I had the opportunity to interview Cliff Hines about his album Wanderlust (see Part 1). In this portion, Cliff shares his perspective as a teacher, advice for those new to the music industry, more on New Orleans and the influences that have shaped his life and music. This is someone to keep an eye on, because for all he’s accomplished, I sense he’s just getting started.
Your first album was out before you had turned 21. What is your advice to young musicians just starting out?
Practice, practice, practice. When you start touring, you won’t have the free time you had when you were younger. Focus on developing your sound and the rest will come. Also, try to write something new every day.
Thanks for your insight. It seems you’ve made the most of your collaborations, and you’ve also taught as a substitute teacher, and for three years as a guitar instructor at NOCCA [New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts]. You were quoted in “School’s Out for These UNO-Educated Jazz Musicians” by Aaron Lafont as saying “As a teacher now, I’d like to think that I’m a link in the chain. I try to reflect the education I was given and the values my teachers instilled in me, the ways they taught and the ways they helped me find myself. That’s what jazz is. That’s what New Orleans is.” Tell us more about your specific methods of teaching.
I try to keep it interesting for the student. My favorite teachers didn’t try to shove anything down my throat, they presented me with information I wanted to learn. A student isn’t going to learn anything unless they’re interested so that’s the true challenge of teaching. I also learned a lot from developing the ability to sing as I improvise, and I try to teach all of my students that technique.
What a cool technique! In “Barryfest’s Live Picks: 10.20.2011 – 10.26.2011” by Taylor Gray, Mr. Gray wrote: “At this point it should be pretty obvious that the primary driving force behind the young classically-schooled guitar mega-talent known as Cliff Hines is a ceaseless desire to test not only the limits of his own musical faculties, but those of every musician around him.” Is this a mindset you apply to your students?
I’m known for the complexity of my music so I’m always testing the musicians around me. With students I try not to present them with anything that they’re not ready to learn. I want to challenge them, but I don’t want them to get ahead of themselves by missing out on something more important and fundamental. I did, however, teach my song “Clouds” to the NOCCA guitar ensemble, which is certainly one of our most difficult songs.
Congratulations! Is teaching in your future? Will you perhaps offer individual mentorships, substitute for a summer, or put together workshops online or via YouTube or anything like that?
Teaching is definitely in my future. For the time being I’m going to focus on touring and spreading the word, but when my touring calms down I’ll return to teaching. I’ve thought about doing Skype lessons, but it’s really hard to play music together with your student via the Internet. There can be a lot of time delay. Perhaps I can pre-record some lessons for YouTube when I have some time.
That sounds awesome. You graduated from NOCCA and UNO [University of New Orleans] with a degree in Jazz studies. How has your education influenced your musical career?
I feel that NOCCA and UNO gave me the tools that I needed as an improviser, but gave me the freedom to find my own path as a musician. They also introduced me to the musicians that I still play with today. The complexity of my music wouldn’t be possible without the theory that I learned at both, but the challenge is to try and make it singable and catchy. That can’t be taught in a classroom.
It’s a fine balance between life-practice and textbook theory. On the point of New Orleans—it’s been roughly eight years since Katrina, and almost three years since the devastating BP oil spill—when I visited New Orleans last year, there was still much that needed rebuilding. Where do you feel New Orleans is today?
New Orleans is in the midst of a Renaissance. Its culture’s influence in America is bigger than ever. Not only is it now known as Hollywood South (more movies are shot there than either Los Angeles or New York City), so many great musicians have been migrating there, including recent winner of the Thelonious Monk drum competition Jamison Ross. So the music is also at an all-time level of quality.
I’m excited to hear that. Thank you for sharing that perspective. What other influences have shaped your life and music?
I hate to admit it: video games. I’m a huge Final Fantasy nerd. Nobuo Uematsu was a very influential composer for me; his songs are my favorite video game soundtracks. There’s also a song on Like Mystics of Old called “Dance of the Cleyrans” that is inspired by Final Fantasy 9.
(Hail, fellow nerd! I’ve found there a lot more nerds in the world that let on, or that we would think, so you’re in good company.) You brought up your band “Zosimus” earlier. How and when did you start that “rock side-project”?
“Zosimus” actually came first. There were many different line-ups, but ultimately the band dates back to seventh grade. It was a trio with my buddies Max Moran and Nick Hughes that was tentatively titled “Fourstripe”. Most of the songs in our repertoire are songs that I wrote in high school. The current line-up features Max Moran and Joe Dyson (the rhythm section for Donald Harrison and their group “The Bridge Trio”) and saxophonist/keyboardist Rex Gregory. After I’m done touring in support of Wanderlust I plan to do a tour/album with “Zosimus” before getting to work on the third Quintet record.
Wow, I’m sure your fans will be thrilled with all your upcoming music. So when and how did your current quintet come together as a band?
We all knew each other from studying at NOCCA during high school. The band started out as a trio between Paul Thibodeaux, Martin Masakowski, and I. Soon Sasha and Khris started playing shows with us and we began forming a sound as a band. Shortly before the release of our first record, Martin ended up moving to Rotterdam as an exchange student and Khris’s own band “Dark Matter” was taking off. That’s when bassist Jasen Weaver and pianist Andrew McGowan, whom we also studied with at NOCCA, joined the band and the new quintet formed.
The music industry is fluid in that way. You’re also the bassist/guitarist/keyboard player for “The Mike Dillon Band” and your debut album Urn just came out last September. How do you juggle these various creative (and logistic) pursuits?
I’m still learning. Mike has been keeping us super busy! It’s exciting how much momentum “The Mike Dillon Band” has. We’re also already working on our second record. I haven’t even been in the band for a whole year yet! Basically I’m constantly on the road these days. I actually just completed the Wanderlust release tour and recently flew back to California from Texas to join back up with Mike for a West Coast run with “The Marco Benevento Trio”.
Congratulations! Your music has led to lots of travel, from France to Texas. How has this experience with other cultures influenced your music and attitude towards others?
Even though I’ve traveled quite a bit, there are still so many places that I want to go to. Obviously, this literal wanderlust was one of the main inspirations for the new record. I feel that growing up in New Orleans fosters tolerance and curiosity of other cultures. Being the port city that it is, so many different parts of the world have traveled through and left their mark on the city. Traveling to Vienna was wonderful because I got to see where my family was from.
Was there anything you learned about your heritage, the land or the culture that brought aspects of your life into a new light?
Oddly enough, Europe’s love of electronic music inspired me to write one of the heavier songs in our repertoire (the aptly titled song “Austria” from the upcoming third Quintet record). I was walking down the street in Innsbruck and I heard a dance beat that got stuck in my head and then became the jumping off point for my new song. I was also studying the music of Vienna’s classical period and ended up writing a few songs in that style. One of the songs was a piano waltz that I wrote for my grandmother who passed away during my trip. Perhaps one day I’ll work up the nerve to write an entire album of “classical” songs. I also got to experience Oom-Pah-Pah music first hand. I’m pretty sure I won’t be writing anything in that style though.[For more information on Cliff, visit his site.] Powered by Sidelines