AHHA: Youve worked with a lot of people, from indigenous tribes in the Amazon, to B.B. King. What have you learned over the years?
Will: Each experience is a massive and educational leap. Ive learned many things, not just one. B.B. King had a very relaxed vibe – theres a lot of big respect for him as the king of the blues. Its difficult to go into a session with him and not want to interview him. To go with someone like I mentioned earlier with the different tribes, the people and culture, you have to do the same thing with music. If Im working with Dr. Know, Im a Bad Brains fan; I know what that music is. Although Doc can play anything, I understand where hes coming from. When I bring a guy like him into a scenario like the Mos-Def band or any session, I kind of know where hes coming from. I need to have that color in the music.
Knowing who an artist is, knowing who Jaco Pastorious is, Dr. Know and B.B. King . I think when you can understand their artistry; its something you learn each time. I dont try to put B.B. King in a Dr Know situation. Thats something that a lot of people in the industry over-look. Hip-Hop artists for example, theyre very focused on what the music needs. Thats why I think that art form is very successful. Theyre focused in on the audience and what the music needs or doesnt need. Sometimes the super educated musician that practiced 30 hours a day, likes to bring the scenario to the studio. But at the same time, you dont always need that vibe.
What I learned from all those people, is what needs to happen at that moment. Do I need to play a Living Colour sound with an aboriginal vibe or a James Brown beat with Granalans? Keeping all of that on file, helps you to be open and respectful enough of what the music needs. I spent a long time with out playing. I didnt even tell some people that I was a musician, so I could get a handle on the music. Then go back and play with them in a really respectful way. If something happens, then I can fit the music into a session.
I was almost intimidated by Jaco. He called me because he was working on Word of Mouth. He booked a trio gig, but was playing piano and had me and a bassist fill-in. He sat there with the sheet music and stopped the set periodically to write a bridge and jump it off again. I was still in college at the time and Jaco was a really reform kind of musician. He was high on life. Everything was music to him; cars, birds, water. Everything was a symphony. He loved the sound of everything. It was more than just plugging in a bass. He heard more than just noise; the universe was music to him. I think thats why the cat was so brilliant. He heard things that the normal musician didnt hear as music. Walking down the street with him, he would be like, “You hear that man? He was the one that taught me to how to keep my ears open for sound.
Pharoah Sanders told me that the most important thing is sound and that experimentation. With sound is the journey. Thats what you have to go on. I started watching him play different instruments on tour and the next thing I know, Im five years in and playing six different flutes from allover the world. He taught me to move the sonic images and sounds towards the drums. I use that in my singing, writing and compositions. Hes probably in the last five years, the most influential artists that Ive been around.
AHHA: What was the concept for Native Lands? Its obviously wasnt all improvisation. Were there pre-written ideas that were later expanded upon or just all jam sessions?
Will: Native Lands was an idea. I knew what I wanted to do work with Pharoah, Markus, and Mos Def. I had to figure out a way to put the music together and then find a way of scheduling everyone to cut the tracks. I had 20 songs as a map with a list of artists. I put the list of artists together with the tracks that I wanted to do with them. I knew that I wanted to do a duo with Mos, but I knew at the same time that I didnt want him to rap. I know that hes great at that, but not many people know about his piano, bass and drum playing. We also jam together a lot, I just happened to record the one thats on the record.
It was not being married to anything. These are things that Ive really wanted to do, all of my life. I wanted to make this record as a milestone in my life from experiences. Playing with Living Colour, Hip-Hop, my instructor, seeing Elvin Jones, Tito Puentes band and other artists; I wanted to take all of those things and explain, Who is Will Calhoun. I wanted to show all of the books that Ive read, the films that Ive seen and concerts that Ive been to. Native Lands is an explanation of all of those things. I put it together as almost a sonic photo album. There were two things that I didnt get to – I wanted to get two artists on the record, but because of scheduling it wasnt possible.
