Interview with pianist Jacob David ≋ ‘Omkuld’ Debut Release

There are few times when life gives an opportunity touch and thereby feel something truly special.

A sunrise on a misty morning,

The moment your arm first brushes the skin of someone you love.

An unexpected pod of dolphins leaping in the air as they journey with you across the ocean.

Such a moment is beautifully folded within Danish pianist Jacob David’s debut album ‘omkuld‘.

Omkuld is a Danish word roughly translated as “overwhelmed, turned sideways or tumbled to the ground by wind or emotion”; a fitting title for a gentle yet emotionally-charged musical dance with wind and dusk.

In this interview, Jacob kindly shares his beginnings with the piano, the creative process he embraces, and his reasons for the textured, intimate sound environment.


 

What better place to start than from the beginning. When and how did your journey with the piano begin?

We had this old acoustic piano in our home which I was kind of drawn by. I liked to drool all over the instrument. My older brother used to play and one day he taught me this bluesy bass-line. I was 5 years old and totally excited, so I went on playing the same groove over and over again. At some point I started using both hands and I guess over time I accidentally played the pentatonic scale and blue notelines.  My parents must have been pretty patient with me and all that noise in the house, having 6 children to look out for… But yeah, I have always had an inner motivation to play. What was important to me was that I had all the time and space I needed to become familiar with the keys.

In the beginning it might not seem like you’re improving a lot, but I think the real progress is for your body to become familiar with the instrument. I feel lucky I wasn’t forced to take piano lessons and to read notes. I’ve talked to many people who say they stopped playing piano at some point because they didn’t like reading sheet music. They gave up playing thinking they were not musical because they’d be told reading notes was the only way to learn to play the piano. I think that’s sad of course, because the truth is there are many ways to develop a musical language.

The recording setup for ‘Omkuld’ creates an extremely intimate world where every breath is heard and every touch of the hammers are felt. Is this wonderful happenstance or a conscious artistic choice?

I wanted the sound to be just as raw as it is for me when I play. I always play with felt or cotton wool between the strings and the hammer heads and I love the dusty, textured sound it makes. There are always sounds and noise from the wood and all the mechanics of the instrument (and in my head too, you could say), which of course is part of the music, and when music integrates, it kind of creates its own silent space in that dusty/noisy environment. I like that contrast and how it’s organic – there are even disharmonics, because the felt sometimes covers and hits multiple strings.

Can you share a little about your creative process? Do you trace out the larger form and arc first, or gradually build upon smaller ideas and phrases?

I try not to think about it too much. Well, maybe that is a bit cliché and not totally true, because sometimes it does help to stop and think/analyze for a moment. Mostly, I try to just let go and surrender to whatever mood or melody emerges. It all depends. Sometimes it takes a lot of listening and mistakes to find a structure or finish a song – like sculpting. Other times the sculpture is there instantly. I really do not have a recipe, but I think what I’m learning is if I try too hard to get my head around it and control the process, I will often only delay it.

I continually need to reset my ears in order to hear what’s coming. That is why I love to improvise with different genres and contrasts. Heim, for instance, is an example of that.. The original recording is a big mess. For half an hour I tried really hard to create a theme of some kind, and I started getting frustrated because nothing seemed to work. Then I started playing blues or funk or something, and then suddenly I push the pedal, and Heim pops up out of nowhere. So, what you hear on the record is actually the very first time I play it. Later I tried to do a better recording of it, but I still think that the first take has some imperfection and charm to it that can never be repeated with the same presence. So that’s why I always have my microphones turned on…

Experimental artists and pianists you draw inspiration from?

I love listening to composers like Nils Frahm, Keith Kenniff, Olafur Arnalds, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Jon Hopkins. They are all great artists who have inspired me a lot. Also, Keith Jarrett’s hour-long improvisations are amazing. Elvis Presley is awesome. I don’t listen to music that much though, because it’s not always just easy listening to me. Especially with instrumental music; the universe is complex and the story is in the detail. Because that is my own musical language, it makes me listen more carefully to digest it.

Sprinkled throughout the album there are hints of ambient and electronica leanings. Is this genre-melding dance a facet of your musicality you’ve always possessed or the beginnings of an experimental path?

It’s kind of new to me actually. I guess I’ve always been fascinated by different kinds of texture in nature. And so now I’ve just started to explore texture in sound. Once you start carrying a recorder around, you really start to open your ears and it just adds a whole new dimension to your way of composing. You discover that there is much more to it than tonality.. and that there are infinite ways to bend spaces and to build with contrasts. So yes, I definitely will look more into that.

Favorite key for when it’s raining and you’re communing with your instrument alone?

Alicia Keys? Hm, not sure I have one.. Actually, sometimes I try to force myself to start in a key that’s somewhat uncomfortable to me. I think it sharpens my ear not to feel ’safe’ in a certain key…

You’ve created something truly special with this album. Are there more releases or projects in your future we can look forward to?

Thanks! Yeah, I have lots of projects going on and I am already collecting ideas for my next album. I’m also working on a film score with my friend and sound engineer, Thomas Haahr. Just recently I was so lucky – one of my friends asked me if I would like to host his Grand Steinway Piano, so now I have two pianos squeezed inside my bedroom and a lot of piano preparation to do. Hopefully I will get to play both on my next record.


Follow Jacob on SoundCloud | Facebook | Twitter | Stream and Buy on Bandcamp

Learn more about ‘omkuld’ on Moderna Records here.


Enjoy these playlists featuring Jacob David, Nils Frahm, and more incredible artists.