Not too long back we spontaneously reviewed a concert in New York City when local musician Adam Schatz played with his band Landlady at Pianos. Prior to the show, there were no plans for coverage lined up, but because the gig was so outstanding, we wrote up a quick piece covering the night and Mr. Schatz.
Adam Schatz is a special guy. We’re not playing favorites. We’re not exaggerating. He’s a special guy.
To celebrate his return home to New York from a long tour with Man Man followed by a handful of shows at SXSW, we decided to interview the man behind the music. If you agree with our claim that he is of a rare breed, then you should know that he is playing again with Landlady this Friday at Pianos.
Before reading the interview, please be sure to take a moment to peruse his website and appreciate the detailed journaling he provides his friends/fans/cyberspace.
Here is our interview with Adam Schatz:
THE BOMBER JACKET: LET’S GET STARTED. You seem to have been “doing music” for a long time. When did you decide to pursue music as a career?
Schatz: I started dreaming of performing for big audiences probably by 7th grade which is around when I wrote my first song. I got really into hip-hop shortly after that, getting the Beastie Boys dropped on my head and then from watching the very short-lived “Lyricist Lounge” show on MTV while at a friend’s house I learned about freestyling and all these underground artists. Once you dip your big pubescent toe into the rap pool, the dreams of doing it all for an adoring crowd “professionally” come into light pretty quick.
But I’m not sure I ever made a conscious decision to make it a career. I never quite knew if I could play in a rock band as a job, though I dreamt of it ever since I started my first band One Eyed Stanley with my best friends in Newton [Massachusetts]. The notion of ever doing that with my buddies all around the world felt like the ultimate goal. And it still is in some ways. Then I came to New York for college (after taking a year off after high school to play in that band with all them buddies) and majored in jazz studies, not because it felt obvious but because any other focus in school felt un-obvious.
Why did you choose NYU to study music?
I had some criteria about where I ended up. I didn’t want to be at a conservatory because hanging around only musicians does weird things to you, and I wanted to be in a city so that I could still follow the dream of playing in great bands with great people. It ended up being a good decision, despite New York being an insane place try to do anything.
What do you think about the music education you received at NYU?
It was limited and eye opening all at once. On the one hand, I wish I had maybe majored in composition rather than jazz studies, because jazz studies laid so heavily into the required curriculum, covering all the different periods and approaches, never emphasizing one as the most important–which was nice– but still all of the requirements kept from any real flexibility with what I studied.
But on the flip side, there were certain teachers who absolutely changed the way I approached music in almost every way. Guys like Ralph Alessi, Dave Pietro, Wayne Krantz, Lenny Pickett all blew my brain wide open in terms of how to approach improvisation from a musical and human and sincere perspective, on how to listen to appreciate and understand music. And a good lot of the required courses did me a lot of good, not coming out until much later, because at the time baroque counterpoint study really feels like the ultimate chore, but there’s no way it didn’t rub off on me in some positive manner.
That said, four years was an awful long time to be in New York City wishing you were not in class and playing music and organizing shows instead. So I didn’t always go to class.
You are known for your own work, but also for your collaborations. How do your music collaborations usually start? What are the defining moments that seem to merge your work with others’?
It almost always begins with a friendship, with an undeniable getting along between me and another. I made a rule before I came to New York that I’d only make music with people I enjoy. So it’s pretty much always come out of that, I meet people as people, they meet me the same way, even if it’s because someone’s seen me play, that’s how it starts. A lot of my current collaborations came from people in school, because the people I was drawn to seemed to have their hands in lots of pies the same way I did. Ian Davis plays bass in Landlady, but before that I knew him from his band Relatives at NYU that a few of my friends played in. I ended up producing and recording their second album and putting it out on my label Museum People. That was three years ago.
I’m now finishing up producing their most recent record, with more of my friends playing in the band, and it’s being co-produced by my childhood friend Tom Tierney (from Newton, MA) who lives in New York, runs the Spaceman Sound studio in Greenpoint, and played guitar on the most recent Landlady single. We used to play in a ska band in high school, The Eskapade, but I’ve known him since 5th grade. If something works, it works, and I hope to keep collaborating with my friends and friends of friends forever.
