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Soundkeeper Recordings

SR Interview: Art Halperin

Meet the artist from the first release on Soundkeeper Recordings.  The musician and composer behind Lift and Winds of Change, Art Halperin spoke with Soundkeeper Recordings.

Art at Large Green

This interview was conducted shortly after Lift was recorded.

SR:  When did you start playing guitar?

AH:  I was 7 or 8 years old.  I heard the Beatles and asked my parents to get me a guitar.  They rented me a small nylon string guitar and signed me up for guitar lessons at a local music store.  The first day the teacher taught me a couple of chords and showed me how to play "Polly Wolly Doodle".  My dad picked me up from the lesson and asked me how I liked it.  I told him I hated it and I wouldn't go back.  That was it.  My first and last lesson on the same day.

I remember going home and putting on "Introducing the Beatles" (the one on the Vee Jay label) and sitting listening to "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Anna" over and over and over again until I could figure out how to play them.  Ever since then, I've always played by ear.

SR:  Do you play any other instruments?

AH:  In the studio I'll play drums, bass, keyboards, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, nose flute, kalimba, triangle and occasionally the saw.

SR:  When did you start writing songs?

AH:  Around the same time I picked up the guitar.  The first song I can remember writing was called "Pete the Parachuter".

SR:  In an interview with jazz composer/saxophonist Benny Golson, he said he sits down at the piano every day at the same time to write music. What is your approach to writing music?

AH:  Benny Golson's great.  Maybe I should try that approach.  I can't think of anything I do the same time everyday.  I guess my approach would be something like fishing, although I do not fish and I do not eat fish.  But if I did, I'd only go out when it was a beautiful day, cast my line and pull in a few.  I'd throw the small ones back and keep one big one.  Of course there's always the "one that got away".  That's the one I'll go back for the next time.

SR:  Do you write your songs on guitar or another instrument?

AH:  Most of the time it's guitar but sometimes songs come to me with music and lyrics when I'm walking around or in the shower or about to fall asleep.  Those are the ones that do get away because plenty of times I won't bother to write them down or record them.

Art playing

SR:  What artists do you like to listen to?

AH:  I like all kinds of music but these days I don't listen to much except for the things I'm producing.  I'm usually in the studio all day and night working on music, so when I come out or before I go in, I like silence.

SR:  Who are your musical influences?

AH:  There are probably too many to list but the ones I hear the most coming through would be Kate Bush, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, most of the Beatles, Meeka and Her Cool Cousins and Alvin and the Chipmunks.  ALVIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SR:  Your music has covered a lot of ground over the years, from pop to rock to reggae to folk.  What makes you write reggae one year and folk the next?

AH:  All the music you mention and then some, is the music I grew up with.  It's the music that inspired me to do whatever it is I try to do.  In the same way I feel comfortable being with all types of people (except negative people) I feel comfortable listening, playing and writing all types of music.  The only way I can categorize music in my life is if it's positive or negative.  I think I write positive music.  "Rescue The Future", "Beautiful Dreamer", "Tomorrow's Another Day" are all positive songs.  I could play them reggae, rock, jazz, gospel, classical, emo, whatever.  Those genres mean nothing to me as far as how I'm influenced to write or play.  There's no conscious thought on why I do this.  It's really no more than waking up and choosing what shirt to wear that day.

SR:  What was your vision for the songs on Lift?  Do you feel your vision was realized?

AH:  It's close.  We originally went up to the church to record an album of electric songs but ended up blowing out the power and almost burning the church down.  That wasn't my vision but I think what Barry and I wanted to come out with first was a powerful live electric recording that would knock you out of your seat when you listened back to it LOUD.  The next year we went back.  Knowing the room and the electrical problem, I thought it would be easier to capture something more acoustic.

SR:  In "Oh Me Oh My Oh", had you heard the lute part in your head before showing the tune to the other players?  Same question for the walking bass line in the choruses of "No Time To Think".

AH:  Most of the time, we have "No time to get together" and I play and multitrack record all the parts in the studio, then give copies to the band to learn.

Art up close

SR:  You chose to play electric guitar on "No Time To Think" and "No One Knows The Weight".  How come?

AH:  All songs that start with the word "No" I tend to play electric on.

SR:  You've recorded using standard multitrack studio techniques in the past.  How did you feel about recording direct to stereo with no overdubs or mixing as you did for Lift?

AH:  It's great.  You play, you laugh, you cry, you freeze, you go home, you have a new album.

SR:  Is the true nature of your music realized with a direct recording vs. using the more common techniques used in most studios today?

AH:  They're two completely different things.  I like both.  I can write differently for both and I can also play different versions of both live.

SR:  Does the final disc reflect the feeling and the sound you remember occurring in the church?

AH:  I don't know if the damp-bone-chilling-frozen-fingers-numb-toes part translated to hard disk but the sound is exactly as I remember it to be, maybe more.  I have to thank Barry for capturing that and my band for stepping up to the plate and smacking it out of the park as they always do.  It's a New York thing.

SR:  Thank you Art, for being the first artist on Soundkeeper Recordings and for being so bold to try our "recording without a net" approach to making records.

AH:  Thanks for asking me to be the first artist.  Besides being flattered, I feel very privileged.  As for being bold and recording without a net, this is what we do.  Most of our friends play golf or watch golf on TV.  We play music.  We like to play in the studio with the option to fix it in the mix but we equally enjoy playing live.  We're used to showing up with very little rehearsal and winging it.  Hopefully, the Force is with us and we capture some magic but there are times when you do fall flat.  No big deal, it's all part of the game.

I'm sure most of the people reading this have no idea how all this came about.  I'll tell the tale if you'd like but I think it would be more interesting if I was to interview you for that one.  What ya think?  I'll pencil you in for Friday.