Tag Archives: travel

Interview with Jack Baker, Drummer of Bonobo

Since the April 2013 release of the album ‘The North Borders,’ the electronic music group Bonobo has gained immense popularity by performing more than 175 concerts in 30 countries around the world, delighting over 2 million fans from Milwaukee and Moscow, to Istanbul and England.

Along with a core group of live instrumentalists, Jack Baker made heads nod all along the way with his incredible drumming and percussions. I reached out to Jack, who was very kind to answer a few questions for the first interview I’ve ever posted on ‘Brian Writing.’

The truly wonderful North Borders – Live album was just released. Do you have any favorite moments or tracks on it? Did you know an album was in the works as you were performing on the tour? 

Cirrus is my favourite tune on the album, mostly because we start the live set with it.  The adrenaline kicks in when I hear the opening bell parts and you know the show is about to start.  Every time I hear it now it puts me right back in that place.

Simon works a lot when we are on the road, he sits in the back with his headphones on making tracks.  Simon is either touring, DJing or making music in his studio so we know when there is an album in the pipeline. He tours then writes, tours then writes and has done for a while now.  Some albums take longer than others but the North Borders was fairly quick to put together so there wasn’t a huge gap between finishing the Black Sands tour and starting the North Borders one.

When did you get involved in the Bonobo project? How long have you been drumming and touring? 

I’ve been playing with Simon ever since the live band got put together in 2004.  I’ve had many other projects that I play with, one being a soul singer called Alice Russell.  I produce and write music for a number of different artists including Yungun aka Essa and a fiery vocalist called Lea Lea and had my own projects out in the past under the name The Jack Baker Trio.  I’ve been drumming since a kid and playing with many different bands but the touring didn’t start until leaving university in 2003.  My father was a drummer so I just followed in his footsteps.

Jack Baker on his kit

What’s your daily routine like when you’re not on the road? Do you wake up and start working before your first cup of coffee, or does it take a while to sit down and get to it?

I’m a worrier not a warrior! The second I wake up I’m working till the second I’m sleeping.  I’m always thinking of new projects or ways of making money, hustling to get gigs or a recording session.  I’ve got my own recording studio and I work from that a lot. I share the studio with a couple of the guys from the Bonobo band so we’re often in there having a laugh and making strange music (mostly going for long tea breaks and getting nothing done!).

To make a living in music in England is hard and you have to work at it. Shows will only bring in so much money and unless you are playing ever night of the year you are going to struggle. You have to think of other ways of making money, fingers in pies!

How amazing is it to travel as much as you do?  Which places or experiences stand out?

I got into music partly because I wanted to travel.  I’m one of those guys that likes to keep moving, it get itchy feet if I stay in one place for too long (I’m guessing you know the itchy feet saying in America? I don’t actually get itchy feet!!).

I’ve been so lucky to travel around the world a number of times and see what I have seen.  It opens your eyes to how other people live and how they make (and listen) to music.

People always ask if we actually see much of the countries we go to and I think we experience more than if we were a tourist.  We get taken to the best restaurants, see the tourist sights before sound check, hangout with promoters for dinner and learn about the city, party with the locals in the best bars and clubs in each city, I would never do this if I was just a tourist!

Places that stand out is Japan for its madness, America for its natural beauty, Australia for is beach life, Easten Europe for is exciting harshness and the warmth of its people, Europe for its culture and food, England for its architecture. Everywhere is amazing!

What are you in to lately? TV, music, websites…  

You can’t go wrong with Gospel Drummers on Youtube.. Those cats are crazy! I’m also watching Treme and Homeland, series 4 (I have no idea whats going on with Homelands, but its cool!). The music I’m listening to is, Badbadnotgood, Jaga Jazzist, James Blake (on repeat!), Flume, A$ap Rocky, Clap! Clap! Gilles Peterson podcasts and a load of Hip Hop, Jazz and Ragga.  I like music that makes me wanna shake my head or close my eyes and listen.

Do you ever have creative impulses that push you to things other than drumming? How do you stay focused on your craft?

At the moment it’s all music music music, it’s my hobby and my career.  The music that I play changes all the time and thats enough to keep me busy.  However I do have a dream to sail round the UK one day and I have just passed my level one yachting certificate. I’m not sure I trust myself in charge of a boat but it would be awesome to do.

Is the internet making it easier or harder than it used to be to earn a living as a musician? 

I think the internet can only be a good thing.  You can’t live without it, it is the music industry, and it’s every other industry too, you can’t operate without it.   Other than the actual act of playing the drums, everything else is now done online.

