No Apologies As Bela Fleck Progresses
By Nick Schwab
With all the different styles of music and the various sub-genres, there are infinite sounds in music.
From punk to ambient to space rock and jazz, the mixes between the genres and subgenres are endless.
There are also different ways one goes about making it.
Musicians are stuck in the neighborhood bar playing covers or thinly-disguised covers of bigger bands. A smaller amount play in underground rock clubs and an even smaller amount are able to play in much larger venues.
However, there are really only two ways to approach making music: One can be stuck in the past, only reviving others (and maybe their own) past glories.
The other way is to constantly reinvent, giving the wheel a slightly different spin each time.
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones fit into the second category. They aim to create the glories that others may revive.
When corresponding with Fleck, he takes on a modest approach of subjective thinking when talking about how his art is interpreted: he hopes that others get some type of an emotion out of his art when they listen to it, much like he gets out of it himself when making it.
However, Fleck is objective about how he makes music. He aims to grow and push himself, not play out a life and career around one album or song, but instead have a diverse catalogue to pull from and to be content about.
“I am not satisfied with any project that does not include musical growth and some new slant on playing the banjo,” describes Fleck.
And he is progressive indeed.
Fleck creates new pathways for his favorite instrument by intertwining country, bluegrass and folk elements, and thus shows that the banjo is more than just a roots-music mechanism that is limited and cannot evolve.
The way that Fleck uses his instrument could be compared to a chemist that mixes a smorgasbord of chemical elements to make a new and improved reaction.
“I do think that if you sound much like anyone else, your success will be short lived,” he stated. “I would rather look at a Picasso than at someone’s work that looked like a Picasso!”
Fleck does admit that making progressive music may not “be the easiest way to prosper.” However, he feels like he is “fighting the good fight.”
Even if Fleck has been nominated for a Grammy thirty times, has won fourteen awards and has even been nominated more times in different categories than anyone in the awards’ history, he still does not necessarily consider himself innovative.
“Someone else can decide if I am innovative,” he said. “I can only push myself to places I am able to go, and I am trying to expand the walls of my cage constantly.”
Fleck sticks by the belief that if he works hard now he won’t have to make restitution and correct albums and songs from the past.
“I work pretty hard on records, so that I won’t have regrets years later,” he says. “Usually when I hear something old I think, well that was an honest effort or the best I could have done at that time.”
With the variety of multi-layers in his music, Fleck hopes that the music takes listeners to a state of mind they haven’t been in before.
“It can take you on a journey outside of your own mind,” he says, then adds that their albums are, “challenging but friendly… I want an emotional layer, I need for there to be a feeling, even if it is hard to describe.”
When interviewing a musician that crafts different kinds of music and bends and twists them together, it is hard not to ask him what other tricks he has up his sleeve in terms of crossing different styles in the future.
When asked this question he gives an admirable and salivating response.
“There are so many possibilities and I am far from finished,” he answers. “The end of each project brings new options, I need to make smart choices and invest my time in things I really believe in.”
So how about the specifics?
“I won’t name possible styles, because I don’t really think in those terms.” He then ends the interview by also pointing out his various collaborations with other masters. “Usually it is a particular musician I feel I can learn a lot from playing with.”
(Bela Fleck will play at Miami University on April 20th. The show starts at 7:30p.m., presented by the Performing Arts Series in collaboration with the Miami Hamilton & Middletown Artists Series. Tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for students and limited avialablity tickets for Gold Circle Floor seats are $50. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.hdg.muohio.edu/BoxOffice.)
Reach DCP freelance writer Nick Schwab at NickSchwab@DaytonCityPaper.com.