try to make a little bit of time to teach, but no more than three one hour lessons a day, that's my rule so that I don't burn myself out. Before lessons I might meditate for 20 minutes, then go for a run. That usually makes me more of the type of human I'd like to be.
Then I'll come home, get cleaned up, and make lunch. I’ll fiddle with a guitar for a while and do whatever I want. That could be really diligent practicing, or maybe just screwing around and exploring ideas that I'll teach lessons. Then if I still have it in me, I'll practice for something else I may have to do, like record a guitar part for somebody else, or I got to learn a cover part, or I have some other gig I had to learn material for, or I'll just practice for fun.
I love transcribing, just learning something else that somebody else played. Not necessarily guitar either. I love transcribing saxophone, right now I’m doing a Star Wars Movie score and it’s amazing. I’ll transcribe by ear, then I’ll write it down. It doesn’t matter how I write it down, as long as I document it somehow. If I don’t feel like playing anymore I’ll go for a hike because I live right next to the woods.
Then when my wife gets home, I’ll cook dinner. Cooking is my new thing that I’ve gotten into. Then we take it easy for the rest of the night.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
Eli: I try to have the discipline to take time away from projects so I don’t overcook them. I feel like if you listen too many times you lose the objective opinion and start to feel like you don’t know what’s good anymore. Or the opposite can happen where you think something sucks, then you listen a month later and realize it’s actually cool and has potential. So I would say being able to just let go and move on without getting too concerned with finishing everything. Every piece of art is on its own schedule, just let it happen / assist it when possible.
Rob: Usually that process of writing and recording is a pretty hard one for me. For me a lot of the time we’re working in a recording studio I kind of freak out. I'm not very technological, I don't care what studio gear is there so much as if I like the people in there. But my favorite process actually was when we made an album where we didn't even go to a studio, and we were on this nice farm in Connecticut. We just rented gear and put it all in this barn. And it was in May or June, so it was really nice out. That was my favorite experience we ever had, recording and writing. Ironically, it's probably not even our best recording at all. A lot of studios don't even have windows!
My favorite way, and I haven't even talked about writing songs, is just by myself with a notebook and an acoustic guitar. Eli's more of the logical guy, he'll be using production and all this stuff. And I'll just grab a notebook and a pencil, and just write with my acoustic guitar. I’ll write some chords and some words. Every time I go to my Mom and Dad’s house. I walk away with a song for some reason.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
Eli: Writing with another person can be so fun and productive. It’s my favorite way to create because not only are you making something but you’re also hanging out and having fun with a friend. It scratches multiple itches for me. Some work has to be done alone though when you’re not on a time constraint and being watched. It’s always different though depending on the project.
Rob: As far as improvisation is concerned, I always have more fun improvising with people. My favorite way to make music is to improvise it. Writing music and the documentation of it is intimidating to me. It makes me feel like I'm handing in an essay sometimes. So improvisation is as far away as I could possibly get from school. Improvising is play. It's called playing music for a reason.
I always have the best time if I do it with other people, because you bounce off of each other and we all only have ideas in our own being. But if you have good enough ears, and good enough awareness skills, you get entirely new ideas, because of the people that are around you, and what they're saying.
Their ideas collide with yours and become ideas that none of the four or six or our many people have ever thought of before. So that's my favorite. However, improvising by myself does offer certain things that I would never be able to do with other people. I can make key changes, or harmonic changes or groove changes, or make up lyrics. I can do it as soon as I want.
I don't have to warn anybody, I don't have to not do anything because it would catch them off guard. I can make these pretty spontaneous decisions. I think I can improvise compositionally a little more when I’m alone, because I don’t have to worry about whether anybody would be able to follow me, and that’s fun too.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
Eli: I think music can be a beautiful escape from reality for people and a reminder for many important lessons. Just to know that an emotion you’re feeling has been felt by countless others in the past can be a life saving revelation.
Rob: I'm sort of happy that I haven't sat around and thought about this too much. I think it would drive me nuts because I'm just having fun. I also just don't have a choice, this is the only thing I know how to do. I don't think about it very hard, I just hope I’m good at it.
I don't really think about the bigger picture about how it's moving people. I really want to make people happy. I used to not care about that at all, and I still sort of feel this way – that I'm not worried so much about people in the audience. It's more like how people fought in wars. They weren’t trying to win the war, they were just trying to make sure the other guys in the foxhole were safe. I almost feel like I just want to make the other three guys have a great time. If the four of us are having a great time, then the rest of it takes care of itself. The people in the room are going to have a great time.
