Thursday, November 6, 2014

Interview: Ed Roman

Ed Roman is an outstandingly insightful singer/songwriter capable of creating poignant and humorous lyrics in addition to super catchy hooks and verses. His newest release is "Letters From High Latitudes" available on iTunes and several other outlets online.

MW: Ed Roman, thanks so much for being here and talking with us!

ER: Thank you very much for having me today as a guest.  It's a pleasure..

MW: Your newest release is “Letters From high Latitudes” – I am guessing the album title has a story behind it, would you mind sharing?

ER: Not at all. When you start writing music you never know how the songs are going to find themselves aligned in a moment where they belong together. The important thing is you keep writing. Letters From High Latitudes is another compilation of 13 songs which seem to be great bedfellows. Much of the librettos of the songs themselves to me illustrate a sense of perspective and reflection of the day and age that we live in. First off, I live at the second highest elevation in the province of Ontario, Canada.  While in the process of writing the material and at the same time recording; I came across a wonderful antique book written by Lord Dufferin and coincidentally I happen to live in the county of Dufferin. I was very intrigued by the connection in the names; at the same time the title of the book. Letters From High Latitudes was the name of Lord Dufferin’s memoirs on excursions that he'd taken in the upper latitudes of the Atlantic Ocean. They seem to be stories of his perspectives while visiting a foreign place and so eloquently put in language, to me seem to be so artistic at the same time says something to me about the loss of poetic perspectives in our language. Many of the songs on the CD suggest poetic retrospectives of the day and age that we live in and cement our conscious ideas into story and melody. Much of what I am trying to describe on this album deals with sociopolitical views and even expressions of spiritual connections to the very grounds that we walk on. They are letters from someone not always running the race but observing the track and the dangers that  befall our speeds and unconscious inclinations.

MW: Your song “Comin My Way” has an extremely attractive video – very honest and serene, a lot like the song – who did you work with to create it?

ER: That's a great question and I really appreciate your accolades. The song Coming My Way was written the night before a studio session where I had planned to begin recording a completely different song for the record. It came out very quickly and in a very sincere way and it was hard not for me to act on the feeling that it created. Sometimes the best songs are written this way. They come to you like a thief in the night when you least expect it and in turn you must act on the moment when it arises. The video works very much the same way. Seeing the song seems to portray a loss of love and things that we may have taken for granted but at the same time knowing there are moments or windows  open and we can find new paths to our happiness. For me the song and video itself, need to be captured in a very similar fashion. We have some beautiful, exquisite and extremely old sugar maples on our property that evening light somehow suggests a robust metaphor for life that has lived a long time and experienced much. I wanted to try to illustrate some of the language and lyric from the song with short little vignettes and at the same time have fun with it and try to create a visual piece that was emotional and heartfelt just like the song. One evening this past summer my wife and I got out the little video camera, some lighting and grabbed a few instruments to take out in the evening and capture things in the moment. I had some basic idea of camera angles and color but at the same time as I am one of those artists who pays attention to things as they are evolving, much of the video made itself. Other than a little bit of editing and some polish we ended up with a lovely visual that fit the song so well.

MW: I know we’re never supposed to make comparisons with musicians, but I often can’t help. I hope you won’t mind if I tell you that several of your tracks have a sort of REM flavor to them (which is something I really like as I’m a huge REM fan), how do you feel about that association?

ER: I love it. I grew up listening to REM; one of my favorite bands during the 80s and 90s. Michael had a wonderful way with words and things that were so relevant to sociopolitical ideas at that moment in time. Great songwriting and musicianship in the band was also a big part of it. I take no offense when people compare my music to other things. I think it's healthy and it helps people relate to what I'm doing. We are all defined by our influences at the same time our limitations. I think you always hear some sense of familiarity in artists’ music as they themselves are obviously influenced by others. I think the most important thing is that you be yourself. There's an old phrase that says, it's all been done. Personally I understand the statement, but I don't necessarily agree with it. We are all very unique and our perspectives may be similar but at the same time we are individuals when it comes to self-expression and the energy that exists behind it. Herbie Hancock once wrote on the back of Jaco Pastorius's first solo record this quote: “The definition of an artist is one who has the ability to fuse their life with the rhythm of the times.”  There are so many apps and flows of ideas and emotions that we are constantly navigating through and to me it seems like there is an endless supply of material for an artistic mind to find invention.

