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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 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 Paul Schwartz
November 2003
You can't help but be impressed by composer/producer Paul Schwartz's accomplishments. A prolific composer, Paul has an incredible number of projects both under his belt and on the go. His new release State of Grace II: Turning to Peace follows State of Grace, which was Billboard's No. 11 best-selling New Age CD of 2001.

Paul's 1997 debut Aria spent over a year in the Top Ten of Billboard's Classical Crossover chart and re-entered the chart in May of 2000. The sequel to his debut, Aria 2: New Horizon, featured guest performances by Tony Award nominee Rebecca Luker and popular smooth jazz guitarists Marc Antoine and Peter White, and was #3 for the year on Billboard?s Classical chart in Billboard?s Indie Special 2000.

In addition to scoring various independent films (including Ratchet by Altar Rock Films), Paul's first entirely self-composed recording, 2002's Earthbound, has sold over 250,000 units domestically.

You can learn more about Paul and his music, by visiting his web site.
Paul Schwartz
Photo - Michael Cuno
"I wanted to put myself through the journey."
Jamie: On State Of Grace II you use orchestral/choral textures, synths, acoustic piano, electronic drum beats, and soloist such as vocalist Lisbeth Scott and guitarist Carlos Santana. And you blend them all with such beauty. As you say in your liners notes, you based this record on two Latin texts: the Magnificat and the Stabat Mater. How much do you feel these texts helped in unifying the sound of this album?
Paul: Actually, I've been developing the sound that characterizes this new record for a number of years. It really goes back to the first ARIA record, when I got the gig to do it before I really had any idea what or how I would proceed. In the course of doing that one, and then ARIA 2, I discovered that I had sort of developed a style that merged most of the sound worlds that interested me.

However, the use of the choir is something that is particular to this new CD, at least in as much as it is so pervasive throughout. I've done choirs before, but not to this extent. Since I was setting religious texts that have been set chorally for literally a thousand years or more, it felt natural to seriously merge the choral sound into my already existing beats-synths-orchestras-solo-singer thing. The choirs become the primary symphonic sound (symphonic in richness, range, and harmonic density) and the actual orchestra becomes supportive. At times, such as in the MAGNIFICAT (track 1) I kind of play them off each other in an "OK, you top this...." mode, until they join together for the big moment.

Also, I have been accused upon occasion of trying to do too much on my records: too many sounds (solo piano, orchestra, solo voice, choir etc......) That's just how it comes out. I finish one song, and start the next, and whatever comes into my head or out of my fingers is what gets done. Incidentally, with the exception of CURACION, and TURNING TO PEACE, which were recorded some months before the main body of this record, the order of the songs, is the order in which I wrote them. I wanted to put myself through the journey.
" felt natural to seriously merge the choral sound into my already existing beats-synths-orchestras-solo-singer thing."
Jamie: That sounds like a great way to work! I tend to work on a whole bunch of material over a long time, but I'd love to try writing a record sequentially. Did you find that by writing the pieces in order that you wrote "differently" than on your previous albums?
Paul: Not as such. It just came out that way. However, right at the beginning of doing this one, I took a week off and went to write a new song with David Foster for the new Josh Groban record. It was very interesting working with David, because he is so fluent. I'm one of those people who agonizes over everything for hours, if not days. David just sits down and does it, and trusts his instincts. So I came home with that kind of approach in my head, and decided to be more relaxed on STATE II, with the result that I wrote with great freedom and ease. I put the obstructive critical demons away. And I think the music shows that. Some of my other stuff is kind of convoluted and twisted, but this one has a clarity that is a bit different.
Jamie: I read an interview with Pat Metheny a long time ago and he said a similar thing about trust. I think it's a real challenge to learn to trust yourself, but, for me, sincerity is the key. I try to be as open to music as I possibly can -- and hope for the best!

You work with a lot of different artists (players, producers, etc.). I'm guessing that not every artist affects you deeply as David Foster did, but how do you feel working with other artists changes your music?
Paul: On my own records, I'm fairly controlling. The actual music I never collaborate on, with very rare exceptions (Santana). I look to collaborators for lyrics, and singers to bring an interpretative spark. Lisbeth inevitably phrases things in ways that would not come naturally to me. So it becomes something new. On the song RAVENS from EARTHBOUND, by the time I got to the vocal session, I hadn't really figured out how the melody line of the verses sat rhythmically. So I just told her to make it work, and she did in a very natural way, despite the fact that the melody is kind of irregular and jagged.
Jamie: I find the "best" singers tend to know what works for them -- both in terms of their voice and in their phrasing. That said, I think if your name is on the front of the record, the music and performances have to work with both the singer's and your own aesthetic.

