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Conversations with Jamie: Artist-To-Artist Series
Hailing from Toronto, Canada, guitarist/composer Jamie Bonk has graciously agreed to become a contributing editor to NewAgeReporter.com. Jamie will be conducting a series of interviews entitled Conversations with Jamie: Artist-To-Artist Series. We look forward to his contributions for they are both insightful and offer a unique artist-to-artist perspective over the typical interview. We hope you enjoy them.
Other Conversations with Jamie: Artist-To-Artist Series:
A Conversation With Stephen Hill, Jul. 2005
A Conversation with Jeff Bjorck, Jun. 2005
A Conversation With Patrick O'Hearn, Jun. 2005
<<-later interviews | earlier interviews->>   <<- all interviews ->>
Jamie Bonk
A Conversation with Johannes Linstead
March 2005
If you thought you knew who guitarist/composer/producer Johannes Linstead was, be prepared to be surprised. I know I was. The Johannes that I knew had his five releases all chart on the Billboard New Age chart, with his latest album, Mediterranea, reaching the number six position. I also knew Johannes from his many accolades and awards, including this year's NAR Lifestyle Music Award for Best World Album.

But, as I discovered in our conversation, this is only part of Johannes' creative work. He has written more than 300 pieces for Classical guitar, he's currently putting the final touches on a piano-based record as well as on a meditation album and, if that wasn't enough, there's also a spiritual book in the works. He's clearly a creative, talented and busy guy!

If you'd like to learn more about Johannes, please visit his website at
JohannesLinstead.com.

Johannes Linstead
Jamie: Mediterranea is, I feel, a very apt title for your latest release. Did you have a sense of the overall direction for the record before you started recording?
Johannes: Yes, I did have an overall concept before I started this CD. Traditionally, my music has been very South American or Afro-Cuban in its rhythms, fused with a bit of World and Flamenco textures. On Mediterranea, I wanted to take a slight departure from this and create a CD that my audiences will appreciate, but still be different enough that it can be called "new". So, I jumped continents from South America to Europe, and incorporated rhythms and instruments that are heard in the Mediterranean
countries - hence, the title Mediterranea. I think this influence is exemplified in songs like "Journeys to Alcazaba", "Hour of the Lamps", and "Ambrosia".
Jamie: With Mediterranea reaching #6 on Billboard's New Age Chart and #7 on NAR Top 100 Radio Chart, I think your audience definitely appreciated your evolution!

Did working with Mediterranean based rhythms and instruments present any unique challenges?
Johannes: No, because this is the music I listen too all the time. I don't listen to any of North America's pop music. I am more attuned to Flamenco, Middle-Eastern, Classical Indian, and Latin music. Hence, I "think" musically in those terms. I played the Greek bouzouki on Mediterranea, as well as every CD except my first. Because it is a stringed instrument, even though it
is tuned differently than a guitar, it was very easy for me to learn.
"I don't listen to any of North America's pop music. I am more attuned to Flamenco, Middle-Eastern, Classical Indian, and Latin music."

- Johannes Linstead
Jamie: Ha! I was just going to ask you about the bouzouki...

I was out with a friend last night and we were talking about influences and how at times the music you listen to can be very similar to your own style and at other times completely foreign. I know some of my "best" ideas come from listening to instruments other than my own. Trumpet and flugelhorn players seem to have been, and continue to be, front and centre - Miles Davis, Jeff Oster, Chris Botti, Chuck Mangione... to name a few. It's hard to say how much of their approach to music and their instruments has rubbed off on me in general, or on my playing specifically, but I'm sure there has been some effect. Do you feel listening to instruments, particularly woodwind or bowed, such as the ney or the sarangi from Middle-Eastern or Classical Indian music, impacts your guitar playing in any way?
Johannes: Well, I'd say due to the Latin/Spanish influence in my music, the trumpet, piano, and violin have more of an impact on me. In certain songs I will use two guitars to emulate a piano montuno, and certainly my improvising can be very trupetesque in melody. Because I grew up with a deep love for classical music my soloing may at times be reminiscent of what Paganini may have played: a lot of 32nd notes and arpeggios. While I love Indian bansouri (flute) and the Arabic oud (stringed instrument), their influences are much more subtle.
Jamie: On Mediterranea, in addition to the guitar and the bouzouki that we've talked about, you played: piano, keyboards, palmas and percussive effects. You also wrote all the music and handled the production, arranging and engineering. But Mediterranea isn't a strictly solo project - you enlisted the help of some great players and singers. How do you decide when to bring someone in to play on a track? What are you looking for in a sideman/woman?
Johannes: I have a group of musicians who form my core group for performing and recording. They are essentially trained in Afro-Cuban rhythms. However, when a song calls for something outside of any of our collective expertise, I will call other musicians in. For example, on "Journey to Alcazaba" and "Hour of the Lamps" these songs have a strong Arabic feel to them, so I called Amer Matri who is from Syria to play the doumbek (Arabic percussion instrument) to give the songs the mystique of the Middle East. Because of his upbringing he was able to imbue those songs with characteristics that are authentically Arabic in feel. He has recorded on my last three CDs, so I guess you could say he is part of my periphery group.
Jamie: You're lucky to have such a talented band! Even though we live relatively close, I've never seen you live. What's your show like?
Johannes: In concert I like to create a festive, high-energy atmosphere. I will usually play my upbeat, danceable songs, especially at outdoor festivals. When we perform at soft-seat theatres I will vary the content to include a few of the more "ethnic" pieces, as well as a ballad or two. I often have a flamenco dancer perform with me, and there are always lots of Afro-Cuban and World percussion solos. I tend to improvise more and play faster runs on the guitar, often doubling the normal solo length. The audience always gets up to dance in the isles and sometimes on stage too. A huge, positive group energy is created and everyone goes home feeling happy. We have really a great time on stage… "In concert I like to create a festive, high-energy atmosphere."

