Exclusive Interview with Frank McComb

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Ain’t no mountain high enough to climb, ain’t no river too wide to cross. No, I’m not playing around with Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s evergreen, but this verse really fits the story of a triumphant  artist who takes the meaning of independent literally, Frank McComb. Not only he’s blessed with full bag of talents but he also possesses the strength and spirit to keep going, no matter what it takes. His belief in God does take stand in each step he makes, making him a rare human who can do things that we think impossible to be done. He does everything solely on his own, from creating music, mastering, mixing up to selling the CDs, also when it comes to concert booking, promoting and so on.

Having said that, the road is not always easy to pass on. He has experienced some bad weathers during his journey, things that might make a good artist quit instantly. But McComb is different. He has the power and spirit to carry on, most importantly is that he realizes that the Lord has anointed him and provides him everything he needs to do his mission. Playing music is his mission. He’s been blessing the audience and listeners with his music and sharing his knowledge to many other musicians. From the bad experience in previous labels, the memorable years with Branford Marsalis’ Buckshot LeFonque to the time when he decided to do it by his own and became a winner ever since. We believe this should inspire all struggling young musicians especially those who are commited in taking the jazz road, in wider scene his life story could inspire us all, human who face struggles every now and then.

We were happy to see Frank McComb again at the Java Jazz Festival 2012, but we were even happier when we got the chance to do an exclusive interview with him right after he hosted the music clinic right in front of the press room. Being such a nice man as he is, he followed us to the press room where this interview occured. Let’s hear what Frank McComb has to say.

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Frank, you were once signed to Mo-Jazz (Motown Records’ Jazz label). But from what I heard it didn’t go pretty well. What happened back then?
Nothing..that’s what happen (laughs). Nothing was done for me.I recorded two different projects for the label, but they pretty much didn’t know how to market me. All they had to do was just release the music but we never got to that point. And now that I’m getting older, a little wiser and have more experience in the music business I believe I got lost in the company because some of the owners of Motown were in the process of selling the label to a company called Polygram. So because that was taking place, the other things were kinda took a back seat. But I wanted to leave. I choose to leave because in times like that you’re not thinking of the artist that was coming in, new artist wasn’t making a lot of money for the company. That’s when I connected with Branford Marsalis.

For Buckshot LeFonque.
Yeah, Buckshot LeFonque.

[flickr id=”6821011786″ thumbnail=”small” overlay=”true” size=”small_320″ group=”” align=”left”]Before we dig more about Branford and Buckshot LeFonque, let’s talk first about another label you once signed in, the Columbia Records right?
Yeah, that was after releasing two CDs with Buckshot LeFonque. The second CD being a new revolution which was the home for “Another Day” that became such a big hit. Because the song, it enabled Buckshot LeFonque to take another tour. They were gonna shut Buckshot down sooner than the time, but since the song became an instant hit, it allowed us to go on the road for another tour. When that toor was finished, Branford asked me to sign to Columbia to record and release my first CD.

Did it work well?
Well, at the time I thought it was working well because I didn’t really know the business as much as I know it now. In the end, no. Because once again they signed the artist but they didn’t know how to place it.

So once again the same problem with Motown.
Yeah, the same thing. But you know, at least they released the CD. By releasing the “Love Stories” it was like having a Platinum Credit Card, something that you can show.. to show your credibility as a recording artist. The release of “Love Stories” did open some doors. But because they didn’t promote it a lot of doors that should’ve been open weren’t open.

It was better in a way, but yet it didn’t go that well..
It was bittersweet. It was good that they released it but they didn’t get the best out of the whole situation. And the issue had nothing to do with the music or even me. It was about politics and power. Who’s gonna make what decision.

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Now let’s talk about your moment with Branford, did you enjoy it?
I had an awesome experience with Branford Marsalis. In fact, Branford and I are pretty close. He’s like an older brother to me. I’m like the sixth Marsalis (laughs). We ran into each other at the Joy of Jazz Festival last August in Johannesburg, South Africa. We were on the same festival. Branford actually played on my latest record “A New Beginning”. We’re close. He’s my buddy. Branford taught me a lot about the music business. I owe a lot to him.

Now let’s talk about your album “Straight from the Vault”. It’s a really cool album, I really love it by the way.
Thank you sir. That was the first CD I recorded and released solely on my own. No one else on that record but me.

All from your vault right?
Everything. I wrote the song, recorded, engineered it, nobody else played the instrument but me. I programmed everything. It feels like a live band but it was actually me programmed it.

