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Getting To Know:
Bill Binkelman, 53, has been writing about, reviewing, and interviewing artists in contemporary instrumental music genres since 1997 when he launched the grass roots 'zine, Wind and Wire. Through the years that followed, his reviews have also appeared on various websites and in other publications.

Bill began reviewing for New Age Reporter in winter of 2006. When he's not working at a small private university in St. Paul or buried in his reviewers' thesaurus, he enjoys spending time with his partner, Kathryn Heinze, and their black-lab mix Mamie in a quiet residential neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His other passions include cooking and the Green Bay Packers.

Other Getting To Know::
Getting To Know: Fiona Joy Hawkins, Apr. 2008
Getting To Know: Jamie Bonk, Jan. 2008
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Bill Binkelman
Getting To Know: Jeff Pearce
October 2008
I first met Jeff Pearce via a phone interview I did with him in spring of 1997 for the first issue of Wind and Wire. I was already a huge fan of his music, which I was introduced to via his album The Hidden Rift (a definite essential must-own for anyone who calls him or herself a fan of ambient music). During many phone calls and countless email exchanges over the years, what always impressed me about Jeff, and still does, are his sincere humility about his talent, as well as his love for and devotion to his wife, Stacy, and their children. In addition, Jeff is one of the funniest as well as most well-grounded down-to-earth folks in this music business. Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, commenting on how "un-rock and rollish" the artist Huey Lewis looks, said 'You wouldn't see Huey Lewis and say 'Hey, isn't he a rock star?' You'd probably say 'Hey, isn't that a friend of your dad?' Jeff is like that. He's the kind of guy you'd ask over for a beer on a summer evening or chew the fat with during a break while mowing the lawn or maybe lend your power tools to. Yet Jeff Pearce also happens to compose, play and record some of the most evocative, emotional, and flat-out beautiful music in the ambient (and related) genre. The juxtaposition of his artist self with the part of him that can quote obscure lines from "Family Guy" and "South Park" at will is one of the most enjoyable paradoxes in our modern world. Ladies and gents, here's Jeff Pearce.

To Learn more about Jeff, visit:

Jeff Pearce
BILL: A few years back, Jamie Bonk interviewed you for New Age Reporter just as Lingering Light was being released. How was the album received by both your fans and the folks in radio and the "press" and were pleasantly, or unpleasantly, surprised at the reaction they had?
JEFF: I'm not certain how it was "received" per se, but there were people who really seemed to enjoy that recording, and others who didn't. And that's part of the territory with having released 9 CDs in 15 years; people are going to prefer one disc to another, and that's completely ok.

Where I felt the music was received the best was during concert appearances. For some reason, the songs on Lingering Light really took on a new character when I presented them live. I played quite a few more live shows with Lingering Light than I had with other releases, and some of this was from a practical point of view - the material on Lingering Light required far fewer pieces of equipment, and I was able to play more shows because of this. And after a few of those shows, I was able to "feel" some of the pieces really change and evolve - I could feel myself "gently re-arrange" some of the songs while I played live. And the experience of hearing these songs change over time was definitely instrumental in the approach I took in recording my latest CD, "Rainshadow Sky"
"Where I felt the music was received the best was during concert appearances. For some reason, the songs on Lingering Light really took on a new character when I presented them live."

- Jeff Pearce
BILL: "Rainshadow Sky", your new release, is a live album featuring music culled from several concert appearances, with no overdubs or changes to the original recording. Is that correct?
JEFF: That's right - the pieces were recorded at house concerts I played over a period of about nine months. Unlike most house concerts, though, I played almost entirely new pieces of music, with a couple of songs from my back catalog thrown in per show. The idea was to let the live performance experience help in molding the new pieces of music- give them a place to change and grow over time. And that's just what happened; when I was listening to all the tracks I had recorded, I could hear a HUGE difference in, say, the first time I played The Last Warm Day in October versus the last time I played that song; there was more of a sense of exploration and nuance in the last version. In fact, that's something that all the pieces on "Rainshadow Sky" share; despite having some stylistic differences, the pieces I chose for the CD have a sense of exploration which is good, I guess, because that's something I always aim for with my live shows - that they not seem scripted, and stay open to anything that might happen in the moment. ".. the live performance experience help in molding the new pieces of music- give them a place to change and grow over time."

