Pianist/composer David Lanz is one of the pioneers of so-called “new age” music, and has become one of the best-loved contemporary pianists in the world. He recently changed record labels after a long career with Narada, and his first release on Decca came out in February 2000. We did an extensive interview in August 1998 about David’s background and how his career has evolved over the years. That interview was featured in “Wind and Wire” magazine, and has been posted on David’s website. A link to that interview is at the end of this one since this was intended to be an update. Enjoy!
KP: “East of the Moon” seems to be doing really well. How does it feel to have a hit record?
Lanz: So far so good! We’re still in the top 10. So, we’re selling records, and we’re on about 110 radio stations these days, so that’s good! .
KP: Which tracks are getting the most airplay?
Lanz: I haven’t really seen a play list, but I know the title track is popular, and I think “Green Man” is doing well, and some of the music from “World at Peace” is being played. I’ve done a special radio edit on “The Green Man”, and cut it down from almost 5 1/2 minutes to about three. I’m hoping it will be released as a single.
KP: I’ve had a couple of people tell me that they’ve heard “Little Green Men” on some of the listening stations, rather than “The Green Man”, (David laughs) and I was wondering if you plan to take on science fiction next.
Lanz: I think so!
KP: You recorded “East of the Moon” early last year with a target release date of sometime last spring. Then Narada started releasing albums of your older material, delaying the release of “East of the Moon” at least twice. That must have been incredibly hard on your morale.
Lanz: I played a waiting game before “English Garden” came out, too. The delay of the release of “East of the Moon” was actually a record company-related situation like sitting on “English Garden” was. Narada was bought by Virgin, and we didn’t want to release “English Garden” right away because they hadn’t really meshed the two companies yet. The delay in releasing “East of the Moon” was not Narada’s fault. The same kind of thing happened. Right after I signed with Philips, there was a big buy-out. Polygram and Universal merged - Seagrams bought them - so we had the same situation. We didn’t want to release “East of the Moon” in the midst of this changeover because, to quote my manager, “it would be like releasing a record with one hand tied behind your back”.
KP: So it was a combination of things rather than not wanting to compete with your own material?
Lanz: Yeah, and really wanting to release the record in the best climate possible. To tell you the truth, the last few years have been kind of slow.
KP: You haven’t toured for awhile either.
Lanz: Touring had been cut way back mostly because of waiting around for this record to come out. I didn’t really want to do a big tour after “English Garden” was released because I was getting ready to do “East of the Moon”. We were hoping to get one record out, switch labels, get the next one recorded, and boom! We were pretty much on-schedule until we decided to stop the presses and let things settle down. Now that we’ve gotten past all that as well as getting past the millennium, I think it’s a better climate to be doing this work in. It’s okay now, but it has been tough to sit around and wonder if people still know who the heck I am.
KP: I know you were working on “World at Peace” for a long time. It was originally titled “The World Peace Concerto”. How long did you work on it, and what kind of evolution did it go through over the years?
Lanz: The original concept for “World At Peace” was to create music for a world event like the Olympics or a peace gathering of sorts. The idea came out of a dinner I had with a couple of good friends. One was talking about creating world-type events. World peace sprang to mind and I did a few rough sketches several days later and put the concept on the shelf. That was about ten years ago. I thought about it often, and actually wrote thousands of words describing what a “World at Peace” might look like, but it was only in the last year or so that I really took this concept to heart and composed the music. Then I changed the title because it really was not in a concerto form.
KP: “The Visitor” on “East of the Moon” is one of your most hauntingly beautiful pieces to date. It’s so simple and so perfect, and yet you felt it kind of wrote itself. Can you describe the experience?
It was pretty neat! I try to be inspired when I’m writing music, but you can’t really try to be inspired. On this particular day, I was feeling a real pull to play and write, so I started the process that I’ve started hundreds of times before. I just kind of gravitated to the key of Bb and the left hand ostinato part, and I had a little tingle going. I could tell something was happening, but I just kept up the process, and by an hour or two later, that tingle had turned into a full-fledged buzz. The room was very charged, and it felt like there was something or someone almost looking over my shoulder - not in an uncomfortable way - but it was one of these altered states. It’s hard to put it into words. It was slightly like a dream - almost like a lucid dream. I don’t know if I could say it was part of my higher self or an angelic presence or an altered state, but it is one of those kinds of moments that I look for as a composer, because, generally, along with them come some inspired music. It is a very simple song. I was just playing it again this morning, and it never fails. Whenever I play that song, I go right back to that same kind of vibration. Athletes call it “being in the zone”. You’re not really thinking - you’re being. That’s a great place to be, and I think that’s really what we should be teaching our children - learning how to “be” as opposed to always worrying about cramming facts in their heads. Hopefully, most of us learn that somehow on our own since it’s rarely taught in school - it’s a life’s lesson.
KP: I have to ask you this. What is the hand sign in the cover photo for “East of the Moon”?
