GET TO KNOW…: Derrick Hodge
by Keya Maeesha
One of the coolest things about music is getting to know different artists in different bands. It is also not a secret that one of my favorite instruments is the bass guitar. As a lover of soul music, gospel, jazz, and the likes, a common denominator in the bands or production credits was this guy named Derrick Hodge. So I started my research. Found all manner of jams that he’s composed, scores that he’s written, tracks that he’s been on, all of that. Then I received the opportunity to actually see him live with one of my favorite composers, Robert Glasper, with the Robert Glasper Experiment. I…I lost it. And not in some kind of stannish way. More in the I am so amazed by how talented he was kind of way. And I wished more people knew about him. So, I’ve been waiting for this opportunity. Not just to talk to Derrick and get to know him, but to also hear his creative genius on his own project. Live Today, the debut album from the Blue Note recording artist, will drop in a few weeks. Luckily for us, Derrick took some time out to chat with me about this album, process, playing for Maxwell and Robert Glasper, and really show is awesome. Check it out!
You are absolutely one of my favorite musicians. From the time I actually figured out who you were when I went to a show a few years ago to then seeing you on stage with Robert Glasper at the Highline Ballroom, to then going back and thinking of all the different artists you played for like Common, Mos Def, Jill Scott, etc. How does it feel to be able to live the life of a full time musician and know that your work is appreciated amongst your peers?
Derrick Hodge: It is definitely a feeling of gratitude. I can relate to both the joys and the struggles of the music business, so to have an opportunity to exist in a creative space and make a living at it is a blessing. I try not to take it for take for granted.
You currently are on tour with Maxwell. Do you ever feel any pressure to “step up to the plate” or “outshine” previous music directors for large tours like this? How does this differ from your own personal projects?
DH: Wow, never been asked that before! Well, I try to approach each situation that I’m in as a student first. I’ve been fortunate to meet some great MD’s in the game, both young and older, and have learned a lot from many of them. I try to take in as much information as possible and then approach my role as an MD with a fresh creative palette. I then focus solely on the artist and what he or she has to say (or desires to say) artistically. So much time is spent maximizing their creative strengths and building a show around it, that I don’t have time to compare to the previous way it was done. This approach helps me to focus on doing the best I can do, and not think I’ve ever “arrived” or something. This is how I approach my own projects as well. What do I have to say artistically? How can I deliver it as honest as possible?
Speaking of your project…Let’s talk a little bit about your debut album Live Today. I’ve had the opportunity to listen to it and I am completely blown away by how well put together the album is. The composition of the album is just phenomenal. Why was it important for you to release your album now and in this way?
DH: Thank you. My intent was to document real snapshots of how I’m feeling musically in any given moment. People have been very gracious in supporting me in different musical situations over the years, so I wanted to give them something as raw and honest as possible. I want them to experience my journey with me. As far as the timing of it, this album started as a leap of faith. My manager and I decided to hit the studio and create music instead of waiting for the golden moment. From that point, opportunities came our way and here we are. Really crazy when I look at the timeline of events leading up to now! I think it’s happening right when it was meant to happen.
In your EPK, you talked about getting musicians that already had a “producer’s mindset” and discussed the idea of “writing in the moment”. Why did you decide to take this approach as opposed to writing out the lyrics ahead of time and providing direction to the musicians you chose? As a musician, do you feel like you have to explain your music and your intentions to people?
DH: For Live Today, I wanted to be as honest as possible in regards to my recording process. I naturally have a producer’s approach to things, where you leave room in a song for your entire sound to come together, whether its multiple parts, or whatever. I wanted to go that route, but still have raw elements throughout each song. With that kind of concept, I decided to reach out to some of my favorite musicians who also have a similar appreciation for different approaches to creating music. It essentially cut out a lot of explaining on my part…they just get it! They each have lengthy resumes in their own right, and are in touch with getting to the emotion of a song rather than obsessing over the solo they just played. People relate to music that makes them feel a certain way, regardless of the style of music. The musicians on this album are really in touch with that way of thinking. That’s not always a given. I’m honored beyond words that they agreed to be a part of this album. Really.
Why did did you decide to go mainly instrumental, as opposed to having different artists provide vocals on each track?
DH: One of the beauties of being human is our ability to imagine. I think in colors sometimes, emotions of a day at other times, etc. I learned a while ago that people can listen to something and get their own feelings and emotion out of it. What may have been a love song to me may be a healing song to others, and vice versa. I tried to be honest to the colors and emotion of each song on this record, and not dictate the feeling that I want to convey too much. That’s why I kept the lyrics, and all the special guests, to a minimum.
One of the things I love about Live Today is how intimate it is. From “Still The One” to even “Dances with Ancestors”, something in me feels close to the music. Each track just resonates with me and gives me such a good feeling. This really isn’t a question. I just wanted you to know how I felt about the album. LOL.
DH: LOL. Much appreciated.
Well, I wish you the best of luck with this album. I think this is such an excellent way to give the world a better look at you as a musician. I appreciate you taking the time to chat.
DH: 4sure. Couch Sessions Baby!! (just imagine me yelling that in a camera or somethin’) ha!
What an amazing person and dope artist. I promise you there is none like this man because the way he thinks and creates is completely unmatched. I encourage you…no…I IMPLORE you (yea..that’s the right word) to pay attention to this artist. When his album Live Today comes out on August 20th, get it. You will love him. You can keep up with Derrick on his website, facebook, twitter, and myspace. Pre-order his album on iTunes. I mean..seriously…just…just get into Derrick Hodge. He is definitely one you should get to know.
If you are in the Washington DC area you can catch Derrick performing Thursday, August 8th at Liv Nightclub.
Oh…and because I like you guys…I’m finna bless you with this preview of his album. Check out the first single “Message of Hope”. I’m pretty sure you’ll dig it.