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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 Justin Elswick of Sleepthief, Oct. 2006
A Conversation with Ryan Farish, Sep. 2006
A Conversation With Chris Field, Jul. 2006
<<-later interviews | earlier interviews->>   <<- all interviews ->>
Jamie Bonk
A Conversation With Patrick O'Hearn
June 2005
Bassist/composer/producer Patrick O'Hearn is one of those musicians it's
hard not to admire. From his work with Frank Zappa to Group 87 to
Missing Persons to his filmscores for movies such as White Sands and
Crying Freedom to his own solo recordings, Pat has produced a
phenomenal, and first-rate, body of work. Slow Time, the latest addition to Pat's catalogue, is, to me, a beautifully complex and deeply emotional recording. And it also happens to be a great "headphone" album!

Pat's previous release, 2003's Beautiful World, received considerable
acclaim, winning two NAR 2004 LifeStyle Music Awards for "Best
Contemporary Instrumental Album" and "Best Ambient Album". Beautiful
World
was also named the #1 CD in the "Best of Echoes 2003" listener poll. As Michelle Langford writes on Pat's website: "Both rich and distinctive, it (Beautiful World) is a welcome offering from an inspired place, and engaging soul." Perfectly said.

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

Patrick O'Hearn
"As time passes I find it much easier to recognize when things are complete and it's time to let go."

- Patrick O'Hearn
Jamie: You played with Frank Zappa early in your career and dedicate the
first track, "Music For Three Vibraphones", from your new album,
Slow Time, to him. How do you feel Zappa influenced you personally,
musically and on a business level?
Pat: Well, personally..... I was 21 years old when I joined Frank's band. I
had been on tour to a degree with other groups but in no way comparable
to the eye opening experience I would enjoy as a member of Zappa's outfit.
We traveled and performed extensively and this was a tremendous growth
experience for a young man, being able to visit so many cities, towns,
countryside and cultures that previously I had only read or daydreamed
about.

By day I would hit the museums, galleries and shops like a mad tourist.
After the gigs in the evening Frank would introduce us to his favorite
restaurants and nightspots. Quite magical really, and clearly important in
expanding and shaping my first hand view of the world and it's colorful
inhabitants.

Musically,... Frank was interested and knowledgeable in so many forms of
Music and was always ready to share his enthusiasm on the subject, be it
orchestral, world folk, avante garde, opera or doo-whop. His open
mindedness was insightful and refreshing.

A lot of Frank's music was in odd meter or interspersed with it and it was
certainly educational learning how to count and play comfortably in all
manner of time signature. During rehearsals or soundchecks he might
spontaneously wish to add or alter arrangements and his practical method
of teaching complex segments to the band in these situations was
ingenious and foreshadowed, "hooked on phonics" by decades.

Say for example he had an insert of 2 bars of 15/8 in an otherwise 4/4 meter:
Frank: "OK everyone, repeat after me;
Ev-ry Hol-li-day inn has a Ken-nel in the Back of it-
Ev-ry Hol-li-day inn has a Ken-nel in the Back of it".

You can adjust or substitute words, phrases and accents on syllables to
accommodate any polyrhythm. Before you know it you're smokin' in any
meter and tempo without having to think of math and subdivided groups!
Absolutely brilliant, and humorous as well -- also much quicker than writing
it out on paper.

On the subject of business........ Frank had a rather cynical view of the
music business, having had some pretty raw deals with personal managers
and record companies. I believe his most important business advice to us
band members of the time was, "Read the Fine Print on all contracts" and,
"Own your Masters and Copyrights".
"I had been on tour to a degree with other groups but in no way comparable to the eye opening experience I would enjoy as a member of Zappa's outfit."

- Patrick O'Hearn
Jamie: And that's very good advice indeed! There seems to be an almost
endless list of artists who have had far less than stellar deals.

Throughout your career you've played with, in addition to Zappa, some
top-notch musicians (almost too many to list!), both as a sideman and on
your own projects. Slow Time is, however, a true solo album, with you
handling everything other than the cover photography and art direction/design.
At what point in the creative process did you know the record was going to
be a solo project?
Pat: Pretty well from the onset. Although, there was a collaboration track
with Steve Roach which unfortunately due to a last minute technical difficulty
was not able to be included on the album.
Jamie: And a follow-up to the last question, what influence do you feel
working solo has on your music?
Pat: That depends on what kind of music I'm creating -- be it an album or a
soundtrack project to feature other voices -- but generally I'm always in solo
mode, so a deliberate mind set of writing and recording as such is not too
apparent to me. It's simply the way I've become accustom to working over
the years.
"...generally I'm always in solo mode..."

- Patrick O'Hearn
Jamie: Let's talk a bit about an "average" day at your studio, "tone_lab"
(great name for a studio, BTW -- for me, brings up images of you recording
in a lab coat and goggles!).
Pat: Ha! Yes, and with heavy rubber gloves as well! Actually, there has been
smoke on occasion, but those problems were corrected before fire broke out.
Jamie: Walk us through the recording process for a piece like "I Could Live
Here" that has many complex musical relationships. Where and how did
you start?
Pat: That is one of my favorite tracks on the album and one that was
originally not meant for inclusion on Slow Time. I had been listening to Bill
Laswell's re-mix CD of Miles' 1969 - 1974 recordings, Panthalassa, and
had also been playing some jazz again locally. This got me wanting to
re-explore some improvisational terrain of my early days and so I contacted
Mark Isham -- an accomplice of mine from ages ago-- and sketched out a
couple tracks to get things going; what would later become "I Could Live Here"
being one of them. It was rather bare bones with a rhythm track and bass
guitar line. The idea was that Mark would then add trumpet and fender
Rhodes piano from the CD-R I sent him.... turn it around and pass it back to
me for further tinkering. Anyway, just as he was ready to get started, Mark
became buried in soundtrack work. So, the tune sat dormant for several
months until I decided to try it out on slow time.

