01 Jul Inside the Music Mind of World Renown Keyboardist, Swatkins
The Music Industry is full of creative people. From the musicians on stage playing music with the best synthesizers to the artists that make the posters that the promoters use to get people to the music venues wanting to learn lessons on harmonization. All the different people involved in making the music industry work have skill sets to be celebrated.
You can read our last interview: Inside the Music Mind of trombonist, Caleb Windsay.
MM: SO WHAT WAS IT THAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A MUSICIAN?
SW: Music itself is one of the greatest things that humans can access. I don’t actually feel I was inspired to “become” anything, but I have intentionally structured my life around prioritizing intimacy with music. That doesn’t make me more or less of a musician than literally anybody who fosters a healthy relationship with the thing. I think that if you at all respond positively to aspects of music, then you have essentially already “become” a musician.
MM: IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF A GREAT MUSICIAN?
SW: Mostly carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and compassion for others.
MM: WHO ARE YOUR BIGGEST MUSICAL INSPIRATIONS OF ALL TIME AND WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST OF THEIR DISCOGRAPHIES FOR PEOPLE THAT ARE BEING INTRODUCED TO THEM?
SW: Stevie Wonder – one of the purest distillations of Music into human form. Start by forgetting everything you’ve ever learned, and then approach it all with baby fresh ears and an unclouded heart.
Curtis Mayfield – taught me about how much strength there is in fragile vulnerability and gentle beauty. Start with The Impressions and go from there.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk – you can literally just start learning about this singular person and his art from any point in his catalog and you will gain a deeper understanding of humanity.
George Duke – he encompassed musical liberation, joy, humor, and love. Listen to his output from the 1970s.
MM: IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF A GREAT SONG?
SW: It should make you feel something. I’d rather be pissed off by a song than just have an absence of feeling towards it.
MM: IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF A GREAT ALBUM?
SW: I like it when the bass is mixed pretty loud and you can tell they had fun recording the record.
MM: WHAT WAS THE FIRST ALBUM THAT REALLY GRABBED YOU? WHAT WERE THE SPECIFIC THINGS ABOUT THE ALBUM THAT MADE IT SPECIAL FOR YOU?
SW: My dad used to play the first Stan Getz / Joao Gilberto album on cassette in the car headed to my youth soccer tournaments. I remember thinking that Brazilian Portuguese was the most beautiful language I had ever heard, that Stan Getz’s breathy tenor sax tone was textural and tactile and delicious, and that the dry nylon string guitar was very different from the jangly steel-string stuff from the other music my dad would play. Maybe because I couldn’t understand the words but the music was so evocative, the songs rooted themselves in a specific indefinable place in my brain… naming it or otherwise categorizing would only limit its emotional scope… that album contained multitudes for me.
MM: WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE PEAK EXPERIENCES OF YOUR CAREER? ANY FUN STORIES YOU CAN SHARE?!
SW: Every day you get to hang out with Music it is a Good Fucking Day. Playing big shot shows at legendary venues and doing cool dumb party stuff with famous people seems all pretty low-priority when you consider how unfuckwithable it is to simply get the chance do music with people you love and respect.
MM: WHERE DO YOU SEE THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IN THE 30 YEARS?
SW: The year is 2052. Music is kept in bio-encrypted storage nodules in our “junk” DNA and is listened to through the means of bone-conductive devices installed in our skulls. The number-one most popular song is a brand new track every day algorithmically generated based on whatever is trending on social media. They all sound pretty much the same. Consumers can assign neural associative relationships to certain albums/songs, which will begin playing automatically when certain emotional/social conditions are met. Older generations feel self-righteous about the state of affairs and lecture folks on how music used to sound better when it was compressed on streaming services and played through a tiny speaker, wielding nostalgia like a blunt object. Rebellious youth 3D-print bootleg Stratoblasters and hunt among the junk cities for salvageable analog gear. The President of The Consolidated North American Nations is working on an ambient chill-hop album.
