ANDREW SHAPIRO IN CONVERSATION WITH AUDRA BERRYANN, WFNP RADIO (NEW PALTZ)
February 17, 2006
AUDRA BERRYANN: Good evening, coming to you from the SUNY [State University of New York] New Paltz campus this is the "Live and Local" program and I'm your host Audra. Tonight our guest is the composer/songwriter Andrew Shapiro from New York City who came up to New Paltz to visit us tonight. His music has been described as a combination of neo-'80s New Wave pop and minimalist classical music like that of the composer Philip Glass. He'll be performing along with his group Airbox tomorrow night, Saturday, February 18th at the chThonic Clash Cafe in Beacon, NY at 8PM. Hi Andrew! How are you doing tonight?
ANDREW SHAPIRO: Hi Audra, thanks for having me.
BERRYANN: So, do you have anything else to say to introduce yourself?
SHAPIRO: Well, I think you did a pretty good job! But, before the show we were talking about just sort of diving right into the music so I guess I'll introduce the first song of mine we're going to play tonight. It's called Blueblack and it's from my debut CD release Invisible Days EP.
BERRYANN: Great, so here is Blueblack from Andrew Shapiro's debut Invisible Days and we'll be back in a little bit.
BERRYANN: Hi, we're back and you're listening to 88.7 FM The Edge. This is "Live and Local" and we've got Andrew Shapiro with us in the studio tonight. That was Blueblack from Andrew Shapiro's recording Invisible Days EP. He's performing tomorrow night at the chThonic Clash Cafe in Beacon, NY. So, what award did Invisible Days win?
SHAPIRO: This was really exciting for me. As a lot of people do when they release records independently they just sort of send records out all over the place to radio stations and music magazines, etc. And one of the places I sent Invisible Days off to was Performing Songwriter Magazine. And about a year after I sent it to them I got an email from them saying that it was going to be named one of the "Top 12" independently released recordings of the year 2003. Why they do 12 instead of 10 I'm not sure-- I think it's because they do one a month or something like that. It was a big honor for me. It was really exciting and it brought a greater awareness to the project and people were contacting me about it from radio and other places.
BERRYANN: That's so cool. Congratulations!
SHAPIRO: Thank you! It was a lot of work to put that record together and I learned a lot.
BERRYANN: Can you talk to me about some of the influences in your songs?
SHAPIRO: Well, in Blueblack as an example, there's definitely a sort of minimalist thing going on. And at the same time there's obviously a poppy kind of New Wave sensibility going on as well. But there is a classical thing going on too-- there's no drum machine going on and no drummer. So that's something from the pop slice of life that's obviously not present. You had mentioned Philip Glass before. I think that you can hear some of that going on too. He's a composer that I was studying towards the end of my time in music school. I fell in love with his music right around that time. And of course, I'm a child of the '80s. I just turned 30. I'm unlike you guys here at the station. You're so young!
SHAPIRO: So, there's an '80s thing going on too. I've read reviews of Invisible Days saying things like "this is Depeche Mode meets Philip Glass" and those are both acts that I really enjoy and hold in very high regard and so it's a great honor to have that project described that way. There's definitely a sort of moody synthy quality to the work. But that's something that just comes out of me. I wasn't planning to make the record that way before I created it. It just happened. But to that end, at the time it was sort of a rush to read that sort of feedback about what the work "is" while I'm in the midst of trying to figure that out for myself. A lot of stuff that I've read I've disregarded but I think that that particular comment was something that was helpful to me in a way.
BERRYANN: Talk to me about your musical background and how you got to this point.
SHAPIRO: I grew up in Larchmont, NY. It's a northern suburb of New York City along the Long Island Soundshore. As far as getting into music --this is a story that my parents love to tell-- is that I was a little kid in second grade hanging out on the beach and my mom was speaking with someone else's mom and they were talking about how in the neighboring town there was an after-school recorder class to play a couple times a week I think. Or maybe it was just once a week. I don't remember. And so my mom ran it by me and I said, sure, I'll do it. And I started doing it really well--
BERRYANN: --so you rocked out with the recorder!
SHAPIRO: Right, I guess I rocked out on the recorder as a seven year old. Or was I six? And so I took recorder for two years and then I ended up doing a sort of obvious graduation into playing clarinet. I was eight at that point and my hands were too small at first so I had to play the smaller Eb clarinet for a year and then moved into the bigger, more common Bb clarinet a year later. At this point something happened that helps me even now when I'm trying to pursue things for my work. Unfortunately there was a rule in my elementary school that said third graders weren't allowed to play in the school band. You had to be in fourth grade. But I literally stalked the band director. I'd see him on the other end of the playground and run after him. I followed him around and kept telling him how I was ready to play in the band. I was a pretty self-assured third grader and so after a while he finally relented and let me in early. I grew up studying clarinet from a classical perspective in a very serious manner. And then I started playing saxophone as well.
