Interview-Jeza

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When I think of Jeza, I think of his song "How Can I Help You" because Jeza always seems to be open and available to help people.  Full of experience and advice, Jeza is a renaissance man, indie music success story, painter, information resource and friend to many.  

I first ran across Jeza in a list of people wanting songs reviewed.  I knew as soon as the song started that it was going to be a good one.  Little did I know when I submitted the review that Jeza would write me back almost immediately and we'd become friends.  Look for the new CD coming out soon, Jeza's first CD, Wined Up leaves big shoes to fill and from all indications, Man in the Mirror will fill them with no problems.

 

Type Jeza into any search engine and you get so many hits that it's more than obvious that you are an internet presence to be reckoned with.  What's the story behind that?  

I think search engine placement is one of life's "black arts", like "compression", "quabala" or "alchemy".  Takes years of study and understanding to turn gold into coal dust...There's a lot to be said for good "metatags" in your web pages before submitting them to search engines.  Though you'll get a lot of web hits on my name, they are not always the results I would like to see come up.  Many out-of-date links like Javamusic and Ampcast still coming up, I even find sites I didn't know or long since forgot about, where preferred sites like Besonic or Fap are not on top of the listing, so I still need a lot of work on refining the process.  Some of my best results come from the festival photos at the website and my 70's heritage in general.  I learned my craft back then and listened mostly to acts from that era.  The Beatles, Stones, TRex, Terry Reid, Traffic, CSNY all rubbed off on my "style" of music.  With that in mind I found a neat tool online to test popular search phrases.  I discovered there that the phrase "1970s Music" was a safer bet than "Free MP3s" so I submitted my '70s Music Festival Photos as a website...now I get listed at AskJeeves higher than ABBA or the Eagles with a high percentage of anonymous web hits from that very search phrase.  So effectively somebody searching for music from that era is likely to come up with Jezaland, and hopefully, dig my kind of music as well...Those photos also link to and from a "Festival Archives" website based in Australia where my pix are a featured link so that actually pushes a high percentage of traffic to Jezaland form non-music venues.  I'm starting to sell photos for publication directly through the site too.

 

How did you start with OMDs and who was the first?

The first OMD I joined in 1999 was called PeopleSound, based in UK.  I don't think my page is active there any more.  They started out with a few million squid as venture capitol, huge media splash with full page magazine ads and billboards etc.  So full of themselves...as an inventive to the earliest artists to join up they actually gave everybody a cheque for 100pounds as "advance payment" on CD sales...but provided one of the worst possible excuses for an OMD.  2/3 of the page was banners and ads for the website itself, leaving a tiny corner for the artists page.  No forum, no cross promotion, no central listing, almost impossible to chart or even track down an artist using the search engine.  Promo was purely about handing out cards at gigs...They also dolled out 25pounds for recruiting other artists.  So I recruited a couple of mates for another 50pound cheque, made them 100pounds each too and we laughed all the way over to MP3.com.  They are part of the "vitaminic" group now, but they're all pretty ineffective sites for promotion. 

 

OMDs sure came a long way before they went away.  Too bad they didn't stick around a more.  Who was/is the best one for you?

Today my favoured site is Besonic in Europe, I see a lot of genuine listener traffic there from many different countries, and consistently have a top-level cross-genre chart presence.  But surprisingly few direct CD sales.  Though I'm also sprucing up at ArtistLaunch where I'll be launching the new album soon as an "on-demand" product.  Though it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, MP3.com "was" the best site around for quite some time and pretty lucrative for a while. Especially the early days of FAP with Neal Bond at the helm. I was head-hunted into FreeAudioPlayers within a week or two of joining the website in 1999, when suddenly I'm "in" with this awesome bunch of shameless self-promoters at a very early stage. A dazed and confused newbie with a cool album up my sleeve. Similarly EVOR (Elite Veterans of Rock) are a group of great artists on an excellent and very different website that have made me feel very welcome.

 

What is your opinion of OMDs these days?  Are they still valid or are they like LPs, nice if you've still got the need and can take the drawbacks, but not a necessity?

Online Music Distributors.  I think we've all been let down by quite a few of these websites over the past year or so without naming any names, and the only ones that will survive are now charging for the service so we as artists have to be more picky.  I went through a period loading one or two mp3s here there and everywhere, but it's impossible to maintain and promote them all, so these days I tend to be a bit more selective and concentrate in specific arenas where I see an interest being shown.  The collective sites are still necessary, because that's where the "fans" are supposed to go to find us, like record stores which sell your products, but I place more importance on my home website as a central point for up to date info and links.  There's always a link to Jezaland.

 

 

You obviously have spent a lot of time setting up sites on OMDs and on your own website.  What do you think the general opinion of other indie bands is about internet presence and OMDs?

I can't possibly speak for others opinions, but if I'm setting up a new page seriously for promotion, I will spend a day or two revisiting, making sure I've used as many features as I can and presented a page with some visual impact.  I see a lot of artist pages with very little info or care taken over presentation.  You don't have to be an expert to add interest and make a page appealing.  Personally I place a high importance on maintaining and monitoring my home web site.  The OMD page is all important too but I would emphasize finding ways to promote off-site, that are non OMD affiliated.

 

You are a reviewer for Besonic I know. Do you see any new trends in bands or indies from that?

Collaborations and cross promotion.  It's a uniquely internet, indie based phenomena and I'm possibly a leading exponent of the trend.  But you don't really see it happening in the commercial music scene, other than at superstar level.  The whole idea of you and me working together on a song, thousands of miles distant, simply by swapping mp3s and posting home made cds was not even a possibility even 10 years ago.  Your own work with Anthony Ruocco, and both of you also contributing to "Man in the Mirror".  Being able to work with people in different locations, regardless of musical style or software used is a phenomenal advance and people are taking advantage.  Now we see Matt Claus, a leading international collaborator of some standing, recently touring live in Germany, and next year the states, together with Peggy & Bob Morris from USA, as a direct result of working distantly via the internet at a high level.  I have much respect for Matt and he taught me a lot.

Being a scout at Besonic is a nice way to be able to give something back to the community.  I hope that my many years of experience both on and offline have given me the privilege to voice an opinion with some kind of authority and credibility on a major platform and also to cross-promote other people's work on my artist page.  Hopefully it raises the kudos level.  I made the statement once and I stick by it.  "Being truly indie-pendent means working together as a team."  Think about it...as I worked with you on "Tower of Babel", so we start promoting each other with one song, two musicians, several other artists and several other albums and on various websites, all benefiting through the exposure. 

What are your feelings in the download vs. stream debate of online music?  Do you think it a bad idea to "give it away" in downloads, or are you confident that the quality differences between a download and a real CD are enough to entice people to buy?

I have more or less phased out free downloads at Besonic on the new album.  I see from the stats that the majority of visitors stream the music and very few downloads.  I'd rather give out a taste of what's on offer and try to sell cds.  Mp3s are only adverts, the concept of selling mp3s is a real non-starter.  I may even load one minute samples of some songs.  It's sometimes hard to get the point across, hey guys there are 5 songs you can hear on this page in hifi, but there are 12 or 15 of equal quality on the CD itself.  If anything I've lost confidence in the power of the internet to sell cds.  If you figure the average hit rate from giving out 100 flyers to a gig might be 2%.  So let's say 2% of visitors to IndieLegends.com visit your webpage, and possibly play one or two songs in lofi.  How many of that 2% drop you an email and how many of those actually buy a cd.  The possibility gets so diluted without the luxury of saturation airplay on daytime radio.  You have to almost begin again every day on the web reaching out for individuals and it's so easy to loose momentum, it can be very daunting building a loyal online fan base, especially to newcomers on the scene.

 

What's more important to you, selling CDs or getting people to listen to your music?

They are both important and impossible to separate.  People are unlikely to buy a CD unless they heard the music in the first place.  But then somebody either buys a CD on first listen, or they come back time and again, praise you to the sky over an extended period and still don't buy a CD.  That's part of the problem with giving away free mp3s.  The internet is very fragmented.  You don't get the packaging, the running order of songs etc...Obviously having poured so much time, effort, energy and personal cash into a project like making a CD, I'd be a fool not to want to sell a few extra copies.  I certainly get the bigger buzz knowing my CD reached a happy home.  Owning a physical CD is the ultimate appreciation of an artists work.

 

Do you buy a lot of CDs?  What's in the Jeza CD player at this moment?

I seem to acquire/swap CDs with other artists more than I buy them.  Having your own CD in our weird wide indie world is a form of currency.  I got CDBaby to pay me last season in CDs rather than cash.  The latest I got was a World Music sampler on a magazine cover with about 15 tracks by various artists, having just visited WOMAD (World of Music Arts & Dance) festival last weekend.  My brother Lazer the Deejay is more the collector, we recently raided various artists, having just visited various friends' CD stashes and upgraded the 70's collection with stuff like Traffic, Spirit, Temptations, Hendrix and the like.  The latest indie platter I got was from Luciano Albo, my original kick-butt bass player on "Wined Up" all the way from Brazil.  He's been working on it since he returned home in 2000.  It's great too, playing all the instruments and singing.  Very Beatley pop rock tunes all sung in Portuguese haha available through an obscure Brazilian music website.  And Neal Allen sent me a great CD as well.

For those reading this in the UK you'll find 3 Jeza tracks from the new CD featured on Computer Shopper cover mounted CD, Osmosis Music Feature 49, October issue 190 available from your local newsagent, September 2003!

 

When I think of Jeza, I think of music first, but I also think of art.  From what I've seen of your work, you're an accomplished artist and photographer.  How long have you been painting?

Thanks for saying that.  I've been a bit of an all rounder/renaissance kinda guy as long as I can remember.  I moved up a year in pre-skool 'cause I could draw well aged 5 or 6.  I think there's at least one of those to watch in your household...I actually haven't painted anything for about 10 years.  It requires a lot of space and time to get out all the oil paints, dry rags, brushes and terps, I did art college as a mature student aged 30 which was a good experience, though trying to "be creative" at 9 in the morning wasn't always conducive to great art, but trying out many different disciplines from screen printing to typography to building terrariums in glass, helped me realize I'm more of a designer than a fine artist so that fueled my interest in computer graphics.  Photoshop manipulation is a lot less messy and time consuming than oil painting.  I did one or two large canvases but I was never prolific as a painter.  At the end of the day my music was the thing that drove me most creatively.  I still do "artwork" but I use different tools.

 

"The missing tooth" - acrylics 1975

 

What inspires a painting to come from you?  Is the inspiration to paint different from the inspiration to do music?  Do the two ever cross paths (like are there any examples of a painting that is also a song etc)? 

Yes they are quite different.  I'm more of photo-realistic/copy artist rather than inspirational so there was usually a photographic image as starting point but there's often some surrealistic twist like a man's face in a waterfall or a dolphin in the mountain valley...with music the process is quite different.  The two have crossed though.  With the song "Chasing After Wind" I did with CM, based on a Biblical text by King Solomon.  I have a painting of a river running through a mountain pass with Hebrew lettering formed in the cavern wall.  That text is actually part of the same song lyric in it's original form.  "All the rivers run into the sea, but the sea is not full", and A generation passes away, another generation comes, but the earth (universe) abides forever"...such a loaded observation.  The painting itself I actually began "on location" at Ein Gedi nature reserve near the Dead Sea in Israel, a wholly inspiring landscape itself, and finished off later from a photo.  The song was written around the same time.  Mid 1980's.

 

"You're the one" - acrylics by Jeza

       "Feeding the dolphin" - oil painting by Jeza

 

When you paint do you listen to music?

No, I stuff my ears with the dry rags...For sure, paintings can take a while to dry.

 

As an artist, when you look at paintings or listen to music, do you think you do it differently than others?

Probably, and inevitably, when you know technically what goes into the creation of a piece of art of music from blank canvas to finished product, you will have a more informed opinion, possibly even be more critical than a casual observer who simply "knows what they like".  I probably started writing my own songs cause what I heard on the radio just wasn't satisfying and I figured I could do better!!  But then some modern art, or music leaves me cold.  I tend not to follow fashion in general.  I often hear popular music and really wonder what the fuss is about.  But then it took me a while to realize that not everybody else could draw...creativity was my special gift and I've nurtured it.

 

Something I've often considered is whether people who like a certain type of art also like a certain type of music.  Do you think there is anything to that theory?  Like maybe a fan of Jackson Pollock might also be a fan of industrial music, or maybe a fan of Remedios Varo might like jazz and that maybe there are elements in the two art forms that attract a certain type of mindset.  I always notice a lot of tee-shirts and bumper stickers of things that I like when I go to a concert or art exhibit that I like, but when I go to something that I don't like, I notice a lot of tee shirts and bumper stickers of things that I don't like too.  For instance, in an art museum one time I ran into several people looking at the Picasso section of the Philadelphia Museum of Art all wearing concert tee shirts of concerts that I too had seen.  Do you think that theory has any validity?  What type of music would you think fans of your painting would like?

duh.....Jeza music?  I don't know if I have any fans of my art...nobody ever bought the tee shirt of the painting of the book at cafepress yet.  And though I've had offers I never had the heart to sell a painting.  My mum has a couple on her walls, did you know you can buy my Solomon & Sheba painting as a wall clock?  I'm saving up for one for myself.

 

 

You are also a web designer, what do you think is important for a band to have on their webpage?  Besides your own, have you worked on any band's websites?

Enough to raise interest and keep the caller turning pages.  Don't give it all away but enough to entice further investigation.  I can't really hold Jezaland up as an example of a "music website" per se because there is so much other related content like the photo and art galleries...and 18 pages of reviews that nobody reads.  You've gone a similar direction with your journal, photos and writings.  It's more a personal website and artistic playground for me to try out new ideas and show off old ones.  Doing things you can't do on a standard OMD.  Obviously all that is non-essential to a basic music site though it all adds interest.  But I have tried hard to separate the areas out and at least people surfing in to see the photos take a while to even discover the music and vice versa, but hopefully it's a website that visitors will be drawn in to and want to visit more than once.  I haven't worked on any other band websites, in a way Jezaland is a collection of mini- website modules, like the Galleries or Indie Ring Topsites. The turn of a page can involve you in a whole complex sub-section ... but I am working on DJLazer's 'Shamantrix' web site, which we can't reveal just yet.  There's a sneaky ad for it in my Galleries section (where the galleries from Bud Bennett's websiteare also linked). One or two business websites that are doing their job successfully. I'm open to offers. But of course it is an advantage having the technical skills to build your own million dollar homepage ... Because I'm Worth it :oD

 

Jeza-Wined Up has had great success in terms of sales and public response, yet it was recorded on a shoestring and as a grass roots type project.  Can you give a quick synopsis of how that was put together and recorded?

Well the illustrated version 5 page detailed report is already up on my website, but in short it kinda represents a lifetime's ambition to make a CD.  Which nobody else was ever going to ask me to make, pay for me to make, or make for me...so it was a cd that I had to make for my personal expression and sanity.  A labour of love, that came a hairs breadth from never being made at all, but for the skill and dedication of bass player Luciano Albo and producer Basil Brooks for helping .get the project off the ground in 1999.  For starters there was no budget, just a pocket full of tunes, dreams and ambition.  The first day of recording we did 5 tracks with live drums in an engineer's training college as a guinea pig band...but we had big problems getting back into the free studio.  Basil, whom I've known since teenage eventually agreed to take on the job as a home recording project using CoolEditPro, which he was just learning to use, but we also had the problem of converting the original analog drums and bass recordings to digital.  Luciano recorded the bass lines for 7 more songs in one marathon one-take-wonder session, days before flying back to South America.  The rest of the project was taken on within Basil's family home in rural Surrey, with trains going by on the quarter hour and kids playing basketball in the garden...so we spent many weekends fitting in and around each other's schedules, working on top of Luck's grooves.  The whole process was very organic.  I did much of the work in quiet seclusion and called in musicians I knew as the needs arose.  I didn't begin internet promotions until the physical cd was in my hands.

 

With the quality and success of Wined Up in mind, how do you see the home recording vs. studio recording debate?

However hard I try and however close I get, you can never replace a real analog studio recording and a professional producer but that costs plenty luka.  I've had to acquire many skills beyond playing guitar to get to the final product and keep costs to a minimum, including designing my own cover artwork and global promotions online.  85% of the work is in the production and it's been a steep learning curve for me after "co-producing" Wined Up with Basil.  We both have years of experience in music, Baz more the technical side, but there was a lot of ad-libbing along the way.  There's a lot to be said for not paying studio costs, being able to work in a relaxed environment whenever I have the free time, not bowing to studio/record label or financial pressure etc...I hope I've produced something solid, that will stand up to technical scrutiny and will pass the test of time as a songwriter.  If you have the vision and skills and know what you're doing, the sky's the limit in what you can produce on a computer.  And I'm surprisingly low-tech here...

 

 

I've always wondered, did you send a copy of Wined Up to the Queen Mother?  You did have a song there in her honor and all.

Haha, yes she was our official cuddly mascot.  I sent her a special edition with 3 songs on it for her 99th birthday, including  the "Queen Mum" song of course and "Place by the River".  I got a lovely letter back from her lady in waiting written on Clarence House headed notepaper thanking me for the "cassette".  One day they'll discover it hidden in her royal drawers.  I considered sending one to Prince Harry for his birthday a while back but it didn't happen...I'd love to see his reaction boogying down at the Palace.

 

You have a new cd coming up soon for release.  Are you doing anything different with this one than you did with Wined Up in terms of promotion and sales?

Did I mention that I have a new cd coming up soon for release?  There are a lot of differences.  I am firmly wearing the producers hat now for one thing and I also had to brush up my bass playing skills, so overall my own input is far greater.  It's also a more personal and introspective album.  With "Wined Up" I went for the greatest hits approach.  This one is less commercial, less poppy and perhaps more indulgent "album tracks".  Most songs weigh in at 4 and a half to 5 minutes long.  Hopefully a bit more grown up and less tongue in cheek though there are one or two cheeky moments.  And there's a lot more on it.  67 minutes of music.  Including 12 brand new trax and 3 lovingly restored archive recordings towards the end.  One dating back to 1979, officially the final offering from A Phantasy Circus with DJLazer on percussion, produced 24 track by Tom Newman, who also produced "Tubular Bells" for Mike Oldfield, which made him some cash in the early 70's.  There's also less blurring of genres, with more attention to detail playing the blues or reggae straight, through to more contemporary Drum'n'Bass/Worldbeat areas, like "Darkness" and "Blues Evolution" with strong emphasis on upfront percussion.  There is a much more authentic dub reggae track on the cd which you won't find on-line, though I just know it would make a killer single...hopefully even if you are familiar with what's on-line, you will still be getting some real surprised on the cd.  Hopefully next year's album will be a retrospective and nostalgic look at those early years performing as A Phantasy Circus.  The title track Man in the Mirror also comes from that era, written originally in 1975 in terms of promotion with "wined Up" I started from scratch, no reputation, no live band to plug after Luciano returned to Brazil with limited online experience.  Fortunately I was lucky early on, being invited to join FreeAudioPlayers and that helped a great deal meeting an established community of top notch artists and being accepted with open arms.  Reviews have been consistently favourable, DJs loved it.  Reaching the public is always the big nut to crack.  But with this album I have been working on it a while so the "coming soon" banners on my web pages have been visible for some while.  One day soon the banner will change to "Available Now", but 4 years on I am building from an existing reputation.  There has been a lot of interest in individual tracks online recently with several already hitting number one slots in their given genres at Besonic, so I'm quietly hopeful of a few sales but remain uncertain of listeners loyalties or agendas...I have been using a more personal approach to the promotion too.  With private invites to an exclusive members area at Jezaland to hear the title track off the cd.  I got more hits in one day than I every would with an OMD release.  That was an interesting experiment.  The page is still active if anyone would like to hear the song.

 

I know that you have many guest musicians on your new cd, Man in the Mirror.  How and why did you choose them?  Did you meet any new challenges because some of us are very far away from you?

I think there are 12 people involved in the project altogether this time around, including the musicians on archive recordings and Paul Stewart's photography.  In a way it made life easier cause I've been able to cherry pick from the best of the bunch of home recorders, without imposing on each others daily routines.  There were some time delays on some parts but the parts people send me on CD just slot into place like part of a jigsaw.  When it came to picking a banjo player, of all the indies, on all the OMDs, in all the webpages, in all the world...YOU DA MAN!!  I did a little recruiting at FAP based on 1st mix demos which brought in yourself, Anthony Ruocco , Lord Bygon and CM all from FAP.  Lord Bygon approached me with "Sister J" to redo the lyrics, and then Jon Solo did the remix so I wasn't as involved on the production side.  From EVOR I recruited the help of Neal Allen and Roberto Luz.  Neal also approached me first with his number "Blues Evolution", and that has proved highly popular to work on, everybody wanted to play a part.  The final mix features contributions from 5 musicians.  Then we also did "One Fine Night" in more of less the same combo which worked out surprisingly well.  A storming rocker to end the album.  I've really enjoyed working with Neal.  DJLazer, my older brother joined me from Israel to record the bulk of the percussion tracks.  We've had a musical connection going back 30 years so that was an exciting reunion.  Hunter Payne, another lapser FAPper came to visit me in London from California.  But the most mind-blowing collab was with Roberto Luz of EVOR, way out in the Guatemalan rainforest.  The guy's got a satellite dish, runs the hot local sound studio, and organizes music festivals at the edge of paradise and he's a Jeza fan.  That just blows my mind.  Roberto sent me awesome flute tracks on 4 songs and absolutely raises the thing to a whole new level musically, as well as the genuine Latin American vibe.  Huge thanks go out to all involved.  

John and Caroline Hoare bless 'em, of local hot rock band The Haunting AD, have stuck with me throughout both albums and one or the other of them appear on almost every track.  Lead guitar or female vocals.  So those guys and me are the real core Jeza band.  They very much helped shape the sound and we often do live shows together.  Caroline also plays harmonica on two tracks.  I include my brother DJLazer as a core member but it helps when we're in the same country...

 

Jeza, John & Caroline Hoare by Paul Stewart

 

How do you feel about the quality of cds made on OMDs?  Like I know Ampcast, MP3.com, Besonic and probably many others too have options where they will make and sell cds from your submitted files.  Personally , I've always wondered about their quality and consistency.  Do you feel that these properly represent your work with respect to the quality of the product?

I'm glad you asked me that cause quality is an issue and it's something I'm seriously taking a look at right now.  Besonic no longer offer any kind of cd program.  Ampcast seemed reasonable though I never tested a product for audio quality.  You do lose a significant part of your back cover artwork though to their template, which lowers the quality.  ArtistLaunch is looking the best bet at the moment, although their current template falls seriously short, in not offering either a back cover or on body printing.  Only a 4 page booklet.  However, I am talking with Paul Laginess at the moment and he assures me that the intent over there is to bring the cd production in house offering those services very soon.  Artwork should be sent directly to him.  So I am working closely with him on the assumption that the initial offering will be as close as I can get to the finished product, as an on demand cd available at ArtistLaunch.  I'm still searching for a way to get a short run done at an affordable cost to get copies over to CDBaby too, otherwise I won't have physical copies myself.  

 

What's the local music scene like in the UK?  Have things changed with it radically in the past few years like they have here in the US?

In some ways.  On my local acoustic circuit many small open-mic clubs have closed down.  There is a frightening bill slipping through parliament restricting people playing music in a public place.  But a favourite "licensed" club where I used to play regularly are doing so well now that they are booked with high quality acts for months in advance.  I'm planning some London gigs for the autumn to promote the album.

 

How much radio airplay do you get, and do you think that important to an indie artist?

How much more value would one song being played on Japanese or German radio, even limited coverage pirate radio station be to you, than one person at a time, hearing one song in lofi form a hard-to-find web page?  It is important and undervalued by many as promotion.  It's hard to say if it's ongoing but Wined Up was played on 25 or more indie radio stations around the globe.  But ironically never on home turf in the UK.  I had 4 songs played back to back on WKFM in Florida by the Sandman, daytime airplay in Yugoslavia.  The indie deejay there said it was far too good quality for his show.  Lord Litter in Germany and Eddie Russel in the states loved it and various points east and west.  Worth the expense of a few freebies but how much my international royalties amount to is probably negligible.  I didn't receive a cheque back yet anyway.  Time will tell.  You have to plant the seeds to watch them grow.

 

2003 Bud Bennett