Ben Monder: Setting New Standards

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This past week the Purple Cabbage we had a chance to catch up with New York guitarist Ben Monder, who will be playing at The Rex on Monday, June 27 at 9:30 for the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. We had a chance to speak about his previous experiences playing in Canada, as well as his upcoming record.


Purple Cabbage: You’ll be playing with Kieran Overs and Barry Romberg for the festival, have you played with them before?

Ben Monder: No I’ve never met Barry before. Kieran I’ve played with, but not too much – maybe just once actually.

PC: How did you come across them?

BM: If I remember correctly, we played with this drummer in Edmonton, he got us a quartet gig at the Yardbird Suite. I’m pretty sure that’s the only place I ever played with Kieran. And he came over for a guitar lesson recently because he’s also a guitarist.

PC: Having to play with unfamiliar players, is that something you’ve had to do a lot of in the past, when you’re playing your own music?

BM: Well I generally try not to play too much of my own music with people that I don’t know, especially if there is not much rehearsal time, because it’s just not realistic to try to get it, you know what I mean? So when I play with people I don’t know so well, or at all, I try to generally play standards or just really easy stuff. And it is something that I’ve had to do quite a bit, because sometimes somebody will book you at a festival, or a club in New York, but they won’t have the budget to take your whole band, so you’d have to find some local players to play with, so it’s always hit and miss. So I try not to do too much. But that’s not really the case with these guys, because Kieran and I know each other, and Barry has a great reputation.

PC: You have a very unique playing style, definitely unlike anyone else in Toronto. Is there anything in particular you look for or expect from players you play with – stylistically perhaps?

BM: Well stylistically maybe not so much, but, you know, I hope that people have good time, and you know, don’t try to follow me too much if I go off on some kind of, you know, rhythmic path – that could wind up being a disaster but I don’t know. Really, the basic qualities that make a good musician I think, just good sound and good time.

PC: So you’ll be playing standards then, mostly, for the festival?

BM: Yeah, but also incorporating some pop tunes into my repertoire. Not current pop tunes, but older ones that I like, and that seem to have forms that are fun to play on. A lot of Jimmy Webb and you know, various other things like that.

PC: Is incorporating pop tunes into your set something you were inspired to do from other players or was that something that came from you?

BM: My idea (laughs).

PC: It seems that that has become a lot more common now. I had a chance to speak with Vijay Yier recently and he’s been recording pop tunes on his records.

BM: Yeah, he stole that from me (laughs). No, I’m just kidding.

PC: So have you had a chance to play in Toronto a whole lot?

BM: Yeah, quite a bit I think at this point. I’ve played the Rex a whole bunch. A couple of times with Andre White’s band – we did this one record release there — and then one other gig with Kirk MacDonald and Neil Swainson. And then I brought my quartet up there about eight or nine years ago, but yeah, a bunch of times.

PC: How do you find Canadian players in comparison to guys in New York?

BM: Far inferior (laughs). No, I mean I haven’t – well Kirk [MacDonald] is you know, fantastic, and that band, but I haven’t played with that many Toronto musicians. Andre [White]’s band was great and Andre is really one of my favourite drummers — he’s from Montreal, but – umm, yeah Neil and Kirk are fantastic too. I think in general in terms of getting up there it’s been mostly with people I know from here, you know, Donnie McCaslin, he did a couple of nights there. So I can’t really say I’m that familiar with the Toronto scene.

PC: So when’s your next record as a leader coming out?

BM: Oh, funny you should ask because I just went into a studio yesterday for the first time to start the process of doing another record. It’s Ted Pour on drums, Skuli Sverrisson on bass, and Theo Bleckmann on voice, so basically the same band from the Oceana record, but just one bass player. I’m expecting it to be kind of a long process because we’re going about it real slowly and kind of concentrating on one song at a time. So we did just one tune yesterday which pretty much took all day (laughs) and probably another one in about a month and a half. We still haven’t finished writing everything yet.

PC: Is the music going to be along the same lines of Oceana?

BM: Pretty much. Over-written, through-composed stuff with not too much soloing.

PC: Was there a lot of material that came out of working with that group? I mean, you guys playing together, did ideas come out of that, or was it more-so your brainchild?

BM: No, it was pretty much what I wrote. I mean, I wrote a bunch of stuff and put it in front of them, and they sort of executed it. There wasn’t really a whole lot of group experimentation that resulted in that sound.

PC: Were you writing for that group in particular?

BM: No, not really, but I would write and then I would think who would be the best people to realize this. So it’s kind of the same thing, just the other way around.

PC: Do you have a release date for that record in mind yet?

BM: No idea. My goal is to have it finished by the end of this year, and so, ideally it would be coming out early 2012.

PC: Do you foresee some touring for that?

BM: No sure. Playing some of this stuff live, I don’t know how realistic that is because there’s like overdubbed voices and you know — I think without all the parts it would lose something. There are three voices at once at times, so I’m not going to hire three singers to go on tour with me. And then there’s two guitar parts. You know, ideally I’d like to. I really haven’t toured with an original band in a long time, so it would be nice to do that but I’d have to make some adjustments.


For sound samples and lots of other great things visit Ben Monder’s website at www.benmonder.com
Visit the TD Toronto Jazz Festival website for more information about Jazz Festival shows.

The Purple Cabbage
June 2011

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About The Purple Cabbage

A Toronto Jazz and creative music blog featuring interviews, new releases, culture, shows, and all things Toronto Jazz.
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