Carlsbad Composer Brings Band “Build” To San Diego
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Seven years ago, Carlsbad native Matt McBane started the Carlsbad Music Festival and it has become one of the area's most innovative music showcases. Since relocating to Brooklyn, the classically-trained violinist has built a band called Build. McBane and his indie-classical quintet play The Loft on Wednesday night.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. If someone described their music as indy-classical, what would you think? Would you be confused? Or would it strike you that this must be a fusion of various musical styles constructed on a foundation of modern classical chamber music? Of course it would, especially once you’ve heard the music of Build. The five members of the band Build are in our performance studio here at KPBS to play and talk about their music for the rest of this hour. Let’s start off with a performance. This is Build with the song “In The Backyard.”
(audio of Build performing “In The Backyard”)
CAVANAUGH: That was Build with a performance of their song “In The Backyard.” Build is Matt McBane on violin, Andrea Lee playing the cello, Mike Cassidy on piano, Ben Campbell on bass and Adam Gold on the drums. And I want to welcome you all to These Days. Thanks so much for coming in. It’s a pleasure to see you.
BAND: (general greetings)
CAVANAUGH: Now, Matt, you write all the music for Build, right?
MATT MCBANE (Composer/Build Violinist): Yeah.
CAVANAUGH: Tell us a little bit about this song you just played “In The Backyard.” Where did the inspiration come from?
MCBANE: Well, this was actually the – this was the first piece I wrote for Build several years ago. So this was – this project kind of came out of – you know, I have – like all my life I’ve played all different kinds of music. I had, you know, started playing violin when I was like three years old and then, you know, played Scottish fiddle music when I was a little kid and then, you know…
MCBANE: …played in like a – you know, started playing guitar in junior high and like played in rock bands in high school and – and orchestras and chamber groups and all this kind of stuff. And then I went to music school and studied classical composition up at USC, where actually Mike and Ben went as well, and so like after that training, I was kind of like trying to figure out how to combine all these different influences that, you know, all these different kinds of music I like into one project. So this was actually the first piece I wrote for Build and it was – I wrote it when I was living in LA and, yeah, I guess it was – you know, I spent a lot of time just thinking of the instrumentation of the group and thinking about what kind of group I wanted to have that could be flexible enough to play music that had all these different influences in it. So I had this really nice backyard in Los Feliz up in LA and I used to just sit back there and it was right out – I had a little studio in the back there and I’d sit out on the chaise lounge there and just like, you know, think about that and think about, you know, just like when I was thinking about the music that I wanted to write. And, you know, I just – I don’t know, I thought like trying to create this, yeah, this piece that kind of captures that feeling of just, you know, daydreaming in the backyard originally.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, the flow.
CAVANAUGH: Because it ends just the way it starts.
MCBANE: Yeah, yeah.
CAVANAUGH: Now, you have labeled Build an indy-classical band. In fact, I think you came up with that term, didn’t you?
MCBANE: Yeah. When I was – One of the problems, like that I saw when I was in college was that like there’s like not really a good way to talk about the kind of music that I was studying and I was hearing a lot there to, you know, a general audience, people that weren’t involved in it. So like, you know, contemporary classical music but it has the influence of all these different things, you know, but it’s just – I mean, A, saying contemporary classical music that like people – a lot of people just shut down because it – that like has a lot of negative connotations to some people. But, yeah, so I just wanted – you know, that was just something that I saw as like kind of a shortcoming…
MCBANE: …not having just a really quick way to say it and so…
CAVANAUGH: There it is…
CAVANAUGH: …indy-classical. And you can basically make it kind of mean, in your head, what you want it to mean. Andrea, I’m wondering, how would you describe the music the band plays?
ANDREA LEE (Musician): I think compositionally a lot of it is very influenced – what Matt does is very influenced by minimalist composers and I think you can hear that in the song we just played.
LEE: And there – We also play songs that are very lyrical and very sweeping but I think that’s where it comes from compositionally but all of us have very disparate musical influences and – And the execution, I think that comes across a lot and that’s sort of what the finished product sounds like.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Matt, you’ve already told us that three of you guys went to school together, right?