MM: FOR THE SERIOUS MUSICIANS OF THE WORLD, IS THERE A REAL PRO TIP YOU ARE WILLING TO SHARE, BE IT AN EXERCISE, A LICK, A PRACTICE HABIT, LIFE ADVICE, ETC.?
SW: If you are like, for real, a super serious musician of the world… you should make sure that you’re doing stuff in your life that is NOT directly musically related. You have to give your art the raw materials of a decent life, or else it will become stagnant. Going for walks regularly, learning how to grow food and cook yourself cool stuff that you enjoy eating, and investing in friendships and relationships with people NOT in the music industry can all have incredibly positive effects. Avoid vampiric/parasitic industry bullshit at all costs. Preserve your peace and protect your relationship with music. Guard against burnout and cynicism. If you are careful, and lucky, you can make music on your own terms without fear of judgment for as long as you want.
MM: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNG MUSICIAN THAT WANTS TO BECOME A PROFESSIONAL MUSICIAN?
SW: Ask yourself if you really want to turn a thing that you sincerely love into a thing that has to pay your rent. Plenty of “pro” musicians find themselves embittered and calloused towards a world that they felt owed them something for their talents. Well, talent is cheap. It’s what you do with it that makes you special. If you are looking for Music to “do stuff” for you, then consider changing your relationship to this pure incorruptible thing. If instead, you are looking to “do stuff” FOR music, then I think you’re probably on the right path.
MM: WHAT GEAR ARE YOU USING THESE DAYS? FEEL FREE TO SHOUT OUT SPONSORS, DISCUSS NEW ADDITIONS OR FAVORITE OLD GEAR. CAN BE YOUR MAIN INSTRUMENT, ACCESSORIES ETC.
SW: I am extremely grateful to the friends who have helped me over the years with gear.
I use a lot of old and quirky stuff, but these folks are still building and maintaining equipment for love.
Vintage Vibe Piano
Custom Vintage Keyboards
Noble Amplifier Company
Dave Smith Instruments
Clavia DMI AB
Dunlop / MXR
Red Panda Effects
3 Leaf Audio
Sound Absurd Cables
MM: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE VENUES TO PLAY IN THE WORLD? FEEL FREE TO SHARE AN EXPERIENCE THAT MADE IT SPECIAL
SW: Théâtre Antique de Vienne, this ancient colosseum outside Lyon, France… opening for Stevie Wonder with Allen Stone, got to watch Stevie and his band all day from goofing around at soundcheck all the way through the exhaustive three-hour performance, until at the end of the night when he called us into his dressing room to meet up for a hug. <3
MM: IN ALL YOUR TRAVELS, WHAT IS THE BEST MEAL YOU EVER HAD?
SW: After a long-haul flight to Osaka, Japan we found a late night okonomiyaki spot that served a very hungry band a life-changing meal.
MM: HAVE YOU DISCOVERED AN AWESOME RESTAURANTS WHILE ON TOUR THAT YOU WANT TO SHOUT OUT! WHAT MAKES THEM SPECIAL?
SW: If you’re in Portland, Oregon, make sure to stop at Hat Yai for some southern Thai delights and indescribably delicious chicken.
MM: HAVE YOU DISCOVERED AN AWESOME HOTELS WHILE ON TOUR THAT YOU WANT TO SHOUT OUT! WHAT MAKES THEM SPECIAL?
SW: I like the ones with the blackout curtains and the in-room coffee machine. Like, it’s a hotel.
MM: COFFEE, TEA OR JUICE?
SW: sure thing, I’m parched.
Swatkins (Steve Watkins) is a smiley keyboard guy. His music generally sounds like a good time. This exceedingly positive individual is a songwriter, producer, singer, multi-instrumentalist, and a master of the talkbox, an old-school analog effect using his larynx and a vinyl tube to shape the sound of his synthesizer into a singularly funky vocal articulation.
Full-length Swatkins album “Friends And Other Necessities” comes out later this year! The record was produced in New Orleans and features appearances from Allen Stone, Eric Krasno, Antwaun Stanley, Raquel Rodriguez, and members of Lettuce, Dumpstaphunk, Ghost-Note, and more.
Photo in interview by Charla-Harvey.