Friday, 20 September 2013

Interview With Antoine Fafard

When I listened to Antoine Fafard's album, Occultus Tramitis, I immediately started forming questions about the ideas that went into creating the songs. Antoine's bass playing is unique and creative. And he's a Canadian-born musician, so - despite the fact that he resides in the UK - my interest was sparked a little bit more concerning this fellow Canuck.

Antoine was kind enough to answer some of our questions. Enjoy!

TR: Do you come from a musical family?

AF: My father was a banjo player/singer and recorded a few records of international folk music with his quartet in the 1960s. His band was playing a lot - enough for him to finance his studies. Unfortunately he completely stopped so I very rarely heard him play. My older brother is also a musician (a drummer and singer), and he introduced me to a lot of music growing up. We also played together in various bands. It was with him on drums that I began to experiment with my own compositions.

TR: What was the first instrument you played?

AF: It was the piano. I played for only a few years. I switched to the classical guitar which I played for a while before I decided that the electric bass was going to be my main instrument.

TR: Why?

AF: There was a special attraction to the electric bass. I also thought that there were a lot of new techniques to be discovered on the instrument, and ways to be original. I knew that it was the instrument for me.

TR: Who were your biggest musical influences growing up? 

AF: I went through various phases. The very first bands I listened to - and really enjoyed - were AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Cream, and The Who.

TR: You'd be very popular among Thunder Row members!

AF: I also listened to harder rock bands such as Iron Maiden and Metallica. I later got into progressive rock with bands like King Crimson, Rush, Yes, ELP, and UK. Around the same time I discovered prog, I began to enjoy jazz fusion more and more.

TR: And you were listening to...?

AF: The main jazz band at the time which had quite a lot of visibility in Canada was UZEB. So on the bass, the main influences were John Paul Jones, John Entwistle and Geddy Lee first, then Alain Caron and Jaco Pastorius followed.

TR: Do you still listen to these people?

AF: I’m still a fan of all those musicians and bands I’ve listened over years.

TR: Where did you study music?

AF: I took classical guitar lessons privately for about six years. Then the main two schools I went to were the Cégep St-Laurent, and Université de Montréal where I spent three years in each. Those two schools had a big influence on my development as a musician.

TR: While listening to Occultus Tramitis, I sensed you still lean toward a classical style. 

AF: I think that in retrospect, my music features a real fusion of styles. When I am composing, I don’t think about whether my music will fit a specific genre or not. I have listened and studied classical and jazz, although I wouldn’t I’m an expert in any of those genres.

TR: Describe your process of composing.

AF: I use jazz theory as a language which is a practical way to analyse my music and to communicate with my collaborators. But overall I would say that my approach to composition is intuitive. Saying that, I’m aware of what I do and always make a conscious effort not to repeat myself too much, and not use the same formula over and over. This is why I think my music ends up being pretty eclectic.

TR: With regard the song titles, time signatures, etc., you seem to demand a lot from a composition (and therefore from yourself). 

AF: I definitely like to challenge myself, but I don’t look for the ultimate complexity in what I compose.

TR: Do you prefer more in-depth music?

AF: If something is relatively complex, it needs to serve the music, not the other way around. It’s all a question of finding the right balance. I do love to play around various odd time signatures, create original arrangements and compose interesting chord progressions.

TR: How do you feel about simpler songs with traditional bass parts?

AF: I have absolutely nothing against those! I actually sometimes think that some of my music is not that far from traditional.

TR: In general, what part does the bass play in music?

AF: The role of the bass guitar is essentially to supply the root notes. It is the function of any instrument which - by design - produces the frequencies in that lower range. That being said, there’s nothing wrong in using the instrument for melodies and solos. Personally, I rarely play the melodies on my songs, but I do make room for bass solos. It’s up to the originally of the performer to use an instrument in non-conventional ways. I guess I’m kind of conventional in my approach to the instrument, although my music is not always conventional!

TR: What about video? Do you “see” the music in visual form as you create?

AF: I don’t really visualise anything when I compose; I really concentrate on the sonic aspect, but I do enjoy using videos in order to make my music a little bit more accessible to a wider audience. Although you must be careful as the visual element can potentially be slightly distracting. I think that generally my music can be appreciated for what it is and doesn’t need anything else to enhance it. It’s already busy as it is!

TR: Who do you play for? The listener? The musicians you work with? Yourself? 

AF: At the core, I try to compose and execute music that I personally find fulfilling from the creative aspect. I might not always achieve that goal, but the creative process is really what I believe artists in general live for. But I also transpose myself as the listener while I compose. The advantage of being able to compose and record in your home studio is that you can take long breaks from a given song and get back into it fresh, like if you hadn’t composed the piece. Sometimes, if the break is long enough, you might have almost completely forgotten that you had composed it! I think this is a great way to analyse your work and enhance it. I would also add that the reason I release my music in the end is that ultimately I want to share my work with the world. So in review, it begins as something personal then becomes something universal.

TR: Describe your audience.

AF: I think that my audience is mainly a mix of people who like progressive rock and jazz fusion. You also have those who are simply fans of bass players or drummers. One thing they all have in common is the genuine passion they have for music. It’s always great to hear feedback from people who take the time to listen to what I do. You can tell they have listened carefully to the music and are really serious in their appreciation!

TR: How did you come to gather the musicians together for Occultus Tramitis?

AF: I simply hired musicians I’ve admired over the years and contacted each of them with a specific song in mind. I actually didn’t have a specific idea on who I would have on the album when I began to work on the project. I was just hoping that whoever I approached would be interested in participating and would have the availability to do so. I was lucky as it worked out well for most of the musicians I’ve approached.

TR: What’s coming up next? Touring? Recording?

AF: I’ve recently played a few gigs with my trio here in London. One of the shows was filmed and I’ve been posting the songs from that evening on my YouTube channel. I might have the chance to perform with the trio in festivals in 2014. I’ve also started to compose and record some new music.

TR: Thanks for talking with us!

AF: It’s my pleasure and thanks for your support!

© 2013 CL Seamus for Thunder Row