I was recently interview by the Long Beach Post. I have put the article here on my site so you can have a look at it. I don't have a copywrite on it or and other legal stuff that gets people in trouble....but what I do have is an appreciation for being asked to represent my fellow artists in the interview and joining them in Long Beach at the end of the month. The original posting can be found here. If you want the text...I have posted it below. Many thanks to Sander Wolf for taking the time to interview me.
October 16, 2015
Las Vegas, NV
Freedom In The Music: A Q&A With SoCal LoopFest Headliner Just Alliance -by Sander Roscoe Wolf October 2015
On Wednesday and Thursday, October 28 and 29, the annual Southern California LoopFest returns to diPiazza Restaurant and Lounge. LoopFest, the brain-child of Noah Peterson, was inspired by Rick Walker's long running Y2K International Live Looping Festival in San Jose. The SoCal LoopFest will, over its two day run, feature artists from around the globe. Performers from the United States, France, England, Mexico, Canada, and Germany are scheduled to take the stage. The festival is a traveling celebration of an art form that first gained popularity in the '70s when English artist and music producer Brian Eno collaborated with King Crimson founder and guitarist Robert Fripp on their seminal album, No Pussyfooting.
There are two main kinds of live looping. The first, known as phrase looping, uses small segments of music, which repeat continuously, to create complex arrangements. An artist might create a rhythm part, overlay a bass part, add a chord progression, and then improvise over the whole thing. The second is, for lack of a better term, non-phrase-based looping, which uses a system where each part that's played repeats and, with each repetition, slowly fades out. This can create slowly evolving compositions. The main feature which both share is that everything is created live, with nothing pre-recorded.
Within both of these looping styles, you'll find people who tend to perform composed pieces. Peterson, for example, has written beautifully arranged songs for the saxophone and, aside from the natural variations inherent in live performances, will be pretty much the same from show to show. Others, like bassist Steuart Liebig, nearly always improvise all aspects of their performances.
John Allen, who performs as Just Alliance, is headlining Wednesday's show. He's solidly in the phrase looping camp, but blends composition and improvisation rather freely. Using only his voice, mad skills, and various effects, he creates performances that have thrilled thousands in his home town of Las Vegas. He recently performed at the LoopFest in Denver, which has stops in Seattle, Portland, Austin, and San Antono.
Long Beach Post: How did you get started with music?
Just Alliance: Music has always been a huge part of my life. I was exposed to a wide array of it when I was little. Rap, Rock, Oldies, Country, and Gospel. In the sixth grade I delved into classical music, and the stories behind some of the greatest pieces ever written really struck a chord with me. High school was spent shoulder deep in jazz, and the rich history behind it. Noodling on the the piano led to the upright bass, which lead to the trumpet.
Were there musicians in your family?
My Mother and her sisters sang old time gospel in their youth. When I was little she played a lot of that music-and traditional country-around the house. That was, and remains, the closest to musicians in the family outside of myself.
What sparked your journey into classical music?
In the sixth grade I had a music appreciation class. My teacher started us off with Bach. He gave us not only the music, but also a historic and cultural context behind the music as well. This continued all the way through the music of the 20th Century. Learning the "why" of the music was very captivating. Learning "why" a piece was composed gave life, and a new meaning, to music that, up until that point, I thought of as merely background music. I never thought of it that way again.
How long did it take before you felt like you could play music with it?
It wasn't until my second year of high school when my band director held a jazz clinic over the summer. He gave us the Bb Blues scale and put on an Aebersold. [Note: Jamey Aebersold created play-a-long recordings of jazz and blues standards that had simple arrangements and no solo parts.] The idea that I could take a particular scale and play anything I wanted was the turning point. After that, I was immersed in jazz for the next six years. I didn't buy one pop album that entire time. [It was] 100 percent jazz.
Much is the same, now, with live looping as my initial foray into jazz: 100 percent freedom in the music. Your choices. Your rules. There was something about expressing yourself without the printed page that affected me. When I started listening to jazz, I began with big band and worked my way all the way up to "modern" jazz. It was exciting to pick up licks and styles along the way and drop them into a performance or jam session. Even today, much of my live performance is improvised!