MCBANE: Yeah, to USC.
CAVANAUGH: And how did you get the rest of the band together?
MCBANE: Well, so when – actually, Mike, Ben and I, we recognized each other from the practice rooms but we never really hung out. Well, Mike and Ben hung out all the time but the three of us didn’t hang out together really in school. And then when I – So I moved to New York about three years ago and I was looking to – I had written a bunch of the music for the group and I was looking for the, you know, these instruments, for violin, cello, piano, bass and drums. And I just started asking around like who would be good, you know, because I wanted people with these diverse backgrounds but, I mean, like even though people have diverse backgrounds, they all have like this – have some core training in classical music. So that’s – Because that’s really kind of the core of where I come from. So like, you know, they could relate to that but then also bring in these other different kinds of feels and energies and approaches. And then so, yeah, so they’re all basically like friends of friends…
CAVANAUGH: So, Matt, before you had the band together, you knew what kind of instruments you wanted?
MCBANE: Yeah, I – Yeah, the instrumentation was something, like I said earlier, it was something like I thought a lot about, like trying to, you know, devise a instrumentation that was flexible enough to do all these different kinds of music that I wanted to do. So like contained in this group, you could – like a traditional classical piano trio is violin, cello and piano. A traditional jazz piano trio is piano, bass and drums. So we got both those covered. And then – I mean, and Adam is – plays – works as a rock drummer a lot so he brings that kind of rock energy in there, too. So, yeah, so kind of those are like the three streams that I’m, you know, mainly trying to bring into the group.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Now, Matt, you’ve talked a lot about trying to get together a lot of different musical influences in this band and I want to go sort of round robin. Maybe a couple of you are going to have to shout, I’m not sure. But why don’t you start, Matt. Tell us what are your musical influences? Obviously, classical. And what else did you want to get into the band?
MCBANE: Well, yeah, like the minimalist classical composers were…
MCBANE: …a big influence on me, like Steve Reich and…
MCBANE: …you know, John Adams, Philip Glass, Terry Riley, people like that. And then, yeah, and like in the next piece that we’re going to play, you’ll see like it has more of a rockish kind of energy to it…
MCBANE: …and like, yeah, kind of like the artier side of rock or like that – The next piece that we’re going to play like some people say it sounds like math rock or something so like that kind of thing. And then Ben and Mike always – they think that there’s not really that much jazz in this group because, you know, they’re like jazz musicians so they’re like there’s no improvisation. It’s not swinging, you know, this isn’t jazz but…
MCBANE: …I think – But like modal jazz from like the sixties like, you know Miles Davis and stuff like that, like was – that was a big influence. I think like that last piece, that kind of modality in that, I think is, you know, I think it has a jazz influence, I don’t know about you.
CAVANAUGH: And Mike and Ben, let me ask you two. What are your influences and what do you want to bring into the band that you want to hear more of. Mike.
MIKE CASSIDY (Musician): Well, yeah, like Matt said, we were both jazz musicians and that was most of the music that I was studying in college and working towards but for this band I think – from jazz, for me, it’s like kind of the groove aspect is probably the most important that I’m trying to bring to this, so, you know, everything is written out so there’s, like Matt said, there’s no room for improvisation but just to try and make the groove really feel good and play the part with that kind of energy that I would be using in a jazz context.
CAVANAUGH: Is that the kind of energy you want to bring to the band, too, Ben?
BEN CAMPBELL (Musician): Definitely. I’m also kind of looking at it as dual roles, really trying to play – be true to the part and true to the composition but also I’m thinking about groove coming from maybe like a rock bass player’s kind of standpoint and that kind of economy of sound and compact kind of compositional approach to it as well.
CAVANAUGH: And, Adam, Matt says that you do a lot of rock drumming. How different is this?
ADAM GOLD (Musician): Well, it’s quite different in that, you know, everything is written out. I get the parts from Matt, then I have to play it note for note.
CAVANAUGH: Seems a little tension there.
GOLD: No, no, no, not at all, actually.
