Technology liberates Bill Laurance

The Snarky Puppy member embraces synths and sequences for new album and tour.

Bill Laurance

Known for his work with Grammy-winning US jazz collective Snarky Puppy, London-based keyboard-player and composer Bill Laurance has built a reputation as one of the finest pianists of his generation.

Branching out into film scores, he’s also worked with big bands, dance companies, and various artists (from David Crosby to Ana Silvera and YolanDa Brown).

His latest solo venture, Cables, takes Bill in a new direction. Inspired by the exponential rise in technology and futurists predictions of human/ machine hybrids and sentient computers, the instrumentals combine effected piano with synths, sequences and drum-machines – a combo he’s now taking out for a series of one-man live dates, including Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, on Saturday 27 April 2019.

You’ve already done a fair few dates on your lonesome – how’s everything going so far?

The tour is going great, thank you, really great. It is total freedom, you can go wherever you want at any point. A profound thing, really, which I’m enjoying more and more every night. That freedom is … I didn’t quite expect how liberating and how cathartic that would be. I’m loving every minute.

What’s your stage set-up?

So it’s piano … there is a YouTube video going through it, on my YouTube channel, but basically its piano going through an MXR delay pedal and then I’m using a Prophet Six module, TR09 drum-machine, SE-02 Roland synth, a Vocoder and a Kaoss pad, so I put all that on top of the piano and I run alongside it. It all revolves around the piano.

Cables sees you embracing technology more than you have previously. Do you see yourself as continuing more in this direction in the future …?

With the solo stuff … yes … quite possibly. I’m fascinated by technology and the speed at which it’s growing and I think that it has to be harnessed in some way – if you’re dealing in any creative world I think technology, and using technology, is an important part, and has to be an important part, of what we do. But that said I’m equally interested in doing another album that will be just acoustic. Seeing where that goes. That was what this album was s’posed to be! I said I wanted to do a solo piano album, and Cables was the result! [laughs]

But as you’ve said, the acoustic piano remains at the centre of your work at present …

I like the variety, I like to be really able to dig my heels in with the technology and that world, and come away from it. Ultimately, I’m interested in the marriage between the two, the album’s really about the battle, I s’pose, the balance between man and machine. The film Transcendent Man was what really inspired this, a film about Ray Kurzweil who says we’ll have invented a conscious robot by the year 2029, and he talks that God doesn’t exist, and argues that God will exist when man and machine become one. It’s the whole ethical questions, this moral dilemma we’re in, where everyone stares at their phones all day, and did we sign up for that? I’m not sure that we did! But obviously it’s also enabling lots more of things to be faster and be more efficient …

You’ve played with lots of different people over the years, including Laura Mvula. How did you come to work with her?

We performed together on Snarky Puppy’s second volume of Family Dinner, and she was one of the guest vocalists, in New Orleans. We met there and stayed friends, I’ve gone to many of her gigs, and she’s come to many of mine. She’s a wonderful singer, she’s always pushing boundaries, she never makes do with something straight down the line, she always keeps things unexpected, and that’s a wonderful thing, especially in today’s more ‘pop’ industry, where people are crying out for the auto-tune, she’s the real thing, a true artist. It was amazing working with her. So pro’! Her intonation! I remember talking to Mike League [Snarky Puppy] about it when we were making the record, and it was absolutely faultless on every take. She’s the real deal.

Family Dinner Vol.2 also featured David Crosby, who you’ve also worked with recently on a track.

The David Crosby song is called Your Own Ride and it’s from his latest album, Here If You Listen, a song about his son … just accepting that his son is going to go on his own way, basically. Crosby gave me a bunch of different songs to read though and that one jumped out at me, so we worked together on it at his ranch outside LA and he loved it, and so wanted to put it on the record. It definitely hits home the frustration of parenthood, and all the worries and concerns, making sure your offspring is the way you wanted them to be …

There’s also a new Snarky Puppy album, Immigrance.

Yes. The new album just came out. I wrote a new track that’s coming out as a bonus track, I think later this year. It might be on the download? I’ll be touring with them in November.

  • Bill Laurance plays Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, on Saturday 27 April 2019. Details: www.warwickartscentre.co.uk
  • Bill Laurance’s Cables is out now on Flint Music.

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