We are very happy that you'll be coming again to Luxembourg, and first of all congratulations on your GRAMMYs. You got a GRAMMY for Sputnik and the album Data Lords, which you will present at your concert in Luxembourg.
Thank you! Yeah, we'll play a whole lot of music from that. We'll probably pull out a couple other things too. I don't know, I’ll pick a whole variety, but mostly it'll be Data Lords stuff. We were at your hall not long after it was built. I think it was pretty new and I was so impressed , I just loved it. It's a fantastic hall. Sonically it's really great.
Wow that's great to hear. I wanted to ask you the question afterwards whether you remember your concerts?
Very much and I also remember those boxes, that were on the side. They go over where the stage is and somebody dropped their cell phone and my drummer went over, grabbed the cell phone, took it and walked back to the drums. It was really funny. Anyway, I remember the concert very well. We were so happy to be there and I’m super excited to come back and just, you know, we have not played now in almost two years, except for one outdoor concert.
How has this changed you as an artist or as a person as well, can you already tell?
It’s hard for me to say. It's been a very strange year for me in so many ways because I was working and finishing my album when everything hit, and it wasn't yet done. So, there were these very intensive months of trying to do work that I would normally do in person with engineers, things that was over the internet, dealing with the production and everything slowing down and being behind, and then of course I sell all my music through Artistshare. So Artistshare is a wonderful site that enables me to own my own work and to communicate with the fans, but everything I make is loaded with videos so that people don't just buy music or buy the printed music, but they get the interviews and all this content which is an intensive amount of work. So, in the last months, I’ve not really been a creative musician, I’ve done a couple of arrangements for something, but mostly I’ve been working on that website because it is my only income. Editing music and working on those videos has been very intensive, but I have to say I don't feel like writing music these days. I don't know why and I’m trying to be easy on myself. I think we all feel in this limbo, you know, music like Data Lords came out of responses. I didn't sit down with an idea and say "I’m angry at the big data company, so let me try to write music about that, that would be interesting". No, I sit down and I start making music, and when I hear the sounds suddenly it will connect with something in my head, connect with something. All of a sudden I’ll be like “Oh”. I’ll see things, memories or images and then the piece comes out of it and then I say “Wow”, I guess that was about that. That whole double album that I made for Data Lords was really because some of the music was very intense and it was inspired by this fight I’ve had to protect our intellectual property and our human rights and privacy and everything about the internet that is just… These American companies, and make no mistake, a lot of them are American companies, that are affecting people all over the world. You know why the rest of the world isn't staging an all-out war against these corporations and the United States for not regulating it? That's really crazy to me but, on the other hand, in life I go birding, like here I’m looking at my birds, gardening and planting native plants for my bugs and my butterflies and my birds and so some of the music would come out of that. So, I ended up with this crazy like opposite worlds and then I realized, that is what we are struggling with. This being sucked into the computer, the Internet and people on Facebook, then trying to connect with our real lives, our real selves, and our real relationships, not relationships through social media, but connecting with people or silence. So the pandemic hit and this music came out and all of a sudden these were the issues people were feeling.
Exactly! Because us talking about this on this platform (Zoom) it's kind of ironic in a way.
It is ironic, but what I know a lot of people have felt, is like there'd be all these articles coming out, people going on walks to try to disconnect and reconnect to nature. Sure enough, when the pandemic hit, I went to buy plants and everything was gone and they said everybody's planting the gardens and there was no birdseed, everybody's feeding the birds. On one hand, they became dependent on Zoom, on the other hand they became really aware of how wonderful it was to feel connected with themselves. And getting back to why I brought this up, as musicians we are so often on a runaway train. We go where we get the gigs, it's like our life leads us around the schedule. What happens outside of us dictates what we do and it's very hard to control your own life, and so suddenly, like so many musicians, we're with ourselves and it's a very confusing place to be, because we haven't lived this way since we were young. It’s weird. We'll see what happens. It’s tough financially for a lot of people.
Yeah, I think the music business world is definitely changing. Also, I’m just impressed how you managed to strike a nerve at exactly the right moment. I mean big tech was also huge before, but your album came out at the very moment where this was almost the connection to the world for many artists who were doing streams and so on.
Yes, it was. It was a moment where the dichotomy between the tech world and the real world became uber evident to people all over the world because people started to realize what they'd been losing to be in touch. Yes, you connect through Zoom, but suddenly what does it mean to be with somebody and touch somebody. One thing I was going to say is also who I feel very sorry for in the industry as much as the musicians, maybe more, are the agents, the managers, because for instance, as a musician we lost our gigs, but we're not running around doing our gigs and not being paid. But a lot of agents did all the work to get the tours together. They did the part that they should be paid for, but the gigs never happened. So they did the work, but then they weren't paid. And that is even more painful. It's like all of us are connected to each other. It's a whole ecosystem and there's a lot of people suffering. I’m sure for your concert hall this has been a really tough year.
We have been lucky, because we were always able to produce things in our hall, but we had to switch mainly to digital outlets. So we're coming kind of back to this dichotomy and I’m wondering whether you see a possibility for this digital and natural world to reconcile or will this always be kind of two worlds apart that can't come together?
I don't think it will reconcile until there is a general recognition of the value of the data that big data companies are getting from us. That isn't something that companies should get and not have to pay taxes on or compensate us. It's a barter. We get all these free services, but they get our data, but they're not paying taxes on the value of that, yet that data has made them not only the richest companies in the world, but the most powerful companies in the world, that are dictating our politics, our thought and our culture. They're the deciders of what can be on the internet, what's appropriate and what's not. They never look at themselves and say “are we actually appropriate?” “What makes us the god that decides?” “Who should get to be there? Who shouldn't?”
