Behind the piano: Richard LaBrooy

Behind the piano: Richard LaBrooy

Where are you from? And where do you live?
I’m currently based in Melbourne, Australia.

How long have you been playing the piano?
I come from a fairly musical family, so my Dad being a jazz drummer got me started on the piano when I was five. To him, that was the instrument that he believed would give me the most range as a musician. I think he made the right call. Although, I’m constantly seeing more piano based and neoclassical acts, that have backgrounds coming from everywhere. From the bass to audio engineering. With the implementation of computer technology, I don’t think it matters what your musical background is anymore.

Do you play other instruments as well?
I can play a little guitar, but nothing to write home about. I’ve also dabled with the drums. Once I began to take music seriously though, I transitioned more towards learning the electronic side of things. Synthesis always fascinated me, as well as the intricate detail required in audio engineering. That said, learning multiple instruments, even to the most basic degree can have a profound effect on the way that you write. For me, guitar taught me different tunings and voicings. The drums taught me odd time signatures. It depends on what you want to get out of music, and how far you want to push yourself creatively.

Tell us about how you started playing music.
Like many kids, I took lessons until I was in my late teens, all the while joining and starting a few bands. As you can imagine, nothing came of them, but they did teach me how to collaborate, as opposed to sitting in the studio by myself. The more you collaborate, the more you realize how little you know. So it helps to learn from as many sources as possible, and never be guarded about your own shortcomings.

How long have you been making piano music?
On and off since I was around eleven. I remember writing a short waltz on manuscript paper and showing my teacher. He was actually the one who encouraged me to begin composing and eventually led to me applying for music school. At the time, I never expected to actually get into music professionally, but after writing music for a few short films, I was approached by my manager, and things snowballed from there. I think regardless of your industry, you should always follow whatever opportunities are offered to you.

Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
I’m still not sure I’ve had that particular moment… I mean, listening to my own pieces is about as fun as listening to paint dry. But I think that goes for most artists. But to your question, I think I gained a bit more confidence once I learnt how to actually produce a track myself. How to mix and master it. I mean, that’s a superpower right there. Because you’re no longer reliant on others. You can do everything inside your own self absorbed little box. And while I would encourage musicians to collaborate as much as possible — how else do you learn? I think it’s important in the beginning to be able to release as much as possible, without waiting for others. Do it on your own terms.  It’s a productivity thing.

What are your favourite artists in this “piano genre”?
Where to start? I admire artists that blend and experiment with different ideas and sonic landscapes, and then they use the piano as an emotional hook. What Johann Johannsson was doing really epitomizes that in my opinion. His writing was incredibly melodic and delicate with his use of piano work and orchestra. But he always had another foot firmly planted in sound design, with these incredibly evocative landscapes.

Another composer that is rooted more in my upbringing is Ryuchi Sakamoto, for his use of jazz harmony. And of course; I don’t think any artist in this genre could avoid noting the fact that Max Richter and Olafur Arnalds have both moved mountains for the genre, reintroducing classical music to audiences that would otherwise have forgotten it. Also, while they’re not strictly piano, bands like Stars of the Lid, and A Winged Victory for the Sullen (both of which involve Adam Wiltzie) have really pushed the ambient and neoclassical genres. I’m also a huge fan of what Jeremy Soule is doing in the gaming world, with his blend of ambience and orchestra.

Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
Johannsson’s ‘Flight From the City’ was an instant hit for me. I had to immediately sit down and figure it out. So it’s definitely a go-to these days. Also anything off of Richter’s ‘The Blue Notebooks’ which I listened to religiously while in music school. I’ve also got a soft spot for playing Zimmer’s ‘Where We’re Going’ from Interstellar.

What’s happening next? New releases etc. (remember this is gonna be posted the 28th of March).
I’ll be pushing out a fair few new releases out during 2019. I can say for certain that I haven’t written this much before, or so quickly. My music professors always told me I was a prolific composer, so I guess I’m now trying to live up to that.

I’d also like to attempt my first album later on down the line. Although that sounds like a much larger task. I’d only commit to it if it had a strong and grounded concept behind it. I do have a few ideas… But we’ll need to see which of those comes out on top. I think the hardest part of being an artist is choosing which of the endless stream of ideas should actually be pursued.

What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
I think the only rules that should be broken are those restricting innovation. Especially towards purists who put up their nose at artists who root their ‘classical’ music in electronic genres. And I do think it’s grown a lot better in the last few years, but there’s always room. Many people still discount computer technology as a musical instrument. But if you look at a piano or a violin, aren’t they still technology, just of another time?

Anything else you want to share?
I’m amazed by the new resurgence of classical music, which we’re now calling neoclassical. It’s giving way to some amazingly talented artists blending ambient, cinematic and electronic genres, and I think it’s thanks to bloggers, and promoters like you, that it’s happening. I believe there’s going to be a significant shift in music as a whole over the next ten to twenty years. The ambient, chill and atmospheric waves are giving music a chance to breathe. And I think the neoclassical niche is a part of that.

Thank you so much for sharing Richard! I’m glad that someone else mention Flight from the city as a big inspiration. That was the first song I heard by Johann Johannsson as well, and it really got me going too!

Please check out these links for more information about Richard and his musical projects!
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