Interviewee: Stefan Leisering
Recent release: Strata Records - The Sound Of Detroit - Reimagined By Jazzanova, a collaboration with DJ Amir, 180 Proof & BBE Music, is out via Strata.
Recommendations: Manuel Göttsching e2-e4; Curtis Mayfield Live At The Bitter End. Both albums are known but I just recommend them as they really were and still are inspirational for me.
If you enjoyed this interview with Stefan Leisering of Jazzanova and would like to find out more, visit the official Jazzanova website.
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?
Around 1990 I was starting to produce my first hip-hop beats. I was very strongly influenced by east coast hip hop from 1986 to the mid 90s ... Marley Marl, Mark the 45 King, Prince Paul, ATCQ etc.
The music, sound, movement (graffiti, breakdance, DJ-ing, rapping) was very fascinating to us young teenagers as we wanted to be part of that scene.
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?
I mostly have emotional responses listening to music. From tears to happiness, from anger to calmness.
But of course music is also a wonderful source of inspiration for life and for music creation itself. You hear music subconsciously in the background everywhere; at a party or in a pub. It does something with your mood even if you don't listen actively.
Music also makes me want to dance or sing along which of course influences my creative process too.
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 started producing / creating / composing music because it fascinates me and because I’ve always been a passionate listener. As an autodidact, I was attentively listening to many different styles and of course these influenced my development.
I think every influence or style that is new to me will also be new to the listener as it finds its way into my music.
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.
I want to convince, surprise or fascinate myself with the music I'm producing. This gives it it's very own signature. It's a mixture of what I like and new things that I’m trying out inspired by new things I’m listening to.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Create motions, rituals, breaking listening habits but also stimulate the ears.
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”?
I have definitely created music for both of those spectrums. I love the pureness and timelessness of music like in Blues, Spiritual or Traditional music, but I also love pushing the limits and trying out new things.
But I always keep in mind that progressiveness should not be forced just for the sake of being progressive, in fact some of those who claim to be progressive turn quite conservative I think.
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’ve been composing with a sequencer-software for about 30 years. I mostly program all sounds and drums step-by-step. This always works well for my creativity.
Often I begin with simple patterns / sequences / melodies which then inspire me to go deeper in the creation process.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
My studio is about a 10 minute walk away from my place. I have coffee or tea at home to start the day, and then head to the studio. I often spend quite a lot of time listening to music (not my own!!) in between tasks - new but mostly old songs.
Depending on how focussed I am, it sometimes happens that I forget to eat until the evening. Often I work until very late at night.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
Our album “Of All The Things” was like a trip into our own record collections and into the sound we usually search for as a sampling and inspiration source.
I listened and learned a lot about songwriting and arranging what mostly was new to me as a self-taught musician coming from hip-hop. In the years before that album, I would start a new song with drum and percussion patterns. Ever since this album, I’ve started composing with melodies and/or chord progressions.
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 love to work alone on my computer or with one other musician, like for instance a singer. But in the last years, I’ve enjoyed working in a team, just not caring about every little detail. Both scenarios give me different types of freedom in the creation process.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
As much as I love to hear and see other people's reactions to my music, I'm not really thinking about that during the production. I just have to kind of convince myself and all fellow musicians involved.
I think the main role of music in society is to create emotions, be connected to memories and feelings from the past, to make you dance or at least tap your foot and nod your head. And of course it can tell stories or even carry messages.
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?
Regarding music that I have (co-)produced:
I learned many things about the big topics co-writing lyrics, as I did for instance with the singer Clara Hill on “No Use” and on a few of her songs. “No Use” for instance helped me in a sad period of my life.
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?
For Jazzanova I produced many tracks and remixes that have scientific, rational and constructed elements, but they are always mixed with traditional and emotional elements. For me, both sides influence each other.
Before synths for instance, some popular music in 1969 sounded like scientific experiments exploring the possibilities with instruments.
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?
For me it's maybe more comparable to cooking a more complex dish without a recipe. You have enough experience where you can experiment with different ingredient combinations as some parts of the process are routine, like slicing onions, bell pepper etc ... you can always try out new combinations and in the end it's always a bit different.
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?
Before you even open your eyes after birth your ears have heard intense sounds while growing in your mother's body. Her breath, her voice speaking, her voice singing, her blood circulation etc.
The ears are open by nature, not only for music but also for languages. Both have rhythm and melody which can be very complex. Our brain is wired to understand emotions just through the melody of the words of another speaker of our language. The same sensitivity we can or mostly will grow towards music. Sure, it's a process of conditioning as language's tonality and music itself is very different in all the parts of the world. A sad song in the anglo-american influenced music world for instance does not necessarily sound sad to everyone on this planet.
But yes, our ears and the way our brains work seem to be the perfect receiver / decoder combo for consuming music with melodies and harmonies carrying emotions.