I’m just starting an online recording sessions website called The Online Players and it will act as a portal for people to get the best musicians in London to record on their tracks.  Many of the best musicians are always touring so this website will  reach them when they have some spare time and get them in the studio.

I think before the internet you had to work hard for your income, now you can make money whilst drinking a gin and tonic from the comfort of your own home!

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career? 

Getting on some terrible Russian planes!!! Also giving up my day job and being a musician full time, that was scary but lucky I had a great boss at the time and he was amazingly supportive and believing that I should do music for my career.

When’s the next tour?

How long is a piece of string?  You never know what’s around the corner, it could all go quiet tomorrow, who knows.  There is a lot of waiting involved but I’m hoping that the next Bonobo album won’t take too long and we can all get back on that dusty road.

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Jack spacing out at Coachella music festival

 

Australia from Four Cameras — (4 of 4)

  • Moto RAZR (phone camera)

The least technically capable camera I carried in Australia was the one built into my cell phone, the Moto Razr.  And when I say ‘least technically capable’ about the imaging quality, what I mean is that it is pretty atrocious. The shutter is remarkably slow, the color calibration is bland, the orientation and ergonomics are awkward and unpleasant. That said, although it was less capable than my other ‘real’ cameras, in non-traditional ways, it was the most capable.

With all its limitations I was able to do some interesting things. The panorama feature was slightly redeeming – I could wave the phone in a circle, and it would stitch together a wobbly but coherent frame.  I could instantly share pictures by uploading to Instagram. I could take “selfies.”  Most importantly, I was able to use pictures as a surrogate notepad, for ‘mentally bookmarking’ things I needed to remember later – like an interesting newspaper article, the name of a beer I tried, or a rental listing in a property office’s window.

I was able to take pictures less pretentiously, of things that I didn’t particularly need a great photograph of, but did want a great memory of. And when I did want a great photograph, I was usually carrying another camera for that, and if I felt that impulse we now have to instantly ‘share’ the scene with the world, I could snap the same (less technically sound) frame with my phone, and upload it right away.

Australia from Four Cameras — (3 of 4)

  • Olympus E-PL1

The E-PL1 is an amazing camera. What I love about it (aside from the image quality) is its inconspicuousness. When shooting street photography, or casual travel scenes, pointing a big DSLR neck-weight can easily tip off potential subjects that their image is being captured, and may intimidate them into feeling a need to ‘perform’ for such a large camera. The small body E-PL1 is a much friendlier camera to be in front of – it looks small and harmless, and leaves people to behave as naturally as they would if a camera weren’t around.

It uses the same 13 megapixel sensor that the much larger E-30 does, but in a compact “micro 4/3” body system. The Micro 4/3 line of cameras offer big quality in a small package, and with a lens converter, I can shoot with the same glass that I use in any other E-system camera. (So with the E-PL1 and the E-500, I traveled with three interchangeable lenses, and one kit lens for the PL1.)

The E-PL1 is also the only camera I have capable of shooting video under manual control settings. This opens up a whole world of creativity, and I have only just begun to explore the possibilities. Any scene I encountered with defining movement was available to be recorded in a short movie clip.

Australia from Four Cameras — (2 of 4)

  • Olympus E-500

The E-500 was the first DSLR I ever used, and I’ve been shooting with it for nearly eight years. I learned how to operate manual controls with this camera, and built a muscle memory with it that I can’t quite replicate with any other camera body. The E-500 doesn’t have the live-view features or the 13MP sensor of the E-30, my other Olympus camera body, but I chose to travel with the 500 because it’s smaller, lighter, and I am more familiar with its nuances. Comfort with a tool could be more important than features, bells, and whistles.

Even with its older sensor and more limited features, it’s very capable of producing gorgeous images. I’ve always been impressed with its color accuracy, especially shooting in .jpg with no post-processing. Rich blues and greens make it great for landscapes.

Australia from Four Cameras – (1 of 4)

It’s the biggest question I face when I get ready to take a trip – which cameras are coming along? 

For my trip to Australia, I ended up packing four cameras, four lenses, and 38GB of memory cards. Each camera served its own unique purpose, and I gave all of them almost equal use.

  • Olympus FE-170

This camera was put to market in 2006, making it the oldest of my crew. I found it on eBay for under $100 back in 2007, so you could probably put 50 cents in a vending machine to get one today. It’s a small 6 megapixel point and shoot, with 38-114mm (equivalent) zoom. By today’s standards, it is very limited in image quality, but it has something none of my other cameras did – an element of “disposability.”

