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Feature Interview: Jon Pomplin

Discussion in 'Features' started by TalkBass, Mar 23, 2004.


  1. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    This feature was published on TalkBass.com in May of 2001

    Bassist Jon Pomplin took a risk when he broke away from his band to pursue his own musical vision. But that risk has paid off, so much so that his former band's label not only picked up his new work, but also hired him as their Director of Marketing Research.
     
  2. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <p align="center"><font size="+5">Jon Pomplin </font></p> <p align="center"><font size="+3">“Thinking Outside the Box” </font></p> <p align="center">By: <a href="mailto:emerson@socket.net">Imre Komaromi</a> </p> <p align="left"><font size="1">*Editor's Note: Jon Pomplin's newest release, Project 814, is now available through Cellar Records, <a href="http://www.cellarrecords.com/project814">www.cellarrecords.com</a></font></p> <p></p> <p align="center"><img src="/images/pomplin/tb_2.jpg" width="200" height="271" align="left"><i>“One of the most important things, I think, for any bassist, especially one who is recording, either their own stuff or in a leadership role with a band, is to 'think outside the box'."</i> <br> - Jon Pomplin</p><p>In this day and age where pre-fab boy-bands and packaged, homogenized music is shrink-wrapped and sterilized to the point that it couldn’t possibly affect anyone except the pre-pubescent boys and girls in middle America with tons of disposable cash, it seems an oddity when an artist comes out with a CD that is not on a major label. And when the artist is happy with that and seems to be making his best music ever and feels fulfilled with his role, people are even more incredulous. “How can this Happen? He’s not on a MAJOR LABEL…how is he going to get his music out and heard?”</p> <p>This is just the attitude that Jon Pomplin has fought against from the beginning. Success was knocking at his doorsteps in the nineties with the Alt-Rock force, Sea of Monsters, but just as things seemed poised for breaking, Jon split with the band to follow his own path and pursue his musical visions alone. Without the constraints of egos or agendas, Jon was free to express himself as he saw fit. The label that Sea of Monsters was on, Cellar Records, believed in Jon’s vision and talent so much that they brought him on board as a session bass player and signed him on to record his solo debut. In addition, after seeing his creative and “outside the box” ideas about marketing, Cellar Records hired him as their Director of Market Research and Development. </p> <p>With everything in line, Jon is ready to bring his brand of music to the people. Exploring ideas about teen suicide, alcoholism, and the eternal search for love, Jon runs the gambit and puts it all out on the table for the listener. </p> <p>TalkBass got a chance to chat with Jon on a break from his busy schedule, and allow him to share his thoughts on music today, the record industry, and the general state of his world.</p> <p></p> <p><b>TB: So how's the CD going? Everything set for release?</b></p> <p><img src="/images/pomplin/tb_cover.jpg" width="132" height="136" align="left">JP: Yeah, we are almost there wheeee! We have to do the final mix on a couple of the tracks, an instrumental with a kind of Latin feel, and a rocker. We'll master everything and should be ready for our anticipated May 9th release date. Now that the fun part is done the actual marketing part begins. It actually has been kind of an anti-climax, I mean I have been working on the project for over a year now, and now that it is nearly complete, I don't like the ending.</p> <p><b>TB: So what can people expect from your first solo release?</b></p> <p>JP: I think people will find may be bit schizophrenic. There are some mellow instrumentals and some real rockers, some of the songs have a bit of a social message. It has some very intricate bass lines but also I try to balance it and play for the song. It was time in my career to expand my horizons and do something that I had total control of, admittedly, though, it has a bit of a 70's feel to it. One of the my reasons for doing this was to showcase songs that are written on bass (8 of the 10) and build from there instead of the traditional model of piano or guitar built songs.