Right out of the gate, with his freshman release in 2000, Special Ed and The Musically Challenged, Ed Roman defined his paradigm with inventive, infectious tunes that shook one’s marrow and stirred the spirit. In May 2011, Ed released his solo venture, Oracles and Ice Cream, and has never looked back. It is 22 tracks that are an amazing marvel of songwriting wizardry, prodigious performances and contagious energy, with the mystery and magic of a lucid, tantalizing dream.
Now, in 2014, with Letters from High Latitudes, (a homage to his Ontario, Canada home) Ed Roman has done it again, creating an earthy, funky and magical mix of music to seduce the listeners’ ears! An accomplished musician, Ed performs 90 percent of the instruments on his album, recording drums, bass, guitars, organ, vocals and even sitar! The sound is rounded out with help from some of the top Canadian session musicians like Dave Patel on drums (Sass Jordan) and Mike Freedman on electric guitars (Tia Brazda).
Here in an exclusive interview, Ed Roman spills the beans about what makes him tick musically.
1. How long have you been doing what you’re doing and how did you get started in the first place?
Ed Roman: I’ve been playing music as long as I can remember. I grew up in a family with three generations of people in one household. Music was a way for me to express myself and I’ve been doing it ever since. There was an old guitar that was given to my brother by the World-Famous knapsack company. It was missing a couple of strings but I used to make up my own little melodies and perform for people in our kitchen to break up the monotony and also a lot of the arguments that would go on.
2. Who were your first musical influences that you can remember?
Ed Roman: I guess my first musical influences were somebody like the Beatles. My grandmother loved the Beatles and she would always pontificate on how great they were. When I was six years old she took me in a taxi to a local hairdresser that she used to visit and she gave me five dollars so that I could go next door to this little camera shop that not only sold cameras but also albums; the first album I ever bought was Meet the Beatles. I still have it today. I guess my next biggest influence was when I was a teenager and I was given some records by a local music teacher at a high school which I didn’t even attend. They were Jaco Pastorius records; that music changed my life and transformed me as a musician. I gravitated to playing the bass almost immediately and I never looked back.
3. Which artists are you currently listening to, and is there any one of these you’d like to collaborate with?
Ed Roman: I really like the Derek Trucks band. Derek Trucks was a very young player and started playing with the Allman Brothers when he was about 17 years of age. He went on to form his own band and it’s got a really interesting interpretation of the blues meeting certain East Indian sort of influences; he’s an incredible slide guitar player and they’ve got a really neat earthy tone to them. Great backbeat, neat instrumentation, Hammond organ, slide guitar, bass, drums, percussion. The percussionist and organist also double with other instruments as well but he’s an incredible player and the lead singer is awesome. That band is awesome…. I love the Derek Trucks band.
4. You’re a multi-instrumentalist. Which is the first instrument you actually laid your hands on? And which is the one you feel you still haven’t quite mastered?
Ed Roman:I gravitated to string instruments at first. String instruments play on my heart strings. I started playing the guitar at a very young age; probably by age six or seven. As I got older I got into playing the bass as I mentioned. Jaco Pastorius was one of my biggest influences. I went on to Humber College to study jazz performance and I’ve been playing jazz music, fusion music, Funk, R&B, disco, swing and anything you can think of.. rock, metal, all sorts of stuff. I am a multi-instrumentalist and I’m always learning. To master an instrument is to say that you’re partially defeated. I believe that you’re always learning. There may be some instruments where I have more prowesses on and others that I don’t, but I’m always experimenting and trying to move forward.
5. “Letters From High Latitudes”, “Oracles & Ice Cream”…Do you think hard about themes in your album titles or do they just arrive off the cuff?
Ed Roman: You mentioned Oracles and Ice Cream; there are so many influences that we all have as musicians and to me they are the oracles. We are defined by our influences as well as our limitations. They have knowledge and theology; musical theology and philosophy, that is something that I take to heart and I live with it from day to day. The ice cream is the enjoyment factor. The things that we get pleasures from, the discovery and the pleasure from the sharing of the material, that’s the enjoyment process. With Letters from High Latitudes; I was thinking about the album itself and what the songs meant, that they were certain perspective of distances. I came across a book in a very magical way in an antique shop before breakfast in Toronto one day and it leapt out at me from the table as if it were speaking to me like a letter that I needed to read. Letters from High Latitudes, or altitudes seemed to illustrate that really nicely for me in a title.
