Talkin’ Music with Michal Menert
The Colorado-based producer and his pretty fantastic posse offered a night filled with tight space jazz, tasty horn lines and even some freestyle rapping by Michal himself.
Fresh off of the stage at Red Rocks for Icelantic’s “Winter on the Rocks” show on January 29th, Menert and his 6-piece band were met with some warmer weather in the backyard at The JAM this past Tuesday, the 2nd.
The sextet performed some older funk/hip-hop-oriented selections of Menert’s catalogue, along with some newer ethereal/jam vibes from the debut album as Michal Menert & the Pretty Fantastics, “1.” The full band featured two brass players, which allowed cool breezes to permeate their powerful melody lines throughout the intimate backyard setting.
Even amidst the magic, no debut performance comes without its fair share of dilemmas. About an hour into their set some of the onstage monitors failed; leaving the drummer straining to hear the backtracking of the band. In true character, Michal informed the crowd of the problem right before the group fell back into groove to finish out the last 30 minutes of the performance. Michal’s stage presence and interaction with the crowd was truly intimate and humorous. He used the live platform as a soapbox to spread messages of love and laughter. His character on-stage surely reflects the heart of his music.
Michal spoke more about his music and the incorporation of the live band with us during an interview before the show.
In the past you’ve expressed that during the start of your career, the novelty of independent music production came from not having to compromise the sound with other members. Now with the debut of your six-piece band, how would you say your view on your personal music production, and performance has changed?
It’s come full circle for me, i performed in bands first, so i’ve always had the fantasy of what I would try to do if i could assemble a band. I’m still doing solo production sets, so it’s not so much that anything’s changed, more that I’m now blessed with a crew of musicians that can help me tell a story as a band, rather than through producing alone. It’s great being able to play the same song in different ways, for instance playing it completely solo, then playing it with musicians and the loops/production fused with the Pretty Fantastics, and then stripping it down to just instruments with my Big Band. Each incarnation takes on it’s own life, and has it’s benefits. In terms of compromise, this being essentially a band that I lead, with members that are close friends, I no longer have to feel weird when insisting a player do it my way, which opens up a lot of doors & evolved into a collaborative process that has allowed me to give space for my band to add their signature to the parts.
A lot of your music has some pretty intense context when you consider your life at the time of each release. Hell or high water, you’ve managed to stay afloat all these years. What’s your philosophy on finding inspiration to keep creating?
I don’t think you can find a formula for inspiration or the creative itch, because that has to be there before you can start down a path of making anything expressive. But I’ve definitely found techniques to getting through writers block or frustration. A lot of it has to do with stepping back from the idea that you’re working on a song for a specific setting, like live high energy shows, and allowing your creativity to play with different directions. The trick is reminding yourself that not every song has to be a hit or a banger, so that you can explore different feelings than just what works at a show. Setting out to capture a feeling or idea rather than to create a specific genre or type of song will often yield the most surprising and satisfying musical pieces.
With the release of Space Jazz last spring, and the amalgamation of the Pretty Fantastics, it seems that you’ve surged in activity this past year. Is there anything you want to say about the formation of the band, or your debut album with the Pretty Fantastics?
I guess the main idea of the band is an evolving live representation of my existing solo catalogue with bits of material written specifically for the band. I think a lot of fans were scared they wouldn’t get any of my classic material, since the MMPF album was heavily vocal and indie, or whatever you’d call it. The idea that i made a hard left with my sound and that was all i was doing scared people, and was completely wrong. I’ve been composing these types of songs, some of which made it on “1”, for over a decade, and this was just the first time I had the personnel and foundation to pull the project off, but I never thought of it as a chance to turn my back on my earlier albums, rather a way to bring more diversity into my catalogue. Doing it six months after space jazz allowed me to show that this isn’t a rebranding but just another piece of the story I’m trying to tell with my albums and live performances.
Who’s your top rapper of all time? And also, who’s your top rap group of all time?
Damn.. I think De La Soul is top group, they created a world with each of their first few albums. Top rapper is hard because there’s variables. If you look at success x longevity x exposure, Jay Z. If you’re looking for hard work and honing the craft and evolving the music, Black Thought. If you want someone who got better with age like a fine wine and kept my attention with every verse, Sean Price (RIP), or RA The Rugged Man. If you’re talking about someone who I’ve loved since I first heard ’em, MF DOOM. But there’s so many. I couldn’t take just one. Plus my engineer, Schollaships, wouldn’t let me live down whoever I chose if I chose just one.
All photos courtesy of Kate Milford.