At 4.4 oz, and with only two buttons I needed to press, it is exactly what I needed to carry while running the Sydney Half Marathon. I didn’t care if sweat was seeping into the buttons, I wouldn’t have been heartbroken if I dropped it. I had already tested its durability – It also traveled with me to China several years ago, and ended up shooting some of my favorite images of a camping trip in the desert.

on Walking the World

You can tell a lot about a city by its crosswalks.

In Sydney, the ‘Art and About‘ program installed large banners throughout the city illustrating the slight variations in ‘crosswalk people’ around the globe. The little blinking green man who helps you avoid becoming a traffic accident isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when considering ‘what piece of public art defines where I live?’ But… ‘God is in the details.’

A few examples:

In Warsaw, Poland – the Crossing Man is shattered, wrecked, in pieces. What brought him to such a state of discombobulation? How does he even walk like that? Not only are his limbs disassociated, but his head is monstrously large. It’s as if Warsaw Man lived through WWII and hasn’t finished rebuilding. Perhaps the city is still figuring out how to become whole again.

Warsaw Crossing Picture

In Chicago, USA – the Crossing Man is orange, hunched, an arm limply stretched out in front of him. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. His head is not attached to his body. He leans on one leg as though he could crumple at any moment.

Chicago Crossing Man

In Santiago, Chile – this Crossing Man appears frozen, fixed by the shine of his own luminosity, bursting from tiny bulbs within. His pose doesn’t suggest walking, but hesitating. Like a deer (or kangaroo) in headlights, he is frozen. His head floats above his body, his back is set straight. What is Santiago resisting? Who has frightened it?

Santiago Crossing Man

In Paris, France – the Crossing Man can’t be bothered with anything. His head is screwed on tight. His knees aren’t bent, maybe he isn’t walking, but just waiting for someone else to walk for him. Hands in pockets, he is casual, haughty.. and if he is run down by a car… Merde, C’est la Vie, at least he looked like a gentleman as it happened.

Paris Crossing Man

In Stockholm, Sweden – the Crossing Man is defined by his spine, the only visible component of his interior, which radiates through his torso. His legs are much stronger than his wispy arms. His head is small. Stockholm Man is on the move, quickly, perhaps propelled to find his way indoors by the chilly Scandanavian air.

Stockholm Crossing Man

In Boston, USA – do not get in the Crossing Man’s way. He is coming through, his arm cocked back, shoulder ready to charge any obstacle in his path. His outline glows, his inside is dark. He leads a private internal life. With his rear leg straight and his forward leg bent, he is almost crouched, poised to move briskly. Without feet, he makes his way by the power of his middle.

Boston Crossing Man

And finally, in Sydney, Australia – the Crossing Man is an idealist. He appears to have gathered the qualities of other cities, taking the best and leaving the questionable. He has a good neck. His arms evoke action, without aggression. His legs, in long stride, get him along his way in good time, at no risk of injury by overexertion. His salutary proportions make fellow pedestrians want to wave and shout, ‘G’day, Mate!’

Sydney Crossing Man

Current Status

Sitting in LAX wondering why I’m about to return to a city where in the last few days a man immoliated himself on the National Mall, and police shot and killed a woman who crashed her car into the White House while driving with her one year old infant. And this just a few weeks after the Navy Yard terror. Are we done with normalcy, as a nation?

Trip Note 1, IAD – SYD

I already feel opened up to ‘deep travel‘ in the sense that aggravating situations are transformed into experiences of something different. Instead of being angry that I was next to a screaming toddler on the last flight, it was more of an opportunity to observe, “oh, this is what a screaming toddler looks like up close. I don’t see that often. Cool.”

Travel takes situations that everyday would be nuisances and makes them vibrate with a less hazardous nature.

Because it can be expensive, and because its away from the regular responsibilities of daily life, and because not everyone is fortunate enough to have the means to do it, I suppose a traveler might feel some guilt when preparing for a trip, since they are so lucky to undertake it. But really, the object of travel is to be humbled by the place you’re going, to be reminded that your way isn’t the only way and that things are done differently elsewhere, no worse. Travel might be a luxury but its simultaneously a catalyst for humbling oneself.

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The flight to Sydney is long but I have been sleeping thru most of it. I looked out the window and saw a dark, black earth under me, but a full moon high above and reflecting from the wing of the plane.

Watched ‘Darjeeling Limited’ on the flight from DC to LA, a fun film. Wes Anderson movies have a way of taking the ordinary and bland and making it exuberant, without resorting to high drama. Or by at least keeping the high drama in a state of stoicism. It’s nice to watch a travel film as I get ready for this trip and be reminded that if you set out on journey for some enlightening experience, it will probably come, but most likely not in the form you expect it to. Or at least that’s how it plays out in the movie.

