Miguel Atwood-Ferguson on Cosmogramma, Ray Charles, Brainfeeder, Nick Rosen, Alice Coltrane and much more!
We are very proud to present an exclusive interiew with Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, a multi-instrumentalist, session musician, composer and has continued to leave his imprint on the hundreds of places he touches with his music every year. Performing and recording with hundreds of artists, he has become a leading figure in todays modern sound. Miguel Atwood-Ferguson has been in the Los Angeles music scene for many years and his resume with working with all different kinds of modes and styles of sound gives him a perspective only few can share. He has worked with some of the best and is now gearing up to release his first album under his name in 2011.
~ Erik Otis
You recently performed on the same stage with many incredible artists for the tribute concert to Alice Coltrane at the Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA. From Nels Cline and Flying Lotus to McCoy Tyner and Daniel Carter, there was a wide variety of age groups present for this special concert. Who did you perform with during your portion of the concert?
I opened up the concert with Radha Botosfasina and her son Surya. I then later did a set with Flying Lotus, Austin Peralta, and Rebekah Raff. To close the night, I came back to the stage and performed two pieces with Michelle Coltrane and her ensemble.
What has Alice Coltrane’s music meant to you as a composer, musician and spiritual human being?
She is one of my greatest influences. I started listening to her music when I was in 10th grade. I have so much love and appreciation for her. I plan to do a tribute album to her someday. She has shown me the way repeatedly by her example. I was lucky enough to go to her ashram twice. One of those times she was there and it was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. I remember consciously wanting to thank her with my eyes and my spirit and when our eyes locked for a good ten seconds, I could feel that she really appreciated me being there and was thankful for the support I was trying to show her. That was a very special day. There was a raging river of love in the room flowing through us all and I remember crying tears of joy. Alice is a lifetime mentor for me.
You are credited for arranging and performing strings for the 2010 masterpiece Cosmogramma from Flying Lotus, how did you come to work with him?
Carlos Nino first started playing me his music. So, about a year before we met, I was already a fan. This was before Lotus’ album ‘1983’ was released. I don’t remember who actually introduced us. We discovered we were kindred spirits right away and have been having tons of fun since. There is a deep mutual understating between us that is very cool to experience with anyone.
How different was this from previous works you have done?
Lotus is more dedicated, more skilled and more of a visionary than most people out there, so working with him has been inspirational and fun. Most people aren’t creating new music to the degree he is, so linking up with Lotus is like creating history instead of trying to recreate it.
What was the atmosphere in the studio like when recording Cosmogramma?
I recorded everything with my usual engineer, Benjamin Tierney under my direction at my apartment in Hancock Park, so, it was totally relaxed and enjoyable. Lotus gave me the album basically once he was already done, so it was nice to pick my spots, write everything out, then go in and record them. I recorded everything in two days.
Was their specific preparation unique to this album you would do for the sound that is so very vital for this album?
Well, the written out aspect of what I did with the spirit of improvisation is how I do all of my writing and it greatly influences the final vibe. The balance vibe wise of what I did on Cosmogramma I think helped bring out all of the other loveliness that is there. Yin and Yang. Order and Chaos.
Harpist Rebekah Raff is a major contributor to the lush sound of Cosmogramma and was also included in your recent performance in Los Angeles at Grand Performances, how was her presence in the studio and whats the most memorable moments you shared with her during the process of recording and arranging Cosmogramma?
On most albums we work on together, I am the one instructing her what to play and where, but after introducing Rebekah to Lotus, I was really happy to hear what they came up without me. I thought it was super nice. Rebekah is an incredible human being and musician.
Speaking of the performance you did at the California Plaza with a line up beyond words, can you describe the feeling on stage that night?
It was so joyous. Tons of fun. Lots of love being bounced around the whole venue. That audience was the most amazing one that I remember ever playing for. It felt like we were doing something very special that night.