</p> <p><b>TB: Did you write the material yourself, or did you choose artists to collaborate with?</b></p> <p>JP: I wrote all of the music and lyrics, with the exception of one that the producer/vocalist wrote lyrics for (The Speed of My Life). In fact, I was still writing the lyrics for that one and wasn't planning on recording it for a couple of weeks when the producer suggested that since we were "on a roll" we try to finish that one, too. When going into the studio I had a very good idea of what I wanted as far as keys, drums, and guitars, but I let the guys take it from there, I wanted it to be a true creative process.</p> <p><b>TB: How did you choose the artists you wanted to play with on the CD? Were they people you already knew, or did you just scout about looking for the best musicians that would fit in with you?</b></p> <p>JP: I kind of worked out both ways. I tried out a few musicians at first, but for one reason or another they couldn't commit. I was doing session work for the label and I found that the best musicians were the session guys I was already working with at the studio. We all get along great and they have a real "can do" attitude, which is important, kind of like when you are looking for something very hard and you finally realize the answer was staring you right in the face all along. After trying to work with several different singers, which didn't pan out for one reason or another, the producer, who has had several top 40 hits on the Billboard and Cashbox charts, volunteered to do it. It really worked out great because we think a lot alike and have become great friends. Also as a result I have taken over a lot of the marketing for the label because of this friendship.</p> <p><b>TB: How did working with the label come about? You seem to be taking on quite a lot of responsibility with them?</b></p> <p>JP: Initially in 1998 I was working with a band called Sea of Monsters, right after we played the Taste of Chicago for Fox Television, the label contacted us with a contract to make our next release. Our first one was done on a shoestring budget and was produced by the late Phill Bonnet (Chicago's best producer - did Smashing Pumpkins and Smoking Popes) and I was in the market to make the jump to the next level. We worked on it for a while but due to differences of opinion it never got completed. It seemed that the band members and I had different visions of what we wanted for our careers, but Todd Joos, who is producer/president of the label, and I hit it off right away. Part of it, I think, was the fact that I was willing to work my ass off to get the job done and keep an open mind on all that I do. Plus, he and I are the same age and have similar backgrounds so we relate on several levels. I decided to do the solo project to expand upon those ideas and desires that weren't in agreement with the band. After doing some work on the CD, and then being asked to do some session work for him, it grew from there.</p> <p><b><img src="/images/pomplin/tb_1.jpg" width="150" height="167" align="left">TB: What did happen with Sea of Monsters, you guys seemed on the verge of breaking.</b></p> <p>JP: Well that’s a tough one…I think in the long run, we had different priorities as far as the music and where our careers went - not to say anything bad because they are all great musicians and I still consider them friends, but it just seemed that they weren't looking down the same path as I was, I was doing the majority of the work (and paying the majority of the money) and after a while there wasn't a "team" mentality. The political struggles started, as they do in a lot of bands, we had done some radio shows and some T.V. work but the desire to gig and keep pushing the envelope wasn't there. Plus, a lot of the songs I was bringing in were getting rejected without a listen, this can be very discouraging, I didn't want to be a "weekend warrior" and just play the club circuit forever, I did that long enough. I have never want to be a "rock star", but I have strove to be as successful as possible in my music without giving up the pure joy of creating. To be successful, you have to work very hard and make certain sacrifices. I have always been willing to do that (within reason, my daughters still come first). The bottom line is that I consider my playing a job, the greatest job I have ever had or want, and treat it accordingly. If I wanted to just do this as a hobby, I wouldn’t be busting my hump as hard as I do. </p>
     
