Label curator DIRK SERRIES got interviewed by JAZZ BLUES NEWS on being an improviser and ‘guitarist’.
Jazz interview with jazz guitarist Dirk Serries. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Dirk Serries: – I grew up in Hoboken, a small town very close to Antwerpen (Belgium). As a young kid, I loved, and still do, movies and movie soundtracks. I listening to a lot of Ennio Morricone records back then. When one of those records skipped one day and got in a sort of lock groove, I got truly obsessed about it, it triggered my early fascination for repetition, loops and cycling structures. The beginning of all.
JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
DS: – This has been a process of years and I still think it isn’t finished yet, and luckily so as this is essential to the growth as an artist. But definitely my own style of working with minimalism and cycling structures in the first twenty years came to completion after hours of hard work in the studio, finding and controlling the techniques to work with, whether with synthesizers or the electric guitar. Naturally over the course of these two decades, interests, fascinations and inspirations expand and grow, and therefor the process of learning and exploring continues.
JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
DS: – Never have been found of rehearsals. I consider myself more as a sound explorer. Finding the right tone, sound and color for my instrument is way more essential to my ability as a performer than to learn playing techniques on the guitar. I mean the techniques come naturally by trial and error. But the sound is so vital for myself to feel comfortable with the guitar, knowing that I have a solid tone which is diverse and compatible with my own style of playing or where I want to go during the improvisation. Rhythm has actually never been a relevant part in my playing, don’t like the obvious tempo of rhythm so here the choice of whom you work with is vital to this. My favorite drummers are those who think in abstraction and work around the notion of being trapped in a full-on 4/4 or repetitive groove. Never say never but I don’t see myself being a rhythmic guitarist.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
DS: – I think it’s impossible not to be influenced by something or somebody, considering how rich and full our musical history is. The trick is not to copy but use that influence to your own benefit, to apply that admiration in order to create your own specific style and way of making and playing music. This is of course the hard way but definitely the most rewarding one.
JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
DS: – I used to have a strict regime when I was still working with structured and scored music, to the degree of being a perfectionist and control-freak. However, this ruined completely the pleasure of creating and performing. Discovering my own ability to improvise and avoid any kind of strict preparation, made me re-discover that enjoyment, the beauty of instant composing by improvisation. The thrill of creating together from scratch without having any rules or prepared structures is just a blessing and an experience that goes beyond any of my previous works, no matter how successful they were and still are.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
DS: – For me personally music comes from the heart, hardly any conceptual background or motivation. Of course, you do think about visualization, on how to present your musician and with whom you want to collaborate but never liked the idea of attaching my music to an intellectual concept. Always felt and still do that such context would only diminish the spontaneity.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
DS: – Here too I personally don’t think about it too much before, during and after concerts. For me the essence of playing live and collaborating on the spot with fellow musicians is the main priority, the goal and the thrill of the live creation. If audiences are willing to go along with us in this adventure, great and of course you do get a boost when you hear now and then an ecstatic shout from in the audience. But within the free improvisation, I feel, it’s about that live momentum, communicating and creating together and I can only hope people will follow us in this quest.
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
DS: – I don’t think I can. Of course, you’ve concerts where everything works but I firmly believe that every live concert or studio session is essential to whom you are and how this will reflect on what follows next. None of the concerts I’ve done I take for granted but enjoy every second of it.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
DS: – What surprises, even disappoints, me is that the younger generations hardly go on a search to discover music which might appeal to them. I feel also that music in general has devalued to a level where it’s just part of the fabric, a form of superficial entertainment. Naturally you do have genres which are solely for that purpose but we’re talking here about (free)jazz, classical music, avant-garde, etc. and therefor it really blows my mind that people just don’t have the interest/motivation anymore to go out and discover new things, like the time when you went to a record store to search for intriguing music. Also, it really shocks me when concerts these days are just moments where people come together to socialize and not to really experience the magic of music, hence all the irritating talking of people during. Luckily in the free impro scene audiences are very attentive, it seems that this movement still draws the right people and perhaps it’s the degree of difficulty that selects and invites.
JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
DS: – True. I do experience this the same way. Not religiously but music is part of my DNA, this is I live and breathe. I can’t think another way of how to live my life, to be honest. Naturally over the course of your life you do need to adjust here and there the degree on how far you led music take over, and sometimes you do need to take a step back as operating in the music business – no matter how independent or small the scene is, it’s a pretty hard and by moments very frustrating job. But the magic of music itself each time brings me back to where it pleasantly dominates my life. But honestly it’s sometimes quite Kane and Abel.
JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
DS: – That it would be less about money and more about integrity and the focus on the art itself. This way I firmly believe that way more interesting artists, musicians and bands will get a chance to introduce their music to the public. Now it’s all about the same usual suspects and what brings in the money.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
DS: – I always had an eclectic choice in music and still do, like to mix up the styles I listen to daily. But there’s never a day that passes by without listening to one or two favorite albums from my childhood. I grew up with post-punk and new wave. But also, classical music and jazz are permanent in my playlists.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
DS: – Let me be so free to quote writer Guy Peters: “Improvising musicians may or may not be overtly political but they subscribe to a set of values (not matter how ‘free’ the music sounds) and fundamental issues that somehow have become mutually exclusive with those of an economy that mainly serves itself. Mutual respect, unconditional trust, an open attitude, self-reliance, creation, invention, support and letting yourself be heard. These are the key ingredients of free music. At the same time these are the qualities that leaders who frown upon the arts, regard with suspicion, just like they do with every unruly voice.” Culled from his liner notes from ‘Obscure Fluctuations’ by John Dikeman, Steve Noble and myself for the TROST Records label. That says enough, me think.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan