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Interview with Jordan Rudess

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hi! I'm sitting actually very close to my home in an undisclosed location in New York. As you can see, we're surrounded by the jungle, so don't be surprised if wild creatures start roaming around in back of us. What's Question 2?
 

What’s on your schedule at the moment?
Ah... you really want to go there? (laughs) My schedule is nuts! I just had a week of rehearsal actually, for the upcoming Dream Theater tour, for which I leave on June 1 for Europe. I ran out of there early, actually, which was really pretty crazy, but I had to go out to California because I did a show at CalProg in Whittier California, with Rod Morgenstein and the Rudess Morgenstein Project. And then I flew home completely exhausted, and now I'm actually working on finalizing my solo album - I'm going in a little while today to sit and do a  premix with the engineer. Later on I have pictures for the solo album to do, and then I've got preparations for the Dream Theater tour, and kinda like that - it's busy. It's a busy life these days.
 

Where, would you say, does Dream Theater end and Jordan Rudess begin? What does your solo career allow you to do that maybe you couldn’t do in DT?
Wow, that's an interesting question. Dream Theater is a fantastic job for me, and there's so much that I can do because we have a lot of wacky parts in our group process. But of course, you know my whole life is music, and I had a bit of a career before I even knew who Dream Theater was, and developed a lot of stylistic things that are very important to me - for example, just my piano style, just sitting and improvising at the piano. And you know I was a classical pianist even before that, and very involved in progressive rock and space music, so that there's many things that I do that I like to continue to do as a composer, musician, and producer. And even though Dream Theater is a very wide and full job for me, and certainly uses a lot of my time, there are still many things that I feel compelled to do. So the solo career is important, as it is to many of the guys in the group - because of the fact that music is our lives. So yeah, the solo thing allows me to just pursue all the different stylistic things that I need to do.
 

Solo projects of band members are often referred to as “playgrounds”. When watching you play live with Dream Theater, I always had the notion that “playing” with the possibilities of your instrument was not merely an aside, but an integral part of what you’re doing. Correct?
Yes, I think I understand that question, so I'll expound upon it. The instrument for me is really part of the fun. I totally get into the idea of trying to make the instrument that I use do as much as it possibly can and just to explore all the possibilities. For instance, now I'm programming some of the sounds, actually, for the next tour, and some of the songs I'm doing, like there's this one song for instance, called "Misunderstood", that's off of "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence", and it's a pretty cool song. We were in the mode in the studio where we really experimenting with sounds and going through all kinds of different effects, like backwards-type effects, and treating the sounds in unusual, kind of progressive, if you will, ways, and what's crazy is that I already programmed this song for live when I used to play on the Kurzweil platform. But now I've switched, and my main instrument for live performance with Dream Theater is the Korg Oasys, and so I'm kind of revisiting and having to program these sounds again. And I've been sitting in the studio, just really enjoying, and also spending a lot of time at, programming the sounds and making things happen, and just really trying to go for it and seeing what I can get out of this very powerful, amazing instrument.
 

Talking about the synthesizer: Most people find it a rather “cold” instrument, but Klaus Schulze called his equipment “my beloved synthesizers”. How would you describe your relationship with your instruments?
The synthesizer is, to me, the most fantastic, exciting, beautiful, instrument that has been created to date - except for sometimes when I'm sitting at my Steinway piano and I feel like that's even grander - but really, the idea of just being able to play with sound,  and have so much control of the sound that you're making, and bend, and shape, and move.... It just continuously amazes me, and gives me great pleasure. I feel so grateful to be a synthesist, especially today, when the level of control of expression is so powerful, I personally feel that in many ways it goes beyond any other instrument that exists in the world. So, there you go. (laughs) Smoke that! (laughs)
 

All instruments have evolved and progressed over the centuries, but the synthesizer has taken this to a new level. How important would you rate the  relationship between technology and composition for your music?
That's an interesting question - a good interesting left turn at the end. I think it's very integrated in a way. I consider myself a progressive musician and by that, I don't mean progressive like playing music that's from the art-rock of the 70s. I mean progressive in the sense that I try to stay aware and in touch with what's going on with technology. I'm always interested in the latest thinking and design, and it does influence my composing. So in that sense they are tied in together. I want to be using whatever musical tools are out there and seeing what kinds of sounds they create, and what they offer musically. So, yeah, they are very tied in, for sure.
 

