FLOW is a more than a band: FLOW is an ensemble group, FLOW is friendship, FLOW is filled with passion. The impeccably talented and tremendously creative four piece consists of Will Ackerman, Lawrence Blatt, Fiona Hawkins, and Jeff Oster. Their evocative and rhythm-based music takes the new age genre to a new level of sophistication. There are elements of each of their instrumental and lyrical talents in all of their work; work that they adore and which was built upon their interests, their brainstorming, and their (seemingly more than just professional) friendship. The quintet have come together to create something jazzy, something unique, and something special. Listeners are tuning in and being taken aback by the power and love that their music exudes, so it was an honor to speak to one of the people who helped bring that music and those reactions to life: guitarist Lawrence Blatt.
You debuted your ensemble FLOW’s self-titled album at Carnegie Hall not too long ago to a practically sold out audience. Even as a seasoned guitarist and a talented performer, were you nervous about bringing your new music to life in front of an audience who had never heard it before?
Yeah! That’s an interesting question. So, in some ways it was very nerve-wracking for all of us because playing in a group is very different than being a solo artist. I’ll roll it back to when we wrote for the album, and this will make sense once I explain this, so we came into the studio when we had this idea to do this group FLOW. We came into the studio and everyone sort of brought their own ideas and songs. What immediately starting happen was that we started, as a group, deconstructing these ideas and turning them into ensemble pieces where you really have to give up a lot of what you do as a solo artist and think about what a group piece should sound like. What it meant was that everybody had to adjust their playing style as a group, so I became more of a rhythm guitarist, Will become more of a lead guitarist, Fiona learned more to accompany than to lead, and Jeff learned to bring in more sparse melody and more of a pad-type of thing, so to speak, when he was out of the melody range.
By the time we had played at Carnegie, we had developed this style — which, by the way, came very naturally and very easily to us, which was great. When we played at Carnegie, we were in that groove and that feel. In some ways it was liberating, in that you had material that had never been played. Having said that, playing at Carnegie, having played there, is scary. It’s such a magnificent place to play and the sound of the room is amazing and the room is beautiful, and all of that. I’m not going to say that nobody was nervous, but it didn’t feel unnatural to us, I guess that is how I would characterize it.
Speaking of Carnegie Hall, the group is returning there on September 28!
Yeah, we were invited back pretty quickly after we played and we got a call from the coordinator there and she generously invited us back. You know, we’ve been touring all year on and off, so we feel that we have really honed in on our sound, and we have also written some other pieces that are going to go into our second album. We’re releasing one of those as a single actually next week! We’ll be playing that song, as well as one other new piece at Carnegie. We’re doing some other shows around that date, as well.
I know fans are going to be really happy to hear new music from you guys, especially if they’re going to get to hear it live.
I think people are excited, and that’s the thing: we have so much support from people and it almost feels like you’re playing in your living room because people are so supportive of us when we go out and play, interact with us, and really know our music. That really helps us and it really feeds us and allows us to really get in the groove and relax and play spontaneously; which I also think is important in a live show. You don’t want to have just a repetition of the album, you want to have moments that are a little different, and we have been able to do that pretty successfully, as well.
That’s evident, for sure. Now, you kind of answered a little bit of what we can expect next from FLOW after this little grouping of performances, but after this single comes out next week…can we get hints of what is to come post-single release?
Yeah, so we have already recorded four of our new tracks…all new! We’re going to be coming together again in the near future, I think sometime early next year, and record probably a good six more tracks. We’ll have about 10 tracks on the album. What I love about the new stuff is that on one hand, it sounds like FLOW, but on the other hand, it doesn’t sound like anything we have ever done. It’s an evolution of our sound, which is great, and exactly the same thing happened before — we all got in the studio and brought sort of notions of melodies and other things that completely deconstructed the music and turned it into the ensemble pieces that we have now.
It’s clear that all of you are very professional and work well together, so I was wondering how quickly that comradery was felt — especially coming from being a solo act — upon starting the actual group and the music that you have created.
Well, we have all known each other for about a decade, and in the case of Will and Jeff, even longer than that. Will has produced all of our albums in the past and we’ve all played on each other’s albums. Fiona and I have done stuff together. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Bluecoats music, which is essentially live performances. Fiona and I have a special event album out with them. Jeff and I have worked together quite a lot. Jeff lives near the Bay Area so I work with him quote often. Will has worked with all of us in many ways.
There was already a strong tie, a strong friendship prior to putting this together and that really was a least half of, initially, why I thought to do it, because of the strong friendship that we had that lasted a long time, so I thought it would be fun to get together. What we didn’t want to do was create a compilation album. We didn’t want it to be three Fiona tracks, three Will tracks, three Jeff tracks, and three Lawrence tracks, you know? We really wanted to move the needle or something else, which I think we did accomplish.
