Name: Howe Gelb
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, composer, producer
Current release: Howe Gelb's collaboration with The Colorist Orchestra, Not on the Map, is out via Dangerbird Records / Membran. [Read our The Colorist Orchestra interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with Howe Gelb and would like to stay up to date on his work, visit him on Facebook, Instagram, Soundcloud, and twitter.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
Entertainment is the action of diverting death from its eventual landscape. The opposite of creation is decomposition. In order to live a life, you have to fill it with it composition. Composing is the fertilizer of growth. In other words; this is the shit.
Everything after birth plays its part in it.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Improvisation is not chance to the improviser. Improvisation is only chance to the adviser. The stage is built for actors. You place yourself into the act and then sing what you see.
Rhyming it is a fun challenge, but easier than dying. So, it’s best not to die on stage trying.
Planning is a medication, but life is is a meditation.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
However old you are is the preparation you’ll need.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
Jet lag is the only danger ... so far.
Poetry is the attempted embellishment of actions into the limitation of word play. Other people’s poems can fry your brain, in a good way. You fail if you over use the word “like” or “as” in your poetry.
And by overuse, I mean ever.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
If you shut up or shut out the world’s seeping calamity, then your inner voices and outer transmissions will provide for you.
If you can’t exercise a ritual like this, if you can’t compose, then you will decompose.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
Lyrics are inside bubbling, waiting for an event to trigger their eruption. The music shouts if it wants them or if it would be a disruption instead.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
That’s a personal preference and different for everyone. For me, if it makes me dizzy, then I know it’s working.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
As many different ways as you can challenge it.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
That sounds like the subconscious at work. One thing I know is the moment you send it out into the world, it’s no longer what you think it is.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Well ... I will count on you to inform me when I deliver my schlager album.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
The understanding of a listener’s capacity should determine when you make an end and not the allowance of an infinite digital landscape.
In the performing arts, the fine art of recording is never finished. It continues to evolve like something alive. If it perfectly resembles the actual recording, it’ll be fascinating, but dead.
To be alive is to evolve. And there lies the excitement of a performance.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
I believe in rushed rough mixes of an immediate take that most accurately captures the event more than the idea that preceded it.
But it’s a great luxury to then live with it for months and not listen to it. After so much time, it will become another exciting part of the process to acknowledge the little miracles that occurred during the moment of impact when recording it, or, make it more palatable by cutting it down to size in a world now that demands less, not more, from your attention.
The trick is to instill in it an integrity that will provide new information as the years roll by after it’s release. That’s the game of it. Like jazz recordings from the late fifties that continue to inform the listener today.
What’s your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
In the old days my hands were all over the board during mixes. Sometimes I would stay up all night mixing something alone. I’ve always utilized accidents and mistakes in those times like they were gifts if you knew what to do with them.
Later in life, especially in the late 90s, many people began mixing things more the way I used to like to hear them. And finally in the double otts, almost everyone does. So it’s gotten easier and more trusting to just let someone else mix once they’ve become aware of my history of released material.
I had absolutely nothing to do with the production of this album, except being asked if I liked the way something was turning out. The recording / mixing engineering & overall production (Jo Francken w/ Aarich Jespers & Kobe Proesmans ) on this album is fascinating to me. It manages to take a primarily acoustic band and makes them sound mightily breathtaking and it absolutely makes me dizzy beyond anything I could have ever done. I’m honored to have been invited into it and love being in the middle of their sound on stage.
Sometimes I need to hold on to something or go spinning right off the merry-go-round.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
The state of emptiness that occurred after we finished most of the album was called a pandemic. We were not alone in our aloneness.
These days, just leaving the house is creative. For everyone.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing 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?
Making coffee is also diverting death from it’s eventual landscape.
Zen is zen.