With Kendrick Scott’s latest Oracle record, ‘Conviction,’ topping the charts and making its way into iPods and computers around the world, we took some time to discuss the implications behind the meaning of the record as well as Kendrick’s entire perception of the drums as an instrument and more. Take a listen to the record, check out some of insight below, and grab yourself a copy today!
What was the initial idea in conceiving this record after the last Oracle project?
As soon as the last record was finished, we were working on things. Between the first Oracle record and the Criss Cross record, I had been writing more Oracle stuff anyways and some of the stuff didn’t even make the record. The difference between The Source and this record is that I was working on more of a band concept — I wanted to have a very streamlined band. I started thinking about Coltrane’s band, Miles’ band, Cannonball Adderley’s band, and all of these bands. I wanted to connect with that feeling. So I knew that with this incarnation of Oracle I wanted it to be a working group and I wanted to capture that feeling.
That was the first concept I came up with for this record. Then as I was working on the music — this really shows you the humility of Derrick Hodge — I wanted to try to have Derrick in the band, but he heard us play at Small’s by way of a live stream and he heard how great Joe Sanders sounded with us. So instead of him doing the record, he told me he wanted to have Joe on the record and he wanted to produce it. That really floored me. Derrick is one of the greatest bass players out there, and for him to have that humility to say that Joe Sanders fits the group, that’s amazing.
So while we were getting ready to record the group, Derrick was saying how he could see a change in me and the way I’ve been playing. He said I’m playing and acting with a sort of conviction. Then that word, “conviction,” kept ringing true in my mind and I knew that was it because if you notice in every part of the record there is something about conviction. It’s not only the conviction that we play with, but in the conviction of what’s behind our music. It’s a huge subject and I wanted to capture that.
“Conviction” itself is such a deep and complex word and idea. When Derrick first said it, what came to mind for you?
One of the things that hit me initially was the lifelong struggle of dealing with who you want to be versus who you are. As a musician, that’s a hard thing. Every time I look at a drum set I’ve got to think, “Roy Haynes touched one of those. Philly Joe Jones. John Bonham. Tony Williams touched one of those things.” So for me to sit down at a drum set is a daunting concept. In looking up to my idols, I was always thinking like, “Damn, I’m not them.” My mind was always saying, “You’ve got to be like them.” But I realized in my conversation with Derrick that what I have to offer is singular; it’s not like anything anybody else has to offer. Instead of worrying about who you want to be, just be who you are. That’s a huge part of what Conviction was about.
You sampled an interview with Bruce Lee for the track “Be Water,” and I think that concept says a lot about the style of the group. Jazz is such a constraining term for a record this deep with so many different influences. Have you seen it reaching a wider audience since the release?
Definitely. That’s why I connected with that interview — Leron Thomas actually showed it to me. That was Bruce Lee’s last interview. I started listening to what he was saying and when he says, “styles are crystallizations,” I thought about it because crystal would mean it’s almost dead. Our music is living and our music is in the moment. That’s what the spirit of what we call jazz is about. If we’re making a living in music and infusing arts, that’s what Bruce Lee was talking about. If you think what Bruce Lee was doing in martial arts, he was doing all of those things at one time and people were hating him for it. I think of him like Bird or Ornette Coleman — he was doing the same thing in martial arts. So he says, “In all things we have to be water.” Think about that as a jazz musician. You have to drop your preconceived notions; I can’t walk up to a drum set with preconceived notions thinking about what Philly Joe would do or something. It’s all about that idea of who you are versus who you want to be. If I really want to be true and authentic to who I am, I have to address those things in the practice room, but not when I’m out playing. I connect that with the idea of “surrender.” This record is about me surrendering to all of my influences. I love rock stuff, jazz stuff, and you hear everything in there.
It seems that drummers make pretty amazing bandleaders. Why do you think that is?
I like to say that the drummer is always the bandleader. If you see a sucky band, it’s usually because the drummer sucked. I think that the drummers are always leading from behind. I can shape a band in a way that makes the band sound good or makes it sound terrible. All of the great drummers are ones that drum out of service — service to your bandmates and service to the music. As a drummer and a leader I’m always trying to be in service to the music. I can relinquish control in the band because I love them so much as people and as musicians. They are first rate so I can do that. I don’t feel like I have to be the leader necessarily all the time. I think most of the great leaders are in command, but out of control. I really connect with that saying the first time I heard it. That’s actually a military thing. Think about someone like Art Blakey who knew how to play rolls from the lowest dynamic to the highest. He was in command of the drums, but when he played it he was out of control. Also in terms of your band, we want to be in command of what we do, but totally out of control. That’s what I’m trying to capture.
You said that as a bandleader you are in service to the band and to the music. In general, do you think that music is a service-based industry?
Wow. Yeah, I definitely do. I think that music is the sonic form of everyday life. Our music reflects what’s going on in the Supreme Court right now. You think about Prop 8 and you think about courage, surrender, and all of these things. All of these convictions are laid out right there. It’s reflecting our everyday life. I think that all musicians are in some type of service. Even for me, listening to bad music makes me think about wanting to be a better musician and wanting to be a better person. It’s like bad music is teaching me to be a better musician. I’m really analytical, so if I listen to something where I don’t dig it, I won’t turn it off right away. I will think about why it’s bad and that solidifies what it is that I do like and what I want my music to sound like. So even though we may not think every piece of music has a purpose, it really does.
With Conviction, I wanted to create a dialogue with the music. It has a purpose and a service. Even if you hear it on the radio and don’t know what the titles of the songs are, I want you to at least feel something that can embody that spirit.
On that same point, the sound you achieved on Conviction is very intense. Are you particular in the studio about how record the instruments?
I’m very particular. I would say that Derrick Hodge and I were really hand-in-hand with the sound. All of the great records I have listened to, I connected to sonically first. We actually took ¾ of an entire day on just sound — that’s it. Getting the tom sound, the cymbals, and everything. I used two drum sets on the record actually. We worked on the sound for hours at a time. If someone came in to hang in the studio that day, it would have been the most boring thing for them [laughs]. I was like hitting one drum a hundred times in a row.
But in how the music is heard, that is a huge part of it. If we didn’t capture the sonic base that we wanted to convey, then the music wouldn’t have had the same meaning that it had. I’m kind of a meticulous individual in the way that I choose my instruments themselves. If I’m going to pay $3,000 for a cymbal and it sounds incredible, I have to make sure that it’s miked right. Think about that happening with every piece of the drums. A drum set is a full orchestra of instruments. I want that full range to be captured, so I spent a lot of time on that.
Do you see every piece of the drum set as a separate instrument or as one whole instrument?
I see the drum set as one whole instrument, but I also see it as an orchestra. I see my hi-hat and my bass drum as you see an oboe and French horn in the orchestra. If you close your eyes, you just hear the full orchestra. I literally practice the drum set as if it were an orchestra. “I’m going to deal with the oboe today,” or “I’m going to deal with the first trumpet.” The first trumpet could be my snare drum or whatever. “How can I make my snare drum blare over everything when I want it to?” When you say the volume of the drums, I don’t want you to say the volume of the whole drums. I want you to say, “Oh wow, listen to how the snare drum came out.” Just the snare drum or just the bass drum. I’m always thinking of how I can use one piece of the drum set to give the music that push. Maybe it’s only in the volume of my hi-hat — how open it is or how chippy it is. I’m always working on the instrument as an orchestra in that way.
There was a great moment at the Generations of the BEAT festival when you went up to Billy Hart and he asked if you were there to show him up. There seems to be a great camaraderie among the community of drummers, not matter the generation. Do you feel that?
I think the fraternity of drummers is the most connected fraternity of them all. All drummers feel that we have this space where there is always room for another drummer. In getting to hang with DeJohnette Billy Hart, Roy Haynes and all of the other guys that are still around, I see that they have a deep love for each other. I saw early on in pictures that all of the drummers were always hanging together. Being in Terence’s band has taught me so many great things. Terence would tell us stories of how when he was playing with Art Blakey, Jo Jones would come hang out. He said there was once a table with Philly Joe, Papa Jo, and DeJohnette all watching Art Blakey. For me, getting to hang with Lenny White, Billy Hart, Marcus Gilmore, Justin Faulkner, Justin Brown and all of my dudes is awesome. We’re a huge community of brothers. I come from such a strong crew of drummers from Houston as well — Chris Dave, Eric Harland, Jamire Williams are all huge influences on me. The generational thing is beautiful because I think it’s all being passed down in such a way that it’s so natural. There’s no fighting between us because there is so much room for all of us to do what we do and do it authentically.
What are you most excited about going forward?
For me I think the most exciting thing is that I’ll have another day to play music. In putting out this record, it’s made me realize that in some ways your legacy is connected to things that you contribute on this Earth. So if I can keep making music and art that makes people meditate on things that are eternal, then I’m doing my job. So I get excited when I think about making music and making art that can live in people’s brains and make them think and become better people.
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)