Other times it’s a little more spontaneous. In 2009 I was playing in a band Teenage Prayers (whom I first met in 2006 on Cape Cod when I went to see childhood friends Furvis play, and my friend Noah the drummer told me I had to stick around to see this band from New York play. They blew me away and when I moved that fall I hit them up on myspace about playing with them right when their old keyboard player had left the band. The kindly 30-somethings let me into their band and taught me plenty. The Furvis dudes now live in New York and have a band called Skaters who just signed to Warner Brothers and are very very awesome. Newton.)
The Teenage Prayers were playing as a part of a Bob Dylan tribute at the Mercury Lounge called Dylanfest, lots of fancy people played and so did we. I played keys with the Prayers and sax with a few other folks and Fab Moretti was there playing as well (drummer for the Strokes and all around great dude). We talked a bit that night and he asked for my number, then a few weeks later Fab hit me up about playing saxophone with Little Joy. I got to play some amazing shows with them before they more or less called it quits. This past year I recorded saxophone and played live with Binki Shapiro from Little Joy with her new group with Adam Green. I looooved the Moldy Peaches in high school. Still do.
So that scenario seems like one that’s much more based on luck and chance. But I really feel lucky to have met any of the great folks I’ve met, no matter who’s heard of them. So to me it’s all kind of the same and it all has the same end result of making great music that would not have existed without each other.
What are all of the projects in which you are currently involved?
LANDLADY is my big thing, my big songs with some of my best friends, dynamic and strange but hooky all at once. I really believe in it and am so proud of how much it’s grown since 2010 when it began.
MAN MAN: I first saw Man Man in 2006 at PA’s lounge with 49 other people. I saw them a lot of times since then. This summer I met them a few times and through various circumstances I was asked to join the band, something I used to fantasize about when watching them. It’s damn cool, I got to play on the new album which will be out sometime this year, and our first tour was this past February. Oh boy.
FATHER FIGURES is a band that came out of learning how to improvise with my best dudes at NYU, a true collective. We call it zombie jazz, improvised rock music with saxophones instead of vocals. It’s been going and growing since 2007. It’s a bit of a captain planet thing, with all of our powers and so on.
ZONGO JUNCTION is an afrobeat band I joined a year into its existence, featuring a bunch of friends from NYU and New School. It’s shaped into a pretty gigantic force, five horns, 11 people total, afrobeat-influenced dance music with some improvising and psychedelic injections that make people dance on the spot.
THE SHOE INS a nine-piece psychedelic soul outfit, started last year by myself & Isaac Gillespie (of the Due Diligence). Kind of a supergroup among friends with the only goal being to write fun songs and to perform them like madmen. My friend Jared described us as Sam & Dave meets the Marx Brothers, something I really approve of. I wrote the best song I’ll ever write for this band. It’s called “I Pledge Allegiance (to your body)” and if it’s not recorded by this 4th of July, I’ll eat my giant patriotic top hat.
THOSE DARLINS: I play saxophone and keys with them whenever possible, I’m off to Nashville to play on their next record in April, and the new songs are soooo strong.
MRS. ADAM SCHATZ: When I play alone this happens. My songs and cover songs and improvisations.
There are lots of other projects that are improvising bands with various people, no sense in naming all of them but I have excessive amounts of fun. Here’s one, me & Kirk Knuffke, the Freshmakers (name change pending).
How the hell was that Man Man tour? What is the funniest story you’ve got up your sleeve from that tour?
Oh dear it was uncompromisable amounts of fun, but also tons of work. There are no breaks in the sets and there are lots of songs. No breaks to speak, very few instances to even drink water because I’m bouncing between saxophone and marimba and tiny keyboard and guitar and hubcap and so on. So the first batch of shows were a real workout, figuring out how to be in Man Man live as it all went down. By the end it was a lot easier but still exhausting, and we had some tough driving days and sick band members that all added up to this being a collective effort to make it to the finish line.