When you listen to The Jazz Messengers, they have some of the coolest melodies (or heads) around. Once their improvisation starts, and everybody is taking a solo, it brings the music into such a higher level. Looping is much like that for me. Many times I will improvise entire sets out of the germination of the smallest fragment of a sound, melody or texture. It is never the same.
How did you discover live looping?
I heard of looping from other musicians I knew, but I never understood what they were talking about. One day, I was at home and was poking around the web and a website had a link that said, "Musician makes entire song with just his voice. #Onemanband" I clicked on it and my life changed forever right then and there. What I saw was just as exciting and just as much of a revelation as improvising over a 12 bar blues years before. One person, making all of the music, live! WHOAH!
To be honest. I didn't know what I was watching, what the gear was, let alone how it was done, but I knew I wanted to do it. It would take months of saving money to pick up my first effects pedal, but my very first loop pedal fell into my hands about a week or so after watching the video for the first time. Keep in mind that, up to this point, I was a trumpet player and had zero effects, knew zero effects, and couldn't tell you the difference between an XLR cable and a mic stand.
At first I didn't know how far this rabbit hole was going to take me. So I picked up a small loop pedal and a entry level mic and a small amp. When I started listening really closely to the initial video, I made my first landmark discovery in looping: vocal effects. I saved a bit of money and bought my first vocal unit. I remember the day after I bought it. I came home and panicked because I spent close to a rent check on an effects unit I had zero idea how to operate.
I locked myself in my apartment and watched every video I could, online, about my initial rig, and spent many nights saying, "Lets see what this button does." A couple of months later I performed in public for the first time as a loop artist. I brought my small rig, wrapped in a sheet and placed inside of a laundry basket, to an open mic. I set up onstage and performed, "Moondance." There were four people in the audience. Three weren't paying attention. Only the host was listening. He invited me back for the next week's open mic. My new looping career had begun! That was 2007.
What's the music scene like for you in Las Vegas?
Las Vegas has so many incredible musicians, both on and off the Strip. Many people don't realize that Vegas has around 2 million residents. There are the regular gigs in showrooms, restaurants and lounges on the Strip, but there is also an arts scene that is always having an event of some sort. I have gone from one end of the spectrum, playing an art opening for a couple of dozen people, to performing on the Strip for a couple of thousand.
Between performances, workshops in schools (elementary though college), and being an endorsed artist, there is always something to be working on and following up on. Sometimes it leads to performing in front of the shot-callers on the Strip. Other times it leads to helping a roomful of musicians in learning the fundamentals of their initial looping set ups.
You participated in several legs of last year's LoopFest. What was it like?
The loop festivals, last year, were full of some of the most incredible musicians I have ever witnessed. Musicians came from around the world, where the only common denominator was looping. Everybody had their unique approach and overall execution of looping. Even among the vocal loopers on the tour, we all had our own unique take on what we do. I made some very close friends from that tour, and am very much looking forward to doing it again in the fall.
What have been your most enthusiastic audiences?
I do workshops in schools around the country, many of them in middle and high schools. The younger students are very into what I am doing. I think, with the rise of technology's role in music production, live looping gives them another approach into making their own music.
Performing at the NAMM [National Association of Music Merchandisers] show is always exciting. Musicians and gear makers worldwide are there to see the latest and greatest. I've always enjoyed performing there.
What inspired you to work with students?
I taught middle school for close to eight or nine years. I went to college for music education, graduated, then discovered that the "traditional" method of school music wasn't for me. Once looping came into my life, I refashioned my approach to teaching music. My workshop is an extension, and product, of that. Many teachers don't realize that it has many of the hallmarks of music education, just packaged differently.
I've also done team-building and self-esteem workshops with high school students. They don't want another, "You can set your mind to this" seminar with some dated platform. I am very, very real. I tell them, "I struggled trying to fit in, to find a venue that would have me, to find musicians to confer with, so I started my own thing and now I do me."
