My World by Jamie Bonk
visit Jamie Bonk's
AV: Before we get down to questions about your latest CD, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and how you got started creating the style of music that you do now?
JB: Where to start... I'm a guitarist/composer/producer, and I have released three mostly instrumental records. I say 'mostly' because my latest release, "My World", has a couple of vocal tunes on it. Some quick background info... I started playing piano at the age of four and then later picked up the guitar after seeing Johnny Cash on TV. I studied classical guitar and jazz throughout high school and ended up going to Queen's University and getting a BMUS in composition. After Queen's, I did a fair amount of freelance work in Toronto -- demos, records, filmwork, etc. -- as well, I taught guitar in just about every style. The first CD I released was my self-titled debut and it came out in 1997 in Canada and 1998 in the US.
I've pretty much worked in, or around, my current style (which for lack of a better term, I'll call contemporary instrumental) since I started writing music in my teens. I guess I've been writing/recording for 25 years or so with side-road journeys into Jazz, Electroacoustic and Free music. Before releasing my first CD, I had to make a decision as to whether the electric or the acoustic guitar would be my primary voice. I choose the acoustic, and I think this choice was the genesis for the type of music I make today.
It's tough for me to know exactly how (or why) I started writing, as I always have some kind of melodic phrase or musical idea flowing through my brain. Truthfully, and I know I'm incredibly lucky, music just comes to me -- the worst thing I can do is over-intellectualize the process.
AV: Your latest CD, "My World", was released not too long ago. What was the inspiration for this project and when did you actually start work on it?
JB: I had a general idea of where I wanted the record to go, but I really never come to recording with any kind of an agenda. I like the music to just evolve naturally. Unfortunately, sometimes that means that things can take a LONG time! Still, I did want the record to reflect where I'm at today --musically, personally, my general surroundings, etc. That's why I named the record, "My World".... I think it's my most diverse record to date and a lot of the success of the album is due to the other voices on the album -- Sonya Mitlewski (keyboards), Ron Scott (composition/vocals), Peter Janson <http://www.easternwoodsmusic.com/> (composition/steel string guitar), Shelley Hamilton <http://www.shelleyhamilton.ca/> (vocals).
"My World" took roughly three years to record. Not all of it was in the studio, but I have to admit the record took longer than I'd liked. O.k., _a lot_ longer!
AV: Once you get an idea for a music project do you set aside the time to work on the music and dedicate your full attention to the project or is it a little less structured than that?
JB: Way less structured! Part of that is due to the fact that I record at home, so I really don't have to block out time for recording. I just record whenever I'd like! The other part of it is that I like to try out new pieces in a live setting. So I'll write/record something, try it out live and then get a better feel for the piece. And if I'm being honest, part of it is that I can be slightly scattered...
AV: Does beginning a new project bring to mind echoes of your previous works and how do you let your new work be its own creation without becoming too derivative of what you have created before?
JB: That's a good question... I definitely don't want to say the same thing over and over again. I think there has to be a certain amount of risk in whatever an artist does -- a certain amount of challenging your own point of view. That said, I like where I've been. So it's a balancing act between the new and the old. I suppose I have a "sound" -- or at least that's what people tell me -- and I don't know if I could, even if I wanted to, be something other than what I am.
AV: On a project like this (or any of your past projects for that matter) do you isolate yourself during the creation process or do you sometimes seek outside opinions as to how things are going?
JB: A little bit of both. When I try out new pieces in a live setting, I can't help but be influenced by the listeners, but ultimately, I like to go with my gut and make a record that I like. I should also add, that I respect the opinions (and talent) of the musicians I work with and I try to give them room to do what they do best. That was probably the greatest lesson I took from recording "My World".
AV: Tell me about a good day that you had while creating this new CD and how moments like that keep you moving forward into each new project.
JB: Well, I'd say a good day (or better yet, great day!) was when I _finally_figured out how to play "Third Time". It was definitely the problem child on this disc! Ballads can be, and usually are, the toughest tunes for me.
Everything has to be "right"-- technically and emotionally. I've learned over the years, not to panic when things aren't going well. And that's especially important on ballads. The more uptight I get, the worse the session goes. I really can't force it.
