25th Anniversary Marks Changing Times for Jewish Roots Band

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 15:02

An Interview with Frank London of The Klezmatics

by: Casey Pukl

This has been an incredibly interesting and thought provoking week of interviews for me, and I hope it is for all of you loyal blog readers out there as well. I don’t usually do this, but I’m going to give you a short preview of what’s coming up tomorrow and Friday so you can get excited!

I kicked off the week interviewing one of my favorite break out bands of 2011, Scars on 45 after their sound check for Star94’s Jingle Ball show on Monday night. These guys (and gal) are quickly gaining momentum for their debut album in true millennium fashion— through television placements of their songs and the internet.

Then I went on to interview the legendary leader of Hiroshima, Dan Kuramoto, about the band’s recent decision to leave their record label and go indie. We discussed some of their changes in marketing strategy, the difficulties of crossing genres, and their quest to build an online community that’s about more than selling their music.

Following that lively discussion, I spoke with the focus of today’s post— Frank London of The Klezmatics. The Klezmatics are celebrating their 25th anniversary as a group this year, and have released their 10th album, a two-CD set titled Live at Town Hall. The group was also recently the subject of documentary film, The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground. It’s been a wild ride for the internationally renowned, Grammy award winning proponents of Jewish roots music, and watching the industry change over the years has sometimes been a rocky road to navigate. Keep reading to find out how the group has adapted to industry changes, London’s feelings about the documentary, and what fans can look forward to for the future.

CP: Tell me about the new album!

FL: Well, we’ve been a band for so long now, that it really felt like we deserved a little celebration. We have a lot of friends and fans that have supported us over the years, so we thought it would be really neat to put on this spectacle for all of them. We wanted to go through the history of our music. We played everything from the first song we ever learned as a band to the newest songs that haven’t even been recorded yet. All of this was done in the midst of recording the documentary, and everything just came out so great that we decided to release it. We’re one of those bands that just has this great energy live. We’re essentially a live band. The whole thing just turned out pretty spectacular.

CP: How did the documentary come about?

FL: Well, documentary films aren’t something that can just get thrown together quickly. It started off with a documentary filmmaker, and they told us they wanted to do one on us, so the crew followed us around for years. They followed us around on our tours and did interviews throughout the years, in our homes, all of that. And then finally, they decide that they have enough footage to take it into the editing room and start putting it all together.

CP: The documentary is mainly focused on the struggles of the band and how the industry has changed over the years, correct?

FL: Yes, and you know what’s funny about that is that we really had no idea that was going to be the focus of it as it was filming. That’s what a documentary filmmaker does, they choose an angle and they go with it. I thought it was a really interesting focus, and so true. It’s not something I ever really thought about. I never saw us as struggling to make a living in alternative music, it’s just something we’ve done for so long. But it was definitely interesting to see it all put together that way.

CP: Was there any one particular part of the film or process that was really important to you? 

FL: I think as a whole the experience is important to me. When I was a kid growing up, my Uncle Phil always had cameras. Everywhere we went, every holiday, he always was documenting it. He was the documentarian of my family. I guess with this film, I look at it like my old home movies. I’m very sentimentally attached to it.

CP: Has the film changed your perspective on your career? 

FL: Not really, but it did make me see it through a different lens. The bottom line is that it’s really difficult to play Yiddish music with a really progressive political focus mixed with Americana. We have incredibly dedicated fans, and to see the film’s focus on the struggles really made me even more proud of what we’ve done and the fans we have. It’s just odd because that’s just what we did all the time. You don’t realize that that experience is going to be interesting to other people. I never even thought about that. It was also really refreshing to see the emphasis on the fact that we’re not rich. I think a lot of people equate fame and awards and such with monetary success. They think ‘Oh, you have a Grammy, you must be rich!’ and that’s just not true at all. We work very hard, and we have a very dedicated fan base. We are internationally known, but in a very small segment. I think it was very valuable to show that fame and musical success doesn’t always equate to financial success. Especially in this time with all of the reality television shows and things like that- it’s interesting to think about and show that side of it.

CP: With everything that has changed in the music business since you started 25 years ago, what do you see in the future for the Klezmatics?

FL: That’s really a two-part question. I’ll start with the business side of things.

The business is changing, and it has been rapidly changing for almost a decade now. I actually read an article recently about the rise of self-publishing happening with books and e-books and all of that in the publishing industry. I just thought to myself, ‘Welcome! Join the club!’ (laughs). We’ve been dealing with this in music for so long, but now it’s really expanding to other areas that have gone digital. But the music business is still in the midst of a really tumultuous change. I really can’t predict what’s going to happen, but I know that it can’t settle where it is right now. It’s too unstable. Who the heck knows what’s going to happen? It’s been very different to see the change over the last 25 years. We’ve had to learn to negotiate the changes, and I’m sure we’ll learn to negotiate the changes to come.

But it’s not just business we’re talking about when we look into the future. It’s always been first and foremost about the art and the music. We’re rehearsing some new music, and looking to our next album. There are some old Yiddish socialist songs that really echo the “Occupy” movement that we’re working with. They really deal with a lot of the same issues, so that’s a bit about what we’re going to be up to.

CP: Anything in particular you’re looking forward to about playing Anthology? 

FL: We’ve actually never been there, so I’m excited to check out a new venue. For me, it’s always exciting to go to a new place. When that happens, sometimes we’ll meet people who have been fans since our first record but have never heard us live. That can be a really cool experience, so we’ll try to play through a lot of our material from the beginning through the current stuff.

Special thanks to Frank London for taking the time out to chat with me! Be sure to take a listen to our Spotify playlist of Klezmatics’ tunes, and don’t miss them this Sunday!

The Klezmatics

WHAT: The Klezmatics
WHEN: Sunday, December 18, 2011, 6:00 & 8:00pm
TICKETS: $10-$49 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile