Q&A: Jane Getter on her new record and teaching jazz guitar in India

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From an early age, Jane Getter knew that making music would be her chosen path in life. With a wide range of influences informing her musical style, including everything from Indian classical to gospel, jazz, rock and, more recently, progressive bands and political themes, her music is in a world of its own. Prog catches up with the guitarist, bandleader and songwriter as she talks about the prog influences she has unleashed on her fourth album.

What was it that made you choose the guitar as your primary musical instrument?

I have a sister who’s a couple of years older than me. Our parents gave us music lessons when we were kids. I was given piano and she was given guitar. But when she had her guitar lessons, I’d always spy on her and listen in. So I was drawn to the guitar from early on, and it just stayed with me. I did learn to play piano over the years, as well as some drums and bass, but the guitar always was my first choice.

In what way has being a professional musician changed the way in which you listen to music?

I’ve always listened to a lot of music, always had music on. When I was a kid, I used to sometimes pretend I was a singer in a band, singing along to songs while standing in front of a mirror. I actually started writing songs
back when I was in high school. The deeper I get into music, obviously the more references I have, and the more knowledgeable I am. So, yes, I do think it makes me listen to music differently, but I don’t think it takes away from the pure enjoyment and the connection that I have spiritually with music. I’m using the word ‘spiritually’ for lack of a better term – I’m not a spiritual person, but I do think that music allows you to grasp aspects of the world that pass you by physically. Having a knowledge of what’s happening musically does not take away from that.

In the last couple of years I’ve been really inspired by prog bands – that’s the stuff that really gets me going.

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My ear has expanded into different styles, but it’s more cumulative. I don’t find myself disliking things any more – I just add on styles and approaches that I do like.

It’s so funny that I used the word ‘spiritual’ in an interview. I’ve never done that before, and I don’t want that to become a big thing! If we can think of another term for it, that would be cool. Just to mean something not physical…

Transcendental?

Yeah, transcendental. Right!

You have a diverse range of influences. Did you listen to much prog while growing up?

I’d been listening to King Crimson and Yes early on, but I never really loved them back then. It’s only over the last eight or 10 years or so that I’ve started to love these bands. It makes a lot of sense in my writing because that particular genre allows a lot of the stuff that I want to do… Well, actually, it’s not that it allows it, more that it’s just a part of it naturally – the odd-metre stuff, the sections and changes, plus the darker harmonies and melodies…

You spent a couple of months teaching jazz in India. How did that come about? What was the experience like?

I got an email from Prasanna [jazz guitarist and founder of the Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music, or SAM] asking if I wanted to teach at SAM. He’d seen an interview with me in one of the jazz magazines. I thought, “Wow! India! I’ve always wanted to go there. This’ll be really cool.” But it was for a long time, nine weeks! So I went there and I felt like I was on another planet! It was just so different. But I adjusted. I learned a lot about myself.

One of the things that I took from it was learning about Indian – and specifically Carnatic – music. There was a Carnatic music festival happening in Chennai when I was there, so we got to see some amazing concerts. I wrote a song called Chennai Blues. I made up a scale based on a raga and I use it on solo spots. It incorporates a lot of Carnatic ideas – the raga, the sliding vibrato that sitar players and Prasanna use.

What inspired some of the songs on your new album?

There are two political songs there. I get really frustrated with the toxic political climate in the United States at the moment. It amazes me how these people behave and are able to sleep at night. Where Somewhere is about that. It’s saying, “I know you have a heart in there somewhere – where is it?”

Train Man is about a homeless man that entered into a subway car I was on in NYC. He just started going off and saying all sorts of stuff and I thought immediately, “This is a song!” So I started copying down the stuff he was saying.

Falling is about trying to lift yourself up when things aren’t going great. Transparent is about fake and phoney people, whom you can see right through.

How structured is the writing process? Do you have a particular aim for an album when you start writing?

I’ve always just written about what I’m feeling and what I like, and what I’m inspired by. I have a very eclectic taste in music, from Indian classical to gospel, funk, African, Brazilian. I think that all enters into my writing. In the last couple of years I’ve been really inspired by prog bands – Porcupine Tree and Steven [Wilson], Animals As Leaders, Opeth and Periphery. That’s the stuff that really gets me going and is a real influence on what I’m doing now.

On is available now via Madfish. For more information on Premonition, visit Jane Getter’s personal website.