Interview Roger Wade @mescalina.it
1) Hi Roger, thank you for accepting this interview for Mescalina.
First of all: How are you? How is the lockdown situation around you?
Well, it has been a long and difficult time for many, not only in Germany, where I now live, but also for my family in the UK. I have friends and family who work in the health sector who are working at full capacity at not only personal physical risk to themselves but also face a psychological burden. So, if we have to stay at home, so be it. Still, there are members of this project that have a stricter form of lockdown, such as those in Italy, France and Spain.
2) Can you tell us how the Lockdown Sessions project was born?
Shortly after the lockdown was announced here in Germany, it took everyone a few days to realise that this would be a long and winding road! When that realization had set it in, it became obvious to me that many of my musician friends and colleagues were not only in financial dire straits but were also suffering from artistic frustration. As a musician, that is what you want to do: make music. So, initially out of boredom and the wish to have some form of artistic expression, I asked a friend of mine, Andreas Arlt (B.B. & The Blues Shacks) if he wanted to record something, anything, and I would put some vocals and harmonica over it. That was all. No big plan. Just to pass the time creatively. He did and I did. That was how the song “I Know!” was born. Not high-tech at all but it was fun and people seemed to like it. So we did another one! Then I thought it might be fun to include more people – bass, drums etc. and that started the ball rolling….
3) Some of the musicians who joined the project have been reviewed in the past by Mescalina, I am thinking of Kai Strauss, Bobby Wilson, Max De Bernardi and Veronica Sbergia. Can you tell us more about the other musicians in the project?
As the group of musicians grew, based mostly on my personal contacts of course – friends of mine, I thought it would be great to include musicians from other countries hit by the lockdown. I had already played with the great Jack O Roonie, a double bass player from Belgium, the amazing multi-instrumentalist Victor Puertas from Barcelona, Spain, the frighteningly talented Tomi Leino from Finland. Of course, it became clear that I couldn’t include everyone so, unfortunately, had to think about who brings what to the table. I wanted to cover a broad spectrum of the blues universe so we have pre-war acoustic blues/gospel from the wonderful Joe Filisko, Max and Veronica, but also the more rocking sounds of Krissy Matthews, Timo Gross and the inimitable Nico Duportal. I was also lucky enough to be able to get Fred Kaplan, Nathan James and Aki Kumar from the US on board. So there was no master plan from the outset, it developed as it moved on. But I would have enough ideas and amazing musicians to produce multiple CDs!
4) Before talking about the Lockdown Sessions album, we found it interesting, watching the presentation videos, that the project "speaks" from the houses of the musicians. Despite this strange condition of forced distancing, don't you think this is already an interesting fact? Do you have any thoughts about it?
I decided early on to embrace the fact that the musicians were in lockdown, at home. There was not point in being too perfectionist about it and pretend that musicians are not affected by what is going on. They are! So I decided to go with it. In fact, I had many exchanges with musicians who couldn’t record because their neighbour was suddenly drilling or the kids needed looking after. We can even hear some things on the recordings. For example, at the beginning of Get Me Outta Here, we can clearly hear how Andreas’ chair creaks as the he plays the guitar line! Wonderful and unique!
5) The fact that every musician will create in their own home, with what they have at their disposal to be able to record, also seems to be an invitation to reflect on the fact that music is not only something that is listened to, consumed but is also something that concretely says "do"? The musician is a creator but also a worker who shapes "his/her" music?
We live in a time of ever-faster moving consumption. Music is consumed at a frightening rate due to streaming. People just assume it is there, free and available. No reason to think about the people who produce it or what might be the driving force behind the music. This record reduced this to a bare minimum in some cases. When you have to record using a mobile phone, as was the case on several tracks, we seem to capture something different to what we normally listen to. There is an honesty to it. And the musicians embraced this and were more than willing to accept the new reality. It was a breath of fresh air for me and others.
6) You have coordinated the contribution of musicians who belong to different European and American music scenes. Music like COVID-19 has no boundaries?
Absolutely true! This became abundantly clear on numerous occasions. When I had, for example, Joe Filisko from the US, team up with Max and Veronica from Milan, or Tommy Schneller (saxophonist from Germany) team up with Tomi Leino from Finland, they had never met or in some cases never even heard of each other! What a wonderful thing to be able to do – music brings people together. And, I hope people will buy and appreciate what these amazing musicians achieved.
7) COVID-19 is creating huge problems for the production and use of live music. However, the musicians of this project, however professional, already "before" the pandemic, enjoyed a relative recognition of their commitment. Can you tell us what were the average working conditions of the Blues scene "before" the coronavirus?