- Jeff Pearce
BILL: How did the house concerts actually get scheduled? Did you just let people know you were open to playing live in their homes or were they contacting you ahead of time and asking you to play, and were there certain parameters for a home concert venue, such as space requirements, etc?
JEFF: I'm afraid my answer is going to get boring... I've had quite a few people ask me over the years to come play in their homes. I usually play theater/hall type shows, and I didn't know if what I did musically would translate into a "smaller" space. The first house concert I did was back in 2003, sponsored by the Echoes radio program, and I REALLY enjoyed it. A few years later, I played at one of Jim Cole's house concerts. Jim has hosted people like Alex De Grassi and David Darling, so I knew that he would do a good job - and he did. So at that point, I became somewhat "hooked" on the experience, since most house concerts involve a bunch of people getting together to listen to music, and quite a few of those people bring food. It also allows far more "direct" interaction between the artist and audience; at a lot of shows, a high point for me was after the show was over, and I'd just chat with folks about everything BUT music.

Like anything, word of mouth acts as great advertising, and once it was known that I played house concerts, I started getting invitations. There were a few people who I told "look, I'd love to play at your place, but I need to finish recording my next cd first". Eventually, my brain said "hey- record your next CD at the house concerts!". I had no space requirements or anything like that- it was basically "give me something to plug my gear into, and a place to set my computer for recording, and we're set". Unlike some live recordings, there are no "audience noises" or anything like that on "Rainshadow Sky"; everything was recorded right into my computer like I would have done in my home studio. That also means that none of the stories I told between songs got recorded, and that ought to keep me in my mother-in-law's good graces for a few more years to come.
.. I became somewhat "hooked" on the experience, since most house concerts involve a bunch of people getting together to listen to music ..

- Jeff Pearce
BILL: I take it no one shouted out "Free Bird!" during one of these shows?
JEFF: Oh, no - these were nice quiet reserved shows for audiences that appreciated new age music; they usually shouted "Play 'Spectrum Suite'!"
BILL Argh. Wouldn't be my first choice - I'm a Yanni man meself. Okay, on a serious note, the idea of a home concert does appeal more to me than a "usual" concert venue for ambient music. Iíve seen a few ambient concerts and was always underwhelmed. These sound more like, well, hanging out with a Chapman stick player, hearing good tunes, and having some good eats afterward. Is it that level of informality that you find enjoyable?
JEFF: Yes - in many ways. First of all, it IS a concert - I'm playing music - and there IS an audience. What usually happens is, after a show, one of the first questions I get is "is the Stick hard to play?", and I usually say "you tell me" and I hand them the Stick. Not a lot of chances to do that in a "regular" venue. I'm a pretty informal guy, and the house concerts fit that side of me pretty well.

Ultimately, whether I'm playing a house concert or a theater show or a planetarium, the goal is the same- to make a connection with whoever showed up. And the connection isn't always made with JUST music- it can be made through sharing stories (which I started doing out of necessity years ago when I would tune my guitar between songs. Now that I play a Chapman Stick, I have ten strings to tune, so the stories have gotten longer. If I ever play a 36 string Celtic harp, I'll have to recite "Rime of the Ancient Mariner"!) and audience interaction. At most of my concerts, I leave a part open where I let members of the audience pick a musical key signature, and I improvise a song in that key That keeps me fully in the moment, and I've come up with some interesting improvisations. I've also created a few crimes against music, too.
.. whether I'm playing a house concert or a theater show or a planetarium, the goal is the same- to make a connection with whoever showed up ..

- Jeff Pearce
BILL: Staying on your "concerts" as a subject, what's this I hear about a promotional "free" concert for a radio station?
JEFF: Well, this falls into the category of "giving something back to those who have given to me", and I only wish that I had thought of doing something like this earlier. The short story is, any station in the lower 48 United States that plays music from "Rainshadow Sky" and reports to NAR from September through the end of November will be put into a "pool" from which I'll draw out one station to receive a free concert (and when I say "I" will draw the name out, I mean "my six year old daughter", who, at an early age, was quite adept at sticking her arm down everything from our toilet to our heating vents!).

Part of having been a part of this musical community for the past 15 years is that ''ve gotten to know quite a few DJ's and show hosts, and I know that for almost all of them, putting their shows on the air is a labor of love; there's no big money in a local radio program that plays contemplative instrumental music. And when I was putting together my mailing list for the new CD, I found myself thinking "there has to be something I can do that will be of use to a station". And this idea showed up. It would be easier to hand over a bunch of cash to one of the many fine radio promoters who network with these radio shows, and heaven knows those promoters work hard. But with this project, I want a radio program to benefit from what I can give.

So the winning program can use the concert as they please - they can offer it as a "thank you" to listeners, or use it as a pledge premium, and can hold it anywhere from an auditorium to someone's living room- it doesn't matter to me, since they won't be charged ANYTHING by me- no transportation/hotel costs, not food- nothing. If they can figure out a way to charge $9000 per ticket - great. It will still be a free concert on my part.
.. any station in the lower 48 United States that plays music from "Rainshadow Sky" and reports to NAR from September through the end of November will be put into a "pool" from which I'll draw out one station to receive a free concert ..

- Jeff Pearce
BILL: Wow, the possibilities, as they say, are endless. Just be careful if wherever you play has you sharing the stage with a slack-eyed buzz-cut kid playing the banjo. You may want to pass on that venue.
JEFF: I would ask to be rescheduled in that situation - yes.
BILL: I just finished reviewing the Will Ackerman CD, "Meditations," on which you appear on two tracks, playing Chapman stick and guitar. How did you hook up with Will and do you plan on being added to what I call his crew of "usual suspects" who play on albums which he produces?
JEFF: I've known Will for a bit now - I'm thinking six, maybe seven years. I just dropped him an e-mail letting him know how much I've enjoyed his music over the years, and he wrote back. So we began a correspondence, and then in 2003 when he and Liz Story and Samite were playing a show in the area, he asked me to sit in with him on a couple of songs. That was the first of many on-stage appearances together, and one of the huge "eye openers" as to his "audience" - they were a bunch of people who really enjoyed seeing and hearing live music.

I don't know if I'm one of the "usual suspects" on the releases he produces - I'm more of the "unusual suspect". Will has a pretty good ear as to what he wants for a project, and when there's something he thinks needs my "touch" - he gets in touch and gives me some direction as to what sounds he's looking for. I usually record those contributions here at home and FedEx them to him the next day. It was a pleasure to play on "Meditations" because there's some fine music on there- and some really nice new versions of some of Will's earlier songs. After I listened to the disc, the first thing I did was call Philip Aaberg and say "amazing job on the string arrangements"; Phil did some fantastic orchestration on a couple of Will's classics, and they fit beautifully.
BILL: Didn't you tell me at one point that you were taking music lessons from Aaberg, which I don't get since isn't he a keyboard player?
JEFF: Yes, I decided about a year ago that I needed to have some music lessons. I was talking with Will Ackerman, and I said "I need a teacher - give me a name". He said "No, Pearce - you don't need a teacher", and it went back and forth - "yes, I do", "no, you don't". Finally Will said "Ok - Aaberg - get in touch with him". So I did, and thanks to the wonders of high speed internet, I can take lessons from Phil despite me being in Indiana and he being in Montana; he can hear what I'm doing over his computer, and correct me if necessary. And it often is necessary. But it's important for me, as a musician, to keep myself learning and finding new approaches to composing my music. I don't think there SHOULD be a point in a musician's life where they say "ok, I'm through learning now - I am a master". There's always something new to learn, and there's always something in my own playing to work on.