MW: Are there any other artists that had a direct influence on your work?

ER: This is a great question, at the same time very difficult for a music file such as myself and many musicians to answer. I think for me there are defining moments in my life that coincide with influential musicians who helped shape who I am today. Between the ages of five and fifteen I was heavily impacted by music from my brother and sisters who were much older than I, at the same time music from my parents’ era. This meant I was getting a healthy dose of folk, rock, funk, jazz and with my grandparents Eastern European music. When I was about 14 I was handed some really important records. Two of which as I mentioned were Jaco Pastorius records. Jaco was a bass player from The United States of America who made an incredible impact from a very young age on the international music scene with many great artists such as Blood Sweat and Tears, Pat Metheny and of course Weather Report. A lot of this music turns me on to far more advanced ways of thinking when it came to my own music, composition and skill and had so much more that had to deal with musicianship as opposed to ego. Because the tentacles of those ideas had branched out into so many genres I was exposed to so much over the next 20 years of my life. At the same time I have an incredible affection for artists of passion like Jimi Hendrix. For me Jimi represents the pinnacle of popular musicianship in the 1960s and as much as people love to acclimate and freak out over his guitar playing, Jimi was a wonderful lyricist and a poet where I found far deeper meaning than most people could give him credit for. Then there's a huge list of older jazz music and composers who were great influences to me through my college years. Artists such as Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Paul Chambers were very influential to me as a young thinker and someone who was very interested in the stylings, emotions and colours from this era.   As well, more modern artists from the 80s and 90s like Mark King from level 42 was a huge influence on me when it came to singing and playing instruments, especially the bass at the same time. For that matter, Geddy Lee from Rush had just as much of an impact.

MW: No one can accuse you of not having a sense of humor – a stroll through your YouTube channel offers more than a few laughs – “comin my way a la puppet” was especially worth the watch (who knew puppets could play Sitar so well?) does humor feature largely in your music?

ER: Humor is like a weapon to me. A good weapon.  It's also a healing device. It's also a mechanism of thought and self exploration. You can always find an extreme amount of truth inside of humor and an abundance of thought-provoking ideas which can really help strengthen your internal morals. Someone like George Carlin was a master and guru of humor and sarcasm. You'd be at one of his concerts laughing so hard that your stomach felt like it was going to split open and you would actually start to see the word laughter protruding from your solar plexus but at the same time your mind was running wild with the possibilities and suggestions of his rantings. Quick witted, well read and unconcerned with the semantic behavior of our day and age allowing him to operate in a very sophisticated and artistic way in a comedy field. Some of my music has these moments of sarcasm and humor in the language which I think for the listener is a key to a thought-provoking idea. I may try to paint pictures with language like in the song I Told You So where I say "another hand inside the puppet of an ass" and visually I think conjures a sense of dark humor that portrays our political climate and really how far extended into the bowels of politicians a corporation can really go. Turn your head and cough. 

MW: I’d like to talk for a bit about being in the studio – do you work with session musicians or are you completely self-contained?

ER: The studio is obviously a very different animal than when you play live. As I mentioned, I'm always writing material so I'm not always sure as to when it feels right for it to be recorded. The point being, as I am versed in several instruments, other than the bass guitar, I find it so pleasurable to experience new instruments and the journey into a new realm.  I think this is something that is very common for many musicians who spent time writing music and thinking about its composition and flow. There is however other times when the music that has been written requires the interaction with other musicians. For instance, if I have written a jazz piece it's important for me to have other musicians involved in the live off the floor recording in order to capture a symbiotic moment inside of the improvisational aspect of the music. It can be difficult to manifest the same kind of artistic struggle and interplay by yourself. It can be done but it seems to me so much more fluid doing it that way.  I’m never opposed to other musicians’ ideas when it comes to composition and I think it's healthy to keep an open ear about someone else's perspective. The other aspect that also dictates how much collaboration happens in the studio prior to recording is musicians availability. Musicians are multitaskers. We live our lives artistically. We are parents, teachers, husbands, wives and many of us have one or two day jobs in order to make things work on a financial level at home. So it can be extremely difficult to fluidly and repetitively find those zones, but I love them.

MW: Does this arrangement affect your songwriting in any way?

