The New York-based ensemble known as yMusic may have roots in classical music, but their music tends to defy genres. The six core members – co founder Rob Moose, co founder CJ Camerieri, Hideaki Aomori, Alex Sopp, Nadia Sirota and Mike Block – attended Julliard, with the exception of Moose, who graduated from the Manhattan School of Music. The musicians went their separate ways after graduation, playing in various ensembles, orchestras and even rock bands, but their paths frequently crossed. yMusic was formed in 2008.
Rob Moose, co founder, is a multi instrumentalist and composer who has worked with indie big names like Antony and the Johnsons, Sufjan Stevens, My Brightest Diamond,The National and even Jay Z. In addition to his collaborations with indie musicians, he also performs in the musical Spring Awakening. Moose was able to sit down with Each Note Secure to talk about yMusic, the MusicNOW festival and his individual projects.
ENS: yMusic is different than other classical ensembles in that it approaches classical music from the perspective of a pop musician and approaches pop music from the classical musician. What led you to adopt this approach?
RM: I donâ€™t think it was anything really that conscious. We became conscious of it later when we were forming the group and we kind of wanted to explain to people what was different about itâ€¦but all of us are conservatory-trained and were heavily or are still heavily involved in classical music, but we have this interest in playing with bands and it certainly never appeared advantageous to deny our classical training or not utilize it.
In a certain sense, we carry our classical training with us always even if weâ€™re in a non-classical situation and hopefully that can elevate some of our performances…weâ€™re applying that to this music and weâ€™re not making this distinction between you know, weâ€™re playing Brahms or weâ€™re playing Bryce Dessner. I think itâ€™s important that the music thatâ€™s emerging in this scene deserves that kind of treatment and when people who are more like songwriters and are having a chance to do some compositions get to work with serious classical musicians who are excited by their material kind of helps everyone grow.
ENS: yMusic is an ensemble of musicians who also play in other bands, ensembles and orchestras. How does the collectiveâ€™s work separate itself from the individualâ€™s work?
RM: I think weâ€™re all proud of everybodyâ€™s individual work and we see the group as a collection of these six individuals rather than these six people who happen to play these instruments. The group was formed around the personalities and playing and identities of these six people, so it feels really important for us to preserve that individuality and publicize everyoneâ€™s different projects. When we come together, we play as a group and we bring all of those collective experiences in.
ENS: Your work with indie artists, namely with My Brightest Diamond, Antony and the Johnsons, Sufjan Stevens and Beth Orton, among others, has established you as an â€œindie-classicalâ€ musician. Individually, how did you get involved with those artists.
RM: Well itâ€™s kind of a funny story. I was in school â€“ I was in my junior year of school â€“ and I was really eager to perform in different environments and kind of get out of recital halls and I was looking on Craigslist in the music section and thereâ€™s people looking for people to join their band and sometimes itâ€™s more like looking for a specific gig and things for hire. And I came across a really interesting ad that said â€œBritain Brahms Buckley Bjorkâ€ and it was looking for a violinist for a small gig at a club in East village called Sidewalk CafÃ©. And it was Sharon Worden what is now My Brightest Diamond. So I was drawn to the ad because it was such an interesting combination of composers and songwriters and I ended up playing that gig with her and joining her band while I was still in school. And she introduced me in various ways to Antony and Sufjan and the guys from the national and when you work with enough of them then it spirals from there. But she was really my way into that scene. And it just happened because I was eager to play music and I was searching an online database for ads.
ENS: Where you always drawn to indie music, or was it a product of your environment, being in New York?
RM: Yeah, I think it was a lot to do with the environment. I wasnâ€™t really familiar with a lot of the stuff that I ended up playing. I wasnâ€™t familiar with Antony and Sufjan or any of these people â€“ I was a violinist and guitarist that was interested in playing in bands, playing different kinds of music. When I first heard Antony, it completely knocked me out. I had never heard a voice like that before. It was a moment I remember greatly; I was home on Christmas break and I had gotten an email, would I like to audition for this tour? And I just went and listened to the two songs on his website and it was like, â€˜Wow, what is this?â€™ it was totally emotionally moving. For me, it was an opportunity to discover a whole bunch of stuff I had never heard and I just let my instincts guide me.
ENS: What did you listen to before you listened to indie music?
RM: I listened to a lot of rock. In school, I listened to a lot of jazz. I hate to say this, I think jazz is sometimes the gateway musical drug. Classical people will get into it because they want to get into something else or it will lead into rock music; a lot of great rock guitar players came out of a jazz tradition. I didn’t really know the word “indie” that much. Indie is much more pervasive in 2010 than it was in 2003/2004. It really was indie at that time. It felt like people were just doing more things on their own and trying things and weren’t so constrained by commercial interests.
ENS: In addition to your collaborations with indie and classical artists, youâ€™ve also worked with Jay-Z. How does playing with a hip-hop artist differ from playing with a rock artist?
RM: I havenâ€™t really been exposed to that scene too much â€“ itâ€™s definitely a different kind of party. Thereâ€™s a different atmosphere around it, but at the same time, I guess it was really fun and celebratory working with him but it was also hard work. He was able to be business minded while also cultivating a party atmosphere in rehearsals. At one point in rehearsal, I looked over and puff daddy was standing next to the speakers. He just stayed in a second rehearsal studio just to hang out. Itâ€™s different but it was really great in the performance to have the experience of how directly the music is connecting to the audience.
Thatâ€™s always been something thatâ€™s interesting to me about performing outside of the classical world â€“ that connection to the audience. Thereâ€™s an energy exchange that happens. The first time you play with a rock band in front of 2,000 people in a sold out room you experience something youâ€™ve never experienced playing a Hayden quartet. The hip hop concert at radio city music hall was the greatest example of that. People are just on fire and the energy is going both ways and it makes for a great experience.