One of my favorite things about music, just as a concept, is that it's one thing on a very short list of things that humankind has created that doesn't hurt anybody. Almost everything else we've invented has pretty serious ramifications. I kind of think that when the dust is settled, and we're all gone, I think that will be one of the very few things that really did not hurt anything or anyone, it was just really awesome.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Eli: Well it’s easy to grapple that life is temporary via music, look at all the greats who are no longer with us. With that lesson comes a wisdom to live life in the present and try to enjoy your life because things can change in less than a moment. I think I’ve learned a lot about life and living / working with others just by being in a band. You have to make compromises and give up what you want sometimes if you want to work with a group of people for a long time.
Rob: I think that there's a few ways of thinking about it. And one is that it's totally random. I think sometimes things are happening in your life, and whatever music you’re listening to right then, or happens to be playing when something super major happens, becomes the soundtrack to that for no reason? I’m thinking of my first breakup. I remember being really upset about it. I was in my parents car because I was 19, I didn't have my own car. The song “Theme from the Bottom” by Phish was playing. I don't think that song has anything to do with that situation. But it was playing when I was at my most emotionally vulnerable, at a serious freakout moment.
I'll forever think of that moment whenever I hear that song. It has nothing to do with the lyrical or musical content. It’s just imprinted there. I think there's something to say about that.
But some music just represents an emotion. I've been listening to this record by Cannonball Adderley, a saxophone player and bebop jazz musician. He has this album that he made with the pianist Bill Evans called Know What I Mean? There’s a song on it called “Goodbye.” It's a ballad, and it's just heart wrenching.
I don't think they wrote it. I don't remember who wrote it. [Gordon Jenkins did.] But I’ve shown it to a couple other musicians. And I didn't tell them the title, I wanted to see what they said. They listened, and they said “it sounds like a goodbye.” I almost feel like even if nobody told you the name of that song, and you asked them “what would you call this song?” A high percentage of people would say “Call it ‘Goodbye.” I think there's some music that sounds like that. And it's instrumental, there's not a word said.
There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
Eli: It’s all one in the same. Science and Spirituality are just two ways to describe the indescribable. Things that humans have been trying to wrap words around for ages. It’s magic either way.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Rob: I think they're all kind of the same thing. I’ve thought about that. Cooking a meal is like playing a song. If I'm following the directions, it's like I’m playing a cover. If I throw a bunch of stuff in a pot, it starts as improvisation, and if it's good, maybe it becomes a meal that you cook regularly, just like how every song starts as improvising and fooling around. Even when you're improvising with music, you've learned what works and what doesn't. With making a great cup of coffee, I know, I don't like sugar, so I don't bother. I know basil is really good in pasta, and I know oregano is not. You learn what works and what doesn't.
I think a celebration of imperfection is kind of one of my favorite things about music that’s different from more mundane tasks. Before I discovered music as a kid in school, I was getting terrible grades and being told I had to go to summer school and was hopped up on Ritalin, and was in special ed, because I wasn't “perfect” enough. I want to get as far away from that as I possibly can with music.
I am the most inspired by music that isn't perfect, and has humanity in it, that sends me the message that it's okay, that you're doing the best you can. Even outside of music, I relate to that as a human being too, because I'm not perfect. Why should I relate to the person who doesn't make any mistakes and makes a flawless Instagram video of them shredding? That’s just discouraging to me. I'm never going to be that perfect, so I don’t relate to it. I want to inspire myself and celebrate the concept of being imperfect.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
Rob: For me a lot of it is also nostalgia, a lot of it is comfort food. When I listen to Pink Floyd, I'm 16. When I listen to Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, it makes me want to call my dad and say hi. Because he bought that for me. I think music does that for me. It's also very similar to food or different smells. There’s times when I smell something and it reminds me of a place I went to when I was six with my family. It can come out of nowhere.
From a musician’s perspective I actually think it's harder for musicians to get that sort of emotional trigger from music than non-musicians. Because we are trained to look behind Oz's curtain a little bit. A lot of us spend our career trying to relate to somebody who doesn't play an instrument, and how they feel about music. We're trying to access what it feels like for the average person to listen to music so that we can move them.
When I listen to music, I sometimes find myself saying “Wow, he just played a symmetrical diminished scale. That was impressive.” I'll buy that on an academic level.