One of the people you’re in close co-operation with when it comes to technology is Richard Lainhart, an early pioneer of the Synthesizer. Has his more “sound”-related approach possibly been an inspiration for your own material?
Oh, interesting. Well, for sure. I mean, one of the miracles of my life has been having Richard as my neighbor, because the chances of that aren't even possible, yet it happened anyway. When I was younger and just leaving Julliard, I was very much into exploring synthesis, and I was more involved at the age of 18 or 19, in just playing with my MiniMoog, not even playing notes, just playing sounds. And I used to be in a band with a couple of guys that just did that, basically. Then that style got left behind a little bit as I got more into my rock thing, but never at all forgetting about that, because that was always very important to me, to work with synthesizers on that level and make music that was more ethereal and spacey and without the regular note concepts or Western scales.

So when I met Richard, it was just this amazing thing, because we shared this kind of music, but Richard has yet another take on it - he has this wonderful style, this kind of ambient style that's just so flowing, and I can appreciate it so much. So, yeah, I would say that his style has definitely influenced a lot of what I do, and it's just a great, great relationship.
 

Talking about sound: How would you describe the relationship between sound and composition?
I think that goes back to the other answer I gave, so I won't spend too long on this one. The sounds can be a guide, or they can lead the way. If I walk over to a synthesizer and put my hands down on the keys, the sound can completely inspire me to go in a particular direction. As a matter of fact, that's how I tell if a synthesizer is really an inspirational instrument - if you walk over to something and you run through the sounds and as you play the instrument, if you fell inspired to create something with that sound, you go "Wow - this is a great instrument." Like I remember when I first played on the Korg Karma keyboard, I just put my hands down and all of a sudden it's doing all these amazing things. It's like, "Wow, it's inspiration in a box". These are the type of things that make great instruments.
 

And, as a final composing question: What about the relationship between composition and improvisation?

Yeah, that's an interesting question as well. I'm an improviser - I can just sit at the piano and improvise, do spontaneous composition all day. One of my friends, Eugene Friesen, once told me that I throw away more good music than some people write in a lifetime. (laughs) I just thought that was kind of funny, because I would always sit around just improvising and I didn't run a tape, I didn't write it down, it was always what it was. But for me, improvisation does play a role in composition, because as a composer, you gotta come up with an idea, and sometimes I'll come up with an 8-bar idea, or a 4-bar idea, or sometimes it's longer. So if I'm working on a project, if I'm composing something, if I'm working on what's going to be the next measure of music or the next thing, I'll put on the recorder, and I'll play a little bit and see where it goes. So as I say, it could either be a longer thing, or I'll just get a couple of measures, but it kind of comes down to improvisation.

But what stops the improvisation process is actually the intellectual process which says, "OK, you really have to think about these next measures.What's the next chord going to be?" You know, if I'm improvising, I might get to a headspace where I think, "You know, that just come off the top of my head, so it's not as good as if I really think about and consider it." So it's all the consideration that slows down the composition process, that sometimes makes me just go for a pen and paper, just lining notes up and really studying them. So there's many different ways that I go about composing, but improvisation is definitely a core of getting things going and getting inspired.
 

How ambitious are you when it comes to your solo career? Or, to be more precise: What are your ambitions?

I'm ambitious in the sense that I really, really want to get my solo music out there. So, beyond just creating it, I guess from a business perspective, it's important to me to do things that will propel my music and my career. I have the energy, I work pretty hard at maintaining some degree of energy and vitality towards being able to do things like get out there and play concerts and do interviews, that type of thing. So yeah, I am to a degree very ambitious about the things that really matter to me.
 

When looking at your daily schedule, the business side of things takes up a considerable chunk of time. How important would you rate your personal involvement in this?
It is very important to be very involved personally. It is also very hard, I think, for many people these days to balance business and family and art. You know, it's the challenge of modern life. For me, it's hard, especially with email and all that, it's really tempting and interesting to go and look and see what the communications are - you can kind of get a lot of things going and a lot of relationships, and I enjoy that. For instance, what happens with me, when I was creating this solo album that has yet to come out, it's called "The Road Home", and I guess we'll talk about that a little later, you know I have to stop the world a bit. I have to go in the studio and say, "OK, nothing else is going to happen for these periods of time." Richard, who's interviewing me, knows that he'll hear music coming out of my studio at 2 in the morning, or I'll be there at 7 in the morning. There are just periods of time when something just has to take its place and the music just completely overrides everything else, and that's the only way I can be who I am. Because I also have to do interviews and I have to drive children around, and I have to do business and answer emails. So, that's kind of the way that things work for me.
 

You have just released a DVD with playing techniques and tips. What is the main message of your master class?

Party, hang out, and have fun. Next question, please. (laughs)
 

You name Rick Wakeman, Patrick Moraz and Keith Emerson as your favourite keyboard players. What do you appreciate them for?

Each one had a different role in influencing my musical life. Keith Emerson was responsible for showing me how keyboards could actually be extremely powerful instruments and make this statement that they do. When I heard "Tarkus", it basically blew my mind, and I was like, "Oh my God, I didn't know a keyboard could have that kind of intensity." His organ and synthesizers were just so strong in my mind. Not only that, but just harmonically, the kind of intervals, all the fifths and the suspended chords and the way that he used all those fourths. It really opened up some channels in my thinking, and in a way, it made me feel that I was free to go more in that direction. Because I had been playing with some ideas about harmonic things that were related to what Keith was doing, when I was younger, but I didn't know quite what to do with it, because I was very much in the classical world. So hearing that was like telling me, "OK, Jordan, you can do this. This is OK. This is cool." So maybe he's partly responsible for me leaving Julliard. It's all your fault, Keith. (laughs)

So that's the Emerson thing. And then with Rick Wakeman, Rick had this wonderful way of incorporating classical ideas into his rock playing and I do love the way he does that. One of the albums he did was called "Six Wives of Henry the Eighth", that I think it was actually very inspiring for a lot of keyboard players. And for me it had really special meaning - I was turned on by the sound of his take on rock music mixed with the classical approach. In those days, you know I used to post pictures of MiniMoogs, would cut them out of magazines and put them all over my wall in my bedroom, and Rick was right there. And at that period of time, of course I was a tremendous Yes fan as well, so...

And Patrick Moraz, well Patrick has this really exceptional pitchbending technique. The first thing I heard of him was the "Refugee" album, and there was this song on there called "Someday", where he played the most incredible MiniMoog solo. It was just so wailing, what he was doing with the pitchbend, and it really kind of blew my mind. And that's when I think that I just had to, you know... he was really the ticket towards my going just full force into that. I used to sit around with my MiniMoog and practice doing all these bending exercises that I developed, because there was nothing traditional out there that was teaching me how to bend. So, I would play a scale, play a C then a D, then practice bending from a C to a D, then play the D to E, then practice bending from D to E.... Because on the MiniMoog, it wasn't like the current instruments, you weren't able to set the pitchbend range. So if you pushed it too far, it would go out of tune, so you had to have a different kind of skill to play it. These days, when I play leads with the pitchwheel or the joystick, I set the up-range for a whole step, and the down-range for an octave, so I can do these whammy effects or I can slide up. In a way it's more flexible, but....

Anyway, Patrick was the main keyboard player that was responsible for my being interested in using pitchbending. So between Rick, Patrick, and Keith, they functioned as a very nice core of inspiration for me.
 

Chopin is one of your favourite composers when it comes to “warming up”. Have your ever thought about recording a classical album?
Yeah, I've certainly thought about it, it's a nice idea. You know, I did an album, or I should say I did a track for an album called "Steinway To Heaven" a while ago for Magna Carta records, that has a recording of me playing the "Revolutionary Etude" of Chopin. Even though I would love to do it, and it's a great idea, the problem is that for me to really play classical music, I'd have to play the program of pieces every day for at least a few months, because it's very.... There's nothing worse than playing a classical piece badly, for me. I'd much rather sit at the piano and make a nice sound and improvise and just make music. If you're going to play a classical piece and  you're going to hack it, then I don't think it's worth it, at least it's not worth it for me. So that's the issue there, it just takes a lot of time, and I'm doing a lot of other things. (laughs) I mean, I'm a busy guy! What can I tell you? I'm doing my thing here! C'mon! (laughs)
 

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
You know, I'm always creating my magnum opus. Whenever I do these solo rock albums, I feel like they're just so much work, it's so intense, just going in there and doing battle with my technology and my synthesizers. I feel like I'm always producing it. So check out my new album, you can hear what that sounds like. (laughs)

By Tobias Fischer

Interview conducted and transcribed by Richard Lainhart (many thanks!)


Discography:
Solo:
Arrival (1988)
Listen (1993)
Secrets of the Muse (1997)
Resonance (1999)
Feeding the Wheel (2001)
4NYC (2002)
Christmas Sky (2002)
Rhythm of Time (2004)

With Dream Theater:
Metropolis, Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory (1999)
Live Scenes From New York (2001)
Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence (2002)
Train of Thought (2003)
Octavarium (2005)
Systematic Chaos (2007)

With Liquid Tension Experiment:
Liquid Tension Experiment (1998)
Liquid Tension Experiment 2 (1999)

Homepage:
Jordan Rudess


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