Phil has never touched a Chapman Stick, but, in an odd coincidence, he was playing in Peter Gabriel's band the day that Tony Levin showed up for rehearsals with his newly acquired Chapman Stick. My lessons with Phil are not "instrument specific", and deal with more "universal" topics- improvisation, lyricism, rhythms, harmonic structures. I knew from his CD's that he was a great player and composer, but I had no idea he was such a great teacher. Phil definitely approaches his own music from a piano player's point of view - and that has actually helped me out tremendously with my Stick playing, because he often suggests that I do things that do not fall easily on the Stick - there's definitely some stretching of the hands and brain to get some of those things to work.
.. it's important for me, as a musician, to keep myself learning and finding new approaches to composing my music ..
- Jeff Pearce
BILL: Hmmm, that gives me a great idea. How about you and Philip join forces for your next album? Other than "True Stories," which you recorded with Dirk Serries (a.k.a. vidnaObmana), you've never done an outright collaboration, have you? Between Aaberg's expressive piano and keys and your Chapman Stick, you'd have a great sound, doncha think?
JEFF: That's an interesting idea, and it certainly meets the criteria I use when approaching music and life in general - "will this be fun?". Phil is a fun guy, and he'd be fun to work with. Like everything, though - it would be a matter of coordinating schedules and finding common musical ground. There are some people who collaborate at the drop of a hat, but I can't do that- I need to know someone first, know their musical path, and see if there's any way that the whole can be greater than the sum of it's parts, musically speaking.
BILL: Just remember who gave you the idea so I get credit in the liner notes!
JEFF: Usually, by the time that ANY recording project is done, the attitude has shifted from "credit" to "blame" ("why in the world did I do something crazy like this? Oh- yeah- it was Binkelman's fault!")
BILL: Fair enough. Let's talk a little about one of hot topics being discussed on the internet i.e. the debate about digital-only versus CD releases and the side issue of "giving away music" via free downloads versus charging for it. Is "Rainshadow Sky" a CD, a CD-R, a digital-only release or a hybrid (digital via iTunes, etc. plus a CD/CD-R)?
JEFF: "Rainshadow Sky" is a regular CD, but will be available on all the usual download places (iTunes, Napster, Rhapsody, etc...). Digital downloads are simply a part of the music business now, and I can easily see a time in the future when digital download-only releases will be the norm. At the moment, however, I'm not comfortable releasing my music as digital only - I'd personally like to wait until the compression schemes start sounding better. There are plenty of people releasing digital only releases, though, and more power to them if they are comfortable with that. There are a lot of good things about digital only releases - it keeps costs down for the musician, plus, environmentally, there's a WHOLE lot less materials used. Unfortunately, I'm one of those guys who likes liner notes and packaging, and still miss the days of the LP, where you wouldn't have to squint to look at cover art! That's something that gets pretty much tossed aside with digital only releases.

Regarding "giving away music": I tend to side with the artist doing what the artist chooses to do with their music, and if they want to make it available for free, that's certainly their choice. I've had more than a few musicians ask me about this issue, then tell me that they're better off releasing it for free, because if they put it out as a traditional CD, it will just end up on one of the illegal download sites anyway.
.. I'm one of those guys who likes liner notes and packaging, and still miss the days of the LP, where you wouldn't have to squint to look at cover art! ..

- Jeff Pearce
BILL: Speaking of LPs and cover art, yeah, I miss the days of going to one of the "underground" record stores in Milwaukee, such as 1812 Overture or Dirty Jack's Record Rack and perusing the new vinyl ($2.89 for new releases and $3.49 for catalogue albums!). I bought many a great record based only on album art, so I know what you mean (I bought Blue Oyster Cult's first LP because the cover was "cool"). Do you think that with how things are going now (e.g. corporate/conglomerate radio dominating the mainstream FM dial, the death of small indie record stores, the emergence of digital music/iPods) that some of the romance, if you will, of buying music has evaporated? I sometimes wonder if, outside of niche markets like yours, i.e. ambient music, if people really LOVE and APPRECIATE music like they used to back in the 1960s and 1970s. Or have I just become old and curmudgeonly instead?
JEFF: I'm not sure that I can speak for anyone else but myself regarding music. And I'm thinking that, at least lately, my music probably doesn't fall as easily into the "ambient music" realm as it used to. And that's not unnecessary hi-jacking of a topic; there is a reason I bring this up.

