Alan is unique thus far, in that he approached me to review his new album, A.liB.i, and that intrigued me, so I had to learn more. Low and behold, Alan wasn’t just an enterprising musician, but an amazingly gifted one, but with very little autobiographical information that I could find. That set me off on a hunt, and after searching long enough, I thought I’d go straight to the source, and- having raised questions and interest in a new fan- Alan was kind enough to oblige and answer my questions.
What would you like our readers to know about your music/career/personality?
I believe that music is a way to connect with people. I don’t think that you should make music for music’s sake. It should be a vehicle for people to understand themselves and other people better. In life we all seek something beyond ourselves and music helps us reach out to that.
Something I (Lisa) love about your sound is the mellow, down to earth tones and the gorgeous guitar work. What do you look for in a guitar, and what are some of your favorites? Are you a one-guitar player, or a collector?
I appreciate your kind words about the tone, I had a great engineer and friend, Jake Fader, on the record and we worked really hard on it. I have a pretty low key set up. My current amp is an original 75 Fender Twin Reverb, super heavy but Fender just got it right on the lush reverb and the tremolo is extremely natural. On the guitar side I use a Godin 5th Ave. Its a hollow body Gibson 125ish copy. I dig it because it has a vintage feel but the neck is super playable.
What does the songwriting process look like for Alan Brooks?
My songwriting process is pretty ongoing. when I first started writing songs I committed to constantly having new material as a practice in order to increase the quality of my songs. And I still try to write new songs every week. My process is to say familiar things in ways that I people haven’t heard before. I think that the genius of Shakespeare was that he created so many metaphors that were fresh but at the same time natural.
Who do you consider to be your most significant musical influences?
When I was in high school I was influenced by the story telling style of early Death Cab for Cutie. So when I started playing in college that left me with an interesting problem because I grew up on the vibe of the Temptations and Earth Wind and Fire. For me meeting in the middle was my own brand of jazz style singer-songwriter. Now I’m heavily influenced by the improvising theories of Bill Evans, “jazz is making one minutes music in one minutes time”. That music should be natural and able to eb, flow, and change. Thelonious Monk also influenced me to play my own way and to try not to “parrot” other people’s playing, to have a unique style.
Are you going to be touring any time soon to promote A.liB.i? If so, what regions and major cities will you be visiting?
This summer I will mostly be playing in the Cleveland area. Some highlights will be Burning River Fest and a Walnut Wednesday for 87.7. I’ll also be headed out towards Chicago and Pittsburg.
For aspiring musicians out there, what advice do you have to give them? Is there anything you wish you would have known when you started this path?
I think the best piece of advice that I got from a friend of mine when I started playing out was that you can’t rely on other people to do the work for you. I think our culture kind of has a youtube syndrome where people, myself included at times, tend to think that you will blow up overnight by coincidence. But music really is a daily grind to continually improve and be committed to long term goals.
How did you meet Bethesda? Do you play together often these days?
I met Bethesda through my “day job”. Eric and Shanna, the married front duo of the band, are both teachers. Last year I started teaching at the same school as Eric and after a couple days of talking music in the teachers lounge we became friends. I haven’t played with them in a while. They are definitely a band to watch on the up and up, so their schedule takes them all over the place. They are great people and a great band and I wish them all the best.
How do you describe your sound? Do you see yourself fitting in with “jazz” or something totally different? What’s your feeling on fusion artists or projects?
I get asked this question a lot, and its funny because I think its a really hard thing to answer despite having a fair amount of experience fielding it. I think that Jazz is both an idea and a style. Its the idea of improvising playing with a certain feeling of receptiveness to spontaneous change and interpretation. But it has also been equated with the style of playing certain types of syncopations with minor sevenths and flat fives that is recognizable to the ear as Jazz. All that to say the two are obviously not mutually exclusive, but they are not dependent either. The point of Jazz was always to be creating something new in the now. So I think it would be a disservice to exclusively repeat the past without exploring what could be in the future. When I write and play I try to have a balance of both referencing the past with what has traditionally been defined as a Jazz style, but also to create what I want Jazz to look like in my future.
Fusion projects are cool. I think that collaboration is essential to growth. Other artist help you to get yourself out of the way and break new ground you may not have even known was there before.
Who are you listening to? What bands and artists should we have our ears on?
I listen to a lot of Jazz, I have a habit of every Tuesday buying a couple records out of the two dollar used bin at a record shop in town. So I’m always exploring new artist from the past. A lot of the greats that had the sort of cool edge to there take on things that many people might call hard bop and west coast. To name a few Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Chet Baker, Cannonball Adderley, Dave Brubeck, Clifford Brown, Gerry Mulligan, and the list could go on for awhile.
As far as current Jazz goes cats like Christian Scott, Esparanza Spalding, and Gregory Porter are some of my favorites that are keeping things real. Then with other acts sort of like myself with more of a diversity of folk, indie, and soul I’ve been all about the other side of the pond with Michael Kiwanuka, Lianne LaHavas, and Corinne Bailey Rae.
Do you have a favorite song to play from your repertoire so far?