I think my favorite story from the tour took place in our least favorite place, Guitar Center. After days of debating it we decided a trip to the hellmouth of gear purchasing was inevitable, we needed a new keyboard stand and I had some cable desires. We make a pact that we’ll be in and out of there in less than 10 minutes. Big breath of fresh air and in we go, to a shower of “Can I help you bro”s. Me and Jamie (synth wizard) are walking around aimlessly, and a young dude approaches Jamie asking if he’s in Man Man, then saying he’s a big fan and saw them (Us?) at Bonnaroo a few years ago. Which was cool just to be a part of. Then his friend stepped out from behind some dumb keyboard, psyched as ever, and rolled up her skirt to reveal a big Man Man tattoo on her thigh, a tribute to the song “Spider Cider.” It was ridiculous, ugly and sweet, and it’s sort of the thing you always hear about but don’t get to see. In the most unlikely of places.
Do you feel like you could do everything you do if you lived in another U.S. city, or do you think New York gives you magical powers?
New York is 100% magic, possessing the power to give me the strength of 10 humans, or the feeling like 10 humans are sitting on my chest keeping me from doing anything. It has to do with high rent, clean water, noisy streets and exceptional food. I am constantly wanting to move and stay forever. All I know is if I started somewhere else I would not have met any of the people who have taught me inspired me and worked with me, and continue to do so. I’m not going anywhere. When I’m ready to own a house, I’ll be anywhere but here, but right now the community is tangible and frankly my friends rule.
Your songwriting is pretty personal and thoughtful…when do you find yourself most inspired to write?
When I’m around a piano. It’s taken me a long, long time to write about things I care about or things that are real to anyone, or at least sharp enough to get inside a listener. But I’ve always wanted to play a piano when I see one, an addiction spawned at an early age of having a piano in the house. And it’s the only instrument I can really write on, I’ll write most of my songs on piano and then chop and twist all the parts among non-piano instruments, which is a fun activity. Being away from one for almost two months of touring was a pretty big bummer, so in the past week I’ve been home it’s been a daily activity of trying to make something good come out of the instrument. It never works every time but trying every time is the only way I know and like to do it.
You’re a saxophonist! Who is your favorite sax player (dead or alive)?
If the saxophone were a piece of candy, what kind of candy do you think it would be and why?
How important is the world of jazz music to you? How do you feel about the genre in general?
Quite important–the first show I went to see in New York was Dave Binney’s Welcome To Life band at the 55 Bar, a place I spent many many nights at in the years following. Binney is an active local saxophonist and that band was his yearly superfriends celebration, some truly unreal players including Craig Taborn, Chris Potter and Scott Colley whom I all followed immediately after that. I learned so much about improvising and music in general from going to see so many of the monsters around town play.
I began throwing shows at the Knitting Factory in 2007 within that world and that grew into my organization Search & Restore, which presents shows and festivals and a website with lots of video content, all around the new jazz and improvised music world in the city and beyond. I’m working on expanding it to be less about just jazz and more about the idea of music you’ve never heard before, improvisation and spontaneous creativity in all music, less about genre and scene and more about humans and the music they make. Running the organization is a slow project as I start to tour more and more, but working in that world is a deep love of mine and it’s not going anywhere. BUT as an example, the Undead Music Festival me and Brice Rosenbloom throw together is happening in May, and we just announced a major show that will kick it off, an idea I came up with and carried out four times before, a night of improvised round robin duets. Check it out.
You put on excellent live shows. Where and how did you learn to be a performer?
Watching and learning and doing. The first time I played a rock show in 9th grade, my leg started shaking and I couldn’t really move. It wasn’t stage fright, it was just the inability of knowing what to do. But I always felt the need to be compelling to watch, to give all of myself into the show. It’s what I always looked for in a performance and I wanted to embody that. I think and hope I keep getting better at it, but the first goal was always to have a band that was impossibly tight, and then the performance aspect is easy.
I don’t know where I first learned how to move or be on stage, and I’m always trapped behind some sort of giant keyboard, so my strength probably grew from my giant eyebrows. I’ve always loved Freddie Mercury. He’s the king. Of all of it. RIP.
What is your favorite New York City venue?
What is your favorite thing ever in NYC?
The piece of pizza when you didn’t realize you know you needed a piece of pizza until three seconds before you realized you were two blocks away from the closest one.