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Djam Karet

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Gayle Ellett of Djam Karet from 2009
Our instrumental group Djam Karet has been rather busy. This year was our 25th anniversary together. Throughout the years we’ve released 14 studio CDs and many EPs and limited-edition releases, but it has been four years since our last release, “Recollection Harvest” and seven years since our last performance. So to celebrate our 25th anniversary, we decided to play some shows, and do some recordings. In the past month we played three shows. We played at a club near Los Angeles called “Hip Kitty,” we headlined a three-day nine-group Progressive Rock festival in France (our first time playing overseas) called “the Crescendo Festival,” and we created and performed at the Immersion Festival (near Los Angeles) with the great Electronic master Steve Roach, and Loren Nerell. To better play our music live, we played as a five-piece band, with my friend Mike Murray joining us on electric guitar (and I just played keyboards). We played 2 1/2 hours of music at each show, covering music from about 10 of our previous CDs. Now we are recording these tunes live-in-studio, without overdubs, to better document this time in our lives. These recordings will probably be released early next year.
MSJ: I remember hearing about a related project called Fernwood - what can you tell us about that?
Fernwood is a side project I created two years ago with my friend Todd Montgomery. We play instrumental all-acoustic music, with a strong Americana and World feel. Todd is a master sitar player, and I mostly play Greek bouzouki and North Indian dilruba. But we both play an extremely wide range of instruments on our two CDs Almeria (#4 Album Of The Year” at ECHOES Radio) and “Sangita” (“Album Of The Month” at ECHOES Radio). I play 15 different instruments, and Todd also plays a large number of instruments. I’ve played on over 70 CDs, and the Fernwood CDs are the best recorded and most accessible music I’ve made. So I am very happy about it. We are recording a third CD now.
MSJ: You guys recently did a couple live shows - how did those go?
We did three shows and they all worked out really well. The first was at Hip Kitty, and we used it as a warm-up show for our trip to France we made a week later, to headline the Crescendo Festival. That French gig was really fun. We’ve never been paid to play overseas before, and the whole experience was great! The festival is held right on the beach, in an upscale town called Saint Palais, near Bordeaux. And we just finished playing at the Immersion Festival, which was held in an art gallery. Along with Steve Roach and Loren Nerell, we created ambient soundscapes that ran continuously for 8 hours, punctuated by two sets of aggressive music by Djam Karet. It was a really cool event, and free too!
MSJ: Why don't you do live shows more often?
Personally, I don’t like performing music live. I get very nervous. And our music is very demanding and hard to play. Basically, we’d rather spend a year making a CD, than doing live shows. If you spend a year just doing gigs, what will you have at the end of the year? Maybe one review in your local newpaper? But if you spend a year making a good CD, then you can get reviewed in the major music magazines throughout the world, get radio play, etc, and make a much bigger impact. Also, we just love all the layering and intricacies that you can create in the studio. I really like the “erase” button: if I goof up, I just re-record it.
MSJ: If you weren't involved in music, what do you think you'd be doing?
I’d go crazy. I’m obsessed with music. I think about it all the time, and have since I was a small child listening to the Beatles. Without music I would be very unhappy.
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
More music! Currently I play in five bands, and I write music for TV shows such as “Swingtown” on CBS and “Next” on MTV, and films such as Brad Pitt’s “Year Of The Dog” and Tori Spelling’s “Kiss The Bride”. Basically I’m just going to keep on doing what I do best: music.
MSJ: Are there musicians you'd like to play with in the future?
There are many, really too many to list. There are tons of jazz players I’d like to jam with, lots of World music players, a few vocalists, etc. If I start listing them…I’ll never stop!
MSJ: Do you think that downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians? It's been said by the major labels that it's essentially the heart of all the problems they are having in terms of lower sales - would you agree?
Illegal downloading is wrong - period. If a band decides to give away their music for free, as free downloads, that’s fine. But it’s up to the band, not the “consumer” (which is a nice word for “thief” or “pirate”). The music industry made a big mistake when, ten years ago, they didn’t aggressively go after people and websites that steal music. So now, people are used to the idea that music should be “free”. And that’s sad, because “free” is just about the same concept as “worthless”. Our culture is loosing a lot of great music and musicians, who, if they can’t make any money to pay for their studio and gear…they’ll just quit making music. And I believe that the arts are a very important part of our society. When a society’s culture starts to collapse, it’s a very bad thing for everyone!
MSJ: In a related question how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
If the band does not want their show recorded, then doing so is wrong. If the band does not care, then of course it is fine. Personally I don’t usually mind if people record my shows, because I don’t think it’s going to inhibit the sales of a live CD I might release later on. But that’s for me to decide.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch-nemesis and why?
“LazyMan” would be my arch-nemesis. He talks a lot, but gets nothing done. Talking is fun, but it usually won’t help you achieve your goals.
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band, who would be in it?
If I had an ultimate band filled with master musicians…then they wouldn’t let me play with them! They’d kick me out! So I want to avoid that! I would like to work with a great singer like Peter Gabriel, some fun players like King Sunny Ade, some great guitar players like Steve Tibbetts, etc. Really, it’s hard to say, there would be so many! 
MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view, who would be playing?
I would create a festival that had a very wide range of music, in the styles I personally like. Probably it would be way too diverse for most other folks to enjoy! But like some folks, I do enjoy a very wide variety of music styles such as: World music, Traditional Americana, Jazz, Swedish Death Metal, Electronic, Surf, Zheul, Country, Progressive and other styles. So I’d probably have Opeth (my favorite band!), Vince Gill, Dick Dale, OSI, Tony Rice, Pat Metheny, Magma, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey, and others.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought, or what have you been listening to lately?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Steve Tibbetts, Medeski Martin and Wood’s A GO GO, Opeth’s Ghost Revelries, Steve Roach, Univers Zero, etc.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Opeth. They are great! I love that band.
MSJ: Finally, are there any closing thoughts you'd like to get out there?
I would just like to encourage more musicians to make more CDs. It is hard for us adults to find good music, so we need your help. I also feel very fortunate to play with Djam Karet, so I am quite thankful for that. And I’d also like to thank you for giving our group more exposure! We greatly appreciate that! Many Thanks!
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 6 at
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