How did you come to the name 'Just Alliance?'
At the time I started looping, many people called me by my initials, "J.A." I also knew that if I put my full name on a billboard, marquee or flier, people would come expecting a jazz quintet or something that is trumpet-based. A friend brought up the idea of a moniker. I wanted it to keep my initials and sum up why I do music. Something honest, pure and positive: Just. Oneness, family, community, friendship: Alliance. A positive oneness: A Just Alliance.
The festival begins at 7:00PM and wraps up around midnight on both nights. Admission is free.
To learn more about Just Alliance, including upcoming performances, visit JustAlliance.com. You can also find interviews with fellow loopers, discussions about teaching, and performance highlights on his blog.
I recently caught up with Rico Loop on the banks of the Elbe River in Usit, Czech Republic. In a spacious flat with the windows open welcoming the early evening air inside, Rico found himself in a very familiar situation: experimenting, improvising and pushing himself into new musical and (at times) spiritual places. The calm early autumn air served in the stark contrast to the fervor and fury in which arguably one of the most well-known and well-respected loop artists in the world throws himself into his work and continues to shine as a luminary in the looping community.
“Looping for me started out as creating my own venue for self-expression. After traveling the world in the 90’s I came back to find I wasn’t a good enough singer to front a band, nor was I a good enough guitarist to be invited into one. Looping allowed me to make my own band and discover my own music.” Sitting on the balcony of a third floor flat, Rico’s eyes register a far off memory and reveals it to me in the amber light of a cigarette. “When I was little, piano was my first instrument. I never practiced though.” The look of surprise on my face gave away my disbelief. “Instead I played what I could with the experience I had and the experiences that made me who I am. This still fuels my music today. My initial loop set up was small, just a single looper. Then a few years later a looper came out with three loops on it.” Rico stands to stretch and smiles, “I thought, who is going to use this?”
Rico has been visible on the international looping stage for a number years. Touring, giving workshops, school performances and street shows have all kept the native Berliner busy and releavant. This level of success has failed to cloud his vision of what brought him into the looping community, nor diminished his efforts in promoting the looping artform. “Freedom attracts people. If it is an honest thing you are doing, then it is a good thing. Performing in parks and street performing taught me a lot about being truthful with my music.”
"The heart always listens....."
“Realness always touches you. I once performed at a park and saw a lady roll her eyes at me while I was performing. Maybe she didn’t like my music, maybe she didn’t care for how I did it. I caught this with my peripheral vision. She stood up, made her way through the crowd and started walking out of the park. I finished the song a few minutes later and through the crowd, above everybody’s head I saw the lady standing behind a tree. I felt my music had kept her there and changed her mind. I pointed at her and said, “The heart always listens. Then she smiled and left.”
With technology moving at a unbelievable speed Rico has and continues to do with relatively little gear what many artists require twice as much gear, gadgets and gizmos to achieve. “I don’t understand how we can have mobile phones that can do anything. We invent these machines, but we can’t invent more peace and fellowship between people.” Many of the artists mentioned in the same breath as Rico showcase technology as the force behind the creativity. Watching Rico perform, one could gather that technology is used to reign in his own energy and creative impulses. Truly a soundtrack to putting the cart before the horse.
“I’m not much of a (gear) nerd and I don’t like having lots of effects on my voice. It isn’t honest. It isn’t truthful. My voice acts as my voice, not as something else. If I need effects for a particular venue, say an Electro club then that is where the KAOSS Pad or Micro Korg come into play.” When asked about vocal effects as a whole, “There are companies making great things for vocal effects. Many of these products are for people that can sing.” He then pauses and the replies with a laugh, “And those that can’t sing!”
The inspiration behind Rico Loop’s music is very much his own impetus. In an age of manufactured stars, reality TV and insta-celebs, Rico remains dedicated to what made looping his prime muse. “Inspiration is the biggest thing. The loop machine is a great teacher, every now is a new now. It has brought me more answers that it has raised questions and the possibilities are endless.”
