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Progressive Rock Interviews

OnOffOn

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Von Babasin of OnOffOn From 2006
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

It's been a while since we chatted, can you catch the readers up on what's been going on with you?
Well, I'm not sure where to start. As well as working on new music with ONOFFON, I've been working on some solo material. Not everything each of us does always works within the context of the group so we all work in different directions on top of what we do together. I've also been working with a producer/director friend in writing a movie soundtrack for a low budget indie film he's doing. I love working music with a visual image - so freeing and yet concise. I'm also producing my own film which I will talk about a little later in this interview. I've also got two teenage sons in high school - one's a senior and he's applying to colleges as we speak.
MSJ: You've been playing for quite a while now. How do you keep the experience fresh both for you and the fans?
Music is always fresh for me. I think part of ONOFFON's success is that we never seem to do the same thing twice. That works against us in the world of mainstream music but it's what our fans have grown to love about us. That, plus we have always preserved our artistic loyalties - trying to write music that is satisfying to our creative souls yet trying not to alienate the casual music fan. Maintaining our artistic ideals is what, I believe, interprets most honestly to those who appreciate our music.
MSJ: I seem to remember that you've been getting some of your father's music reissued. What can you tell us about that?
As you know, my father, Harry Babasin, was one of the most innovative and creative bassist/producers in jazz history. I'm involved in two projects concerning my father's contributions to jazz. First, is the film I eluded to earlier. I have received a fiscal sponsorship from the New York Foundation for the Arts to produce a documentary film about my father and west coast jazz called, "Harry Babasin's Jazz In Hollywood." They are not actually funding the film, I am actively raising funds under the umbrella of NYFA's non-profit status to produce this film. I have written to 380 foundations that support arts and culture. I have been invited to apply for a prestigious 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship, of which I have already submitted. The other project is on a much higher level. I am still waiting for our own non-profit paperwork in the creation of a west coast jazz museum, centered around more than 500 hours of jazz masters my father recorded throughout his life, mostly with his drummer/business partner, Roy Harte. Roy was also a major player in the west coast jazz scene, having run the hippest drum shop in Hollywood for decades, Drum City, and even having a hand in the invention of the plastic drum head with pioneer, Remo Belli. The history is so significant and needs to be told. The movie will help in great part to the fruition of the museum. I intend to produce a series of films documenting the lives of important west coast jazzers.
MSJ: Are there still musicians out there you'd like to play with, but haven't had the chance?
There will always be people I would love to play with in my lifetime. There was an amazing recording my father did in 1952 with bassist/cellist Oscar Pettiford. I have always had a deep desire to recreate those sessions with a prominent bassist who would be interested. Only time will tell.
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?
That's really a double edged sword. It certainly helps an artist to gain realistic exposure for their music. But, it is killing the CD. Downloading is the music acquisition of choice of the new generation, even though the quality of the music really is worse. People don't seem to care unless they are true audiophiles. And the free trading of music doesn't hurt a multi-billion dollar corporation but it kills a band that produces everything out of their own pockets. It's just human nature to get what you can for free, whether or not it's someone's "intellectual property." That being said, we are selling way more music through digital distribution than we are actual CDs. Just the way it is - like it or not.
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans taping and trading live shows?
Live shows is a different animal altogether. What happens live is always different from studio recordings. But, what's recorded in the audience will never be as good as a live recording done from the mixing board, so anything produced by the band will be of superior sound quality.
MSJ: Your music is adventurous in that it tends to break down barriers between genres. I've been seeing a real trend (at least in some of the more underground music) of bands doing this (Estradasphere, Green Milk From The Planet Orange and Giant Squid are three examples that jump out at me). Have you also seen this? What are your thoughts on it?
Thanks for saying that. We've been together for ten years now - our ten year anniversary for the release of our first album, Surrender Now, will be next March - and I'd like to think we were one of the groups who helped to start a trend. Hybrid bands are cropping up all over the place - it's just good to see bands doing music that is honestly creative and not the cookie cutter bull crap that the industry keeps shoving down our throats. Even the so called sites that want to help the indie music movement cater to the industry. They want to be accepted by the mainstream so they promote the same formulae that the industry promotes. It feeds on this mediocrity that doesn't want to explore innovations and acknowledge virtuosity. If you notice, all the industry genres are falling into a melting pot of crossover pop. Country stars are sounding more and more pop everyday - rock stars - rap stars - jazz stars - R&B stars - they're all sounding more like each other until you've got one big pile of pop crap. To me, the truly creative bands aren't afraid to show depth and diversity within the context of their own repertoires. That'S the innovative future of music.
MSJ: What kind of touring plans do you have?
None - we don't have the budget for it. Our drummer, Dave Goode, has been touring with Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush. He says people ask him about ONOFFON all the time. It's pretty cool.
MSJ: What else is on your agenda for the near (and maybe not so near) future?
We've been talking a lot about producing a live DVD. It would be the next best thing to a tour - to perform our music in a live setting so people can see us actually doing what we do. I'd also like to produce a bunch of conceptual visuals that we could intercut into the live performances or offer as an alternate viewing experience. But, again, there's always monetary restrictions. We certainly don't have the deep pockets the conglomerates have.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought, or what have you been listening to lately?
I've been spending all my time focusing in on my father's career with the production of the documentary. I've been finding great pieces of his discography on eBay - like a 7-inch, commercially produced reel-to-reel Mercury release of his signature group, The Jazzpickers, from 1956. It features the great, Buddy Collette on flute, and my dad fronting the group on cello. The sound quality is second to none - it sounds like you're sitting in the recording studio with them, which I did quite a bit of in my youth.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Under the heading of coming full circle, my wife and I recently took our sons to their first concert experience - Roger Waters at the Hollywood Bowl performing Dark Side of the Moon. I saw Pink Floyd in 1972 perform the original Dark Side of the Moon tour at the Hollywood Bowl. It was surreal.
MSJ: Finally, are there any closing thoughts you'd like to get out there?
I'd just like to thank all the friends and fans that have liked our music and shown us their support through the years. It's always humbling when someone compliments what we do or compares us to one of our heroes that seems to make it all worthwhile. Thanks to you all.
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