Many composers (including myself) are now writing directly into the computer. And many of the tracks that are recorded/sequenced during the writing of a piece end up on the final master. For me, the studio has, in many ways, merged composing and recording. Could you tell me a bit about your writing/recording process?
Paul: I usually start at the piano, to get harmonic ideas. In fact, while I was mixing ARIA 3 last Winter, I went into the live room at the studio, sat down at the piano, and sketched out the harmonic structures of both the MAGNIFICAT and the STABAT MATER in around 15 minutes.

I do sometimes start at the computer, if I am specifically concerned to get a groove set up, or a particular synthetic sound-world. Sound selection and tweaking is a big part of the work that I do, because the synth sounds have to work with the live elements. It can be tricky. The bulk of the work is done at the computer. I use Digital Performer. I play in all the groove and synth elements, and can spend enormous amounts of time fiddling with stuff. I've been known to spend an entire day trying to find the exactly right place for a high-hat hit.

All of the orchestral writing is scored on paper first. I know what the harmonies are, but I need to work the voicings and parts out on paper. If you play whole string orchestra parts in, they tend to sound like keyboard parts, not idiomatically correct for strings. I then play them in using samples, one line at a time, and pan them to approximate the way the real orchestra will sit in the room. I usually divide my strings : Violins 1, 2, and 3, violas, cellos, and bass, with the cellos sometimes divided. The sampled parts are eventually replaced by a real orchestra just prior to mixing.

When I am happy with the rough mix and arrangement, I record all of the synth elements into Performer as audio, and save as an OMF file. I then open it in Pro Tools, which is the platform that I use for all vocal recording, orchestral recording, and mixing. I find that I can save a tremendous amount of time at mixing if I set up the delays I want etc... prior to letting Peter get his hands on it. Delays play a very important part of how I like to mix: I like to create internal rhythms with them.
"Sound selection and tweaking is a big part of the work that I do..."
Jamie: Sometimes the "effect" is the sound -- or at least a huge component of it. Some of the Edge's guitar sounds comes to mind. The timed delays play a defining role in that sound.

I think it's interesting how technology can change the overall sonic makeup of recorded music -- both for good and bad. To me, your music sounds great. How important is sound quality to you? Any thoughts on the newer audio formats (ie. MP3, SACD, DVD-A etc.)?
Paul: Sonic quality is of paramount importance to me. I spend roughly 50% of my budgets on mixing: trying to get the best possible sound. The newer portable formats like MP3 have their uses, but not for me as final product. If you're making thrash-metal, it may not matter that much that MP3 is degraded relative to redbook. But anything with exposed classical writing really loses something.

In ten years, there will be some format or other that is downloadable, and that has decent quality. That's the way we're headed for sure: away from solid embodiments of music and into data streams. The moment I get some kind of computer hooked up to my main stereo system is when I'll know it's arrived.
Jamie: It certainly seems like the music industry, and probably at a somewhat later date, the film industry will end up moving to some kind of on-line and/or on-demand system. The challenge will be to get the younger generations who have, in many cases, never paid for music to grasp that recorded music doesn't magically appear out the air. You talk about this in your August 3, 2002 essay entitled "Music, musicians and the future". Have your views changed in any way since then?
Paul: I think that my views remain largely the same, with some caveats.

The on-demand streaming model for entertainment is inevitable. And yes: the current generation mostly blamed for piracy is not schooled in having to pay for music, particularly in record stores. On the other hand, they're not schooled in having to pay for cable TV, food, rent or clothing either. We're talking about a group of people who are mostly 18 and under. Whatever they do spend money on, by and large they get it from Mommy. When they are older, and actually have bills to pay, I don't think that the issue of paying for music will be so alien to them. It will be part of whatever entertainment package that they either subscribe to, or on a per-use basis tied to something like their cable or satellite TV bill. Just like pay-per-view is now, only lots less money per use, and far better streamlined as a process.