I asked Rico about how a machine remains fresh and new despite it’s nature to repeat. “You have to let go of control. You have to remain open to the grace of music….open to it’s muse.” Rico has stated in past interviews that his muse can be the wide open spaces of mother nature or even those in front of him. “ A performer at times, can be only as good as his audience, But you have to groove.”
"Being flawless onstage isn’t artistry."
Watching live performances of Rico, groove is never on short supply. Performances from Los Angeles, to Berlin, Ibiza, India and beyond show this. “Groove is a mystery. Determination, love and joy…all of those make “groove.”” With improvisation such an integral part of his shows, I reflect my curiosity on making a mistake onstage. Rico’s eyes light up, “Integrate the mistake. It can lead to a deeper level of music and bring out your best.” Many musicians will have a set way of constructing a show, Rico explains the richness of improvisation, “It is a huge luxury to go onstage and not know what you are going to do! “
Telling Rico Loop that he is at an international level is met with as much belief amazement as telling him that you will get wet when walking in the rain. Humility, but not with the expense of self-awareness reigns supreme. “There are incredible musicians in every genre. Jeff Buckely and Kurt Cobain are songwriters who inspired me early on but I soon realized being a virtuoso doesn’t necessarily make you fun to listen to. Being flawless onstage isn’t artistry. Artistry is the intentions and authenticity of your craft. Performing without reflection or self-control is artistry. Removing the blocks to your own genius is artistry.”
Experiences on and offstage, traveling and being an icon in the looping community have forged Rico Loop into a focused and motivated individual yet something happened that changed Rico’s life and facilitated a transition and ruminating period for his future: Fatherhood. When asked about how fatherhood has affected his career, Rico takes care in his words and pauses for clarity, not dramatic effect. “Oh man. It has made me more self-reflective and made me strive to be a more effective musician both on and offstage.” He then admits, “I am the least professional musician I know! I am working getting more videos, tutorials and records out in the coming year.
Rico is very aware of the effect of marketing or lack therof can have on your own career when your are truly a one man show. “Beardyman is an artist who inspires me. He does things I won’t be able to understand in this life. His music inspires me. He embraces the crazy and runs with it. He takes lots of chances in his music, that really interests me. I wish he didn’t make fun of his own music, to me it takes depth out of it. He is one looper that continues to make new ground for all of us.”
With a yawn and a stretch I understand that the Czech night is starting to wrap Rico in her embrace and our time together is soon coming to an end. Rico glances over at his rig set up in fellow loop artist Endru’s flat as if he missed a stray piece of inspiration that lounged idly by. He is putting up the last invites on social media for the show they are conducting the following night in Usti. I thank him for his time and he adds one last piece for me to consider. “Everybody is a musician….just not everybody knows how to play an instrument.” I consider this for a moment, and Rico has to move to other commitments before he calls it a night. Our time is over and I am left looking for clarity on this cryptic insight, hoping that answer is somewhere along the Elbe River in the Czech autumn air.
Rico Loop can be followed on his website
Or followed on Facebook and Twitter
September 15, 2015
One week ago, I took full advantage of an opportunity that was presented to me by the perfect storm of personal perseverance and the professional relationships I have cultivated coast to coast and on two sides of the Atlantic. I was tasked by a number of leading manufactures and arguably the largest chain of family owned music stores in the country to host a live looping workshop at the Sam Ash Music Store location in Las Vegas. The groundwork for the workshop was initially laid two months prior as a vague outline of a looping event to take place at roughly the halfway point of summer. It would take every bit of that two months to gather vendors and corporate partners to make this one of the biggest events I have ever put together.
Finding a venue to host a show, concert, film fest, etc is sometimes the hardest part of any idea. It’s always the idea that is easy, but the execution is the difficulty. The team at Sam Ash was very excited to host the looping workshop and after a date was tied down, it was my own choice to get other vendors involved. Emails, phone calls, meetings and more solidified the support needed to make a note-worthy event. Once vendor support, and an idea of what I wanted to present took form, I took a look at my own calendar and saw the 18th of July fast approaching.
