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INTERVIEW: Symons New Blue Diamonds 
By
Cyrus Rhodes

 

 

              

http://www.californiakingmusic.com
 

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I recently had the privilege of reviewing the latest CD by Symon's New Blue Diamonds entitled of all things Why I Quit the Music Business. Why I Quit the Music Business is one of the most amazing & refreshing musical productions I’ve heard this year. From start to finish it has no weaknesses that I can see under my microscope. It has everything from amazing playing, superb writing, unique signature sound & groove, & last but not least it’s just a whole lot of fun to listen to. Praise goes out to the artists out there that can show us something pure & genuine beneath their veil of vanity. S.N.B.D is one of those artists that let's it all hang out, they let the chips fall where they may & it shows. At the end of the day Symon’s New Blue Diamonds is a rare find, & their music shines brightly like a bright blue diamond.

 

"amazing & refreshing"

- INDIE MUSIC DIGEST-

 

 

Read the CD Review

 

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IMD I really enjoyed your last CD entitled “Why I Quit the Music Business” could you tell us a bit about the title inspiration? 

 

SYMON I had already written a lot of the basic tracks in the fall of 2009, and I knew an album was coming, but I didn’t have a title yet.  I was struggling with this cheap bass guitar I bought at a flea market, a crappy Fender P copy, and I had just paid a pile of money to have the stock pickups replaced with a pair of matched Duncans – expensive but they sounded great!  Then when I got it home, I discovered that the jack was noisy and I thought that rather than take it back to the shop, I could just fix it myself.  Somehow,  I ended up shorting something out and the bass wouldn’t play at all.  It just buzzed like a sick air conditioner when I plugged it in.  I got really mad and lost my temper,  and tried to break it in half by smashing it on my kitchen floor, but it held together.  So I ran downstairs and found a limb saw and sawed into the neck , then jumped up and down on top of it until I heard the truss rod snap.   I kicked it around the room for a bit, then when I got tired of that, I dragged the carcass downstairs and tossed it into a dumpster.  I took a picture of what I had done because I didn’t want to waste the Kodak moment, and then I started laughing at the whole ridiculous situation.  “Yeah, this is the last straw – THIS is really why I quit the music business!”

 

               (On a whim, I also emailed the picture to all of my bass player buddies as a joke - the end result being that now no one wants to lend me any equipment.)

 

IMD Who have been some of your top musical influences over the years?

 

SYMON Since I have been involved with the local S.F. music scene for so long, most of my real influences are local writers and performers who I feel are doing something really original.  Top of the list would be sax player Benjamin Bossi (Romeo Void),  pianist Margrit Eichler (True Margrit), singer/songwriter Cory McAbee (The Billy Nayer Show), and guitarist Matt Kowalski (Greed Incorporated).  I know most of these people personally and I’ve had the opportunity to really get inside how their creative process works, which is very inspiring! Then I’d also have to list some of the bigger, more well-known names like: Steely Dan, David Bowie, Pat Metheny, and Arthur Blythe.  I still listen to my old Al Stewart, Joni Mitchell and Heart records – I’ve been playing them forever and they still make me feel like taking the phone off the hook for awhile and writing some new music of my own.

 

IMD How does this release differ from the others? 

 

SYMON This is the third CD we’ve put out, and I try to do something different with each release.  This time around, I focused on getting the best players and making the best-sounding recording I could make, so that no one would find fault with the quality of the recording (something that has plagued me in the past).  I also started out differently this time by writing and arranging just the rhythm tracks first, without any horns at all.   Larry and I carefully tracked the rhythm section over a six  month period, and then I ended up writing the horn parts very quickly – literally over a weekend.   I  recorded all the saxes in one afternoon, and then arranged the brass by playing the lines on my flute, and then writing the charts from there.  My sister Martha flew out from Philadelphia and laid down the trumpet and flugelhorn parts in another session.   It was magic, almost as if listening to a good set of well-recorded basic tracks was pulling notes right out of my horn.  We had a blast!

 

IMD What was the best concert you have ever been to?

 

SYMON A friend took me to see Sun Ra and his Arkestra once at the Mabuhay Gardens back in the eighties.  The show was incredible, and since the Mab was such a small place and the band had over a dozen players, the musicians were spilling over into the audience.   We were right down front and it like we felt like we were actually part of the band, with everyone dancing and clapping and marching around in a procession.   My friend is also a sax player, so after the show ended, we went backstage and met Marshall Allen.  He is a great guy, very friendly, and he stopped what he was doing long enough to show both of us the fingering technique he uses to create that squawking, wild animal growling effect that he is famous for.  Afterwards, I could hardly wait go down to my rehearsal studio and try it out for myself!  It was a magical night and I’ll never forget it. 