  3. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <p><b>TB: So where did your desire to become a musician come from? Have you had a lot of formal training?</b></p> <p>JP: When I was young, my grandmother bought me the Beatles’, "A Hard Days Night", because I was sick, it was an amazing thing and I became hooked on music. Growing up in Georgia I used to have a lip sync band (12 years old) and bought some goofy clone electric that I blew my stereo up with. All the while I found myself listening to the low end groove on all of the albums I had. Dave Hope from Kansas and Paul McCartney were heroes for me then. All of a sudden I "discovered" Rush when I saw them on Don Kirshner’s Rock concert late at night, A Farewell to Kings tour, and knew right then I wanted to be a musician and play bass guitar. It wasn't until a few years later, when I moved to Chicago, that I got my first bass. I bought it from my teacher Larry Rossi, and he inspired me to push the limits and get outside the box. I will admit I didn't do my lessons as well, or as often as I should have, my reading skill still shows that mistake, but I kept on playing. Larry had a real way with the students, he started a student association and used to put on shows with the students - that was my first live gig and I was in heaven. I worked with Larry for about 3 1/2 years, but since I wouldn't do the homework, it became a waste of time and money. I bought every rock album with a great bassist on it (Rush, Yes, Led Zeppelin, The Who) but when Larry turned me on to Jaco and Stanley Clark my mind was finally opened up to new possibilities, Larry just recently retired and closed his school but he taught a lot of kids the joy of music and I will always respect and admire him for that. I played at least 2 hours a night (still do), playing anything I could. Admittedly, at first I did want to be a rock star and get the girls and stuff - and lived my life like that for a long time until it nearly destroyed me.</p> <p>It wasn't until I had been playing for about 15 years, and sobered up, that I truly found my calling as a musician. The last 8 years have been the best musically (and everything else for that matter) because the music is the "high".</p> <p><b><img src="/images/pomplin/tb_3.jpg" width="150" height="218" align="left">TB: How has being part of a label affected your musical goals? Some people view labels as the "enemy". How do make the two work together?</b></p> <p>JP: As a label artist and session musician I am able to work within the industry in several roles and thus learn the details involved. With Cellar Records, the whole focus has been on the artist achieving their goals, and providing them with the tools to do that. Because we are a medium sized label, with a lot of indie artists and some name acts; The Animals, and John Nitzinger from Alice Cooper, among others, that we distribute for in the U.S., we have access to a variety of different resources. We treat it as a team effort. Of course, the music has to be there but we also work with the artists to retain control over their own careers. As such, we don't have the "profit first" mentality that some of the majors seem to portray. Obviously, we aren't in it for free, but we also aren't in it to be millionaires either. This seems to be a rare thing but growing quickly. There are more and more "indie" artists out there that have talent and desire and never get the chance to showcase this, this is where the small and medium size labels are able to help. Hard work is rewarded, though there is always the question of luck, too, the major labels are mainly corporations, they appear to not have the interest of the artist in mind but only the monetary bottom line, thus they become the enemy - it’s almost reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984, when the labels are "big brother". With all that is going on in the industry, with digital downloading and such, and the press the major labels get when trying to "squash" the listener, it’s become an exciting time for the artists - the Internet has opened up totally new possibilities. This is a tough business, but a business, none-the-less, and people can get cut-throat, which is a shame. That is why forums like Talkbass and other resources on the net are so great it gives the power back to the musicians.</p> <p><b><br> TB: With technology changing the whole process and allowing mediocre music to dilute the field, how can artists get themselves heard?<img src="/images/pomplin/tb_4.jpg" width="229" height="170" align="right"></b></p> <p>JP: I really don't have a definitive answer for that. It has become sort of an overload thing. You are right, though, there is a lot of crap out there to be sifted through, it almost seems too daunting. Obviously the consumers are becoming more educated in how to sift through that. With Real Audio, MP3 and, dare I say, Napster, the listeners are able to get a sampling before they spend the hard earned dollar on music. Traditional marketing is not going to achieve That, but that still takes time and in our society, time has become a luxury. One of the best ways for new artists to get heard and thus generate fans and customers still is to keep playing live and keep perfecting their art (practice, practice, practice). Like Larry used to say, "think outside the box". Unique marketing is a start. There are some good web sites out there to help sift through the stuff. I was on Planet Jam and found a band called Balance of Power, and I ended up getting all of their CD's. Unfortunately a lot of these sites are disappearing, once again, there is someone deciding whose work is good enough, which lots of people don't like. However, there has to be some places for that or we drown in a sea of ****.</p> <p>A couple of artists that I have found that I really enjoy, like Michelle Malone or Simon Lees, I have found by pure luck just surfing the net. There are also some cool "indie" sites that do videos and music as well as the college radio and local cable access that can showcase the artists too. Initially, the big labels were able to "weed out the junk", but when they apparently lost that focus and started worrying about the money, even a lot their stuff became crap. The bottom line I think is that the customers are more responsible for finding the music that appeals to them and that is a fundamental shift in the previous philosophy of music marketing.</p> <p align="center"><br> The “tools of Jon’s Trade” used on the album:</p> <p align="center">Gear: '98 American Fender Jazz Deluxe strung with 8250 medium lights. '80</p> <p align="center">Rickenbacker 4001 strung with Rotosound RS66 roundwounds.</p> <p align="center">Carvin R600 head.</p> <p align="center">Carvin RL410T cab.</p> <p align="center">Crate BX100 combo.</p> <p align="center">Digitech BP8.</p> <p align="center">Monster Cables.</p> <p align="center">Medium Carvin picks (picked parts).</p> <hr> <p align="center"><img src="/images/pomplin/tb_cover.jpg" width="132" height="136"><br> For more information and ordering info on Jon Pomplin's newest release (available May 9th, 2001), visit <a href="http://www.cellarrecords.com/project814">http://www.cellarrecords.com/project814</a></p>