An interview with Stuart McCallum-.
“Today I am using just acoustic guitars, which is a new thing for me”, says Stuart McCallum. He is on a break, eating a pizza, recovering breath, after the first part of his final gig at Matt&Phreds. Today he is sharing the stage with a drummer and a double bassist, a change from his latest solo work. “Electric guitars are a lot louder and you can be a lot more fluid. Acoustic guitar is a bit more difficult to play. But that’s all a learning process. Basically, I am trying to learn to get better, to have a broader range of things I am able to do as a musician”.
After a 20 year musical career, Stuart McCallum has now found where he belongs in the British music scene. His last album, Distilled, was critically acclaimed for its shimmering melodies. To some extent, his blend of electronic music and jazz has become the hallmark of his distinctive style. However, even when he sticks to electronic beats, he likes to play with sound by introducing elements that break with routine and surprise his followers. “I think I just try to make a mixture of everything really, and if it starts to sound too much like one thing, I try to avoid that”, he explains with a smile and noticeable enthusiasm. “I try less and less to think about what it is and just do it”.
He started playing when he was 14 years old and he began performing when he was 18. His influences range from rock and heavy metal —“which is what my dad and my brother were in to”— to jazz. He praises Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, but also highlights the evident impact dance and electronic, hip-hop, soul, harambee and classical music have had on his compositions.
While possessing a great deal of respect and admiration for what others have done before –“my dream is to maintain the power of music, the tradition of music”–, Stuart has the lack of conformism which is required to succeed —“when I am improvising I am not thinking at all really, but when I am composing I make a lot of judgments about what I am creating all the time”.
Stuart McCallum has had a number of glittering moments in his musical career. He has played with artists like the jazz saxophonist John Surman and Linder Sterling –with whom he is already working on a new project. Both as a solo artist and as a guitarist in the Cinematic Orchestra, he has travelled all around Europe. Playing at The Royal Albert Hall with the Heritage Orchestra and the London Metropolitan Orchestra will live long in his memory, as well as performing at Montreal Jazz Festival and Coachella festival in California. In 2007, he was involved in the Take Five project to support new musicians in the UK, and he has participated several times in the Manchester Jazz Festival.
However, getting to the top is never easy, especially when trying to offer something new and eclectic: “My music doesn’t really fit into anything which, in some ways, makes it more difficult to get it out there and to get people to appreciate it, because it isn’t in a box”.
This is compounded by the industry-wide crisis of digital downloads: “Where people always had to buy music they don’t have to do it anymore, so the industry is changing quite fast”. Like all industries, music has also been affected by funding cuts. Even the Arts Council England, which provides regular funding to 880 organisations across the UK, has been hit by them: “Say someone like me, who was doing music maybe 20 or 30 years ago, would probably have signed to a major label and I would be selling quite a lot of records because they would see it as a way of getting new music out there to inspire their more commercial artists, whereas now that doesn’t happen anymore”.
His response to this is to follow what he knows: work, work, and more work. “I am going to the studio next week with a trio. We have been playing together for a long time and we are going to go to the studio and record what we do. I am also playing in the studio next week with a band. We have put a CD out but we never do any gigs. It is just improvised music and we are doing it for the sake of doing it. I have also written all the music for a new album that will follow Distilled…”.
With his attention on the nearest event, Stuart mentions his gig tonight at Matt&Phreds and next months gigs on 4th and 19th of September. Matt and Phreds is one of his home venues, where those with an interest in jazz and new artists can enjoy McCallum in its “freshest” and most “forward-thinking” format. It will be a night with Rioghnach Connolly with whom he is already working on a new album. “We are going to showcase some of the music we are doing. It is kind of improvising music together. We always record the gigs here, so if we ever come up with very good ideas, we’ve got them, so that we can then write music with them”.
This time McCallum’s familiar electronic jazz will mix with Rioghnach’s soulful voice and the skillful drums of Luke Flowers, while retaining his carefree attitude to music: “I can be as excited to sit on my own without anyone hearing what I am doing as I am on stage. And I think if you can really hold on to that, it doesn´t really matter what you are doing because you can still appreciate it. The success of music is just doing the music, and the commercial or the experiences you have outside of that are separate”.
If you would like to know more about this musician, you can visit his website: http://stuartmccallum.com/photography/
Interview published by Matt and Phreds. To see the original text click here.