Kenny G Discovers Vaporwave

I know it’ll sound good.” He goes, “Great, let’s do it.” Weston: Amazing. What’s next for you?Kenny: Wow, well, thank you. or Meshuggah, whatever the name of their band is. Maybe trumpet? My son Max is a metal guitarist. So I thought, “Let me take this home to my studio and let me do my thing and I’ll send it back to you.” And then his engineer goes, “Kanye is not going to let his music leave the studio.” I said, “Go tell him that’s what needs to happen.” And [Kanye] said, “Here take it.” So I took it home and that’s how it worked out. Well, I’m a Stan Getz fan. Then there’s a couple of other guys that are doing some rapping. Maybe Paul McCartney is going to call me and say, “You’re on my radar now and I’d like you to play on one of my songs,” which would be amazing. Club.Weston: Vaporwave!Kenny: [Laughs] Vaporwave!Weston: I like Vaporclub though, that can be your new thing.Kenny: There you go. So happy if that happens.Weston: As a music video director, I’m a big fan of your videos. He’s great, he’s taken me to many shows: Opeth, Megadeth and I know about Mashugana… I think it’s a really unique look at a person’s music, but mainly I see now I see that Penny really used me as the subject of her documentary, which is about music and how people can like it or not like it, and that whole conversation about why people are so attached to their music and what they think about other people that really don’t feel the same way.Weston: I think my generation, we’ve kind of heard your music through our parents, maybe at the mall or even in an elevator. I hope this thing generates millions of dollars and all goes to them. They want a little drama in there, and they feel that if there’s drama in there, then that’s a real relationship, that’s got more meat and potatoes to it.So I think what happens with my music is that some people just find it like, “Well, I want to have to work harder to like something.” And my music, is just my music. I don’t think I would have done it without them saying they loved it. To get the gig you had to play oboe and they asked me before, “Do you play oboe?” and I had never touched the oboe, never seen one. “Hey, G.” “Hey G Man.” G this, G that. I’m wondering if he had died and never invented the saxophone, what instrument do you think you’d be playing?Kenny: Gosh, I don’t know. Recently, though, you’ve been reimagined in popular music through collaborations with some of music’s biggest artists. It interested me how often these genres looked to smooth jazz as their tongue-in-cheek starting point, and this source material slowly but surely became a guilty pleasure of mine. You know what’s funny is I was thinking about him today because in Evansville, Indiana, as I’m driving there’s a marquee with his face but I thought, “You know I haven’t seen Alice in 20 years,” and he’s a great guy. I heard you played a little bit?Kenny: I played a little bit with Liberace’s orchestra. In the early 2010s, I found myself enjoying the ironic, nostalgia-obsessed wave genres: Vaporwave, chillwave and music that was s p a c e d o u t l i k e t h i s. Now on the other side, you’ve got these people that maybe want to be in a relationship, but they want it to be tougher. That’s kinda my thing.Photos courtesy of Art Streiber Weston: Hey, I’m here. “Silhouette” inspired me to kind of remake it with myself in the role for one of my own songs. And this combination is just beautiful to me.Weston: I have to admit, I was a little hesitant to listen to your music around my friends. His style helped pioneer the smooth jazz genre that invaded ’80s and ’90s radio in homes, offices and elevators. Maybe I’ll get a film score. I’m wondering what inspired you to attempt a collaboration of this kind, and what responsibilities you think labels and artist might have to these collaborations?Kenny: Very good question. Who won that game?Kenny: If it’s no handicaps I win every time, but with handicaps you never know. So I was wondering, what is that sonic quality? After squirming a bit she asked me to turn it off, but didn’t bat an eye as we finished out the drive to The Sex Pistols. The new Vaporclub.Weston: On your new album, you did a posthumous collaboration using “very advanced modern technology” to sample notes by Stan Getz to do a completely new melody in a duet with you. And it’s like, “I see what you shredders are doing, I can match some of these high intensity notes.” So I think the sax can find its way into these songs and if you play the right notes it really makes the song better.Weston: Are you familiar with Adolphe Sax, the creator of the saxophone? “Emiline” and “Rendezvous.” I really loved those two a lot.Kenny: Thank you, yeah. So I just think the right thing to do would be if you’re gonna go to the past, you gotta give to that. If it’s a big, huge hit, great, donate to whatever estate because maybe they need the money. They go outside, they work on their rap, they come in, they record it. Your last name is Gorelick, but what made you choose the G?Kenny: Well, it was 1982 when I was asked to have my own record deal with Clive [Davis]. It just is. Everyone’s got headphones on. I’m wondering how those collaborations came about? He’s a great guy, couldn’t be nicer. I really like Alice Cooper.Weston: Do you listen to John Zorn?Kenny: No, don’t know the name.Weston: Ah. It used to be VH1 was a home for our videos. How can your music be so beautiful and popular, yet so polarizing at the same time?Kenny: I think there’s a lot of intellectual things that go into what [music] people like. What’s the studio experience like?Kenny: Well, it’s a different kind of look than I have. It’s funny because it’s almost more punk for my age group to listen to you than like The Sex Pistols or something, you know what I mean? I was reading, apparently he cheated death numerous times. It’s about those sophisticated, jazzier, complex chords, but yet I’m playing on top of it with a melody that I think works. What is that Kenny G sound?Kenny: I don’t know, you know. If smooth jazz had a mascot (or perhaps a meme) to help it translate to a younger generation, it was Kenny G.While driving with my mom, I put on the song “Champagne” from his 1986, 5x Platinum album, Duotones. Really, really great.Weston: Beyond reimagining your image in a larger sense with these collabs, they kind of decontextualized your sound and put it in this really cool new context separating it from any preconceived perceptions people might have of that sound or that sonic