Whoever solves the technical issues of delivering film and music on demand at high bandwidth with a minimum of delays etc.... is going to be in the driver's seat as far as distribution goes, because it may require the consumer to have a dedicated piece of equipment to take advantage of the service. The computer offers no technical barrier to downloading, because you use the same machine to steal music that you use to write your homework. If the box where the music and film comes from is dedicated to just that, it becomes harder to rig the system illegally. Right now, pirated MP3s are a problem because there really is no better alternative being provided by the industry. When you can get the same thing, only much better quality, for only a little money, built into a bill you are already paying, I have a feeling that the piracy issue will diminish.
Jamie: Great points! I think you're right on about the price/quality equation. Apple's iTunes has done pretty well because they looked at the "problem" from the consumer out and designed their system around ease of use. Certainly control of distribution is important, but in the end, businesses that fulfill their customers wants and needs succeed.

On a completely different note, what music do you listen to for inspiration?
Paul: There's research, and then there's inspiration.

I listen very eclectically for research: everything from weird new remix stuff, to obscure Greek folk singers, to whatever is the current hip hop sensation. You never know what is going to spark some kind of resonance. And as Stravinsky said: "good composers borrow, great composers steal."

I don't listen to get compositional inspiration as such. But the music that fills me emotionally the most is great classical music. Bach in particular. Choral religious music in general. I think it has something to do with what they are aiming at. Too much contemporary pop music (which is what I am part of, albeit in a slightly strange way) aims very low. It's generally about love, unhappy love, desire, etc..... When Bach set the texts that became the Matthew Passion, he was aiming for something ineffably high, spiritual, community building, something that raises all of us up. You don't have to be a Christian to appreciate his reach, any more than you have to be a Muslim to appreciate the glories of the architecture of Isfahan. The effort, the intention is there no matter your ethnic or religious background.

I also have a weakness for chamber music. It's so pure, stripped down, nowhere to hide. I am drawn to that. I 'm doing an all-solo-piano record some time in the next 2 years, but I am also fascinated to try to write what would be essentially my kind of pop record, just for string quartet. Don't know if it's possible or how I would approach it, but it intrigues me.
"...the music that fills me emotionally the most is great classical music."
Jamie: I have no doubt you'll figure it out. The history of music has been made by people saying: What if? I think that artists are defined as much by where they've been and currently are, as by where they're going. I've never stayed in one artistic place for very long and that may not be a very good thing. But if I hadn't spent all those years playing freely improvised music, would I be where I am today.... who knows?

So what are you working on now? Any projects other than your upcoming solo piano record and pop string quartet album that you'd like to talk about?
Paul: At the moment the things that I am mostly focused on are: 1) a music theatre piece I wrote called SUMMER, which is having a reading in 5 weeks time in New York, and 2) I am getting ready to play some of the music from my records live. The band will be me and Lisbeth, with a drummer, guitarist, violinist, and possibly one more player. We'll be doing music from almost all of the records I've made so far.

Longer term: there's the solo piano thing, which I have to get my head around, and there's also a very interesting idea that Lisbeth, Peter Cobbin and I concocted this past July while we were doing STATE II, which would involve making a record of her voice with a kind of jazz trio (piano, bass, drums) but the music would sound like me. Sort of a new classical-pop crossover sound, but housed in a jazz ensemble. (Sometimes music is like cooking: you can combine unlikely ingredients and come up with some really delicious recipes, or it can just taste awful. I think I'll only find out when I get into the kitchen.)

BMG have already told me they want me to do a STATE III in 2005, so that's in the future. And I plan to make another true "solo" album like EARTHBOUND, but this time I will own it outright. (I got back the rights to my artist-name.)

Also, I am beginning to explore the world of film scoring. I just got an agent for that purpose in LA, and we'll just have to see if it leads anywhere.........
Jamie: Wow -- you certainly are a busy guy! Film composing is an incredibly competitive area, but I can definitely see you making a go of it.

Do you think you'll get your live show up to Toronto? It would be great to hear you live and get to meet you in person.
Paul: There are no Canadian plans as yet, although it would be great to get up there.

Initially it will just be New York and LA.
Jamie: That's too bad.... hopefully you'll add some Canadian dates.

Thanks for taking the time to do this artist-to-artist conversation and best of luck in the future!
Paul: And my thanks to you......
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