 

IMD What’s the one thing you want fans to take from your music & this latest release?

 

SYMON Hmmm  - let me take a stab at that one. My songs are usually written in response to some kind of emotional situation.  If it’s a bad thing or a hardship, I usually try to make fun of the circumstances in order to empower myself to overcome it.   I’m not a good singer, so I don’t even try that anymore, but over the years I have learned to use the saxophone to “sing” the emotion of what I’m feeling at the time.   So I guess what I mean here is that there is a whole level of communication that can be expressed outside of written or spoken language, and that’s what I’m trying to get across – to myself, and everyone who hears this stuff.   Don’t let lack of  a specific artistic skill, like the ability to sing, keep you from getting your feelings out!  Just find another way to express what you are going through inside, and go with it – you might be surprised at what happens next.

 

IMD I especially enjoyed the song “Going back to Hong Kong:” & “Red Lions Revenge” could you tell us what inspired those amazing pieces of music?

 

SYMON "Going Back To Hong Kong” is like a lot of my stuff – there are lyrics, but nobody sings them.  In this case, the original title was “Don’t Go Back To Hong Kong”, and it’s based on a true story .   A friend of mine met a woman from  Hong Kong who was in the States on business, and when she went back to China, he flew there to be with her.  He ended up getting hassled by the local police to the point where he finally just had to leave, and it was total heartbreak because he had fallen helplessly in love with the girl in the meantime.  So the emotional state is a combination of excitement and intense sadness, set against a fast swing beat that captures the fast-paced environment of modern day Hong Kong – money, love, excitement and crime, all at once. Red Lion Revenge” is about catching your lover in bed with someone else at one of those crappy Red Lion hotels. This was based on a dream I had and not on real events, but I woke up and everything felt so real that I rolled out of bed and was inspired to write down a description of the scene right away, before I was even fully awake.  The drum part for that one was created by my drummer Larry Heaton, and I arranged the basic line, and put the bass line on top of that first.  Then we just took it from there.  This song has dramatic stops and starts, which I equate to doing a double-take when you recognize your significant other across the hotel lobby, arm in arm with a stranger, and your eyes are meeting in silence during that incredible moment.

 

IMD How’s the music scene in your neck of the woods?  

 

SYMON There is a still a strong independent presence, but things have changed a bit.  Many of the local “scene” clubs still favor DJs over live musicians, which I think has more to do with S.F’s cabaret licensing laws than anything else.  Most of the venues in town now start and end their shows much earlier than in the old days due to local noise ordinances.   This is not necessarily a bad thing if (like many of us) you have to get up early in the morning for work, but still want to go out and hear some live music the night before.   The independent jazz bands I know are performing almost exclusively at private events now, or in the “art house” circuit, in conjunction with other events.  This is great because it brings the music in front of a more diverse group of listeners, but it’s also a bit sad because it’s just another indication of the steady decline of jazz clubs in the Bay Area.

 

IMD When are you playing some dates in the Pac North West region? You bums can crash at my place?

 

SYMON I’d love to play some shows up north, if we could work out the logistics and scheduling.  Seems like everyone (myself included) is so busy with projects.    A free place to stay…  sounds great!  (hey, you got Tivo?)

 

IMD  Of course I have  TIVO.   What’s next for Symons New Blue Diamonds?

 

SYMON 2011 is going to be all about three things: videos, live performance, and songwriting competition.  Since my music is instrumental, the visual aspect is key to letting people know who we are.  If everything goes as planned, we should be releasing some sort of new video every three months.  Also, I want to perform live more often.  Right now, the band only plays live once a year (usually in the summertime), but I’m hoping to change that by teaming up with another more established band and sharing the stage with them.  My song “Popular Moments”  won Honorable Mention last year at the International Song of The Year contest, and I’ll be submitting something again this year.  I’malso going to enter the Los Angeles Music Awards for the first time in 2011.  I’m a bit nervous about that one – a lot of high-powered entertainment industry people usually attend, so I need to make sure I’m ready!  

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interview conducted by Cyrus Rhodes. Property of Indie Music Media LLC.

Copyright © 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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