Five Questions for Ship in the Clouds

Ship in the Clouds is a new acoustic trio led by banjo picker Jake Schepps with guitarist Scott Nygaard, and violinist Alisa Rose. They are playing at the Arcata Playhouse on Sunday, Nov. 16, at 8 pm.

Jake graciously answered a few questions about where the band comes from and where they’re going.

Who are you? 

My name is Jake Schepps.  I have played 5-string banjo for over 20 years, being initially inspired to pick up the instrument by seeing Bela Fleck and the Flecktones at the 1991 Telluride Bluegrass Festival.  Along my musical path, I studied with a multitude of banjo players as well as other instrumentalists (trumpet, sitar, guitar, violin, and more).  I am a bandleader, composer, arranger, session musician, author, journalist, educator, and collaborator. 

Where are you from?

I live in Boulder, Colorado. Scott Nygaard is in Fairfax, California, and Alisa Rose lives in San Francisco. 

What do you do? 

I play banjo professionally, having recorded 4 albums under my own name, but most notably my last album was all music by the great Hungarian composer Bela Bartok arranged for string band.  I have a new album “Entwined” coming out on January 27, 2015.  The music on this album represents some of the first ever long-form works written by classical composers for the traditional 5-piece bluegrass string band, an ensemble that was solidified when banjoist Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys in 1945. By commissioning these pieces, I hope to offer a fresh perspective on this iconic instrumental combination, and a prismatic view into these four fascinating compositional worlds.

I also teach wilderness medicine for the National Outdoor Leadership School.  It is an incredibly job that requires me to find creativity within a tight structure, not unlike the music I play.  Keeping a medical class engaging, humorous, and with the appropriate amount of gravitas is a constant challenge, and adding all those elements to a concert, or even a solo, is something I strive for, and on occasion even hit the mark.  

Why do you do what you do?

I love the intellectual and literary aspect of playing music.  In some ways, I see the practice of music as a mountain I will never finish climbing (and if I ever got near the top, I can always work on “Giant Steps” in all 12 keys).  And playing folk music, and folk related styles, I am coming to understand it takes a lifetime to sound good in any of these styles.  While some of these kinds of music may not be as harmonically or rhythmically sophisticated as other forms of music, it is no less challenging to sound authentic in these forms and musical languages.  I draw incredible inspiration from this, and the more I learn and study and collaborate, the more inspired I become. 

Where does the Ship in the Clouds sail? Where does it fit into the panorama of the world’s music?

Ship in the Clouds sailed from the fjords of Scandinavia to the streets of Brazil. We traverses the mountains of Romania to rural of North Carolina, while visiting island destinations as diverse as Sicily and Manhattan.  

All three of us love playing bluegrass, yet in this day an age of access to the world;s treasure troves of music stylings, we have found many other places to venture.  Scott has delved deep into Swedish folk music, Alisa has this amazing background with the Real Vocal String Quartet, arranging diverse material for that instrumentation, and I play a wide spectrum of music, and have a deep love for Brazilian choro music, the asymmetrical rhythms of eastern Europe, and countless other harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic explorations. 

Hopes and plans for the future, short term and long term?

Both Alisa and I have new solo albums coming out in the near future, and we all hope this trio setting offers an opportunity to play that music.  We also have plans for recording this trio sometime in 2015. 

Tickets for the Ship in the Clouds show Sunday at the Arcata Playhouse are $15 at the door, $13 for Playhouse members. Doors open at 7:30 pm.

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