An earlier blog here on my site talked about the who’s and how’s of my teaching approach to workshops as a whole. This time around I was faced with a question with no clear answer, “How do I present a workshop with an array of gear to an audience….with an array of experience?” The choice was then made to give everybody the tools they could utilize that night after walking out with a new loop pedal from Pigtronix, a new mic from Electro Voice, new in-ear monitors from Westone or brand new cables from my friends in Tennessee at George L’s Cables. Learn today, put into action tonight. That was my mantra.
The drive to Sam Ash that afternoon was a windy, gloomy, cloudy and wet affair as an early monsoon made it’s way across the desert floor to unleash all sorts of trouble in Las Vegas. Pulling into Sam Ash I soon discovered they (Sam ash) were ready for the event, ready to receive the dozens of people that had made plans to be there and ready to make this event shine……If only the power wasn’t knocked out.
A few nights ago I was conversing with another loop artist a half a world away and we were talking about my workshop that I offer to schools, universities and professional groups. We talked at length about what makes a good workshop and how to do you make something as complex as looping and digital effects, relevant and easy to grasp for a room full of young musicians. I told my six-time-zones-away friend that in the end….it isn’t about how much *you* know….it is how much *they*will walk away with.
In college I endured classes that taught you “how to teach.” The irony was that they were taught by professors that hadn’t been in a public school setting for over ten, sometimes twenty years. Even as a malleable 20 year old, I knew what they offered was outdated and out of touch with today’s classroom. A few short years later, diploma in hand, I entered the teaching profession full time….and only four years ago I started getting calls to teach looping from elementary students to seasoned professionals.
Fast forward to a few nights ago, the task of giving lightning in a bottle to another artist who wants to teach others presented itself to me. My messenger window chimed a new message:
“Do you have students come up and get on your gear?”
“Yes, of course. It is one of my favorite parts.” I reply.
“I would be afraid of my gear getting damaged.”
Ahhh yes. The faceless enemy that moves without a sound and strikes from the crawlspaces of our ego and id. Fear. Calling up volunteers or even setting it up so a teacher will join you onstage is a great way to get the students on your side. In legal terms, it’s called “leading the witness.” “Hey, who wants to come up and sing a few notes, or make a drum beat.” Now you’ve asked for volunteers and taken away the guesswork of what they need to do. Sing a few notes….make a drum beat. Got it. I’ve taught thousands of students over the years…and still….my gear has yet to erupt in fire and brimstone because a 15 year old girl came up and sang a major triad.
In the days of Vines, Instagram, Snap Chat and more …the human attention span is being vied for at a quicker rate than probably ever. Keep your workshop moving. Talk about a topic, show in context…and keep moving. The workshop in many cases serves as an overview of whatever you’re talking about. A few years ago, I was at a Paul Gilbert workshop. Paul was a very engaging educator. He would explain a certain effect, technique, style , etc and then show it in a performance setting, or drop it into different contexts. Show it, do it, keep moving.
The power of yes is often celebrated. Few celebrate the power of “no.” Even few will acknowledge the power of “I don’t know.” There are leading figures in music, business, sports and more that I’ve see at a loss for an answer. That’s ok. If you don’t know, acknowledge it. Seldom will an audience lose respect for you. If you make something up….or blur the line between truth and fiction though….you’re on your own!
The pictures I posted on today’s blog feature a number of the young musicians I worked with in recent workshops. Boys and girls ranging from middle school 12/13 to high school 17/18. Although the way I go about teaching may change…they why I go about does not. To let students know they have their own greatness to achieve. No Tony Robins buzzwords, no airplane bestseller key points….just music by unconventional means that allows a young student to achieve something bigger than themselves. All of that, tucked into a few pedalboards, forty feet of cable….and a microphone.
Everyone has their own skill set they can pass onto others. The “others” are out there. Find them….share with them….and see if you don’t make something positive….something lasting……something bigger than yourself.
June 13, 2015
Just Alliance's Blog
Thoughts, ideas and musical musings from this Silver State Loop Artist.