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Interview with Oh Pears!

img  Tobias Fischer

You just played a very nice show with Drummer Chris Ward from Pattern is Movement. Many of the recordings of your band also feature a cellist. How many people are usually in the band?
Oh, it really depends. It's rather a solo project than a band. Chris is playing with me on this tour, but I had a different drummer on the last tour. Also, there have been a couple of string players – cello and viola. But they couldn't do it this time. It's always different. The biggest band I had In Philadelphia was sixteen people. There have been trumpets, a lot of strings – six to eight stringplayers, a bunch of singers, multiple percussionists...

So I guess you like orchestral music?
I love Tchaikovsky and Classical music, especially symphonic music. But also pop songs like the ones from the great album Petsounds of the Beach Boys. I just like things that are orchestrated, things that are arranged. That's one of my favorite things to do.

Yeah, from listening to your music, that's my impression, too. And I think it's quite seldom to see a band that makes you think: "Well that's pretty well arranged!". Some bands stick to a very nice groove, but your music gets further.

Oh thanks, man. Yes, and this is a quite difficult thing to do, especially if you have little instruments, like we have on this tour. But I approach playing guitar as an arranger. So there is a certain thinking about different voicings – how lower notes are moving in chords, for example.

...and also your guitar playing is settled and tight.
A lot of it comes from us playing together for so long. It feels very natural. I don't know if we have a similar energy between us, it's almost more interesting because we have different energies that kind of meet in this really interesting way. And that makes it very exciting to play together with Chris.

Where did you learn to write arrangements like this?

Well, I listened to a bunch of music and kind of figured it out. I wrote that EP – Fill Your Lungs – before I had any idea of how to notate music, so I would come up with a part like a melody, that I'm singing. Then, I'd think of other parts, by just singing to a recording of that. So I would also sing these other parts, that would become the string parts. It's just in the last couple of years, that I started going to school at a community college in Philadelphia. So I learned to notate a little bit and I also learned some theory – but I'm really bad at theory. So it's mostly about intuition.

But, if there are sixteen people on stage, then they probably need to know what to play...
Yes, I wrote those songs at the same time, when I learned about notation. If I spend a lot of time, I can figure some things out (laughs). So I wrote several parts of the arrangement with a computer program and printed it out for everyone. I just stood there and said, let's see if we can do this and just counted it off. And they played it! To me that moment was magical, because I was not used to writing music like that.

Your music is very expansive, but at the same time quite accessible. When making music, is that something that comes to your mind - being close to the audience, being in one place together?
Well, at first: I like complicated music, because I think emotion is a very complicated thing. Sometimes I think the only way to express something is to be a little complicated. So I like sophisticated arrangements, because that's how people are, including me. But if that's the focus of the music – for sure, it can be great sometimes, but I think it won't make someone really feel anything. But I want people to feel something. Emotion is the most important thing in music for me. That's why I like music at all.

Your parents used to be active musicians, right?
My mother is from a very musical family. Her father was the conductor of the Seattle Youth Symphony, which was a youth orchestra that had musicians as young as fourteen or fifteen on up to twenty-one, if I recall correctly. So my mom and most of her siblings were in the youth symphony at one time or another, and almost all of them spent most of their adult lives teaching instrument lessons, playing in professional orchestras, and teaching music at high schools. My mom taught violin for a few years when she was younger, and I have recordings of the Seattle Youth Symphony that my mom plays violin on. Those youth symphony record covers actually heavily inspired the artwork for my first EP. My mom never did play in a professional orchestra, but she still plays beautifully, although infrequently.
My father plays a little bit of guitar, and a little bit of violin. I've heard him play violin before, and he's actually pretty good for having not played much past maybe age twelve. He can also play "Day Tripper" by the Beatles on the guitar. The guitar that I play on tour is actually my dad's guitar. He bought it in Berkley, California in 1974 I think. It's nice to be able to keep that guitar out there in the world, bringing jams to the people, ha! I think about that sometimes when I'm on tour. It's great to have instruments with so much personal history. My dad's biggest musical influence on me is his love of 1930s music. I grew up listening to Fats Waller, Tino Rossi, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and that sort of thing.

So, you think that this environment of classical music had an influence on how you write songs?
When I was young I really didn't care all that much about classical music, or 1930s pop music, but as I got older, I came back to it. It had been deeply ingrained in me through so many repeated listens. When I listened to that music as a young adult, it was at first interesting because I vaguely remembered it from being a kid, but then I let my adult ears really soak up those sounds, and it opened up a whole new world of sound for me. Those genres of music are absolutely essential to my listening experience as an adult. Not only because of how they musically represent themselves, but because they helped to open my mind to so many possibilities in sound. I love all kinds of music, and classical and early jazz were huge gateways for me. I absolutely love arrangements and sophisticated harmonies, and those things are a huge part of the way I conceptualize music.

By Clemens Wegener

Fill Your Lungs EP (self released 2010)
Under the Olive Tree (Kanel Records 2011)
The Sounding of the Earth / Tchaikowsky (self released 2012)

With Pattern is Movement:

The (im)possibility of Longing (NFI 2004)
Stowaway (NFI 2005)

Oh Pears!

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