With the live shows I've been playing the past three years, the crowd has been much more of a classic "new age music" type crowd, as opposed to the "ambient music" crowd I've been used to. And I've noticed a different attitude, or at least approach, to music with these crowds. The ambient crowd is much more likely to have a good chunk of their music collection on an iPod or mp3 player. Music is something that is always present with them (and I'm certain it's this way too with pop and rock and country fans, but I'm just using these two genres as examples) and they can experience their music everywhere, during any part of the day. The more "old school new age music" crowd, when I'd chat with them after shows, a whole lot of them seemed to come from the "music is an event" school of thought- where they would make time to listen to music at home, or at least have it add to the background of a good dinner at home.

I'm not sure if the "romance" of buying music has evaporated, but the honeymoon is definitely over... because we can have access to music at any time, any place, it's easy to start viewing it as another bit of "static" in our lives; remember when talking on a phone was something you only did in your house? Now, thanks to cell phones, people have phone conversations everywhere. Suddenly, that long drive in the country can be interrupted by anyone who has your cell phone number. So it goes with music, and as a listener, I try VERY hard to listen for the "heart" of a composition- and I'm not certain I could listen that intently to a piece of music if I'm also trying to dodge five o'clock traffic! I definitely enjoy sitting down on the couch for some uninterrupted "listening time".
.. I'm not sure if the "romance" of buying music has evaporated, but the honeymoon is definitely over..

- Jeff Pearce
BILL: Since you bring it up, do you have any issues around the label "new age music" being applied to your newer music? I know our mutual acquaintance Will Ackerman isnít particularly fond of the term!
JEFF: No, h''s not crazy about that term! But back when it was first coined, the term applied more to a lifestyle, and when that same term was applied to music, it implied that the music was in line with the lifestyle. I would have been bugged, too.

However, I personally don't care if someone would refer to my music as "new age music" - at this point in time, as far as terms go, I prefer "new age music" to, say, "old age music".
BILL: I suppose, after a certain point, I'ís like what Red (Richard Farnsworth's character) says to Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) in "The Natural" while they're eating in an Italian restaurantÖ

Red: Pretty good food, huh?
Roy: Damn good.
Red: You can't spell it, but it eats pretty good, don't it?
JEFF: Right - if you're enjoying it, a name for it isn't necessary. And that might be why ''m hesitant to tell anyone "my music is new age" or "my music is ambient" or whatever. Labels bring with them certain expectations - to a lot of people, "new age" means pretty and uplifting, and "ambient" means dark and depressing. And why is that? Why can't something "new age" have some darkness in it, and why can't something "ambient" be uplifting? When people ask me what style I play, I usually say something like "slow, contemplative instrumental music"- that's about the only description I've come up with that at least points in the right direction. .. Why can't something "new age" have some darkness in it, and why can't something "ambient" be uplifting? ..

- Jeff Pearce
BILL: Okay, we're getting way too serious now. Time for my own special version of "Inside the Actors Studio" (and no, I won't do my James Lipton impression). This is where I ask all the artists I interview the same questions. To lighten the proceedings somewhat, Iím adding some decidedly non-musical questions to the list. You're the first one getting this newly expanded version, Jeff, so be flattered! Here goes:

BILL: What would you be doing if you were NOT playing music professionally?
JEFF: I'd probably be working, in some capacity, at a hospice. I completely believe in their "mission".
BILL: What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do as well as the least satisfying/most stressful part?
JEFF: The most rewarding part is the actual creation of music. To this day, I'm always surprised when a song shows up - because tha''s what it's like most of the time - the song just appears, and there are times where I feel I have VERY little to do with that.

