A multifaceted composer and performer whose range of influences spans everyone from Prokofiev to D'Angelo to Kendrick Lamar to Tchaikovsky, Jamie Searle is a firehose of ideas, inspiration and energy. As leader of My Brothers and Sisters and other music and theater-related projects, Searle's musical knowledge runs deep despite only learning to read music ten years ago. He is also a prolific, award-winning arranger and producer other other artists' work and a thoughtful chronicler of his experiences navigating the rigors of the music business. We are extremely fortunate to share the many talents of Jamie Searle with you on Listen Local.
Please introduce yourself. Where do you live and work?
My name is Jamie Searle and I’m a composer based in Kansas City, Missouri.
What would you say has been the biggest difference in your approach to songwriting and technology since you've attended the UMKC Conservatory of Music?
Studying music has opened my eyes to form & orchestration. Before I began, the music I wrote tended to follow the familiar popular pattern of Verse, Chorus, Verse along with a Bridge every once in awhile, and though I’m not opposed to that formula, I switch things around a lot more, add more captivating transitions along with slick modulations and alternate chords throughout which add a lot of color and depth that makes the music more evocative overall. Along with learning more about the symphonic pallet; strings, brass, & woodwinds, as a singular instruments and paired with others has just made writing and listening more magical than ever. I began studying music really late in life, it was only 10 years ago that I read my first note, and I had resisted formal education of any kind because I thought it would take away that magic and inspiration I loved so dearly which ended up being the exact opposite of what I found once I put my ego in check and faced the fact that I would be entering in a world I didn’t feel necessarily a “part of” and that I was just afraid. Technologically speaking, I’ve gained more knowledge in the last 2 years than I ever did before. The extent of my collegiate knowledge was learning how to notate in Finale and working out of Garage Band. Never in my life did I think that I would turn into such a techy guy, but the love of writing has always pushed me towards uncomfortable foreign places, both literally and technically. The last couple of months have been keyboard and midi hell holes, but being able to handle various workstations & software not only is very inspiring, liberating even, but an absolute necessity in the writing and recording world to remain competitive with the big production guns out there. Some amazing sounds are happening and it feels great to be a part of that conversation.
On your website you write very openly and honestly about, among other things, your experiences in the music business, lessons learned and practical advice for other artists. There’s such a wealth of information and insight into the day-to-day challenges of someone who has devoted his life to music. What has the response been to these essays? Do you plan to continue this kind of writing?
The responses I’ve gotten have been positive but not in great quantity so who knows. I’ve done it mainly because I’ve been thinking about these subjects for years and I’ve never rattled off my opinions about them in any public way. I thought after reading many topics about some of these issues; ranging from stage fright, marketing, etc., I hadn’t heard similar thoughts echoed before so I figured I should just write them down and maybe they’ll empower somebody. However, I don’t want to write for the purpose of “brand engagement.” I understand why people do it, but I feel a certain self-help aspect starts to run its course after awhile and though well intentioned, becomes less thoughtful and more ego driven than the knowledge is worth. It’s such a catch phrase world out there that it becomes so easy to adopt modes of thought and character because I feel that money and social status pushes us unknowingly into inauthentic ways of being. I’d rather focus more at this time on stories like I did my very first piece. Stories have a much more dramatic effect, a more subconscious affect on the reader that prose lacks. For instance, one of my favorite stories, The Wizard of Oz, is all about these qualities we feel lacking inside of us, but are absolutely there but don’t show up until we’re ready to experience them. We feel we need these external manifestations like a diploma or a medal to prove it. Anyways, you’re learning things about yourself through the experience of characters, which overall, I feel is a more creative and interesting course to take rather than exploiting a personal narrative for any kind of gain.
What artists do you look to these days for inspiration? What do you admire most about these artists?
Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saens, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev as far as classical go. Kendrick is obviously extremely exciting as well as D’Angelo and Flying Lotus. There’s just a wealth of great pop and R&B production out there. Finally and fortunately alternative bands have started paying attention which is clearly why Glass Animals has such a following. Unfortunately it’s sad to see and important to note that the lineage between so many of these great, primarily black producers that don’t get the credit they deserve for paving the technological and stylistic roads that I see are dismissed from alternative stations like the Buzz amongst others. You get artists like Janelle Monae, from Kansas City, a genius in my opinion, not getting the airplay she deserves because unfortunately marketing drives airplay rather than the love of music. And of course, marketing is only interested in catering to and molding demographics. I’ve had the unfortunate problem of being “beyond categorization” and whether it’s a blog or radio, they’re confused as how to sell you. But whether it’s Debussy or Quincy Jones, they’ve all had the same problem which is why they’re music is so powerful. Their music reflects their experimental journey of authenticity so not only are they engaged in this spiritual alchemy of sorts, they are pioneers of sounds that reflect that sense of self-discovery. All artists that stand the test of time and create a very serious impact on culture study and experiment with all types of music until a synthesis begins to form so that their voice can be recognized despite the orchestral pallet or form they choose to work in. It’s the courage to not play it safe that comes across as inspirational.
What most excites you about music in Kansas City?
Honestly, I’ve been watching the Kansas City music “scene” for a long time, which has largely ignored classical, r&b, gospel, jazz, & pop. Now finally bands like Eddie Moore & the Outer Circle have been getting some love. Hermon Mehari has been great for the city as well as Beau Bledsoe, and Anthony Magliano along with Shane Borth of Quixotic. It’s important to give Bobby Watson and Dan Thomas props for cultivating these great jazz musicians that have been coming out of UMKC. It would be a grave mistake for the city to gloss over a talent like Janelle Monae again that could have been an amazing antennae for the music industry if she would have gained the recognition and support she deserved.
Jamie's recommendations from the Johnson County Library Catalog:
Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut. Crazy short and humorous stories that really open up your mind to dreamlike and nightmarish possibilities.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston. Gorgeous use of language! Really sensitive and vulnerable material that is an absolute pleasure to read due to her rhythmic and poetic mastery.
Dune by Frank Herbert. Absolute classic! Herbert creates an imaginary future so that we may examine ourselves without the prodding burn of prose.
Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins. He’s one of my most favorite and daring authors. Time travel, beets, eternal life, and a curious guy with an eye-patch.
Standing In the Shadows of Motown. A glimpse inside the genius musicians, arrangers, and producers of a socially significant high point in American popular music.
Cloud Atlas. Anything the Wachowski’s are doing I’m going to probably be into. Epigenetics, archetypes, consciousness, and a beautiful lyrical story that ties hundreds of years together. Top notch conceptual film
The Holy Mountain. Alejandro Jodorowsky is an enigma. His films lay bare social structures with bitter psychedelic imagery that go to work on your subconscious.
The Best of the Complete RCA Victor Recordings 1944-1946 by Duke Ellington. “The Mooche” not listed on this recording really got me into jazz. Nonetheless, he’s a master and everyone who works within pop/r&b/jazz should stand proudly upon his shoulders.
Ultimate Collection by Quincy Jones. Just an absolute brilliant and unapologetic artist! Quincy has done it all. We hear Quincy all the time and probably don’t even know it. This record is a good start.
Works for Orchestra Vol. 1 by Sergey Prokofiev. Prokofiev’s Symphony #1 is a lean fast movin’ gorgeous machine of melody and mood. I heard this for the first time a couple of weeks ago and bought it when I got home. I’ve listened to it nearly every day. It’s short too, 15 min.