Jonathan Scales on the Road Again - UpClose!

The group Jonathan Scales Fourchestra is about to embark on an intense tour over the next two months that will end with a month of performing in Indonesia. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks, panist Jonathan Scales speaks about his upcoming tour and musical projects.

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He is arguably one of the most intriguing talents and talked about musicians to have chosen the steelpan as his instrument of choice. And in a relatively short time, the name Jonathan Scales and his music have caused some serious reverberation in the rafters of globally respected, listened-to, barrier-breaking, and of course - things make you go “hmm, hmm, hmm” while shaking your head. He’s a little older and even more wise, but he is just as daring and the flame is just as intense. As WST (When Steel Talks) first said many moons ago: Jonathan Scales is - and still remains -  “Ahh Bad Man.”

Like Andy Akiho, Leon “Foster” Thomas, and Andre White to name a few, Scales is part of that new generation of musicians continuing to create their music, their way without boundaries or barriers, while expanding the conversation and possibilities with the steelpan instrument.

WST - “Let’s start this interview in reverse order - What’s next for Jonathan Scales?”

Jonathan Scales
Jonathan Scales

Jonathan S. “After this run of shows in the Northeast and after the month-long tour in Asia, next is just continue working on a new album and also really aim to be on the road more than last year. I have already been writing new music for the new record and I think it’s going to be an important one for my career (I hope!).  I have plans to work closely with Robert Sput Searight, who has played with Kendrick Lamar, Snarky Puppy, Snoop Dogg, Erykah Badu, and countless more... as of now, it’s looking like Sput will help oversee the production and it’ll be released on Ropeadope Records like my last few projects.”

WST - “Jonathan Scales Fourchestra is going to be mad busy over the next month and a half. Is it the way you planned it - or - is it just the way it came together after all the hard work you’ve done, when you put on your “manager’s hat”?”

Jonathan S. “I’ll have to say a little bit of both... in terms of the Asia tour, I had to compare schedules with the organizer to see what timeframe would work best for everyone. It kind of worked out perfectly that the East Coast run with guitarist David Fiuczynski would keep me busy right up until it was time to go to Asia.  It just made sense to link those tours back-to-back without taking a break between... especially since I’m just coming off of a 5 1/2-week break from touring.”

(l-r) Hueloy Lila Yip Young, Wilfred Kieal  (Despers), Travis Roberts (CASYM), Jonathan Scales, Pelham Goddard (Exodus)
Pictured left to right: Hueloy Lila Yip Young, Wilfred Kieal, Travis Roberts (CASYM), Jonathan Scales, Pelham Goddard (Exodus)

WST - “You will be playing in ten different venues in eleven days starting on 25th January all over the East Coast. That’s serious. Are you still using that van you traveled in when you performed at Pantonic Steel Orchestra’s panyard in Brooklyn, back in 2011 - to get around?”

Jonathan S. - “Yes! That van has been getting the Fourchestra around since 2011... it’s a work-horse... and pretty comfortable inside for the long hours...there’s even a bed, hahaha.”

WST - “Immediately after your East Coast tour, that month-long Asian tour Jonathan Scales Fourchestra embarks on will take you to -  Taipei in Taiwan, Hong Kong city in Hong Kong, Beijing in China, and Jakarta, Indonesia. This is indeed an enormous accomplishment and a long, long way from that group When Steel Talks first saw at the Shrine up in Harlem in 2009.  Talk a little bit about the journey to this point.”

Jonathan S. “You know, it’s all a matter of perspective. From the outside it might be easier for people to step back and see point A to point B. For me it’s a little different because I’m “in it,” so honestly I’m still grinding the same way as I was when I started the Fourchestra 10 years ago, in 2007.  It’s been a wild ride, but there’s always so much work to do on the horizon that it can be hard for me to just reflect. But sometimes the work can be so overwhelming that I actually just HAVE to stop and reflect so that I can appreciate what’s going on and not be too stressed.”

WST - “What are your expectations for this Asian tour going in, and after - coming out?”

Jonathan S. “Honestly, I just want to take it day by day and enjoy the process. There will be a lot of collaborating with the local musicians over there and a lot of workshops & clinics for students, in addition to us just doing our show. I’ll have to say that I’m not really coming at it with any particular expectations, just want to have my mind in the right place for a month-long grind! It’s helpful that, on this tour, I’m not having to be the organizer as well as the musician... this is a tour where I just get to be the artist, so really I’m just expecting to make music, enjoy life, and hopefully entertain and inspire some people on the other side of the World.”

WST - “How to you think this trip could impact your next CD release?”

Jonathan S. - “That’s a tough one of right now, I basically have the next album in my head and have just been working to get it out, but perhaps I’ll learn some musical ideas specific to those cultures that I’ll try to incorporate...there’s no tellin’!”

Jonathan Scales with bassist Cody Wright
Jonathan Scales with bassist Cody Wright

WST - “What is it about the music of Jonathan Scales Fourchestra that allows it to be so attractive across so many different cultures, ethnicities and genres?”

Jonathan S. - “I don’t know if that’s a question I’m able to answer! I’ll have to leave that up to the listeners, journalists, fans, & haters. I think it’s important for me to not think about those kinds of things so that I can just stay true to what music is coming out of me without thinking about, “Who likes it”...and of course, I always hope people like it! The fact that it does tend to cross those divides is just a great bonus. I’m thankful.”

WST - “At this point in time - your thoughts on giving up the sax for the steelpan?”

Jonathan S. “Same as it was when I first started playing pan in the Fall of 2002... there’s so many great saxophone players out there. And I’m not saying that I’m a great steel panist. But what I am saying is that, I was instantly so much more comfortable on pan than I ever was on saxophone. It just came naturally, so I still feel great about not playing saxophone anymore. But I still do have one 10-grade student here in North Carolina...”

WST - “How’s your family life at this juncture, while spending time on the road?”

Jonathan S. “Hahahaha!”


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