Jazz ensemble Empirical recently released their 4th studio album Tabula Rasa and have been touring the UK to promote it.
Ahead of their appearance this month in Brighton, SJM editor Charlie Anderson caught up with bassist Tom Farmer and asked him some questions submitted by readers of The Sussex Jazz Magazine.
So, my first question is, what is Empirical? Is it a boy band? A jazz collective?
“Empirical – It's a philosophy on how we learn things! To gather knowledge through experimentation and observation. And it applies to our band, hence the name. We are a group of London-based musicians, composers and improvisers. As for boy band, maybe about 15 years ago we might/could have been! We love to look good and have become known for our sharp suits and slick photo shoots, which I guess is not usually what you would expect from a jazz band!”
Some of our readers have submitted their own questions. Steve from Lancing asks “How old were each of you when you started playing?”
“We were all very young! Nat and Shane were at school in South London together, so have developed musically for about 18 years! Lewis started on drums and piano when he was very young, learning from his father who was a musician. I started on the piano at five years old, but didn't take up the bass until 6th form – the bass player didn't show up one day and only I could read the music! Been stuck with it ever since!”
Your latest album is a double album that also features the string ensemble Benyounes Quartet. What was it like working with them and what did you learn from it?
“Working with the Benyounes Quartet has been and is great! We have always wanted to develop some music that was influenced by the string quartet tradition, and meeting them at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance was the perfect opportunity to realise this ambition. We spent months checking out Debussy, Bartok, Schumann and Beethoven among others, transcribing, listening, getting scores, then developed our own hybrid compositions. We have experimented and the results are documented on the album and on the gig! Also having four lovely girls around really changes the dynamic of our rehearsals!”
Another question from one of our readers [name withheld]: “I once had my genitals sniffed by a police sniffer dog at Deptford Station. Has that ever happened to you?”
“Errr…no…not yet..and I've spent quite a bit of time there! What did you have in your trousers?”
What’s the worse thing anyone has ever said about you or your group? Do you ever read what the critics have to say?
“We do read what critics say, but then immediately forget it. A few things upset us from reviewers and critics – when they get basic facts wrong about the group or music (like the names of the instruments – yes, that has happened!) or when they offer no comment. A 3 out of 5 star review is worse than a 1 star review in my opinion. Also when they compare us to other bands or musicians is upsetting, it's lazy and nearly always incorrect!”
What tips or advice would you give to musicians who are just starting out?
“Practise practise practise! Not just scales on your own, although that is super important, but with friends and other musicians. Get a band and have a jam! Listen to records with other people. The sense of community is really important in music, no matter what genre you are passionate about.”
Some of the students at Brighton Jazz School would like to know the answer to the following question: “What’s your favourite Star Wars movie?”
“Tough. So tough. I'm a fan of Return of The Jedi, but I also love the scene when Yoda battles with Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones. I felt like I had been waiting for 15 years to see Yoda fighting. Hopefully, the three new films won't trample on the legacy of the originals or the prequels, although it's touch and go with Disney producing them!”
And lastly, as you’ve been touring the UK, what is your favourite place to perform and why is that place so enjoyable?
“For the recent tour we decided to focus on larger concert halls, so we have been privileged to play some fantastic spaces. Recently the new concert hall at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama proved to be a great sound and atmosphere. Also the CBSO centre in Birmingham was perfect for us, and we were very well looked after. We love to play to the room, so each venue/city/audience gets a different version of our music. Maybe Brighton Dome will be the best so far…”
Empirical perform at the Brighton Dome Studio Theatre on Friday 7th February, 2014.
Their latest album, Tabula Rasa, is available now on the Naim Jazz label.