Lanz: There is a famous picture of Jesus standing and holding his right hand up, making a sign with his three middle fingers. You also see priests and other religious figures, Hindu Gods and Goddess and the Buddha making hand signs. These hand signs all have specific spiritual meanings and are from ancient Hindu origins. They are called mudras. The sign I was making was a variation on an old Egyptian mudra which, translated into modern day language, means... “ Buy my album! ” Sorry to lead you down the garden path like that, but you know me! To tell you the truth, hundreds of photos were taken that day and, in the moment that album shot was taken, I was just having a bit of fun. It means nothing! The part about mudras is real though. My manager, the VP of Universal, and the art director - all independent of each other - picked that shot for the cover. It is definitely different!
KP: With Philips being sold, are you still in the position of having artistic control over what you do?
Lanz: What happened on the political side was that the president of Philips Music was also made the president of Decca Records, which may have had something to do with putting me on Decca.
KP: I didn’t know they were even still around!
Lanz: They never really went away. They’re huge. They’re primarily a classical label, located in Europe. A lot of people lost their jobs during the merger, but the key people that we had signed with are still there today and doing as well or better than ever. We kind of got in under the wire with our negotiations, which was good, and I was able to live for the past couple of years! Now that we’re full steam ahead, we have the same people and same friends we were working with before, so that’s nice.
KP: What do you plan to do next?
Lanz: I’m hoping to tour for at least six months to a year, and then I’ll get serious about how I’m going to approach the new music I’m working on. I’ve recorded six piano solos at this point, but now that I’ve listened to them, I may use a little a bit of production. I think it would be nice to do a combination of solo piano and piano with light orchestration. With a lot of my best music, I write it and then it sits like soup and just kind of stews for awhile, so I’m going to do that. Actually, the last month or so, I’ve been writing a lot - or at least sketching. Sometimes first thing in the morning I’ll have my tape machine set up, and I’ll record for ten or fifteen minutes. A week or so later, I’ll get a cup of coffee and then I’ll replay the tape to get ideas. Usually one or two ideas will jump out and say “Finish me!” That’s a nice way to sketch and then come back and fill it in later.
KP: It really hadn’t dawned on me until I read your recent interview with Terry Wood on Amazon.com that only one of your songs has the word “love” in the title. Was that a conscious decision, or just the way things have evolved?
Lanz: It was partially conscious. I guess I wrote so many love songs back in the 60’s and 70’s when I was a singer/songwriter, and most of those songs were probably not very inspired. You listen to some of The Beatles’ songs back then, and they used “love” all the time. It was great! It became this generic word because it was used so often. I think I just had an over-reaction to the 70’s. There were so many love songs that I decided that when I was composing instrumental music, I wouldn’t gravitate to the word “love” because it was too easy.
KP: “Leaves On the Seine” is obviously very romantic.
Right - exactly! I could have had “Love on the Seine.”
With Kevin Kern at Kathy's, 2001.
KP: That doesn’t conjure up such a nice picture!
Lanz: No, it’s not quite the same! I think most of my music has a lot to do with love. There are a lot of languages that have more than one word for love. English is kind of funny that way, because we say the word “love”, and it can mean so many things. I wish we had more words to make it easier to use “love” in song titles and be more specific.
KP: I’ve read several interviews that you’ve done recently, and it seems to keep coming up that your spirituality and sense of humor are kind of an odd blend. I hope that there isn’t a movement afoot that dictates that you can’t be spiritual AND see the very funny aspects of life.
Lanz: I was reading something the other day - it was some far-out spiritual stuff that I tend to read a lot of - and they were saying that the one thing that translates almost instantly from this world to the spiritual world is humor. I thought, “Well, that is right on!” I mean, God has got to be the original comedian! The funniest thing is people who say they are spiritual but who aren’t funny. They aren’t very spiritual, I don’t think. “Spiritual” meaning not necessarily religious, but filled with the spirit of life. Most of humor, I think, comes out of pain anyway, if you think about it. Usually you’re laughing at some thing or somebody, or something someone did. Humor in a lot of ways is very healing, and it’s really good for us to laugh at ourselves, because if we start taking ourselves too seriously, we kind of miss the point. So I say, “Laugh on!”
KP: The last time we did an interview, you had been playing drums to back up Pat Boone. Have you done any more of that kind of thing?
Lanz: I ended up playing drums quite a bit over this past year or so. I played on a couple of recordings - mostly for friends and local recording stuff. To tell you the truth, I think I put a little too much time and energy into my drumming, and it started to affect my body. My left side was starting to cramp up, so I’ve let the drums go a bit. I had to do some rehab on myself. It was tough! Drumming requires a whole different set of muscles, and, usually when you take up a new instrument, you’re not in your 40’s - especially something like drums where you’re really thrashing. It’s very physical, and I really enjoyed it - probably a little too much! Lately, I’ve been playing again, but not as much. I have to be smart now. I learned a physical lesson there. In the heat of jamming, your muscles will do whatever you tell them to do, but you’ll pay the price later. I think I pinched a nerve in my left arm, and I started to get this numb sensation up and down my arm. I could also feel it in my hand, and that was very disconcerting! I’m all healed from that now, so I’m doing drums with a lighter touch.
KP: Awhile back, you did a huge workshop for about a thousand piano students in Minneapolis. Have you done any more workshops?
Lanz: Actually, I was just booked to go back this year. It is called the Schmidt Music Convention, which is put on in Minneapolis every year. That was really the first time I had ever done something like that. I’m thinking now that, as I start touring, I might start putting on clinics before or after my shows. I have to give that some thought. I’m really interested in doing some clinics and workshops with kids. I guess the best way to go about it is just to ask the kids what they’d like to get out of those things. I’m not really an educator in the traditional sense.
KP: You don’t have to be!
Lanz: You’re right. I think it’s just the experience and allowing the kids to get a better understanding of the overall person. I think it’s good for them to see what it takes to be a professional musician.
KP: Around New Year’s, you played for a seminar with Deepak Chopra in Palm Springs. What was that about, and will it be aired on PBS?
I was told it was being filmed for, I believe, three pay-per-view specials and I also heard that it would probably be aired on PBS as well. I’m hoping that part of my performance will be included. There were a number of performers, and it’s hard to know how much of the entertainment will actually be used in the final program. I had read a lot of Dr. Chopra’s stuff over the years. My wife and I were very familiar with him, and we had seen him speaking and lecturing on PBS. He’s really a neat guy! I was very impressed with his ability to take different sources of information - Eastern philosophy, Western philosophy; Eastern and Western medicine approaches; literature from different cultures; poetry; and blend all those things. When he speaks, he draws from all these different disciplines, and really makes a case for a holistic approach to living, life, and health. It was a really nice experience. I’ve been invited down for another week-long workshop sometime in June, and if my concert schedule conforms to my wishes, I’m definitely to try to make that. He has a center in La Jolla, CA. He is a very interesting guy - very intelligent and definitely doing a lot of great work.
KP: In your wildest dreams, did you ever imagine having artists like Herb Alpert and Matthew Fisher playing on your albums? (laughs)
Lanz: I guess in my wildest dreams they did, because there they are! It was very exciting! Herb was such an icon - I didn’t actually get a chance to meet him personally, but I did get a note from him. So that was fun! With Matthew, we’ve made kind of an acquaintance over the last ten years since he first played on one of my records. It’s a real thrill for me. I went to London last year, and called Matthew up, and we met and had dinner. For me, it’s so fun because I let him do all the talking, and I just pump him to get as many stories as I can from the old days - the great glory days of rock ’n’ roll. It’s very satisfying to be able to find some of my childhood heroes, and then hire them to play on my records!
KP: Matthew has played on three of your albums now?
Lanz: Yes. He’s basically retired, so I’m always very honored.
KP: Who are some the major influences on your music?
Lanz: Bill Evans comes to mind. I really love what he does with his voicings. I’ve kind of done the opposite - I’ve taken most of the dissonances out of my music - especially on my first couple of records. From time to time, I allow some of that back in. With the new music I’ve been writing, I’ve got a little more dissonance in there just for color. I’ve found by taking some of that out, it tends to open the music up a bit. It opens the chords up, and I like the sound better. Other influences? Piano player-wise, most of them are jazz piano players. McCoy Tyner, Joe Zawinul from Weather Report; I love Herbie Hancock. It was probably in the 60’s when I started listening to these people’s music, so it was the non-electric stuff. One of the first records I bought as a kid was an album called “Time Out” by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. It had “Take 5” and “Blue Rondo alla Turk”. That kind of music early on seemed to make at least some kind of impression on me. And, then of course there’s classical music. You can’t cite pianists, but I can certainly cite the work of all of the great composers. I have more respect for that than almost anything - Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and then more contemporary people like Ravel, Rachmaninoff, and Debussy.
KP: You took piano lessons for about six years?
Lanz: Yeah, it was kind of off and on. By the time I was ten or eleven, I had pretty much run my tether with my piano teacher. I asked him to teach me some pop music, and he came up with “Don’t Fence Me In” by Hoagy Carmichael!.
KP: Oh no!
Lanz: It wasn’t exactly what I was listening to! I kind of looked at that symbolically and went “Hey! Don’t Fence Me In! I’m outta here!” I can go back as an adult and listen to that song and say, “this is kind of a fun little song”, but as a kid, I wanted boogie-woogie, rock - some fun music. I basically had to figure out how to play that stuff on my own, which I did, starting with surfing music. There were a lot of local bands here in the Seattle area doing instrumental rock music, so when I started learning how to play pop music, it was all instrumental rock ’n’ roll and jazz. So it’s not surprising that I went full circle and became an instrumental artist even though The Beatles and that whole thing were influential as well. There is probably more instrumental music now than there ever used to be, but it has taken a different role. It doesn’t play as much of a role in our pop music world as it used to.
KP: It’s a different world, musically, and it’s really too bad. It seems like most of the labels that were artist-oriented have been bought, and it’s all about the money.
Lanz: Yeah, there’s a big part of that. There’s always hope that the fledgling musical groups and the people who are on the Internet are getting a chance to get their stuff out there. But, big business is encroaching on the Internet as well.
KP: Hopefully the independent artists will be able to stay that way.
Lanz: Yeah, and hopefully the music that really needs to be heard - if it really has to be heard - will get out there.
For more information about David, visit his website
or read the many reviews and interviews on his Artist Page