Keyboardist Jayson Tipp is absolutely elated to be playing with his bandmates from Under The Lake, when last they played was for their sophomore album Up For Air in 1996. Though the band members have changed since Under The Lake was originally formed in the early ‘90s with the release of their debut album Dive In from 1994, the current line-up have a chemistry that works like magic: Tipp on keyboards, Nathan Brown on bass, Quintin Gerard W. on saxophone and flute, David Harris on guitars, and Richard "Chef RNB" Sellers on drums. Their latest album, People Together, is their third disc and celebrates the band members coming back together. This time Tipp vows, he wants to keep everyone together.
Jazzreview: What brought Under The lake back together after a ten-year separation?
Jayson Tipp: We got back together in 2005 for my 40th birthday. I hadn’t seen the guys in a number of years but they all agreed to come to Seattle for the party. When I learned that they were all coming I decided that we had to do a gig. We made arrangements to use a local venue, publicized it and performed after an 8-year break. They all showed up early in the day which gave us about 2-hours to rehearse before the performance. It was a blast. Afterward, we were all discussing how much fun it was to play together again. I shared that I had written a number of new songs and really wanted to record again. The entire group was really excited about working together again. We went into the studio two months later. We didn’t go backward because we had new things to say. We also had a different point of view about how we wanted to sound. The sound of our other CD’s was what we wanted to say then. I think this CD, the songs, the playing, the production all show a different level of maturity and comfort with how we sound.
Jazzreview: What was it like being in the studio again with the members of Under The Lake? Did you notice differences in your fellow musicians whether in the way they play or look or in the way they are?
Jayson Tipp: Being in the studio again was great. We did the majority of the recording in the studio where we’d recorded the other 2 CDs StudioWest in Rancho Bernardo, CA. The chemistry was still there, and we get along so well and really have fun with it that it was a joy. I think we’re all more mature as individuals and performers. Apart from looking older, not much had changed. We have always worked well together as a group. It was there from the first downbeat. Our challenge has always been capturing the energy and improvisation of our live performances. I think we did that better on this recording.
Jazzreview: Was the recording of the album People Together solely a group collaboration or did you work with record producers and other musicians outside of the band?
Jayson Tipp: People Together was a group effort. We hired a recording engineer who actually had worked on our prior albums, and a mixing engineer who added a lot of value in the mixdown process as far as production goes. Other than that it was really what we heard and were looking for in the songs. Generally, the author of the song will have a pretty strong point of view of what their intent with the track was. We all try to work against that and apply the UTL sound and our individual approach to making it work. I think in some cases a song might not turn out exactly the way the writer intended but it’s usually a good compromise that works for the group. In some cases we choose not to record a song because it’s not a good fit. Generally we all offer an opinion on whether we think a song fits the group’s approach well or not.
Jazzreview: Was there pressure during the recording sessions to make music that would be commercially acceptable by smooth jazz radio?
Jayson Tipp: There was more of an effort with this album than our prior albums to be mindful of reaching a radio audience. Mostly we’re trying to capture a melody and a groove that we feel some excitement about. We don’t focus, at least in the initial recording sessions, or whether or not the arrangement or particular choices will be commercially acceptable. Sometimes we make decisions we have a pretty good hunch won’t be commercially appreciated. We just play. We have good chemistry as a group, everyone has something to say musically and we love improvisation. Most of what you hear on our recordings are the original studio tracks. We do some overdubs but much of it is as we captured it in the studio from the start. So much of what we do is about the chemistry. A really good example of this is the track ‘Diego’s Dance.’ I don’t think we had, or yet have, any idea as to whether that’s a ‘commercially acceptable’ track. It’s a song I wrote and we started performing before we split up in 1997. It’s always been an extended jam. On the CD, it’s nearly 8-minutes long but still shorter than our live version. If you listen to the CD you’ll notice a sort of end section just before the 5-minutes mark. The entire breaks then the guitar and bass come in together. The break was supposed to be the end of the song. But then Dave and Nate just kept playing and the rest of us in a split second picked up on that and just kept jamming. I believe that last 2 plus minutes is our best recorded playing ever. It is the only recording we have that faithfully captures our chemistry.
