Nick Hempton: The Way It Is
AAJ: With one exception, the personnel is the same on both records. You've managed to keep a band together for the past few years despite the challenges of finding steady work. What's your secret?
From left: Dan Aran, Marco Panascia, Nick Hempton, Art Hirahara
NH: It's not really keeping the guys together. As much as I'd like to have them on a salary like the old days, that's not really the case. I think that we work often enough, but not too often. They're always ready and looking forward to the next gig that comes along. They're not getting bored with the material and taking some other gig instead of mine. Generally, the guys have a great time playing. That may be the secret behind it. That's really what I want to bring to the bandstandthe band having a good timebecause I think it will lead to the audience having a good time. I think that's really it. The guys just enjoy doing it.
AAJ Please offer your impressions of the band and their contributions to The Business.
AAJ: I think that the reason the band works well together is because [bassist] Marco Panascia, [drummer] Dan Aran, and [pianist] Art Hirahara have different personalities. I was just lucky that it worked out that way when I put the band together. It's wasn't really scientific. I just found the guys that I liked the sound of. Marco is a great swinger. He loves nothing more than to swing at a medium tempo, laying down a solid groove. Art's very adventurous. He likes to stretch out, and takes me in new directions. Dan has an extremely strong groove, and also takes inspirations from world music and other styles of music. He has really open ears. So he brings all styles of music to the band. Certainly, all three of them push me in directions I have never gone before, every time we play together.
So that's certainly what keeps it interesting for me. I think that it's possible to play with the same guys for years, and it would become boring, but I've never felt that way. Hopefully, that comes across on the record. Generally, that's how I feel when we're playing on stageand even in that fairly uncomfortable studio setting.
AAJ: The studio is a rather sterile environment.
NH: It's not made for great creativity. It's fighting against that. But even in the studio I found that they were introducing new ideas and really pushing me to go in different directions, which is quite a talent on their part.
AAJ: What exactly does The Business refer to?
NH: Many different things. Obviously, the music business. It's [also] an expression that we use in Australia and in England, which never really came across here. I can't think of a version that you would be able to print. It actually means "the shit"we're laying something down, and this is the way it is.
AAJ:The real thing, or something like that.
NH: Exactly. That's what I meant. I was aware it didn't really mean that in this country. It means enough other things that it's going to work on other levels as well. So we pushed a little bit with the record label. I think that Marc was a bit nervous about it. It was one the battles that I managed to win.
A Sense of Humor
AAJ: Your absurd sense of humor comes out in website posts, the liner notes of the first record, and some of the titles of your original compositions. Does humor surface in live shows as well?
NH: Well, I like to think so. Certainly, I like to have a chat with the audience between songs. Sometimes it gets more absurd than others. Sometimes I'm quite happy with it. And sometimes I'll spin some nonsense story, and it will fall flat and everyone will stare at me, which is ok. And sometimes it works, and everybody has a good time. I know that when I go to hear a performance, if it's just song after song, it may be great, but I like the break and getting to know the performerseven if it's not a description of the music exactly, just some kind of vocalization of what's going on the stage.
AAJ: It makes the audience feel closer to the performer.
NH: Absolutely. And it comes naturally to me. I'm quite happy to pick up a microphone and just talk nonsense for awhile. There's not much of that on the new record, sadly. There wasn't the room for it. I quite enjoyed the liner notes on the first one, because I could do whatever I wanted. There was nobody telling me that there's no place for this kind of nonsense on a CD jacket.
AAJ: The notes on the first record were a refreshing change from the serious, art-for-art's-sake kind of stuff on most liners.
NH: I could have done that, but it didn't really feel like me. I like to have a laugh at ourselves when we're playing this music. We're not changing the world. It's jazz. We're having a good time. You have to have a sense of humor about yourself and about your band mates and the type of music you're playing. That's kind of how I feel about it. I would feel strange to put out an album with deadly serious liner notes telling about how important that music was.