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Beauty and Mayhem at the City Limits: An Interview with Justin Snikkar

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A dear friend of mine welcomed me into his apartment. I’ve visited him many times before, but this time was different. On the morning of Wednesday, December 1st, Justin Snikkar woke up to chaos. (See the news story here.) The building next door set on fire. When firefighters arrived on the scene, they found a large marijuana grow-op, with a rottweiler guarding the whole operation. The incident was one of the biggest news stories in Toronto that day, and new Mayor Rob Ford was sworn into office.

Justin mentioned what was happening on his Facebook profile, and within minutes many of his friends were messaging him, wondering what the hell was going on. Some of those people discovered the news on the radio, and were curious about how close he really was. He was right next door, and as surprised as everyone else!  Justin Snikkar

Justin chose his apartment because it was one of the only places he found that would allow him to make noise in the middle of the night. As a musician, being able to practice at night is vital.

Justin’s apartment is a treasure trove of musical instruments and computer equipment. After I checked out the crime scene next door, he showed me his newest acquisition, a series of cymbals and gongs he bought during his trip to China last August.

“This is all I need to feel happy,” he told me, while whacking the gongs like a master percussionist.

“Let me try it,” I said. Bong! It was quite a rush.

Tell me about what happened yesterday.

It was interesting being woken up by firefighters using their radios and megaphones. I went outside to take a look. I was only wearing a t-shirt and shorts. There was a lot of commotion. There were also a lot of cops, and they shut the street down. I was supposed to evacuate, but I was sleeping pretty hard. I tuned into the news reports online. No one said anything until I went out to look. It was interesting seeing all the action around.

All kinds of new CDs come out every year. What stands out about your new album, City Limits?

Mostly, the songwriting, I think. Jazz is hard to stand out in, everything technically has been done I think. The only way to get originallity is through arranging and songwriting. I think they’re strong melodic sounds, the players are very good. There’s some moods created with the songs.

How long did the songwriting process take?

That varies. At least one of the songs, “The Machine” came out pretty quickly. Some of the songs were written twenty years ago. “Winter (First Storm)” came out instantly, with a few minor changes here and there. “City Limits” was my first theory project in college, now twenty years later it’s a song. Some songs take very quick, others you write over and over.

What were your influences?

Within jazz, Charles Mingus, Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk. Outside of jazz, Frank Zappa, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Sex Pistols, and Public Image Limited. Diferent types of world music, and sound in general. Even though the songs are more typical bass, I just love sound.

Do any particular tracks reflect ideas, experiences or emotions of yours?

“Winter” stands out the most. I wrote while staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning, looking at the snow on Humber College’s campus.

Describe your approach to jazz.

I consider myself more of a jazz dabbler, because I don’t play in the jazz circuit, and I don’t practice jazz all the time. I do like improvising. I’m just not dedicated enough to consider myself a full time jazz musician. There’s a lot of melodic ideas. I guess it’s a way of expressing yourself. Coming up with cool variations of notes and sequences.

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