ALEATORY #19: Jason Robert Brown

Tony-winning composer Jason Robert Brown is bored.

After all, the man has released quite a few albums, has created one of the single greatest pocket musicals of all time (The Last Five Years), and even picked up the theatre-world's highest honor when he penned the score for Parade, still a theatrical staple all these years later. Nowadays, it seems that the last thing that JRB wants to do is what's expected of him -- he's now taking risks both big and small to keep things interesting.. He contributed songs to the big-budget, Tony-nominated production of Urban Cowboy and most recently can be seen writing tunes for 13, the kid-oriented/acted/performed musical that premiered at the prestigious Mark Taper Forum and has since made its away to Broadway. Yet now, Jason takes on his greatest challenge: responding to the latest Globecat Aleatory!

(Jason enters Stage Left and recites the following ...)


2. Favorite board game?

I am a mediocre but avid Scrabblist, and my wife and I used to have epic hostile Scrabble matches, but I travel so much these days that board games are impractical on any consistent basis. I do a lot of Scrabbling and Scrambling on Facebook, but while it is infinitely more addicting, it's ultimately less gratifying.

4. Favorite person to have worked with?

In 2001, I got to work with Jon Hendricks, the legendary vocalese writer and singer; Jon sang the vocal parts on the incidental music I wrote for David Lindsay-Abaire's play "Kimberly Akimbo," which included the song "Grow Old With Me." I grew up listening to Lambert, Hendricks & Ross (as well as the version of that group that included Yolande Bavan) and, in fact, most of my knowledge of bebop repertoire comes from having known the vocalized versions first. (I may be the only musician who hears Miles Davis's "Freddie Freeloader" and thinks of the lyrics, thanks to Hendricks's monumental recording of it with Bobby McFerrin, Al Jarreau and George Benson.) Unlike working with movie stars or rock stars, working with jazz legends turns out to be fairly easy: you pick up the phone and call them. Someone I knew had Jon's manager's number, somehow that led me to Jon's home phone, I called him, offered him a thousand bucks to come sing for three hours, and voilĂ , I had a recording of one of my heroes singing one of my songs. And Jon was a lot of fun to hang out with that day as well, smart and fast and game for anything (at one point, he was making bird and monkey noises).

5. Favorite piece of equipment?

I'm unapologetically analog in most of my habits, though I readily the concede the convenience and fluidity of the digital world. Nonetheless, in order to do my work, I need a piano, a bunch of 2B pencils, a pencil sharpener, staff paper, and a drafting ruler, all of which (except the piano) I travel with at all times. Of those, the piano is the most important, and my favorite piece of equipment therefore is the Yamaha C5 that sits in our backyard studio.

9. Favorite song to start (or end) a mixtape with?

Mixtape? I haven't made one since I was 22. I remember making one for my Dad right after I left college that started with Fred Astaire's recording of Irving Berlin's "I'd Rather Lead A Band." And ended with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong doing Gershwin's "A Foggy Day," which is a song my Dad always sang with me when I was a kid.

11. Favorite music video?

I wouldn't even know where to see a music video these days, outside of YouTube, I guess. I was growing up when MTV first came on the air, so I tend to have a very proprietary sense of music videos – I was an early adopter! In that vein, whatever I offer will be sort of hopelessly unhip, as though I stopped paying attention twenty years ago, which in fact is the case. But coolness be damned: "Sledgehammer" by Peter Gabriel, still the winner by a mile.

15. Favorite exhibit or subject at the museum?

I've seen two separate exhibits on the work of Henry Darger, which I find endlessly fascinating. It's not just the no-formal-training thing (which, to be honest, annoys me no end when people claim that as a virtue), it's more the unfiltered imagination, and the willingness to improvise new tools when his own technique isn't sufficient. And the whole self-contained mythology of the work is inspiring in its own way.

18. Favorite pick-up line?

That I've used myself or that someone's used on me? I don't think I ever had a repertoire of pick-up lines for my own personal use, I'm horrifically shy when it comes to women. Nor have I really been picked up, though I did have one girl ask me to sign her boobs after a concert once. That was killer. (I didn't do it. Maybe her boobs weren't big enough for my whole name?)

27. Favorite chord/chord progression?

Neil Finn does this thing all the time where he's been sitting in a minor key and then just pops in to the relative major, and it's always the most delightful moment. You can hear it in Crowded House's "When You Come," right at the top of the chorus: "And that is why" (there's the minor) "I stumble to my knee-ees!" (there's the major). So satisfying. I steal it whenever I remember to; certainly in "Over," I do it right in the verse.