6. Live gigging or studio work, which do you prefer and why?
Ed Roman: Live gigs! They’re always incredible. I love playing live because it’s spontaneous. Things happen in the moment. You’re paying attention and listening in a completely different way. A studio date requires preparing yourself differently. It’s going to be left like a picture in time, so the preparation for this is very encapsulated and almost seems not contrived, but at the same time it seems like you are still trying to capture the moment. That ‘live’ essence feeling or the energy. But when the time passes and something starts to kick, you’re rolling when the magic happens.
7. Tell us something about your songwriting processes. Do you lock yourself up in a room and ‘work at it’ or do songs arrive while you’re really busy doing something else?
Ed Roman: The songwriting process for me isn’t something that I try to put a method to. Songs come to me in moments of emotional times, whether they be happy or they be sad. It’s the acting on the language that comes to you in your mind. That is important to grab, pin it down into something and start analyzing it. Looking at the information and asking yourself what’s presenting itself to you, how is it presenting itself and a lot of the time if you follow it, it will lead you to the right place. Sometimes it’s quick, sometimes it takes much longer, but nonetheless when you follow it, it will follow you.
8. On which one of your songs do you personally think you delivered your best performance so far, from a technical and emotional point of view?
Ed Roman:I try to always deliver my best performance for every song from a technical and an emotional perspective. Some songs may require more technical ability, some songs may require more emotion but I’m always trying to push the emotional technical envelope. Music for me is a challenge. Charles Mingus once said that he would often write pieces that were difficult for musicians to play so it sounded like they were struggling, so if you hear struggling on a record and you hear perfection; it’s just a part of the processing of the musician as they move through that moment in time. Just like life. It’s hard for me to say what my most technical song of all and most emotional is. I say; I’m not really trying to put a marker on it, I’m just trying to create art as best as I possibly can.
9. Could you tell us something about the recording and production of the album “Letters From High Altitudes”?
Ed Roman:I have a studio that I built here in Melanchthon in my home above my garage. I often set aside time over the course of the week when I feel grouping of songs are ready to record. I then worked very closely with Michael Jack. Michael is my cohort, my comrade, my Corsican brother, my brother in arms and he is there to help me be free so I don’t have to concentrate so much on the technical aspect. I’ve recorded other musicians, other bands and mixed albums. When you’re trying to record your own it’s really important to not worry about that Todd Rundgren experience. Some things I’ve done in the past like on Oracles and Ice Cream, you might hear me running back and forth between room to room pushing record and sitting down to try and get a take. Some of the recording process for me is something that is more like a roadmap. I set out a plan, we picked dates, and once everything is recorded whether they be live off the floor or guest musicians, into the studio it goes and it’s mixed by Michael at his place. He has a wonderful studio at his house in Barrie Ontario called the Radio Room and when Mike tweaks and totals the mixes he sends them back to me for approval and away we go.
10. If you were forced to choose only one, which emotion, more than any other drives you day after day to stay in this tough business. Is it joy, anger, desire, passion, hysteria or pride etc., and why?
Ed Roman: I have to say passion, passion would be one of those things that you could tie joy, anger, desire, hysteria and pride all into; passion is one of those things that we are driven by, that we are moved by, that motivates us… if anything if you hear something that is aggressive in my music, it’s because of passion, if you hear something that’s sad in my music it’s through passion, if it’s something that’s in relation to happiness it’s because of passion always because of passion.
11. What aspect of being an independent artist and the music making process discourages you most?
Ed Roman:I guess the part that is the most discouraging as an independent artist is the reality that you have to go out and sell shirts and hats as opposed to being able to be paid for your efforts. As a musician I’ve spent so many years of my life learning to do what I do and it bothers me greatly that in order for me to make a living I need to go out and sell merchandise as opposed to people wanting to buy my music. That’s probably the most frustrating thing of all. I love playing live, I love being out and playing for people, but it seems ironic we spend all this time becoming a great musician, writing all these songs and you have to sell hats and shirts instead. What happened to admiration?
11. What aspect of being an independent artist and the music making process excites you most?
Ed Roman: I’m My Own Boss
13. How involved are you in any of the aspects regarding your musical career (recording, producing, and marketing processes etc.)
