I’m happy to share this interview with Jason Adams, an artist who is involved in a lot of great stuff in Los Angeles and shows no signs of slowing down. Currently, he keeps himself busy as a sound engineer, composer, one-half of uneasy techno duo, Chollas, and finally, the brains behind beloved monthly DTLA experimental music series, Late Breakfast. It would seem incredibly daunting were it not for Jason’s clearheaded approach to all of it.
When you have your hands in as many projects as Jason does, you really have to be intrepid and curious - intrepid with regard to making mistakes, and curious in order to look at how those mistakes might shift or create relationships between your efforts. As Jason notes, it can be hard to draw a linear trajectory through different creative experiences, but each of them is crucial to where you end up.
I asked Jason the same questions I ask everyone - I need to know what people are afraid of and how they deal with their hangovers! - but also touched on his experiences within both electronic and classical music realms. I’m grateful to be able to share my discussion with this creative powerhouse with you. Enjoy it, and visit the embedded links - the cello sketches are especially gorgeous.
KP: What can you share about your creative trajectory? How did you get to your current creative life and who/what are your biggest influences?
JA: I work as a sound engineer and composer, so I'm lucky that my job informs and is part of my creative life. Over the years I've worked in recording studios, television & film, radio, live venues, and a label & artist management company. Tracing a trajectory between all of those is a little daunting, but whether they felt like it at the time or not, each of those gigs and jobs was crucial to getting to where I am now.
Some positions helped me hone the skills that I use for my career and my creative pursuits, others taught me how to do ancillary work such as social media or promotion. Most importantly, every single one has connected me to incredible and talented people who I look to as influences (and close friends). But my biggest influence right now is minimalism - the more I pare things down, the better the end result. (...maybe I should try that with interviews, too?)
KP: Can you talk about time you were afraid to fail (with regard to creative efforts) and/or a time that you did? How did you bounce back?
JA: On one of my early gigs as a composer for a short film, the director gave me some artists as reference points that I considered to be...uninspired. So I ignored her guidelines and set off to do something completely different. I obsessed over it, worked all night for a few days in a row until I came up with something I thought was unique and great, and finished the whole score in that vein without checking in. And the director hated it. I had to redo every single cue in a third of the time I would have had otherwise. The upshot is I learned four huge lessons from a single project: don't get attached to your first ideas, give multiple options at once, check in frequently and early to see if you're going in the direction they want, and pay attention to what they're asking for. I applied these to my next score and finished it with a lot less stress, a lot more sleep, and a much happier director.
KP: What motivates you?
JA: I'm motivated by the desire to get better, to improve myself and the things I create. There will never be the perfect show, or perfect song, or perfect mix, but every time you do something is a chance to develop. Sometimes it seems like self-improvement is the only thing that's actually in our control.
KP: What terrifies you or inspires vulnerability?
JA: Seeing people's eyes while performing or listening to something I've made is so unnerving to me. I could play to a packed hall of silhouettes and be ok, but put me in a well-lit room with two people staring intently at me and I become a total wreck.
KP: How do you perceive and navigate the relationship between your classical work and that in electronic music?
JA: My classical background intersects my electronic music in weird ways, beyond the clear-cut comprehension of chord voicing and progression. It provides strong foundation for understanding how elements work with each other in a piece of music, wanting different synths or percussive elements to perform the sonic duties of, say, a violin section, or a brass section. I've used classical compositional structures for techno, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. (You can find a lot of similarities between sonata form and a typical techno floor track!)
But one of my favorite aspects of working with Philip Meyer on Chollas is that he has no formal musical training, and because of that, he's able to react very instinctually to the creative process. That takes him to very different places than I'd go by myself. If the two of us write basslines, for instance, I'm always gravitating towards something melodic, whereas he generally creates a one or two note pattern. Chollas is always a push and pull between our two styles, though I think Phil ends up being right more often that not.
It goes the other way, too - in my cello material and musical scores that I've written since delving into electronic music, I've tried to focus more on manipulating sparse elements instead of fixating on grand, sweeping melodies or intricate counterpoint. I think it's less forceful and shows appreciation for the way the brain works. Instead of "you're going to feel sad because I'm laying on the minor chords right now", it's "here's a few things that relate to each other - I've changed one of them slightly, how does that change their relationship? What if I now tweak this other element, what does that do?" I'm trying to let the listener and the performer provide their own interpretation and context in a way I never tried to before. It's been so much more rewarding for me.
KP: What is your favorite hangover cure?
JA: The shrimp cocktail from El Siete Mares on Sunset (seriously next level), a horchata, and several cups of coffee.
KP: What are your goals for the upcoming year?
JA: I'd like to release an EP for my experimental cello project, finish another Chollas EP, and have a big blowout show for the one-year anniversary of Late Breakfast.
Compiled in June 2017
Photo credit: Kurtis Gnagey
Follow Knife Play on Instagram at @its.knife.play