29. Who do you wish more people were listening to?

Kate McGarry, incredible jazz singer, though "jazz" is too confining a label to put on the work she does; she and her husband, guitarist Keith Ganz, are brilliant interpreters and very deep souls. And Kate's songwriting is very strong and very fresh.

31. Other than musician, what career would you most enjoy?

Ultimately, I think music is just the outlet I generally choose for my creativity, but I live to create, and if it weren't music, it would be something else. As mercurial as I am, whatever I would most enjoy today would make me crazy by the middle of next year.

34. What's the best joke you heard recently?

I've been telling this one for a while now, but it's a winner, courtesy of David Evans (who is the world's foremost joke-teller):

Mr. Lipkin hasn't been to the doctor in a long time, finally he decides it's time for a checkup. He goes in to the doctor's office, the doctors says to him, "All right, Mr. Lipkin, it's been quite a while, we're gonna need some things. We're gonna need a blood sample, a urine sample, a semen sample, and a stool sample." Mr. Lipkin looks at the doctor and says, "Should I just give you my shorts?"

36. Lyrics first or music first?

I get asked this question so often I should probably come up with an interesting answer. Really, what comes first is generally the title. That may not be the title I finally end up with, but I need someplace to start, and usually a good phrase is the best medicine. If I can encapsulate what I want the song to say in a couple of words, then I always know where I'm heading. From there, I'll start determining a musical energy, a particular style; that's decided as much by the character and the situation and the moment in the plot as by my own whimsy. And once I have that "groove" (which may or may not be very groovy), I'll start singing a melody to it, appending the title whenever it feels appropriate. I've been describing that process that way for so long that it's really no longer accurate, at least not always, but it still sounds like a good answer.

46. Where do you keep things hidden? What do you keep hidden there?

Well, now, if I told you...

48. Biggest moment of triumph?

Honestly this: when the woman who was to be my wife and the mother of my child first kissed me, in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2000.

61. What's the best advice you could give to a young, upstart composer?

Write SONGS. Too many theater composers feel the need to write huge sequences without any sense of the underlying structure. Songs, songs, songs. If you can master AABA, you can stretch it any way you want.

63. Band/artist you're secretly envious of?

Secretly? I'm the most openly envious person I know. What good is envy if you're gonna keep it all inside? And furthermore, why just direct it at one band or artist? I'm envious of everyone, all the time. Keeps the creative juices flowing.

64. Weirdest promotion you've been a part of?

Honestly, nothing comes to mind.

75. Very first song that you ever wrote?

I think when I was eight years old, I wrote a song called "Come Back To Me," which told the story of a lovelorn young man desperate for the return of his girl, Jenny. (I did not know a girl named Jenny at the time, at least not well enough for me to immortalize her in song.) The chords, moving every two beats, were C, Bdim, Am, G, F, G, C. I thought I was the first person to come up with those changes.

79. Best concert you've ever been to?

In the same week in (I think) 1997, I saw Michel Petrucciani play Birdland with Anthony Jackson and Steve Gadd AND I saw Aretha Franklin do a gospel concert at Avery Fisher Hall. To see musicianship at that high a level up close, twice in one week, really raised the bar for me. Aretha only did a half-hour long set, but it was still clear that she wasn't coasting or faking – she was feeling it, she was reaching for it, and whatever she needed to express, she had the tools to do it; and Petrucciani played with such inventiveness, such tastefulness, and such unbelievable groove that I redefined my sense of what jazz piano was supposed to be just from that one concert. So: not a bad week.

87. Ultimately, you will want to be remembered as …

At the moment, I'll say I want to be remembered as a musician. When people write about the theater, so much of the focus is on the words, the acting, the singing; I write for the theater by going from the music out. If you don't understand the music I'm writing, then you won't understand the levels of theater I'm creating, and I feel that, all too often, the music just gets lost in the discussion. So I'd like to be remembered as a guy who put a lot of serious thought into how to make the music part of the theater, and how to make all the parts breathe together with the music leading the way.


Visit Jason Robert Brown's website.


ALEATORY #18: Plants and Animals

Global warming aside, 2008 was good to Plants and Animals. Parc Avenue, their debut full-length (out now on Secret City Records: pick it up, friends) was shortlisted for the Polaris Prize (given to the best Canadian album of each year), and ranked very highly on many many other year-end lists. Somewhere in between gearing up for tour and getting lavished with praise, drummer/vocalist Matthew Woodley found time for us and filled out our eighteenth Aleatory. Many thanks to him, and to the rest of the flora/fauna of the band!


