Following the release of his 10th solo album “Climb” (coming out on Vegetable Records and reviewed here), we had a chat with The Necks’ pianist and talented Sidney-based musician Chris Abrahams. Check it out!
Chain D.L.K.: Hiya, Chris! How are you?
Chris Abrahams: I’m very well, thank you.
Chain D.L.K.: I think that most of our readers and followers know your name and your music, but as usual, let’s metaphorically shake hands with a short introduction… First of all, how did you decide to get deeper and deeper into music?
Chris Abrahams: I was a relatively normal adolescent male growing up in the post-Beatles seventies in Sydney. At 14, I was into bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, Yes and Neil Young. At one stage, I tried playing electric bass in a band formed in early high school, something that’s passed by the wayside. My father had been very into “swing” and “boogie-woogie”, and from a young age, I’d listened to recordings by people such as Meade Lux Lewis, Jimmy Yancey, Teddy Wilson and Duke Ellington. Also, from an early age, my bedroom contained an old upright piano, on long-term loan from friends of my parents who’d relocated overseas. I was definitely not a child prodigy and didn’t harbor any realistic desire to become a professional musician.
I remember the moment when, sometime in my fifteenth year, I came across a stack of albums in the office of the music department of the school I went to. I chose to borrow “Charlie Parker’s Immortal Masterpieces”, “Reincarnation of a Lovebird” by Charles Mingus, and “Cooking with the Miles Davis Quintet”. I don’t think I’d ever heard anything as elegant as Red Garland’s piano solo on “My Funny Valentine”. From this moment on, I began to be very interested in modern jazz and began to direct my rudimentary piano skills towards trying to emulate the music I began to feel passionate about.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you think that the way you relate to music changed over the years, or not? If yes, how’s today?
Chris Abrahams: I don’t think I’ve outgrown things, I think I’ve just added more and more stuff, options, to what I make and listen to. Possibly, in my late teens and early twenties, I was very mono generic as to what I was into, but I think, back then, I was in a very imitative stage of my development.
Chain D.L.K.: The Necks is maybe the most known band you are part of, as you, Tony and Lloyd created a unique and widely beloved sound… How do you explain such a great appreciation by a remarkable variety of audiences?
Chris Abrahams: I’m extremely grateful for the support we’ve been given by our audience. I think we were very lucky to have come into being when we did, which was just at the time that CDs began to be commercially available. We were very much a cd band – not that we thought about the technology that much; it was more of a serendipitous thing that our deciding to make hour-long pieces coincided with the advent of a medium that could deliver such things unbroken. It was also lucky that the internet had not yet arrived, so we were able to establish a loyal following who invested materially in our output. I also think that the fact that we did not worry too much about audience reaction, but concentrated on developing our music outside of an “industrial” market-geared ideology, ironically, helped in presenting something that audiences appeared to find intriguing. I’ve begun to understand the Necks as being a little bit like a high school band. We didn’t need to learn how to play our instruments, but we needed to learn how to play them in a different way, and we all went through this learning together (I think).
Chain D.L.K.: The amount of music you made is likewise remarkable… Some of it came out of collaborations… Is there any of them that particularly fed your musical soul and that you’d like to repeat?
Chris Abrahams: The collaborations I have with people outside of The Necks – Burkhard Beins, Alessandro Bosetti, The Dogmatics, The Still, Sink, Mike Cooper and Roil, to name a few, are all ongoing and will all hopefully produce more music. I don’t apply a hierarchy to the list.
Chain D.L.K.: I discovered The Necks relatively late…the first release that reached my desk was the wonderful “Hanging Gardens”…after it, I didn’t miss any of them and I occasionally bought more than one copy to give it as a gift to some friends who have ears to appreciate The Necks’ output… First of all, is there any chance we’ll see the very first remastered releases sooner or later?
Chris Abrahams: I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “remastered releases”. Our first album, Sex, is still available, as are almost all of the other 18. We haven’t remastered any old recordings yet, but there have been conversations over the years about possible remixes of albums. Anything’s possible.
Chain D.L.K.: Any album by The Necks or by yourself that you keep on re-listening to today?
Chris Abrahams: I have to say that the only Necks’ album I tend to listen to is the one we’re making at the time. At the point of releasing something to the public, I sort of feel I’ve listened to it enough. There are lots of Necks’ live recordings that we listen to, so it’s not as if there’s a lack of material available to hear. On the whole, with the things I make, I tend to have an aversion to listening to them after they’re released. This may or may not be good thing.
Chain D.L.K.: People might ask how you feed your inspiration… Would you say that your musical inner fire is an assay of self-combustion, or something that regenerates by itself?
Chris Abrahams: My early life as a musician operated largely within the model of getting up on stage and trying to impress people with technical facility – which is probably tied in with some innate need to demonstrate a reasonable work ethic. It’s also the case that the yardstick I deemed relevant was one that measured similarity to established “greatness”. This is a natural stage for immature musicians to go through. For me, the experience of playing in The Necks represented the first time I really listened to what I was playing – as if I were part of the “audience”. On a profound level, a big inspiration for making Necks’ music is the very music itself that’s being made. We respond to our acoustic environments whilst playing in ways that are structurally important to the ongoing composition of the pieces; we incorporate the various qualities of the room, the instruments, the PA, as well as the context of the performance, into our methodology for making music. I should also mention this occurs at an innate level, without recourse to verbal or visual cues. We never plan or discuss what we’re going to play; we walk out on stage and play. This has always been the case. We talk about the music after it’s made.
Chain D.L.K.: My compliments on your recent “Climb”! First of all, why did you choose such a title?
Chris Abrahams: Thanks. I don’t try to express discursive material through my instrumental music. The title for the album, Climb, as is often the case for Necks’ records, came to mind and it just felt relevant to the music of the recording – why it felt relevant is a mystery, probably residing somewhere in the mix of genetics and early childhood experience. Maybe I was drawn to the silent “b” and the smooth muscularity of the word. I think it’s a very open title, and it doesn’t push the listener towards any one interpretation.
Chain D.L.K.: It’s amazing the way you harmonically clustered tones in some tracks… Some reviewers also compared your technique to the one by Keith Jarret…do you think this comparison is correct, or not?
Chris Abrahams: I think this record is more “song-like” compared to my last solo piano album Streaming – which comprised four twenty-five minute tracks. The recordings on Climb were made over a number of years. Making an album at this point in time, one has the luxury of amassing a great deal of material and then being able to choose the releasable stuff from this over a much longer time span. My earlier piano records were each made in the one studio, and were pretty much recorded in a day, after long rehearsal periods. I wanted to make something that was melodic in a diatonic sense, and the album has a fairly unified feeling to it – although the track Overlap stands out as being different from the rest in its overt use of repetition and “effect” use of the sustain pedal.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you going to perform it on the live stage? If so, are you going to do that somewhere in the Northern hemisphere as well?
Chris Abrahams: I’ve been playing The Sleepings, and the Drifts and Overlap live. I’m performing a solo piano concert at Cave 12 in Geneva on April 23.
Chain D.L.K.: Any work in progress or anticipation about forthcoming projects/music?
Chris Abrahams: I’m always collecting new recordings. I’m hoping to release another solo album sometime later this year. This will probably be in the same vein as the four albums I’ve made for Room 40. Hopefully, I’ll release another solo piano album in 2018.
check Chris Abrahams biography here: www.thenecks.com/bio