You took part in the CRC fundraiser December 11 with performances by Madlib, JRocc, Flying Lotus, DJ Nobody, Blank Blue, Mia Doi Todd, Domingo Siete, VJ Fader video mapping and of course yourself, what band or group did you present for this performance?
My string quartet ‘Quartetto Fantastico’ that I founded three years ago and direct, played a set of diverse material. It was tons of fun. Another historical night in LA.
You contributed a lot of work to an album released by Porter Records, Into the Sky from Nick Rosen. I really fell in love with the album, what type of approach did you take when you first wrote all your parts for the record?
Thank you, I produced that album and put quite a lot of love and time into it. Nick had sketches of some songs and others were fully composed but everything needed vision and help fully realizing everything. My whole approach with Nick was to support him as much as I could and help his album get to the best place possible. We worked on it for more than a year.
You appear on the 2004 album from Ray Charles “Genius Loves Company” playing viola with a cast of other amazing talent. How did you make it onto the record and how did that experience change your life?
I was working for a contractor at the time that worked for artists like Ray. I was an ‘A’ list Los Angeles studio recording musician for a number of years, but I eventually started turning down all of that work because it wasn’t fun. Working with Ray Charles was one of the brightest moments. A treasure that I will always hold dear. He was full of love, imagination and magic. He wasn’t there the day I recorded on his album, but another time I worked for him, it was at his own studio and he was producing the session. It was for Ellis Hall’s album and being around Ray for that many hours was like the greatest thing ever.
In your biography online, it states that you have been featured in orchestral settings with the one and only Wayne Shorter, a personal favorite at SCV. When did this happen and what type of music was played?
He visited USC where I was getting a classical degree at the time. He brought his quintet and played his music with the USC Symphony in concert. Since I practice the same Buddhism he does, we chanted together before the concert as well, which was one of the highlights of my life. That night was doubly amazing because the sublime Brad Mehldau was on piano that night and we got to hang.
You have recorded with popular recording artist and producer Dr. Dre. When did you record with Dr Dre and what was the recording process like?
I had to sign a contract not to talk about it.
You have recorded and toured in so many settings and so many styles all over the world, what message are you trying to send through your music?
My main prayer that I pray deeply and sincerely about everyday is ‘to empower and encourage everyone that comes in contact with me.’ I am way down with Gandhi’s message of being the change you wish to see in the world. So, I try to be as happy and healthy as possible. I try to break through my own limitations everyday and be full of love. I want to be love. I want my music and life to give people confidence to lead the most awesome lives they could imagine. I want to encourage people to listen and follow their hearts.
A lot of popular music is rooted in the trappings of society, expectations in the form of economics. In an age where beauty can be lost in the natural state of what this planet is, we really respect artists such as Paul Horn who use natural landscapes as a means to express their music and spirit in. What are some of the most divine and natural places on this planet that you have been fortunate enough to create music in?
Well, I think everywhere is a holy place, but some of the more magical places I have performed in are this 200 year old barn that I did a month long festival at in Toronto, Canada. Touring Japan with the Percy Faith Orchestra twice, I got to play in a lot of the nicest concert halls I have ever been to. Just practicing outside has always been nice. Whether it be in Topanga Canyon or in Northern Cali.
Do you feel you enter the world of creating in natural settings enough?
Definitely not, no question about it! lol!
With your studies and creative display of ideas, you have merged yourself into so many worlds of sound and culture, what new avenues or doorways have opened up in your life that have expanded on your ever increasing pallet of experiences?
The world of film. I have agreed to direct two music videos towards two separate albums that I am producing. I eventually want to be directing my own documentaries and feature length movies as well. This year I wrote original music for videos for Seu Jorge and Edward Sharpe+The Magnetic Zeroes. Flying Lotus asked me to do my first album under my name on his label Brainfeeder as well, so, that will be done by the end of 2011. I just got asked to curate the music series at The Museum of Neon Art in 2012. Lots more projects as well, it’s a very exciting time to be alive.