BERRYANN: I always wanted to play the saxophone. When I was in fourth grade Bill Clinton was running for president and he played the sax and I thought that was really cool.
SHAPIRO: I was a senior in high school! I remember Clinton playing sax on the Arsenio Hall Show. So, I just continued playing and playing and playing. I was in orchestras and bands on clarinet and jazz bands and rock bands on saxophone. And also during a bunch of summers I went to a performing arts camp where they were performing a ton of musicals and so I ended up playing in the orchestra pits for these musicals. So, by the time I was finished with high school I had really played a lot of different kinds of music-- it wasn't just exclusively classical and it wasn't just exclusively pop. But then when I was figuring out where to go to college I made the decision not to go to music school. I was afraid to do that as a clarinetist because I had heard so much about how difficult it is to get a job in an orchestra when you finish school. Those jobs are so few and far between and so many people apply for them. So, as far as just being a clarinetist or instrumentalist, I didn't really see too much of an opportunity for me. But it's a very different story for composers who are writing their own original material with their own sound. So many clarinetists can play the clarinet sonatas by Brahams. I ultimately ended up in music school but it happened in a sort of roundabout way. I thought I was going to become an attorney or work in business or something like that and I ended up going to Emory University in Atlanta. In addition to economics and other things I continued studying music but it was from a much more acedemic angle studying music theory and then I took a composition class and the teacher was fabulous and he inspired me and I had a whole life-changing expeience and decided to become a musician. So I transferred to the Oberlin Conservatory and I entered as a composition major.
BERRYANN: So what was Oberlin like transferring in?
SHAPIRO: Well, it was very different. Oberlin is an amazingly creative place. It's out in Ohio southwest of Cleveland in a small, isolated midwestern town. But everyone is sort of all trapped together out there. It's a small school but there's a conservatory and a liberal arts college there and there were just so many talented, bright people there and you were sort of right on top of everyone else whether they were filmakers or painters or designers or musicians or whatever. As far as studying composition academically in the Conservatory it was a very different thing. No pun intentended when I say this but it was very conservative. I had some difficulty with it. The whole time I was there I kind of felt that I was sort of forced to give up a lot of who I was as a musician and a person to be able to write the kind of music that was deemed acceptable to the people that were teaching me and grading me. Pop music was considered to be not really that sophisticated --although pop music is some of the most sophisticated music being produced today. It's such a competitive industry and so the production level needs to be so advanced. People are always trying to make "the next sound." You know, a while back it was the Britney Spears/NSync sound. Then it was The Matrix which was doing Avril Lavigne and then it was 50 Cent had a sound. Every now and then I'll tune into Z100 which is the hit music station in the city because I want to hear what people are doing. It is very sophisticated and it's really unfair that there's this attitude in college and conservatory composition departments that it's just a sort of junky thing that's not worth being discussed. After I finished up Oberlin in 1998 I had a really great opportunity--
BERRYANN: --you interned with Philip Glass.
BERRYANN: Tell me about that for a bit before we go into the next song.
SHAPIRO: I was just starting to really get into his music prior to graduating. He's obviously a legendary composer who did a lot for music in terms of bridging things together. Not everyone feels that way of course but for me I was really inspired by his work. He's a composer with an uppercase "C" who came out of music school much like the way I did and was doing things like hooking up with people like Paul Simon and contributing music an album of his and writing a coda for one of his songs. Or creating a string quartet arrangement for a Suzanne Vega song. I thought that those sorts of things were really cool. And also the film scores that he wrote and continue to write have been an inspiration along with the theater and dance and also the commercial work like underscoring television commercials and sychronizing his music into those types of situations was a very eye opening experience for me after coming out of a music school where those kinds of activities were rather disdained and really not even discussed. The whole world sort of opened up for me once I realized what he was doing and so I called up his studio and landed an internship slot and just went in there for a bit and was basically like a sponge and just sucked up as much information as I could. There were recording sessions and production meetings and there was all sorts of cataloging going on. At that time Glass had just been nominated for an Academy Award for best film score for the Scorcase film Kundun. And a few of the original pieces of music that Glass scored for the film The Truman Show were in the midst of being recorded and mixed and so it was just a really exciting experience for me to be present.
