A few days back, we spoke of the intriguing, star-studded studio band, Gideon King & City Blog. With an impeccable knack for songwriting, King’s sound is one that immediately grabbed my attention and had me listening from start to finish; something rare these days. With a new album in tow titled City Blog, Gideon King sits down and talks with Modern Mystery about his musical musings, his latest record, and his long history with growing up with music.
Growing up in a musical family, how did you find your musical
inspirations growing up?
Truthfully whether consciously or unconsciously the first music that inspired my awe was Jazz. I remember as a young kid listening to my brother, who is a well-known Jazz Pianist, and being simultaneously frightened and attracted to the ever-flowing complexity of Jazz improvisation. The harmonic complexities bursting out of musicians like Mccoy Tyner, Joe Henderson, and John Coltrane, coupled with the phrasing behind jazz improvisation, demanded reverence. But, I also loved what was coming out of my half-hippie sisters’ rooms. They were listening to Neil Young, Traffic, and Dylan, and I loved the lyrics and some of the acoustic sounds. The lyrics were so free and weird while somehow conveying a message of some kind. Of course my parents put up with all this but insisted classical was the real deal musically(although they were won over to jazz in the long swing of things), so I grew to love classical too. I guess what I am saying is that my influences came from all directions, but my respect was most drawn out by the jazz players.
What albums, artists and inspirations stood out
to you the most, to form your musical taste and structure?
Almost impossible to answer in under 30 hours! Given that my influences came from so many genres, I really pined for some type of fusion, something with harmonic complexity, bizarre lyrics, and even a cool hook. I was bored by plain pop music and never could take to the lyrics in jazz standards. Eventually I turned to the specialists who I thought transcended any particular classification. For their overall vibe, harmonic sophistication, and post-modern lyrics I fell for Steely Dan at a young age. I loved the fact that they had tons of solos played by fusion and jazz guys and yet still had sharp-edged lyrics. The album Asia is a masterpiece. They are my biggest influence.
Three guys inspired me most from a sheer musical standpoint, with two of them shaping how I play guitar. First, Pat Metheny is a genius; before one kicks the bucket one should listen to his album Still Lives Talking, particularly the solo on the tune Third Wind. That solo inspired me to become more than just a rock guitarist and an annoying strummer. I believe that I have listened to that tune more than anybody on earth. It typifies through-composition in which a tune ends in a different place than it begins and avoids conforming to some A..B..A structure. I try and do that with my tunes. Metheny’s fusion-oriented approach and his use of voices as textural additions to his music captivated my imagination. Some of that stuff is behind my tune Friendship Cliché. The guy is so good it puts me in a bad mood. He inspired me to work on my chops and play faster while maintaining melodic integrity.
I saw John Scofield live about 24 years ago at the Cubby-Bear Club in Chicago. It absolutely changed my life. His wacky phrasing, his incredible bluesyness and sense of swing, and all his crazy harmonic quirks in his soloing were beyond beautiful. The guy has serious soul and is beyond original. I was lucky enough to once record one of my tunes with him playing on it. As he is one of my idols that was a fun experience to the say the least. His album Still Warm is one of my favorite albums ever and his later Time And Tide is awesome. I am not afraid to admit I try and imitate his playing all the time. Again, that guy satisfied my thirst for fusion. He also inspired me to develop an “out” vocabulary in my guitar soloing.
Wayne Shorter’s writing is simply my favorite ever when it comes to jazz. His album Speak No Evil is a work of art, with incredible Herbie Hancock solos and spooky and deep melodies over atypical and yet somehow accessible chord changes. I try to imitate his playing in terms of some of his intervallic leaps, although it is poor copycat behavior at best. Once again, I love his fusion stuff. After those four big influences there are so many more.
Of course Hendrix. I mean that guy’s attack when it came to playing his axe was just scary. His lyrics were brilliant and he was just a beast. Neil Young’s lyrics and simple acoustic playing is beautiful. Tunes like Expecting to Fly really inspired me to not be so literal about writing lyrics. Too often people want their tunes to be about something specifically, whereas I find it more interesting when lyrics just suggest certain concepts instead of telling some rigid story. Dylan’s lyrics really do rise to the level of poetry. How could somebody not love the album Blood On The Tracks? Just the name of the track Tangled Up In Blue is cool no less the lyrical content itself!
