OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS Artist Q&A with Meilana Gillard
Performing as part of the RBG Trio at the Wood Quay Summer Sessions is outstanding tenor saxophonist Meilana Gillard. Ahead of the performance, we spoke to Meilana about musicians who influenced her, music as communication and expression, and the conversational element of performing in a group.
Ohio-raised performer and composer Meilana emerged as a rising star on the New York scene while studying at the New School in the early 2000’s. She has worked with U.S. icons Charli Persip, Christian McBride and also Greg Osby, who released her debut album “Day One” on his ‘Inner Circle Music’ label in 2009. Completing the trio are Ireland’s most experienced rhythm section with Kevin Brady (drums) and Dave Redmond (bass). The trio recently played at the Eurojazz Festival in Mexico and have given well-received performances at a number of venues in Ireland.
Don't miss the RBG Trio's performance at Wood Quay Summer Sessions on Thursday 11th July, 1:30pm at the Wood Quay Amphitheatre (preceded by the Charlie Moon Quartet).
Q. What motivates you as an artist, to create music?
Music gives me a way of communicating and expressing my individual self without filters or hesitations. Many artists have knocked down those barriers and inspired me to do the same. Then when you put 4-5 musicians with varying perspectives and experiences together who all are unapologetically being themselves, theres a type of magic and celebration that happens. Music really connects everybody in a way like no other. Through writing music, I can tell a story that is a snapshot of that period of time. Later, I can reflect on how experiences may have changed my point of view about that time. Like a journal of my life. Beyond just the experience of performing, writing, and recording, I love learning and challenging myself. Music is so humbling! It takes a lot of self-motivation and love of the work. Collaboration gives me hope in the world.
Q. Can you tell us about a seminal experience, project, or encounter that had a significant impact on your career?
There really isn’t just one experience that propelled me forward. It was many different gigs and bands and a lot of years of working hard. I had to learn hard lessons in life and music and they all made me who I am and led me where I’ve been. You could say I’ve taken the long way or the back roads.
I grew up in a very small town in rural Ohio, but strangely we had a high school jazz band (mostly because there was only 22 in the entire band program). Director, Jim Hill, was a lover of big band music. He set us up with a 400+ chart big band book filled with Ellington and Basie. I was extremely lucky to have that foundation. The Columbus, Ohio jazz scene was huge for my growth. There were lots of jam sessions and opportunities to play and to be mentored by some incredible musicians. Then when living in NYC, I also had my mind blown by the amount incredible music. Overall, I feel very lucky to have had the opportunities to play and study that I’ve been given. The chance to learn from so many great artists who are widely-known or not. At one point, my depression got really bad and I didn’t play much for almost 2 years (2010-2012). Coming back from that even further solidified my love for making music. At the time it seemed so hopeless but it ended up being a blessing in disguise. I’d say every encounter is significant.
Q. How do you think a change in culture, like your moving from America to Northern Ireland, feeds into your music-making?
In America, you can kind of tell where a musician comes from by how they play certain grooves. Someone from Indianapolis will swing differently from someone from Boston. Theres sort of a regional dialect in the music. I think you can definitely hear that in my dialect versus the dialect of Northern Ireland. Whats cool is that we get to put those elements together and make something different. I’m sure the surroundings and lifestyle have influenced me, but I don’t know if they can be pinpointed.
Q. In a collaborative ensemble like the RBG Trio, how do you find the creative process?
The three of us each compose and play in a lot of different situations. We’re each bringing something, putting it together and letting the unknown lead us. Theres a lot of non-verbal communication in the music, its very interactive. Thats why I really love to play in this saxophone/bass/drums format. We’re having whole conversations without words. Its very much alive! Theres subtlety and theres humour, and surprises. We enjoy making each other another sound good and really live in the moment. It keeps you on your toes!
Q. Where do you see the music industry going in the next 20 years?
The INDUSTRY. The FUTURE. The MUSIC. Oh my! lol! Who knows? Its a dark time for many of us right now because streaming services are really killing us. Even the most streamed artists can’t get their money right with them! They’ve somewhat succeeded in reducing the perceived value of music down to a data product. Music is powerful. It can influence people how to vote, what kind of life they want to life, what to wear and who to date. It can mean the ultimate difference in someones life. It seems like record labels are scared to take a chance these days because they can’t risk losing money. I hope this changes. Something has to. Its not that people shouldn’t be able to stream, the streaming companies shouldn’t be coming away with bags of money like they are right now. I think music will continue to be consumed in whatever way represents the most current technology available. Its been proven through time with vinyl, cassette, CD and now with streaming. Thats a positive thing for the listener and as an artist its exciting to think of how we might be able to deliver music in the future. The business end (financial) really needs an overhaul. Its simply not sustainable. Every single time a new way to share music comes out, musicians seem to to be the first to have to give up our portion of the revenue. Its gotten beyond stupid. Long story short: Progress good, greed bad.
Don't forget to come along and hear the RBG Trio LIVE at Wood Quay Summer Sessions on Thursday 11th July, 1:30pm at the Wood Quay Amphitheatre, preceded by the Charlie Moon Quartet at 1pm. Presented by Dublin City Council in association with Improvised Music Company.
Every Thursday lunchtime in July sees LIVE music at the Wood Quay Amphitheatre, in association with First Music Contact, Improvised Music Company, Contemporary Music Centre & Music Network. Full details available HERE.
Hear some of Meilana's influences and favourite artists here, along with some of her own gorgeous recordings.