Focusing on songs collected by folklorist and field recording pioneer Alan Lomax, The Lomax Project brings together some of North America’s most distinctive and creative roots musicians to revive, recycle and re-imagine traditional music. Dean Mark McCoy of DePauw University School of Music interviewed the ‘collaboratory’s founder – banjo player Jayme Stone about the origin’s of the group’s name, the development of its unique sound and what Stone believes it means to be a cultural entrepreneur.
On the origins of the project’s name:
“As long as I’ve been playing the banjo, I’ve been aware of Alan Lomax’s field recordings. It dawned on me…how much music that I know and love comes from (these) recordings. (And then) I had this epiphany – John Szwed wrote a book called Alan Lomax: The Man who Recorded the World. It reads like a mystery novel, at least for someone like me. It takes you around the world to most corners and counties of this country, and it explores a lot of musical terrain that I was already interested in or wanted to explore further. So, it’s been a good umbrella to work under.”
On the challenge of respecting history and creating a unique sound for the group:
“(Sound) is the corner(stone) of the folk music process. There is no song without a singer, you know, there is no…platonic ideal of a song. Maybe in a songbook somewhere, but the only actual versions we have are from living people or preserved recordings. And so they’re all moments in time that have been captured. You know, these songs are not alive on the page, they’re alive when someone makes them. And they make them according to their own aesthetic compass and musical priorities.”
“(For the project) I like working with people who have one foot in tradition and one foot in their own sound, or in a contemporary approach. We try and keep a touchstone through research and through listening to these old recordings. So as long as I’m grounded and I really understand what I’m hearing from the past, I feel like I can actually just do what I do.”
On cultural entrepreneurship:
“I decided that I wanted to play the banjo in an unusual way and it was obvious that no one was going to call me and say, ‘hey, we’re really hearing a bowed banjo on this piece,’ because nobody played bowed banjo. So, I realized I needed to create a context for the work that I wanted to make. It’s as much about who I am and how I see the space around the music, as much as anything.”