The embarrassing thing is I love duets too. Not very macho I know. The duet on my cd is to some extent inspired by the Barbara Streisand/Barry Gibb “Guilty” tune. I am a sucker for that stuff and plan to write many more duets even if nobody ever cares.
While Steely Dan, Metheny, Wayne Shorter, and Scofield are my biggest drivers in terms of structure and playing, the list goes on forever and includes Seal, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire and just about anybody that is just not plain vanilla this genre or that genre.
By the way I know I sound dated but lets be honest the old stuff is better.
Also I have to mention there are tons of musicians I listen to all the time that may not be so well-known but are serious in their work. Like I said I need thirty hours to answer this question. I haven’t even scratched the surface!
You’re lyrics are very sharp, very witty, and quickly enticed my ears!
What is the inspiration behind your lyrics, in particular, on the new
album, City Blog?
On any given New–York-City-day, as you interact with others, people watch, and soak in human nature, many things becomes apparent and many things become available. People are chronically imperfect, introspection is near impossible, life is difficult, there is tons of cool angular language out there, and tons of stuff is really very funny. All the crazy ways people dress and talk and argue their point is the feedstock for a factory of ideas-ideas that support lyrics. There is much sharp and pointed language out there as people make their case. Some of this language is very beautiful and very amusing. Certain ironic concepts and behaviors stand out. For most of the City Blog tunes, I tried to arrange a three-way(ugh bad choice of words but let’s go with it) get-together of irony in New York City, interesting turns of phrase that awaken some interest, and some vague idea that I wanted to express.
I wanted, put differently, to capture New York City as I see it. Nothing is as it appears in a not all-bad way, hilarious and harmless pretentions abound, people are driven hard by the electrical charge in the streets, everything has a numerator and denominator, and beauty and ugliness are interwoven like nowhere else. It’s a cool town but hard to take sometimes. I grew up here.
Of course some of the tunes are not these collections of concepts, but are more direct. Down is about the state of modern music. Friendship Cliché is about well, friendship. And so on. To sum it up, living in this city of so many different sorts of intense people inspired my love of sharp-edged language and seemingly opposite concepts coexisting. One thing I don’t do is straight love-song lyrics. Too many of those out there. There should be federal legislation against more love songs being written.
Speaking of City Blog how did you choose that name for your band, as
well as for the album title? Was there any specific reasoning or choice
One day I was in my music room in my apartment thinking of all types of pretentious names for one of the tunes and the whole cd and my wife walked in while drinking a diet-coke and said, “why don’t you call it City Blog given that the title cut has those words in it and it captures the ever-changing concept of what the band will be musically.” Needless to say I immediately rejected this absurd notion and told her she did not understand my art and the whole point of what I was doing. She walked out. Later on that week I told her that I had an epiphany. Yes, I would name the tune I was writing City Blog. In fact the whole damn thing would be called City Blog. And so it was. Gideon King & City Blog hopefully will be sort of like a musical blog……an ongoing, ever-changing thing with a slowly growing core of musicians coming and going as the music demands.
You worked with an eclectic and impressive group of artists on the
record. How did you team up with such legendary, established vocalists
such as Marc Broussard?
Honestly I believe if you write really interesting music and appreciate great musicians for their unique skills they will show up to play. I sent Broussard the music and asked him if he would sing on two tunes and I guess he dug it and went for it. That guy has serious soul so I am glad he did it. With respect to other great and established musicians like James Genus, Grace Weber, Donny McCaslin, Willard Dyson, Carolyn Leonhart, Kevin Hays, Elliott Skinner, and others, I think if you write music that is harmonically rich over which they can stretch and improvise a bit, they are psyched to do it. The music would not be good without these folks. They are not average people so I am not gonna send them average stuff to play on. In terms of teaming up with people like Broussard or Weber, if you don’t ask you don’t get. I just ask.
Gideon King & City Blog is mostly known as a studio band. Is there ever
a chance that you may take the songs to the live stage?
When and if I feel that I can reproduce what we do in the studio on stage I will do it. That may never happen. We will see. The studio is a very special place if you treat it as such and are willing to spend countless hours on a tune. Who knows what the future holds?
How do you come up with your songs, musically? What is your method for
not only writing a song but for writing an entire record?
