9 Q - Jeremy Schonfeld: Das E-Mail-Interview zu “Iron & Coal” [2011]

Jeremy Schonfeld"
Am 28. Februar 2011 fand in Wien die erste “Listening Party” für “Iron & Coal”, das neue Konzeptalbum des Komponisten Jeremy Schonfeld (”37 Notebooks”, “Drift”, “Blue Skies and All”), statt. “Iron & Coal”, das in Berliner und Wiener Tonstudios eingespielt wurde, ist ein Konzeptalbum in Erinnerung an die Millionen Opfer des Holocaust - und für die, die überlebt haben, für Schonfelds Familie, für Jeremy Schonfeld selbst und vor allem für seinen Vater. In einem E-Mail-Interview erzählt der Komponist mehr über die Arbeit an “Iron & Coal”, er schreibt über seine Lieblings-CDs und beantwortet unter anderem die Frage, ob es seiner Meinung nach ein “perfektes Musical” gibt. Neun Fragen - Neun Antworten / 9 Q:

Martin Bruny: “Iron & Coal” has been recorded as a concept album in sound studios in Vienna and Berlin with Beat4Feet producing. You recorded “Drift” in 2000 as a concept album, later on it got a full musical production. What are your plans with “Iron & Coal”? Could that be a show for a Broadway production?

Jeremy Schonfeld: When I recorded “Drift” (actually, the original concept album was recorded in 2001 and released in 2002), I didn’t have ‘the big plan’ together for marketing and promotion. I knew it was a collection of songs relating to my own experiences living through divorce and child-custody. There was a raw immediacy to the original 11 songs that drew many people to the original source material - and still does today. The show(s) that resulted based on the original concept album increased the material itself (more songs), and continues to breathe life into the subject matter. “Drift” continues to grow each time we work on it, and is now set for a large production in the States (Kansas City, MO) this September.
Where “Iron & Coal” is different is the initial planning and execution of the material. 10 Years later, the music business is a completely different animal, plus you look at your career goals and expectations a bit differently at 41. My goal for IandC is to mount a large-scale Concert Event that serves as both a storytelling evening and a rock concert combined. Kind of a hybrid event, if you will, like the original “Tommy” or “The Wall” (maybe not quite as big, but you get the idea….!). This event could then tour, sit in a theater, maybe even find a home on Broadway. But Broadway isn’t the only goal or option for this piece at the moment … It’s a big world!

Martin Bruny: Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” flopped in Vienna a few years ago. Dealing with that topic in a satirical way in a country which is still in a process of “problem solving” could have been one reason. Can you imagine “Iron & Coal” as a musical production in Vienna? Are there any plans?

Jeremy Schonfeld: Well, one thing I am very cautious about is the labeling of “Iron & Coal”. This is not a musical for a reason. When I began creating the album, I made it a point to steer clear of mapping out the songs in a linear fashion. I wanted to concentrate on real, emotional material - songs that were immediately recognizable in their relation to the subject matter, mixed with songs that were more subtly related - setting myself free from a blue print of what “Iron & Coal” had to be. The results, hopefully, are a bit more far-reaching than shows like “The Producers” (which I loved on Broadway, btw), because I am working from real human emotion and experience rather than attempting to hit points on a map. In the end, a song that I am moved to write only works for an audience on their terms, not due to my personal experiences. If I touch a more universal nerve, the listener will relate to the landscape and they will be moved to open their hearts to this album. And if I have have accomplished this goal with IandC, it can and will be successfully performed and produced anywhere that will have us - especially Vienna.

Martin Bruny: How did you come to collaborate with Beat4Feet? Can you tell us more about the work on your album in the recording studios. Are you working with a band or an orchestra?

Jeremy Schonfeld: As I was creating the music for this album and looking at various options for producing the recordings (including an NYC record deal I turned down to work in Vienna), I was persuaded by a mutual friend, Larry Adelman, to meet Martin Gellner (one half of Beat4Feet) at a diner for lunch in Manhattan. We had that connection thing immediately. Originally, I thought I might visit and do some orchestra recording in Vienna, but soon came to realize that I was really far more interested in trying to create the whole project with these guys. Personally, professionally, it all made sense.
We began in August with me laying down ’scratch’ piano/vocals for the majority of the songs for the album. Using those reference tracks, we began to map out the album itself from a production standpoint; What instrumentation/arrangements did we want? Who did the boys want to bring in to play? Once recording began in January, Martin and Werner had assembled the players they wanted and we had a strong sense of all the arrangements we wanted to create, giving room for flexibility to discover as we went.
Basically, the working environment was collaborative from the get-go. I wrote the songs, (I sing and play piano throughout the album). From there, I had ideas for arrangements and production values that I brought to the table. Werner and Martin took notes and began to work from my thoughts as well as their own inspirations. The orchestrations were mainly Martin’s area, the electronic layout was Werner, and I kinda went back and forth with both. It was a very creative and detailed working atmosphere, and everyone worked extremely hard. We didn’t cut any corners in this production.

