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Jef Lee Johnson: It's Been So Long Since I've Seen with My Eyes

By Published: February 1, 2013
"Hype Factory" was all done here—mastering and everything- and it looks like the next record is going to be done here also, unless anybody steps up-but it doesn't look like it's going to happen. It's all done on DA 88 machines, which use the Hi8 video tape, which is basically Tascam's ADAT. I think is the highest end thing you can get on that format before you go to hard disc. I mean, people keep improving their mess, but I don't use ProTools or Logic Audio. I'm a tape guy and that's what I'm having problems with now. These digital mixers ..I don't work for NASA..and there is always one thing that isn't working or another thing isn't working. I couldn't even get sound the last time. I am taking another hard disc mastering machine back tomorrow. They're so high tech they don't work! Hopefully, tomorrow I'll be working on the next record and a few weeks after that, it'll be done.

AAJ: So you're mastering and mixing yourself?

JLJ: Yes, both. I don't know whether it's good or bad but its necessary at this point.

AAJ: It's a good way to save money. Mastering is the alchemy of the music industry.

JLJ: Well, it's not good for one person to be doing it all but the money is the issue. I've had wonderful people offering me deals and stuff, but I can't let people do stuff and not get paid. If anyone steps up and I get a budget, then I'll be making some calls. As it stands now I have to do it all myself. It's going to sound the way I want it, but some things are going to be missed.

Most musicians in my shoes don't need much of a budget because we do music. We don't sit around and theorize about it because we're either doin' it or not doin' it. We go in and hit it and quit it and press it. I'll take whatever whoever is going to give me, which varies widely. Labels have the money that cats like me could make records on-it's not even an issue. But they fight the war that isn't the war to fight. They could just say, "Here, take a couple bucks and make a record." That's what DIW did, for instance. There's always somebody trying to add something to weird us out. It's not necessary, just let us make the music. It'll make it's money back right away, and maybe inspire some people like some things inspired me when I was trying to make some music.

I mean, it's weird when you're doing a gig in Poland and someone says, "I'm trying to pattern my style after yours." I don't even think of myself as having a style or pattern but apparently, I do. I don't have mountains of fan mail, but people write me letters and it's great, but it's like, "huh"? It's funny. I 'm not going around hung up on a style. I'm hung up on the next piece of music I'm going to do. Whoever it was that said, "A writer writes"- the same thing could be said of musicians. "A musician plays music.."you know.

AAJ: So, that being said, I'm still curious about your style and some technical elements of it. Where did your legato stuff come from? Were you trying to phrase like a saxophonist, trying to get that fluidity?

JLJ: Probably, when I initially thought about it. Now it's just what I want to say at the time. It never mattered who the guitarist was. I just tried to imitate what I liked. If that was Jan Hammer, then I try not to play just what he plays but how he plays it. If its Wayne Shorter, I want to make sure to play how he plays it. It just falls out of your head if it's the appropriate time. I'm not trying to play, like, legato notes or whatever. It's like having a conversation. When I would have a conversation with my wife, I wouldn't think about how I was going to say something to her. I was just excited about what we were talking about and the rapport we had. The only other thing I've ever been that comfortable about was music-her and music.

I don't think about anything. The vocabulary is just there. You get to a point where you've developed your voice, as Shannon would say. A lot of cats go through life never finding a voice but that's ok if you're always looking for it. That's our goal as artists, to find out what it is we do, or how it is we do it.

AAJ: So what are some of the music that got you psyched to achieve what you've done? Do you have any influences you'd want to cite or is that question bogus to you or what?

JLJ: I mean when I was a teenager, yes absolutely. It got to the point where I was always listening to Monk, or always listening to Jan Hammer or Hendrix. Everybody has their little a point you listen to them so much you start to recognize, "Oh this is that guy and this is that record and this is that version," and then you start to get an identity of your own. It's just like learning from your parents and seeing how they live and getting to the point of, "Well, how would I deal with that?" It's developing the vocabulary and taking it from there. Not just reciting the words and then re-reciting the words over and over.

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Download jazz mp3 “This is This” by Jef Lee Johnson