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Interviews

Alan Ferber: Developing String Theory

By Published: June 28, 2010
AAJ: That is quite a class.

AF: It was a really great time to be there. It really probably is one of the big reasons I am the kind of musician I am now. I think a lot of people go into music and get caught up in finding all the money gigs, in making a living. I was more interested in finding where all the great music is and not quite so concerned with finding the gig that paid the most money.

AAJ: It's still a challenge to make a living that way, isn't it?

AF: Oh, definitely! But you find a balance. I've certainly found a way to balance money and art, in New York.

From left: Bryn Roberts, Jon Gordon, Nate Radley, Scott Wendholt Matt Clohesy, Jason Rigby, Alan Ferber, Adam Kolker

AAJ: Let's talk a minute about New York and your move to New York. It sounds like you came to New York with quite a bit of professional experience, but California and New York are really different atmospheres. Was there an adjustment period involved in the move? Can you describe that a little bit?

AF: When I first got to New York, I was just so excited to be there; I didn't have much of a plan. I was talking to a friend of mine on the phone who lived in New York—he had actually called the house looking for my brother and I happened to pick up on the phone. "Hey, you're Allen—Mark's brother. Man, you ever thought of moving to NY? There's an apartment opening up in my building next week and it's really cheap."

And it was kind of a good time for me in L.A. and I quickly realized if I wanted to do this I had better do [it] right now before I got any older. I just said "All right, I'll take it," without giving it a whole lot of thought. I bought a plane ticket and headed to New York.

I didn't really know anyone when I got there. I was really excited when I initially got there; I went out every night. I was really excited for the first couple months, then after a few months I realized, "Wow, this is a really different place." That's when I started to think, "What am I doing?"

AAJ: Did you have any tough times at the beginning?

AF: Oh, of course. God. There was a month or two there when I was ready to just move back. 'Cause I knew I was working in L.A. and I didn't have much going on at all in New York.

AAJ: What makes it so difficult? Because this is a common theme.

AF: It's just an overwhelming place in comparison to where I came from. California is all about wide open spaces—there are a lot of people in California but that is also a lot of surface area. And I just wasn't used to living with people on top and right below me. This kind of vertical situation and you step outside your apartment door and there are just people everywhere. That is what initially excited me about New York, but then that is also eventually what overwhelmed me a little bit.

AAJ: If New York and California were pieces of music, what would they be?

AF: L.A. would probably be a Debussy piece; very expansive and it takes its time to develop. And New York is like putting on John Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard (Impulse!, 1961). From note one, it's like bud-di-bil-ib-bi-hab-da [laughs]. There is no time to ease into it—you are in it.

AAJ: You've played with a really big range of musicians in a broad range of genres—from Paul Anka to Dr. Dre. What was the most challenging context for you to work with?



AF: Challenging could mean "God, how am I going to get through this gig? It's so boring," or challenging in the sense of "Wow, I can barely play this 'cause it's so hard"?

AAJ: How about one of each?

AF: Playing a wedding is one of the most challenging things in the world because it's probably one of the most wholly-uninspiring musical situations I could be in, personally. But seriously that's a hard question ... Often times, the most challenging situation for me stems from whether the leader of the band or the ensemble is really flexible and cool and wants you there because of you—that would be the type of situation that is more inspiring than challenging. Whereas if you have a leader who is an extreme micromanager and everything you play isn't right, then that is very, very challenging in the sense that you don't feel like you can do anything right.

AAJ: What was the gig like with Dr. Dre?

AF: Oh, it was kind of bizarre. I did a lot of recording for Dr. Dre while I was in L.A. I would often get the phone call at really odd hours. I remember getting one at two in the morning. It would always be this guy at the other end of the line and he'd be like "Yo,yo,yo, Dre needs some horns—you gotta get down to the studio."

He was one of these guys that are 24/7 in the studio if he was working on a project. If he wanted horns, the phone would ring and you'd have to come down and track the horns if it was three in the morning or two in the afternoon.

It was definitely fun. I have to say, I don't know him all that well but I would go in and he would know exactly what he wanted. Sometimes, I'd arrive a little early and I'd listen to him working on different beats. I developed a lot of respect for him as an artist in the sense that he had a strong grasp of what he wanted.



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