Music Q&A:
Oli Rockberger

The pianist and vocalist performs tracks from his new album Sovereign, inspired by his return to the UK after 16 years working on the New York jazz scene, at Alexander’s Live, Chester, 22 Oct

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What informs your music and songwriting?
Typically it’s something that’s going on in my life at that particular moment that I want to write about. It can be a conversation I’ve had, a word or phrase that sticks in my mind, something I see in my daily life or maybe a film or a painting that inspires me. When the idea comes, I try and follow wherever the song wants to take me. And I’m continually inspired by listening to and discovering new music, and by going to see shows also.

How have you evolved as an artist over the years?
Having a background both as a jazz instrumentalist and as a singer-songwriter, I’ve been searching for a while to get that balance right in my music. It’s a process, and over the last few years I feel I’ve shifted towards the singer-songwriter side, striving to put the song front and centre, and to strip things away to what I feel are the essentials in that moment. So when performing live, rather than incorporating a lot of instrumental solos, I tend to lean more towards creating colours or textures as a group, to help evoke the atmosphere of the song. I’ve also been really inspired over the last few years by artists like Bon Iver, Eska, Louis Cole, Becca Stevens and Laura Mvula (whose touring band I joined last year), all of whom have really inspired my approach as well.

What are you up to at the moment artistically?
At the moment I’m gearing up for my first full tour with my own music. So my focus has really been on crafting the show, and adapting the music from the recordings to fit this particular ensemble of fantastic musicians I have joining me: Hannah Read – vox/violin, Michael Janisch – acoustic bass, Giorgio Serci – guitar/pedals, Marijus Aleksa – drums. Otherwise, I’ve began working on the songs for a new album, and will pick up with that once I’m on the other side of this tour.

What’s on your rider?
I’d love to say blue M&Ms, a lobster, a tennis ball, or something similarly eccentric. But honestly I’m pretty straight ahead. The most important thing for me is lemon and ginger tea with honey, which I find soothing for my voice after long travels and lots of singing. That’s in addition of course to the five cases of Dom Perignon, giant Mickey Mouse mascot in full costume, five packets of extra strong mints (obviously removed from packets and painted orange) and an aquatic jet pack. But that stuff is so standard that it’s hardly worth mentioning, right?

Tell us your most embarrassing or surreal experience.
I think that would have to be auditioning for Lauryn Hill’s band while I was still living in NY. This audition was set up as myself and another keyboard player each sitting at our own instruments, with each of us being asked to play different parts of the same songs, and then answering interview-style questions in front of each other! It was pretty surreal, but him and I just embraced the landscape. I was offered the gig, but then the touring was delayed and it didn’t end up aligning for me in the end. Regardless, I really enjoyed having the chance to meet her and play a bit. She sounded incredible of course and was really nice to me. I also did get the story.

What song do you wish you’d written?

Bridge Over Troubled Water.

What’s your worst lyric?

Hmm. Well, I wrote a song in my teens called Little Green Man in a Spaceship, where the first verse starts: “Little Green Man in a spaceship, I’ve been expecting you for a long long time. I wish you’d dropped me a line to say you were coming. I would have tidied up.” I think that will probably do it. And for anyone coming, don’t worry, I won’t be performing this at Alexander’s on 22 Oct.

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Oli Rockberger

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