I was recently back in Joshua Tree, California, for the 7th Annual Joshua Tree Music Festival, where I have participated as a volunteer since the first one of these fantastic music festivals. I was excited to hear that Jef Stott would be performing twice at the event. First was his performance with his group the Embarka Sound Project, and then the next day he performed with Jossi Fine, an incredible bass player and World Musician himself. Both shows were amazing, blending sounds of the Middle East and West. Jef is a true World musician, and while the Oud is his main “axe”, he can tear it up on several instruments. I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Jef after the second show. I found his story fascinating. He has a very diverse background in music, being a musical anthropologist, and has collaborated with and produced many talented musicians.
We had a short interview. Here is Part One:
>I’m here with Producer/Composer Jef Stott, who just finished a great set with Yossi Fine. You also performed last night with the Embarka Sound System with Hooman. What’s it like performing with and producing artists with such different styles and backgrounds?
“Well, for me performing with artists from around the world is what I am all about. Each person brings with them a sensitivity and orientation to their culture that is expressed through their music. You can learn a lot about someone and their heritage by playing with them. Even people from different regions within the same county have different takes on the same melody. Regional differences instead of national ones, smaller more subtle shifts. Plus most lines on maps are arbitrary anyway. Also there is the concept of time, many people from different areas are playing music that is a key or a doorway into a different way of life. One when we were not so rushed and multitasking all the time. Often I will look up from a nice long jam session and like 3 or 4 hours have passed and it seemed 45 minutes. And to bring it full circle, I feel like this music is looking to the future, where new combinations are tried out to see what fits. The global fusion music movement is the future forward music, where folks from around the world are going to start pushing back with really hot beats and these ancient gorgeous melodies. we are already seeing it now in India, Brazil Egypt etc…makes the blues or rock and roll seem pretty flat.”
>What is your musical background? What instruments have you studied/ play?
“I started playing acoustic guitar in junior high. Moved quickly onto the electric and became a lead guitarist in heavy metal bands by the time I was 15. I was playing rock clubs in LA when I was a teenager. Then discovered Eno, Peter Gabriel, the Clash and the whole world music explosion that happened in the 80’s. Then after a while discovered the oud, became sort of a sufi for a while, moved to SF, put out a bunch of albums, got a couple of degrees and here we are. Now I can say I play the following- string instruments acoustic/electric guitar, bass, oud, saz, cumbus, yali tambur (turkish), santoor/hammered dulcimer (persian) mandolin, banjo etc percussion all arabic percussion- darbuka, riqq, tarr, bendir daff (Iran) drum kit djembe conga etc. I’m a decent keyboard player and I also play harmonium and melodica in the dub jams.”
>How did last year’s release of Saracen change things for you as far as your overall exposure? I imagine the world tour was amazing?
“Yes definitely. Signing on with Six degrees has been a goal of mine for many years. I approached them back on ’99 with the Stellamara project, of which I was a founder, and we were in negociations and things got weird with the band internally and we all split up for a while. But I maintained my connection with the Label and here we are 10 years later… So Six Degrees really put me on the map and I am grateful. The experiences I have had in the past 2 years have been a dream, sharing the stage with some of my heroes, Gaudi, Makyo, Karsh, Cheb I Sabbah etc…I feel like I am a peer of these artists now and it feels good. The dates in Miami and Tokyo, Vancouver, Taipei, all of it has been amazing. So many stories…”
>You have an incredible depth in your knowledge of music, Jef, having studied it anthropologically, as well as having collaborated and produced so many great musicians, such as Yossi right here at Joshua Tree Music Festival. How has the Global Electronica movement grown? Do you think its growing in popularity in the States?
“I think it is slowly moving forward, but the US is pretty insular and self centered, it is a rock town, electronica is still marginalized although I have heard rumors that disco is going to take over hip hop in the coming years… Folks don’t know how to process this music sometimes. the rest of the world is so interconnected. I mean France and Morocco are neighbors right? The flow is more fluid else where, here it is this big corporate umbrella called America. That is why I moved to San Francisco from L.A. where I was born, I wanted more connectivity on a street level I think the movement is growing,. many of the best producers live here, ickodemus, Zeb, Chehab etc…but there is not that much work for us. We have to travel constantly to stay busy. The festival circuit is really growing and that is great. I heard the line up at J Tree Fest was really global this year, and that is a good thing. Also the global music is really well suited to outdoor festivals as it carries with it a built in sense of festival purpose and ritual. The origins of all this fusion music is rooted in street parties and ceremonies from around the world, so the purpose of the music is in line with the aim of many people who come out to a festival like Joshua Tree, to reconnect with the earth, the people, the spirits.”
>What are your plans for the future (musically)?
“Well, I am just now finishing up a masters degree in multimedia and that has kept me pretty busy for the last 6 months or so. Our thesis project is a biofeedback installation using brainwaves and biosensors to control audio/visual media. There is a website up that has more info at subtlebody.info I am actually really itching to get back in the studio and write new material. I feel like I am at one of those nodes where everything begins again, the cycle is complete. That is when you say “what the @#$% am I gonna do now?” The material on Saracen was stuff I had been playing live for a while and I am really ready for new stuff. I think the next batch of tracks in gonna be on the deeper side and not so concerned with following the BPM or DJ trends of the moment. Things are so fickle that way. This approach may cost me some gigs, but I need to be true to myself and work with what ever comes out So it looking like more lush deep soundscapes with strong beats and deep melodies, which all sounds good to me.”
“Jef Stott’s first full-length offers a powerhouse mix of electronic and Middle Eastern music that hits on all cylinders. Not only does Stott know his Middle Eastern music, he’s an outstanding producer and musician, with respect for what’s before him.”
-From BILLBOARD Magazine
Currently signed to Six Degrees Records, Jef is releasing SARACEN, his full length debut solo album in Spring 2008. His sound is a powerful fusion of the traditions of the Middle East with breaks, dub and electro. As a producer performer and composer, he has released albums with Stellamara, Lumin, the debut from young Arabic rock/electronica sensation MC RAI as well as several remixes including Azam Ali, Cemali, Atash, among others. He toured extensively with appearances in Japan, Canada Turkey, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. As a musical anthropologist, he has studied with master musicians from Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Iran and Turkey which led him to become accomplished on several traditional stringed and percussion instruments of the Middle East. His work has been released on several record labels including Universal,EMI, Six Degrees, Hearts of Space, Triloka and City of Tribes.” Jef lives and works in San Francisco, California. Learn more about Jef Stott at www.jefstott.com.