JAZZ BLUES NEWS Interview with Noshir Mody: For me, the intellect serves the soul
Jazz interview with jazz fusion guitarist Noshir Mody.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Noshir Mody: – I was born and raised in Mumbai, India used to be called Bombay back then. My father was also a musician. He played the drums and harmonica and had an extensive collection of Jazz records. I remember there always being music in our home. When I was a kid I was forbidden from playing his records since I could barely reach the turntable and probably scratched a few of the vinyl albums; but I remember sneaking and playing them anyway.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the guitar? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the guitar?
NM: – I must have been about nine years old or so and I was in a music store with my mother and I begged her to buy me a guitar. I had never even held a guitar until that point but I was convinced that I would be able to teach myself how to play it. She refused, I teared up and offered to use all my saved up money from Birthday’s and family gifts – it was 300 rupees, approximately five dollars. She finally gave in and we bought the cheapest option – this awful pink acoustic which had “Teacher’s Pet” written on it. I was ecstatic and when I came home I began to strum aggressively and ended up breaking 3 of the strings. That broken down guitar sat by the side of my bed for many years and I kept picking at it every now and then but it was not until I heard Al di Meola’s “Elegant Gypsy” that I was hooked. I am self-taught on the guitar. Over the years I’ve had musical mentors but they all played instruments other than guitar.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
NM: – I came to the US in 1995 to the New York area. I was twenty-two years old at the time and was very fortunate that I immediately began to play with local musicians. Some of them were a few decades older than me and world class musicians. They would give me a hard time because I was still struggling playing the instrument but never to the point where they stifled my creativity. I guess I’m very grateful that in their wisdom they gave me the space to find my own sound. Then a few years later I did this residency for about eighteen months in a small café, called Sweet Dreams in Madison, New Jersey. That place had a great scene and vibe. We would play for hours, unrehearsed and improvising and soon had a who’s who of top musicians come and sit in with us. Those sessions were instrumental in developing me as a musician and allowing me to define my voice. Even today there are only a handful of venues that I’m aware of in the New York area whose ownership is hands off allowing you to develop and mature a new sound with a group. There used to be Somethin’ Jazz in midtown Manhattan and currently we have Shrine and Silvana in Harlem and the ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
NM: – I practice with a looper. I currently use the RC-300 from Boss but have owned a number of them over the years. I lay down a percussive beat with the guitar, layer it with a harmonic progression and then perform the melodies and improvise over those looped tracks. This helps me to rhythmically groove while performing and is also a big part of my composing and arranging methodology.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?
NM: – From a harmonic perspective I’ve always gravitated towards an open sound. I favor suspended and diminished chords. I also love dissonance but you’re right it has to be used judiciously to elicit an emotion or feeling. In general though while composing I’m not consciously thinking about any music theory, it’s more a function of inspiration and me listening and feeling the music as it comes to me. All the theory and knowledge kicks in later while I work to transform that moment of inspiration into a finished work.
JBN.S: – How do you prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
NM: – I find that my best work is achieved when I’m centered, quiet and capable of listening. It’s a meditation for me and I approach it in the same manner distancing myself from the chaos and noise around me. That doesn’t necessarily mean that my physical surroundings have to be quiet and calm but more that I can retreat into a quiet place within my thoughts.
JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2018: <A Burgeoning Consciousness>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
NM: – I feel very fortunate that this project was able to attract and retain this remarkable group of musicians. The chemistry is palpable and thematically we are all in sync. We take risks throughout and are able to pull it off due to the high level of musicianship. We also had the right engineers lined up; guys who are committed to making music better and they both kept at it until we got it right. The ensemble has a great live sound and we needed to capture that in our recording. The album itself is comprised of six tracks that cover narratives of discovery, disillusionment, introspection, reconciliation, resurgence and revelation and together they give rise to the album title A Burgeoning Consciousness. These are all phases of a universal human experience. We live in a world that continues to divide us based on physical, social and spiritual boundaries and we need art to inspire us to be better. That’s what this album aspires to do and I love that.
As for my current projects I’m composing for my next album, which is a bit of a departure from my last two albums but still too early for me to predict how it’s going to finally take shape.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
NM: – For me, the intellect serves the soul. Music should ultimately make us feel and experience emotions. The intellect provides us with an informed path to go about achieving these results.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
NM: – I believe audiences want authenticity, whatever the artist’s style and narrative. The whole paradigm gets murky when artists try to mold themselves to be the flavor of the day. I’m focused on developing my own voice and style and what I offer is an honest and compelling expression of how I perceive the world...