ER: I wouldn't say it affects it but I would say it changes. As I live much further north then most people in the greater metropolitan area, obviously there are less musicians in my local neighborhood. My local neighborhood is a 250-year-old farming community that extends over thousands and thousands of hectares. For me I find it important as an artist to have open space and time for my mind to decompress from so much of city living. I love the city. I love the people in it and I love working but I find it extremely hard and difficult to find a sense of quiet time and space. I'm very sensitive to sound and frequencies so farm living is the life for me. Because of this I write quite often on my own and really I always have. Musical composition for me is allowing your imagination and your conscious to intermingle with one another not only with words but at the same time with musical ideas.  Through experimentation I very quickly find paths that are leading me to complete compositional ideas. Many artists in the past have worked in a very similar fashion. Look at Stevie Wonder for instance. Some of the songs on the Complete Musiquarium are solely played by Stevie. It's not an ego trip or anything like that. It's just musicians having fun expressing themselves in new ways. I always find when I try to push myself on instruments that I'm not as well-versed at, I learn so much not only about that instrument, but about my principal instrument. It's really a big learning experience and at the end you realize that you have been having a hell of a lot of fun.

MW: “I Told You So” is another really stand-out track – it seems to have more than just a tinge of politics, can you speak to that for a moment?

ER: I Told You So is one of those things that you say to somebody when for years you have been reminding them of the pitfalls or problems associated with what they're doing. Yes you are correct, there is more going on than just a comment on politics today but is also asking the question “who builds the myths inside our shopping carts and all the hearts of everyone we see.” Because I come from an extremely political background as well as many generations of farmers, I'm stupefied yet at the same time not at all surprised by the circumstance of social consumption. When you go to the grocery store you're always looking for a multitude of things for your family's dinner table. Often times the conscious mind will wonder in question as to why much of the produce and commodities that we have are coming from so far away. This is all intimately tied into international politics, trade agreements and unilateral laws that have been in place for quite some time.  It was only 25 or 30 years ago that most grocery stores across North America obtained 90% of their commodities through local farms.  The 1980s free trade agreements which were sold to the Western Hemisphere as an idea which would bring great promise and benefits to all those creating merchandise to our free flow of trade across borders. That all sounds fine and dandy but at the same time the auspicious nature of what it has really promoted is big corporations going further abroad in order to increase their profit margin by buying commodities cheaper from further away. This has spelled the demise of family farming and a subtle takeover by corporate farming all over the globe. Unilateral agreements then protect those corporations and allow them to continue their practices as they see fit. What this actually means is food which is not grown at home and in many cases is subpar or unsafe for human consumption. Corporations have also sold the idea to government that corporate farming and genetically modified foods are essential in the day and age that we live in. They are always toting the flag which says sustainable organic farming is impossible with the explosion of the population and growth of the planet. The reality is over a very short period of time many people have lost their love relationship with food, the ability to grow it, and in the end one can feel empowered when being able to supply their local communities with good food. To me it's really all part of a corporate Fascist dictatorship government which disassembles civilian laws in order to accommodate their own needs. This has a very dangerous and fraudulent impact on the health and well-being of people in our countries. When I am asking these questions in the song I'm trying to reinvigorate the thinking process for the listener in hopes that the conscious mind will question these things, talk to their grocers or even in best cases seek out local foods from their area. To me, one of the areas were we can make an incredible impact and change for the better when it comes to our relationship with food is in our grade schools and high schools. At a very young age children start to realize their importance and relationship to their surroundings. If they are shown from a young age how to appreciate and engage in basic things like growing food over the course of the summer months at their own schools and then in turn at their own homes, most children embrace wholeheartedly the idea of growing a garden. It takes them out of the building classroom and puts them into the classroom of nature. They do not have to be victims of a textbook and a simple experiment a growing blades of grass in a windowsill of their classroom. So many schools have an abundance of space were gardens can be kept, harvested and the byproducts can then in turn be used in their cafeterias. There is far more going on in a garden than just laborious work, pulling weeds and reaping the harvest's of your efforts. The mind becomes extremely active in many possibilities of artistic thinking. It begins to relate to the environment in a much more symbiotic way which then in turn reinvigorates the mind in other places of  life. I Told You So is not trying to rub the wrongdoing of that person in their face, but in fact is trying to say please pay attention to the things that are going on around.