GOLD: That’s the deal, you know. But it’s still, you know, it’s the basic rock kit set-up that I play and – and Matt writes drum parts in a way that are very natural to kind of the tradition of drumming that I’m kind of familiar with.
CAVANAUGH: And, Andrea, you’re the last one. Could you tell me what kind of influences you bring to this band?
LEE: I’m probably the most just straight up traditional classical musician in the group. That’s pretty much what I do in my other musical life, and that’s probably what I bring.
CAVANAUGH: Well, we are going to have to take a short break. When we return, we will hear more from the group band – the band that is Build. And you’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. We’re joined by the indy-classical band Build, composed of three San Diego natives, and all five members of the band live in New York now. They play The Loft, though, tonight at the campus of UCSD. Build is Matt McBane on violin, Andrea Lee playing the cello, Mike Cassidy on piano, Ben Campbell on bass, and Adam Gold playing the drums. Now, Matt, before the break, when I asked everybody about their influences, you mentioned Steve Reich as a big influence on you. I think anyone familiar with his music can kind of pick up that patterning in your compositions as well. Tell us how that influence has worked on you. What do you find compelling about the patterns of Reich and how do you integrate that into your compositions?
MCBANE: Well, he was – like in high school when I came across his music for the first time, it really – like his music and – when I was in high school, it was his music and John Adams’ music that like – it just struck me that like it had this energy that came from, you know, from jazz and rock but really filtered. You know, it’s not – doesn’t have as straightforward of those influences as Build does but like – But it had this kind of structure, you know, this compositional thing to it and this – Yeah, a certain kind of – Yeah, just like approach to composition and way of thinking about music that really resonated with my – what I like in classical music as well.
MCBANE: And so that just – like that stuff, when it hit me, was like that’s what I want to do. I want to, you know, do that. And then – Yeah, and but in his music in particular, like what you’re saying about the patterning, that – it just really resonates with my sensibility, I don’t know. Like, yeah, I always have liked like pattern kinds of things. You know, I was really into math when I – like as a student.
CAVANAUGH: It is mathematical, isn’t it?
MCBANE: Yeah, and it has that kind of – Yeah, that kind of thing. And he takes lots of influences from Bach, who’s also – whose music I love and play every day. And so it has that kind of – that mathematical aspect to it that – or that pattern aspect and that kind of – a certain kind of intellectualism that I really like. And I also – like in the last piece that we’re going to play today, “Drivin’,” that piece is the most directly influence by his music and, you know, the sense of – that piece works in a large scale form and where things slowly change over time…
MCBANE: …in a way that’s, you know, fairly similar to the way a lot of his stuff works. But, yeah, it – it also – it just has like this sense of open space that always really appealed to me. Like I love, hence the title, “Drivin’.” I loved like listening to that music and driving and…
CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s hold that thought…
CAVANAUGH: …because we’ll get to that in another section of our show. But right now we’re going on to a song called “Magnet,” which is on the album that’s called “Build.” And you were itching to talk about that…
CAVANAUGH: …during the last segment. Tell us a little bit about “Magnet.”
MCBANE: Yeah, so “Magnet” is the – Well, back to this idea of pattern. When I was in college, I went to Mark O’Connor’s Fiddle Camp up at Point Loma and there was this fiddle tune that he taught us but like a lot of the stuff was taught by ear and I couldn’t remember it. All I could remember is this pattern, this bowing pattern that was in it. I didn’t remember which notes it was, I just remembered this bow – like string crossing pattern, which you’ll hear. So I just took that and put my own notes in it.
MCBANE: And then I also transferred this – this pattern to all the different instruments. So in this piece, you’ll hear the first two bars are the drums and he makes that pattern with the open and closed high hat, then I come in and I’m playing that pattern with notes and string crossings. And then you’ll hear it passes around the group and there’s things where it’s like interlocking between different instruments and stuff like that. So that’s part of that piece. But then it – like I said before, it has this – it has more rock kind of energy to it and like – and…
CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s hear it.
MCBANE: Yeah, yeah.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s hear it right now. This is Build with their song “Magnet.”
