At first spin, Irene steps onto our threshold with a voice stewing in charismatic draw. Her sophomore project A Song of You intro’s an enticing original labeled "Dance with Me." From that point, one surmises that she could easily control and direct any intimate arena. Irene effortlessly makes peace with romance and the Latin songbook, therein creating her signature sway.
In sitting with Irene, I immediately grasped a respect for her "embracing one’s roots" attitude. Never over the top in describing her philosophies and beliefs, this multi-faceted artist is a straight shooter who stylistically evokes the mood and intentions of the arrangements set before her. Listening to the texture of her delivery, you understand that a significant portion of her is contained in the performance's music sheet. Her tones are consistent and the writing lifts the arches of the surrounding cast on stage. The audience dips their emotional brushes in her intimate palette, assisting and guiding her performance until the evening comes full circle.
In our time together, Irene passes through the channels of her professional and private waterways, speaking about the concept of making it in this industry as well as which part of her brain kicks in during the artistic process. One discovers how she engages us to her personality and her process of developing and dissecting the Latin jazz process she arranges, and the vocally stimulating appeal she has on an audience.
With all her stylistic sway, it's time to go between sets with the sundry talents of Irene Nachreiner.
JazzReview: Irene, let’s start off defining the So. Cal-Brazilian beat/flow. You have explained the geographical nature of the term; now let’s go deeper into the feel of the sound.
Irene: You’re asking me to explain the unexplainable, but I’m going to try. Although most of the members of my band are from Brazil, I’m a Southern California native. As such, I can never be a Brazilian singer. We are all influenced by the world we live in and even though we use a lot of Brazilian rhythms and styles in our songs, we’re in Southern California and that makes a difference in our sound. We are what we are.
JazzReview: I know the readers would like to get to know Irene the inner emotion of your writing, arranging, and performance of your craft. Please open that door for us.
Irene: I’m basically a right brain, creative type with just enough left brain activity to make me very organized and goal-oriented, if that makes any sense! Doing creative activities like making music is simply the core of who I am as a person. I love singing. I love writing music. I love the whole process of recording and mixing music.
Arranging music is one of the most fun parts of music for me. It’s so much fun to take a simple song, even a very short song, out of a fake book and figuring out how to make it interesting by using modulations, key changes, repetitions...then to give the arrangement to my musicians and see what they can bring to it. They always surprise me in a very good way. No matter how much one imagines how it will sound, they bring it to a level I never even imagined. With jazz, the arrangements are a three-step process for me. First, I arrange the music and create a chart. Then I give it to the band and they make changes and add their own spin. Then when I mix the song, in a sense, I conduct the whole thing.
I’m just about having fun, and my idea of fun is creating something beautiful.
JazzReview: Your debut project, Summer Samba, had its own personality. This was drawn from within you at that point in time of your career. When we listen to your current project, A Song of You, what changes/transformation should we get from the comparison of the two spins?
Irene: Originally for A Song of You, I wanted the cover picture to be taken in another tropical place. The cover of Summer Samba was taken on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands by a dear friend of mine, Ted Davis, who had just moved there.
In October 2008, I was on the island of Bora Bora for a three week singing gig and I wanted a picture taken there for A Song of You, but the weather simply would not cooperate. It was terribly windy with intermittent rain for the whole three weeks. The local photographer on Bora Bora, Jean-Claude, and I waited and waited for the weather to improve, but it never did. Finally in desperation, I hired a Los Angeles photographer and had that picture taken in his studio. It’s a nice picture, but the picture doesn’t tell a lot about where my psyche was at that time.
That said A Song of You is part of my progression as a musician. I learned so much from making Summer Samba, I was able to take all of that and add more to my base of knowledge.
JazzReview: Let’s talk business - music business. As a self-produced label artist, what did you learn along the process? How do you market your project, including social networking? Any advice!
Irene: My advice? If you want to make a record, you have a choice; you can hustle, grovel and beg a record label to give you a shot or you can just do it yourself. I prefer to get my own funding and just do it. Also, you must network, network and network. Promote, promote, promote. It just isn’t enough to make your record and release it. You have to get out there and beat the bushes to get people to listen to you. If they like what they hear, they will come back for more.
I’m on a lot of social networking sites and I’ve discovered that there reaches a point where you spend so much time on those sites that it distracts you from making music. So, I’ve had to find a happy medium between social networking and making music.
JazzReview: Marco Tulio and Cristano Novelli seem to have had more than just a musical impact on you. Talk about their influences; both on a business and personal level.
Irene: Marco and Cristiano are both amazing musicians. I rely on Cristiano to create a rhythm that is the base. He has amazing sense of what is needed for each song. Marco is such a good guitarist. I give him the charts and he makes magic with it. They both bring so much to the table, there is just no way to express it in words, but I am grateful to have found them.
JazzReview: Go into the progression of taking classic tunes such as Eric Clapton’s "Change the World" and administering the Latin feel. What cut caused you the most work and development?
Irene: I was in the Hollywood sheet music store last year and was walking past a wall of charts for individual songs. I saw "Change the World" and it just sort of popped out at me. I looked at it and thought, "Huh, what would that sound like with a Latin rhythm?" I took the music over to the store piano and played the tune. I immediately thought this could work so I bought the music and started arranging it for me. The sheet music incorporated a lot of pop vocal flourishes that I didn’t feel that were right for a Latin version so I simplified it and took those out. After I had worked on it for about a month, I showed it to Marco Tulio and asked if he thought it would work. He had never heard the song before because it was a hit here before he moved to the US. He played my arrangement and said that it was a great song that would work very well so we went into the studio and recorded it. The band had a great time with it. I know for some it was a surprising choice, but you just have to take chances. I spent a lot of time on that arrangement getting it to work, but the song that caused the most work, without question, is "La Foule."
