The creative leaders of Peripheral Vision are long time musical collaborators, guitarist Don Scott and bassist Michael Herring. They have assembled a synergistic musical unit designed to push the boundaries of jazz while engaging the listener with a grooving, toe-tapping immediacy. You can hear the influences of the classic 1960's era of jazz - Wayne Shorter, Booker Little, Charles Mingus - mixed with the modern New York scene - David Binney, Chris Potter, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Dave Douglas, along with hints of Radiohead, reggae and electronica. Bassist Michael Herring talks to us about how he copes and finds balance when dealing with depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
What or who influences the music that you write?
I've been influenced by a wide range of things. Jazz-wise I am very into the 1960's, Wayne Shorter and Booker Little and my band before Peripheral Vision was a sextet inspired by their three-horn writing. I've also been influenced by contemporary New York musicians, like David Binney who I hired to play on two albums, which was a really amazing learning experience. I'm also inspired by the non-jazz that I like: I toured with a reggae band for a number of years and have stolen some of that influence as well as the 90's rock of my adolescence. I tend to hint at some non-musical influence in my song titles - environmental causes, art and literature that has inspired me. My song "German Expressionist" is inspired by a David Rakoff story I heard on the radio show "This American Life". My first album was called Coniferous Revenge based on the idea of clear cut trees coming back to get revenge.
How did you decide to become jazz musicians?
Jazz found me more than I went looking for it. I was playing double bass in school and my parents were very supportive and got me private lessons. My teacher was bored with teaching me the school music and started with the basics of jazz. Around the same time I went to see a modern jazz band play at a high school and their bassist - Chris Nelson from Vancouver - was really inspiring at the workshop afterwards, and I was hooked.
How have your past experiences throughout life influenced the music that you write?
Creatively I think of myself as a synthesizer or a scavenger. I collect little ideas and write music that is inspired by it. I've been lucky to have performed in a wide variety of styles and settings and I like to draw on these influences for my jazz writing - reggae, rock, books I've read, paintings i've seen, lines from songs; It's hard to make a one-to-one relationship between a concrete influence and an instrumental jazz song which is abstract, but I try to use my song titles will help bridge that gap.
What advice would you give to teens currently going through self-esteem issues?
It seems to me that high-school is a time where people get trapped looking for conformity, so everyone is desperately trying to be "the same". But no one is the same! Which means that the stress of trying to conform is both false and impossible (you can never be the same). So instead of worrying about being the same, worry about being yourself - to me that's what makes people interesting and after high school really being uniquely yourself gets you opportunities to do exciting things. Easier said than done of course.
People with depression and other mental illnesses sometimes may find it hard to get help because of the stigma related to mental illness. As a society, how do you think we can help eliminate stigma?
I think acceptance of people's differences is very important in all aspects of our society and I think we as a society need to be more accepting of people with mental illness. Seeing mental illness as illness just the same as physical illness, something that can be treated not something that defines someone. And talking about its prevalence. It seems to me that mental health issues are wide-spread and generally not talked about. I think if we were more aware of how many people have gotten treatment for mental illness, more people would feel comfortable seeking treatment themselves. You don't think twice about going to the doctor for a sore throat, and I think mental illness should be the same.
Have you been affected by mental illness, either directly or indirectly through someone you know? What helped you to deal with it and not lose hope?
I get depressed and anxious and somewhat OCD. At various points of my life it's made doing regular things very hard. Luckily for me work - music - makes me feel more balanced and grounded. It's a great outlet for negative emotions. I have used tai chi and meditation to try to maintain equilibrium in my life as well. I find regular meditation and tai chi keeps me from getting down, but if I am down then more vigorous exercise helps me come back to feeling balanced. In supporting people close to me who have been dealing with severe depression and anxiety I've had to learn to be supportive and not try to "fix" them. I think the best thing to do is to listen.
What is your favourite way to de-stress after a long day?
Great vegetarian dinner and tai chi.
How do you stay connected to your community, friends and family, while on tour?
My iPhone is amazing for that. I remember when I used to have to find internet cafés and use expensive pay phones, but now I can video Skype for free from most hotels. It definitely makes keeping in touch easier.
Who inspires you?
David Byrne - I love the range of music and art he's made collaborating with so many different people. Jah Youssouf - a musician from Mali I got to tour with, I have a video of him playing on my phone that I watch when I need some inspiration. He comes from poverty - he lives in a one room house with his family - and he gives 110% everytime he plays. He's also an amazing success story as he had a stroke and got back to his health playing music.
What is your favourite kind of soft drink?
I make a naturally carbonated fermented tea called Kombucha and raspberry is my favourite flavour.
What is your favourite kind of dessert?
Sugar is definitely my weakness - I love all dessert! I "invented" apple cranberry pie which I make from scratch.