Ahead of tomorrow nights performance from Roller Trio at The Hothouse. LJF's Youth Blogger Luke Adams catches up with bandleader and saxophonist James Mainwaring.
How has your music changed since your first gigs in Leeds to national TV appearances on the Mercury Prize Awards ?
The Mercurys seem like a long time ago now! The tunes off our upcoming second album No Quarter which will be released in September tend to be more melodic and more intricately composed. We’ve also been developing our groove based improvisation; it’s been a regular thing that the band does as a starting point for compositions, but has never found its way into our live shows. During our time at Real World Studios we recorded improvisations and explored the effects units they had there, this resulted in tracks influenced by styles yet to be heard in our compositions. We still play some of the same tunes we did for those first gigs in Leeds, we’re always building on them and adapting them to how we feel in the moment, feeding off the venue and the audience. After gigging all over the UK and visiting Germany, Spain, Turkey and Belgium; we’re tighter, more at home on stage and we take more risks during improvisation. As musicians we’re always developing in our own ways, we’re always practicing and looking for new ideas to add to our personal compositional and improvisational languages. We’ve also extended on our use of electronics: Luke W and I further exploring effects pedals, and Luke RW recently experimenting with mic’ing up his kit and putting it through a Kaoss pad.
Do you compose through jamming or do you each bring ideas and share with the others ?
A mixture of both to be honest, we forget where some of the tunes we write together actually come from and we have no set process on how we come up with a tune, they just happen. Sometimes tunes will spawn from improvisations; we record jam sessions, take the bits that work and structure them. Other pieces might come from an idea that one of us has been working on. But sometimes we go to other places for inspiration, such as if we have a simple melody, we might develop it by augmenting and diminuating it over different length bars, for example in the riff in the middle of our new tune ‘3 pea soup’, the length of the bars come from the number positions of the letters spelling Roller.
As well as Roller Trio you've got a new quartet- is there anything you can tell us about it ?
Yeah well it’s a side project called Tipping Point, and I’m very grateful to have received an Emerging Excellence Award from Help Musicians UK and recording support from Jazz Services to help set it into motion. I’ve been playing with Mick Bardon (double bass) and Joost Hendrickx (drums) for a few years now and we get on great musically, have played in countless situations together from avant garde free improv gigs to background jazz at weddings. All three of us are big fans of Matthew Bourne’s music and studied with him at Leeds College of Music. After playing with him in Chris Sharkey’s improvised electronica band Tokyo Doorbells I asked him if he’d be up for joining the band on Fender Rhodes. With this project I take a more formal approach to composition; written scores etc, and the tunes are complex in a different way to Roller’s and have lots of improvisation. I also take a different approach to playing in this band, using a darker tone and a freer approach. The tunes are very open and sometimes we might not even play the tune if the improvisation goes in a different direction. The others pitch in a lot with ideas and I love the collaborative process of writing a tune and seeing what we come out with at the end.
What's your favourite stomp box and why?
That’s a tough question, but it has to be a new one of mine; the Hexe Revolver made by Piotr Zapart. It’s a glitch/stutter pedal and has lots of cool settings, one that randomly samples parts of whatever you’re playing and applies a random time and speed to it, changing the pitch. It’s a bit like when you’re laptop overloads while playing music or when a CD skips. I’ve actually got a bit inspired by this sound and started recording improvisations and using it as a starting point for solo compositions.
If you had any advice for young musicians looking to perform as a career what would be your advice?
I do a bit of teaching so I could do this for a while but I’ll keep it short. Practice as much as you can, find something that you want to become obsessed with and stick with it. Don’t forget the music that you love and what hooked you in the first place (just because you’re doing a jazz course, doesn’t mean you have to play bebop, although learning the language does help with your technique). Listen to advice but also challenge it if it doesn’t feel right. Play with as many people as you can, but also start a band with people who are like-minded and rehearse as much as possible, challenge each other, respect each other and enjoy it. Get out and gig - anywhere, go to gigs, talk to musicians….