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Vintage Astronaut - 10 Questions


Vintage Astronaut is an experimental progressive jazz trio creating an adventurous, narrative. In 2020, Vintage Astronaut will be releasing a 4-part album series called Now It’s the Future. The records explore narrative improvisation using analog and electronic instruments, played by virtuosic jazz fusion musicians. Now It's the Future truly showcases the musical strength and genius behind this progressive power trio.


Was there something (an experience) or someone in your life that was the "catalyst" for you to start writing music? Tell us about it.


John Ray (bass): This group formed around a collection of songs that I wrote from 2008 to 2018. I don’t like composing music that sounds ‘standard’ or fits into tried-and-true formats. I write music as an improvisor - I let the melody and the groove of the composition (in my head) dictate the composition (on paper). Therefore, a lot of my music is in odd-time signatures and is phrased in unique ways, and can be difficult to play. I formed Vintage Astronaut because these we the players who could play my music in a musical way, and make the songs sound like I envisioned them. Our first album was called Vintage Astronaut, and was this collection of compositions. This group works so well together that we wanted to continue playing as a band, and so we assumed the name Vintage Astronaut and moved on to the next project, Now It’s the Future, which is entirely improvised.

Let's get this out of the way. What is the CRAZIEST thing that has ever happened to you in your music career?

John Ray (bass): The craziest thing that’s happened in my music career is sitting in with the Allman Brothers a few times. I’m friends with Oteil Burbridge, the bassist for the last 15 years the band toured together, and he invited me to jam with them. I’ve played with plenty of incredible musicians, but the main thing that set them apart was the massive amount of energy they dealt with. There were always at least 7 people playing - three of them drummers - and the groove was so deep I felt like I couldn’t play a wrong note. The crowds were literally bouncing with energy and the band was so killin, the stage felt like a hurricane of positive energy. It was life-changing for me.

What has been the high point of your music path?


John Ray (bass): I am constantly trying to achieve a collective mental state with all of my projects. The high points of my musical career have all been on stage, improvising, with talented musicians who listen to each other and have the collective ability to create something greater than each of the players. I’ve had a handful of moments that have been transcendent, where as a band we reach a place Buddhists describe as samadhi. The individuals in the band seem to disappear and the music is totally in-tune with and defines the moment. Reaching this place requires a balance of structure and no-structure, where we are just on the outside of our comfort zone, and requires the players to be in the same mental space and reaching for the same peak. An audience isn’t necessary, but heightens the experience enormously when present.

So, how do you approach songwriting or what is your creative process like?


John Ray (bass): With Vintage Astronaut, we play about 50% improvisation and 50% composed music. With the songs we have written, they are composed and charted out by one of us and brought to the band to learn at rehearsal. We generally arrange and decide on our parts as a group at the direction of the composer, trying to reflect the composer’s original intent.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Indie Artists today? Or, if you could ask the music industry to change one thing, what would it be?

John Ray (bass): The biggest challenge facing artists today is marketing themselves. The music market is devastatingly oversaturated with new music, and finding a place in that to make any money, much less to make a living, is something only a very small percentage of artists can do. Most people who are producing music now have other jobs that fund their music careers. The new artists who are successful now are the ones who are talented marketers (or team up with marketers), and those people are generally not also among the most talented musicians. Other artists make music specifically to fit into a niche or to copy a popular style. Vintage Astronaut is trying an approach that is historically unsuccessful in the American marketplace - we are producing experimental music; technically challenging long-form free improv pieces that appeal to a very small niche in the global music market. Ornette Coleman, John McLaughlin, and Miles Davis are among the more popular musicians who pioneered this style. We believe that this music is relevant today because of it’s humanity; with more and more of commercial music being generated by computer programs, emotion, imperfection, and our interpretation of the moment are what set us apart.

If you could share the stage with one other artist or band, who would it be and why?


John Ray (bass): Vintage Astronaut is a trio, with piano, bass and drums, but we all use extensions of our instruments in performance. Michael Kinchen doesn’t just play piano, he has a collection of synthesizers and effects that he uses; I play through a computer and have an arsenal of effects and sounds that I can trigger and control with my bass, as well as a few synthesizers. Even though we don’t have much sonic space left over for another player, there are a ton of people ewe would love to collaborate with. Wayne Krantz has been one of our biggest influences - he’s one of our first influences that plays largely free-improvised music. Another is the super-group Kneebody, made up of an A-list of session players from NY and LA. Some of the people we’d most like to play with are the living legends of the jazz world. Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders, Roy Ayers, Chick Corea, etc. These guys are still playing and still innovating in the jazz scene, and have been doing so for 60-70 years.

What are your rehearsals generally like? Or, how do you prepare for a live show?


John Ray (bass): Our rehearsals are generally working on concepts that we can improvise with. We’ve done a lot of work with rhythm; we will practice things like metric modulation (moving from one time signature to another), poly-meter (parts of the band playing in different but related time signatures), and harmonic modulation. Another very important part of what we practice is listening. Improvising can only work if everyone in the band is listening very intently to each other. We have to literally function as one instrument, one mind. This takes a lot of work!

Pick one song that was your greatest challenge to write. Tell us about it!


John Ray (bass): All of the songs we’ve written have come easily. We all believe the composing process is about listening to the music that happens around us and in our heads, allowing that music to develop the way it wants to in our minds, and then transcribing that as precisely as we can. The hard part with composing in this way is learning the music after it’s written. The hardest song we’ve learned as a band is a tune called Secure, written by our drummer Jonathan Greene. This tune uses melodic rhythmic groupings, meaning the phrases each have a different meter-feel, even though the melody as a whole fits of standard 4/4 time. This isn’t a concept any of us had played before - it took a lot of individual and collective work.

What's coming up in the future?

{John Ray, bass} We’ve got three more full-length records in our Now It’s the Future series that we will release over the next few months. These four albums were all improvised live during a 5-night residency in 2019. The original goal was to condense the best material into one album, but there was far too much to fit on one 70 min CD. The entire residency was recorded by master videographers at Still Frame Storytelling, and we plan to release a collection of videos along with the music.

We are always writing and recording new music, and have already started working on the next few releases slated for 2021. Hopefully around that time we will be able to perform live again as well - that is what we enjoy most.

Tell us where fans can access your music.

John Ray (bass): You can always find us on our website vintageastronautmusic.com, on social media and youtube @vintageastronautmusic, and you can link directly to our new project at nowitsthefuture.com

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