Ed Roman: I’m extremely involved in the musical aspect of recording and producing process. To me, it’s mine and mine alone. I write the songs, I record them, and I produce in a way that I feel is best suited for the music. I then worked very closely with Mike Stover from MTS management out of Pittsburgh. He is my right hand man and he helps me get the job done. I’m out there doing radio, magazine reviews, TV and it’s an immense help having somebody like him on my side to lessen the burden and to make things more official.
14. What do think is the best piece of advice in this business you received and actually followed so far, and one piece of advice you didn’t follow, but now know that you should have?
Ed Roman: I guess the best advice I’ve ever received is be kind to the people that you meet on the way up, because you could meet them on the way down. I try to always conduct myself with a certain amount of personal pride and I always try to produce the best music I can for anybody. I think it’s dangerous to have this rockstar mentality that you are so holier than thou, that you wouldn’t play in a ditch and you would only play a concert hall. Ditch, or concert hall, that’s my motto.
15. At this point, as independent artist, is there any aspect or element you consider exclusive to Major label artists that you desire and feel will undeniably benefit your future?
Ed Roman: The reality of it is that I just want to play music. At some point when my popularity goes through the roof it would be helpful perhaps to have a major record company representing me, but the most important thing is that I have control of the art. What’s said and how it’s said. I can see a major record company being beneficial as things become more and more popular. They can help you a great deal, but it’s important that the artist maintains control of their music and what happens financially. The record company should not be there to suck everything out of the artist. They’re there to work together hand-in-hand and to move forward as a group.
16. Do you consider Internet and all the new technology, as fundamental to your music, or indie music in general, or do you think it has only produced a mass of mediocre copy-and-paste artists, who flood the web, making it difficult for real talent to emerge?
Ed Roman: The Internet is an amazing tool. For the first time in human civilization we can communicate instantaneously from one side of the world to another. We don’t have to mail things, we don’t have to make packages. You can create an audience of people where you needed other people’s help in the past. It can be done by yourself independently and you can keep all the money. There are a lot of copy and paste artists out there and it makes it difficult to sift through. The important thing is that you watch the artists, check them out and see what they’re really up to.
17. The new technology has completely changed the way the music business works. Do you still purchase physical CD’s or is it all about downloading digitally now? And which was the last CD you actually purchased?
Ed Roman: Technology has completely changed the way we do business. We spend little to no time in CD and record stores. We buy most of our stuff online if we do buy music. It’s going to be a CD from a concert, from a band that we’ve seen at their local show. I would say that technology in the software industry has radically changed the way that we do things. The last CD that I purchased was Esperanza Spalding and it was at a small record shop in my local town.
18. In today’s music world filled with samples, beats, loops and all the manipulating software to go with it. Do you think it is still necessary for anyone to learn to play a musical instrument, let alone a bunch of them, like you?
Ed Roman: I think it’s inherently important that somebody learns to play an instrument. Software to me is not an instrument it’s a mood creator. Instruments are tactical and they teach you something fundamental about what’s happening in music. They enlighten the mind, they activate the side of your brain which most needs massaging. It’s one of the most important things you can do as a musician. Piano, guitar, anything. The industry today is so filled with samples and loops and beats; but I think it’s highly integral that people learn to play an instrument. It activates that internal part of your personality which is physical, mental, and emotional; it’s all of those things that help you tactically relate to the music. Hillary Duff was in a studio session one day with my friend and she asked the producer what people did before autotune and the producer looked at her and said “honey, people could sing”.
19. What do you think is the biggest barrier you have to face and overcome as an indie artist, in your quest to achieve your goals and attain any significant commercial success?
Ed Roman: Time… LOL …… Even old whores gather respect with age.
20. Is going Platinum or winning a Grammy important in your scheme of musical things? And if you were forced to settle for only one choice, which of the two would you ultimately prefer and why?
Ed Roman: It’s nice winning awards getting acclamation and kudos for the efforts that you do, but I think winning awards are not the be-all and end-all of any career. I think it’s very dangerous to buy into the idea that you won an award for something. You’re always trying to move forward. You’re always trying to learn. You’re always trying to achieve something new. The great Oscar Peterson once said “I will never stop learning until the day I die” and he was the Chancellor of music at York University. Oscar Peterson was one of the greatest pianists that this planet has ever seen.