If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear Colin Cannon’s new album, Intermission (Farewell), was made with jazz and the everyday listener in mind. Actually, the multi-instrumentalist and composer made the three-part, March 1 record for himself and his inner circle of family and friends as the beneficiaries. Any residual benefit is purely extra.
Uncompromising, perhaps even obsessive in the details that went into his split-lens focus, Cannon manages to pull off an enjoyable listening experience that is unlike any other out there, while still maintaining a kind of solidarity unto himself. Call it jazz-fusion, classically-influenced jazz, or an impressionist piece for the 21st century, digital wanderer, Cannon’s Intermission is ultimately up for grabs for anyone interested in going the path less chosen — away from the easy pop and the snap judgments.
Berklee-trained and originally from Rochester, N.Y., Colin Cannon gave a no holds barred interview exclusive to AXS earlier today about the “heavily composed music” in his new album, the over 20 friends he played with, and not catering to the audience.
AXS: Your new album, Intermission, is mind-blowing in its originality and label-defying sound. Where did you get the inspiration from? It actually sounds like the music has been brewing in your subconscious since childhood.
Colin Cannon: Thank you... Some of it definitely had been brewing for a long time, but a lot of it was new too. In all, it was a lot of scattered ideas that I pieced together. Inspiration comes from so many different places though; I have a foundation in jazz, rock, and fusion, and I could go on about those influences — but none of them were a direct influence on this album. For this album, I had been interested in a lot of heavily composed music, including but not limited to contemporary classical music. I also consider film and literature to be almost as much of an influence as music. In particular for this album, I was obsessed with non-narrative films like “Baraka” and “Koyaanisqatsi,” as well as big hits like “Birdman”; and books like “Slaughterhouse Five” and “Breakfast For Champions” — anything that challenges or alters the way I think… But more than anything, real life situations are always the biggest influence.
AXS: The music reflects such a reality for the listener, it’s easy to become vulnerable, even cry a little when the third act, “P.S.,” comes on. Can you elaborate on what the compositions are about, beyond generalities?
CC: Music for me is not necessarily about any one thing, it’s often about a few things all at once, or it could just be conveying a feeling with no subject. I’m always hesitant to go into detail about what the compositions mean to me, because it would alter what they mean to you… It’s not story telling in any narrative sense, so it’s my hope that it becomes a different story, a different movie, for each listener. And in that sense, whatever it’s about for you is what it’s about, and whatever it’s about for the writer is irrelevant.
I will say a little though — there was an effort to make the songs more authentic to life as I experience it; which is to say that they don’t traditionally resolve, they aren’t cyclical and they are often disorienting and changing quickly. While the “P.S. Recollections” section is not much of a disorienting one, it still has many stories inside it. It’s literally recalling a number of musical themes from earlier in the album and from my previous two albums. But there’s certainly also a theme of things coming to an end in general. Wrapped up in this album, there are two breakups, a hospitalization, six funerals, and a goodbye to my home among many other goodbyes. For me, “P.S. Recollections” is an acceptance of the unresolved nature of life, death, and rebirth; it’s one last look back.
AXS: “Intermission” contains that 1950s movie snack ad everybody saw before the main attraction in the theater. So cool the way you seamlessly entered into your own movie soundtrack from the highs of the notes there. How did this piece come about, and was it meant to tie the post-war generation together with the Millennials?
CC: Almost all of the audio samples are from the 1950s era; I wanted to give the album a feeling of being hunted from a different era, in particular from a pre-psychedelic era. “Let’s All Go To The Lobby” does this while also serving as an actual intermission, and also poking fun at how theatrical or cinematic the album is. But the main idea actually came up during the mixing of my second album Glenville, in which there was 10 seconds of silence to split the first half from the second half of the album. I had joked about filling that silence with the recording of an actual movie theatre’s intermission. But I decided not to do it at the time. I told the engineer, “Maybe one day when I stop taking myself so seriously.”
AXS: What were you hoping to achieve with the making of Intermission, in terms of musical development and an introduction to listeners who are unfamiliar with you as an artist, beyond the inside story of band changes?
CC: I wasn’t trying to achieve anything in terms of an introduction to unfamiliar listeners. In fact, a big theme of the album for me is dismissing the “average listener” as a subject altogether. I literally cut them out of the cover... To be blunt, I have very little respect for the average listener’s musical depth, and I have no interest in writing with them in mind anymore. The “Intermission listener” in my mind was and will always be my friends and family.
