Speaking from the road last week in Brooklyn, NY, guitarist and long-time member of The Greyboy Allstars, Elgin Park (aka Michael Andrews) talked about the band’s new album, “Inland Emperor,” their fourth studio recording, which will be released April 16.The funk-infused jazz band that had their founding in San Diego in 1993, are touring now and into the summer, including two performances in Solana Beach with a free show June 1 at the Fiesta del Sol Festival and a show at the Belly Up Sept. 29.Park, who’s also an accomplished film scorer, with “Donnie Darko,” “Bad Teacher” and others to his credits, has recently completed the score to Mira Nair’s film, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” and said he’ll go back to work scoring films once the Allstars finish touring later this year.
With “Inland Emperor” being the first studio album in six years, does it take time for the band to get reacquainted with each other before recording again?
Yes and no, you know. All of us continue to perform obviously in between these times and we still play, we still play gigs; we still play every year together. I play with Robert (Walter) regularly, and Chris (Stillwell) plays with Karl (Denson) regularly and we all sort of collaborate outside of the band on a regular basis as well. So on that level, partially no, but absolutely yes it can, because once you add all of us together it is sort of a very certain thing, so it’ll take a few seconds to get back all green — and back on the bus.
Who makes the call, or what determines when it’s time to record as a band again?
I think we’re always trying to do that. I just think it’s a matter of what works for everybody’s schedules. I’ve been busy working on film stuff; Karl’s busy doing his thing, and Robert’s busy between working with me on film stuff and doing his own records and touring and playing.
What was the reason for getting together to record “Inland Emperor”?
I don’t know why it took (so) long. The cycle of a lot of records is usually like release it and you play it for a year or so. I think maybe it’s like we feel like we need new material. Most of it’s improvised anyway, so we take something and it feels new for quite a long time just because we never play it the same every night. So it’s like you haven’t been out over a period of time where we’re like, “OK now we need to do another record.” It’s just sort of like we’re tired of the material or we feel like we need a new injection of new music to keep the band alive.
Was there anything different about the writing process on this album than on previous ones?
The last album, “What Happened to Television?” where the premise was no prewritten music to be brought into the studio — we had to all write it together in the studio — and this time, we decided to not be so — not so much like, “What’s the rule?” There were kind of no rules. If someone had a song, and we liked it, then we’d record it. Robert and I got together a few days and wrote some tunes together, I wrote some stuff on my own; Karl wrote some stuff on his own and Robert had a few tunes on his own. So then we just kind of got together and did more arranging and production stuff in the studio. But then additionally the writing, the arrangements get fleshed out, the additional writing that happens obviously when the recording’s being made. But we did have some more raw material this time than we had last time.
With the music, is there a set road plan when it comes to recording it?
Not really. I think the only road plan is just to get something done…it’s a real simple process of collaboration. There’s no rules, really. It’s just like, “Do we like this, or not?”
The tracks on this album are shorter in length, and I’ve heard them described as “efficient.” Was that intended?
I think so…The record is always a starting point for us as far as the tour goes, it’s like the beginning of the life of the song — we write it, we record it and then from that point on it becomes something else live and it’s expanded upon, it’s improvised over…or we decided, “Oh, on the record this didn’t have a bunch of solos and why don’t we put some solos here?” Whatever works live. But I guess you just found on the record, it’s sort of like it’s more of a concise interpretation of any one piece of music. “Efficient” sounds like, I guess, makes me feel like it’s sterile, or there’s some sort of — it has sort of a negative connotation to it. So I would have to say, that I think they are concise, I would say. Efficient sounds too rational.
When people think of jazz music, maybe efficient isn’t the best word to describe it?
Yeah, well efficiency though is, it’s like, “What are you trying to say?” We want to have the most amount of power in the least amount of words, in the least amount of notes. In terms of that, it’s efficient, and I think that is a good thing — have the information be meaningful instead of just there en masse.
With that said, is there a message on this album?
Not really. The message is that we still like playing together. That’s really the only message. We’re still having a good time and it’s really a pleasure to get together with everybody again and get out on the road and record and interpret the record on the road, as well.
You’ve had success scoring films, are there any similarities in writing film scores and writing songs for an album?
There’s a through line to it all, and it’s all about just making new music every day. In that sense it’s very similar. It’s a different end and it’s serving a different master….
“The movie is the master and in this band, it’s almost like the dance floor is the master. We’re trying to make stuff that feels good to move to and makes us all feel good and tickles us in a way rhythmically. It’s kind of similar — I mean, it’s totally different — I know it seems abstract to say that it’s the same, or seems like…but it’s like cooking, “Are you making breakfast, or are you making dinner?” It’s like different food, different spices, but ultimately, you’re standing over the stove and you’re trying to make something that tastes good.
What’s it like coming back to San Diego where the band started?
It’s fun. I love San Diego and we love playing there, and people there are really supportive and we see people that have been watching us play for 20 years, so it’s good to see familiar faces and see some of the same people coming out over and over, and also see young kids. People that saw us back in the day have kids that are in college now so it’s just really a trip. Potentially, we’re in our third generation of fans in San Diego.
Did San Diego help to influence the band’s sound in any way?
I think so. I think San Diego, in many ways, is a small town. And I think when you’re in a small town making music — we were sort of influenced by music that was with DJ Greyboy, it’s very sort of like a microcosm. It’s not like it was something that was going to be really popular, we never thought of it as anything, as like a business venture. It was a very isolated thing, and San Diego was a very fertile place for us to just do whatever we were into at that time and just not worry what was going to happen with it. I think that’s a small town kind of thing… (There was) more freedom in a place like San Diego, I think. Plus, people were excited about what we were doing so it had an influence on — it gave us confidence to keep going.