So in the case of "Third Time", I knew that when I didn't nail the piece the first time, not to stress out about it. But after I didn't get it on my second crack at it, I starting worrying a bit. Maybe worrying is too much -- I was concerned.... Still, any tension, for me, when recording a ballad is bad news. So, I came back to the piece for a third time (hence the title!) and dropped all of my expectations of how the track should sound, how I should play it. And of course, that was when I played it best.
So, a good day for me is not necessarily when things just come easily and naturally the first time through, but in working through something that's a bit of a challenge.
AV: If someone were to pick up your latest release what would they find there? Give me an idea of the feel of your latest release as compared to what has come before. Would your listeners recognize it as your "style" or might they be surprised?
JB: I like to think my records are more evolutionary than revolutionary, in terms of stylistic development. So, I don't think people would really be surprised, but I find it so hard to judge my own music. I'm just too close to it. Certainly the vocal tracks are different from my past two releases and the fact that I didn't write every track on the record is a change.
But, it felt natural to go in this direction -- that I was being true to my own aesthetic. If I had to compare the overall feel of this record to my first two, I'd say it's generally more upbeat.
AV: When did you know that this project was done and that tweaking the mix would not make it any better than it already is?
JB: You know, I never really know. A teacher of mine once said that you never finish a piece of music, you just stop working on it. And I think that's pretty much true. You can edit and mix _forever_... there truly is no end.
At some point you just have to make the decision to stop. Usually that point is when my wife stops talking to me because I've bugged her with too many questions!
AV: Do you ever feel apprehensive when it comes time to take a project like this to the next stage and release it to the public?
JB: Sure. I can be as insecure as any other artist. I think being apprehensive is a good thing -- it means you care. But a big part of what I do is sharing my music with others. It's not just about the music. It's also about the effect the music has on people. So, I also get kind of curious and excited by what people might think.
AV: What kind of feedback have you been getting since releasing this CD? How closely do you follow reviews or the comments you receive from your listeners?
JB: The feedback has been great! I just heard yesterday that "My World" is Album of the Year and Best Instrumental Album - Acoustic for the NAR LifeStyle Music Awards. So I'm incredibly happy! And I was just nominated for Guitarist of the Year for the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards -- another huge honour for me, especially considering the other players in the category.
I have to follow reviews, etc. because I'm an independent -- there's really no choice for me. I handle all of my own press kits, update my website (although I just had it redesigned by Yone <http://www.decodedfeedback.com/~ydudas/>) and generally have to be on top of the business side of marketing my records. While reviews, both positive and negative, help benchmark what you've done as an artist and what you might do better, I really like hearing from individual fans. The other day someone sent me an email saying that they'd seen my video, and were so inspired by my playing. People have also told me that they'd been having a really bad day, and heard one of my tunes and felt immediately uplifted.
These are great things to hear, and, of course, it's really nice if they buy your album too!
AV: When you finish a project like this and it has had a little time to settle down after the official release do you ever go back and take a critical look at the project and think about things that might have been done differently or have you already moved on in your mind to your next creation?
JB: I do listen to my records, but not all that much. Part of that is that I play live a fair bit and I'm playing the music all the time. I definitely approach older material differently than when I recorded it, but I think that's a positive thing.
Every so often, I'll put "My World" in the CD player and take a listen. Are there things that I would change? Yes, most definitely, but I'm really proud of it. Without that album being how and what it is, as with my first two, I don't think I'd be able to get to my next record. So, I view it as being part of the process.
AV: What might your listeners be looking for in the near future from you as far as the next musical project?
JB: I put so much stress on myself by announcing release dates for "My World" --release dates that I never met! -- that I promised myself that I would never do that again. So... the official answer is, I really don't know when my next release will be out. But, stylistically, I'm moving more towards collaborations. I don't think I'll ever go back to a strictly solo recording like my debut -- I just like working with other musicians too much. That being said, never say never....
AV: Is there anything else about this project that stood out in your mind that you would like to pass along the readers of Ambient Visions as we close out this spotlight?
JB: I think from "Jamie Bonk" to "A Perfect Tomorrow" to "My World" the greatest change has been the understanding that my "voice" as an artist is not just where I've been, where I am or where I'm going, musically speaking. That's part of it for sure, but it's a lot more than just music. It's people, it's my environment, it's acknowledging the importance of risk. I'm not totally sure where I'm going -- and that's the way it should be.
AV: Thanks for talking with us Jamie and congratulations on your awards and I hope that you keep raking them in over the years to come....and oh yeah I wish you more of that record sales thing too.