Im very happy with the album. Elvin Jones died towards the end of my recording the album. So I went back record Three Card Molly. Spiritually that was a way to go back and make up or those losses. It was important to me to do the Elvin tack. I dont know how many times I’ve seen him play that track live, since I was 10 and the impact that Elvin Jones had on me as a drummer. It was a mapping out of me playing with the artists.
AHHA: Since the scheduling was tough, how did the label respond to the delays?
Will: When youre recording an album on a small budget in New York City, you have to do the hustle. I didnt have a big budget to fly guys in, but it was important to me to get this record out like I had it in my head. I have to thank Half Note Records for letting me do it that way. I did the cover, in-lay, the DVD, everything. I just handed it in to them as a finished product. A lot of people were upset that I didnt go to a major. Its no disrespect to anyone, but I shopped this concept around for four or five years. They were the ones to let me do it the way that I wanted.
AHHA: Thats because a lot of majors are all about the money. They cant see the image of a brilliant jam session with various artists as worth wile.
Will: Exactly. Its important. We have to do what we feel and do things that we see. We cant have those things cut off by the cooperate structure. Art is life. It ma sound corny, but its true. You have to get those moments. Thats why Hendrix, Bird and Coltranes music has been around for 4,000 years. Its an expression. A lot of people have come out with guitar albums since Jimi, but he holds a high standard on guitar playing. I look at those DVDs all the time and still dont know how he does it; singing and playing with one hand. Im always awestruck.
AHHA: Ive read that when Jimi recorded in the studio, he would sing behind a screen because he was self-conscious about his vocals. He had a great voice, but its interesting to learn that some one that you perceive as so amazing had those kinds of insecurities. It makes them human.
Will: Exactly, but also Im sure he was around a lot of bad ass singers. Buddy Miles could sing his ass off. He worked with the [Isley] Brothers and others. Singing is big because we get caught up as academics in what sounds good, in what is sharp and what s flat. You may not like Macy Gray, but her voice has stuck up a chord enough to make people but those records. Sade has no competition – she can come out with a record while Janet or Beyonce have them out and sell out a tour. Jimis voice works for that music. Thats what when I say that you have to go for it, thats what I mean.
There are horn players that complain, but Coltrane, Sunny Rollins and Pharaoh Sanders, all have a sound. The voice is really deep. Maybe Jimi wanted to sound differently, but for what hes playing, his voice sounds perfect. Maybe if someone who sang harder over the chords and melodies, the sound wouldnt have worked in his music. Maybe the emotion wouldnt have the same because its Jimi lyrics, his experience; hes coming from behid himself. He’s creating the reality and drama; hes creating the experience himself. I would prefer to hear it from him. There are exceptional singers that create a certain vibe – Jimi was/is his music.
Thats why the project came off how it did. I play some bass and guitar. After suggestions, I finally recorded some of my guitar work on this album. When I was in Brazil, I was in my hotel room and cut a track. I felt confident. I used to practice on Vernons guitar back-stage sometimes. After a while he told me to buy one. Its something that Ive begun to become confident with. Its something different that Im not playing on the drums.
AHHA: On the DVD, you talked about interesting style of music that you learned in Bahia, Brazil.
Will: Moroca da Tu [Brazilian drumming from the region of Bahia.] Its just something that got under my skin, this sound, this way of playing the drums. I heard it but, it was like an explosion. It led me to some of the Amazonian music as well. Im looking forward to studying more.
AHHA: Since you have so many musical outlets, why not start your own label and bring some of these World artists to the masses?
Will: I would like to do it, but it would obviously involve a lot of money. If not that, I would like to have a center where you could have the artist come and perform. Its something that Ive spent long time thinking about. Im currently looking for investors, so its not something thats out of the loop. I would like to have some sort of an import place where people not only can hear the music, but also see the art and learn why it sounds the way that it does. Hip-Hop works with its imagery. Certain elements lock in with the music.
AHHA: What do you want people to take away from hearing this album?
Will: I want them to enjoy it obviously, but I want them to get the free aspect of the record. I want them to get the openness. Its music. It doesnt have to be jazz, funk, rock or Hip-Hop. Its sound. There are beats and noises its music. Its a sonic connection to life.