(audio of Build playing the song “Magnet”)
CAVANAUGH: That was the quintet Build performing the song “Magnet” off their album, which is also called “Build.” The band plays UCSD’s The Loft tonight. Thank you for that. That had a lot of energy. You could hear the rock. You could also hear Mark O’Connor in that. Now I know that we’re going to go on to another performance but I would like, Matt, just to ask you a couple of questions before we do. We’re going to go to – play a song called “No Reponse” next but first I want to ask you about this – Build’s music being used as musical interludes on All Things Considered. How did that happen? How did that come about?
MCBANE: Well, that was really lucky. Actually, my sister’s a music publicist and she did the publicity for this album and she just sent it in to somebody that she knew there at All Things Considered and they picked it up and actually it’s this next song…
CAVANAUGH: “No Response.”
MCBANE: …”No Response” that they were – used a lot. I mean, they also used the first one that we played, “In The Backyard” some. But “No Response,” I mean, for a while it was like a couple times a week they were using it on there and it was just super cool because I remember like, you know, when I was younger, like hearing those little interludes there and like, you know, thinking, oh, that would be so cool to have my music on there sometime, and I had no idea that that was going to happen and it happened. And it’s really weird hearing your music between like – this piece is like – has more somber or like lyrical feel to it, and so it’s always after like – the stories it’s after is always really funny to hear like – because my music like after – or maybe funny’s not the right word but it’s always…
CAVANAUGH: It’s sad stories, right?
MCBANE: Yeah, like – yeah. Yeah, so, yeah, funny is not the right word.
MCBANE: But, yeah, but it’s just interesting to hear like, you know, what other people hear in our music…
MCBANE: …that they would want to use it like for this – yeah, for different – to create a different like emotional kind of backdrop for a story. I mean…
CAVANAUGH: Well, I suppose there’s a lot of our audience that are familiar with this tune but let’s go for it. Are you guys ready?
CAVANAUGH: Okay. This is the song “No Response” by the band Build.
(audio of Build performing “No Response”)
CAVANAUGH: That’s the tune “No Response” from the band Build off their album of the same name. And the band is playing at The Loft at UCSD tonight. We do have to take another short break and when we return, we’ll continue talking with the members of the band Build and hear more of their music. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. In this hour we’re talking with members of the band Build. They’re an indy-classical band that will be playing at The Loft tonight. The members of the band include three San Diegans who now live in New York, Matt McBane on violin, Ben Campbell on bass, and Mike Cassidy on piano. And joining them are Andrea Lee on cello and Adam Gold on drums. Matt, you know, I’ve been mentioning your album “Build,” same name as the band, and it’s recently been re-released, is that right, on a larger label?
MCBANE: Yeah, we put out the album in the summer of 2008 on New Amsterdam Records, it’s a small, independent classical label in New York that’s – Actually, that label has a lot of like-minded groups there and they’ve been really great to work with. And they were approached by Naxos to re-release some of their albums with Naxos distribution. Naxos is like the – I think it’s the world’s largest classical music distributor so that means that like, you know, our album could get out in a lot more places. And there’s barely any stores to sell it anymore so it probably means less than it used to but certainly like, you know, there’s – Yeah, just getting it out and like better presence on the internet and stuff like that and in what few stores actually would sell this kind of music now.
MCBANE: Yeah, so and that happened in October of this year.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, that must be very exciting for all of you.
CAVANAUGH: Ben and Mike, I want to ask you a question before we go into the last song that we’re going to hear, “Drivin’.” We spoke with Matt and Andrea and, to an extent, Adam about the fact that they were classically based musicians. You guys are more jazz musicians, as you’ve already told us. I wonder what the challenges are switching from jazz to modern classical in your instruments and, Mike, maybe you could start out.
CASSIDY: Sure. Well, with this music, with Matt’s music, there’s a maybe slightly higher level of concentration required of me to play it. There’s – A lot of the patterns are very complicated and, you know, there’s usually a set number of times to play through them and so kind of counting and keeping up with that and how everything locks in. Whereas usually when I’m playing jazz, I’m kind of trying to concentrate less and go more, you know, play freer and just kind of follow my impulses. This is kind of, you know, to rein everything in and make sure I’m focused but that it still has a feel. It feels comfortable and relaxed.
