Ravish Momin: The Business of Time
AAJ: Mary Halvorson is a creative improviser, composer, and wonderful technical player, and her new record is arguably one of the best indie-rock albums to come out in the last five years. Aesthetically, this could be extrapolated to the whole "We Jam Econo" Minutemen thing that is really how this music is becoming.
RM: She's coming from that background and listens to that music; she's a friend of mine, as is the drummer Kevin Shea who she plays with in People. I know that they listen to Deerhoof and Matmos and stuff, and you have to have your ear out for everything and not exclude it by being a purist. You have to challenge yourself, but there are all these amazingly trained NEC, Berklee and New School musicians out there without a jazz audience to back them up.
AAJ: How has your experience been with the press? You and your work seem less visible compared to some others, yet you've clearly got a busy schedule and you work.
RM: My biggest frustration is that though the media haven't been unkind to me, there are other more prominent musicians out there and the press works in a certain way to give them more space. They're doing amazing work, but there are others of us out there. I totally think about it that way all the time. The comparisons on the surface are inevitable in some ways; I interviewed with Pedro Costa a few years ago for www.jazz.pt and he picked three Indians in New York to interviewme, [saxophonist] Rudresh Mahanthappa and [pianist] Vijay Iyer.
AAJ: And they're doing things that have very little in common with what you're doing.
RM: I'm doing all these tours and squeaking along'Hey, by the way, here I am'but otherwise I don't bring it up because it's an elephant in the room, and I can't think about it. If I start thinking about it, it'll hinder my art.
AAJ: It seems that many critics don't quite know how to review Miren or Climbing the Tree (Clean Feed, 2004). Your work can't easily be pinholed; it's just round or square enough to not quite fit. At the same time you see labels putting out album after album with tried-and-true motifs.
RM: I don't discount what people are doing in any way, but at the same time, whatever happened to people being interested in combining disparate things? Here I am jumping up and down about it and not getting a response. To be honest, this is a career and a business, and certain people focus more on that and do well at it, whereas I focus more on the artistic side of things and have to remind myself to be cognizant of the other side. I don't want to make it sound like a rat race, but I think my stuff is worth hearing and hearing about. I listen to a gazillion records and I know what I'm doing is different.
AAJ: What about the next recordwhere will it be?
RM: I'm hoping it'll be on Clean Feed. I think label loyalty does become important in the sense that the economy can't sustain so many things being put out and if you have a history with the label and its artists, that all helps. Pedro has been really good to me and he understands the power of Tarana. But it's a small label without a real PR machine. If he had enough resources to send out and get records played on CMJ charts, I'm sure he'd do it. Also, it's a reciprocal relationship where we help each other out, and for the last record I hired a publicist on my own dime to help push the record. It's got to be a two-way street; you have to be proactive and say, "What else can I do to help promote the record?"
AAJ: What would be some other things you would do if you had the resources to promote?
RM: Well, with Climbing the Banyan Tree, I charted it for CMJ. It was at WNUR and WFMU in the top ten for months. I did that on my own, paying to get charted and sending discs for playlists and stuff. I was beating out people like Norah Jones and Dave Douglas for a couple of weeks!
AAJ: You have to pay?
RM: To get on the CMJ mailing setup. DJs decide whether they like you, of course, but I just ran out of steam and money because it's a lot of work. It did help in touring; we'd be in Urbana, Illinois or somewhere in the Midwest and people would say they'd heard our record. That's so cool! I could also find reviewers that Pedro didn't know about; a disc could go to Songlines UK, the Wire, Signal to Noise, or other channels that aren't part of the jazz orbit. It got written up on some fairly big web channels, you know. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that print media still matters. I mean, you can only put so many pages in a magazine, as opposed to buying tons of bandwidth, so print distills information down to its essence.
Then again, a magazine might have three records to review for world-jazz and they pick two, and Tarana doesn't get reviewed because I'm not as well known. But that's where the PR machine comes in. I'm not a newbie to this game and I think it works both wayssometimes it's the reviewers' preference and sometimes it's the editors.' But the latter certainly holds true for the bigger magazines. It happened like a finger snap in some instances, but if Pedro and I alone had sent out copies, it wouldn't necessarily have happened. Those players or labels who can afford well-connected publicists get the write-ups more often.
When you ask me how I'm treated by the press, what percentage of this situation feeds into the equation? I'm making a blanket statement, but I'm sure a lot of other musicians feel the same way. How do you get yourself out there and continue to be recognized through this whole so-called democratizing internet-media thing? You can just go to Myspace and listen to someone's musicyou don't have to get a special promo package or something. For me, this is the path I've chosen, but the more I get ignored, the harder I'll scream as opposed to packing up shop. I depend on myself to get my music out there, and eventually something will crack, something will give, and somebody will take a listen to meit's just a reminder that these are the conditions that musicians are up against in this market. You can't think about this stuff too much. I'll be out there touring, even as people are always surprised at how much I'm able to tourgoing to Macau, Hong Kong, Calgary and Portugal in a year, without even a quarter-page profile in most jazz magazines.