Thursday 11 June 2015

"Catch Me if You Can": Gizmo [Interview]

The prodigal talents of Kenneth “Gizmo” Rodgers can’t be over-stated.  The bassist (multi-instrumentalist really!), writer, producer and band leader, who is still only in his early-twenties, boasts two solo musical ventures under his belt, along with having chalked up performances with Meshell Ndegeocello, Marc de Clive-Lowe, Victor Wooten and Talib Kweli… pause for breath… Further to that, he has also assumed the role of musical director for artists including Lalah Hathaway and Bilal and cites Derrick Hodge and Meshell Ndegeocello as friends and mentors.  Credentials also come in the form of having studied jazz at the Berklee College of Music and having performed all over the country.  As I say, Gizmo’s prodigal talents can not be over-stated.

Furthering the tradition of the world-reknown Philadelphia soul movement, Gizmo unveiled his debut album, ‘Red Balloon’, in 2012 through Revive Music.  The album saw production by the aforementioned Derrick Hodge (bassist for the Robert Glasper Experiment) and featured guest spots from another Experiment affiliate, vocoderist and saxophonist, Casey Benjamin, vocalists Nick Hakim, Anna Wise, among a hefty handful of others.  The album’s concept cleverly likening a balloon floating skywards to the feelings of aimlessness, directionless and even loneliness we can often feel in our own lives.  It’s those intuitive and personal sentiments that the album focuses on and which make it a joy to listen to – particularly the ingenious title track.

The follow-up EP, ‘The Middle’, released in 2013, takes a very different approach, as the man himself will go on to explain below.  Excellent songs like’ White Walls’ and a complete reimagining of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ are equally pleasant and demonstrate Gizmo’s burgeoning skill.

Duke Ellington once declared, “Jazz is freedom”.  He also compared jazz to the type of man you wouldn’t want your daughter to associate with, and while the legendary composer and band-leader’s ahead-of-his-time insights both hold water, let’s focus on the former phrase for now: he actually went on to describe jazz as “the only unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom yet”.  ‘Red Balloon’ is the embodiment of that freedom – a piece of music free of musical confines or restrictions.  You could describe what Gizmo creates as music incorporating elements of jazz, hip-hop, soul, rock and Latin sounds, or you could say that at its heart, it’s a jazz record, realised in all its glory.

It’s such a win for us to have Gizmo take time out for a brief chat and, if his music is new to you, check out a couple of his videos here starting with the gem that is ‘Red Balloon’…

IMRAN: Who were some of your earliest musical influences that inspired you to start playing?
GIZMO: Meshell Ndegeocello, James Taylor, George Clinton, Sly Stone, Victor Wooten, Herbie Hancock, Tracy Chapman, Miles Davis… The list goes on and on.

How would you say the creative process of writing, producing and recording new music usually works for you?
The creative process is constantly changing.  Lately, I have been pushing myself to explore some alternative methods of producing and recording.  Usually it starts with my at home by myself, with a bass or piano.  I usually think of music first and lyrics last.  I don’t like to do too much pre-production.  I get in the studio with the musicians and we lay stuff down until we get it right.  Pretty old school that way.

Congratulations on the success of 'Red Balloon': did you have a clear idea of what you wanted the music to sound like at the outset of the project?
No, I did not have a clear idea at all.  The songs were recorded separately over about two years.  I wasn’t planning on making a record.  Just wanted to have ideas.  I ended up putting it all together though, just a collection of sounds from where I was at that point in my life.

Have you ever feared that creating such a diverse, genre-blending sound would work against you?
When I first started, I just wanted to make music that was true to me. I didn’t think that deeply. I just thought I had some cool ideas and wanted to facilitate some expression that I had lingering inside of me.  As I began to market the record, I realized  that it may be difficult with the “genre-blending” as you say.  So there were times I worried that people may not be receptive, but that didn’t seem to be the case.

Can you talk about went into the making of 'The Middle' EP?
That was the opposite of ‘Red Balloon’.  I recorded the entire EP in one day.  We rehearsed for a couple hours the day before then I just went in the studio with the band and played music.  It was one of those moments where everything was in sync.  I wanted to try and make songs that were a bit more concise.  I challenged myself to “get to the point” with ‘The Middle’.

You've opted for such a diverse selection of covers (namely 'Use Somebody' and 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun'): what made you pick them? And, are there any others you'd like to tackle?
I think the words to 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun' are incredible.  I like the lyrics, but the original track is so groovy that most people don’t notice. I decided to slow the song down and try to provide an alternative view into the song’s core.
'Use Somebody' is just one of my favorite songs.  I like to cover songs in my own way, so I just had fun with that one. It is one of my favorite songs to play live.  The song also reminds me a lot of Boston for some reason.

Are plans currently in place for a follow-up album or project?
Working on a new record now!!

Who would be a dream musical collaborator?
Dream collaborator – I really want to do a song with Nick Minaj and Tyler the Creator.  I think we could do something really cool together.  Can you make that happen? Lol

How does your music transfer to the live stage?
Live is totally different than the records.  We play in the moment and try to capture a vibe. We usually are louder and play a bit more aggressive live.  I try not to think about it too much and just have fun.

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