In the early 1990s I often visited a friend of mine, an artist in Brixton, south London. Very often, arriving at her home, I would hear the sound of her eldest son beating his drums upstairs. He had a wealth of enthusiasm, drive and ambition. I’m glad to see Pharoah S Russell has matured his skill and is now a talented musician embarking on a music career with friends under the name of the Tristram Trio. The band will be performing next week at the Ritzy Brixton.
On the eve of their gig I managed to ask a few questions regarding their plans and progress to date:
Q: So who is the band and how was it formed?
Ian: The band is Ian Mikyska on acoustic guitar, Tomáš Mika on electric guitar and melodica and Pharoah S. Russell on drums. Tristram was something I was looking to do for nearly a year before it actually started – I had the tunes written and an approximate idea of what I wanted it to sound like, it was just a matter of waiting for the right musicians, which obviously happened with Tomáš and Pharoah.
Q: Your style of music has been described as Christian Rap. Is this a suitable description and why?
Tomas: It’s probably not very accurate to describe us as a Christian Rap band since we are not Christians nor do we rap. It came about as a joke, because we actually couldn’t work out what it is that we’re playing.
Q: Which artists have been most influential on your career to date?
Ian: In terms of the sound of a band, Esbjörn Svensson and Brad Mehldau were big influences. As far as guitar’s go, it was mostly both my teachers, Petr Zelenka and David Dorůžka, and compositionally I am more interested in classical music – Bartók, Stravinsky and Shostakovich are the most important in terms of actual compositional influence.
Pharoah: I think what makes the band sound interesting is the different influences we all have. My biggest ones are Radiohead, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Keith Jarrett among others.
Q: There are numerous bands out there, all aspiring to be commercially successful whilst retaining a grass foots following. How hard do you think this will be for a new band with your genre of music?
Ian: The only difficult part of this question is that I don’t even know what our genre of music is. It seems to be nice and poppy at times, but then I get people coming up to me after a gig saying it wasn’t melodic enough for them, so I’m never really sure to how many people we’re actually reaching out. It’s strange in how diverse it is, there are tunes that have a rock beat all the way through, pretty straight-ahead, and then there are dodecaphonic melodies in 7/8, so I guess that is our style. But regardless, becoming successful and/or having a following will be only as easy or hard as we are good or not so good, respectively.
Pharoah: To be honest with the jazz (which I would put our music in) category, It’s a little different from say the Pop world, mainly if you play great music, you will be known for it, but to be very big in jazz is very hard, as not only the music has to be to a high level, but the individual playing has to be more so in some cases. Image counts less compared to Pop like genres too. If we can create a healthy following and start to play jazz festivals around the world I will be content for now.
Q: Pharoah, you’ve now moved to Prague where the band is based. Is the Czech music scene very different to the UK and the rest of Europe?
Well I actually feel that I’m only just getting on the music scene here even though it’s been one year. I toured the Czech Republic last year with a Pop/Electro band and wasn’t doing much else in Prague music wise. But since meeting Ian and co, I feel I have mixed in more with the scene here. What I would say is that Czech is small, therefore there is not as many musicians and venues alike, so much harder to make a living here, there are some great musicians and some good music, but overall for music I must say London is a much better place, just the multi-cultural side makes it so. Different places in Europe have different scenes, Berlin has a good music scene and Paris amazing but I don’t know too much more other than that. But all in all I love Prague (smile)
Q: Could you tell me a little more about your immediate plans and where you aim to be in years time?
Ian: Because of the size of the Prague jazz scene (about the size of Hammersmith’s jazz scene), there is not many places for us to play, or at least not with the level of attention we would like (which really just means not talking too loud), so it was always our intention to tour around. By the time this interview comes out we’ll be in London, busking on the Southbank which will be an interesting experience for us, and then we hope to set out to Italy and Germany over the summer. Ideally, in a few years, touring Italy, Germany, and any other place that will have us will be what we do most of the year.
The band plays on May 4th at the Ritzy Brixton, south London from 7.30pm.