Concord Records’ NEXT Collective brings together what many are calling the supergroup of this generation of musicians. Combining the talents of Ben Williams, Christian Scott, Matt Stevens, Jamire Williams, Kris Bowers, Walter Smith III, Logan Richardson and Gerald Clayton, these musicians give some credence to the term “supergroup.” Originally conceived by Chris Dunn, Senior A&R at Concord, the record moves past the outdated “jazz” labeling and delves into the more pop-oriented influences of these incredible musicians.
Leading up to the February 26th release of ‘Cover Art,’ we will be bringing you interviews with the musicians and previews of the songs each one arranged for the record, so check back with us often! Today we’re interviewing drummer Jamire Williams who arranged “Refractions In The Plastic Pulse” by Stereolab for ‘Cover Art.”
You are one of the only artists in the NEXT Collective that isn’t actually signed to Concord and that says a lot about how much you are respected. Why do you think they brought you in for the record?
Well I’ve been on a handful of records that Concord has put out. Me and Chris [Dunn] have a great relationship as friends and as business associates. All of the sessions that we’ve done from the last few Christian Scott records to Ben Williams’ record and Jacky Terrasson’s record have been beautiful sessions. I just feel that we always connect and we always see the music in the same light. Chris isn’t a musician, but he has an ear and a vision that I really respect and always take into consideration. We definitely click that way. I think that’s what led him to include me on the project even though I wasn’t officially on the label. I’ve got plenty of work over there though [laughs].
You arranged a Stereolab track; what went into that decision and process?
Yeah, I arranged a Stereolab song called “Refractions In The Plastic Pulse.” I knew the project was open to doing whatever and I knew it would probably be a lot of more popular songs chosen. I’m always the against-the-norm type of guy, the renegade. I always like to try and do some obscure stuff, even in the context of this situation.
Stereolab has always been one of my favorite bands since I got put on them. Originally I had in mind the song that Dilla had sampled, but it’s kind of been done so many times. So the next song that really struck me was “Refractions In The Plastic Pulse.” I really like that one — it has a very melancholy sound to it and a lot of my writing for my own band has that feel and introspective sound to it. That’s what I wanted to add to the record. I knew it would be a lot of heavy hitting and a lot of crazy arrangements, so I wanted to bring something in that would kind of shake it up a bit to give the listeners something they could just lay back and ride out to.
I actually had some of the guys playing stuff that they don’t normally play. I had Walter tucked in the back playing bass clarinet, which he doesn’t normally play and he hates me for it [laughs]. He stepped up to the challenge though. I was just hearing different colors and a smoother sound to the arrangement, so I had bass clarinet and Logan plays flute on it too. It really adds to the overall sound of the record. That’s the only song with those doubles, those voices, and those sounds. I think that’s the only song where Ben is playing electric bass if I’m not mistaken. So yeah man, I switched it up and kind of went off the cuff. For my real diggers and my real heads, they’re hip to Stereolab.
In the scheme of recording the album, when did you guys tackle this track?
I believe it was probably towards the middle. It was one of the first songs we recorded the second day. People were more relaxed by that point and the arrangement wasn’t so intricate. Everybody played it through and I think that’s the second take that you hear on the record. We played it one time and kind of felt it out and then I made some adjustments listening back to it and the second take was the joint. With this caliber of musicianship, it’s just another day at the office. Once everybody is locked in and in tune with all the energies that are present, it’s just like, “What’s the next picture we’re going to paint?”
As far as arranging and composing go, where do you get your chops?
Man, I’m still learning! I’m probably one of the more raw guys technique-wise in my way of composing. Because the drums aren’t a melodic or harmonic instrument, we drummers kind of hear things really fresh. I don’t really see the notes as any other instrument would I don’t think. For me it’s just the ears man — once I hear something I like, I know that I like that. Then I build on it and try to go deeper. Of course in school I took arranging and I know how to write it out for the most part. But my technique is really raw and just straight whatever I’m hearing or whatever I’m seeing in my head. I’m really visual a lot of times — I see colors and shapes sometimes. Certain sounds trigger different colors and when I see it forming, that’s how I get the juices flowing.
What is the process then for conveying your vision for an arrangement to the rest of the group — is it completely written or do you sing it to the other musicians or something like that?
Yeah, I’m real meticulous. Sometimes I give distinct, exact, right-on things that I’m hearing or feeling. Other times I’m just really random and abstract to give them the reigns to kind of interpret. I’m all about that — you have these people in your band or you have a situation like this with a collective of musicians where everybody is on such a high level and everyone has their own voice. You call them or you play with them specifically because of their voice and their sound. I don’t like to tell someone how to play too much, aside from like minor details. So it’s either these really exact minor details or just really open.
With some of these bands that are constructed instead of organically formed, even with such incredible musicians, it doesn’t always go so well. What allowed you guys to get such a great recording out of the process?
I think it’s funny because we all talked about that. I think everybody came into the situation like, “Oh man, what is this going to be?” We’ve all got those records where the lineup is just ridiculous and you’re like, “Man, but…” I think this situation worked out for the better because a lot of us know each other on a personal level and we’ve all played together in either one and other’s bands or someone else’s band.
I went to college with Logan; he was one of those guys that I started playing with when I got to New York — duos, just me and him, drums and sax. I’ve shared the bandstand with Matt millions of times and we’re both in Christian’s band. Then me and Ben played on his record and also played in the trio with Jacky. That’s the foundation right there — if the bass and drums are locked in, we can hold everything else together. Plus Walter and I are both from Houston, so we’ve got that H-Town swing. You’ve got to have two members from Houston in the band — It ain’t no band if you don’t have anybody from Houston in it! Quote me on that [laughs]! So we’ve all played with each other and already had relationships on and off the bandstand. I think that’s what helped it work. It all worked out for the better and we all said that after the session even. This came out way better than I think we all expected.
As far as the legacy goes, do you think this record will change the way people think about your generation of musicians?
I think it will be a staple piece and I think it will be a statement. When looked back on, people will definitely know that we were the movers and shakers. It represents the now and I think it will be looked back on as that. As a collective, we all are individually doing incredible things. Everybody is carving out their own lane and making amazing music and artistic expressions. This will be another staple document of the time.
What’s going on with your group, ERIMAJ, this year?
We’re already back working on new demos for the next ERIMAJ record. I’ve been writing some stuff with Corey King, my main man. He just sent me some stuff he’s been working on, so we’re both in the lab doing it.
I’m also working on this emcee-producer project with my good friend and brother Jawaad Taylor who is an emcee from Houston. He was in a group called Shape of Broad Minds with Jneiro Jarel who is JJ in the JJ DOOM collaboration. So Jawaad and I are working on this project called “Black Fetish.” It’s going to be another classic takeover record.
Then I’m producing a singer named Céline Rudolph who’s from Berlin too. Also I don’t know if he’s releasing too much about it yet, but Miguel Atwood-Ferguson has got a record that he’s about to start on and I’ll be making an appearance on that as well.
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)
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