These are busy and successful times for EMPIRICAL – Nathaniel Facey, Lewis Wright, Tom Farmer and Shaney Forbes. They have just done a successful pop-up jazz lounge at Old Street underground station – the video above tells the story. They won Best Ensemble at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards. Sebastian asked bassist Tom Farmer to explain more:
LondonJazz News: Tom congratulations on the award – it looks like you have had a great year – does it feel that way in the band?
Tom Farmer: Thank you, it’s always good to have the music recognised by official institutions! Over the years I’ve grown a bit cynical toward awards and competition in music, but if it helps Jazz reach a wider audience then great.
That’s been the focus of the past year for Empirical. We have a bit of a mission to reach and develop our audience. We’ve found that the model of album release and UK tour is becoming saturated, spreading the potential audience quite thinly amongst many competing artists and musicians. So this year we’ve tried to start some projects that move outside of the usual routines – much like our musical endeavours!
LJN: What have been the highlights?
TF: For me the highlight has been creating a bit of a ‘team Empirical’, and developing relationships in the wider scene. There’s a sense of achievement in coming up with an artistic idea, and working with talented people to make it happen. In particular we’ve been working with an old friend of the band, and between her and me, and the band, we are self-managing and self-producing everything, including the Pop-up Idea. We’ve got a new US record label involved – Cuneiform, which is cool, a very different way of working than we are used to – much more artist driven, which suits our goals.
LJN: How did the pop up idea get going?
TF: In Febuary 2015 we did 6 nights at Foyle’s Bookshop in the marvellous auditorium they have now. We wanted to connect with our audience in a profound way and use the experience to create our 5th studio album, Connection, which we recorded the week after. The experience was great – in terms of the music developing, the audience engagement and making long lasting relationships. So we thought, let’s do it again…except bigger, better and more ambitious!
Our reasoning was on two levels. Artistically the repeat performances develop the music – much in the way that our heroes would have had multiple sets a night in the 60’s. An also a focus on audience building that doesn’t rely on clubs and festivals.
Our friend Claudia, who has been a long supporter of the band, offered to help us put our idea into a strategy, which eventually involved applying to the Art’s Council (our first time), and finding an amazing space. After the ACE said yes, we realised we actually had to deliver the project! So two months of hard work ensued, involving shop fitting and countless meetings with potential partners…not to mention shedding with the band and getting the music together.
LJN: What was the biggest surprise greatest joy of doing the popup?
TF: We knew the music would be on fire by the end – we played 18 sets in a week – but the best part was engaging with people who had never heard us, or in some cases had never heard jazz music! It was hugely encouraging to see people connecting with this music who had never do so before- proof the concept works and that there is an bigger audience out there.
LJN: Tom you are also busy with other projects what are the main ones / anything big coming up?
– One of the great things about being a bass player is you it allows one to be various! This year I’ve been playing with Anoushka Shankar, touring to promote her new album. She wanted an improvising bass player who could also piano and Launchpad so it’s a very different challenge for me.
– I’m also involved with Joe Stilgoe’s new show Song’s on Film the Sequel, which involves a lot of singing and acting! It’s great fun, heading to Australia next month and Edinburgh in August!
– I’ve been working with a great singer, Atila, and have produced his recent album – a tribute to the Nat King Cole Trio called ‘King for a Day’ – check him out, he’s been around a while and I consider him to be one of the best old school jazz singers we have.
– The Big Screen Trio are recording again – that’s with Dave Newton and Matt Skelton, playing some of my arrangements in a new self-produced album coming out on Linn (we hope!).
– And also continuing my work in other people’s projects – I’ve been touring with Sarah McKenzie – a singer pianist from Australia, Rick Simpson has a new album coming out ‘Klammer’, I’m playing with Marco Marconi, Ant Law and all my favourite cats!
LJN: What plans does Empirical have now e.g. new pop up lounges?
TF: The short answer is we are exploring more funding opportunities! We will hopefully have some concrete plans and big announcements shortly, including a project to celebrate 10 years of the band (I KNOW!!!) in 2017, another pop-up in London and also starting to develop them around the UK – Brighton is looking likely, and a collaborative curation project with Kings Place! Watch this space.
LINK: Empirical website