hes been defined by various theistic imagery in his music, keyboardist
/ composer Jeff Johnson is also renowned for his excellent
instrumental recordings in recent years. On the 2013 CD release of
Winterfold, Jeff is joined by Brian Dunning
(flutes, whistles) and Wendy Goodwin (violin). That core
trio sound is rounded out on CD by Tim Ellis (guitar), Phil
Baker (bass) and Mike Snyder (percussion). Clearly flourishing
within a progressive Celtic instrumental realm, Winterfold tastefully
accents elements of New Age and neoclassical music. As is the case
with Johnsons recorded collaborations with guitarist Phil Keaggy,
(Frio Suite and WaterSky) the sound of Winterfold
is also by nature reflective and meditative. On Jeff Johnsons
latest CD you can almost sense the dying of the light as the year
draws into the depths of winter, at least for us in the Northern Hemisphere.
Although the reflection and darkness of winter is upon us, the introspective
nature of Winterfold is almost redemptive in nature. Johnsons
reverent domain rises to the fore on Winterfold and the music
is almost prayer like in tone and style making the album an excellent
choice for fans of radiant instrumental music. www.ArkMusic.com
mwe3.com presents an interview with
Winterfold is the new collaboration between you and Brian Dunning
and Wendy Goodwin. Is Winterfold the name of the band and the name
of the CD? How did you meet these musicians, how many albums have
you recorded with them and whats the chemistry like between
JEFF JOHNSON: Winterfold is the title of the new CD
and takes its name from a poem by the Orkney Island writer,
George MacKay Brown. Brian Dunning and myself have been working together
for nearly twenty-five years having recorded seventeen full albums
on the Ark Music label as well as being featured on numerous Celtic
music compilations released by Windham Hill, Hearts of Space, Sparrow,
Sony, etc. Wendy Goodwin has been part of the trio for five years.
I love this trio and the chemistry in the studio and on stage is very,
very good. There is a tremendous respect each of us has towards one
another as musicians, composers and human beings and I think it comes
across in the music.
mwe3: How would you describe the music of Winterfold? Would
you call it New Age, Celtic, soundtrack music or contemporary spiritual
instrumental? What are the various musical elements that go in to
make the Winterfold sound?
JEFF JOHNSON: In the past, I would have answered Contemporary
Celtic but really the music that were playing is better
labeled Contemporary Chamber Music.
Im a keyboard player so theres lots of subtle synth sounds
that I employ along with the loops and percussion that I use to support
the leads playing on flute and whistles (Brian) and the violin (Wendy).
In the recordings, I typically add guitar (Tim Ellis), bass (Phil
Baker) and some other subtle percussion (Mike Snyder). Brian also
adds the occasional accordion part and Ill sneak in a backing
vocal or two on these all-instrumental offerings.
mwe3: How do you and Brian Dunning collaborate on the melodies,
sound and arrangements on the new album and in what ways how did the
other musicians, Tim Ellis (guitars), Phil Baker (bass) and Mike Snyder
(percussion) who contribute, improve or enhance the sound of the Winterfold
JOHNSON: One of us usually comes up with a complete melody. I
put on my producer hat and pick which ones well concentrate
on, often weaving several together in a single piece. Wendy is also
a very good writer herself and brings a great sense of melody to the
music. Thats one thing that weve always respectedmelody.
And, when we go to figure out how to play these songs live, we tend
to pick the songs that have the strongest melodies to perform. Theres
also a high level of improvisational skills in the trio and that plays
into both the recordings and the performances.
In the early stages of production, I usually have a good sense of
the compositions form and will almost always add guitar, bass and
some percussion elements at that time. Tim, Phil and Mike are my go
to guys for this and the commitment to using them regularly
over the years has enhanced the process since they often know what
Im looking for in a given song even before I tell them.
mwe3: The Winterfold track Watching Clouds
is brilliant. What was the inspiration behind that track and how did
it fit into place?
JEFF JOHNSON: Brian wrote the main melody while I composed
the opening piano section. Often our songs go through many different
titles as the recording process progresses but this one was always
about clouds. Theres just something about that plaintive melody
coupled with the keyboard figure that gives one the sense of clouds
mwe3: How did you become interested in the poet George Mackay
Brown, who is from Orkney Island and in what ways did he influence
the Winterfold sound? What place does poetry fit into your music?
JEFF JOHNSON: I was fortunate to meet GMB years ago on a visit
to the Orkney Islands. His writing has been a great inspiration for
me through the years. I wouldnt say that his poetry determined
much of the music on this CD, but the beauty and wonder of his poetry
along with that by other poets that I enjoy effects all of my music.
mwe3: How many albums have you released and how has your music
changed over the years? Do you still listen to rock and other musical
genres or are completely immersed in the New Age / spiritual instrumental
genre. What music including rock, New Age and instrumental still excites
you these days?
JOHNSON: Ive lost count but its nearly fifty, if not
more! I listen to all kinds of music and am always looking for new
music to hear and be inspired by. Many of my favorites have been recommended
to me by friends over the years. Thats whats great about
musicespecially these days with the unlimited offerings on the
internet there is so much good music out there!
I respect great musicianship so sometimes its just a great performance.
But I also am taken by music that inspires wonder in my soul and takes
me places. Thats always been what Ive attempted to do
with my own work.
mwe3: Three Rings is another highlight of the Winterfold
CD. Its like a mini symphony in a way. Whats the story
and history of Three Rings?
JEFF JOHNSON: Three Rings is a great example of
Brian doing his thing! He has a great ability to weave
several melodies together into a single piece. The challenge for me
as a producer, and I enjoy it immensely , is to take those melodies
and meld them into a single composition. Many of the classic
Johnson-Dunning pieces combines several melodies and ideas into a
single composition that features a range of moods and dynamics.
What keyboards are you playing on the CD and has there been any new
additions to your gear as far as new instruments, and other new studio
effects including computers and other software programs?
JEFF JOHNSON: Most all of the work is done in Logic using soft
synths that include Omnispere, Absynth 5, Ivory, Korg Wavestation
and Stylus RMX. I also use a lot of sample libraries that are played
using EX24 in Logic. My keyboard controller is the Yamaha P250 which
is what I use to perform live with.
mwe3: You recently did some shows with Winterfold in the Washington
State and Oregon area. What were those shows like, how were you received
and do you think at some point youll release a DVD of your music
and the Winterfold sound too? Would you consider making a documentary
of your musical history?
JEFF JOHNSON: The trio is great live. There are a number of
recordings of us playing in this recent tour that Ive uploaded
for folks to enjoy. Weve also made a video of the Watching
Clouds recording thats just come out. And, yes, I intend
to do some more live filming of this trio in the near future for folks
How are you planning to spread the word about your music with Winterfold
to the rest of the US and the world in fact? What musical projects
are you planning for 2014 and beyond?
JEFF JOHNSON: Any way that I can! I am fortunate that I already
have a musical following who are interested in what Im recording.
Having said that, the exposure we get from folks like yourself and
other music sites and bloggers as well as features on NPR (Echoes,
Hearts Of Space) and through Pandora are very helpful. The best form
of advertising is word of mouth and the internet makes that fairly
simple these days.
As to my 2014 plans, Im working on a new solo vocal recording.
I think that Phil Keaggy (Frio Suite, WaterSky) might look
to start something new towards the later part of next year, too.
Thanks to Jeff Johnson @ www.ArkMusic.com