Name: Julian Loida
Current Release: Wallflower
Recommendation: Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking. I highly recommend.
Website/Contact: You'll find information about music, tours and more at Julian's website www.julianloida.com
When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
In high school, I took piano lessons and would stray off while practicing creating little progressions, grooves, and soundscapes. Then, in college I was around composers, but I found that collage and multi-media was where my compositional voice felt at home. Then, after years of creating politically charged & historically informed multi-media works that featured percussion works, I began writing my own music first for piano, then song writing & arranging for my band Night Tree, then for solo vibraphone.
The more I composed, the more I realized every time I went to create, I was influenced most by the colors in my head than the chord progressions and harmony I had learned in school. I am on the spectrum of synaesthesia and it continues to be the biggest influence on my compositional process.
As for artist’s who influence my compositions I would say, J.S. Bach, blues music, jazz, all kinds of rock music, Latin music, film music, and music of the African-Diaspora.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
That’s a good question. Often, I would create a piece, then a teacher or friend would say, “Have you heard this piece by Steve Reich” and I would go find it and I’d be so excited to find someone else also hearing music similarly to me. It happened with Reich, John Cage, Nils Frahm, Colin Stetson, Turtle Island String Quartet, Tyshawn Sorey and more. I tend to make, then discover others who I then study and listen to them on repeat for weeks. But at the end of the day for me it was about accepting myself and having confidence. It wasn’t until I was in the studio for this album, hearing my own music played back in the control room with the producer and engineer that I realized I was a composer; I was contributing to the thousands of years of humans making music. It wasn’t real for me, I didn’t feel it in my heart and soul until those early moments in the studio making this record, Wallflower. Once I felt that empowerment, I felt grounded and accepted who I am, my influences, and that there’s one Julian Loida with a voice that deserves to be heard.
What were some of the most important creative challenges when starting out as a composer and how have they changed over time?
For me, it’s editing down ideas. I generally have a lot of ideas and it’s about distilling down to the best ones and how to best order them and arrange them. Even still, I record a piece, publish a piece, but when I perform live it’s always different, always growing, expanding and even condensing. I was taught that composition is the act of finishing or carving in stone, but for me, it’s the act of jumping off the ledge into the world of sharing. I’ve composed something once I start playing it live or releasing it to others. I imagine over time, some compositions will be more final, but maybe not.
Tell us about your studio/work space, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
At this point, I make music in three spaces. One is my desk when I use my computer and midi keyboard to create; second is my studio space where I have my drum set, congas, vibraphone, and hundreds of percussion instruments and sticks at the ready for any idea that may come to mind. Then the third space is my work’s piano where I’ve created dozens of pieces and practice. It’s an upright, out-of-tune piano, but I love it.
I need to be alone to create generally and I am most creative at night or when I’m very sad, stressed, in-love, or inspired in some capacity. The environment itself doesn’t influence me as much as the instrument I’m creating on. The way the instrument sounds in its various registers, the amount of time it takes for notes to decay, how articulate the instrument is, all highly influence my creative process. I’m not a picky guy though. Beggars can’t be choosers. Rent in Boston is so high and musicians scrape by, so I’m very grateful for my room, my instruments, my ability to document my drafts, my work’s piano, and my room to hold my instruments. I will say, I love to have paintings on the wall so that when I look around it’s not a blank wall staring back, but something to ignite shape & color.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I’m a freelance percussionist, so every day is different. I play dozens of styles and genres, so it truly varies each day, week, month and season, for better or worse. Some days I’m touring, some days I’m working as a live music producer or running festivals, some days I have nothing and I balance practice & rest. I can say cooking usually starts and ends my day. Cooking is a true stress-relief for me, like meditation, a sort-of ritual to me. Second, I check my email. My personal life is both related and un-related to my music/work life. They work together, but in different places. I work hard so I can relax, and I relax to enjoy work. I have practiced going between the two and getting better all the time. I work to make money to travel and eat. I eat and travel to inspire my work. It’s an ecosystem.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Unfortunately for me, some of my best work has come out of being SUPER stressed and sad. However, other great work has come from being very inspired and happy. Unfortunately, when I’m bottled up with emotion, I usually release that through art, music, song, creation…even cooking. Having said that, I’ve created plenty of work from being calm, open-minded, and mentally available.
A lot of the time compositions/improvisations just come out of me. I step up to the vibraphone or sit down at the piano and it just happens. My biggest distraction would be email, text, dirty dishes, un-swept kitchen, un-swept front steps, and the un-vacuumed living room. One of the best strategies I’ve found is setting an alarm for 15 or 20 minutes and tell myself I will only work on this one thing for this time. I will put my phone on airplane mode and shut it all down. I will work on it for that time which will get me in flow after 10 minutes. Then, the timer will go off and I’ll be in a groove so that I will keep working for an hour or the rest of the day on this single project I was putting off. So, I would say controlled isolation helps greatly for me.
Could you take me through the process of composing on the basis of one of your pieces that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
Let’s take the second single I ever released called Absent, found on my album Wallflower. This piece has an ostinato that repeats for almost the entire piece. I got this idea from just thinking about creating an ostinato that would be extremely flexible. An ostinato that you could hear any part being the downbeat or offbeat, any part being the tonic or dominant. Then, I matrixed out and starting playing it with quarter notes on all subdivisions and as I got very comfortable I began to improvise with the ostinato and the piece unfolded itself. I love texture, timbre, and how an instrument can sound like another instrument through some slight changes so I began playing on the edges of the bars with the rattan of my mallet and it created this twinkle that spun around the full range of the instrument and it just made me so happy and calm. I later called it Absent to explore the idea that artists are criticized for being absent-minded, yet the goal of meditation is to make your mind absent, to clear your mind of thought. I began playing live and that’s how I refined the piece from many performances, from onstage editing.