Jazzreview: Did you record multiple tracks for each instrument part?
Jayson Tipp: The playing you hear is genuine. Those are the licks that Dave and Quintin played when we tracked the recording as a band no overdubs. If you listen to Quintin’s playing closely you can hear the key clicks of his horn. The playing was just so ‘in the moment’ that we didn’t want to lose the chemistry to get a cleaner track. Unfortunately I had to re-track the keyboard because of some noise on the original track but I worked to bring the same vibe to that overdub. Frankly, I think we all feel that was the best part of recording that track. I love hearing that section of the song and probably always will. I can’t say that about everything we’ve ever played.
Jazzreview: What was the inspiration for the song "Diego Dance" from People Together? What was the songwriting process like for this track? Who initiated the melody and how did everyone else’s parts fall into place?
Jayson Tipp: It’s been a while. This song was written probably in 1996 when we were all living in Southern California. I lived in San Diego, that’s where the ‘Diego’ comes from. The inspiration was the modal works of folks like Miles Davis or Wayne Shorter. I thought, ‘I need to write something without a lot of changes. Something that has a simple groove and just some straightforward chords.’ I sat down and began playing around and before long had fallen into the keyboard part with the bass part originally the left hand of the keyboard. The melody was inspired by Blues Etude by Oscar Peterson. Now, if you listen to Blues Etude played by Oscar Peterson, you’ll probably never hear that connection. I had been using Blues Etude as an exercise to improve my soloing dexterity so that started to creep in as I worked on melody ideas. The bridge section comes from a completely different influence John Scofield. I’ve been listening to Sco for 25 years but think that this was influenced by a track from his first album East Meets West which was released in 1977. We recorded this track in 1997 as part of a demo and in that version, Dave’s playing has a sound that is reminiscent of Scofield. In some ways, it was also very much influenced by Steely Dan. I take a lot of my approach to chord voicings from Donald Fagen.
Jazzreview: Did the band use different music technology or maybe different instrument models to create and record the tracks for People Together from the band’s other albums?
Jayson Tipp: Most of the technology hasn’t changed. Richard never recorded with us in the past though he performed with the band live many times--so Richard’s drum sound, he’s meticulous about it, and his playing are a definite change since the prior albums. Richard is a fantastic, creative, musical drummer. Nathan might have made a different choice here or there on a bass than he would have 10 years ago. David has changed some technology, but not his sound or playing - nothing to change there. The most change has probably been in my rig. I’ve changed keyboard several times over the years, but really tried to keep classic electric piano, organ, and piano voices prominent. I used the Nord Electro 2 for this recording. I think I found a better voice for myself in those ‘retro’ sounds and it changed my playing.
Jazzreview: Did you take influences from other musicians, bands or people who have affected you in some way when you were recording the songs for People Together?
Jayson Tipp: I think it’s true to some extent for the other guys, but I was absolutely influenced by others in writing, performing and producing the tracks I wrote. A huge influence on a number of songs was the Brazilian artist Deodato. There is a Deodato flavor to "House On The Hill" and "Play On A Bet." I’ve been writing new material and I hear him still creeping in. Steely Dan is an influence in almost everything I write. JP Maunick and his work with Incognito, and the Brand New Heavies, are also favorites of mine so you’ll hear bits of that influence in "In The Dark" and &&&People Together." I think other times, it’s just us talking "Sounds Like It Now" is probably that. "Dreams" was written by Nathan and the influence there are really his vision of a dream. We had some interesting conversations about imagery when I was recording keyboard parts. Nathan knew what the keyboard parts should evoke and the mood that should be set, but he didn’t have specific sounds or parts in mind.
