MM: So you felt like you weren't growing?
JK: Well‚ I definitely wasn't growing down in Miami because I couldn't deal with living in a one season environment. Everyday was green‚ hot and sunny. So for me it just felt like I couldn't grow as a person or a musician. I went to Goddard with the idea of getting away from music for a little while so I could figure out who I was and what I wanted out of life. I never stopped playing music‚ but there was definitely a time when I first got to Goddard where I wasn't really playing that much‚ and I wasn't really as consumed with music like I am now‚ or like I was previous to that. I was taking other classes like herbalism‚ and classical mind and spirit classes that discussed and practiced different forms of meditations. I haven't really been into that since then‚ but it was just a way for me to figure out what I did really love and what I really wanted to do with my life.
And then I found Ernie Stires; I first found out about him through reading about Trey's education and also discovering the Jazz Mandolin Project and that Jamie Masefield had worked with Ernie. I think Phish and Jazz Mandolin Project are separate entities and don't really sound alike‚ so I knew that there was something about people who worked with Ernie that created their own version of music or composition. It seemed more personal than say the genre of modern rock or something‚ you know? At the same time I found out about Ernie‚ I was composing music on the piano‚ which is an instrument that I've been playing longer than guitar‚ and I was writing this music that I didn't completely understand. I didn't know how to develop it further and I really...I wanted to be more of a composer and I just wanted to write. I wasn't much of a performer‚ so I was really seeking that out. So when I first issued some of my work to Ernie he liked it and we clicked right away and really got along. Luckily I had an opportunity to work with him for three years on a regular basis‚ for about eight hours a week. I still keep in contact with and see him a few times a year. Even my experience with him was more like‚ well‚ I know what Trey means when he calls Ernie "his mentor‚" and I consider him my mentor as well. But it's not just a musical mentor‚ it's more than that‚ he gave me so much insight on just life in general - like the potential of what a seventy-eight year old person could be. He always seemed to know a little bit about everything‚ he's very well read and interesting. He would give me suggestions on books to read‚ pieces of literature‚ and history. We'd talk about girls and love‚ and what it was like to be in college. He was always trying to learn as much about me and what it was like to be 20 in the 1990's as I was trying to learn about him and what it was like to be a composer for fifty years. From him I learned a lot about classical music‚ swing jazz‚ compositions‚ and about atonalism‚ well‚ not just atonalism‚ but more about just not staying in diatonic environments. That education was so much more fulfilling for me than a regular music school could have been. It's just a personal preference and it really worked. And that's how my education has been since - I take up things on my own as I study and I take occasional guitar lessons from someone I really like.
MM: And I imagine that opens new perspectives on your playing?
JK: Yeah‚ post-Ernie I really felt like I had enough to teach myself for the rest of my life. I think it's always good though to go and exchange ideas with somebody or to push myself in a new direction.
MM: I think that's the fascinating thing about working with Ernie‚ besides the theory teachings is the idea of what it means to be good composer - it embodies all of these different things about life as well. In a lot ways that's the meaning of being a good composer is that through music you understand and capture the human spirit.
JK: Yeah‚ I think with studying with Ernie he gave me a lot of background on composers‚ mostly after we would listen to it. Like the composer was going crazy and was in a mental hospital and his wife was friends with this other composer and she may or may not have been cheating on him. Then he composed this piece of music‚ and you listen to it and the story completely unfolds through the music. Ernie really made the theory and the history of the music alive for me. Before that I think history was my least favorite subject to study. It just was never presented to me in a way that was...
MM: In a way that's interesting (laughing)...
JK: Yeah‚ exactly.
MM: The Goddard education was something that you really were able to take control of and maybe provided a more organic learning experience?
JK: Yeah‚ you're basically given all of this freedom and all this opportunity. I think some people never saw all that opportunity‚ they saw it as a lot of nothing in the middle of nowhere. If you have any idea or anything that you're curious about‚ you could basically turn into a class if you can find other people that are interested or you can make it an independent study. You could go out and find people who know a lot more about the subject and work with them and then present your findings and share it with the community. To me‚ that was the ultimate education. It was a way for anyone who thought or felt different growing up in public schools to feel like themselves and not feel like they're in constant competition with other people.
MM: Yeah‚ that sounds really healthy. I had this philosophy class when I was in school in which the professor's whole grading system was based on‚ "If you think‚ you'll get an A." (Laughs) It was one of my favorite classes. But at the same time‚ like you were saying‚ there were people in the class that just could not comprehend this idea or the format of the class. They were like‚ "How do I get an A?" And all he wanted was everyone to seriously think based on the ideas of particular philosophers. So I absolutely loved the freedom of that format and having a class that was basically a dialogue between professor and the students. But some people saw it as nothingness and a pointless class because it didn't follow the systematic format of other classes. It's like their brain couldn't follow the logic that you have to go out and think and grow by doing that - and if you do that you'll get a good grade.
JK: Yeah‚ there were a few people like that at Goddard where they were like‚ "Wow‚ there's no rules‚ so I can sit around and smoke pot all day‚ cool!" (Laughter) But I'm really glad that I had the experience of more traditional university before I got there. I took writing classes in Miami and all the basic required classes that prepared me for an environment like Goddard where it's so writing intensive and you really have to be able to express what you're doing‚ and then convince people in your writings. So I think that was a problem for some of the younger kids there; they didn't have the abilities to do that or...
MM: The discipline or the guidance...
JK: Yeah‚ and at the same time though‚ you weren't required to be Shakespeare (laughs). You just had to be able to express an idea and it was okay any way you chose to do so. It wasn't the perfect...well‚ for me it was great and fulfilling‚ and it was everything that I wanted. I graduated there feeling very complete with that experience and ready to move on. Right after I graduated‚ to continue my history here (laughs)‚ I ended up getting a job with Jonathan Katz who was Dr. Katz on Comedy Central.
MM: Really? (Laughs)
JK: Yeah‚ I was his personal assistant for a couple of months. He was actually a Goddard graduate as well. The semester before I graduated I had to find a graduation speaker and I knew he was a graduate of Goddard and I really liked his show. So I called him and he wasn't interested in doing it that semester‚ but I made the connection and I ended up calling him after I graduated to see if his show needed any help or if there were any job openings. He said he would look into it but on that particular day that I called him he was moving into a new house and needed some help. I was up in Vermont about a three or four hour drive away and I went down there and helped him pack up some stuff. We went out for some beers and pizza afterwards and two days later he ended up calling me offering me a job as his personal assistant.
MM: Not bad‚ huh?
JK: Yeah‚ it was really exciting. I moved to Boston and worked with him for three or four months. He was planning on selling one of his shows and it fell through‚ so he couldn't afford me any longer. But that experience taught me about being in a creative field‚ but also being a successful businessman. It was really about balancing the creativity and being financially stable. So working with Jonathan‚ I saw this guy who was bubbling with ideas‚ but a lot of people I know have a lot of ideas‚ but he was able to turn his ideas into a career by having the confidence to presenting them to people who have money and would buy them. I'm still thinking about all those ideas‚ especially with the role I'm playing in the band right now - doing the managing and booking. There's definitely a separation between the creativity and the business. The creative side doesn't think about how this is going to sell into a market. But at the same time‚ I'm not afraid to go out and try to sell the music as a product‚ with the ultimate goal being that the three of us can eventually focus all of our energy on being creative and writing music.