Planets, the debut LP from saxophonist, composer, producer, and Kalamazoo native Stratøs is here (well, it will be tomorrow)! In contrast to his previous work on the project DiE - created during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and focusing on isolation, Planets takes a collaborative approach featuring some of Stratøs’ closest friends and mentors. The album brings together the many genres featured including jazz, hip hop, electronic, classical and more through one cohesive narrative. We sat down with Stratøs himself to learn a little more about the project in the following interview.
What was your inspiration for this album?
I wanted to make an album that was really "collectible" for lack of a better word. I really like collections. The 8 Planets, the 12 months, etc. Gustav Holst is perhaps most famous for his 7 movement suite "The Planets." While I quite enjoy this work, it wasn't necessarily the inspiration behind this album. However, also being a fan of lineage, I tried to pay homage to his melody from "Mars, the Bringer of War" in my track 'Mars (feat. David Binney)." I wanted to best find a way to encapsulate the past 6 or so years of music I've been doing in a complete standalone set.
How was it collaborating with so many people on this project during the pandemic?
It was an interesting yet fulfilling challenge collaborating with so many different people for this record. I had to write the tunes differently than I normally would. A lot of my music is based in Black American music of the 20th century, which heavily utilizes improvisation. Collective improvisation is better when you are playing with people in real time, so I had to rethink how the tunes would work. I couldn't rely so much on raw improvisation so instead I focused on composition and production, and tried creating elaborate landscapes for people (and myself) to improvise over.
What is your favorite song on the album and why?
It's hard to say what my favorite tune on the record is but I'd say the one I had the most fun putting together was probably "Neptune." I wrote a melody for my girlfriend and collaborator Julia Moffa to write lyrics to, and built the rest of the tune around that. I worked together with drummer Madison George and bassist Daniel Durst to make a harmonic and rhythmic landscape I'm currently most proud of. I love working with Madison and Daniel, which is a little funny because they have never met in person. However, they both bring an energy that enhances my music to a level I'm always surprised to hear. Working with Julia comes so naturally and it's always a treat to see what she comes up with. The poem she wrote for this piece as well as lent her voice to elevates the tune and gives it a texture it would otherwise be empty without.
How did you first get involved with music?
I started playing saxophone in 5th grade. They wanted me to play violin because apparently I have long fingers but when it came time to try the instruments out I purposely sucked at the violin, flute and clarinet so that they'd let me play saxophone lol.
What do you hope to do next musically?
I'm moving to LA in August so I'm hoping to just work the scene. I'd like to keep doing what I'm doing; play saxophone, compose, produce, and do film photography. Just in a major music scene.
How has the Kalamazoo music scene influenced your playing/production?
Kalamazoo is where I learned a lot of important lessons as a musician and a person. I think the unique thing about Kalamazoo is that there isn't a clear cut "sound" of the town. Everyone does their own thing or finds other people who want to help them do their thing. I just try to keep up with everyone else and make the music that makes the most sense to me.
Is there anything else you would like to share about the project?
I'd just like to thank each person that contributed to the record. A lot of people contributed their time and energy to this project and it continually blows me away that people would do that to help me. If you're in NYC on October 20th, my band is premiering this music live at Rockwood Music Hall. Hope to see you there!
Tune in at 2 PM on Friday to hear Planets live on-air!