OK, so much for the background.

I set up my sampler, an Akai S6000 with a collection of noise and
percussion sounds. Armed with this and a direction I then turned to my
favorite hardware sequencer, a Doepfer MAQ 16/3 and set it up to trigger
the sampler's various sounds at the determined tempo. But -- and this is
important to understand as it's how I work with sequencers -- I set up the
various parameters of the sequencer to randomly modulate itself - a
marvelous feature of the MAQ -- in a carefully designed and controllable way
to thus introduce an element of chance and improvisation into the outcome.

I recorded the initial pass and then re employed this technique on an overdub
of conga drum samples, adjusting and editing until I had what seemed to me
a satisfactory performance -- and I do mean performance. This method of
working is quite different from looping, which is how so much sequencer
based rhythm composition is done. These aforementioned parts were
recorded start to finish, some 7+ minutes in this case, as a performance
with a sense of animation and distinct lack of repetition that one does not
get in the often more static approach of looping.

Next was a synth pad I cooked up, using in this case a Clavia Nord 3.
Although the pad was already full of motion it was then run through a series
of out board FX processors, mainly two Lexicon delay lines and an Eventide
H3000 harmonizer -- which too was set up with internal random LFO
modulation to further tweeze the sound. This was recorded down start to
finish and is what you first hear as the track begins.

Then came the bass. The original bass line was in 4/4 and soon became
redundant to me. -- it also bogged down the track, which was already
slow to begin with. So I began jamming along to find something interesting
and much to my delight I discovered that playing a bass line in 11/4, or a
bar of 6/4 followed by a bar of 5/4 opened the whole rhythm track up. While
recording the bass and listening to the synth pad I began hearing what the
next element would be, the sparse single line piano melody, which if
composed with a minor sounding dorian mode to it would set well against
the pad and bass line.

This quickly determined an overall arrangement. The piano was added, then
a few more elements, accents and brush strokes and the tune was born. I
really enjoyed constructing the piece in such a way that feels slightly
off-balance if you're trying to count it and yet grooves right along. Despite
it's deceptive simplicity I never tired of working on it and thus its title.

I'm also pleased with this track in that so few elements were brought
together to form -- to me at least -- a solid and complete track. This is what I
strive for more and more these days.

However, none of this occurred over night mind you, I spent a good deal of
time concocting.
"I'm also pleased with this track ('I Could Live Here') in that so few elements were brought together
to form -- to me at least -- a solid and complete track."

- Patrick O'Hearn
Jamie: I'm definitely glad you took the time! I knew there was a lot going on
in the track (especially from a rhythmic stand point).... Just couldn't put my
finger on it...

For me, one aspect of your music that I admire is the fact that even though
there's significant depth (textural, rhythmic, harmonic, melodic), there is still
a sense of the whole and a real cohesion to your recordings. They are, as
you say, "solid and complete". Not too many people could combine a
bassline in 11/4, a randomly modulation rhythmic sequence, a "tweezed"
pad and a melodic piano part and have it all come out as a unified piece of
music! What guides you in knowing/feeling that a track is "finished"?
Pat: Experience. As time passes I find it much easier to recognize when
things are complete and it's time to let go. It's curious, but I used to have a
quality or intuition of such things years ago -- or perhaps it was a more care
free attitude of youth -- however, there was a considerable time period for me
whereby I would over-examine every detail of my work; "Could this
composition be improved upon in some possible way?" Healthy analysis
and objectivity are always important, but watch your step lest ye fall into
the unholy vortex of perfectionism!
Jamie: So true... I think I'm trapped in the very vortex you're talking about --
perfectionism has a lot of pull.

Over the last few years I've been thinking about the best way to reach
listeners. Of course, the best method always seems to be a moving target
and one that's unfortunately defined by, among many other things, resources
at hand. A full-page ad in People or Rolling Stone would definitely hit a lot
of eyeballs, but it would probably also break the bank! The Internet appears
to have an incredible amount of upside to it and in fact, the name of your
label, patrickohearn.com, seems to acknowledge that. In terms of
promoting/selling records, how do you feel the Internet, and newer
technologies in general, compare with more tradition avenues such as live,
bricks and mortar retail, radio and print?
Pat: For me the Internet or a website is great as a source of information,
easily and instantly updatable and capable as a cyber-retail storefront.
Digital delivery such as iTunes is also is also cool and given the current
iPod/podcast phenomena, seems to be a growing tsunami.

However, most of my music still finds it's way to the listeners through
traditional bricks and mortar retail. Radio remains very important to
spreading the word.
"...most of my music still finds it's way to the listeners through
traditional bricks and mortar retail."

- Patrick O'Hearn
Jamie: I think you're right about the "growing tsunami"... There seems to
be a phenomenal amount of energy going into digital delivery of music.

And speaking of spreading the word about your music, any plans in the
works to see you play some live shows supporting Slow Time?
Pat: Man, I would love to. But no, no plans at present. That's a whole
other area of effort and organization that I'd really like to pursue.
Jamie: I hear you... Still, if you get the show out on the road, think about
heading up to Toronto, okay?

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this artist-to-artist conversation!
I've been a long-time fan of your music, so it's been terrific getting a chance
to talk with you -- please stay in touch!
Pat: Thank you, Jamie. Will do.
 
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