“Israeli-born drummer and London resident Asaf Sirkis unleashes with thunderous abandon on this hard-hitting fusion offering that harkens back to a time before the genre became codified, diluted and reduced to a critical joke” Bill Milkowski, Jazz Times (USA)
Now on tour with the Lighthouse Trio, we talk to Asaf about his music.
JK: Asaf, I notice that you have a custom built percussion set of frame drums, bass Udu, Hang drum, can you tell us a little bit more about them and how you play on them? Plus knowing the vagaries of touring, are you travelling with your full percussion set? I am hoping we get to see it in Australia.
AS: This kit has evolved for some time now. I, together with Gwilym and Tim, where looking for a kit that would fit the unique sound of the trio and the music. When you play without a bass player it is not easy to play a conventional drum kit without feeling that something is missing. We all felt that the sound of percussion instruments from around the world would be more appropriate. Since I'm trained as a drummer I was looking for a way to still play as a conventional kit drummer would but sounding like a percussionist.
I grew up in Israel hearing the sounds of Middle Eastern percussion instruments and beautiful Arabic rhythms so I already had these percussive sounds and rhythms in my head. I replaced the conventional toms and snare drum with those frame drums which sounded really great!
Most of these frame drums have a delicate natural clef skins so I had to find special sticks that would not cut them. I'm really enjoying these frame drums – they allow me to be as percussive as I want and they do not produce too much volume so the piano and the sax/bass clarinet can be heard clearly.
The bass Udu is an instrument I picked up in Istanbul – its quite a large one and it has a nice bass sound which is very useful for our sound and a lovely tone all over.
The Hang is a real fun instrument – its similar to the steel pans. Both Tim and Gwilym have written some great music to fit its particular scale and timbre.
I mostly travel with the frame drums, the Udu, the hang, and some specially designed small cymbals. Its a lot to carry and not always easy with some of the airlines but possible.
JK: Where were you when you first heard your favourite performer playing live and who was/is it?
AS: I really enjoyed seeing Weather Report in Israel back in the mid 80's, it was an amazing experience to see and hear such musical greatness and high level of playing. It has changed my life!
I also enjoyed Chick Corea and the Electric band (circa 1986).These guys were playing music in a totally new way at the time and it was very exciting to watch and listen.
One of the albums that really changed my life was Allan Holdsworth's 'Road Games' – unfortunately this band never played in Israel at that time but I was deeply moved by that album, it has really influenced my writing and my playing.
JK: Had you decided when you left the military that you wanted to be a full time performer. Did you need to make lifestyle adjustments to make it happen or did you fall into it?
AS: I always knew that music is going to be what I'll be doing but after I've finished the army service (1987 to 1990) I had absolutely no hesitation about it what so ever. When I left the army it took me some time to continue from where I left off but soon enough I was playing all the time.
There was never an adjustment in life style for me – its an interesting question. I wanted to make music so much that there was no hesitation and things just unfolded in that way.
Sure, it wasn't easy at times but there was always a sense of 'this is where I'm going'.
JK: What is your inspiration for composition and how do you split your time between playing and composing?
AS: The thing that inspire my and excites me the most about writing music is being able to express things that otherwise cannot be expressed. I've always felt that words where never enough to explain many things that I've been experiencing and wanted to share.
It is so satisfying to hear a new composition that I've just composed when it has that element in it, a sort of feeling of things coming to light from darkness.
The other aspect in writing that I really inspire me is the sound of a particular instrument; at the moment, I'm exploring the sound of the electric guitar and electric bass. My trio consists of these instruments so it’s great to be able to play new music with the guys and experiment with it.
I normally have quite a busy touring schedule so most of the time I'm playing the drums or travelling. I try to compose whenever I'm inspired to do so.
I never write music for a dead lines, its just not my thing.
Usually, when things get quieter during the summer or around the beginning for the year I'll be composing some new music.
JK: From the album which is your favourite piece? Is that your favourite to play?
AS: I love them all! I particularly like to listen to 'Devilled' by Gwilym. All of them are great fun to play live and we've been developing the music, our group playing and individually a lot since the album was recorded.
It’s amazing how when you play a piece of music on tour, you get a chance to really get into the core of what it’s about and take it from there.
With the Lighthouse, because we've been playing for a while – every night we play, the same tunes will sound different. It'll change with the different mood, the room, the audiences and the intention we set when we play. These are not intellectual processes or things that we need to talk about, it happens naturally.
JK: I notice you have rather eclectic range of musical styles from Klezmer to organ music. What is your favourite genre to play?
AS: My favourite music to play is music that transcends genres.
Its one thing to be able to play all sorts of musical styles but mixing it all together and creating something new is what it is all about for me. The music of the Lighthouse trio is inspired by such a variety of musical styles and personalities.
The main thing for me is to stay as genuine as I possibly can and create music from that ground.
JK: Could you please describe your practise method – what do you work on at home
How many hours a week or day on each?
AS: I love practicing, I find it very therapeutic and I love learning new things, new ways to play the drums.
Unfortunately, I don't spend much time at home so practicing my drums is a rarity. I do carry a practice pad (a small and very quiet rubber drum) so that I can practice on tour whenever I can.
I'm also practicing Konnakol – the art of south Indian vocal percussion. This is a great way to acquire new rhythms and generally understand rhythm better without an instrument. I'd usually practice that when i'm in transit (on the plane, in the car, etc..). Konnakol has opened my eyes to a whole new way of playing and a rhythmic/percussive approach.
JK: What inspires your creation of music, do you have a compositional routine or do you wait for external inspiration?
AS: It is mostly an internal process of going through some life experiences, learning something new or approaching something in a different way and then wanting to express that in music.
I try to keep my music writing as routine free and as genuine as possible. This was always a very important for me.
Composing is a very different process to playing the drums. With the drums, I've done my routines and study, played different musical styles and situations etecetera
With the writing I try to keep out of 'outside influences' so to speak, keeping it a raw as possible.
JK: What do you like about performing live?
AS: The excitement, the interaction with the musicians and with the audiences, making music together in the moment, improvising, going places and meeting new people.
JK: Do you think about the audience when you perform?
AS: I am aware of the audiences as I am aware of the room, the drums, the other musicians and where they are. If the audience understand/like what you're trying to do then it’s a whole lot easier to play, things just flow.
JK: What is next on the horizon, tell me about other projects you are working on at the moment?
AS: I've been writing some new music for another solo album with my trio featuring Yaron Stavi on Bass and Tassos Spiliotopoulos on guitar. We'll be recording it in December after I come back from the Lighthouse Asia/Australia tour and releasing the new album next year sometime. We'll be touring with that band too.
As far as the Lighthouse, we have some more concerts in the beginning of 2013 till April or so, before Tim is going off on tour with Chick Corea. I guess we'll be resuming touring in October 2013 and starting to think about a new album.
If you would like to see and hear the Lighthouse Trio, they will be on tour from 27 October to 3rd November, culminating in performances at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz.
They will also be performing in Perth, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
Tue 30 Brisbane – The Powerhouse – www.brisbanepowerhouse.org/events/view/lighthouse/
Wed 31 – Sydney, Venue 505 – www.venue505.com
Thu 1 – Melbourne – Bennetts Lane
Fri 2, Sat 3 November – Wangaratta Festival – www.wangarattajazz.com
For more information on the trio http://www.triolighthouse.com/gigs.php
For more information on Asaf http://www.asafsirkis.co.uk/