By Cal Meacham
For 12 years Geoff Farina fronted Karate, one of the most unique and frankly one of the best bands of the early 2000’s. His jazz rock chops and soft toned voice, while underappreciated, still deserve recognition for constructing a whole new sound. You can say that Karate went out on top of their game after releasing their two best albums Some Boots and Pockets (a greedy me wanted more), but Geoff didn’t disappear. He continued releasing albums under his own name and has released 2 albums with his newer band Glorytellers. The guitar hooks and soft voice are still there, just moving in a whole new (and acoustic) direction. Earlier this year Geoff released his excellent new solo record The Wishes Of The Dead and we are elated to have him in our latest edition of 5 Questions.
Cal – Earlier this year you released The Wishes of the Dead which was written along the Kennebec river. What brought you to that location? How did the location impact these songs?
Geoff – My wife had a 1-year appointment at Colby College, and I ended up teaching there and at the University of Maine as well. That’s what brought us to Maine for a year. We lived in a tiny little New England town along the river, and it was kind of the closest I’ve ever had to an idyllic lifestyle! I’m not sure how it specifically impacted the music, but it certainly impacted the theme of the lyrics.
Cal – You are currently teaching music history at the University of DePaul. Can you talk a little about the classes that you are teaching? Having toured and written music for quite some time I am sure that you bring a unique perspective to a music history class. What would a prospective student be taught in your class?
Geoff – I am currently teaching a blues history course, although I’ve taught music theory, and other music history courses over the years. Having had a number of loud-mouthed professional musicians as professors when I was in music school in the late 80s, I try and keep my professional life out of the classroom. However, I do try to teach from a musician’s perspective. We do a lot of listening, and I try and help them develop a language to identify different aspects of what they are hearing, so they can fit it into the history of the music. For example, w/the different guitar styles from the 20s and 30s, we spend some time talking about the players right hand: how is Son House’s Delta style different from John Hurt’s Piedmont style? What are each of these musicians doing with their right hand, what does it sound like, and what is the role of the guitar in the song? These are things that musicians are passionate about, and I try and pass that on to my students.
Cal – Your guitar playing has always been a unique blend of multiple styles. What were some of the musicians/bands that influenced you to pick up a guitar? Could we ever hear a straight up jazz record from you?
Geoff – Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about Eddie Lang and Jelly Roll Morton. These are guys who played the music they came into contact with, before the genres of jazz or blues were defined as they were for much of the 20th century. They lived in very diverse musical environments, and their music reflects that. In a sense their environments were much more diverse than, say, Jazz musicians from the 60s who basically surrounded themselves w/other Jazz musicians. In a way I feel like I live in an environment closer to Jelly Roll Morton’s New Orleans, and things have come full circle. I know a lot of improvising/jazz musicians, lots of rock musicians, and some great country musicians, and I want to play with all of them.
Of course I’d love to make a jazz record, and I love practicing and playing jazz. I’ll never be a “jazz musician” tho, and the music has more of a pedagogical role in my life. I love the sound of Bill Evans harmony, for example, or Coltrane and McCoy Tyner’s quartal sounds of the Impulse records. I spent a lot of time trying to figure that stuff out on guitar, but I spent just as much time learning Norman Blake songs, or playing Buddy Guy guitar solos when I was in high school. I’m really trying to assimilate all that stuff into my own thing, and I think I have to a certain extent.
Cal – It has been 8 years since the release of Pockets. Are you still in contact with Jeff and Gavin? Any chance of a Karate reunion? Is there any unreleased material tucked away?
Geoff – We’re all still friends, and probably always will be, although we all live quite far from each other. Karate is probably the only band from that era that has not reunited, and I’m not really interested in that whole scene. Recently someone wanted to release our original demo tape, but after listening to it a couple times I’m not too excited about that idea. There’s probably some live stuff worth a listen, but I like 595 and I think it’d be hard to find any live stuff better than that.
Cal – You have collaborated with Chris Brokaw on several occasions and with numerous other musicians and artists. Are there any collaboration albums on the horizon? Do you have any dream collaborations? I would love the hear a Glenn Jones/ Geoff Farina album!
Geoff – Are you kidding, I’d kill to play w/Glenn Jones. He’s absolutely amazing. I listened to “Against Which…” for an entire summer. I really wish I could collaborate w/more people, but the truth is I don’t go out much and I’m a bit of a recluse, and I just don’t come into contact w/many opportunities. Sara Lov and I are working on some ideas together and I hope that something comes from that. I think she does something pretty special, and I’m hoping to be a part of her next record.
Cal – The Wishes Of The Dead was released this year, what else is on the horizon for Geoff Farina this year? Touring? Recordings?
Geoff – I’m working on a UK/Europe tour for the fall. I’ve been trying to get gigs here in the states but the record hasn’t got much press here, so it’s difficult.
Visit Geoff’s homepage – Link