Definitely! And I know with this album, FLOW, is not only critically acclaimed and charted on Billboard, but it won Album of the Year at the Zone Music Awards, which is fantastic!
Yeah, you now, you know that your music is working when you listen back to it and think, “Wow, who did that?” and then it’s a FLOW track. I’m pretty happy with where we have ended up with this, the album, the sound. We’ve had some great concerts, too. We played the Grammy Museum in L.A., which was just a tremendous night. We’ve played quite a few concerts and are really getting a lot back from the audience which is truly fantastic.
Going into the influences you have personally brought to the group, I know that you’ve talked about your passion for jazz fusion in the past, and it’s evident that you take some influence from it and put it in your music. How did you get interested in this genre? Did you ever think that you would create music that is so inspired by it?
You know, so I always this: I don’t sit down and say, “Ok, I’m going to create a jazz piece or a new age piece or a jazz fusion piece.” I create music that feels right to me, that moves me, and it just so happens that it has found an audience, for my music personally, in this sort of cross over wave of new age. Even my last album, Longitudes, even crossed over into light jazz at times. So, I don’t really purposefully build music or write music toward a genre. That being said, this album clearly falls into the new age category because of putting together four people who have primarily worked in that space. That is just what it sort of becomes in that case. You know, I personally don’t like to be bound by genres.
Definitely! Even nowadays, there is a lot of blending of genres and creating new ones with all the creativity and the new technologies. You, technically and personally speaking, notoriously play two very technical and very unique guitars. Can you tell our readers a little bit about them and their history, as well as the way they play a role in your music?
Sure! Actually, Will is playing one very similar guitar, too. The guitars that we have been using a lot with FLOW and certainly with touring, are guitars built by Steve Klein. He is a builder here in northern California, up in Sonoma, and he has developed tremendous amounts of innovative techniques to get a guitar that has incredible projection, separation of tone, but also not giving up the harmonic overtone from the guitar.
He has used a lot of technology, and I would encourage you to look at his website, in terms of guitar construction, the way that he chooses the wood, the type of bridge that transfers the vibration of the string to the guitar that allows the sound to come out. He has really used an incredible amount of science and math in designed those guitar. The bottom line is that they’re really easy to play, too, which is another thing that is great, because he designed them in a way that makes it easier to play and that’s really important when you play every day as we do. You can actually injure yourself if you’re playing a guitar that is difficult to play if the action is high or the strings are not positioned correctly, so it is a great instrument all the way around.
We actually have both played the Klein guitars in the concerts and will be playing them at Carnegie and in the upcoming concerts. Beyond that, Will likes to play a local Vermont Luthier guitars called Froggy Bottom. I have one, as well, although that is not the one I play on every album. I think Froggies are the same thing, they’re modeled mostly after Martin guitars, which are really, really great guitars and really interesting guitars. The other guitar I am playing a lot on the album and a lot on tour is a guitar made by Luthier in Denver, Colorado, his name is Edward Dick. He’s not as well-known as a builder but he built me a guitar probably 15 years ago that just is a tremendous guitar that is really getting better with age.
That’s so great. I love asking and hearing about how musicians got to playing the instruments they use and why. I feel like that plays an integral part in live shows, as well as being used on studio albums.
For sure! You can pick up three guitars, same model, same manufacturer, and they’re all pretty different instruments, which is why I would never buy a guitar online without having the opportunity to play it or return it. I’ll tell you what, I’ve gone into music stores and you can find incredible instruments, but you can also find complete duds. That is one of the advantages of, say a custom Luthier, because you can choose the wood, the grain of the wood, and it really does make a huge difference.
Oh, I bet. You’re a true musician with a passion for the craft. Do you enjoy the writing and composing of music and behind the scenes work of it all, or do you prefer to take your craft and perform it for those who adore listening to it?
I think the most rewarding thing is performing live without a doubt, because you are getting instant feedback. When you create an album, especially as an independent artist on an independent label, writing the music and recording it is may 15 to 20 percent of the effort. The rest of it is a lot of hard work around logistics and getting the album out…like literally stuffing envelopes with CDs to send to radio stations and people that might do reviews. 80 percent of the work of being a musician is not being a musician. I’m sure you’ve heard that from a lot of musicians and artists, especially nowadays when you may or may not have a label who does all of this for you. For me, and I think the others would agree with this, performing live is clearly the most rewarding part of it all.
See FLOW perform live September 27 at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts in Philadelphia, and on September 28 at Carnegie Hall in New York.