1. Favorite word?

4. Favorite person to have worked with?
Sarah Neufeld

6. Favorite visual artist?/Favorite work of visual art?
Alex Usow (www.sharksandhammers.com)

8. Favorite author?/Favorite book?
Jonathan Lethem - Motherless Brooklyn

16. Favorite campfire story?
The one about the very horrific thing that actually happened very close to where we're camping tonight.

18. Favorite pick-up line?
Do you you work at UPS? Because I noticed you checking out my package. WHA!

20. Favorite new band?
Metro League

22. Favorite vice?
Sears Catalogue

27. Favorite chord/chord progression?
I'm more of a metric modulation guy. Partial to anything in D though.

28. What instrument would you most like to learn to play?

29. Who do you wish more people were listening to?
Katie Moore

39. What's something you could probably beat anyone you know at?
A whistling competition

48. Biggest moment of triumph?
Nova Scotia under-15 provincial fencing champion

65. Ever see yourself penning the score/soundtrack to a TV show or film?
Yes I do.

77. What was the hardest part about recording your current release?
Going to work in between.

81. If you could sync an album of yours to a movie (like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz), what movie would it be?
Anything with Danny DeVito.

90. Sexiest thing about you?
I have no neck.

95. Do you ever read your own reviews?
If it's critical.

96. The one thing that no one knows about you (yet)?
I'm saving up for a neck implant.

100. Even with the gradual decay of the B-side, most artists still have vaults of unreleased songs. What's in yours?
Less Danny DeVito, more Will Smith.



Punky is a way to describe it, yet that's not exactly right. Poppy is another good word, but it somehow escapes a comprehensive definition of what Love Is All is all about..

Starting out as a poppy outfit called Girlfriendo, Love Is All have gradually turned into a top-rate speed-guitar band that effectively blurs the line between mainstream and indie, their insane speeds too freaky for a pop audience, yet their hooks just too damn irresitable to be filed under the "punk" moniker. Yet this doesn't seem to stop Swedish collective from doing what they do best: kicking ass and taking names. With 2008's A Hundred Things That Keep Me Up at Night having just graced a slew of Albums of the Year lists, we couldn't think of a better time to check in with the group, the lovely vocalist/keyboardist Josephine Olausson happily talking about what makes a good cover, the power of the veto, and not having a regret all these years into the game ...


>>A Hundred Things That Keep Me Up at Night is winding up on a whole bunch of year-end best-of lists for 2008. Given that Nine Times That Same Song was an album that was basically a collection of all your previous singles, what were the creative challenges you guys faced in coming up with a full-on album of all new material?

I think that the thought of making a full length album is sort of intimidating in itself. We have always been (and still are) very a much a song based band, I think. We like to think of every single song as important in itself, not just as a part of an album. There are a handful of songs that we ended up not including on the record simply because we didn't like them well enough. So, the major challenge was basically to write enough songs that we liked enough to put them on a record. And to try and forget that we were actually working on anything full length.

>>This year has also marked your first turn into full-on remix territory, which, I must say, came as a bit of a surprise, as the lo-fi indie-punk sound that you guys have doesn't immediately lend itself over to remixing. What surprised you about the remix project, and what did you learn from these different recontexualizations?

Yes, that came as a bit of a surprise to us as well. I've never really thought of our music as remixable... but our (then) British label Parlophone really kept on pushing the importance of getting our songs on the dance floor. I suppose the biggest surprise was seeing what other people heard in our songs and hearing all these different contexts in which our music could be put in. I'm not sure what we learned from it, but there were definitely some inspiring things in there.

>>Speaking of recontexualizations, you guys have quite the back catalog of cover songs that you break out on occasion. Right now on your MySpace, you have a sludgy, sticcatto cover of Prince's "Darling Nikki", which works in your hands incredibly well. What qualifies a song to be worthy of a Love Is All cover?

Hum, I'm not sure. Basically that someone in the band really likes the song and that we believe that we can do it well in a Love Is All style. The actual cover ep that we did though was made without anyone else in the band having a chance of veto-ing each members choice, (which was really nice for a change as we tend to get super involved in every little choice made.)

>>Do you ever listen to your Girlfriendo recordings at all? How do you feel you've changed/advanced since those days?

