Guitarist and Producer U-Nam Interview | Influence

HEY EVERYONE. TODAY ON TEEN JAZZ I HAVE WITH ME FRENCH GUITARIST U-NAM AND HE’S VOLUNTEERED TO DO AN INTERVIEW WITH US ON HIS CAREER AS A PERFORMER IN SMOOTH JAZZ AND A VARIETY OF OTHER GENRES AS WELL AS [HIS WORK] A PRODUCER. TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF.

I grew up in Paris. I started to study the guitar when I was 12. I took a few private lessons then I did jazz music school. One of the first in Europe [I was there] for like two years, three years. Then I started to play with a lot of Top 40 bands in weddings and stuff like that.

And then I was really interested in, much more like the work in studios. I wanted to be like a session guitar player. And so I decided I wanted more, so I started to be more interested in production and arrangement and stuff like that. And that’s what I did for more than 10 years in France, you know working with major labels and doing a lot of pop/rnb and hip hop and stuff like that.

And then I started to do my own music. Which I always did, but just more as a solo artist, you know, just doing what I wanted. And I started to do my first album, then the second album and then I signed with a US record company. I had some kind of success here and then I moved to the US.

YOU’RE AN INDEPENDENT ARTIST NOW THOUGH.

Yes, that’s true.

CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE PROCESS OF RELEASING AN ALBUM AS AN INDEPENDENT ARTIST?

Well I think it’s a great thing, well, you know. Because I had the chance to see the transition with working in a big studio, like there are still some around. But going in the studio and recording music and you didn’t have any computers. There was no copy and paste, or whatever. And sometimes it was a pain, by the way. But it was just, it was not super easy, but that’s the way you learn and all the equipment and this and that. And all that includes the budget that goes for it, and the labels that dictate everything because obviously, they’re paying. And then to see, and then being signed as an artist as well with a mid-sized record label that was through Sony. Which is good, I mean, cause they are taking care of the radio promotion and stuff like that, but basically you still have to deliver the album by yourself.

But the problem with that is with a label they kind of tell you what you have to do and what kind of music you have to create and record. And as an artist, I can’t do that. I mean nobody can tell me what I should do. Even if it’s good or bad. I mean, I think that everybody should be able to do what they want. It’s creativity. You create something. You’re obviously going to find some people that are going to like it or not, but it doesn’t matter. You know, it’s you. It’s not somebody else. So that’s the great thing with being independent so now I can control what I’m releasing and that’s it. And I’m really glad to have that. I’ve got so much freedom now.

OKAY. SO YOU RECENTLY FINISHED A GEORGE BENSON TRIBUTE PROJECT, SO OBVIOUSLY GEORGE BENSON IS ONE OF YOUR BIG INFLUENCES. BUT CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT SOME OF THE OTHER PEOPLE WHO HAVE INFLUENCED YOUR MUSIC?

I’ve always really loved Michael Jackson. He’s one of my biggest influences. The production has always been amazing, the song-writing and everything. And so simple at the same time. I like as well at the same time James Brown and Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, George Duke and Herbie Hancock… All the really great artists from the 70s. Especially funk and RnB.

More lately I like people like Musiq Soulchild. I think he’s a really great artist, great singer, great songwriter and very unique and original.

But more into the musician side of it, I grew up listening to and trying to practice my stuff [by] people like Jimmy Nolan who was the guitar player for James Brown. Nile Rogers from Sheik, He’s one of my biggest influences guitar-wise as far as the rhythm and funk. Wah Wah Watson, the legendary Wah Wah Watson that used to play with Herbie Hancock back in the day and did all the Temptations hits, all the Motown hits like Barry White and Papa Was a Rolling Stone and stuff like that.

As well as David Williams who is a guitar people that not a lot of people know, but he’s probably one of the guitar players that sold the most records in the world because he played on Thriller. Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bad and everything, all the really funky guitar you hear is David Williams. He’s just an amazing guy.

But on the jazz side I obviously really like Wes Montgomery, but more even more Grant Green which is a big influence for George Benson too. Was back in the 60s, Grant Green was one of the first to really mix the jazz improvisation with bebop and stuff like that with the James Brown kind of funk rhythm. He really did really great stuff. He’s a big influence too.