Martin Bruny: Can you recall the moment you decided to compose songs for a concept album about this topic? What led to your decision to write the songs.

Jeremy Schonfeld: I had been considering the subject matter for a long time, but was never sure when the timing would be right. My father wrote and published his memoirs (”Absence of Closure”, Dr. Gustav Schonfeld) in 2009. At the time, I was in discussion with the very talented director, Daisy Prince, to create an original piece together. It was Daisy who pointed out that maybe the time was right to take a stab at the subject matter.

Martin Bruny: Are you planning to play concerts in Vienna, give master classes at performing arts schools here in Vienna?

Jeremy Schonfeld: Would love to do both, yes.

Martin Bruny: A lot of composers are not able or simply don’t want to talk about the creating process of writing songs. Others, like Stephen Sondheim, are able to write books about that topic. Can you describe how you are composing a song? Do you need a special environment, are you composing just for one album a time? How do you know that a song is finished? How long did you work on “Iron & Coal” …

Jeremy Schonfeld: Well, this is a very loaded question with several answers. Honestly, writing songs is a craft that each writer develops internally over time. Personally, I love the challenge of creating emotionally compelling music that covers broad areas of musical terrain. At heart, I am a storyteller, so moving into musical theater was a natural progression (even as I, admittedly, don’t love all things of musical theater, my passion is telling stories through music). For me, writing a song is kind of like solving an elaborate puzzle. The craft you develop over time enables you to know what tools you have in your tool belt for use in solving each puzzle. Songs can take weeks, months to create, and sometimes they come out within minutes or hours. The trick is knowing when to push forward and when to walk away.

Martin Bruny: How important it is the web for artists nowadays. Can you describe a little bit which web devices, technologies and software (i. e. for composing, writing lyrics) you are using? Are you on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace - and if you are, does it help making your work more popular? How important is it for an artist to have a website?

Jeremy Schonfeld: I am, admittadly, not the most technology-minded musician in the world. I still write with a pencil, a pad of paper, and a big rubber eraser sitting at a real piano. That’s how my process begins. Computer stuff comes later. Same with other technologies. I have embraced Facebook, have been urged by my manager to blog (yeah, I failed there), and have never understood Twitter. Email, text, and Facebook are as much as I can handle!

Martin Bruny: Are you a perfectionist, are you trying to write a “perfect” musical or a perfect song? Is there a perfect song? What is your goal in life as an artist?

Jeremy Schonfeld: Am I a perfectionist? I would say yes. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I am one of those sour, always unhappy and unsatisfied ’suffering artist’ types. Do I have my moments? Sure, but in general, I like to think I am a very lucky man. I have a wonderful family, great friends, wonderful work opportunities, and I am damn good at what I do. A few more dollars in the banks would be nice, but really my goals in life are simple: Be happy, do great work, and appreciate my life as I am living it.
To answer the question about the ‘perfect song or musical’, I would say, sure there are some wonderful songs out there - even some I have written. Same with musicals. Personally though, I don’t believe in judging perfection. If the artist feels it is perfect, that’s all that matters. If an audience feels the same, then that is a wonderful bonus. An artist cannot create his or her work for the audience though. You keep them in mind, of course, but at the end of the day, it must come from the heart first, mind second.

Martin Bruny: If you would have to create a “Soundtrack of Your Life”: Which 5 CDs are important in your life and why?

Jeremy Schonfeld: These are a bit random, maybe even surprising (in no order of importance):

1) Billy Joel - Glass Houses/52nd Street/Cold Spring Harbor etc.
All that 70’s and early 80’s Billy Joel was rich with storytelling and passion. Billy was a master at matching music and lyric together as well, which is something I pride myself in.

2) Supertramp - Breakfast in America
“Take the Long Way Home” is still one of my favorite songs. Emotional, epic.

3) Boston - Boston
My very first cassette tape. Can’t you see 7 year old Jer running around with a little tape player blasting “More than a Feeling”? Priceless. That music just sang to me.

4) Chess - Original London cast album
Don’t really listen to this one that much anymore, but man - this totally changed my view of musical theater at the time. Intrigued me enough to try writing it …

5) Beatles - anything
How can you pick the best Beatles album or song? Hugely influential to me as a kid. And still …

- Jeremy Schonfeld
- Jeremy Schonfeld @Facebook


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