There’s some kind of personal satisfaction then for you with this CD
Yeah, I release that CD actually because.. umm, let me tell you a story. I recorded a CD for Motown in 1995 and it was illegally released in 2003…

Illegally? Means they put it out without your permission?
Yeah, without me knowing it. So at this time I was promoting my sophomore CD “The Truth Vol 1”. It was really sad that at the same time I was trying to promote the CD, this person was trying to promote what they called “The Motown Sessions”.  The people in Europe were buying it for like US$ 50 per CD. I remember being at the Birmingham Weekender, that’s a festival in Birmingham, England, and I just finished a show as the opening for Incognito, with Bluey. While they were on stage, I was in my green room signing autograph, signing Love Stories and The Truth Vol 1. Those were the only CD I had out back then. Now I’m up to CD number 10. There were about 150 people on that room, as about 15 people came up to me with a copy of the CD (the so-called Motown Sessions), and they all had different artwork that they created their own. We never did any photo shoots for the record, we never got the chance to mix it or master it. So this guy was burning it rough from the studio.

Oh my God.. they wanted to make it like somekind of bootleg I guess..
Yeah, it was a bootleg, exactly. So when I saw this guy take my music and sell it like this, it was on the CDR, he was burning it at home with his computer on his own, I went home from that concert and I picked up 12 of the strongest songs at my studio, and I called my studio my vault, and I finished them, cleaned them up, mixed them to the best of my knowledge at that time. So I engineered my project myself and it didn’t cost me any money to make it. What I did after that was I started burning them. And when I got my show in Cleveland to promote that CD, I didn’t have the artwork. I just burned them straight from the vault. I just wrote “Straight from the Vault”, Frank McComb on the top of the CD. Put them on the case, put the CDs in my bag. I went to Cleveland which is my home town. I did a concert and explained to the people what had just happened to me. I sold all of them.

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Cool! what happened next?
Then I got called from Lalah Hathaway. She asked me to come to Oakland with her to play at a club called Yoshi. She was there for four night, two shows a night. I went with Lalah as a guest star. Once again I burned some CDs, again I filled up a dufflebag full of CDs, and I showed it to Lalah on the first night. So at that time Lalah was signing autograph for her CD and T-shirts outside while the band had dinner. Her manager came to me and said “Frank, the people are asking for you out there.” And I said okay, but I went back into dinner. And she repeated that again. “Frank, the people ARE ASKING for you. Get your bag, get out of here and sell your product!” (laughs). So I took my bag, get out of there and sold all the CDs right on the first night. So I had to play the rest of the week with Lalah with no more CD because all got sold out on that one night.

(chuckles) Praise the Lord for that!  
Yeah, God is good to me! He sold all my CD that night. You better believe it! (laugh)

But then I saw the album came with complete package including a cover art.
Yeah, I figured then, well now I’m gonna take the money from the CD sales and I’m gonna have a friend of mine help to create CD cover. When he created the cover, I went back home and kept burning them. And ever since then, I’ve been handpacked every single CD that I release.

So I’m a self-contained recording artist. When I say independent I’m literally an independent artist. I manage myself, I book my own concert, I have no booking agency. I got to Java Jazz because Peter Gontha talked directly to me. Me, Peter Gontha and Paul Dankmeyer. I do all the promoters by myself.

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Based on your experience, do you think it’s necessary for an artist to find a label or going independent is the best road to take?
For some, not for all. Some people need a label because they are not business savvy. Some people need it because they don’t have the endurance that it takes to be able to do all those different jobs. And some people can’t do those things. So they have to bring somebody in. I’ve been blessed to be able to do it. And I think it’s been proven that I’m doing pretty good because I’ve been doing this long and I’m still here. So you have to be able to it. I mean I’m not a perfect. Something does slip every now and then.

We as men struggles with balance some time. You know, we put too much in one area and not enough time in the other areas. And I had to learn to put right amount of times in every subject. I still have a family. I got two teenagers and a wife that I still have to take care of. So I put it like this: the Lord is always gonna be first, then your family, then your career. Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s how it supposed to be.

And that’s not easy at all.
That’s hard sometimes, because you have so many different jobs. But when you trust in God, He will give you what you need. He will give you the knowledge, He will tell you when you give too much time for something, He will tell you to not waste your time, because you can give your time to the wrong area and something else that’s important, you loose all of it. Family is the first thing you will loose. So I try not to, because I don’t wanna loose my family. I don’t wanna loose anything so I have to do that balance.

[flickr id=”6967132359″ thumbnail=”small” overlay=”true” size=”small_320″ group=”” align=”right”] Looking at your life story with all the struggles, people who fight this hard with the strong spirit as you usually carries some kind of mission within. Are you the man on mission?
Yeah, I have to believe that. I’ve learned in recent years that my career is not really my career, it’s an assignment. Every concerts that I do, every interview, any public appearance, anything that I do publicly, Jesus was sent out basicly on assignment. And what I do, with this music gift that God has put in me by the time I’m here are assignments. I’ve been blessed to teach my music to different musicians. So just about any place that I go, I have musicians set up everywhere. To where I can go, teach them the music and made a concert, and there’s the people out there who are coming for the concert, they leave full, like they have been blessed with music.

