23 September 2008

Backlog Post 1: Interview with Jason Blake of Aziola Cry

(Recently published on Progscape.com, from August 2008)

Bill Knispel: In a nutshell, how did you get your start as a musician?

Jason Blake: I began with piano lessons when I was a kid and played up to high school when I began messing around with the guitar and eventually bass. My studies continued through college concentrating on the upright bass while I was playing the electric bass in bands. Eventually, I began getting interested in the electric bass as a solo instrument and learned of the Chapman Stick. About ten years ago I bought my first Stick and decided to devote my playing to this touchstyle technique. This leads me to today where I am now playing a Warr Guitar which is, in my opinion, the ultimate instrument for me and my playing.

BK: Can you tell us a little bit about how Aziola Cry came together?

JB: I had written some material that didn't fit right with the band that I was playing with at the time and decided to form a new band to play these songs. Mike joined after answering an ad that I placed in a local paper. Tim, the original drummer was a longtime friend of mine, but he was living in the Detroit area. He joined with the thought that when we found someone local, he would step down. We found Tom who joined us last summer. When the current lineup played music for the first time together, I realized that this was the sound this band was supposed to have.

BK: What would you say are the biggest influences on the band's sound/style?

JB: Musically speaking, I’d say that my writing has been most influenced by the bands that I have played in leading up to Aziola Cry. This band is the culmination of playing with a lot of different people and writing music for each of the bands over the years and taking the best of what I liked from each of them. I have always been infatuated with the darker elements in life so the music takes on that feel. It also can be found in the artwork, titles and overall style of the band.

BK: How do you/the band feel about being 'labeled' a progressive rock group? Do you feel it limits you in any way?

JB: Although I don’t necessarily believe in labels, I listen to a lot of progressive music so being thought of as progressive rock doesn't bother me at all.

BK: Was there any preconceived 'design ethos' for the band's music? That is, was the band formed to give voice to the music, or is the material a synthesis of the individual contributions of each musician organically?

JB: I’d say that it is a little bit of both. I create an initial storyline for the music to follow, like a movie or book synapsis. From there I create the “chapters” of the story which are the song titles and then begin writing music to match the feel of the titles. Once I have written all the music, I hand scratch tracks over to the guys and they create their parts over the top of everything. So, while it starts with the band giving voice to the music, it ends with the individual contributions really shaping the final product.

BK: Aziola Cry is an instrumental group; was this always the intent?

JB: That was the intent from its origins. I have always been inspired by instrumental music whether it be classical, jazz or rock. I wanted to create an instrumental version of the music that I most enjoy. I also wanted to restrict ourselves to a trio because I like the challenge that it presents.

BK: What do you feel each of these musicians has contributed to the band's sound?

JB: Mike: Mike has been playing with me since the beginning of this band. While I may write the material, his guitar parts are just as much a part of the fabric of the music as my Stick/Warr Guitar lines. We have an understood silent communication as to what to play that makes him a great guitarist to work with.

Tim: Tim was instrumental in getting us to the point that we are at now. Tim and I have and will always be friends first and if we can play some music together that is just icing on the cake. He was always intended to be somewhat of a stopgap to get us to where we needed to go. His living three states away was always an issue but we made it work as long as we could. Once we found Tom, we knew that it was time to part ways.

Tom: Like Mike, Tom is the ideal member for this band. His drumming has improved the music and this band tenfold. I honestly believe that I have found this hidden gem of a drummer that nobody knows about but absolutely should. He makes his Aziola Cry recording debut with the new album.

Myself: I guess while this band would not be anything without Mike or Tom, I still to a certain degree consider it my little baby. I painstakingly work on all the behind the scenes stuff for the band while also writing the music.

BK: Was there something about the Stick and now Warr Guitar that influenced/drove you to take it on as your instrument of choice?

JB: It was just a weird attraction to the instrument that drove me to it. I just love the endless possibilities and challenges that it presents. When I began playing Stick it was to add a new color to my bass playing but I found that if I were to really play well on the instrument, I had to devote myself to it. Once I made that decision, I haven’t looked back. I have become even more excited about this style of playing since beginning with the Warr Guitar as it lends itself even more to my playing.

BK: Aziola Cry's two releases exude a dark mood from the packaging in to the music. This moodiness is continued on your website. Is this consistency of vision important for the band in maintaining mood and direction?

JB: It is important to me to maintain an overall consistency with this band and music. It stemmed from teaming up with a great Chicago artist by the name of Micka Klauck. When I saw her artwork, I was blown away and saw in her paintings what I was trying to say in my music. She has done three albums for us and all of the artwork seen at our live shows. We are also working on staging a bigger production of her art and our music for sometime in the future. It just made sense to keep that consistency everywhere including the website.

BK: What can you tell me about the new album that is in the works? How might this material differ from past releases?

JB: Every album is a progression from where the last one left off. It is defiantly our heaviest and most complicated album. I also think that it features my best song writing to date.

BK: Are there any plans for touring the material?

JB: Yes, we plan on touring behind this CD more than we have in the past. I believe that the album will be released first thing next year and at that point we will begin touring.

BK: What's next for the band?

JB: The plan is to tour behind this album a lot more than we have for past albums. First of all, with Tom we really make a statement live. I'd like to play as much as possible and show people what a great live band we are. Second, in the past we have gone into the studio too soon after the release of our last CD and thus cut the live cycle of the album. I'd like to play this new CD out as much as possible before returning to the studio.

BK: As a musician, what is your take on the shift toward digital distribution of product?

JB: To be honest, I dislike it but feel as though I must live with it. It is not how I purchase music. I still enjoy buying an actual hard copy of music because I like to read the linear notes and look at the artwork. Plus, Aziola Cry music is intended to be listened to as a whole so it bothers me that it may not be listened to in that way. It kind of takes away from the musical story if just one song is purchased digitally. Having said all that, I sell a lot of digital downloads of this music so I am in no way able to truly criticize it as that would be biting the hand that feeds me.

BK: Following on from that...have you seen any issues with people illegally downloading your material? What is your take on things like Limewire/P2P file sharing networks/ETC.?

JB: I've noticed our CDs showing up on sites that I did not authorize to sell our music and it bothers me to a degree, but I guess that until I'm making huge money from this music, anybody that wants to listen to us either legally or illegally is a good thing. Right now, I'm just trying to get our music in the ears of as many people as possible so that we can take things to a new level both in popularity and sales.

BK: What are you listening to these days?

JB: I think that the new Opeth CD, "Watershed" is absolutely brilliant. I also haven’t stopped listening to the new Kronos Quartet CD, “The Cusp of Magic”, and “Colors” by Between The Buried And Me.

BK: Do you have any final words for our readers?

JB: Please look out for our new CD in the upcoming months. Also, I have a couple new projects in the works that should be really cool including a collaboration with prog guitarist, Joe Kopecky. We have been writing some really great music together and plan on recording it sometime in the near future. Updates on everything can be found at either aziolacry.com or at jasonblakemusic.com. Thanks!

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