As a family owned and operated business and a true musical community, few things bring us more joy than watching our former associates pursue and realize their dreams. We love to see how these musicians use their creativity, drive, and talent to make great music and in turn they help inspire us to continue serving the community like we have done for over 93 years. We had the honor of catching up with former Sam Ash associate and a truly amazing talent, Las Vegas’s own Just Alliance. As a distinguished member of the Vocal Looping community, we sat down with Just Alliance to discuss this emerging genre, his favorite looping gear, and talk about his growth as a performer who relies heavily on his creativity, passion and influences.
Sam Ash: As a vocal loop artist, can you give us a basic explanation of what Vocal Looping is and how you got into it? Maybe provide some insight into your musical background
I’ve been involved in music my entire life. I started plucking out melodies on the piano in elementary school, started playing Trumpet in middle school, performed though college and beyond. Being part of the music scene in Las Vegas allowed me to be a part of Jazz Bands, Funk Bands, Mariachi, Brass Ensembles, Ska Bands, R &B, Hip Hop…you name it, I was onstage in that setting at some point in time.
It wasn’t until after college that I was introduced to live looping. I saw a link on a website, “Street Musician Makes Entire Song Using Just His Voice.” Clicked on it…and my life changed. Seeing one person make an entire song from stem to stern was interesting as it was empowering. The music I always wanted to make, now had a platform to make it on.
I was raised on Art Blakey, Louis Armstrong, Clifford Brown And Eric Dolphy as much as I was Bach, The Beastie Boys and Bowie. My music is at a point now where there is always a vein of Jazz in it. Improvisation is always a part of any set I do, and no two sets are ever the same. I love pulling from the best of every genre and putting my own spin on it. Vocal looping allows me to explore genres worldwide and make music on my own terms.
Sam Ash: How long has vocal looping been around? Did you have many role models in the vocal looping community to look to for inspiration before you started?
Live looping has been around for decades, so in a sense, vocal looping has as well. I only discovered this platform five or six years ago. What has been exciting is to watch it blossom in as many years. So many artists worldwide have established themselves through this medium, and no two do it the same.
The very first vocal loop artist I discovered was Dub FX. Watching his videos and analyzing them as you would a Dexter Gordon solo or a Bach chorale, gave me the first set of tools to get into vocal looping. Rico Loop is another titan in this community. He was the first loop artist that was using independent loops to make entire songs. He would change keys and tempos out of nowhere(!) and change the direction of his live performance on a dime. That level of mastery is unparalleled. Rico continues to floor me with every video. He truly makes song sculptures, rather than a linear song writing approach.
Sam Ash: What makes Vocal Looping Special to you. Have you always preferred to record multiple instruments on your tracks even before you got into vocal looping
Vocal looping is my platform of choice because it is so empowering! You have limitless creative options and avenues to explore and the looping apparatus, by design, repeats what you put into it…for better or worse. So the lack of a “safety net” appeals to me as well. There isn’t a “talent button” or a “make me sound better” button on board. It is an unforgiving piece of hardware, but it is the best teacher as well. It brings to light both bad and good elements in your music and allows you to forge it to an even higher piece of art.
In my live performances I use my voice, found items (bottles, cans, etc) and a melodica. I try to keep the instrumentation minimal. I did a show in LA where I was making a track live onstage and was using a guys shirt for an instrument and tapped the mic on his sternum for a kick drum effect. The audience went crazy and the guy came up after the show and said that was oddest thing he ever saw at a concert…..he dug the song we made though.
Sam Ash: Where can you see vocal looping performers like yourself today. Do you feel any resistance when trying to book venues that traditionally support bands/DJ’s? Are there any performance venues that you find work well for Vocal Looping in particular?
Youtube seems to be the breeding ground for discovering new and often times unsigned artists. With social media at our disposal, reaching out to your musical inspirations has never been easier. Many of my musical heroes are now friends of mine. To get offers to tour with the artists you look up to, is an incredible experience and I hope that everybody can experience that feeling once. Booking a solo act like mine has been feast or famine. Either they go crazy about it and give you an offer then and there, or (more commonly) you’re greeted with a blank look. You have to keep pushing forward though.
I’ve performed in front of audiences of less than ten to into the thousands. I don’t know if there is a better venue than another, but it all comes down to the audience. Wherever you can engage your audience, that’s the best venue….and it might change week to week. I did a gig once on the Las Vegas Strip in front of thousands of people, the next night…I was at a coffeehouse. Both shows received the same amount of effort from me.
