Adult Jazz: An Education Interview | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Adult Jazz

An Education

Dec 19, 2014 Issue #51 - September/October 2014 - alt-J
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While they don't have a proper show lined up for another couple of weeks, the members of the U.K.-based four-piece Adult Jazz do have one unofficial gig in their more immediate queue. "We're playing my dad's primary school," says frontman Harry Burgess, whose father serves as the facility's head teacher. "We're going to play for all the kids...ages seven to 11. It's fun to play in a strange context."

For the past several years the English school system has seemed to deliberately live hand-in-hand with Burgess and the complex musical space Adult Jazz occupies. It was at Leeds University that Burgess, alongside Tom Howe and childhood friends Tim Slater and Steven Wells, first formed the band, each using their multi-instrumental talents to develop the group's unique avant-garde pop. Between writing and recording, it took over four years between semester classes and summer vacations for the group to complete the material that now makes up their debut album Gist Is. Even now, to make ends meet between rehearsals, performances, and new writing, Burgess is linked to life in a classroom, working part-time as a teacher in his hometown of Guildford.

Gist Is frequently feels like an extension of this shadowing academia, full of exploration and its own bewildering lesson plans. Bending lengthy arrangements through all kinds of heady detours and songs-within-songs, the record keeps itself unpredictable. "Maybe part of it is just being uncomfortable with the idea of the audience knowing what you're planning for them," says Burgess who quickly brings up Joanna Newsom's Ys as a point of supportive reference. "That record was really good because she would tune her harp and it would kind of chew over this same basic melodic structure and then she'd just fire loads of different, beautiful lyrical melodies and harmonies. The string arrangements on that record are fantastic. And there you've got like 16-minute-long songs. It made me realize that if you do it well, to make a long song, you don't have to be an ambient piece. It can be pretty packed, and if you consider it and take the time, you can keep people's attention. If [a song] gives you everything you want and need and expect, there's no risk and there's no jeopardy. I think when you hear jeopardy in a track, like 'Oh, I don't know whether I like it yet, or I don't know about this bit,' then you're automatically in a more invested position."

Lyrically Gist Is fortifies itself with the kind of thematic content that Burgess embraced while studying literature and philosophy in Leeds. Taking stylistic inspiration from poets such as John Donne, Walt Whitman, and Allen Ginsberg, Burgess uses the record to assess how often words fail at conveying meaning. He also examines the weakness of maxims and their attempt to sum up the world and how one should behave. Most importantly, he critiques what happens when a group of people gathers together to decide what's right, and how that affects those who are different. As someone who is openly gay, Burgess attempts to convey a more intuitive truth against such self-assured declarations.

For all the lofty aims of the record, fortunately it's school that plays yet another part with Burgess: keeping him grounded. "Working with children, they're very blunt," he says. "They don't let pretentiousness in very much. You can't get too lost in the beauty and the tragedy of the artistic life because you've got to teach addition on Monday morning. It's good to have that."

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar's September/October print issue (Issue 51).]






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Maria Jane
May 25th 2017

I remember those primary lives of mine, it was so full of excitement and fun. School is the time most of the artist have made their name on. Take Burgess for example their band started on school. It’s totally inspirational that they were approaching their dreams but busy with their Assignment Writing problems yet they never give up. Speaking for the right makes you different in this world but still you know it in your heart that you are on the right track.

alvina ash
June 12th 2017

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