quality. I got in touch with his family. I go, “Absolutely, I got oboe down.” “Great, you got the gig.” I went down to the Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s oboe player and said, “Look you have to teach me the oboe, I have one week.” He goes, “It’ll never happen.” And, of course, I was fine.Weston: He’s got an incredible name and your name has become iconic, as well. Clive Davis said, “You hear a couple of notes and you know it’s [Kenny].” When you say, “What’s my sound?” and when you hear three notes, you tell me.Weston: Speaking of your sound, I listened to the new album, New Standards, and I loved it. I’ve never heard it, so I wouldn’t know what they did to it to tell you if I thought, “Oh, it’s cool” or not, but it wouldn’t matter if I thought it was or not, if they’re doing it, they’re doing it.Weston: With so much amazing music, comedy and iconography pulled from the saxophone, what do you think it is that makes it one of the most iconic instruments of the last century?Kenny: Well, I’m just biased to the sax, of course. In late 2017, I used this mindset to approach my own music, exploring syrupy smooth saxophone over punk and death metal themes on songs like “Adult Contemporary” and “Pleasure Money.”Recently, I (Weston Allen) was lucky enough to sit down for PAPER with the “K-Man” to discuss his life, the excellent documentary Listening To Kenny G by director Penny Lane and his most recent album New Standards, out now.Weston Allen: Kenny G, how are you today?Kenny G: I’m doing good. If you take my music as [a metaphor for] a relationship: everybody loves each other, everything is easy, you’re getting along well. I don’t know if I’d have even wanted to play an instrument. It is what it is. He has sold more than 75 million records, his song “Going Home” is the unofficial anthem of China, and he’s found new life collaborating with modern superstars like Kanye West, The Weeknd and more. He was amazing. After it was over, he brings me back to his studio because he just said, “I want you to hear some of my new music.” Then because of that, I end up playing on the record because I heard one song and said, “You should let me put my sax on this one. I love the sound. After your excellent “In Your Eyes” performance video with The Weeknd, I’m wondering if we could see you coming back to doing music videos?Kenny: You know, it really is the expense. I played the song for his widow and she had tears in her eyes. Kenny: I love the fact that they came about, by the way. Who would have ever thought, but when you hear it go, “That really sounds great together.” I’m on a heavy metal record coming up. It’s crazy stuff.Weston: You’ve got a lot of metal people in your life. Arguably one of the most successful yet polarizing instrumental musicians of all time is Kenneth Gorelick, better known as Kenny G. Anyway, check him out.Kenny: John Zorn and Vapor… Which would be great. I think they might have taken samples of things he’s played and created the song around this whole thing, but I created a whole new melody that he never played.The responsibility, at least for me, is anything from this song goes to the Stan Getz estate. I’m sure you’d do a great job.Weston: After watching Listening To Kenny G, I felt like it set us up for a Kenny G renaissance. I mean, I’m not trying to make people like it, but I think if you really just let yourself get away from all your mental constraints, you’d go, “That sounds good.”Weston: Right, and that’s kind of that decontextualizing, with the Kanye thing and The Weeknd, to just kind of enjoy the sound and your ability, you know?Kenny: I think they have trouble doing that because it’s an intellectual thing.Weston: I like your analogy of the relationship and wanting it to be harder because, for example, I got into your music in the early 2010s listening to this genre, called Vaporwave. And it’s interesting how younger people have taken your songs and manipulated them to make them “harder” and thus more palatable for a younger audience.Kenny: Wow, I’m gonna have to listen to that. Unless some video director gets a budget from somebody and says, “Hey, we wanna do a full on video.” Yeah, great, let’s do it. He was a consummate pro. Oh, that sounds great. Look, if I had a name like Goldsmith or Goldberg that just comes off the tongue, but Gorelick?Weston: It sounds like an incredible metal band I would listen to.Kenny: There you go: Gorelick. It was fun and I was awful. It’s one of those instruments that can fit into whatever’s going on, like a Kanye song. I’ve got a gig tonight in Evansville, Indiana.Weston: I just want to let you know that I’m personally a big fan of yours and your legacy, and I really enjoyed the new documentary, Listening to Kenny G.Kenny: Thanks, I really like it. You know, I have a feeling this year that with all this momentum, who knows? Everyone’s calling me “G Man” at the time. My manager at the time said, “You know, you should just go with Kenny G.” I go, “Yeah, that’s what everyone calls me anyway.” So I was way ahead of all the rappers. Maybe I’ll do the theme for a great movie. “Emiline” is the real example of what the album’s about. I got inspired by watching a guy stand up and play a sax solo on television in the ’60s and so, well, maybe someone would have stood up and played a trumpet solo. So I thought, “I just wanna do this.” And with the technology, I don’t think anyone’s ever done this before. With the rise of posthumous collaborations in the music industry, there’s been a little big of pushback. Let’s say you’re in a relationship with your significant other. He’s inspired me and I’ve listened to Stan Getz a lot. He’s a golfer. The Kanye one happened organically because he had asked me to come to his house and play Valentine’s Day for Kim [Kardashian]. There’s a young band called Imperial Triumph that has reached out and I played a little solo for. Everyone’s doing this thing where they’re grooving to something, they’re programming something. Just let me know I’ll be there in a minute.Kenny: Thanks. I don’t know.Weston: Maybe oboe? Listening to Kenny G was officially punk in my eyes. It’s the way I hear my sax recorded. It’s the way I hear my songs and the way I play. But mainly I’m just looking forward to practicing and getting better. I’ve seen a picture of you golfing with Alice Cooper. Every show he was exactly the same. He’s not like a wild, crazy, metal nutcase. He’s got a big room, with a huge table, and there’s probably seven guys sitting around this table.