Sam Ash: Your constantly taking your vocal looping shows to public schools all around the Country. How do teachers react when you try to book a vocal looping assembly
Much how venues, agents, etc do. Either they are all for it or it takes some warming up to. It is important to go into discussions with educators with a plan and tell them what you will do and how. Most educators appreciate you having the preparation (and respect for their time) in giving them an outline of what you do in that setting. You don’t need an item itemized list, but a brief outline, or even video samples from your social media.
Recently, I was in front of 1300 middle school students. They ate it up. My favorite part of my school workshops, is getting the students onstage with me and incorporating their voice/instrument into a song. That’s the magic for me, empowering them to be artists.
Sam Ash: How is the reaction from the kids. Do you feel the technology involved with Vocal Looping resonates with a generation who know nothing but the age of the internet and connected devices.
Ha!! Any two middle school or high students are more tech savvy than any for adults! Social media is huge! Youtube, Facebook, Twitter….that’s the new MTV. The technology side of it is appealing, but I think what resonates more, is that they see a guy come in and construct as fully fleshed out song….using only his voice….in real time….and the thought is, “Man..I could do that!” My school workshops are open ended. Meaning I will stick around after school as long as it takes for any student to get on the set up I brought to the school or to simply answer any questions they may have.
The social media numbers jump after a school workshop. That night I am replying to emails, reposting selfies the students took with me, or replying to interactions on Instagram, Twitter, etc. That is important. They are now your fans and an artist has that responsibility to his/her fans.
Sam Ash: How has your looping rig evolved over the years. Do you always use the same setup or does it depend on the performance setting
My first rig was very basic. A small loop pedal…a junk mic and a junk amp. The first time I loaded into a gig, my gear was in a laundry basket. To think of that, and where my rig is now and the incredible companies that support me, is very rewarding. My basic rig was only a mic and looper…then an effects pedal, then a better mic, then another effects pedal and so on. It evolved out of needing the colors and capabilities to achieve my artist visions. That vision is always changing and evolving. My set up now is smaller than the past, but gives me thrice as many options as my older rig. I use the same set up for every show now.
Sam Ash: How would you describe the state of vocal looping today as compared to when you started out? Has the community of vocal loopers grown.
The community has grown considerably. It is also a very, very, very supportive community. From gig share collectives, to gear questions to ridesharing, the community really looks after itself. People I’ve never met in person have offered performances, accommodations and more in Thailand, UK, Germany and Indonesia.
Sam Ash: You have been lucky enough to endorse several brands that Sam Ash carries. What are some of your favorites? What makes there gear worthy of being in your setup
I am really blessed to be working with many of the best companies in the music industry.As an endorsed artist, I am very fortunate to be invited to industry events to perform, most recently the NAMM Show in Anaheim, CA. I recived invites to perform at the Westone Audio stage. They make the best in-ear monitors around. Electro Voice ,who launched last year an entire line of mics that I now perform on in addition to their PA’s and lastly the BOSS and Roland stage. I am currently using a BOSS RC-505 loop pedal. BOSS has led the charge on loopers for years now.
These are three companies that have led the way in their respective industries for years, and to be asked to represent them was exciting. I felt like an athelete at the Olympics asked to represent my country. Except in this case, the athletes are all killer musicians, super supportive and it’s one of the best weeks off the year every NAMM!
George L’s cables invited me into their artist roster as well. They have been supportive in getting custom instrument cable into my rig and not only improving the sound clarity, but also the aesthetic. TC Helicon has been supportive since inviting me aboard last year. The Voice Live 3 is the main effects workshorse of my rig, and every day I discover new sounds on the VL3. Eventone makes the Mixing Link I use on every gig. I also use a Samson headphone amp and a Voodoo Lab 4X4 that are both as solid as it gets.
Sam Ash: Where can the Sam Ash Universe find out more about your work. Anything particularly inspiring with regards to vocal looping for those hungry to learn more?
I can always be reached at my website, JustAlliance.com. I write back every email, no matter how long it takes. I update my own blog regularly. Tutorials, behind-the-scenes, interviews..I do it all. My blog gives me another outlet to communicate worldwide to fans and peers alike. All of my social media accounts are current as well. Between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram…you can find me. Type in Just Alliance…look for the dude with the Mohawk and a microphone.
Loopinglive.com is a great resource for loopers as well. I write regularly for the site, but the other contributing editors have a deep pool of experience on and offstage as well that can shine a light onto questions about gear, artist websites, stage presence, etc. I also encourage musicians to join the Facebook groups dedicated to live looping or even a piece of gear that they may use. Believe me, if it’s on your rig, there is a group page somewhere for it.
Check Out Just Alliance Performance on the Will Edwards Show