And these days, I mean more like contemporary artists as well, like more on the jazz side, French guitarist Bireli Lagrene which is one of my favorite guitarists as well with George Benson.

Get Weekend In L.A (A Tribute To George Benson) on AmazonU-Nam's George Benson tribute project

SO YOU GREW UP PLAYING CLUBS IN PARIS AND THEN YOU MOVED TO THE US AND YOU’VE DONE EVERYTHING FROM PLAYING THE DUBAI JAZZ FESTIVAL, GOING TO RUSSIA WITH GRAFITTI, AND EVEN PLAYING SOME OF THE SMALLER LOCAL SMOOTH JAZZ VENUES LIKE SPAGHETTINI’S. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY YOU’RE THE MOST COMFORTABLE PERFORMING IN, WHAT KIND OF SETTING, WHAT DO YOU ENJOY THE MOST?

It’s hard to say because most of the time, I mean it depends on the sound you’ve got on stage. It really depends on the venue and the setting on stage. How it sounds when you do the soundcheck and stuff like that. I mean sometimes… And even some clubs they’re all different. Some clubs around the US they’ve got, some of them really have a great system and a really great engineer and stuff like that and on stage it’s perfect. And some, the sound was so much better that obviously the music was better. The performance was way better because you could have a good sound and it’s inspiring and you can really play what you want and you can hear everybody well on stage as well. It’s basically dependent on that.

SO IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS YOU MADE A REALLY BIG CHANGE. YOU WENT FROM BEING A PRODUCER IN FRANCE TO PURSUING A CAREER AS A PERFORMER IN THE US. WHAT GAVE YOU THE CONFIDENCE TO PURSUE THAT?

I don’t know. I just did it. I just tried. There was no expectation that… I don’t know. It just kind of happened. I did that album Back From the 80’s which was my second album and I had the chance that the song Street Life started to be a huge hit and played all over the US back in the day when there was still a lot of smooth jazz radio stations. And I started to have some calls and offers to do some festivals and stuff like that.

I don’t know. I never really think about it. I just did go for it. You know. I think it was just a brand new experience so I just wanted to embrace the experience and try it and you know do it as much as… Just do the best I can do… That’s all.

SO YOU RECENTLY FINISHED YOUR GEORGE BENSON PROJECT AS WE MENTIONED BEFORE, IN 2012. BUT I’VE HEARD SOME RUMORS ON FACEBOOK THAT YOU’RE ACTUALLY WORKING ON A NEW ALBUM. CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT PROJECT?

Sounds like you have some really inside info…

YEAH. AND I HEARD THE SAXOPHONE PLAYER ON THE RECORD IS PRETTY GOOD TOO. (BOTH LAUGH).

Yeah, you’re on top of it on that. Yeah I’m working actually right now on my next album. Some people are saying “already?” and I don’t think it’s “already”. It takes time to do a good album and I’m writing a lot of songs and use some songs that I had before and I’m just listening to everything. And there’s some songs, some stuff that I’m using and some not. It’s just a long process so I’m working on that and I hope it’s going to be out like… I’m planning for this summer. So hopefully. I’m just crossing my fingers.

WHY DON’T YOU GO AHEAD AND TELL US ABOUT WHERE WE CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT YOU AND YOUR MUSIC AND WHERE WE CAN GET…

Oh well, that’s easy, I mean, the George Benson tribute album you can just find it everywhere. So you can just go on iTunes, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sears, Best Buy, you name it… Otherwise, you can check all the info on the website which is atributetogeorgebenson.com and my own website is unammusic.com That’s pretty much it.

SO THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US ON TEEN JAZZ.

Oh you’re welcome.

THANK YOU. I HOPE YOU GUYS TAKE THE TIME TO CHECK OUT U-NAM’S MUSIC AND HIS WEBSITE. THANK YOU FOR WATCHING.

-And of course bloopers!-

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Published on: February 4, 2013

Filled Under: Interviews

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