An Interview with Robert Glasper
By Casey Pukl
Last time Glasper came through Anthology with his famed Experiment, Black Radio, had just been released, and critics and fans were screaming about the ground-breaking record at a fever pitch. Fortunately, not much has changed since then.
The Robert Glasper Experiment has been touring the world throughout 2012 to sold out audiences and a whole swarm of brand new fans. San Diego has been no exception. With each performance at Anthology in 2012 sold out, Glasper has quickly become a house favorite. I had the chance to catch up with him about life on the road, his latest remix EP, and more importantly, what’s next for this important driving force in modern jazz. Read on to get the scoop!
CP: Let’s just jump right in! Last time you were here, Black Radio had just been released, and now you’re already releasing a remix! Tell me a little bit about the latest project.
RG: The remix EP just took five songs from the album and I got different producers to do some remixes on those songs. Questlove and The Roots, Pete Rock, Phonte, so many people. We used some of the songs like, “Afro Blue” with Erykah Badu, the Mos Def song, “Black Radio”, and we also remixed a song called, “Twice” by Little Dragon. We actually did that as a bonus track on the Japan release, so if you bought the album in Japan, you got that song. So there’s a remix of that as well.
CP: Is there anyone in this industry that you haven’t worked with or covered in the last few years? [Laughs]
RG: [Laughs] I know, right? There’s a lot of people I’ve worked with that I love working with, and there’s a lot of people I’d still love to work with. Hopefully I’ll be able to cross most of their paths at some point.
CP: I crack up every time I see a press release come out about your new projects. I’m always reading it down asking myself, ‘Is anyone else going to jump on this record? Is there even room?’
RG: [Laughs] Right!
CP: I know you’ve been relentlessly touring this year— tell me what it’s been like.
RG: This year has been crazy! Since you saw me back in March, we’ve been lucky enough to do most of the late night shows— Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman, Jay Leno, and our audience has become so much bigger. This album really crossed over to not just jazz but the R&B, soul, and hip-hop worlds. We’re getting a lot of people out that you usually wouldn’t see at a jazz concert.
CP: I can’t tell you how cool it was to flip on the TV and catch you guys on Jimmy Fallon.
RG: Word! Yeah, our reception has been really good, and we’ve just been touring this record like crazy. I’m just really happy that the record has done so well.
CP: Have you encountered a lot of debate about the future of jazz and where you’re taking it?
RG: I wouldn’t say debates, but people definitely see that I’m taking it to a different place. I mean, at least we can even say that we’re even having a discussion about jazz having a future! It’s been so stagnant, and people have just been repeating the history, so I think it’s really cool to say that jazz has a future that’s new. The fact that this is raising eyebrows and getting people talking is a good thing. Every musical turning point in history, like when rock came out, when avante garde jazz came out, people were asking, ‘What is this? This isn’t jazz!’ or ‘This isn’t rock!’ But it evolved. So I’m glad to be raising eyebrows, whether it be good or bad.
CP: I’m pretty sure almost every interview or conversation I’ve had about the future of jazz this year has at some point mentioned your name and this record, so kudos.
RG: [Laughs] Word! That’s cool. That’s really great.
CP: What’s on deck? I know we’re about to head into the holidays, and dear God, I hope you’re taking a little bit of a break for the holidays at least!
RG: Oh shit, I wish [laughs]! I’m working damn near every single day until December 21st.
CP: Please just tell me you’ll take Christmas off!
RG: I know! The tour ends November 17th, and then we get right into rehearsals with Maxwell to do a tour in December, and then after that, there’s a tribute to Stevie Wonder that I’m doing in New York. It’s a little crazy. But once the holidays do hit, I’m going to try to take a week off. [Laughs] I’m going to try!
CP: Are you doing this tribute to Stevie Wonder with the Experiment?
RG: It’s kind of a mixed thing. I’m working with Derrick Hodge on bass, Questlove on the drums, Lalah Hathaway on vocals, and Eric Roberson on vocals as well. I’ve got one more spot I’m trying to fill. A few people I wanted to work with couldn’t make it, so I’m not sure who else will be there. We’re doing two nights here in New York.
CP: Big picture now— what’s the next record? Is it on your radar yet?
RG: Oh yeah. Once I get a second, I’m going to brainstorm it, but I definitely want to do a Black Radio Volume 2. Volume 1 has brought so much attention to us as a band, and we’ve acquired so many new artists that are so cool and would love to work together. We’ll just see where that takes us. I’d love to go into the studio some time in March or April.
CP: Are you thinking about going in and winging it again to see what happens?
RG: For the most part, yeah. It depends on which artists we use. Volume 1 was all artists I’ve worked with before, so I knew that would work already. This new one will have people I’ve never worked with before, so I’m not sure what will work. We’ll see how that goes. It may need to be a bit more produced. We’ll see. But I want this to be an extension on Volume 1 with some different vibes on it.
CP: I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say, I would never expect you to do the same thing twice [laughs].
RG: [Laughs] It wouldn’t come out the same, but you know, some people are like, ‘This is the same thing! You’ve got a band and a singer!’ But it would never be the same.
CP: I hear you. Every Glasper record is now like a journey where I’m just asking, ‘Where are we going this time, Robert?’
RG: [Laughs] Pretty much. We’ll go somewhere else this time.
Special thanks to Robert for his time and a phenomenal show at Anthology! Be sure to check out the Black Radio Remix EP! You can buy it here!