Nicky Schrire interviewed American vocalist / bandleader Becca Stevens, who starts a nine-date European tour at Pizza Express Dean Street on Weds October 22nd, and about her new album ‘Perfect Animal’ which is to be released next year:
LondonJazz News: Welcome back to London. What has BSB been up to since you last appeared at Pizza Express in March 2013 ?
Becca Stevens: We’ve been making a record! We started tracking in January of ’13 with producer Scott Solter, and I continued to work on the record with the band and alone for almost a year, taking breaks to tour and make a living. I was super hands on in the making of this one, which was a very informative, fascinating, strengthening experience. I did a lot of the editing myself in hotel rooms on the road, at home, on planes, and wherever I had a moment to myself. Once I finished the editing, mixing (with Matt Pence), and mastering (with Dave McNair), I did a long label search and ended up deciding to partner with Pledge Music to help fund releasing the album independently. I’ve really enjoyed the process of sharing photos, videos, and stories from the recording adventure with Pledgers, as well as recordings I made at home of all the songs that no one else has ever heard. The campaign is still open if you want to get access to that stuff.
LJN: You appear to enjoy collaborations and working as sideman. Where has that taken you recently?
BS: That’s right! I really enjoy collaborations. It keeps me balanced. Lately I’ve been performing a lot with Billy Childs, who just released a record through Sony Masterworks of his “re-imaginations” of Laura Nyro’s music, produced by Larry Klein. The record is teaming with unbelievably talented musicians. I’ve also premiered a work by/ performed with/been collaborating with classical pianist/composer Timo Andres, and wrote songs for both José James’ and Ambrose Akinmusire’s new records (both on Blue Note). I’ve recently collaborated and performed with Gerald Clayton, Dave Douglas, John Ellis, and others, and recorded with Aya Nishina, Dayna Stephens, New West Guitar Group, Gideon Van Gelder, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Levin Deger, Guilhem Flouzat, Thomas Bergeron, and Tillery (a band I’m in with Rebecca Martin and Gretchen Parlato) among others.
LJN: Journalists tend to ask you about the challenge of categorization and your viewpoint on being included or excluded as a “jazz” artist. Have your recent collaborations with people more clearly rooted in the jazz world changed your perceptions about genres?
BS: I wouldn’t say that it changes my view per se. I cherish my jazz roots and experience, and the opportunities that has brought into my career. I don’t mind that much when people (journalists, fans, friends, family, whoever) categorize me in a way that I don’t agree with. More than anything it’s just interesting. Different people taste different things in food, especially when it’s made of a lot of different ingredients. I do believe though that the new record with my band, Perfect Animal has moved even farther from being able to just be categorized as “jazz”, and to me exists comfortably without being categorized as any one specific existing genre.
LJN: It’s been three years since you released your sophomore album ‘Weightless’ (Sunnyside, 2011). How has your writing and arranging changed since then?
BS: I’m more focused as a composer now, and I hope to always be honing that focus throughout my career. When I was writing the music for Perfect Animal, I really pushed myself to craft a set of songs that stood alone, but complemented one another, and to create a balanced work of art. There were sparks of inspiration/realization that would start a song or move it along, but I wouldn’t say that the writing for this record was easy. A lot of songs on Perfect Animal I labored over for months, or even years.
LJN: You met your BSB “brothers” Liam Robinson, Christopher Tordini and Jordan Perlson ten years ago, mostly while studying together at the New School in New York. Did you know then that this band would have such longevity?
BS: I met Chris and Liam at the New School, but Jordan we met and joined forces with a few years later. When I was putting together the first version of the band back in 2005, I chose to hire people who were open minded, committed, and versatile. I chose some of my favorite players and people who were at the New School at that time, but more importantly I chose people who were open to collaborating and rehearsing to develop something special. Liam and Chris were in that first version of the band.The fact that they’re still committed to my music after all these years, and Jordan too, is something I thank my lucky stars for every day.
Becca Stevens Band performs at Pizza Express, Dean Street, on Wednesday 22nd October.
LINKS: Becca Stevens Website