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Brian Blade Finds A 'Landmark' In His Shreveport Roots


Drummer Brian Blade's rhythm has propelled the music of everyone from Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell to Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. But he's also a composer with his own group. "Landmarks" is the new album from Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band.


MARTIN: Blade records in his brother Brady's studio in Shreveport, Louisiana. And he joins us from there today. Welcome to the program, Brian.

BRIAN BLADE: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: So you've described this album as a kind of journey. And since you're there in Shreveport, tell us about that particular landmark, and why it's important to you and your musical travels.

BLADE: Well, Shreveport - it's the place I was born and raised. It's my roots. I think it - the folks that sort of raise you and see you grow from this little little one into a teenager. And, you know, it molds your way, just what you're made of.

MARTIN: You are returning home. I mean, you've been there now for a few years, but you moved back. You were living in New York, right? What was that decision-making process like? What propelled you to need to go home?

BLADE: Well, I guess I'd been traveling, you know, a touring musician now for, you know, 20-something years. And when I moved to New Orleans to attend Loyola University when I was, you know, 17 or 18 rather, in 1988, I - you know, since then, I've just been either there or New York or, for a time, in Portland, Oregon, but drifting a lot. I used to just live out of my one suitcase and have my drum set and guitar with me. And I'd be on tour. And the tour would end in a particular city, and I'd just hole-up in a bed-and-breakfast somewhere for a week until the next tour would begin. In a way, my life...

MARTIN: A drum set is not easy to travel with if you are a light traveler.


BLADE: You know, it's funny. My - the whole notion of light. And, you know, I realize my burden. What I've taken on...

MARTIN: (Laughter) Yeah.

BLADE: ...Is just - I've kind of - I realize, OK, this is it. I need these things to do what I do so I make it work.

MARTIN: Let's dig into the album a little bit and listen to a track that widens the geographical area that inspired your music. This one is an abbreviation of three adjoining states. I'm probably going to massacre this, but it's called "Ark.La.Tex.," right?

BLADE: Yeah. "Ark.La.Tex." Yes.

MARTIN: "Ark.La.Tex."

BLADE: That's correct. Perfect.

MARTIN: OK. Let's listen.


MARTIN: So there aren't exactly obvious musical references to Arkansas, Louisiana or Texas in this piece - no kind of Cajun fiddles or twangy guitars. What was happening in your mind when you composed this piece? What images came to the fore?

BLADE: Well, I don't know. It's hard to say I - other than, you know, my depiction musically of this region where we live, you know, where Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas meet here at the northwestern corner of Louisiana. I guess in terms of the structure of the song - these sort of three different moods - it unfolds in this very small way - these seeds. Then all of a sudden, you cross a line and the landscape changes immediately.


MARTIN: And the piece is moving. There's a current there. You are being propelled somewhere on a journey of sorts.

BLADE: I hope so. I know, like you say, there's no, like, fiddles or, you know, like, what might be considered country music. But I think it's in there - you know, the gospel and these traditions of what jazz music is about - this improvisatory trip that we're taking, you know.


MARTIN: So the drummer-composer, I think is kind of a rare breed, right?

BLADE: I don't know.

MARTIN: It's not a lonely club?

BLADE: I hope not.


BLADE: Maybe it is a lonely club. I don't know.

MARTIN: Do you actually compose from behind your drums?

BLADE: You know, I never write at the drums. I compose with my - with a guitar. It has to first inspire me. You know, I have to be excited about it. Oh, it's like, OK - something, you know, some spark is there. And then - it's funny - I bring it to the band. And then I have to then become the drummer in the band. You know, I have to play this music that this guy has brought in...


BLADE: ...This other guy. So it's great. I can then see it objectively and truly almost, you know, experience it in a new way as the drummer then and have to come up with my part, you know, and figure out what's going to serve this song that has been put before me.


MARTIN: So if this album is one big journey, so to speak - sticking with the metaphor - what do you hope that listeners, fans of yours will take away from this particular trip they've taken with you through landmarks.

BLADE: I love records. I love albums. I like listening to the entirety of something. But hopefully, you know, I would hope that each individual piece might reveal something touching and holistic in its own way and say OK, that is the Fellowship Band, you know.

MARTIN: Makes me want to take a road trip.

BLADE: Yeah.


BLADE: Crossing that line.


MARTIN: Drummer and composer Brian Blade. His new album with the Fellowship Band is called "Landmarks." He joined us from Blade Studios in Shreveport, Louisiana. Brian, it's been so fun to talk. Thanks so much for making the time.

BLADE: Thank you, Rachel.


MARTIN: You can hear Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band's new album "Landmarks" in its entirety as part of our First Listen series. Go to our website NPR.org/music. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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