CAVANAUGH: And Ben?
CAMPBELL: I would definitely agree with all of Mike’s sentiments. And one of the other challenges for me is to, you know, when you’re playing jazz is just you’re kind of given a form or a structure and then you’re able to create your own lines and your own accompaniment for it. And to just really be true to the part and to the composition and play exactly what Matt has written – and I think for me the other challenge is a lot of the music is extremely technically challenging and it’s not necessarily idiomatic for me for what I’m used to playing. Just, you know, like especially the tune “Magnet,” all the string crossing stuff is definitely – I have to think about that quite a bit to get through it, which is great. It’s really amazing to have to, you know, it pushes your level of musicianship forward a lot.
CAVANAUGH: And, Adam Gold, I said – We were talking about you as if you were a rock ‘n roll drummer but you actually began as a classical percussionist, right?
GOLD: That’s right, yeah, I studied classical percussion in college.
CAVANAUGH: Is the big difference is now you get to play?
GOLD: That’s one of them, yeah. No, yeah, I, you know, like Matt, I had a very diverse background, like I think most drummer and percussionists do. So I, you know, I was always playing rock as a kid and that was kind of what got me into drums and percussion in the first place. And then I wanted to get serious, you know, so that’s why I studied classical and I haven’t given up on classical music since school. I mean, it’s definitely still a part of my life but I’ve certainly branched out a bit wider, you know, than the somewhat narrow classical orchestral education that I had.
CAVANAUGH: And, Andrea, I wanted to ask you because, you know, listening to these pieces, these are very precise works.
CAVANAUGH: How long does it take you guys to get this together?
LEE: It takes a good bit of rehearsal time for us, I think. I mean, especially because, you know, a lot of us have – are coming from different musical lives where it’s less about the parts but when we come into this kind of rehearsal, it does take quite a lot of concentration and focus. I don’t – I can’t really put a number on it but it definitely gets better with age, I would say.
CAVANAUGH: Like fine wine.
MCBANE: Yeah, “Drivin’,” the piece that we’re going to play, it took about a year to get it really feeling right, I think.
MCBANE: I mean, we performed it before that and, you know, and there were good performances but for it to really settle in just because it’s so long and really hard grooves to feel, and like, you know, it took a long time to make that feel really natural, you know, and so like a year or something.
CAMPBELL: Well, I want to add, if I can…
CAMPBELL: …that that has a lot to do with, you know, the fact that we’ve already talked about that we are such a diverse group of musicians. And to come together and then to play Matt’s music, which, you know, has – you know, we have all the context, musically, that we’ve been talking about, you know, jazz, rock, Reich, all these kinds of things, but really to pull it together and find a voice for this music is what has taken us time.
CAVANAUGH: Well, we’d better get to “Drivin’.” We’re driving the clock a little bit so I want to make sure that we have time for it, this entire piece. It sounds kind of like a Southern California song, Matt. Did – What inspired this piece?
MCBANE: Well, like I was talking about earlier, like the – especially like in high school, like when I first was listening to that – all that – like those – the music by the minimalist composers, especially Steve Reich, one of the ways I liked to listen to it is just get in my car and drive up and down the Coast Highway.
MCBANE: You know, I – and so when I moved to New York, Steve Reich was having his 70th birthday celebration so there was all these concerts of his music all around, so I thought – so then after hearing that, and it just kind of like brought me back into that and so this is kind of – You know, in New York, you don’t drive at all…
MCBANE: …so it’s like kind of – you know, my – maybe…
MCBANE: Yeah, a little bit of nostalgia. I mean, the piece doesn’t sound nostalgic at all, it’s so like complex and like…
CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s hear it.
MCBANE: Yeah. Yeah.
CAVANAUGH: This is Build with the song “Drivin’.”
CAMPBELL: And just the…
MCBANE: So you know, we’re playing just the first section of it.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, yeah.
