Monday, November 12, 2012

Ghost Train Orchestra Interview

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  I’m joined by the very talented Brian Carpenter of the Ghost Train Orchestra.  He’s with us today to talk about their new Kickstarter album release Book of Rhapsodies.  Thank you for joining us today Brian.

A pleasure to be here James. 



Kickstarter is a wonderful place where all sorts of creative folks bring their projects, what brings your project to Kickstarter?

Many of my friends and artists have had successful campaigns on Kickstarter. It's a great way to fund and promote projects and help out in the community. I thought the Ghost Train Orchestra's second recording would be a good time to use Kickstarter to help finish our project. It's a very ambitious project with 25 or so people involved.

So what is Chamber Jazz?

I'm talking about chamber jazz here from 1935-1942 as a way of discussing music that bridged jazz and classical music. There is an element of swing, but it's a light swing. And the music is mostly through-composed (meaning any improvisations are bounded within a larger composition). There are elements of classical music such as contrapuntal writings and fugues in Alec Wilder's music.


Honestly as a Trombone player I’m personally drawn to music like this.  What got you involved with music from the 20’s, and now the 30’s?  

I was drawn to the music of the late 1920s, 1926-1931, specifically Chicago and Harlem. That music had a very bluesy, sexual appeal to me live. There are very special moments when we play that music live when it becomes so all-encompassing that I feel like I'm floating. I've surrendered to it and I'm not thinking about anything except being inside the music. It's an incredible feeling and it's why I love playing it. Moving ten years ahead was just to try my hand at something completely different, where I was able to flex my arranging skills in a different way. So when we play the late 1930s chamber jazz it's more of a concert atmosphere. When we play the late 1920s material it's more of a party atmosphere because that music is much more open. I enjoy both sets of material but they're very different.

So where did you find the original scores?  How long did it take you to arrange them for your instrumentation?  

I didn't find the original scores! I went to the 78s and transcribed the material from scratch and arranged it for the Ghost Train Orchestra. It gets faster and faster the more you do it. Working out the harmonies and voicings are the most time-consuming part of it. I want the music to sound like us in the present. So I'll usually listen to the original recording once or twice to jot down some transcriptions and then I try to forget about it. I don't go back to it. I'll figure out my own arrangement and then go forward from there. Often I'll have to make rearrangement decisions after rehearsal, so the rehearsals end up being as useful for me as they are for the rest of the band. As I get better at arranging I find I have to make less and less revisions, to where the last couple sounded great right out of the gate (which was good since I finished them only days before the recording!)

Wow!  That’s dedication! Would you care to explain how your recording process is setup and how it requires your $5,000 minimum goal?  

Well, the $5000 is really just a mere fraction of the cost of a project like this. But I wanted to set the goal low since it's our first Kickstarter campaign and it's only our second album. The recording process with this band works in stages. The first stage is pre-production and that means just learning the material over several months. We started playing this material live in February of last year, so it's been a long road to get to this point. The music is very difficult reading. In April of this year we decided we were ready to record the fundamentals so we spent three days in Andy Taub's Brooklyn studio with Danny Blume at the helm. The next phase, which is where we are now, is making rough mixes and creating the necessary overdubs for choir, voice, and percussion. If this campaign is successful, we'll be able to record those overdubs soon and then go to mixing (which means Danny and I in a room hashing it out.) And then we'll master hopefully in the spring for a release in early fall. The $5000 should cover our overdub and mixing costs.

One of the keys of a successful Kickstarter project is backer participation.  How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

This is my favorite thing about Kickstarter. I love sharing with the fans! We are editing a video of the band in the studio, which I think will be exciting to see. I've been posting updates about the composers and how we went about tackling their work and about all the musicians on board and how they came to be in the project, etc. There are SO many things to share and I just love that part of it. As we transition through all the stages of the project I'll be sharing updates with the backers only so they can be a part of the process.
You have quite a variety of backer levels which includes some pretty unique items.  One item I did find oddly missing was a copy of the arrangement you created for this recording.  Was there any thought given to creating arrangements for others as a backer level?  

I thought about that...maybe I'll add that! This particular project is by far the most ambitious project I’ve been involved with in terms of arranging. So that's an interesting idea to musicians but probably not to anyone else. The difficulty of the arrangements is which ones do you copy? If I was going to copy all of the arrangements it would be a tome...we recorded something like 18 pieces, it was unbelievable how productive we were during that first session. Also the arrangements are specific to the instrumentation of the Ghost Train Orchestra, which is a rather unusual instrumentation to begin with. So for that reason I wonder if the arrangements would really be useful to anyone?

Personally I just think it’d be interesting to see the sheet music.  What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to help things along?

Well I have Facebook pages for all of my bands (Beat Circus, Ghost Train Orchestra, Confessions) and I use those of course. And a fledgling twitter account (@bwcarpenter) where I'll kind of rant and rave from time to time and share things I love. But really I'm leaning on our mailing lists and reaching out to the Kickstarter team (located in NYC, a few of whom may be familiar with our band anyway.) That latter point seemed to work as today we were the Project of the Day on Kickstarter, which helped us tremendously. I also reached out to people I know who have hosted successful Kickstarter campaigns (Singularlity&Co, i.e.) and they've given me some great ideas as well...

Congratulations on getting on the front page of Kickstarter and reaching your goal! Do you think Kickstarter is reaching mostly your established fan base or are you increasing your reach through the service?   How hard is it to reach new listeners through the internet in general and Kickstarter in particular?  
I know we're increasing our reach through Kickstarter and that was one of the driving points behind launching it, for me.

Are any of the Ghost Train Orchestra’s albums available on iTunes or other download services?  Will Book of Rhapsodies be available for Download for non-backers?  

The first record Hothouse Stomp is available through iTunes. And Book of Rhapsodies will be available through iTunes as well, but the backers will get it in ANY format (which includes uncompressed formats). The uncompressed format is really ideal for an album like this, which has a LOT of detail going on in the arrangements. You'd be surprised what you're missing out on with an album like this via an mp3 file.

No worries, I know how musicians can be since I do it too.  Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

I'd say set your sights on a reasonable goal, for starters. And make a great video and really cool and creative rewards! That's always a draw.

How can backers help out your project outside of donating?  

Sharing the page with friends is a huge help. The more people who see it, the better.

Thank you for spending your time with us Brian!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

Thank you for the great questions and thanks to all those curious enough to read this interview! Come see us live if you're in or visiting NYC and say hi!

Oh how I wish I could! Thanks again and congrats on hitting your goal with Kickstarter!