Julian Lage has been playing guitar from the tender age of 5. Recently, he has become one of the leading voices in modern jazz with eclectic collaborations with Nels Cline, Chris Eldrige, and now a new album with his trio with bassist Scott Colley, drummer Kenny Wellesen, and producer Jesse Harris.
Could you talk a bit about the type of practice you were doing as a young player?
I practiced anywhere from 8-11 hours during a certain period. I was doing an independent study through my middle school and high school. I was definitely obsessive about it. I thought ‘ you just have to do this’ if you want to mitigate the issues that could prevent you from connecting with someone musically to a full degree. The reality is I would play with someone much better and they called a song I didn’t know so I thought I better go learn it, or my solo was all diatonic and in one position and I couldn’t build a climax and I thought damn I gotta practice. I was catching up with myself. It stemmed from a lot of curiosity and wanting to be a contributor in a genuine way.
Do you sit down and have ‘composition time’ or do you write when the moment comes?
For the new album it tended to be more deliberate. By that I mean it would be three days here three days there. Go to a studio, find a hotel room, some quiet place that allows me to try out material and vet it. For Modern Lore there was so much that got thrown out in favor of what’s on the record. I pick a specific time; cast a really wide net; figure out what doesn’t resonate and hopefully come out with something that does. It’s pointed towards a project, a deadline, a crunch.
Was there a distinct musical theme throughout the album?
They had to be songs that would highlight a groove, less episodic . If the drummer or bassist was doing something cool I thought what would be a good melody or chord structure that would support that and then not changing it for three minutes…a jam aspect. The guitar centric thing is really cool and essential but at the same time it’s an ensemble record and you don’t want to feel that you’re being ‘backed up’. I wrote some 30 songs and widdled down to 11. I wrote on the airplane, hotel rooms, anywhere, just write write write.
Do you record full takes or comp?
We would record full band takes and then comp parts. That’s where Jesse comes in and says well that’s fixable so you should do it and that’s flexible but don’t fix it cuz what you loose in accuracy you gain in x,y,z etc…. It’s not about being in phase or in tune it’s about being appropriately in phase or in tune. But overall how it sounds on the record is how it felt in the room.
How do you enjoy music in the streaming age? Itunes, Records, CD’s? Do you feel overwhelmed?
Oy vay, I don’t have a routine per say. I have a record player but it’s not hooked up. I go through phases. I use streaming as needed, it’s a tool for researching stuff. I don’t feel that streaming is my ‘in’ for discovering music though. The thing that would be more likely to get me to check something out is if a friend said ‘hey I made a record with so and so and it was really fun’, then I’ll go and look it up. This community is more the impetus for me investigating than thinking what’s cool and popular now? It’s a little more contained in the community; we’re so blessed to have so many friends doing cool things. It’s personal for me.
Modern Lore is OUT NOW via Mac Avenue: HERE