Most musicians turn to crowd-funding in hopes of not only making a record, but following it up with a tour. For New York saxophonist Thomas Hutchings and Boise, ID keyboardist Camden Hughes, making Introspective was all about the music.
They got a bunch of musicians together, collaborated on nine solid tracks in the electronic/jazz/funk genres — with some considerably creative sampling and pop references — and went to town.
It’s the first record for multi-genre artist, composer, and educator Hughes, who reached a lot of fans for the Introspective crowd-funding project through his Learn Jazz Standards website, an educational resource for millions.
Hughes — on piano, Rhodes, and Wurlitzer — had no better musical partner than the ever-inquisitive, ever-experimental jazz fusion artist known around town in the Big Apple for his inventive mix of jazz, funk, and lots of contemporary perspective.
Hutchings, whose mixes have found a place in the cultural current (“Keeping Up With The Kardashians,” Gavin DeGraw, Linda Chorney’s Grammy-nominated Emotional Jukebox), consistently knows how to nestle his jazz in the pocket with unexpected nuances from outside forces, including the literal street scene of New York City on a Friday night.
IntroSpective manages to sound vintage and raw, smooth and live, at the same time, effortlessly enjoyable for both jazz and non-jazz (pop) fans. After spending only a short time on Pledge Music, the album received the necessary funding for promotion and marketing on a downsized but successful preorder campaign.
AXS learned more from co-producer Thomas Hutchings, and why a little thing like a broken hand couldn’t stop him from completing IntroSpective.
AXS: Your new album is titled IntroSpective. What inspired the title?
Thomas Hutchings: Camden Hughes and I actually spent about 10-15 minutes looking at all the song titles and Introspective seemed to be the most fitting for our first collaboration.
AXS: What were you going for with this new album, how would you describe the sound?
TH: I'd say it's very raw sounding, and based on the way we recorded it, it couldn't have turned out any more raw, with elements of jazz, blues, and funk, influenced sonically by 70's CTI 8000 series recordings. We recorded the album in two guerrilla-style sessions at Audio Lab in Boise, ID, where we went in after one rehearsal and just had laid down as much of the high-quality performance and recording that we could. All the real magic happened in post-production once renowned producer Frank Wolf got his hands on the audio files, and we started to really dig into the tracks and find the essence of music.
AXS: How would you describe your own signature style?
TH: I tend to write very angular melodies. That's just what I hear in my head. I love electronic music, so I tend to write music that is inspired by that. I just happen to play the saxophone, so it tends to be included in the jazz genre. But I'm just using saxophone as a tool to express what's in my head, because it's the instrument that I chose as an 11-year-old kid, not realizing that it would become an extension of my voice for the rest of my life.
AXS: You and keyboardist Camden Hughes are credited with writing and arranging the nine songs — are they all original pieces, any covers?
TH: We did a couple of cover ballads. “Blackbird” was chosen because it's just a beautiful, meaningful song to so many people. When the album came out, a good friend of mine told me that our version of “Blackbird” made her cry, which is a really deep compliment.
AXS: What went into the selection and the inspiration?
TH: I wanted to record a live version of my tunes “No. 49 With Black Beans” and “WIMPzilla,” which are usually more electronic-based. Camden had some music that he wanted to release for his first album and we took these really rough charts that Camden created in the studio and sort of workshopped it in the studio to keep the arrangements interesting. I think having Camden's vague charts in the sessions actually helped the recording process, because everyone was more on their toes.
AXS: How long did it take for you to get from conceiving IntroSpective to the finished product? Any particular person, place, or event inspire this album?
TH: It took about two years. I met Camden at a jam session in Boise, ID while I was there visiting my family and he mentioned wanting to record an album. I said sure why not, because I was impressed that Camden knew the song, “My One And Only Love.” I don't meet many piano players that know this song for some reason. We spoke about it a few weeks later and began song selection and working on arrangements. The first session was on February 8, 2014, and we planned the second session for July 22, 2014.
AXS: What songs do you think really make you stand out as an artist, in terms of accomplishing a whole new sound with a captivating vibe?
TH: I really like how “Blackbird” turned out. It really captures something special in the moment. I also really like how the arrangement of “WIMPzilla 2015” turned out. It's such a technically challenging melody and I think we kind of expressed a piece of the song’s true cosmic essence.