And with the type of music that I’m doing, 90% of my songs speak some kind of message. Either message of hope and possitivity or a message saying that you have to love yourself and not to leave some people alone. Like in my “Love Stories” album there’s a song called “Keep Pushin’ On” where one’s really speaking to himself, to bring himself back to push himself. We gotta keep pushing on you know. I wrote this song to anybody that’s struggling with the career, with the job and things just look like doors aren’t opening. Well you gotta keep pushing on. You can’t stop! And I basically used my own situation as an example when speaking to the person. I believe we can do all things with God’s strengthening us. In the worldside I’m not suppose to be where I am as a recording artist, having no team. That’s only by grace.

It would be impossible when we think as human, but it happens to you.
Yeah it happens. They said “You don’t have the record company? You don’t have the manager? You don’t have a booking agent? How did you get here?” The only way is that to have God anoints me to do it and to provide all that I need for me to do this. I’m not a rich man, but I’m rich in Christ. Obviously He’s my record company, He’s my booking agent, He’s my everything. All I have to do is to obey, to do it right. Really.

Back to “The Vault” thing, since you have to do everything by yourself, how many more songs do you actually have in your own vault?
That’s a good question. I don’t even have time to write songs everyday. Because if I’m not with the family or hanging out with my wife, then I’d be in the studio. If I’m not recording some in the studio then I’m trying to write. If I’m not writing then I’m on the road. If I’m not on the road I’m in front of the computer booking concert. (laughs)

And we all only have 24 hours a day right sir?
I’ve been asking to God if he can add some days to a week or add more hours to days. They always say like one day at a time but sometimes it feels like the day’s just fall out on me” (laughs)

Indonesia now has a big festival like the Java Jazz Festival. Do you think this is beneficial for the jazz development in Indonesia?
Definitely, obviously it is. We are now in the year number 8. There’s been some sustained power, long journey. If it wasn’t something like a good festival people wouldn’t come. People are not going to come to anything that they are not gonna like. Right now the Java Jazz Festival is the biggest festival in the world. Bigger than North Sea. I’ve never thought I would have seen the bigger festival than North Sea. I love the North Sea Jazz Festival. It’s one of my favorite jazz festivals. But Java Jazz from what I see is getting bigger. I love the atmosphere. The atmosphere of the people, the atmosphere of the music, the artists, the location..It reminds me of.. well, I say this with great respect and I say this as the highest compliment I can give, it reminds me of North Sea. So now I have two favorite festivals.

And here you are at the Java Jazz Festival again.
I always love Java Jazz because Peter Gontha is like such a good friend of mine. He’s a really, really nice guy. I got the chance to learn from him over the whole 5 years. He’s a wonderful dude. And to call me personally and said “I want you to play in my festival”, I was still humble by it. He could’ve called someone else, someone bigger than me like John Legend, Alicia Keys, and I mean in respect to those who play piano and sing, because that’s what I do. He could’ve called all of them. He could even called Elton John. Really. But he called me.

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Well I’m extremely happy to have you back here in the festival. Speaking of your vocal style, many people compare you with Donny Hathaway or Stevie Wonder. Some artists don’t like to be compared, some take it as an honor. Where do you stand actually?
I’m gonna tell you something that George Benson has told me when I was still 15 year old. “Anytime someone tells you that you sound like a legend, you’d be a fool not to take that as a highest compliment. You take it and run with it. Make the best of it. And I’ve been doing it. When I was younger people said my voice resembled Donny Hathaway since it was developed into his kind of tone. And I used to have problems with it. I took it like “You’re trying to tell me that I’m copying him”. But if you listen to my mother in her youth, I sound a lot like her. I have her tone but in a man’s body. My aunt Liz McComb is a gospel singer. We all have soul voices. People used to say that then I told George Benson about it. That’s when he told me that. I don’t take it as an insult. Even if they mean it as an insult, you better still take it as a compliment, because why would they use that person’s name. “You try to sound like Hathaway”, well I must be doing some of it, you brought that name up to say that. So I’m gonna do my best to always look at the cup half full, not half empty. (laugh)

[flickr id=”6821011192″ thumbnail=”small” overlay=”true” size=”small_320″ group=”” align=”left”] You’ve been using Rhodes too as your weapon for many years. That’s one of the unique thing about you.
I’ve been playing rhodes for 20 some years. But I also play piano, even B3 (Hammond) organ, a lot of people don’t know it.  I was personally endorsed by Billy Preston who played on two of my CDs. I love and I miss him.

Rhodes and B3 certainly brings a different atmosphere into a song.
They all have their own spirit and their own sound. You can play in organ like you play grand piano, vice versa. Let me put it this way. You can’t approach the acoustic piano the same way you approach the rhodes. clavinets, accordions… they have keys but they all have their own spirit. You can’t do that, it’s not gonna work.

So you decide what to use from the song that you made.
Right.

I know you need to rest plus the jet-lag that you should be experiencing right now. One last thing, what do you want to say to your fans and our readers?
Tweet me! I’m on twitter now. It’s FrankMcCombFans. And also my website, http://frankmccomb.info. I can be found in there.

Thank you very much Frank. Good luck with your performance.
Thank you. Keep in touch!

Interviewed by: Riandy Kurniawan
Photographer: Ghea Sagita

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