Mains: an espresso with Julian Pollack and J3PO


28 december, 2021

On the occasion of the publication of Mains, the new album of the J3PO project, we interviewed its creator, the American pianist, keyboardist, composer and producer Julian Pollack.

> Ivano Rossato

In the creative act, what comes inside you first? Rhythm, timbre, harmony, melody?…
It could be any of those things. With my latest project Mains and the preceding album Small Plates, either a beat, harmonic progression, or timbre would inspire the composition. I’m actually taking steps these days to try and do the opposite: come with melody first. For a long time, I always composed with melody first. I think this is the way a lot of people are taught to write, especially in jazz and popular styles. But it can be equally as interesting to approach composition from a pure rhythmic or timbral perspective. 

All of the compositions on Mains were born in my studio, during the lockdown of the pandemic. Most of the compositions came from little germs of ideas I had laying around on my computer or beats I was making at the time.

How does your compositional approach change between an “electronic” production and a more “acoustic” one like the piano trio?
When I was mostly doing the “acoustic thing” (which I’m actually getting back into these days) it was quite different because everything came from sitting at the piano. Anything original would stem from pencil and paper. With electronic production it’s quite different because you’re actually developing the materials that the listener will hear in the final product. It’s not a “plan” like a score or lead sheet. You’re creating and crafting the materials, just like a visual artist, to display in a gallery. In our case, that gallery is your audio player or streaming device. I’m looking forward to trying to blend these two approaches to music composition over the next few years.
In an album like Mains, modernity is perceived but at the same time you feel the roots in tradition. What are your main sources of stylistic inspiration?
I appreciate that you hear some “tradition” in Mains. I still identify with being a “jazz pianist” these days even though what I’m doing some would say is not jazz at all. I love Bebop. I love the discipline of it, and I practice it. I take inspiration from the later greats such as Herbie Hancock all the way to present-day folks like Brad Mehldau. I appreciate what Robert Glasper has done for the music. And I’m excited by what my peers are creating, producer/instrumentalists like Anomalie, Kiefer, Rob Araujo, Lil BadSnacks, MXXWLL, to name a few.
What impact has the pandemic crisis had (and still has…) on your way of experiencing music, from a professional and creative point of view?
The pandemic crisis allowed me to do what I always wanted to do: unlimited endless days in the studio. I used to feel that touring was a drag. Now, after being forced to stay locked in the studio for over a year, I appreciate live performance more than ever. I’ve really come to understand that it’s all about balance. Practicing, writing, creating, producing, performing. This to me creates a balanced artistic life.
It may seem like an “insiders” question, but what did it mean for you to collaborate with a giant like Nord Keyboards to make a Signature Sound Bank?
I feel very lucky that I have solid relationships with all of the musical instrument makers whose instruments I use. I’m very close with Nord Keyboards and Sequential, and I feel that these instrument makers are part of the process — Dave Smith, Tom Oberheim, Hans Nordelius — they are artists too, along with all of us musicians. It has also been thrilling to have the “insider scoop” of what’s coming out next with these keyboard/synth makers, and I’ve enjoyed creating my signature sound banks as well as factory presets for many of the keyboards that have been coming out on the market. 
What are the next steps for 2022?
In Spring of 2022, I’ll be coming to Europe for my debut Europe Tour with my trio. We’ll be playing selections from my albums as well as some standards. I can’t wait for it! There are also some exciting things behind the scenes that are happening that I can’t let out of the bag quite yet…but I look forward to when I can! 2022 is going to be a fun and exciting year. 
Mains: an espresso with Julian Pollack and J3PO copyright Jazzespresso 2021.
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