AXS: You use samples from pop culture in your songs. How do you decide what goes where?
TH: It mostly happens on its own. For Camden's song, “Groove City,” I actually stood on the corner of 14th and 8th Ave. in Manhattan with a digital recorder and layered the sounds of typical Friday night street sounds beneath the music track to give the vibe that we recorded it with the window open to a busy urban New York City street scene. Whenever I'm using found sounds or sampling, I make sure it's something I recorded myself with the current energy of the moment. Sometimes that includes pop elements because they are so pervasive in society.
AXS: Like many indie artists, you’ve turned to crowd-funding to finish the album. How do you feel about going this route?
TH: I wasn't sure it would work out because it was very CD-focused and people generally don't buy CDs anymore, but we managed to reach our goal by lowering our expectations and released the album on August 8th, 2015. So I'm glad we did it, because with independent music, every little ounce of help you get from fans and people that just want to help support creative projects is immensely important. I'm going to do it every time now, because there is really nothing to lose and you get a sense of what your fans are interested in and connect with them in a way that's more personal.
AXS: Were you at all scared that no one would contribute? It really is putting yourself out there.
TH: I was concerned mostly because I don't have a conventional e-mail list, so I had to mostly message people on Facebook, which is pretty much how we reached our goal.
Camden runs a website called learnjazzstandards.com, so he had no problem getting contributors from all over the world. We actually mailed out all the CDs to folks just a few weeks ago and everyone that ordered has them now.
AXS: What did you feel when people did contribute, and you were able to reach your funding goal?
TH: Yes, we reached our goal, but had to lower our expectations. After this experience, I honestly don't think that people that hear really great, well-produced music fully understand or appreciate how much time or effort goes into it. So when you're asking someone to contribute 10-15 dollars to you for music they will later buy for 99 cents or stream whenever they want for free, it's hard for them to correlate buying something that doesn't exist yet unless they really support you as an individual artist.
In all honesty, it's only the people that have seen your career grow and develop with the financial means and appreciation that are going to contribute initially. For example, there are people that I reached out for support on this project that I've known for decades that didn't invest in the album initially, but bought it after it was released.
AXS: What do you hope to get out of this new album?
TH: I think we documented some really beautiful versions of the songs we recorded, and that's all I can ask. It will take on a life of its own now that it's out in the universe. I never expect much out of the finished album other than the personal growth and experience of creating it. That's not to say that I don't want each album to be successful. They are successful in that they are catalysts for new musical and personal growth. One exciting bit of news is that I was able to sign a digital distribution deal with the Orchard with this album, which wasn't the intention of the album, but is an example of how these projects take on a life of their own once completed.
AXS: Why should people buy this record?
TH: If you like instrumental contemporary jazz or listen to any modern funky jazz music, this album has some of that fun music with a raw energy that's missing from a lot of today's music. We went for a vintage, in-your-face sound and I think we accomplished that.
AXS: What about promotion?
TH: I've been doing what promotion I can through social media. As a jazz album, the market is limited to people that like instrumental jazz music.
AXS: Are you touring in support of this album?
TH: No. It's not logistically possible to tour without some kind of sponsorship these days and we don't have any. Also, the band that was specifically for this recording wasn't a performing group before the recording was made. We got together just to record this music. Touring was never the intention of this album.
AXS: Is IntroSpective already available for purchase?
TH: Yes. It's available on iTunes, CDBABY, and Amazon.
AXS: Finally, you broke your hand between sessions?
TH: Yes. That sucked.
AXS: What happened?
TH: I broke my right hand in early May 2014 (two months before the second recording session) while moving some furniture in my apartment, which required surgery to repair.
I was moving a shelf in my apartment and it fell on my right hand. I didn't know it was actually broken and played on it for a few weeks with sharp pain, thinking it would go away.
Special thanks to Dr. Mark Pruzansky, his assistant Eunice Corona, and my amazing hand therapist, Michele Pasqualetto! Miraculously I was able to record the sax for the second session and mostly healed finishing up hand therapy after having these three huge pins in my hand and unable to practice for almost two months.
AXS: Will this affect the release and promotion of your new album, ha ha?
TH: It has had no effect on the album release and it's part of the interesting story of the album forever. How many people do you know break their hand and within two months finish a great sounding album? Ha ha ha.