Into the Mist:
AV: Is there ever a conscious decision when it comes time to start working on a new album?
FJ: Yes, I always start with an idea. Most of my albums are based on a concept. Blue Dream was written like a film score - 68 minutes as a single piece of music, but with 22 index points so you can move through the themes. I found that you could turn corners and completely change worlds if it flowed together as a single piece of music. If you put all the themes on an album as separate pieces, it would not be cohesive. I had a fascination with that concept and Will was happy for me to give it a go - even though it was something a little different at the time.
600 Years in a Moment was about Globalisation in a musical sense. Taking a hand made contemporary Australian piano and recording with ancient instruments from around the world. It was like bringing the village into a bigger world and bridging time, distance and space. Into the Mist (my recent album) has an opus on it about water themes and the veil of mist is a theme throughout.
AV: Tell me about the creative process you go through for any new song that presents itself to your conscious or your subconscious mind.
FJ: Some people sit with pen and paper, I sit at the piano. I start with a thought, image, experience, place that I have been - or sometimes its even based on someone else's story. I have to be inspired by something to write about or there is no story to tell. Its an interesting process - sometimes it's there and sometimes it isn't. I have learned when its time to write and when to go do something else!
AV: You have a new album out since about April called Into the Mist. The first thing that caught my attention when I looked at the cover was the familiar (to me at least) Super Audio CD logo in the corner and the banner across the bottom proclaiming it to be an Audiophile Edition. What was it that prompted you or the record company to go with SACD for Into the Mist?
FJ: I like the idea of audiophile formats and having people listen to my music in a higher resolution - the way I would like it to be heard. I feel that there is a brighter future in the audiophile world, and I'm not so keen on the MP3 for obvious reasons. Cookie Marenco, Producer and CEO of Blue Coast Records records all audiophile formats and leads with new technology like Quad DSD downloads. I love this new frontier, its exciting and what I do isn't exactly for the masses, so the niche is a good fit.
AV: During the recording process were there other requirements in the studio you had to meet so that the album would stand up to the high definition quality that SACD’s are known for?
FJ: Just good clean recordings with minimal edits, from memory there are very few in the album - mostly single takes. Cookie works with E.S.E (extended Sound Environment) - its a proprietary recording technique developed for the audiophile listening experience. Without use of headphones or overdubs, E.S.E requires a high level of musicianship and skilful engineering to create an almost holographic sound. Every part of the recording chain has been optimized with the highest quality gear.
AV: Let’s start with a basic question. Regardless of what the listener may eventually interpret an album title to represent it is nice to know what you meant by it when you named it. So what does Into the Mist mean to you and the music that listeners will find on this new album?
FJ: Its based on a theme of mist. It resonates in the meaning behind most of the tracks. Moon Over the Lotus Pond, Into the Mist, Mist Rising, Mist Before Dawn, Through Cloud, Grey Sky Morning, and Feeling Sunshine (which I guess is after the mist) LOL. The other tracks are more situational. I could always say it was a state of my mind - Misty :)
AV: Do the songs of Into the Mist have an underlying theme in your mind in terms of what they mean to you as the composer and artist?
FJ: They are a combination of songs representing where I am right now with my writing and thinking - its all very 'in the moment' when I approach new works.
AV: Most of the song titles appear to follow you outside as you walk in nature and observe what is going on around you but the last two Galloping and The Void seem to break from the other titles. So what was going on in your mind as you chose these last two song titles and how do they reflect the music that goes with the titles?
FJ: Yes, those are the two that deviate from the Mist theme. Galloping is about trying to keep up with the music industry as it changes. I'm running faster and faster to stay current and understand the sweeps and turns, its about the pace I'm moving at to keep up - Galloping!
About 8 years ago I had just met Will Ackerman and seen his studio and committed to doing Blue Dream at Imaginary Road Studio. I was about to return to Australia to prepare my music and I was feeling on cloud 9. As I joined the queue to go through security I looked across and saw something that changed my world. I saw a young boy (about 12 years old) with Autism. He was terrified and his Mother didn't know what to do. The security guards had no compassion. I watched this unravel and wondered how I could possibly be so happy and so privileged when this poor mother has to deal with this every day and this child has so little understanding of the world. How could I fill the void? I wrote The Void between security and the boarding gate in my head like a mathematical equation. It was emotionally driven, but with clear vision as to the notes and their placement.
AV: Does your music ever surprise you with twists and turns that you didn’t see coming as you are crafting the songs into their final form?
FJ: Always. That’s when I get excited! There is nothing like the discovery of a new combination of notes or a new rhythm that I have not played or heard before.
AV: Is it ever difficult for you to “feel” inspired when you want to work on a new song or project? I guess the real question is do musicians get writer’s block and how do you get past it?
FJ: Yes. And if you have a deadline, that’s where classical training comes in - you can always fall back to theory. I prefer to make sure I have enough time for inspiration to hit. Luckily I write more than I have time to record,so I never seem to run out of new material, but in the preparation of work for a recording session, I often have to return to my classical theory to double check myself and make things work in a technical sense. Having said that, some of the beauty is also in breaking the rules!
AV: Do you have any preference for solo piano work as opposed to working with others in the creation of music? Do you enjoy the collaborative give and take of working with other musicians?
FJ: I love both experiences and ways of working equally. My favourite is whichever I'm doing a the time.
AV: How do you feel about a project like Into the Mist when it is finished and released to the world and out of your hands? Relieved? Nervous? Happy?
FJ: All of those things. Nervous till I get the first reviews and its 'ok'. Relieved because its a job done, off the desk and I get to have a break from it (its always intense. The completion of a project is always tinged with a nervous excitement.
AV: Are there any songs that you are particularly proud of from Into the Mist?
FJ: My favourite to perform is Galloping and the one I'm the most proud of is Mist Rising because its neo-classical, goes back to my roots and was quite hard to play - so pulling it off was the proud moment!. A Walk in the Park surprised me because it was more of an improvisation and I pulled it off in the first take. That really surprised me!
AV: Anything else you’d care to share about the music or creation of Into the Mist?
FJ: Moon Over the Lotus Pond is my tribute to the Chinese people and the beautiful way they have accepted my music. They appreciate and understand story telling and its been a joy to tour there now 4 times and connect with their culture and children.
AV: You’ve got another big project coming out later this year. Care to comment on Flow and how this 4-way collaboration came about?
FJ: I'm so proud of FLOW - both the group and the album! We pulled of what we were never quite sure of. You start out with the unknown and you think you have a picture of where it will end up but the bar went so much higher as we progressed and I couldn't be happier with the music.
We had all worked together for many years playing on each other's albums and doing songs together, so it seemed logical to write and record as a group. It was actually Lawrence Blatt's idea. He called Jeff Oster and I and we instantly connected with the idea. Lawrence wanted Will Ackerman to produce the album. In the past, Will has played guitar on all our albums and in his own right is one hell of an amazing writer and player, so we had a head to head discussion and asked Will to join the group as the W in FLOW. It stands for Fiona, Lawrence, Oster Will.
The video says it will be released in May but that has been moved
It was an awesome move because the combination works so well, not just the instruments, but how we write as a team. Add Tom Eaton (producer, engineer) and Bob's your uncle !
The album comes out on the 6th October with a release concert at Carnegie Hall. Prior to that date the album is available to pre-order and listen to sound clips (not full songs yet). You can hear it and see videos at www.FlowTheGroup.com
AV: Fiona I thank you for taking the time out to answer my questions and not only is Into the Mist a great album but I'm also looking forward to your new collaborative effort in October as Flow. Wishing you much success for 2017 and beyond.