Jazz artist Reggie Bishop, a much-in-demand session player and keyboardist around the city and president of Spyral Records, traveled around the world before settling back in Indianapolis for the long haul. He started playing jazz in the musical programs of Indianapolis Public Schools, then went to the Boston College of Music. He spent a decade performing on cruise ships, and now he works on projects as diverse as jazz standards for the Reggie Bishop Trio, the experimental beats of Groovkilla and producing albums for Cynthia Layne and Goldie Johnson.
He's definitely a jack-of-all-trades. He's composing music for the local film Bound By Blood, and he's a manga-styled artist, drawing the cover for the Groovkilla album and working on a comic book.
NUVO: What's your label, Spyral Records, all about?
Reggie Bishop: First of all, it's an independent record label. Right now I've been focusing more on writing and production. I've been doing a lot of writing for artists, and also I've been shopping a lot of songs for music libraries and publishing companies, trying to source some material for films and jingles.
NUVO: What were those years on cruise lines like, and what did you learn about the musical process while you were at it?
Bishop: That was a lot of fun. It was like a nonstop vacation. In one way, it was a compromise musically. You're playing music other people are telling you. But I had a lot of time to work on songwriting and engineering and DJing ... It taught me how to be a team player. It's not all about what you want to do, but you can function within a unit and excel and do your job to its fullest. You have to learn to work with people with whom you might not have a hell of a lot in common but you still have to play your music to the highest level.
NUVO: What brought you back here to Indianapolis?
Bishop: I felt like I had seen enough, so I came back here three years ago and started playing in bands, and tried to reestablish myself back into the real world, quote-unquote. I hadn't been in Indianapolis since 1988, and it was a nice opportunity to see where I'd come from and how I'd changed. I like a lot of how Indianapolis had come, there's a lot of culture, there's a lot of places to play.
NUVO: What are your thoughts on the current state of Indianapolis music?
Bishop: In Boston and New York they had closed a lot of jazz clubs. In Indianapolis, it's been a wonderful surprise seeing that a lot of restaurants and coffeehouses have music, there's a lot more open jams. Indianapolis really seems to have an openness to live music and supports live music. People come out on a regular basis to clubs. And in Broad Ripple, it's interesting to see so many venues that are packed in a few blocks.
It's been the music festivals - Indy Jazz Fest, Midwest Music Summit, Taste of Indy - those sorts of festivals have really connected the people with the artists. There's been a lot of coverage in the media. And in spite of our size, we have a general grass-roots, small-town feel to the city.
NUVO: How did you end up working as a producer and writer?
Bishop: I was playing in bands but I still wanted to express myself. I had loads of original material I wanted to get out. I was doing hotel gigs with Cynthia Layne and I put a bug in her ear about doing an album of all originals. I wrote songs with her and Rob Dixon. It was more me trying to start a production company. I was trying to challenge myself to do other things rather than be a player. And of course the business end of it, trying to market and promote an album ... It was a wonderful experience. A song is almost like your child. You want to see it grow and become something not only you can appreciate yourself, but others will appreciate, and I've seen a lot of appreciation for what Rob and myself have written for Cynthia. And it's interesting to see people in Indianapolis respond to other forms of music. There's a lot of rock and singer/songwriters in Indianapolis, but not a lot of jazz-neo-soul, so it's good to see this kind of music get some play.
NUVO: What about the Groovkilla electronica project?
Bishop: Groovkilla was kind of a way for me to challenge myself to write music that I normally don't perform live. Though I do aspire to bring Groovkilla out of the studio and live. Most of the time electronic music is restricted to the DJ in the club.
Some of the music I want to expose people to is very emotional, groove-oriented music. Something to catch people's attention, that they can relate to. The reason I created Groovkilla was to have the freedom to do more than one style, to be outside the boundaries of certain musical styles. I want the musical freedom of Beck or David Byrne or Prince to do whatever kind of music they want without being labeled.
NUVO: What kind of past experiences influence your music?
Bishop: Being outside Indianapolis, I've picked up a lot of influences from different styles of music. In Boston I lived in a Puerto Rican neighborhood, so I heard a lot of meringue and salsa. And being on a cruise ship was like being on a virtual floating United Nations. I got to experience a lot of cultures I wouldn't have otherwise seen. It allowed me to be more open minded and see the common roots of all music.
NUVO: Tell us about working with the Bound By Blood soundtrack.
Bishop: I'm a huge film buff. Film has been a secret passion of mine for most of my life. I think it's great. It's not only a great artistic tool, it's a great marketing tool for artists. In the mainstream, songs have been promoted and pushed, and people remember songs from a movie. It's great to see all those venues come together.
NUVO: What about this comic book you're talking about in combination with Groovkilla?
Bishop: I've created characters for the storyline within the titles of the music. I've been an anime fan ever since they brought over Battle of the Planets. I've always been a big fan. Not only do they tell the most compelling original stories, they seem to always push the boundaries. It's not just a children's artform; it's for adults and children. They're telling a story in its rawest form, without having to censor it and compromise it.
NUVO: So what's next for you besides the next Groovkilla disc and Goldie Johnson's upcoming album?
Bishop: I'm still trying to change and grow the model of Spyral Records. I'm thinking of morphing into a model like CDbaby, where people can expose their music to online buyers. I'm seeing a lot of music from around the world. People are sending me demos from all over the world, and I want to be able to get this great music out to Indy and the world. Right now it's kind of hard for me to balance being a team player and trying to run a business and trying to write. I'm staying pretty busy. Eventually, I'm going to have to expand the team to a lot of similar-minded individuals.
Albums by Cynthia Layne, Groovkilla and the Reggie Bishop Trio are available at Indy CD & Vinyl, Missing Link Records and the Castleton location of Borders books. These albums and more information are available at Bishop's Web site at www.spyralrecords.com.