BERRYANN: That's so cool!
SHAPIRO: It was great. And I remember when the film came out a bunch of months later I was just really blown away. I remember that there was a certain chord progression going on while Truman, the Jim Carey character, was hitting golf balls off of a bridge during the film and there was a very meditative sound to the music --very Philip Glass-- and I was very intoxicated by it. I remember going back to where I was staying-- I was staying in L.A. for a couple of months with a friend and I just sat at the piano playing that progression over and over and over again for hours because I was just so sticky and I just couldn't get it out of my head. So there's a huge influence there.
BERRYANN: Well, we're going to cut to your song "Quiet Kissing" now.
SHAPIRO: Right. This is "Quiet Kissing" and it's a new song that's from my new EP entitled Quiet Kissing EP that's being released on March 16th. And I'm going out to L.A. for some release concerts and events.
[PLAYS QUIET KISSING]
BERRYANN: Hi, we're back on 88.7 FM on the "Live and Local" program. This is Audra and we're here with composer Andrew Shapiro in the studio and you just listened to his song "Quiet Kissing." Andrew, I'd love for you to talk about what's going on at McDonald's. I read the New York Times article about that on your website.
SHAPIRO: Along with everything else that I'm doing I've also been writing a lot of piano music. I was writing this stuff and wasn't performing it terribly often. I was having a bit of a problem finding venues in which to perform. I didn't want to have to rent concert halls every time I wanted to put on a performance. I had and still have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about me thinking of my music as being too pop for a concert hall and I'm maybe a bit too classical for a rock club. So I was looking for a place to play my piano music and was reading an article in New York Magazine about the history of McDonald's in New York City and I became aware of a McDonald's with a piano in downtown Manhattan. It's on Broadway a block east of Ground Zero. There's a grand piano there and so I called them up and spoke with the owner of the franchise and told them that I wanted to play my piano music there. I knew it would be a sort of strange situation but one that I thought could work for me. And it turned out they were looking for someone for Sunday afternoons and so I got the gig. There are people that can't really believe it. That someone is performing a sort of modern classical type of music in a McDonald's. There are people that play there on the other days of the week but they're playing show tunes and jazz standards. But I'm playing my own stuff and it's been a really cool experience. There's a growing audience of people that are becoming aware of what's going on there that are coming down the check it out. And I'll also have meetings there with people after I'm finished. It was exciting that the Times ran a story about it this past summer. And then I got a call from someone at the Village Voice. They found out about it and included me in their "Best of New York City" issue calling me the "best classical pianist in a fast-food restaurant." So that was fun. Then I researched other McDonald's with pianos and I found one in San Diego.
BERRYANN: I never knew something like that existed!
SHAPIRO: Well, there's a fellow out there who owns 13 McDonald's out there including two of them on military bases. I approached him and then he brought me there and I gave a concert at his location in downtown San Diego. It was great-- there was also a great dinner party at his house and then I gave a performance there as well on a very special piano, a Yamaha concert grand piano that was just a very spectacular instrument. I'm trying to get to play a piano concert at every McDonald's that has a piano in it.
BERRYANN: You should definitely try to do that.
SHAPIRO: It's an interesting thing to be doing. For obvious reasons lower Manhattan is a big tourist site and so a lot of people from all over are stopping into that McDonald's. And people are curious about what I'm doing and will stop and ask me about what I'm doing or buy a CD. People from all over the world. And they're taking my picture about 300 times a day while I'm there and I'll always tell them that if they email me the photo then I'll send them a free CD. So I'm getting emails from all over the place and I'm sending CDs out to places like South America or wherever. I'm there every Sunday from noon to 4pm and it's a developing story.
BERRYANN: So, tell me a little bit about your new band Airbox.
SHAPIRO: It's a group that I put together that I play in to perform my songs. The recordings that we played earlier are studio based. But I'm now at the point where I've got a lot of songs and I want to bring them out and play them live in front of people. So I put a group together of really smashing musicians that are all very well classically trained but also have pop music sensibilities. We're on the same wavelength. We're very excited about tomorrow night's performance. It's our first time up in the Hudson Valley.
BERRYANN: Great. For people listening our guest is Andrew Shapiro. We have just a couple of minutes left. He's performing tomorrow night with his band Airbox in Beacon at the chThonic Clash Cafe at 8PM. For more information and soundfiles you can go to Andrew's website which is www.andrewshapiro.com. We're going to close out the program with the final song for the program. It's a solo piano piece by Andrew Shapiro called Katz Etude. Thank you for coming Andrew.
SHAPIRO: Thanks for having me.