Interview with Justin Stanton of Snarky Puppy

It’s the second Wednesday of the month and that means new concerts from Snarky Puppy are now streaming on nugs.net. Alongside this month’s releases, we spoke to Justin Stanton, a man who wears many hats with Snarky Puppy. Read the full interview below and check out Justin Stanton’s Picks, a free playlist in the nugs.net app featuring his favorite tracks from this month’s releases.

nugs.net: Your name is synonymous with the term multi-faceted musician. From keys to horns to composition you clearly have a wide range of talents. Has your approach to each instrument changed at all during your time with the very vast lineup that is Snarky Puppy? 

Justin Stanton: Playing in Snarky Puppy has most certainly rearranged my priorities as a musician. Before, I had always considered trumpet my primary instrument and piano a secondary instrument. My first gigs with the band in 2006 were on trumpet when I subbed for Jay. Some months later, Mike asked if I would be interested in playing keys in the band. I tried to politely decline, saying I didn’t think I was anywhere near the level needed to play the gig. In true Mike League fashion, he said, “You’ll be fine!” For a few years, I was the only keyboard player on most of the shows. I definitely wasn’t ready for the responsibility at the time, but I’m glad I was given the opportunity and I’m glad I took it. Of course, the band has evolved so much since those days, and so many great keyboardists have played (and still play) in the band. I’ve learned tons of lessons – musically and personally – from each one of them, and I’ve learned a lot about myself along the way, too. There were a lot of growing pains along the way overcoming insecurities about my musical worth. Rather than comparing myself to my fellow musicians against the yardstick of what made them great, I had to find within myself what was unique about what I had to offer and develop that. I think most musicians would consider themselves multi-faceted. I am enjoying this stage in my development, but I’m excited about how things will evolve as new opportunities present themselves.

nugs.net: When you get back on the road, do you plan to switch up your touring rig? Are there any new pieces of equipment you have been experimenting with during the year off you’ve had?

JS: For years now, there has been a strong preference toward an “analog” sound in the band. We’ve had the good fortune to play a lot of really great instruments not only in the studio but onstage as well. Depending on who else is on keys when we tour, I might be playing Fender Rhodes, Sequential Prophet 6, Minimoog, Mellotron, Clavinet, Nord Stage, or Korg Kronos. Right before the pandemic began, I traveled to Lisbon to visit my girlfriend before a Snarky Puppy tour. Of course, the tour got canceled – along with all of my subsequent obligations in the US. I ended up staying in Lisbon, and I had only packed a suitcase with some clothes. In order to continue working from Lisbon, I had to completely rethink my setup since all of my gear was in New York. So, over the past year, I’ve taken a deep dive into VSTs. It’s been a great learning process, and I’ve found some really powerful instruments. I’m really excited to incorporate them into the fabric of the music going forward because it allows a greater degree of control and accuracy of achieving the sounds from the records. There is an aspect of excitement that stems from the spontaneity of dialing up sounds on the fly on an analog instrument that doesn’t have the capabilities of presets, but I think there’s room in the music for both worlds to exist, so I’m looking forward weaving the new sounds into the mix.

nugs.net: How has the inability to tour affected your ability to compose? Have you felt more or less inspired to write? 

JS: Inspiration comes and goes like it always does, but being at home with a constant setup has provided a consistency and grounding that makes the work of composing much easier. It’s not impossible to write on the road, but conditions are inconsistent, and the tools for writing are usually makeshift. Whereas on tour I might find an empty dressing room to tuck away with my laptop and two-octave MIDI controller, all I have to do at home is walk into my room where everything is set up exactly as I left it. I have a nice Yamaha U3 upright piano that’s inspiring to play, a Soyuz microphone to record trumpet and vocals, and an 88-key controller that’s programmed to work seamlessly with my software instruments. It’s not a high-end recording setup by any means, but the consistency and dedicated space make sitting down to work on music a joy. 

nugs.net: What four words describe life on the road with Snarky Puppy?

JS: Eat. Music. Sleep. Repeat.

Interview With Bill Laurance of Snarky Puppy

Snarky Puppy is back with another nugs.net streaming release. Four new shows join the 60+ concerts added to the nugs.net streaming library in March. The band’s keyboardist, Bill Laurance, has picked four of his favorite tracks from this month’s releases and compiled them into a playlist that’s free for anyone to listen to in the nugs.net app and desktop player. We talked to Laurance about Snarky Puppy, collaboration, and more:

nugs.net: How has joining Snarky Puppy and the Ground Up Music Family affected your approach to compositional collaboration? 

Bill Laurance: Collaboration is an essential part of the creative process and Snarky Puppy and the GroundUP family hold this at the heart of everything they do. I’ve been fortunate to witness over the years how an openness to collaboration can lead to some of the most unique and unexpected results, gifting the music with a wider and often fresher perspective. 

nugs.net: You have had musical collaborations within a wide range of the arts from dance to film to sound production and more. Has your work with these various mediums shaped the way you approach improvisation within the live setting?  

BL: Most definitely. Collaborating with filmmakers and choreographers provides a fresh perspective on how to tell a story. These days when I’m improvising on stage, I try to think about the story. About the characters and what they might do or what they might say. Writing for dance and film can make you think again about the narrative in the music and I try to represent this when I’m improvising live on stage.

nugs.net: One of the tracks you highlighted in the latest nugs.net x Snarky Puppy playlist is Lingus from 5/5/17 with Jacob Collier as the special guest. Could you tell us about how the sit-in with Jacob came about?

BL: We first met Jacob for the 2nd family dinner album in New Orleans with Snarky Puppy. He’s such a unique and special talent. I like to think that he understands harmony like Neo understands the Matrix. He also lives in London and so we invited him to come and sit in for the show at London’s Brixton Academy. He’s one of those rare musicians who seems to have no limits so watching him play is always going to be something special. 

nugs.net: What are four words that describe life on the road with Snarky Puppy?

BL: Family, lobby calls, always stretching, sleep when you’re dead. (sorry more than four…) 

Head to the nugs.net app or desktop player and check out the Bill Laurance’s Picks playlist in the free shows section and explore our full library of Snarky Puppy concerts.