NEW YORK, NY – Alan Hampton is a seasoned multi-instrumentalist. With one critically acclaimed project under his belt, several collaborations later (Gretchen Parlato, Derrick Hodge, Andrew Bird, Kendrick Scott, among several others) he is back to talk with us about his upcoming sophomore project set to release November 4th.
Who is Alan Hampton?
I grew up in Houston, Texas (I’m in New York now). My mother is a piano teacher and my two older brothers were always playing music in the house. I grew up in a musical house hold.I switched instruments a lot as a young kid and I was really interested in music. I had a blast boring my way through it, figuring out how stuff works. I got real serious about studying more intensely in high school and college. I never looked back, didn’t think too much about it and wanted to become a musician for better or for worse.
You and album titles are the best to me. I’m still figuring out “The Moving Sidewalk” and now “Origami For the Fire.” Can you tell me about the meanings and where you’re coming from?
“The Moving Sidewalk” was a reference from a talking-to that my dad gave me one night. My brothers and I went to dinner with my dad and we had kind of a “state of the union” type of conversation. He went one by one and told us each advice and feedback on how he thought we were doing. His thing to me was ‘make sure you don’t end up on a moving sidewalk that’s going to take you somewhere on auto pilot. Make sure you’re making deliberate decisions calculating where your life is going.’ I named it that in light of our conversation. That was a departure for me in my life from being a bass player in New York playing side gigs to doing whatever music I wanted to play.
“Origami For The Fire” is a reminder to myself. When making a record, especially a follow up record, it’s easy to fill your head with what people are going to think and what you have to write on the record for people to dig it. The title is a reminder to myself to make it for me, work on it, be meticulous, do what I have to do, with the end result of putting it in the fire. Not to be ‘too precious’ with this record and I had to remind myself of that a lot.
Not to be ‘too precious’ with this record?
Yeah you know, just to make this for me. Not like it’s something I had to make and then put it on a mantle next to something that’s important to me. It’s being in the process, loving it, and then moving on.
How has your family really impacted your creativity?
I’m the youngest of three brothers and my older brothers were always really into music. I had older brothers showing me what was cool. They definitely influenced me in putting different sounds in my ear early on.
My mother being a piano teacher and player; she’s got to be the biggest influence on me musically. She’s where I got my sense of harmony from, she was my first music teacher, and she wouldn’t give me official lessons even when we asked her. She would sit us down and the second that we stopped taking it seriously she would say ‘Alright, take your hands off of the piano, don’t worry about it, you’ll get it eventually when you’re ready.’ She made us figure it out ourselves. She made me develop my own instrument and work ethic. She was also a very emotional player. She would sit down and work through stuff, and emote how her day went through playing. She’d always play the piano like she had something to unload. I think that that was really important for me to see and hear. To get a sense of the human side of music and to witness someone’s catharsis.
My father is really into lyrics. He would listen to music and songwriters based on their lyrics. He was always quoting lyrics. He said what opening lines he liked, chorus lines, and I came around that eventually. I thought a lot about the stuff that he said.
One thing that I’ve noticed among artists is their community. Who is your community and how have they helped you?
First of all, my first and foremost community is my wife and my baby. I married and had my daughter during the making of this record. They both helped me get out my head, get perspective, keep sanity, and a good foot hold of what’s actually going on in life while making a record. They give me a real sense of balance and purpose. They’re definitely my community because they’ve seen me the most at my best and worst.
I really turn to Pete Rende a lot. He has been a real source of inspiration for me, has been a mentor at times, and kind of a big brother. He engineered for my first project and played on this new one. Bill Campbell (drummer on both of the records) and Josh Meeks have been like big brothers to me. I have a lot of musician friends that I really look up to. Andrew Bird, who I’ve been touring with the past few years, is someone I’ve learned a ton from. Of course Gretchen Parlato, Robert Glasper and Derrick Hodge are people I get to collaborate with and bounce ideas off of.
I’ve always wanted to know, what were the biggest things you’ve learned from Gretchen Parlato and Andrew Bird
They seem to have a sense and trust in their own concept. Gretchen knows how to pick musicians who are going to play gigs with her and based on what they do, has a sense of what kind of character she’s trying to create. She trusts herself to go and do her things on top of that. Whatever music they’re doing, she rides the wave. Andrew does the same thing. He understands the process. On his solo show he so dialed in that you can put him in any musical situation. They both know how to not panic and get in a situation and just nail it.
What has been your recording process for Origami For The Fire?
It wasn’t long that I put out The Moving Sidewalk that I went on tour with Andrew Bird. We had an intense touring schedule that was going to last for a while. I had a bunch of songs, about twenty songs (done and half done) and I wanted to record them before the tour got rolling. So I’m upstate with Bill and Pete, and we recorded just the three of us. It was kind of a hail Mary and we tried to record a record in a couple days. What we got instead was some really nice basic tracks that I wanted to build around. For this record, I sang a lot of the takes live with the guitar. After the fact, when the tour picked up, I did sessions in various places on the tour (Chicago, London, LA, etc) and that’s how it was made. Not necessarily out of premeditation, but it just kinda worked out that way.
I saw the video for your single “Keep It In Your Dreams.” What does the song and video mean to you?
I think the song was made from the perspective of a jealous and somewhat irrational person. I think that it’s a portrait of vulnerability and what our mind can create when we feel insecure and jealous. I watch the video a lot.
It’s a really brilliant video from a disgustingly talented individual (Steve Mertens). The guy is from a band called Here We Go Magic, and he’s a great bass player. We were eating food and I saw this guy’s sketch book and asked him about it. Talked to him more about it and he said he made videos, saw them, loved them, and I was blown away. I asked him if he would make a video for the song. He really grabbed on to it, made the video super pro and super fast. It was super abstract in that I’m not sure what it’s about.
There’s a lot of imagery in there. There’s a fire, and there’s this bear. When he was describing it to me he described one of the characters as “The Dreamer” and he’s hanging out with this bear, fire lady, and it kinda blows my mind. It’s hard for me to answer what’s exactly going on.
Being so firmly established in the jazz scene, how did your fans receive your personal work?
I think that for “Moving Sidewalk” I was surprised how much they loved and responded to that record. I’ve gotten more work as a writer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist since that record came out than when I just played bass before the record came out. Even with the same musicians. Some people did stop calling me for upright bass because I think they figured I was just doing the singer-songwriter stuff. They thought that I switched to polarities, which I certainly didn’t because that was just one more thing I was making, but for the most part people seemed to like it. If people were gonna call me, they knew what they were calling me to do. They got what my taste was and sensed what I was making. I was pleased with how my jazz folks responded.
For Origami For The Fire I hope they like it, I really do. You never know. There’s music I feel really strongly about and I think there’s something in there for everybody.
What advice would you give to artists and musicians that want to do what you’re doing? (Tours, recordings, etc)
I would say make everything you can. You have to keep creating stuff. Get your hands dirty, start building stuff and make it exist. Don’t be too discerning on who gets to see what. Don’t make the mistake that I was in danger of making of only making singer-songwriter music for my singer-songwriter friends, and only playing jazz music for my jazz friends. Make every and cross pollinate. Write every bad song that’s in you without judgment. If it’s bad put it to the side and if it’s great then let it go!
If you could, time didn’t matter, and everyone was still alive; who would you collaborate with and why?
If you ask me that question everyday, than every day you’d get a different answer. My answer today is two of the women who were working for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop; Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire. These were ladies that Bird told me to check out. You can actually scratch all that and put down Stevie Wonder! Alice Coltrane is also another one. I wouldn’t know what would happen, you have no idea what these people would bring out of you. It would be so exciting to see.