ENS: How does the energy with a live rock show differ from the energy at Spring Awakening?
RM: Well, the musicians were onstage for Spring Awakening which was cool and thatâ€™s really important because people need to see where the sounds are coming from. Thereâ€™s a big debate about using less live musicians and more programmed music. I think if people saw that these people were making these sounds and had that visual connection, I think it would be a much more compelling argument for keeping people around.
I think itâ€™s a question of formality and the environment of the concert hall. Itâ€™s also a question of the audience. The musical theater audience is mostly older â€“ although Spring Awakening and shows like Rent before it have ushered in a new audience for that kind of work â€“ itâ€™s all about how people are responding to the music. If you can hear them and you can feel them there, it leads to a slightly different type of playing. You feel like youâ€™re doing it for someone and something is at stake. But if itâ€™s just a stiff audience thatâ€™s waiting for the right moment to clap and then thereâ€™s going to be an intermission it doesnâ€™t create that same energy.
ENS: I noticed you have a few dates playing with Peter Gabriel and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. As a musician known for crossing genres, what are your thoughts on Peter Gabrielâ€™s orchestral covers album, â€œScratch My Backâ€? Are you familiar with the original songs?
RM: Itâ€™s such a smart idea and such a great creative idea. Iâ€™m really excited to be part of it.
I havenâ€™t actually heard any of it yet; Iâ€™m definitely going to check it out before I do those gigs. It seems really exciting that heâ€™s going to be performing just as a singer with a full orchestra and no band. Thatâ€™s kind of cool because you have a lot of bands performing with orchestras as kind of a trend in the last few years. I think, in a way, if heâ€™s just singing with us, heâ€™s integrating himself more fully and youâ€™re going to get a newer sound â€“ although though itâ€™s based on a traditional concept.
Iâ€™m really excited to hear it. Heâ€™s such an interesting artist and itâ€™s such a great idea. For someone whoâ€™s been successful for as long as he has, I donâ€™t know if anyone has done anything like this before in this kind of way. Heâ€™s really working with the trend of the music industry while also doing something thatâ€™s pretty classic.
ENS: Is there anyone in particular you really want to work with?
RM: Besides Bob Dylan, who has nothing do with any of this kind of music but heâ€™s just a total hero of mine. Actually, Iâ€™m really excited about the couple of people weâ€™re going to get to work with in Cincinnati. Iâ€™ve been a big fan of Justin Vernonâ€™s work for the last couple of years and some of us are going to get to collaborate with him on the last night of the festival so that will be a dream come true. And working with Annie Clark (St. Vincent) is really exciting because sheâ€™s such a creative person. I first met her when we were both in Sufjanâ€™s band at the same time and sheâ€™s gone on to do so much with her solo career. Itâ€™s kind of cool to meet again in a new context.
I donâ€™t know, I try not to think about it too much like, â€˜Iâ€™d like to work with this personâ€™ and Iâ€™m going to track them down because that can come across as a little bit weird and things have worked out nicely in an organic fashion. Iâ€™m really excited about the things coming up in the spring.
ENS: By organic, you mean through commissions and friends?
RM: Or being a member of someoneâ€™s band and meeting other musicians who youâ€™re playing with or groups that youâ€™re sharing a bill and hearing you and wanting to work with you and vice versa. Thereâ€™s a community and itâ€™s natural to go from one branch of the tree to another. Other than trying to pursue a specific person, I donâ€™t want to come across that way. At a certain point, thereâ€™s enough of a mutual respect going on that if people are meant to work together, they probably will, you know?
ENS: In terms of your collaborations with Annie Clark and Justin Vernon, do you know what kind of pieces youâ€™re working on or are you going to feel something out the night before?
RM: With Justin, I hear itâ€™s going to be fairly spontaneous. Weâ€™ll work on something that day. With Annie, sheâ€™s written a piece for our group to perform and then weâ€™re hoping to join her for part of her set. Sheâ€™s got a full band with her so itâ€™s a little complicated but usually when that many people are involved, itâ€™s best to have an arrangement and an idea ahead of time. Itâ€™s all in the works and Iâ€™m not really sure how itâ€™s going to work but itâ€™s going to be a combination of spontaneity and separation.
ENS: Does the group have any plans to record?
RM: Absolutely, thereâ€™s a really interesting record label in New York called New Amsterdam that was formed by three composers that are really interested in this point of intersection between classical and pop or indie music, so weâ€™re really like-minded in our pursuits.
Two of the composers for the label are going to be writing pieces for us and our idea is to pair those two works as representatives from the classical world with those two works by people from the indie world â€“ Shara Worden [of My Brightest Diamond]is going to write a piece for us at some point. Weâ€™ve been working with this composer and songwriter named Son Lux and he wrote a four-movement work for us that we performed at the Symphony Space in New York with a dance company.
We actually have a lot of material to draw from but I know one or two of the movements will be on the recordings. The other idea for the recording was weâ€™ve got these two pieces from â€œindie worldâ€ and two pieces from â€œclassical worldâ€ and weâ€™re going to try to weave the thread through them with short interstitial works by our friend Thomas Bartlett (Doveman).
Weâ€™re just waiting for some of those pieces to be written and to have a chance to work on them. Weâ€™ll probably record in the fall and try to have something available in 2011. When we have an album, weâ€™ll be interested in doing the whole thing you do (touring) because itâ€™s really important to get the music and the idea out there.
yMusic plays tonight in Music Hall at the MusicNOW Festival with St. Vincent.