Derrick Hodge doesn’t mess around with trying to define his style. If you want a taste of his sound go pick up the latest Experiment record, or grab Maxwell’s latest, or check him out with Common or Terence Blanchard or Kanye West. Do you like watching movies? Go pick up ‘Inside Man’ and ‘Cadillac Records.’ Hodge has imprinted his style on all of the aforementioned projects and more. It takes a special kind of musician to be as versatile and definitive as Hodge is and that’s why we caught up with him to discuss the most exciting project of late — his upcoming debut record on Blue Note Records. Read on for some insight into that process as well as a whole lot more exciting stories and news.
Despite your hectic touring schedule you actually have a record of your own coming out, right?
Yeah man, I’m really excited about my album, Live Today. I officially signed with Blue Note Records. Now I’m in the process of just adding finishing touches to all of the songs which are already recorded. Then just mixing and mastering; it’s going to be kind of a tight schedule for the next few months.
I didn’t bring in a whole lot of special guests or anything like that. I have Common on a piece and Alan Hampton sat in and sang a song with me on the record which I’m excited about. Robert is on a song. But other than that core band was Travis Sayles, Aaron Parks – both keyboard and organ players – Chris Dave is on it, Mark Colenburg is playing drums too, Keyon Harrold, Marcus Strickland, and Corey King. I’m just excited about it.
What are the compositions like on the record; did you do mostly originals or covers?
Just about every song on the album is original. There’s actually a solo piece I’m thinking of adding in right now that’s probably going to be a cover. I’m not sure yet though. But yeah, everything is pretty much original except one piece here and there.
And you wrote all of the originals?
Yeah, I did.
As a bassist, how did you develop your ear and your mind for composing for the rest of the band?
When I write or when I think of writing, I’m not necessarily thinking from the instrument of bass. I’ve always enjoyed writing and I guess bass is just an instrument that I love playing whether it’s acoustic bass or electric bass. That just happens to be the instrument I enjoy playing. When it comes to writing, I don’t really think of any specific instrument. It might just be freehand; I might just write everything down on paper. I might sit at a piano one day or I might literally have seen someone perform at a show, which happened with Alan. I heard him at a rehearsal and then I’m just trying to think of something based around his sound and his spirit. So each situation is different. I think that helps keep it fresh without having a specific formula.
That’s what I tried to do for this record actually. I didn’t write anything too far in advance. Nothing is really too composed. I tried to keep everything raw. I didn’t write anything more than a couple weeks before tracking it. I wanted it to be really honest and in the moment. That’s why I called it Live Today. I’m trying to make it snapshots of how I’m feeling on a specific day.
No one can dispute your ability to lay it down in any style of music. What different styles went into the making of this album?
I’m a musician who just enjoys playing a bunch of different types of things, regardless of what it is. There was a time I was considered a musician that did other things, you know, “I hear he’s playing jazz now too.” Now it’s like, a jazz musician playing whatever. For me, I’ve never had a quarrel about how I’m described. If someone comes to the show and gets whatever impression of the music they get, I’m cool with it. I’m just glad they’re coming to the show. What I’m trying to do is just be honest to whatever music I’m feeling. It’s been an exciting time because the market is open to that, just guys doing a hybrid of a lot of different things. It’s kind of fun hearing how it’s described. There are a lot of people doing all of these different things.
What made you want to do this record right now?
It was really just the timing, man. It was a decision that the time is now to take a step forward and start recording, you know, make an effort. Put something that is raw and uniquely you out there to the world and see what happens. I was just trying to be honest to whatever I was feeling in the moment. If it was a certain thing I was feeling, be real. Capture that and not even think about it too much. Put it out there and see what the listener gets from it. I might be feeling a certain thing and then when someone hears it, they might feel a whole other thing.
But the biggest thing that went into recording it was just the decision. The time is now to make it happen. I’m excited.
Blue Note Records is reinvigorating the brand right now with amazing new artists like yourself. What made you want to sign with them?
Honestly, the transparency. This album originally was just a leap of faith. My manager Vincent Bennett and I just decided the time was now to just start recording and get the concept happening. We put up our own money to fund the record and got it happening. Believe it or not, Don Was came to a show I was doing with The Experiment and he approached me afterwards and we started talking. It started as simply as, “Look man, I really want you to be a part of the Blue Note family. This needs to happen. Let’s do whatever we need to do to make it happen.” It was only about three sentences on that subject. He stuck by his word in every way since that day over a year ago.