I haven't actually listened to them in years... maybe I should. I think of Girlfrendo as very much a different kind of band in so many ways that it's hard to compare the two. I'm proud of having been a part of that group but I am very happy that I am in a different band now. I was very young when we started Girlfrendo. Love Is All is a much more chaotic, more democratic, more creative band for me. I get to add more of myself and we write the songs in such a way that nothing is ever really finished until everyone has put a part of themselves in the music. There is simpy more of everything in LIA which is something that really fits me - both musically and personally.

>>Finally, so far in your career, what's been your biggest regret, and -- conversely -- what's been your biggest accomplishment?

No regrets. And having been able to live on music alone for the past three years is definitely a huge accomplishment that I never though possible.


Visit Love is All's MySpace.


ALEATORY #17: Collections of Colonies of Bees

Ten years ago, Collections of Colonies of Bees was a folk and bluegrass duo. Today, they boast five members and (accurately) describe their sound as "where Rhys Chatham and Arnold Dreyblatt meet pop." Somehow, this little experimental traditional-bluegrass-meets-modern-technology project by two members of jazzy post-rockers Pele had become, over the course of the weirdest decade of personnel additions ever, a sonic maximalist superpower, evoking yes Chatham, yes Dreyblatt, but also Do Make Say Think, also jazz and Steve Reich and the minimalists and the maximalists of contemporary composition.

Four of the five Bees filled out the Aleatory: guitarist Chris Rosenau, baritone guitarist Dan Spack, and drummer Jon Mueller. Much thanks to all of them for participating! And if you're going to be in Japan this February, be sure to catch them as they roll through with special guests Toe.


3. Favorite key to write in?
Rosenau: Seems like C. Not really intentional, just seems to happen that way.
Spack: B.

7. Favorite composer?
Rosenau: Steve Reich.
Spack: Reich.
Mueller: Phill Niblock.

12. Favorite band when you were in high school?
Spack: Rorschach.
Mueller: Swans.

24. Favorite historical time period?
Spack: late 1800s.
Mueller: 1920s.

37. What do you consider most important about a song's structure?
Spack: Keeping it free, so to say, but locking into rhythm patterns from any of the other players.
Mueller: Its ability to take you out of reality.

40. What was your best/worst subject in school?
Mueller: People.

43. What's the road ahead look like?
Rosenau: Great. Finishing a collaboration record with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver in November, touring Japan again in February, then writing and recording the new Bees record for most of 2009... looks like fun.

53. So far in your career, what's been your biggest regret?
Rosenau: Not documenting things musical. Songs, practices, shows; either in pictures or video. I enjoy revisiting things I have been involved with many years after they end, and it bothers me when I know the only way I have to remember a limited number of these things that I do not have documented is my fading memory.

55. You're curating a festival. If you could choose any two bands to open for you, who would they be?
Rosenau: Melvins | Big Business band c. 2009 + Spike Jones and his City Slickers c. 1942. Of course, there is no way I would play *after* either of these performances. . .And as long as we're putting this show together, let's tack Johnny Cash c. early 1960s on the bill as well.

66. Worst song you've heard recently?
Rosenau: I just heard "Turn Me Loose" by Loverboy about 5 minutes ago at work. That's the worst song I've heard recently.

77. What was the hardest part about recording your current release?
Rosenau: The hardest thing about recording the current Bees release (a collaboration with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver) has hands-down been coordination of schedules between everyone that is involved.
Mueller: Getting the mix nailed.

78. Your life has been reduced to a bumper sticker: what does it say?
Mueller: Eat healthy.

80. Worst run-in with the law (to date)?
Rosenau: Franklin, WI.
Mueller: Tea, South Dakota.
Spack: Billings, Montana.

82. Current pop song that you would file under "guilty pleasure"?
Mueller: Anything by Natasha Bedingfield.

84. Most disappointing concert you ever attended?
Spack: The last shorty show. Only because it would be the last.
Mueller: The Kiss reunion tour.

85. What's the biggest mistake you've made that you inadvertently learned a great lesson from?
Spack: Marriage.
Mueller: Dating.

87. Ultimately, you will want to be remembered as …
Mueller: I'd simply like to be remembered.

100. Even with the gradual decay of the B-side, most artists still have vaults of unreleased songs. What's in yours?
Rosenau: I have 32689059028 hours of finished and mixed four track songs that will, I am sure, never be released except to good friends in drunken 2:20 am emails.