To those familiar with Boston's seminal indie-jazz band Karate, Geoff Farina is a bit of a legend. The way he combined two very different musical forms with such ease kept the band at the forefront of their scene for a good ten years until the band disbanded in 2005 due to Farina's hearing issues. Fast forward a few years and Mr Farina is back on the horse with his latest band, Glorytellers. Not only is that the best band name ever but they present a whole new side of Farina's personality. With their latest album (Atone review here) hitting record stores recently, we had an opportunity to quiz Farina about a few things and who are we to turn an opportunity like that down?
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Geoff, do you feel that you have brought your lyrics to the forefront with Glorytellers compared with your time working in Karate? I think Glorytellers lyrics are more narrative and more literal than Karate's. With most songs I try to tell (or imply) some kind of narrative, and to adhere to the internal logic of the song. I also try and have some kind of experience in mind (a place I’ve been, someone I’ve known, etc.) when I write, and I think this makes a big difference. The end result might be fictional, but the imagery in the song usually comes from some kind of lived experience. Geoff. as you see it, what are the key differences writing in a more acoustic style rather than your previous work? They are mostly technical. Playing acoustic guitar well is kind of like starting from scratch. It took me a long time to learn how to make a guitar vibrate and make a musical sound, and I feel like I’ve only accomplished that recently. Acoustic music is also harder to record, mix, and perform live, and all of those things have presented unique challenges. Fortunately I work with a fantastic engineer (Andy Hong) who really rises to the challenge. How do you go about the writing process, is it tune first or lyrics? Or is that a simplistic assessment? It’s hard to say, and it really depends on the song. I do a bit of writing almost every day, either lyrics or music, and the right pieces somehow find their way together eventually, and lots get discarded. My process has a lot to do with consistency, and doing something small and methodical every day for a long period of time. For me that’s really the only way I can see my work with some sense of objectivity. Most things I’ve written and recorded in a month have not been successful, w/the exception of the improvised music I’ve recorded. I'm curious, do you know what the offending CD in the first pressing of Atone was?* Nope, nobody will tell me! I hope to get my hands on a copy for posterity at some point. I know it's difficult to make comparisons where friends and bandmates are concerned but how do you feel the dynamic has changed with your current line up? Well, I think all of my band mates have eventually turned out to be some of my closest friends. It’s always worked out that way in the end. With Glorytellers there have been a number of folks in the live band who I didn’t know well before the band, and I’ve made some great friends that way.
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I'm a big jazz fan, that's a big part of what drew me to Karate and now Glorytellers. Can you tell me some of your favourite jazz artists, and compositions? Wow, that’s a big question. I’m teaching a course on post – ’58 jazz at the University of Maine right now, so I’ve rediscovered a lot of music by Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, and Ornette. I have to say “Lonely Woman” and some of those classic Ornette Colman tunes on the Atlantic records are some of my absolute favorites. I also love a lot of older jazz. Jelly Roll Morton is probably one of my favorites, and I think his musical conception is just about perfect. In a tune like “Mama Nita”, there are three voices moving at once, and any one of them can become the melody or the foundation at any time. You’ll hear what you think is a bass line, and the next measure it’s the melody all of a sudden. There’s a kind of innocence and freedom in his music that really got lost in bebop I think. I also went through a Herbie Nichols phase recently, and adapted some of his tunes to guitar. He’s a great songwriter, and I think of him more as a songwriter than a jazz musician. I went down to Manhattan studied a bit w/Roswell Rudd (who used to play w/Nichols), and Roswell helped me interpret a couple of those tunes on guitar. Geoff, do you find your time spent in Italy gives extra special inspiration, or is it simply a time to relax and get away from the whole band/teaching thing? Definitely both. There’s something about being over there that forces me to relax and be in the moment. I think it’s the fact that everyone around me has that pace, and after a month or so there, you can’t escape it. It’s also hard to be productive there because everyone has weird hours and things are closed all the time. In Pordenone (where my wife is from) it takes about a week to run an afternoon’s worth of errands. The bank is open Tues/Thurs from 3-7, the post office has a line out the door, the Xerox place is only open Wed and Fri, etc. It’s kind of ridiculous at times. My friends and family over there are also very inspirational. They live very simple lives and don’t have a lot, but they appreciate every moment and every aspect of their lives, which has had an impact on me.
They say 'the family that plays together stays together', would you say that's also true of a band or do you think it's healthy to spend time apart? I think that touring can be uniquely stressful and dysfunctional in a way that’s really hard to describe, especially if you’re involved in tour-managing and the logistics of the tour. If you haven’t gone on tour for 6 or 8 weeks, you’ll never know exactly how overwhelming it can be in both good and bad ways. Really nothing I’ve experienced in my life can compare to it. Nomatter who you are or how close you are with your band mates, I think it’s always good to spend time apart when you have the chance. With your new album just out, do you find that touring allows you to grow into the songs, or have you already played them to death in the course of creating and rehearsing them in the studio? They definitely grow into something new on the tours, especially with band mates like Gavin McCarthy and Mike Castellana, who are fantastic musicians. I always look at the recording as kind of a seed that will grow on tour, and I try not to have too much of a preconceived idea of what the song is “supposed” to sound like. Hearing the music change and evolve every night is one of the most satisfying aspects of the tour for me, and I usually come home with all kinds of ideas from the live sets. *It was only 150 copies shipped in the USA only that were affected, and they only got 25 copies back from the stores/distributors. Vital Info http://www.myspace.com/glorytellers http://www.myspace.com/karateband