Posted On 13 Aug 2018
Jonathan Scales is one of the most innovative steel pannists on the planet, and is redefining and challenging traditional expectations of his signature instrument. In his hands, the sonic palette of an instrument often associated with cruise ships and tropical resorts is radically expanded to mimic the role of horns, piano, vibraphone or marimba due to his stunning, virtuosic technique. He’s got a new album coming out featuring a pantheon of top-notch players, many of whom Scales grew up listening to and idolizing.
Scales’ upcoming release, PILLAR—his sixth album, and fourth release on taste-maker label Ropeadope—is a testament to the grit and tenacity he possesses. The record features an incredible cast of special guests, including banjo pioneer Béla Fleck, bassists Victor Wooten, Oteil Burbridge and MonoNeon, trumpeter Christian Scott, Tunde Adjuah, saxophonist Jeff Coffin, keyboardist Shaun Martin and percussionist Weedie Braimah.
PILLAR will be released on September 14th.
Learn more about Jonathan Scales in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you now? What’s on tap for the rest of your day?
I’m at my home, in the Asheville, NC area…off the road for a bit, until the new album comes out. I’m kind of a work-a-holic, so today I’m planning to catch up on a lot of the business stuff I couldn’t take care of while I was on the road…like this interview!
All Access Music is currently compiling a list of our artists favorite songs this summer so what is YOUR song of the summer?
The answer for this might seem unfitting with my music if you don’t know me well…I’d have to say my summer song of 2018 has been “Dinero” by Jennifer Lopez…really because me and my lady blast it at home and act crazy & just have fun, so songs like that are like sonic time-markers in life for me! Honorable mentions to “Apes**t” by Beyoncé & Jay Z.
Overall, how do you think 2018 has been treating you and your music career? What has been one goal that you have had this year and how close are you to reaching it?
2018 has definitely been a challenging year of rebuilding. From rearranging the Fourchestra, recording the new record, and just keeping the business going ahead of the new album dropping. One goal I had this year was to work with Béla Fleck…been dreaming of that for 15 years! Got to check that one off the bucket list!
How would you say that you have grown as an artist since you first starting making music? What has remained the same?
I have always strived for creating music that has a palatable but ear-piquing vibe and keeps listeners on their toes. Sometimes that means the music is complicated to play yet still enjoyable to the “average listener”. My approach remains the same, but I do feel like I’m finding my perfect balance between complex & palatable.
Let’s talk about your upcoming release, “PILLAR.” What was the inspiration for this collection? How do you think these songs and this overall album show your growth as an artist? How differently did you approach this collection compared to your previous ones?
The inspiration behind the music on PILLAR comes from the idea of having to try to remain strong while everything seems to be crumbling around you. In the process of trying to be strong pillars in our lives, there are the trying moments, the triumphant ones, the rebuilding phases, and everything in between…to me the music on PILLAR is the soundtrack to that idea. In terms of growing as an artist & my approach, I feel like this music might be more palatable to a general audience than some of my earlier work while at the same time having the complex inner-workings that will intrigue the scholars.
How did you go about choosing the musicians that you worked with on “PILLAR”? What was it like working with them all?
I wanted my core, touring band to be heavily involved because they are the ones that will be out on tour with me and it’s always nice when the audience can walk away getting to know the players they just saw on stage. In terms of guests, I really just envisioned artists that I felt would help bring the music to life and then just tried my best to actually get them into the studio! To have Béla Fleck, Victor Wooten, Oteil Burbridge, MonoNeon, Weedie Braimah, Shaun Martin, Jeff Coffin, & Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah all on the same album and adding SO MUCH of their own voices to my compositions is really a dream come true. I feel very solid about the outcome.
While it’s difficult, can you pick out a few of your favorite songs on “PILLAR” and elaborate on the inspiration for them? How did they get to be on this album?
The opening track is one of my favorites. “Fake Buddha’s Inner Child”. The inspiration for writing that one was all about finding some kind of inner peace to keep those dangerous, emotionally immature responses to crisis in check…It’s a meditation of sorts. I shut myself in a little, sound-proofed practice room on a snowy day and didn’t come out until I had completed the composition. It’s crazy for me to look back on that day, and being in that head space to now hearing it with Oteil Burbridge playing over the strings & singing that melody that I wrote in such a crazy time of my life.
What do you think makes for an ideal show for you? What has been a favorite performance of yours so far? Do you have any upcoming shows this summer?
Attentive listeners help make a show feel good for me, no matter how many people are in the audience. One of my favorite shows in the past few years was my first performance in Tokyo at a festival called Peter Barakan’s Live Magic….I wasn’t excepting anyone to be there for our 1pm set at the festival, but 1200 people filled the room! It was a warm welcome. Album release tour starting mid September! jonscales.com/tour
What has it been like keeping up with your social media accounts and all of the different platforms? Is it hard to stay up to date on it all? What would you say is your favorite way to connect with your fans now?
Back in the day, artists were really isolated from their fans, so the whole social media thing really has changed the game. I guess I’m still considered to be a “millennial”, so it’s just kind of part of my daily life to stay connected with the fans in that way. I like to show a little bit of my “real life” other than just promoting the music…I feel like that really goes a long way to help audiences feel connected to you, especially if you’re being genuine.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
Béla Fleck, Eminem, Björk, Thundercat, Kanye West, Bach, Miles Davis, Danny Elfman. I would love to work with Thundercat on something one day! Between you, me, and anyone else reading this right now, I actually reached out to Thundercat’s people about having him as a guest artist on PILLAR 🙂 Didn’t happen, but hey maybe next time! I’m always reaching to push my own limitations.
If you were going to be stranded on a deserted island forever, what musical item would you take with you and why?
A solar-powered device with headphones that had a ridiculous amount of albums stored on it’s hard drive.
If your music was going to be featured on any TV show that is currently on right now, which would you love it to be on? Or if you prefer, what is a movie that you love that you wish your music was featured in?
Well…when it comes to TV shows, it’s really all about licensing…and we all know that licensing can make good money for a composer….so let’s say something huge….like Game of Throne or The Walking Dead! In all honestly, I began my career in music wanting to do film scores…I can’t think in terms of “what movie I wish my music was featured in” because it’s already done! I do want to do more along those lines in the near future though.
At the end of the day, what do you hope your fans take away from your music?
I hope fans just take it for what it is….it’s just sound. And if my sound resonates with them for whatever reason, that’s really cool. And if not, that’s also fine. That might sound really vague, but I’m a big fan of the composer & music theorist John Cage…learning about him really changed my perspective on how to perceive other people’s perspectives.
(All Photography Provided By Missing Piece Group)