MW: How has the live scene treated you?

ER: Because I have been playing for so many years across Canada and the United States I would say that the scene has changed drastically over the last 20 years. I'm still trying to wrestle with the idea that it is technology that is overriding the average persons enthusiasm when it comes to participating in live music culture. I also see places in our artistic communities where this seems to be a difficulty.  I am a Canadian.  I'm extremely proud of our country and what we have achieved as a populace of people but at the same time I'm embarrassed by the lack of enthusiasm for the average person in Canada and their attachment to art in this country. In my recent trips to the United States I've seen a big difference in the way Americans still participate and interact in music culture. There’s so much history in American culture that is woven into the tapestry of the American fabric and what defines people in the USA. This is why I say I'm still struggling with the idea that it is technology which has promoted this lethargic behavior in Canada. But we now have situations like new shows being offered by the CBC which allow viewers to log on from their homes in their own privacy to watch music in live scenarios. To me this is not helping promote the idea of an active music culture. I understand the necessity and importance of embracing this new technology but at the same time a big part of the live musical experience is the symbiotic relation that musicians feel between themselves and the listeners. As corny as it sounds there is an extreme energy transformation in those moments and as a result many musicians feed off of the enthusiasm in a moment.  It can be odd and quite strange playing to an empty room and just a bunch of cameras. That doesn't mean that the musician isn't giving their all, but it does mean that there is no connection between people physically in the moment with the music. I'm very excited to be doing more playing in the United States and the next bunch of years because of this musical enthusiasm.

MW: Any great memories from the road?

ER: The Road is an amazing place. You have moments of extreme elation and gratification that come through the connection between people and the music but at the same time it can be very lonely away from home and your loved ones. A lot of the wonderful memories that I have from the road relate to the people that I've met and listening to them and their experiences. Many of these stories have made their way into artistic ideas. The places that you visit can be filled with history and can really show you a lot about the day and age that we live in today. Once again wonderful fodder for writing.  Because the people that you meet are such a big part of the experience they welcome you into their lives, billet you into their homes and feed you and this to me is a very special sense of expression and gratitude. I remember being way up north at the top end of James Bay where Hudson's Bay meets James Bay. It’s the most isolated and remote community that I've ever visited as a musician, and I had a wonderful opportunity to spend some time out on the water with local guides that took us to some pretty incredible spots that the aboriginal people deem highly important. I felt that such a great privilege to be accepted into the community; at one point while sitting in a teepee latent with cedar bows while elders slowly worked fine crafts of birch bark and leather. The fire warm, meat slowly turning from a string while a staff of birch is mounted into the ground with fresh bannock slowly baking. The aromas and energy are overwhelming. Please! Do we have to leave now?

MW: So what’s next for Ed Roman?

ER: It's been such an amazing eight months and there's been so much going on for me. I've been so busy and because of it my mind has felt very fruitful and I'm finding so many wonderful things to write about. Sometime around the spring or early summer of 2015 I plan on starting a new album; songs that have been conglomerating over the last year. I also am very excited about working with a new friend of mine Robert Connolly. Robert works with new advanced high energy waveforms that are designed to help the human body. I will have the privilege of being in Bob's movie about the interdependence of living things and the relationship to our living world. As I am the crazy eccentric musician farmer who lives high on the hill and my studio is a location where much of his sensitive equipment will not be infiltrated by radio frequencies and Wi-Fi. There is also a great connection to the great Nikola Tesla who has done a lot of primary research on healing properties of subsonic frequencies and the effects on the human body. I will be a part of Bob's new film which illustrates these incredible relationships. By using polygraph tabs and algorithms that are interfaced with the computer system, the plants in these experiments show an incredible and fascinating aptitude for direct communication between human an organics. This is wild stuff kids….

MW: Ed Roman, thanks so much for chatting today!

ER: It was a complete pleasure and I thank you so much for adding me as a part of your wonderful publication. Fantastic questions and a lot of fun to answer. Don't forget to check me out on my website at and if I may be so bold suggest you go and pick up the new record Letters From High Latitudes. You can always get the Ed Roman App for free at iTunes for your iPhone or android device.

one who works with their hands is a laborer
one who works with their hands and mind is a craftsman
one who works with their hands their mind and their heart is an artist

MW: Couldn't have said it better myself!

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