It’s the second Wednesday of the month and that means new concerts from Snarky Puppy are now streaming on nugs.net. Alongside this month’s releases, we spoke to Justin Stanton, a man who wears many hats with Snarky Puppy. Read the full interview below and check out Justin Stanton’s Picks, a free playlist in the nugs.net app featuring his favorite tracks from this month’s releases.
nugs.net: Your name is synonymous with the term multi-faceted musician. From keys to horns to composition you clearly have a wide range of talents. Has your approach to each instrument changed at all during your time with the very vast lineup that is Snarky Puppy?
Justin Stanton: Playing in Snarky Puppy has most certainly rearranged my priorities as a musician. Before, I had always considered trumpet my primary instrument and piano a secondary instrument. My first gigs with the band in 2006 were on trumpet when I subbed for Jay. Some months later, Mike asked if I would be interested in playing keys in the band. I tried to politely decline, saying I didn’t think I was anywhere near the level needed to play the gig. In true Mike League fashion, he said, “You’ll be fine!” For a few years, I was the only keyboard player on most of the shows. I definitely wasn’t ready for the responsibility at the time, but I’m glad I was given the opportunity and I’m glad I took it. Of course, the band has evolved so much since those days, and so many great keyboardists have played (and still play) in the band. I’ve learned tons of lessons – musically and personally – from each one of them, and I’ve learned a lot about myself along the way, too. There were a lot of growing pains along the way overcoming insecurities about my musical worth. Rather than comparing myself to my fellow musicians against the yardstick of what made them great, I had to find within myself what was unique about what I had to offer and develop that. I think most musicians would consider themselves multi-faceted. I am enjoying this stage in my development, but I’m excited about how things will evolve as new opportunities present themselves.
nugs.net: When you get back on the road, do you plan to switch up your touring rig? Are there any new pieces of equipment you have been experimenting with during the year off you’ve had?
JS: For years now, there has been a strong preference toward an “analog” sound in the band. We’ve had the good fortune to play a lot of really great instruments not only in the studio but onstage as well. Depending on who else is on keys when we tour, I might be playing Fender Rhodes, Sequential Prophet 6, Minimoog, Mellotron, Clavinet, Nord Stage, or Korg Kronos. Right before the pandemic began, I traveled to Lisbon to visit my girlfriend before a Snarky Puppy tour. Of course, the tour got canceled – along with all of my subsequent obligations in the US. I ended up staying in Lisbon, and I had only packed a suitcase with some clothes. In order to continue working from Lisbon, I had to completely rethink my setup since all of my gear was in New York. So, over the past year, I’ve taken a deep dive into VSTs. It’s been a great learning process, and I’ve found some really powerful instruments. I’m really excited to incorporate them into the fabric of the music going forward because it allows a greater degree of control and accuracy of achieving the sounds from the records. There is an aspect of excitement that stems from the spontaneity of dialing up sounds on the fly on an analog instrument that doesn’t have the capabilities of presets, but I think there’s room in the music for both worlds to exist, so I’m looking forward weaving the new sounds into the mix.
nugs.net: How has the inability to tour affected your ability to compose? Have you felt more or less inspired to write?
JS: Inspiration comes and goes like it always does, but being at home with a constant setup has provided a consistency and grounding that makes the work of composing much easier. It’s not impossible to write on the road, but conditions are inconsistent, and the tools for writing are usually makeshift. Whereas on tour I might find an empty dressing room to tuck away with my laptop and two-octave MIDI controller, all I have to do at home is walk into my room where everything is set up exactly as I left it. I have a nice Yamaha U3 upright piano that’s inspiring to play, a Soyuz microphone to record trumpet and vocals, and an 88-key controller that’s programmed to work seamlessly with my software instruments. It’s not a high-end recording setup by any means, but the consistency and dedicated space make sitting down to work on music a joy.
nugs.net: What four words describe life on the road with Snarky Puppy?
JS: Eat. Music. Sleep. Repeat.