MCBANE: And if you want to hear the whole thing, come tonight.
CAVANAUGH: Fair enough.
(audio of Build performing “Drivin’”)
CAVANAUGH: That’s the first part of the tune “Drivin’,” by the band called Build, and if you want to hear the rest of it, you will have to go to the campus of UCSD tonight to The Loft. The Build plays The Loft tonight at 8:00. Thank you very much for that. I can see why it took a year. That’s really close stuff.
CAVANAUGH: Now, I’m wondering, you know, you coined the term indy-classical music, really, Matt. And now a lot of people are using it and so forth and it’s, as you say, it’s a way to keep yourself away from that contemporary classical term. Do you have any ideas, though, on how to get people more interested in contemporary classical music?
MCBANE: Yeah, I have a lot of ideas. I mean, in addition to Build, my other big project is that I’m the founder and director of the Carlsbad Music Festival.
MCBANE: And so that’s a big part of my job is getting people to – yeah, to come out and get into it. And, yeah, I mean, well, like for instance in Build, like, you know, a big part of my – like one of the big ideas for this group is taking more of a band approach. Like and I mean it really has a real like DIY kind of thing, you know, that’s – I mean…
CAVANAUGH: What does that mean?
MCBANE: Like do it yourself kind of…
CAVANAUGH: Oh, yeah, okay.
MCBANE: But like, you know, we’re not like, you know, out of university putting this ensemble together so I mean it’s really like, you know, we’re struggling to find rehearsal space in New York and, you know, you know, booking shows and going out on the road and that kind of stuff. And…
CAVANAUGH: There’s a lot more of this fusion going on with classical, though, isn’t there?
MCBANE: Yeah, yeah.
CAVANAUGH: I mean, it’s like something that’s happening now.
MCBANE: Yeah, it’s like a thing that’s happening. I mean, you – like I’m a little bit less familiar with what exactly is happening now in Southern California. But there was certainly like some of that happening when I was living in LA but in New York, it really exploded. Like there’s a – like several clubs now that are open that they do like the normal like rock club thing but they like specialize in classical music and all its different branches. And, yeah, it’s really exciting, and it’s not just like a fringe thing. It’s like a thing that like is causing like, you know, everybody from, you know, people like us that’s more of a grassroots kind of thing to like the, you know, Lincoln Center to kind of rethink their approach to presenting classical music. And I think one of the really great things about that is that classical music is kind of losing its separateness from all other kinds of music. I mean, like I think that that’s really been something that was always problematic to me, that, I mean, some ways it’s seen as being – you know, some people seeing it as being better, you know, or – and so therefore separate. Other people see it as being too elitist, therefore it’s separate. But it’s like – I mean, it’s just music like any other music and, you know, it has its own tradition just like other musics have its (sic) own tradition but like I think like it’s particularly like our generation of musicians are like even more adept at bringing in all these different influences.
CAVANAUGH: That’s very interesting. And I just want to make sure in like the minute we have left. Are you still going to be producing the Carlsbad Music Festival…
MCBANE: Oh, yeah.
CAVANAUGH: …as you go on to fame and fortune here?
MCBANE: We’ll see if that ever happens. But, yeah, yeah, the Carlsbad Music Festival is going to be in 7th year this year, so it’s – yeah, that’s pretty amazing to me that it’s gone on that long. It’s at the end of September and actually yesterday morning we got – I got a call from Chamber Music America that we won the Adventurous Programming Award from ASCAP…
CAVANAUGH: Wow. Great.
MCBANE: …for the entire country for all small festivals that – and so like – yeah…
CAVANAUGH: Congratulations. I want to thank everybody in Build, Matt McBane, Ben Campbell, Mike Cassidy, Andrea Lee and Adam Gold. Thanks so much for being here, talking with us and playing for us. Thank you.
CAMPBELL: Thanks for having us.
BAND: (general thank-yous)
CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know once again, Build plays The Loft tonight at 8:00 p.m. The Loft is located on the campus of UCSD. And you can also check out KPBS.org later today to watch a video of today’s performance in studio here at KPBS. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS-FM.
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