- Johannes Linstead
Jamie: Sounds like a party! I've got to get out to one of your gigs...

One theme that I like to touch on in these conversations is the state of the music industry. While there are some signs that things are stabilizing, there are still some giant hurdles to overcome -- illegal downloading being just one prominent challenge. As you write on your website about downloading/filesharing: "Well, of course, I'm very much against it. I think most people realize that it is illegal and that it does hurt the composer and the industry as a whole. But I look at it more as a comment on today's society." Has filesharing changed the manner in which you approach business/marketing? Do you feel filesharing has directly impacted your own sales?
Johannes: I think the good thing about the music I write is that it attracts, in general, an audience that is not of the consciousness to "steal" music, whereas a group that releases rock or rap albums might be more subject to that kind of activity. Judging by the fan mail I receive, my audience seems to have a lot of heart and not people of inconsiderate nature.

I think what is happening is that the Internet has provided people with yet another "distraction" and since there is so much free stuff, including music, one's time and money is becoming more and more divided.
"... my audience seems to have a lot of heart..."

- Johannes Linstead
Jamie: I think that's true. DVD's in particular have, in my opinion, taken some of the wind out the music industry's sails. And I guess for certain types of music, video games have also affected sales.

On a larger level, I wonder about the role of music within society and whether music is generally less important to the lives of the "average" listener. Possibly, as you point out, it could simply be a greater division of mindshare. I think there's also an element of listeners feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of music out there. It can be tough to know where to start.

And speaking of listeners, one theme that's come up in these conversations is an artist's relationship to the listener. What role does the listener play in your music? Does the listener change your music in any way?
Johannes: I guess what you are asking is do I compose what I feel my audience will like? The answer is "no" but with a catch. I write exactly what I am inspired to write, which may include classical, jazz, Latin, pop songs, etc... However, what I release on album is definitely a cross between what I like and what I feel will please my audience. I don't feel like I have to record my most challenging, intellectual compositions. As long as I am proud of the song, and it could be a very simple song, then it will be considered for release. I've written over 300 pieces for classical guitar that I know the world may never hear. I'm okay with that.
Jamie: Wow -- that's a lot of music... just amazing...

Well, I finally got out to see you play live (an in-store here in Toronto) and you sound as good in a live setting as on record! Do you enjoy playing in-stores? Do you find, from a business/marketing perspective, that in-stores are an effective use of an artist/label's resources?
Johannes: Yes, I do find it an effective use of resources. I've done in-stores where I have sold 150 pieces, and I have done in-stores where I have sold 10. But it's all about expanding the fan base and building long-term relationships. When someone sees us live for the first time at an in-store it is an intimate experience because we - the musicians - are so accessible. You know, they can come up and talk to us one on one, and they go away with a signed CD and feeling like they made a new friend. And that's how we feel. So this kind of connection is a great way to make long-term fans that will buy releases for years to come. "... this kind of connection (in-stores) is a great way to make long-term fans..."

- Johannes Linstead
Jamie: I think you're absolutely right about building that connection. I know that's what I want as a fan/listener -- to get a better sense of the artist as a person.

From talking with you at your in-store, I know that you have a few projects on the go. What can you tell me about the new recordings?
Johannes: Well, I have several things on the go... I have the workings of about 12 new Latin guitar compositions recorded, but that wont be released until 2006 sometime. I am almost done a CD of New Age piano pieces, which may be my next release. The piano is recorded; I just need to add orchestrations and it will be done. I am also putting together a CD of Eastern influenced pieces. These were songs that I used as background for a meditation CD I worked on with Kundalini yoga master Hari Nam Singh Khalsa. Plus I also want to finish a book I've been working on for about three or four years. It is spiritual book on creating the consciousness to manifest your goals into reality using meditation and energetic exercises.
Jamie: Truly diverse and impressive -- I had really only known your work as a guitarist/composer... Do you feel there is a common thread running between all of the different areas (and different mediums) that you're working in?
Johannes: Yes, I'd say there is a common thread... it's a feeling of reverence and respect for life. Throughout each day I try to keep a sense of groundedness regardless of what difficulties may arise. It's hard not to become over-stressed in today's society, but by having a daily spiritual practice it becomes easier to stay in tune with "divine" consciousness. I believe that in this state one is able to compose the greatest music or produce the greatest works of art, as this is the true source of all creativity. "... by having a daily spiritual practice it becomes easier to stay in tune with 'divine' consciousness."

- Johannes Linstead
Jamie: That's a wonderful approach to life and art, Johannes! Thanks for taking the time to do this artist-to-artist conversation and good luck at the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards!
Johannes: Thank you, Jamie, for your time and insightful questions. Best of luck to you too at the Awards, my friend!!!
 
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