Behind the piano: Josh Kramer

Behind the piano: Josh Kramer

Where are you from? And where do you live?
I’m from Ohio originally but also spent about a decade living in Minnesota so I also have roots there. For the last several years, I’ve been living in the beautiful country of Turkey.

How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
I first began playing piano when I was 4. I started formal lessons a few years later with Pat Pace, a graduate of Juilliard, and learned a variety of genres including jazz, classical and contemporary. I also picked up guitar in my teen years and taught myself to play at a basic level. 

Tell us about how you started playing music. 
When I was four, my mother was talking on the phone and her friend asked who was playing piano in the background, and that’s when she realized that I had somehow learned how to play the piano by ear. I remember playing everything I heard on tv and the radio – the Transformers theme, Van Halen’s “Love Walks In”, and the Knightrider theme, to name a few.  

How long have you been making piano music?
The first memory I have of actually writing my own music, I was around 8 years old. 

Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
My piano teacher encouraged me to compose my first piece of music around the age of 8 for a school competition, in which I took home first place. I’m not sure how, the song was garbage, but I guess it was okay for an eight-year-old, haha! I began composing more and more each following year and eventually placed first in the state of Ohio for the Scholastic Composer’s Contest.

What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
My biggest influence is definitely Thomas Newman, who is in my opinion one of the most prolific and talented composers of this age. I gravitate towards his music not only because it is largely piano-driven, but because he has an ability to evoke such profound emotion with relatively simplistic melodies and instrumentation. I love how his music marries feelings of melancholy and hope together as if they’re a seemless union. The way he uses chords, harmony, dissonance and atmosphere in unique ways is also very inspiring to me as a composer. I’m also a big fan of artists like Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm. 

Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano? Your own or someone else’s? 
I’ve always loved the Gershwin Preludes and Rhapsody in Blue as well as Chopin’s Fantasy Impromptu. I’m a little rusty though, it’s been a while!

What rules (in making music) need to be broken?
Good question! I’m a nonconformist in a lot of ways, so my first impulse is to say “Break all of them!” But at the same time, there are certain rules that are there for a reason, but I see them more as a guide and not something to strictly adhere to. The most important thing about music to me is passion and feeling. You can follow all of the rules you want, but if you don’t have real feeling and palpable emotion, all of that music theory you learned in 10th grade is all for naught. 

How do you record your music?
I write and record everything from the comfort of my very tiny and humble home studio. It’s probably the smallest and most minimalistic studio you will ever see. But it does the job!

What’s your take on sampled instruments?
I love samples! Of course if you can afford real instruments in all of your productions, that’s ideal but for most of us, that’s simply not reality. Also, there’s just so many sounds you can get with samples that aren’t possible with any instrument. You literally have access to almost any kind of sound you can imagine which in turn can really get the creative juices flowing. However, sometimes it becomes a little overwhelming because the possibilities are endless. I’m currently in one of those phases where I’m a little burnt out from all of that, which is why i’m focusing on a series of solo piano works for most of this year. 

The last question is asked by my 5 year old son:
Where do all your songs come from? 
Oh man, I would normally give a completely different answer but I’m going to keep this light given his age. They come from a special device I have called “The Musical Blender”. I put everything in my life into it; good, bad, pretty, ugly, happy or sad. I push a few buttons, and it magically turns it all into a piece of beautiful music. Or at least that’s the goal 😉 Hopefully I passed the 5-year-old test!

Thank you for sharing with us Josh!

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