Jazzreview: What were some of the challenges that the band had to face when recording People Together?
Jayson Tipp: The biggest challenge was working remotely. After we did the initial studio tracks, I brought the material back to my studio and began cleaning things up. We had several takes of some songs so I had to listen to them and choose one to move forward with. We started uploading and downloading rough mixes and doing some overdubs in our home studios. That process used up a lot of time since none of us are sitting at home waiting around for something to do. In the middle of that process I moved from Seattle to the Chicago area which halted the project for about three or four months. When I thought we had everything where we wanted, we involved a mixing engineer who was located in San Diego. Jeff McCullough did some more editing and clean-up and began mixing. I prefer to be present at each mixing session, but travel was prohibitive. We also tried some tools to stream sessions from his studio to mine, but that failed us. So, Jeff and I would have some conversation about every track. I had some pretty decent rough mixes that I felt comfortable captured the main idea and I would add some explicit direction, as best I could, so that Jeff could create a rough draft for me to listen to. This turned out to be about a four or five month process. In the end, I’m very happy with the result. Jeff added a lot of value and I’m not sure we’d have gotten the same result by doing quicker work. Quintin and I kept saying to each other, ‘We spent all this time writing the songs, let’s spend the time to get them recorded the way we want.’
Jazzreview: What impression would you like the band’s music to make on people? What is it about the music that brings people together?
Jayson Tipp: Well, the music brought us together. We’re the ‘people’ we refer to in that title. I think we could have called the CD Chemistry and intended to communicate the same thing. The CD is really us celebrating the joy of working together, the chemistry of playing together, friendship and camaraderie we share. Mostly we want to sound like a band. We want to the listener to say, ‘Wow, this really sounds like a band. This sounds like a group of guys who are really having a good time.’
Jazzreview: Is the band scheduled to go on tour for People Together? Where would you like to play?
Jayson Tipp: We haven’t yet put together tour dates but hope that we’ll be able to make that happen the early part of 2008. We were always a live, performing group in the 90’s. We’d been working so hard on getting the album out that we haven’t had time to pull the tour together yet. Nathan and Richard are busy doing tour dates with a couple of other groups so we’ll need to work through some scheduling. We’re happy to chat with any venues that are interested in working with us. Anyone interested should visit us on Myspace or at our website: www.underthelake.com.
Jazzreview: What are some of the positive and negative aspects about going on tour for you? Is going on tour a part of your profession that you totally enjoy or absolutely dread or do you fall in between the two?
Jayson Tipp: Of all the guys in the group, I’ve toured the least. We’ve always had an interesting and enjoyable time. Nathan and Quintin have probably toured the most. And I think they would agree that touring with Under The Lake has been more enjoyable than most, if not all, the other touring they’ve done. I think that goes back to our chemistry. We just enjoy being together and try not to take it too seriously. The biggest challenge will be reconciling some of the other commitments a few of us have made over the past few years with being on the road. I think we fall more into the ‘enjoy’ category than dread. The best part, by far, is the playing. But we’ve also had some really fun experiences and share some great memories. I’ve met some great musicians that I admire and been able to play in front of some really enthusiastic audiences. We love playing for an enthusiastic audience.
Jazzreview: Do you prefer the atmosphere of playing in an intimate jazz club or do you like playing the big jazz festivals? Do you have one that works best for you?
Jayson Tipp: We’ve had great experiences in both. We had guys from Spyro Gyra, who were gigging nearby us, sit in one evening when we were playing a small club. That was great. We’ve also had folks snapping their fingers so loudly at festival appearances that you could hear them onstage. I think our energy translates in both environments.
Jazzreview: When you were growing up and learning to play your instrument, did you ever imagine yourself playing at the Newport Beach Jazz Festival or playing on the same stage as other prominent jazz musicians? When you were learning to play music, what were some images you had of yourself as a professional musician?
