Name: Jas Kayser
Occupation: Drummer, composer
Recent release: Jas Kayser's debut album as part of the 5ive series is out April 15th 2022.
Recommendations: Wow I’m not much of a reader ... but if I’m biased I think everyone should read the Tony Allen autobiography ‘Master Drummer of Afrobeat’. Knowing the history and context of the music you play or listen to is essential. Tony Allen has so many incredible stories and so much knowledge to share.
A piece of music I recommend is a hard one to choose ... but right now in this moment I am going to go for ‘Osundu’ by The Cavemen. I have to thank a few of my friends for introducing me to this band. They are 2 brothers from Lagos and they write the most beautiful afrobeat / highlife influenced music.
If you enjoyed this interview with Jas Kayser, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram, and Facebook.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I starting playing drums when I was 9 years old and piano when I was 10 years old.
I remember always loving to write. I had a Yamaha digital piano and would record little tunes into the user songs! My mum still has one – it's so cool to hear how my brain worked at about 13/14 years old
I prefer my writing then … (laughs) It feels more organic and free!
Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
Yeh music is so emotional! I think sound and smell are the most effective senses at triggering emotions like nostalgia and reminding you of past memories or moments. I get really nostalgic when I listen to albums that I was really into at certain periods in my childhood or during college. The music takes me back to how I felt during that time or reminds of the friends and people that I was around at that time. Sometimes it’s even more emotional when they are such happy memories.
It isn’t like I miss it but it’s nice to feel like you can step back in that moment and reflect on it! (That is originally what my new single ‘Darkness in the Light’ is about! It was called ‘ Nostalgic’ first.)
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I feel very fortunate to have had studied with the most inspiring jazz musicians like Julian Joseph, Ralph Peterson, Danilo Perez, Terri Lyne Carrington etc. and have had it drilled into me to honour the music tradition, the roots and history of jazz and to learn the language to a deep level to be able to find your own voice. I feel like I am naturally finding my own voice on the drums through this process and finding other genres like Afro-Beat, Salsa etc. as well as just growing up in life and confidence too.
Although I feel like I am still chasing to get to where I want to be musically and I this is something I often struggle with and I try to accept it a be satisfied and inspired by the process to develop as a musician!
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
Being confident and true to your authentic self is everything in life and music! I find it challenging to do this but the more I do the better I feel. Your music will be more real, you will attract like minded people and surround yourself with good energy so of course you benefit musically and creatively.
Music is subjective and the best music is true and personal which makes it easy to connect with and enjoy.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
I am really inspired by Afro-Beat and the connection Fela Kuti made between music and the social / political movements in Nigeria. He was fighting for civil rights during the 60’s/70’s and he felt the best way to do this was using music. This is evident in Black American music too and so many genres like reggae and Bob Marley etc. I channel this in my music.
I don’t have lyrics in all my tunes but I don't think you always need lyrics to get the message across. It’s about the feeling, the groove and the way it can bring diverse communities together and unite us to realise the insignificance of segregation and hierarchy and the importance of being equal and inclusive in the crazy world we live in.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
There’s definitely no such thing as perfection in music ... that would be quite boring.
Music is constantly evolving with things like technology and political times and as long as we are influencing each other and being influenced by the past whilst being present it will always keep changing. I think that is an incredible thing and we should embrace the change!
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
I started learning the piano not long after learning drums. I feel fortunate to have done that because piano is such a useful instrument to know a bit about especially as a drummer where everything you do is rhythm.
Piano helps with so many things like having an understanding of harmony or being able to approach drums as a melodic instrument and not only percussion and beats and most of all it helps me write music away from drums and think about other elements in music. I mean I don’t think you need it but it definitely helps.
Overall, I think to develop on your instrument you have to want to practice and be musical and have the motivation to always want to keep learning - learning an instrument and finding your sound is a forever life long process (thank god it’s a fun one! haha)
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
I wish I had a morning routine! I feel like life as a freelance musician makes it impossible to have some consistency.
Although my favourite days are when I have the morning off to make a nice breakfast and enjoy a cup of tea before the day starts. I cherish those moments.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
My favourite live performances are the most spontaneous ones.
It’s funny. - we spend so much time practicing and rehearsing but the best gigs with my band is when we show up to a gig in good spirits, put together a vague setlist and add space for free improv moments and see what happens.
It feels like we are most in tune during those times and the most beautiful music happens.
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?
I used to do a lot of this on my own. Like private practice and writing alone in a practice room. But over time I have realised collaboration is the best thing for development and inspiration. Jamming with friends is a fun way to learn but also so beneficial in putting your playing and improvisation skills to practice.
Practicing technique and maintenance on the instruments is obviously very important but the most efficient way to practice improvisation and playing with other people is doing just that - jamming!
Same with writing - there are only so many tools and resources I have personally to write so working with some one else opens my mind and exposes me to ideas I would’ve never thought of myself.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
Everything is connected. Life and music go hand in hand and as Fela Kuti said “The whole idea about your environment must be reflected in the music and in the arts ... so any art is what is happening at that time of the peoples development or underdevelopment”
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?
Why is it that when your sad, at a funeral or going through a break up that hearing music makes you even sadder?! Even if it’s an uplifting song.. that’s even worse! That’s my experience and it says it all. haha
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?
I did my whole masters thesis on the brain and music! It completely relates and there is scientific proof that music can contribute to improving mental health and physical health like your immune system.
If you perform music you are activating your frontal lobe and listening to music activates the neocortex which can calm you down and reduce impulsivity.
Not only is it a fun activity to go out and hang with friends and listen to music it’s also physically improving your well being - it’s a win win!
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?
My favourite thing in life after playing music has got to be having a cup of tea. I wouldn’t say they are too different but more like they go hand in hand.
Whenever I’m rehearsing or practicing or writing, a cup of tea is like the perfect break but it also makes me happy and stimulates me to keep working. Love It!
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?
I have thought about this quite a bit especially since studying it back in college. In my presentation I posed the question “is there a rhythm or groove that can connect every existing being?”. Through the process I concluded that there isn’t.
Beyond the scientific facts and the proof that music is good for physical health I think really the magic of it all is that music is a part of life and life influences music (Like Wayne Shorter says “Play Life, not music”).
The beauty of life is that it is unpredictable and that is the same for music. It represents our life and that’s why we can relate to it and that’s why it can impact us so heavily.