The least satisfying/most stressful? Well, I'm not crazy about dealing with record labels, for the most part. But there are SO many positives, I'm not going to give the negatives more than their due.
BILL: Who has played the biggest role or who had the most profound influence on your life, both in general and, if it's someone different, on your music career?
JEFF: Giving the name of ONE person is difficult - if not impossible. There have been SO many people in my life who have made a difference - my parents, my family in general, my wife, my daughters - so many people. And that's in both life in general and music. I tend not to separate the two very much. Any time someone can offer encouragement and kindness - believe me, it makes all the difference in the world, and makes me do the same thing when I get the opportunity.
BILL: What is your highest aspiration for your music, i.e. what level of success and how would you define success for yourself personally?
JEFF: Having done the "release CDs" thing for 15 years now has given me the opportunity to revise the "definition of success" many times over. As much as we musicians dream about doing music "full time", I think it's part of human nature to NOT enjoy the sensation of "I have to do this or else I'll starve". To me, "success" in music is satisfaction with what I'm doing, and an audience who manages to stay interested in what I'm doing.
BILL: What was the last good movie you saw and what are your five all-time favorite films?
JEFF: Aye yi yi. tough questions, Bill! The last good movie I saw. Hmmm.... My wife and I recently rented "Hotel Rwanda", and it was a very good film. My all time favorites? Get ready to throw tomatoes at most of them! In no particular order: "Groundhog Day", "Citizen Kane", and.... "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy- there - that's five....
BILL: What's your favorite food?
JEFF: Sushi. Doesn't matter what kind. Love the stuff
BILL: If all your traveling expenses were covered, where would go (that you haven't been to yet)?
JEFF: Too many places to list - but I'd probably start with New Zealand and work my way to Tibet. Ok - that would be a lot of swimming....
BILL: You're throwing a dinner party for 6 people, living or dead, real or imaginary, that you'd like to meet. Who's on the invite list?
JEFF: Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, Erik Satie, Groucho Marx, Harriet Tubman, and Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Do you believe in life on other planets? Life after death? The Supernatural?
JEFF: Life on other planets? I believe it's possible. Will I know it to be a fact in my lifetime? I'm not as certain. Life after death? I think there's more to life than this - but if there's NOT life after death, everyone can say to me "I told you so". The supernatural? I don't think there's anything except "the natural"- it's just that our definition of "natural" changes. Eclipses used to be thought of as supernatural, as well as lightning. There's energy all around us, and we humans have a very limited range of sight, hearing and touch. We're missing a lot of the "big picture".
BILL: Cats or dogs? Mary Anne or Ginger? James Bond or Jason Bourne? Captain Kirk or Captain Picard? Spiderman, Batman or Hellboy?
JEFF: Probably cats, probably Mary Anne, probably James Bond, probably Kirk, definitely Spiderman.
BILL: So, what's next on the agenda for you? Are you "sticking" with the Chapman? (Sorry, I couldn't resist)
JEFF: Yeah, good one, Bill - I've never heard THAT pun before....What's next? I delightfully have no idea. I tend to not have a very strict schedule, and I prefer to let the music I'm hearing on my "inner radio" determine what I'll play the music on - it might be guitar, it might be Stick, it might be something else. The only thing I DO know is that ''ll be playing live shows as much as my schedule allows.
BILL: Any parting words of wisdom that you'd like to favor the readers with?
JEFF: Yeah, I haven't jabbered enough as it is... Seriously, the words I'd like to say are "thank you". There's a whole lot of music in this world, so any time someone - whether a listener or a reviewer or a DJ - chooses to spend some time with my music - via CD or concert - it's a sweet compliment, and is something I don't take for granted.
BILL: Thanks for taking the time for the interview, Jeff. I've gotta say that every time we chat or correspond, it's always both fun and enlightening. Happy trails to you, Stacy, and your daughters, wherever the road takes you next.
JEFF: Thanks for a fun interview, Bill.
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