I listen to Jazz, fusion, and soul for harmonic concepts. Then I try and come up with a chord progression that flows into another chord progression which flow into another chord progression. I test out the progression for lyrics. Can lyrics fit rhythmically inside the progression? Is it boring? Is it needlessly complex? Is there a peak? I love to have pre-choruses and choruses. Without both things get boring as hell. Once I have the chordal structure down over which lyrics go, I then work on the arrangement of the tune to accommodate solos. I try and imagine which instrument and which player would capture the vibe of the tune. Perhaps I play a guitar solo? Perhaps we bring in a sax guy? Piano? Harmonica? I try and write a solo chord progression that is related to the verse chord progressions but which goes away and then comes back so things are not too linear in the tune. Also, I try and write something that a jazz guy will recognize so he does not feel hemmed in by some boring pop or rock progression. I try and do guitar fills for many of the tunes to add richness.
One thing to keep in mind is that when you work with jazz musicians, you can leave a fair bit to them. Once they understand the chordal structure and vibe of the tune telling them what to do is kinda like telling Noah about floods. They are there to create and they are damn good at it.
Writing for an entire record is the hardest part. One might write two great tunes but they may not belong together on the same album thematically or because they are musically similar. Simply, I try and vary tempos, grooves, lyrics, and chord progressions as much as possible so it does not sound all the same but can remain related. Also, I try and vary the instrumentation sounds. For example the tune Glide is a very acoustic tune, with almost a blue-grass-meets-funk orientation. Friendship Cliché uses some interesting effects coupled with a horn section to achieve a certain smooth electric vibe. See-In-Double- is a true pop tune until the horn solo which introduces a fusion vibe. New York Is tries for a classic romantic duet vibe.
At what point in your life, did you know that being a professional
musician was something you wanted to achieve and become?
I have played guitar ever since I was ten. My older brother rightly encouraged me to work on understanding more harmony. I work on that still. I am not sure what being a professional musician even means. The economics of the industry are so fractionalized that being a professional musician might mean you make music, lose money on that music, and do something else to make money. It saddens me that tons of effort, money, and time can go into making a great cd and yet making money on it proves elusive. Anyway I’ll stop complaining now.
That being said I realized about ten years ago that I wanted to start publishing music professionally. Not until one evening when I saw a talented singer-songwriter(named Saul Kurtz who sings for Gideon King & City blog) perform at a hotel in Turks And Caicos did I realize that I wanted to try writing songs with lyrics. Once I started I knew I was hooked. I have become enormously enamored of the idea that one can tell a story of some kind supported by interesting music. When I was a kid I loved to write stories. And I loved to play guitar. Strangely it did not hit me that the two processes could work so seamlessly together. Not sure why it took me so long to come to that given that I was sitting around listening to greats like Steely Dan. I wrote fusion and jazz compositions but never felt as comfortable as I do now writing this crossover pop/rock/jazz stuff with lyrics.
What was it like working with so many talented musicians on your new
Very fun and very exciting, plain and simple. There is something very special about watching how quickly a great musician hooks into a new musical concept. Grace Weber nails it after just a take or two. James Genus never plays wrong stuff and always has soul. Marc Broussard brings immediate roundness to the vocal profile.
There is also something very unique about putting great jazz musicians in a quasi-pop/rock context. It’s like showing up at a pickup basketball game with an ex-pro that nobody recognizes. Winning is easier when you have ringers! You can’t be scared of people being better than you are. All these folks are better than I am in my opinion.
A great businessman once said, “all I want is an unfair advantage.” That’s what I want musically, and the best way to get it is to hire people that are better. That is not something that I am going to change for Gideon King & City Blog.
What is coming up next for Gideon King & City Blog?
Well the cd is due out on 9/26. While I hope people love it I have to be honest I have already started writing many tunes for the next CD. I am trying to come up with a name for it before my wife does.
The next CD will build on the first. I expect to become more expansive harmonically and in terms of arrangements in some respects and yet also write some really simple acoustic tunes for contrast. Some new musicians will be introduced along with new vocalists. There will be some surprises there I think. I am shifting focus slightly in terms of subject matter, but I can’t divulge what the shift will be unless you pay me $10,000,000 bucks.
If we keep honestly trying our hardest to make great music, I naively think good things will continue to happen to Gideon King & City Blog.