JazzReview: You tend to go outside the rule book with your vocal ventures. I respect that adventurous temperament. Give us an example on A Song of You where you went a bit left of center.
Irene: I have to credit the development my vocal style to my music teacher, Alex Varden. It comes from his philosophy that we are all individuals and it’s his job to find what is unique about our voice and help us develop that. That can’t be said about many teachers. As far as your question about going left of center, I never feel like I’m left of center. I’m right on center for me.
JazzReview: You’re quoted as saying "The idea of vocal Latin jazz is that the rhythms affect your body while the lyrics give you something to think about."
Irene: You can’t really separate the body and mind. They are both interconnected. When you have only music, your imagination can send you anywhere. When you have lyrics, it sends your mind in a specific direction. Then your imagination takes over and adds to the words. Music is about emotion and feeling, something that can’t be measured.
JazzReview: Your intro song "Dance with Me" has that appeal of an old ballroom experience. One can actually put themselves on the hardwood stage and undergo the delight of a couple’s first dance with the romance of two hearts. Walk us through the arrangement and lyrical approach of this cut.
Irene: Writing the lyrics for "Dance with Me" was an interesting experience. I had a scratch track of the music that Scott Martin sent me with no instructions from him on what the song was about. On the day I started working on the lyrics, I had a crew of men jack-hammering out my back patio. So there I was listening to the music and the jack hammering, and one phrase of the music put the idea of a couple dancing into my head. I had been watching "Dancing with the Stars" and on the previous episode, they were dancing the Rhumba, which is what that song is. There had been a particularly steamy Rhumba on the show and I just imagined myself in that position. I kept thinking of that dance and the emotions it brought up. I did my best to put it into words.
JazzReview: Gershwin’s "S’Wonderful" was plated with a new appeal as the arrangement was enhanced more so by the string work of Marco Tulio. From the outset of the piece, his development of the string work mirrored the classic voice structure you delivered. Can you take us back to the production of this piece?
Irene: My idea for the arrangement was that it would start out very simply with just voice, guitar, piano, bass, and drums. At each verse, I modulated up one key and added more instrument to make it interesting. I held back the saxophone until the instrumental in the middle. If you listen carefully, you can hear new percussion instruments joining in as the song goes along. The interplay between the piano and guitar at the beginning then becomes interplay with piano, guitar and saxophone by the end. Marco is particularly talented at adding those little guitar riffs, and Rique Pantoja did a wonderful job mirroring him on the piano. Then when Scott Martin comes in at the end, it’s just magic. This song sort of became a Latin "call and response."
JazzReview: I have to agree that shades of Edith Piaf came from spinning "La Foule." Your delivery was very much reminiscent of her style. You mention it was done in a new time signature.
Irene: "La Foule" was one of the most difficult arranging jobs I have ever done. The tune for the song was originally a Russian folk song. That tune was then used for the Spanish language love ballad "Que Nadie Sepa Mi Sufrir," which was written in 2/4 time. That tune was turned on its head, sped up and became "La Foule" in a waltz tempo, or 3/4 tempo. I had heard Edith Piaf’s version of that song many times, but her arrangement was very much the Big Band era. It never occurred to me to sing the song until I stumbled across a video of a Latin guitar version on the Internet. It was at that point I went looking for the sheet music for the song. I found it on the Internet from a music store in Paris, but when I got the chart, it was the Edith Piaf style arrangement. Taking those words in French and making them work in a 2/4 tempo was a project that just about drove me nuts, but in the end, it was worth the effort.
JazzReview: Any thoughts of breaking out of the Latin mode and bringing your innovative style to another genre?
Irene: I need a challenge. If I’m not moving forward I’m moving backwards and that just isn’t acceptable to me. When I reach the point where I don’t think there’s anything more I think I can learn from Latin music, I’ll move onto something else. I don’t know what or when that will be until that moment comes.
Right now I’m working on an album of Christmas tunes that is challenging because a lot of those traditional songs are in a 3/4 tempo, which just doesn’t work with Latin rhythms. It has been an interesting experience figuring out how to make it work.
JazzReview: Have your other talents like as dancing, screenwriting, and acting played into your jazz vocal career?
Irene: Who you are is the totality of your life experience. Everything you do informs everything else in your life. There is no way I can separate one talent from another. The thing about talents is that once I develop one, I discover another.
It’s been an endless discovery and learning process. All the time I spent learning script writing has made writing music that much easier because writing scripts taught me how to tap into my creativity. Acting, particularly improvisational acting, has also taught me how to tap into that creativity in an effortless way. With dancing it’s the same thing. I think the thing about creativity is that it can be developed, but you have to learn how to turn off the judgmental side of your brain,so you can let ideas flow.
JazzReview: Now for the toughest questions you’ll ever face .
• What percentage of you is extraverted and what percentage is introverted, and what’s left is what?
I’m probably 55% introverted and 45% extroverted. I was painfully shy as a child and had to work very hard to overcome that. I’m still working on it.
• The defining love song is .
"Like a Lover" lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Their words are genius personified.
• When are you most at peace?
I am most at peace when I am snorkeling over a beautiful tropical reef, looking at fish and coral without a care in the world.
• The one album that best defines your taste?
That is such a hard question because I love so many different kinds of music. I just can’t answer that question.
• My favorite screenplay is
"Harrow Alley" by Walter Newman Brown! It has never been produced, but it is just breathtaking to read. I had been told about that script for a long time before I came across a copy of it in a magazine. It is without doubt the best script I’ve ever read. Reading the script of produced movies is often fascinating, particularly if you can find an early draft, because the changes that are made before it gets to the screen often take a good story and muddle it up.
• My favorite date spot is
Any top-notch, French restaurant as I like to eat!