To me, culture should play itself out. You can't have a world that gets better without the discourse between sides that have different opinions and that listen to each other and that cooperate. There's a cultural aspect, there's a racial aspect that's not fair because of the algorithms we don't see. We don't know how the algorithms are manipulating us and how they're being unfair to somebody because of their race or economic situation. Am I being charged more or less because I have less? Am I not being given the same insurance or the same opportunity for this because the algorithm sort of senses a risk with me, because of who I am or what color I am? Then the company can say “oh you know, it's just the algorithm. We don't know what's going on.” There are all these aspects about this that we should know. So, until there's transparency, a recognition of the value of the data and that there's the choice to not participate in this, I think it's just going to get worse and worse. It's difficult to feel like making art when you start to feel like you are no longer optimistic about the world and I’ve lost my optimism about the world. I’m scared for how things are going, very.
But do you think the fact that you will hopefully very soon be able to play concerts again, to tour and to connect with people in the real world, that this will make you more optimistic again?
I don't know. To me music has always been a way to express life. Even as a kid, I was always right if I was writing music which I wrote a few pieces here and there. I would write them for a friend that sort of encapsulated their personality. I was always writing music that felt like it was an expression of our relationship of things and I’m not sure what to think of the world right now. I’m in disbelief at the world and what's happening to our culture. I feel like I’m a pretty apolitical person. I check out both sides and I think I’m very rare in that way because I want to know. I grew up with people on both sides. I always found that interesting and I find it dangerous that people don't find that interesting anymore.
Yes, I get what you mean. Maybe the Utopia or the ideal view would be that people can come together, for example, at a concert of yours and be in the same room , maybe get talking during the entr'actes.
Well, I do. I’ve experienced that a lot at my concerts, especially when I started doing these pieces and talking about the subject, I had a lot of people thank me. A lot of parents thanked me and told me that, or would write me later, and tell me that they had conversations around the dinner table about it with their kids who normally are in their phones during this kind of conversations. I’ve gotten a lot of email commenting about the album and how it hit them and how they agreed. I can’t think of anybody that sent things that was pushback. Although, I will say when I first started talking about these subjects years ago, maybe six years ago or seven years ago, I would go to colleges and I would talk to music business classes about things and about their music being shared on the internet for free. In the very early stages I would get pushback from all these kids that were trying to be cool and buying into the free, “everything should be free on the internet", "oh that's so cool and you're so old”. I never get pushed back that way now. What I experience is that students come up and say, “What can we do? We don't know what to do we're really scared about our future”. That’s generally what I hear. So things are evolving and art does make change happen.
There are many musicians that dream up projects, “I’m going to write this about that”. I just never work that way. I’m not a planner. I make what comes. It’s like a divining rod or sometimes it's almost like a Ouija board. I write music and it sort of tells me. It helps me understand myself. As a matter of fact, I didn't understand how much I was struggling with hanging on to these two parts of myself until I recognize this dichotomy in my music that I was saying how can I put all this music on an album, and then I looked at it and said if that's my life, how can I put these two forces together in a life, in my body, in my mind, in my psyche and my spirit. And the answer so far is, I haven't figured it out. I had to put them on two different albums. They're on two different CDs, because they don't mesh for me yet.
How will you present them in concerts?
I go back and forth in a concert which is a little easier than on an album. When you have something so intense and then something so soft you literally have to bring up the volume. Otherwise, somebody's always going to the volume knob. It's just like a physical thing and it makes the music sound artificial when you do that too much. But in a concert, you can get away with it.
I’ve done it back and forth at gigs. It was funny. At a gig of one of my Artistshare participants, this man Justin Freed - I ended up dedicating one of my pieces to him, Sanzenin - and it was him who said, “You've got to record this music”, and I said, “But Justin you just heard it's left, it's right, it's up and down”, he then said, "Make two different albums". It was him that said it and then it was that night when I went home and I was like, wait a minute, two CDs that tell the yin and the yang of our world. So that's how it happened. It'll be very interesting to see. This is what we're dealing with, these are the trials of our times.
Yes and to finish on a good note, we're really looking forward to having you and to have the real experience, the life experience.
I will say, when I present this music, I don't go on a rant because, to me, there also is the importance, in some of the music, that even though this is a very real subject, I still also like to put some sarcasm and humor. I mean, there has to be some humor in the darkness, otherwise it's like where do you go. In the end you got to laugh and you got to have fun so we'll try to do that.
I mean even during this interview we laughed, so I can see how you're still handling this darkness in a very light slight way.
Have you ever seen Life of Brian? And on the crosses, ”…Always look on the bright side of life..”, there we are. I think of that more often than you can imagine these days.
Are you still going to do something nice today, like are you going out in the garden?
Oh yes! I am. I bought some plants. I’m going to plant some things and planters and stuff and try to separate the day from the email and everything. It's a beautiful sunny day, the birds, it's spring migration, so the birds, the warblers are all coming. I’ll see who showed up today. It's nice the hummingbirds and bluebirds are here. There's a lot in life that's extraordinary because I don't know about any of this stuff. They're just migrating, just hoping that their place that they nest is still there and you know that's another subject. Next time we'll talk about birds.
Yes please! But thanks so much for talking to us today for taking your time.
Maria Schneider Orchestra
Mit fünf Grammy Awards ausgezeichnet, hat sich Maria Schneider seit langem als Komponistin und Jazz Band-Leaderin profiliert. Elf Jahre nach ihrer letzten, seltenen Europa-Tournee präsentiert sie nun ihr jüngstes Album «Data Lords».