I’ll never forget, I got a phone call while I was at the Regattabar in Boston that it was officially going to happen. Things moved on from there. What I love is the respect for the music and the respect for my process, the way they are really just trying to capture me doing what I do and putting the product out the way I want to. They’re not trying to dictate how they want me to sound or anything like that. It’s really organic. I appreciate that.
What’s the expected release date for the project?
It’s looking like it’ll be a couple of months into 2013. As soon as we get a release date I’ll be one of the first blasting it out there! It’ll definitely either be late-Winter or early-Spring of 2013.
When you’re not practicing, performing, recording, or anything, what are some of your hobbies?
They still mostly revolve around music [laughs]! I’ve become such a gear-head. Right now, because I don’t have a whole lot of free time, it turns out to be me nerding out whether that’s an Ableton Live clinic down the street from my house or stopping by Native Instruments in LA and learning stuff. Time is kind of a luxury, so it’s mainly those types of things. I’m making the most of it. You have to make every day count. We’ve been blessed with an opportunity. We’re getting music out there in such volatile times in the industry. When I’m not focused on family, I try to make my world around something that has to do with music and progression.
What are some of your essential pieces of gear that you must have?
It’s funny man, when it comes to gear, I’m a nerd about recording and studio stuff, but with my bass, I’m so practical. I just travel with my bass and one pedal that I use from time-to-time. It’s my octave pedal. Other bass players sometimes get on me like, “Hey, why don’t you use this and use that.” I enjoy using all of that stuff and there was a time when I did it more, but as far as gear essentials I’m really just like give me something and I hope it works.
What about in the studio?
I love classic Neve boards when they’re in great condition. Also Neve pre-amps, Chandlers, and that type of stuff. I gravitate to it. That’s kind of been my thing. I’m a classic Neumann guy when it comes to microphones. I like mixing cheap mics with expensive mics and messing with mic placements. All of these things I got from a really good friend of mine, Hod David, who produced Maxwell’s stuff. We sit and talk about different things like that all the time. That’s kind of my hobby right now, just trying to learn more about that and how to get the right kind of sound. And that helped for my record too.
I think that’s the one thing that’s essential in our records that we’re putting out now. It’s got to definitely sound a certain kind of way. It can’t sound like we tried to skimp on mixing or mastering. The studio has to sound up to speed with anything else a person puts on the radio. That’s the audience we want. We want it to be heard by as many people as possible. It can’t sound like they have to sit and think about whether they like it or not.
You spoke about learning some of the studio tips from working with Maxwell. What is it about him that makes you want to continue working with him?
Just the humility that he shows in the studio and his desire to get the best out of you. And not just him man, I’ve been blessed in my career to work with other artists that truly just trust me and trust my experiences. Also they trust the other people in the sessions. They trust our experiences and what we bring. They want to capture that. Maxwell is just one of those guys who hears everything. He’s very aware of sound and the little nuances of things that people are playing. He has amazing ears. But I just love how open and how giving he is in the studio. He wants to capture what it is you do and then create a great product out of that. That’s what I love. Even in live performances, the trust he gives me is remarkable. A lot of people can be really uptight. He’s definitely not one of those people and that’s why I think with his live shows, a lot of the personality of the band comes across. They’re in positions where they can be themselves. I definitely try to honor that loyalty with loyalty to him as well.
Has anyone ever told you or are you aware of why you are brought into these amazing projects? What is it about your style?
You know, you’re the first person to ever ask me that. I don’t think I’ve ever specifically had a conversation with anyone about why they’re bringing me in to a session or anything. Oddly enough with Don Was when he was signing me, we talked about a bunch of different things and then he just shifted to bringing me into the family. There were so many things that were unspoken.
Maybe it’s been that a lot of the records I’ve done have been with people I know personally. The relationships are really there. Music itself is rarely ever discussed. Maybe that’s it. I’ve never had that discussion with anyone though.
Aside from your record and everything else under the sun that you’re working on, are there any specific projects you’re excited about?
Right now time hasn’t allowed for anything other than just writing and finishing up my record at the moment. But one thing I’m really excited about is expanding my Son of Knowledge brand with my management team. I have this company and brand name Son of Knowledge Music and Son of Knowledge Entertainment which is an umbrella for different writing ventures and that’s something I’d really love to do. My focus in writing now has shifted to the idea of working with dancers and choreographers and all of these other types of things, but mainly things that may work in the theater world with lighting and all of that. That’s something that I’ve been really interested in. I want us all to do things together in theaters like potentially Carnegie Hall or somewhere like that.
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)