But I had a lot of intentions in terms of musical development; I wanted to make something that would be an obvious crossroads in my music, something to divorce my old ideas from my new ideas. And to be honest, part of me wanted to make something that was so good that I wouldn’t feel the need to do these huge projects anymore — making new music is the most meaningful thing in life for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s always fun for me, it’s hard, it’s exhausting, and sometimes I would die to be free of it, I would die to just hear silence.
AXS: There’s a tendency for multi-instrumentalists, and formally educated musicians, to go a little overboard with what they know. Yet, on this record, you both personalize and universalize the tracks. Familiar, comforting sounds come from everywhere to pinpoint a sense of individuality unique only to you. What kind of an artist do you see yourself as, and how did this new record connect the dots for you between your projection and reality?
CC: As a guitarist, I see myself as an improviser above anything else, picking up the guitar is more of a form of daydreaming for me. On the other hand though, as a guitarist, I definitely come from the “jazz school” and have a very technical background. But as a composer, I don’t see myself as having any particular approach, any particular style or belonging to any particular school. I don’t even see that side of myself as being limited to just music; and making Intermission helped me realize that.
AXS: You have over 20 musicians with you on this Intermission. What did they do to help make this experience real and enliven the songs? Strings and horns, in addition to a basic rhythm section, seem like an awful lot of firepower — but again — you use your pieces well.
CC: I would definitely say Dave Carkner (trumpet) really interpreted the charts beautifully. But for the most part, while the strings, brass, vocals, and vibraphone provided their own tones unique to themselves, their parts were written and not up for much interpretation. However, Manami Morita, Zak Croxall, and Thomas Hartman have always been major creative contributors, and they are always co-arrangers to some degree or another. When I bring the ideas into a rehearsal, what comes out is never exactly the same, sometimes it’s completely different. I said in another interview recently, I believe those guys are some of the greatest musicians of my generation and I’m damned lucky to play with them. Rozhan Razman (mixing engineer) was also a creative contributor; he knew how to get what I wanted even when I didn’t know it yet.
AXS: One of the best parts of your new album was reading your liner notes, especially that insightful intro, where you go on about “real life characters… goofy, f*cked up oddities of human beings,” then throw in “I don't particularly care,” as extra insurance for the armchair critics expecting something more linear. Quite mysteriouso and out of the norm of the polite society the music industry’s become. It’s quite refreshing. How much thought went into the liner notes and the overall packaging to match the tremendous music inside?
CC: A lot… The liner notes, the artwork etc. was a big project, a sub-project all of its own. Granted, I get obsessive with these things, but it was a long project. I designed it myself in collaboration with two visual artists, Natasha Jacobs and Elizabeth Petronio. It was the first time I had gotten so intensely involved with a non-musical art, and I actually butted heads with both artists, because I didn't want to compromise certain ideas, and in the end I never did. One of those head butts is still sore… I must have rewritten the liner notes a hundred times; I actually still rewrite them in my head from time to time. It's hard to articulate things in words, especially when you're trying to say, well, that you don't have much to say — I guess that's why I stick with music.
AXS: How have you found the music industry in general as an indie type artist without any specific style to limit you? Seems there’s a lot of us vs. them going on in the machinery generating brands rather than art.
CC: It’s hard working with jazz clubs when you’re too rocky; it’s hard working with rock clubs when you’re too jazzy, it’s hard getting reviews from classical outlets when you’re too jazzy and rocky. And of course, it’s hard getting mainstream recognition when you’re not boring… The industry, if it can still be called that, is in such a weird place… Genres are fusing more and more; meanwhile, the industry’s desire to categorize everything is as strong as ever. A lot of music goes undiscovered due to this. But I would stress that while the business itself might be dying, the music is not. When I hear someone start the “oh the music nowadays” routine, I really have to bite my tongue… Granted, there is a lot of shit out there, but there’s also an abundance of interesting and groundbreaking music, maybe more now than at any other time in history. But the sad thing is, most people don’t know anything beyond popular music, they don’t realize that there’s so much more… Regardless of who’s listening though, authentic music is live and well.
AXS: What are you doing to promote Intermission?
CC: It was released under Two for the Show Media, and they take care of most of the promotion. Besides that, there was one live performance at the Blue Note in New York City, but the large-scale aspect of the music makes it unaffordable to tour with at this time.
AXS: How has the reception to this new record been so far, from critics and from the people in the audience?
CC: The vast majority has been positive — critics have been good to it. They always make these completely false assumptions about my influences, but it’s just funny for me, it’s not a problem. And people seem to like it.