Loeb Heads Back to His Earliest Inspirations

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 11:35

An Interview with Chuck Loeb

by: Casey Pukl

Guitarist, producer, writer, and all-around smooth jazz powerhouse, Chuck Loeb, is taking a new direction. Inspired by his earliest influences in more straight-ahead jazz and bebop, Loeb’s latest solo release, Plain ‘n’ Simple, takes a trip back to the organ trios of the 60’s. I had the chance to speak with Chuck about everything from his current position in Fourplay to his formal music education, and even his most recent decision to start his own record label.

CP: What have you been up to lately?

CL: There have been quite a variety of things happening in the last two years. I’ll be coming into Anthology this time around with an organ based project from my CD called, Plain ‘n’ Simple. I did a whole bunch of touring with the same kind of band last summer in Europe. The CD came out in July and I was on tour in Europe doing the music from this project. Actually, let me back up a little bit. My other project that I’ve been involved with for the last two years is playing with Fourplay with Bob James and Nathan East, a native San Diegan by the way, and Harvey Mason. Actually, the last time I was at Anthology was with Fourplay. So in between all of that time, although I had this CD out in July, I was touring with Fourplay so much that I hadn’t really had a chance to go out in the states with the organ project.

CP: Ah, that makes sense. 

CL: Yeah, so we did the tour in Europe, and never did it back here. So now I’m focused on bringing the organ project around the states.

CP: Awesome. It sounds like you’ve been just running around like crazy for the last two years!

CL: Yeah. It’s been a crazy, good crazy of course, but a busy period of time. Basically I’m trying to hold down 3 or 4 jobs at the same time (laughs)! But I really like it that way. I’m guilty of being a little bit of a workaholic in the music business. It’s what I love doing, so I can’t complain.

CP: For sure. Now we know you’ve been doing your solo thing and playing with Fourplay, but you’ve also done some film and TV and tons of other stuff. I feel like there’s really nothing in the music business you haven’t done, I mean with jingles, commercial projects, producing other artists…

CL: (Laughs) That’s probably true! 

CP: Have you been taking some time to do some of that as well?

CL: I have actually. The latest production project I did was actually for the saxophone player who is going to be with me at Anthology, Eric Marienthal. We finished up his CD about a month ago, around the end of November. That will be coming out at the end of this month, so we actually may be playing a little bit of the music from that project too since we were both so involved in it and he’ll be there. That was a really exciting project. It’s called “It’s Love”, and it just came out great. It’s a romantic record, and I’m really one of Eric’s biggest fans. When someone like him asks you to produce their record, it’s really an honor and a thrill. I’m looking forward to that record, I think people are really going to enjoy it.

CP: I’m sure they will, and I’m sure we will when you guys come down here!

CL: Yeah, we do a lot together. The tour I was talking about before actually, he was on that. We do a lot of stuff together, a few things a year usually.

CP: I’m curious to hear a little bit about this next topic from you especially because you do such a wide range of work. Do you have to approach your commercial work and your production work or work on your own music differently?

CL: Yeah, I do. In the last few years, the commercial work has really taken a back seat. I’ve been fortunate enough to have most of my work in the last few years really be purely creative music. Last month I worked on a movie, but I was playing someone else’s soundtrack. But in terms of production, I’ve done much more TV and live touring than I have commercial work recently. But there is definitely a different mindset. 

For example, writing for a different artist, like writing for Eric, you have to think like a saxophone player in a way. With my instrument primarily being a guitar, it’s quite different than a sax. There’s the breath involved, and you have to treat it like a vocalist almost.

CP: Sure, it’s a matter of what can you actually breathe and play! 

CL: Exactly, so you have to put that hat on and empathize with their situation and figure out how it’s going to be. It’s inspiring too. For example, my wife is a singer. She and I work together on her projects. I usually help with the production and play on her things. So I have to get into the mindset that it’s sort of different to play wide intervals as a guitarist that would be almost impossible to sing. You have to always put yourself in someone else’s shoes. I really like that. It’s a challenge, and I think it’s always good to be challenged.

CP: For sure. It’s great to learn something new all the time.

CL: Absolutely. I think we tend to, as artists, pull from our arsenal of knowledge and tricks of the trade, but it’s good to keep stretching the envelope and learning new things each time. That’s especially been the case with Fourplay. The guys have really pushed me to think outside of the box a lot, which is good! They want to be challenged, and in return I have to challenge myself and then challenge them. It really gets the creative juices going.

