June 17, 2024


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Interview with Janis Rubiks: The intellect is as vital when it comes to bringing your ideas and dreams to fruition: Video

Jazz interview with jazz contrabassist Janis Rubiks. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Janis Rubiks: – I grew up in a small and peaceful town in the north of Latvia called Rūjiena. That’s where I started my first musical studies around the age 7. My first instruments were recorder and trumpet which I studied at the local children’s music school. Around the age of 13 or so I discovered the bass guitar to which I was immediately drawn to. This sparked my interest in rock, funk, popular music and later on led me to jazz world and double bass.

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

JR: – It evolved the most by listening, transcribing and emulating the music and the players that I love. And for me, like for many musicians, it has been an never-ending process. Over the years I can see how my musical interest has grown from electric bass players such as Victor Wooten or Jaco Pastorius to the point where I no longer listen to or search for music created by bass players necessarily (although I still enjoy the occasional bassist’s album). For example, my recent favorite has been the music of singer-songwriter Amos Lee.

These days I find myself listening to music that speaks to me on some deep and personal level, irrelevant of the genre or the instrument. I think that in a certain way this is what guides me as an artist, shows what musical (and human) values am I drawn to and later on helps me find a way to express them in my own creative work.

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

JR: – My practice routine is usually structured around the music that I am playing at the given time. Maybe an obvious thing to say, but I always try to put music, its message and specific character first. It eventually leads me to see what are the most important aspects, challenges of it and eventually shows what to focus the practice on. Of course, you have to always keep your instrumental skills in shape and as to rhythm, our good, old friend metronome comes in handy.

JBN: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?

JR: – I guess you could say that I drift more to the harmonic side than the dissonant, if you look at music on kind of a linear scale with each polarity at either end.

But I personally do not like to think much about it in that way, because it is all so relative. For something to be labeled harmonic, there has to be something that is dissonant next to it and vice-versa. But who is to say what is what? If you take a regular major chord and put it next to a heavily altered dominant seventh chord, it will appear that the former is harmonic and the latter is dissonant. But then you take that altered dominant chord and put it next to, say, the sound of 30 lawn mowers being run at the same time, each slightly higher or lower in pitch. And then you can the lawn-mowing sound and compare it to something that is even more hectic, disorganized etc. You get the idea.

As to my own playing and writing, I try to approach it intuitively and follow what comes naturally at the moment. I enjoy playing “structured” music as much as completely improvised, depending on the circumstance and the spirit of the music and the musicians involved.

JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

JR: – I don’t think that you should. Similar to what I said earlier – having contrasts in your music and not labeling them, makes it more vital, exciting and colorful.

JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

JR: – I guess that this one is a never-ending debate for musicians. As for me, they are both important, but the soul and the spirit come somewhat first. Nevertheless, the intellect is as vital when it comes to bringing your ideas and dreams to fruition. I believe, that anyone who ever achieved anything significant in their field sooner or later embraced the power and importance of both of these elements in their work.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

JR: – Again, to be honest, I try not to think about it in this dual fashion. Of course, there are some things that I want to express artistically and there are some general things that will always work better, say, with a live audience. But my experience has shown me, that you should always primarily focus on what you want to say – your own artistic vision, and if it is honest, vital and something of deep value and meaning to yourself, then it will always find somebody who resonates with it.

JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

JR: – Every gig, jam or session has its special moments. 🙂 This answer could turn out to be way too long…

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

JR: – Many artists nowadays are aiding this by mixing jazz with the various trends of today (hip-hop, electronic music, beat-oriented music etc.). Such as Robert Glasper, Brad Mehldau, Mark Guliana, to name a few. I have seen that this trend can function as a sort of a gate-way for the younger people into the jazz idiom. It did that for myself to some extent.

JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

JR: – The spiritual element is very important to me. I think that is what actually gets many people into music although they might not even be consciously thinking about it (especially at a younger age). Perhaps they are simply drawn by the fact that playing is fun, hip, challenging and so on. But I do believe that playing (and playing jazz/improvised music in particular) holds that power to make us fully present and experience something deep, connecting and spiritual. I have found that many players tend to agree with that.

JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

JR: – I guess I would like to stop people arguing over genres, categories and styles. If you have something of value to express, then the label on it should not matter.  People either resonate with it or they do not.

JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

JR: – As I mentioned earlier, currently I really enjoy the music of some singers (and songwriters). Amos Lee, singer-drummer Jamison Ross, Cyrille Aimee, Sarah Gazarek and others. Scott Mulvahill is someone who does an amazing job on singing, comping himself on the bass and writing great songs.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

JR: – My feeling is that in one way or another all artists reflect their experience (both artistic and human), their inner selves, their core values though their music or art. If you listen to my music, you might experience mine. But then again, since you will be listening to it through the prism of your own personality, knowledge and experience, you might find something completely else in there and that’s okay too.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

JR: – I think it would be fun to have a little glimpse of every decade or so of the previous centuries instead of going directly to one time only. They all had their valuable moments and lessons for us.

JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

JR: – Congratulations on running this website for so long! Probably has not been an easy job, has it 🙂 ?

JBN: – Thanks for answers. Yes, of course, since 2002 year.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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