I guess there are differences but similarities between the countries. Blues is a niche music and those performing it will never be “stars”, even those that are more well-known than others. Every one of these musicians has to fight to make ends meet and is happy when it is not always an uphill struggle. The current crisis has hit ALL of those involved in these recordings. If you can’t perform live, you can’t make a living. Spotify and co. have put a nail in the coffin of that source of revenue. It may be great for huge pop stars and the consumer, but it is not good for smaller, performing musicians. It is not easy, but everyone here, as illustrated by these recordings, does it not for stacks of money they have squirreled away under the mattress but for they love of their genre!
8) And NOW what is happening to an already fragile and precarious organizational fabric? You have probably read David Crosby's statements about the fact that the pandemic will put him on the brink. We were a little strange. Instead, we wondered what all good blues musicians who don't have the fame of David Crosby should say. What do you think about it?
Musicians, but not only musicians of course, are all trying to figure a way out of this crisis. But how? Live music is likely to be one of the last things to reappear after the lockdown. Initial financial aid from the state, if available at all, helps but that is not a long-term solution. No matter whether you are a “star”, well-known or less known, all musicians face the same uphill battle. How can we do what we want and make a living out of it? No answers yet, I’m afraid….
9) Coming to the Lockdown Sessions the project will materialize on a CD. What made you think about a CD given the difficulty of the record market even before the pandemic?
This was where Detlev Hoegen of CrossCut Records got involved. He approached me about making a CD, which then became a double CD. Together with Detlev’s experience and financial support, if we can cover production costs, which we are aiming to do with our GoFundMe campaign, then all proceeds will go to the musicians. Again, if we can raise some money, great! Producing some cross-continental music that may inspire is at least as important.
10) By the way, what will it contain? When will it come out? In what form? With which label?
It will be a double CD, appearing mid May on CrossCut records, distributed by Bear Family both physically and digitally. It can be bought from CrossCut online or we can be contacted via the website www.lockdown-sessions.de
11) Paradoxically, the Lockdown Sessions project in the face of such a dramatic situation seems to us a rational, intelligent, extremely supportive and innovative response. You have organized a crowdfunding, found a label, coordinated musical contributions from multiple countries, inspired home recordings to the best of their ability. Is it interesting that it comes from niche music like blues? Do you think it can be a winning model to resist in this condition also for others?
I am not sure. The blues scene is small and many musicians know each other, or at least know someone who knows someone…… It is at its heart a family and although we play in certain formations, due to the nature of the music, we could often equally well play with others, also in other countries. It is just life and fate that moves us in a certain direction. So, I believe most blues musicians realise this and tend to stick together, as demonstrated here.
12) The Blues, Jazz in their history have always tried to make up for the inconvenience of difficult living conditions, I am thinking of rent-parties, home meetings to be able to pay the rent of the house, so, although in a different form, it seems to us that Lockdown Sessions have the same spirit. I ask you: do you think that a choral model of a collective production, as well as a production method can mitigate the loss, the isolation of actors who in normal conditions do not live separately? Is it exceptional or will it become the "new normal"?
This type of improvisational music really requires a dialogue. I am amazed how well the musicians coped with the fact that they weren’t in the same room at the same time – the music that has made its way on to the CDs is amazing and I would be surprised if anyone criticizes the lack of dialogue here. However, we want and need to be together to communicate. This has been a fantastic project but we all long to meet up and play.
13) Can Lockdown Sessions be the antidote to individualism prevailing in the environment of the Blues as in other musical scenes?
It has certainly brought people together who had had no contact with each other before. If, in future, some of these musicians meet up in real life with others to perform, I would be a very happy man!
14) Lastly, you were making great progress with the Night Walkers and the pandemic has messed up ambitious projects, I am thinking of the collaboration with Balta Bordoy. I ask you: will the Night Walkers keep walking in the night? We know you made a record before the pandemic. Do you want us to write it up in Mescalina?
Yes, indeed. We had some wonderful things lined up for 2020. But we are not alone and many have had their plans disrupted. Playing and recording with the amazing Balta Bordoy is always a thrill and, although the tour this spring was cancelled, we will meet again later in the year. Everyone is moving festivals and events to 2021 so there is light at the end of the tunnel. I recorded a CD “Roger C. Wade Meets Balta Bordoy” in 2019 and the Night Walkers recorded “Struttin’” in 2019, so any reviews and publicity would be greatly appreciated. Will be a rocky and frustrating road but as the saying goes ”It will be alright in the end. And if it is not alright, it is not the end!”
Thanks to all of you for your work. Stay well. R