The other thing is that you know, someone said once, ‘There’s nothing like a call from a producer to create inspiration.’ I’m not sure who said that, but it’s true. We’re getting ready to do the next Fourplay CD; I think next month we’re starting. For me, when I close my eyes and listen and think about what Harvey or Bob would play, it really gets my creative juices flowing. That acts as a stimulant for inspiration for coming up with new music. 

[Chuck and I had a brief exchange regarding his time spent at Berklee here- hey, I was curious! Jumping back on following that!]

Loeb & Marienthal working on Marienthal's latest release.

CL: This is going to sound funny, but I really like to do crossword puzzles, word games, stuff like that. I like solving things. That’s probably why my music isn’t really avant-garde or really far outside. I like the logical side of things. I guess the epitome of that would be Bach, where every note leads to another note, and there’s a logical conclusion.  There’s a logical tension and release. 

So, for me, it makes sense. Now, for someone else, it might be too restricting to think about it that way and think about that side of it, but for me, it works. For my style of writing, arranging, composing, and playing, it works really well. 

CP: Going back a little bit, talking more about your latest record, I know the last two years have been really eventful for you. Was this record different for you than most in the past because of your recent experiences?

CL: Yeah, this record was definitely a whole different experience. There are two obvious things that are different about this project. The first is that for about twenty years or so, my own projects and productions have been very focused on what people know as smooth jazz. I’m proud of it. I know some people don’t like that label, but for me, the advantage of being involved in that idiom is that I’ve been able to reach a really wide audience. 

We haven’t talked too much about my roots, but just to give you a little idea, I grew up listening and learning pop and rock music. I grew up in the 60’s listening to and learning to play guitar to The Beatles, the Stones, Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, Motown, all of that stuff. That era was where I learned my basics, and then I was introduced to jazz. So the combination of that with the sort of R&B and pop production with jazz improvisation that becomes smooth jazz, that was really perfect for me.

When I got into jazz, I was really heavily steeped in straight-ahead jazz, a lot of bebop.   A lot of the earliest influences were the bands that had organs, Wes Montgomery and Jimmy Smith; also, Wes had an organ in his original trio. George Benson, Pat Martino, all of those guys had organs. So this album, Plain ‘n’ Simple, is a departure because I really got away from the smooth jazz production that I’m usually involved with, and I really got back into my early roots, and that influences I had. It gave me a chance to really show off my chops as a player. This project is the first that’s on my own record label, Tweety Records. I had the freedom to do what I wanted because I didn’t have a record company executive that was telling me that they needed a radio hit or whatever else. It was up to me, and I took the opportunity to do something different. I’m very happy with the way the record came out. I was a little concerned about what the smooth jazz fans would think, but the reaction has been really positive.

CP: What precipitated your decision to start your own label and start self-releasing?

CL: The business model has changed so much over the years. The parental role of record companies is slipping further and further into the rear view mirror in the last few years, and especially in jazz. You have these really big record companies that want to put their eggs in the basket of their biggest sellers. They want those American Idol, pop, hip-hop, R&B, you know, all of the things that they can bank on. The research and development part of that industry has slipped away.  There are still jazz recordings of course, but the large labels like Columbia and Warner Brothers, they used to still diversify and support the artistic side. They don’t really do that as much anymore.

Also, now it’s become more democratic with the technology. People have studios in their houses, and you don’t need a lot of money to make a great record anymore. Artists, especially in the jazz world, are really just saying, ‘Hey, I’ll do this myself!’ I may not sell as many units as I would with the big company, but actually, the way it works out, I actually make more money now selling less units on my own, which is very ironic. But because of the technology, the ability to sell it on the internet, and also to promote it on the internet, it’s completely changed the game. It’s a different game now.

CP: Absolutely, and congratulations on launching your own label!

CL: Thank you. It’s been a really great thing.

CP: What are you most looking forward to about coming to Anthology?

CL: I love playing Anthology. It’s such a great club. It’s beautiful, comfortable, and the audience there is always really really cool. I’d love to say to the fans out there reading this blog that I’m really looking forward to coming out there and seeing them again. Come on down! Let’s have a party!

CP: (Laughs) Sounds good!

Special thanks to Chuck for his time! Be sure to preview his latest release, Plain ‘n’ Simple, at our Spotify link below, and grab your tickets for his upcoming show!

Chuck Loeb: Plain ‘n’ Simple

WHAT: Chuck Loeb Organ Trio ft. special guest Eric Marienthal
WHEN: Thursday, March 15, 2012, 7:30pm
TICKETS: $11-$47 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile