Congratulations on the amazing work and beautiful music you make with ROOMFUL of TEETH and thank you for accepting our invitation for this interview. Let's start,
What is the chemistry like between all members of Roomful of Teeth?
We think of ourselves as a family and work hard to maintain a positive, easy vibe in the group. Care – both self-care and care of our little community – is one of the things we value most. We have a great time together, but we also know that many days in close proximity on tours or in recordings mean we all need time to ourselves, as well.
Does each member have a distinct role in the group or do you all contribute equally to every undertaking?
We’re not a co-op though in many things we do work cooperatively. Trevor Litsey, our managing director and I (artistic director) oversee all of the planning and maintenance of the organization. But the group is decidedly a chamber ensemble and our musical work together is always collaborative.
Roomful of Teeth has worked with and commissioned music by some of the coolest composers of our time. What entails achieving such successful collaborations and how does the creative process differ with each project? We don’t like to rush our projects with composers. Our ideal collaboration is one in which the composer has become very familiar – through lots of time together – with every singer’s voice in every possible direction we’ve explored. That’s followed by drafts and conversations and more drafts and more conversations resulting eventually in some great tunes. Our annual residencies at MASS MoCA provide a great platform for this kind of work. Can you share with us any amusing stories involving your group’s collaborative projects with remarkable artists such as Glasser, Kanye West, Glenn Kotche and more? Hmmm. Can’t think of any, unfortunately! Your performances have won rave reviews by serious critics and audiences alike. How much importance do you place on each review of your work and why? Any feedback we get is interesting and potentially informative. The hope is that our music will connect with listeners; if it doesn’t for any reason it can be instructive for us to explore why it doesn’t. Roomful of Teeth has studied Tuvan throat singing, yodeling, belting, Inuit throat singing, Korean P’ansori, Georgian singing, Sardinian cantu a tenore, Hindustani music and Persian classical singing with some of the world’s top performers and teachers. Who is in charge of the research and selective process when it comes to exploring and practicing oral music traditions from around the world? I am (Brad) as artistic director.
You have such a packed schedule, every month in different cities throughout the US and beyond. Is the music you make together the best remedy for the side effects of being on the road? What is the range of emotions performing in front of a different audience most of the time? Performing always takes a lot of energy and concentration but certain shows can become – for any number of reasons – particularly exhilarating. Rest and recovery are always needed so we try build in sufficient down time when we’re on the road to allow everyone to refuel in their preferred way. There’s always joy and pleasure – and sometimes sadness (we like a good dose of sad music) – in our performances: we love the music we perform and we all feel lucky to make a living playing for audiences. How cool is it performing at Mass MOCA annually? What is the most unforgettable performance there and what are you looking forward to the most? MASS MoCA is super cool – we love retreating there every summer. Our first summer was perhaps the most memorable as it felt like a stunning little explosion of energy that everyone in the room – performers and audience – felt. This summer was pretty memorable, too, as we had a couple of bats in the room seemingly digging the premieres by Toby Twining, Nick Zammuto and Ambrose Akinmusire. What are the best cities you’ve toured so far and will visit in the upcoming months? Let’s see… some of the sweetest spots: Vancouver, Seoul, and Asheville, NC. This season the group will perform in Sweden among many other great cities and towns across the U.S. Roomful of Teeth is a Grammy-wining vocal project. How does that level of achievement feel? What comes next? We have some amazing recordings and projects lined up over the next few years. Among other things, we’re collaborating with Rinde Eckert and SO Percussion on theater piece guided by Rinde, we’ll be performing and recording new work by David Lang at and for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and Bryce Dessner (of The National) is creating a major new piece with us on photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.