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Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Von Babasin of OnOffOn From 2004
MSJ: Tell us about OnOffOn. First, how long have you been together, and how did the band get started?
Drummer Dave Goode and I played together for ten years before ONOFFON in a rock fusion band called The RH Factor. In 1995, that band suffered an ugly break up but Dave and I stayed good friends. He was playing in a cover band when, one night, guitarist Don Lake happened to be in the crowd. He heard Dave's drumming and thought he might be interested in working together. He gave Dave a tape of his music and, after listening to it, Dave said he knew only one bassist that would even attempt this kind of stuff, and gave me a call. So, in August of 1996, we had our first jam session. Three months later, we were recording our first CD, Surrender Now, that officially released in February 1997. Since then, we have released our second CD, Your Mind, in May of 1999, and taken a while longer finishing our third CD, which we have yet to release.
MSJ: Where did the name come from?
The name was taken from the three-position toggle switch on the front on the old Fender amplifiers. Up was ON, middle was OFF, and down was ON - hence, ONOFFON. Much simpler than many people think.
MSJ: Who would you see as your biggest musical influences, as a band?
We don't really have 'band' influences, per se. We don't sit down and say, 'I like the way this band sounds so let's try and do something like them.' In fact, we give absolutely no thought as to who our music may or may not be compared to. We just do what we do.
MSJ: How about personal musical influences.
Now, this is where what each individual brings to the table truly shapes our sound. Obviously, my greatest personal influence has to be my father, Harry Babasin. To those who don't know, he was one of the most creative and innovative bassists in west coast jazz history. Playing with such greats as Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Joe Pass, among many others, he is credited as the true pioneer of pizzicato jazz cello and with the birth of the bossa nova. His life and accomplishments have come to influence the rest of the band as well, always trying to push the envelope and change the status quo. Along with my father's technique, I have always looked to bassists that were stylistic and melodic in their playing, whatever their genre - Greg Lake, Chris Squire, Martin Turner, John Entwistle, Geddy Lee, Tony Levin, Stanley Clarke, Ron Carter, Jaco, Victor Wooten, and so many more. Don always speaks of classical influences, naming Beethoven and Aaron Copland as his most influential. Dave lists a cross section of some of the greatest drummers in life as his influences - Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Billy Cobham, Neil Peart, Trilok Gurtu, Vinnie Colaiuta, Giovani Hidalgo, Gregg Bissonette, Steve Gadd, and the list goes on...
MSJ: How would you describe the music of OnOffOn?
We like to call our music 'stir-fry'. In the more acceptable world of promotional labels, I call it progressive jazz rock, and even that stretches classification of our music. Many reviewers try to compare us to existing groups, but usually not 'sounds like', more in our musical approach.
MSJ: What projects do you have going with the group now?
Right now, I'm feverishly working on finishing the artwork for our upcoming third CD. It's come out of its final mastering session and only awaits my completing the package. When you are entirely self produced, there's a lot more to releasing a CD than simply composing, arranging, performing, recording, producing, and mastering. We are also starting to break through in licensing our music for film and television, the most prominent to date has been placing one of our songs, 'Mardi Gras', on a show for FOX Sports called '54321'. I'm also working on building a jazz museum dedicated to west coast jazz called 'Jazz In Hollywood'. While the content of the museum centers around the collective archives of my father and all the great musicians he played with, we also intend to equip our facility to broadcast live jazz over the internet, thereby influencing the next generation of Jazz In Hollywood. A lot of progressive rock is heavily influenced by the complexity of jazz and, indeed, much of it crosses over into prog. Just listen to the opening number on "Got Prog?" - 'Sherpas on Parade' by Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. That could as easily be classified acid jazz. Great tune by the way!
MSJ: What can you tell me about the song that is on the MSJ Sampler CD?
'Shadowglass', our song included on "Got Prog?", is a true combination of all of our influences. The song, originally written by Don, was rewritten from the ground up, while maintaining its wonderful chordal structure. The bass line and drumming was redone and the melody line was written by me for alto flute. Don chose to play a more dissonant, 'progish' guitar solo rather than going for a more docile smooth jazz approach. Glen Garrett, our resident sax/flute guru, literally breathed life into the song and the end result is a rather mystical, sultry prog jazz.
MSJ: Are any members of the group involved in side projects?
As for me, I've been working with an internet collaboration prog group called Zenpool with keyboardist, Carl Kirkendall, guitarist Steve Hall and vocalist Joel Kelly. It's a rather ambitious endeavor since none of us has ever met. I also play in a cover band for a few extra dollars since playing progressive jazz rock in Los Angeles is commercial suicide. Can you imagine, people actually pay you to play other people's music. Dave also plays in a cover band and involves himself in about as many musical projects that pay as he can. Don doesn't play with any other musical projects because he has a day job, which is why he earns enough to finance all the recording, mastering and pressing of our CDs. Contrary to his nature, he manages a strip club. So, next time you're watching some exotic dancer, tip her good - you never know when she might be helping some wayfaring prog jazz rock band record their next musical offering.
MSJ: Are there any musicians whom you would like to work with in the future?
Speaking for myself, I would love to play with a bassist of some caliber, that would be intrigued enough to attempt to play a duet pizzicato cello session with me - someone like Tony Levin or Victor Wooten. My father recorded and played around town with Oscar Pettiford back in 1952, in a group that featured them playing duet cellos in melodic harmony to one another. To this day, it's the most original, unique sound I've ever heard in recorded jazz and, as far as I know, has never been duplicated.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
"Little Worlds" - Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, "Passion, Grace & Fire" - McLaughlin/DiMeola/De Lucia.
MSJ: What was the last concert you attended as a fan?
The last concert I attended as a fan was the 2004 Pasadena Playboy Jazz Festival, headlined by Hubert Laws and Poncho Sanchez. I had the extreme honor of opening the 1988 Long Beach Jazz Festival while playing with The RH Factor and Poncho Sanchez was on that bill also, as was Ronnie Laws, Hubert's brother. I always try to see them when they are in town.
MSJ: What was your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Our biggest Spinal Tap moment... it involved us opening for Acoustic Alchemy and Willie & Lobo at The Roxy... but that story will remain untold...
MSJ: Any final words for the readers of MSJ?
I feel like I'm preachin' to the choir here - if you read MSJ you're probably already a lot more open minded in your music than the average listener. But I think that if the major labels were more willing to put their big bucks promotions behind more talented, adventurous groups, the public would be listening to a more interesting, diverse mix of music than what the formulaic industry keeps filling our airwaves with and cramming down our throats. Thanks to Gary Hill and the Music Street Journal for providing a professional venue for the promotionally challenged.
MSJ: This interview is available in book form (paperback and hardcover) at
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