When I first arrived at Dulles, the line to pass thru security was extremely long, much more so than any other time I’ve passsd though it. People were getting frustrated, and I found myself on the precipice, at a tipping point where I could start looking around at other people becoming agitated and use their behavior as a mirror to nudge myself into my own state of frustration, but I recognized the choice I had and opted to instead look at what else was happening in that particular ‘now’ – I was seeing interesting people, going somewhere I’d never been, the wait gave me a chance to make an extra phone call, I was pleased with how I lightly packed my luggage – and feeling all those extra parts of ‘the now’, while standing in that unmercifully long line, I ended up feeling actual bliss, momentarily. Pure bliss.

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On Travel, Time, and Plans

In 66 days I’m heading to Australia for a few weeks. Sixty six is an even number, but feels like an odd amount of days. Odd in the sense of familiarity.

This is a plan. A plan to spend a certain amount of time in a distant place. A span of time shorter than the 66 days preceding it, and the 66 days that will follow.

I’m counting on the trip to fulfill my wanderlust, give me stories to tell for the rest of my life, placate some strange need I have to fly entirely across the world and track down something, that for whatever reason, I have decided doesn’t exist in a nearer radius.

But what about the ‘be here now’ philosophy? Since making the resolution to leave and ‘Explore,’ I’ve had several excellent weeks. As if making the vague plan to have an amazing experience was all I needed to do, in order to transform the period before the ‘event’ into something equally fulfilling.

clouds

Is it possible to be so aware of your own perceptions that any given, regularly present moment can be just as exciting as some luxuriously imagined, pre-arranged moment planned for in the future?

Of course planning has value, but not when it’s a plan for epiphany, which can be one of the intended pleasures of aimless travel. Revelations are black swan experiences, I think. They come when you’re least prepared.

Maybe this is called settling. But maybe the banal connotation of that idea needn’t be so strong. Maybe settling can be just as arousing as wandering. I guess hitting the road and making a lucid comparison between the two is the only way to find out.

I’m not the first person to question his own motivations for travel. Emerson said, “I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical that I fled from.”

Twain had a much more generous description of traveling’s benefits: “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime”

Some find themselves stuck in the middle. In Coelho’s Alchemist, the young Shepard sets out on a journey to find treasure, hearing along the way from advice-givers that he should ‘live in the present’. In the end, what he sought had always been in the place from which he left, but he needed to leave in order to learn.

A few years ago, I had never heard of Coelho’s book until I was waiting at an airport gate for my first international flight. Another passenger asked me if I wanted to trade books. I was carrying ‘Wind, Sand, and Stars’ by Saint-Exupery, another travelogue, and the cornerstone of my personal canon up to that moment.

I swapped my worn copy for the Alchemist, and Saint-Exupéry‘s next reader eventually found the following line:

“It is in the compelling zest of high adventure and of victory, and in creative action, that man finds his supreme joys.”

on National Geographic Live!

The National Geographic Society has launched a program called ‘NG Live!’ in which brilliant photographers from the magazine’s pages present their work at the Grosvenor Auditorium, in Washington D.C. to a curious and appreciative audience.

Gardens by Night

Diane Cook and Len Jenshel presented an alluring series of exposures from gardens around the world, captured during the darkest hours of night. The soft light from the moon casts a diaphanous glow on the beautiful landscapes in the images. Gardens, curated carefully to be visually pleasant, calming and intricate, show a hidden power at night.

Fuling and Changing China

I’m acquainted with the modernizing landscape along the Yangtze River from my own travels, but gained fresh perspective from the images captured by Anastasia Taylor-Lind. Her presentation ‘Fuling and Changing China’ uncovered an engaging and striking portrait of the people, structures, and natural beauty of the region.

Ms. Taylor-Lind journeyed along the river learning about the displacement of families during the Three Gorges Dam project, documenting their struggles and achievements.

In addition to her work in China, she showed photos of her experience documenting the search for supermodels in Siberia, and also portraits of the women participating in southern Russia’s ‘Cossack resurgence.’

Alison Wright and the Human Spirit

Alison Wright could be the most amazing storyteller, both through pictures and her personal narrative, that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. Her travels have taken her everywhere, and her fearlessness shines in all of her work. The dangers she encountered have strengthened her – she was told she would never walk again after suffering a terrible injury in a motor accident in Laos, but a few years later she was back behind the camera, working during the disasters in Haiti and New Orleans, and eventually returning to Asia to visit the doctor who saved her life.

If only all of us who love photography could be as blessed with unfailing curiosity and the will to exercise it as Ms. Wright is.