Jayson Tipp: I never imagined myself as a professional, but I may be the only guy in the group to say that. Nathan, Richard and Quintin all studied music and made an early commitment to playing for a living. That’s tough. David comes from a musical family. His sister Mary has sung back-up for a number of artists. I think he was just born to play. He’s got an amazing ear. I actually quit playing when I was in high school and through college. I picked it back up just before I graduated college and fell back into it as a hobby. Some friends asked me to play keyboards in their band. Prior to that, I was primarily a brass player trumpet, trombone and French horn. After that, I just found it to be an important part of my life I didn’t want to give up, no matter what else was going on.
Jazzreview: Did you take music lessons in school or are you self-taught as a musician? How did making music and practicing your craft affect you?
Jayson Tipp: I took lessons throughout my childhood and was always in the school band. I started on guitar, organ and trumpet, all when I was 8 years old. I still play all three though the frequency of playing one or another has varied over time. Later, when I started playing after college, I took some jazz lab courses and a few workshops on improvisation. Mostly, I’ve learned to play what I heard in my head. I think that has limited my vocabulary a little, but I’m usually able to work out what I’m hearing.
Jazzreview: Was anyone in your family a musician or had a deep connection to music and that inspired you to play an instrument?
Jayson Tipp: I never really had that inspiration at home, though there are a number of musicians in my extended family. I’ve tried to encourage my son and daughter to play. While my daughter showed an interest in both piano and trumpet for a while, she didn’t really have a passion for either. My son tried guitar and bass, but has settled on alto saxophone, which he’s been playing for one and a half years. He really made me proud when he told his teacher he wanted to learn to play jazz. He’s not quite 13 and is working his way through the Charlie Parker Omnibook. We recently started jamming together. I can’t wait to help him write and record.
Jazzreview: How did the members of Under The Lake meet?
Jayson Tipp: This is a hard one to remember. The current group isn’t the original group. The original group has a bass player named Val Shaffer and a guitar player named Pete Harrison. I don’t know what they’re up to now. Pete recorded the first CD with us, but declined to keep working with the group on live performances. Val, who did a lot of gigging around San Diego, knew David from gigs they’d done together. That’s how we met David. Val called him. We jammed in his garage once or twice and he played the CD release party for our first CD.
Jazzreview: How did you find UTL’s bass players Nathan Brown?
Jayson Tipp: Nathan showed up later. After Val decided to move on, we went through a number of bassists. There were some great players in San Diego at the time, but the really strong ones for jazz were either working steadily in some group or couldn’t read charts. Since we were doing original material that had important bass lines, reading was important. I can’t recall whether Nathan responded to an ad or we just wound up with each other’s numbers some how. I remember Nathan and I chatted on the phone. He had just moved to San Diego from Detroit. He had been on the road with Alexander Zonjic for seven years, had also toured with Kirk Whalum and had tons of other great experience. He was looking for some gigs. I asked him, ‘Can you read?’ He said, ‘Sure.’ I was expecting him to show up and try to fake his way through the gig, but he nailed every tune. His skill forced me to become better at my transcriptions, but he also had a great style and sensibility for the tunes. He fit in with Dave immediately and is such a warm and charming guy that we just clicked. He joined us in late 1994 and recorded on the second CD, as did Dave.
Jazzreview: What about your drummer Richard Sellers?
Jayson Tipp: We also saw some transition on drums. We had a number of different players involved after Bill Ray, the original drummer, moved on. On the second CD, we had both Pete Woods and Michael Evans who is the younger brother of Carl Evans from Fattburger. Both were great guys, but had other things they wanted to pursue and couldn’t make time for the project. Nathan had begun working with Richard and brought him aboard. Rich is amazing. He is a one-of-a-kind drummer. He doesn’t just keep time, he makes music and he makes the tunes and the other players better.
Jazzreview: And finally how did you find the band’s saxophonist/flutist Quintin Gerard W?
Jayson Tipp: Lastly, Quintin joined us. We’d played with several saxophonists over the course of time. Hollis Gentry had recorded with us and performed with the band when his schedule allowed. We had both Hollis and Jeff Kashiwa, who was busy with The Rippington’s, on our second CD. Our guys were mixing with The Ripp’s team on gigs here and there in SoCal at the time. Still, we hadn’t found the sax player that made us sound like a band. In 1996, we were scheduled to perform at a Grammy event in LA. Hollis Gentry was planning to perform with us, but had a last minute problem. We were prepared to show without a sax player and were doing a sound check, running through alternate arrangements to avoid sax parts. Out of the crowd of people came Quintin. He asked if he could sit in. It wasn’t really a sit-in gig and we were stressing from not having a sax player, so I wasn’t really friendly. Then, he said he played tenor sax. I said, ‘Great! Can you read? This is all original material. We need someone to play the charts, not just sit in and take solos.’ Frankly, I was an asshole about it. Quintin took the bait ‘Give me the chart.’ So, I pulled the chart with the most challenging melody line ‘The Slider,’ a track from our second CD. It’s not only a busy, upbeat melody, but it’s played in unison with the guitarist. I wanted to make this guy’s failure to read obvious and loud so we could get rid of him. The joke was on me. He was tight. He nailed the chart. He read it down as written with the guitarist. It sounded like he wrote the song. When we finished the song, I asked Quintin if he was interested in doing other gigs with us. We’ve been great friends ever since.
Jazzreview: How do you feel about Under The Lake’s present line-up?
Jayson Tipp: I’m truly honored to know each of these guys and blessed to be able to work in a group with them. There is a special chemistry that we all add to. The sum is clearly much greater than the parts, but the individuals are pretty special in their own right.
Jazzreview: Who came up with the name of the band and how did he come up with it? Why do you think the name fits the band?
Jayson Tipp: I named the band. I wish there were a great story. Band names are always a challenge and you want something that is unique. I also wanted a name that captured the idea of something that is more than what you see on the surface. We don’t know what is under the lake when we look at the lake. We see the surface, the color of the water, maybe a tide or the wake of a boat. We don’t know if Nessie is under there somewhere. It’s a concept expressed in the line of a David Crosby song ‘Anything At All’ (reciting) ‘just beneath the surface of the mud, there’s more mud here.’ It’s such an unexpected line. Under The Lake something unexpected.
Jazzreview: How has being in California affected you as a musician and as a recording artist?
Jayson Tipp: I think we definitely had a West Coast smooth jazz sound, but Nathan is from Detroit, Quintin from New Orleans and I grew up all over. I think it’s been less of an enduring influence and I think it’s less apparent on the new CD.
Jazzreview: Has the Internet been useful for the band?
Jayson Tipp: We’ve done a lot of Internet promotion in support of this release. We’ve built up a nice following on Myspace and there are new networking tools being developed all the time. We’re using ReverbNation and Imeem, as well. We’ve sold a fair amount of downloads, which is completely new since the first releases. They’re selling on download now too.
Jazzreview: If you could turn back time, would you do anything differently?
Jayson Tipp: Personally, I would probably do a number of things differently. There were some changes in life and in having a family that effected the bands’ separation in 1998. I underestimated the difficulty in keeping it going long-distance. I underestimated the challenge of reconciling other career pursuits with keeping the band going. Mostly, I completely failed to grasp what a special group we were and how unique our chemistry was. I have only learned, really since we’ve gotten back together, that you can’t just throw five guys together and get this result. This is special, at least to us. I have many things to be thankful for knowing these guys and having them available to work on this new project is very high on the list. I couldn’t have been more honored when each of them dropped everything to make it to my 40th birthday party. Nathan turned down a tour with a top-charting saxophonist who’s having a string of success right now. That’s was a huge endorsement in my mind of what this group is about and what we mean to each other. Rather than looking back, we’re looking at this as one more step forward.