You all know pianist Fabian Almazan as an accomplished musician, but what you may not know is that he also runs a environmentally-conscious music label named Biophilia. I caught up with Almazan to discuss the venture. You can read our exchange below. We’d also like to take this opportunity to announce that everyone who pledges $10 or more to our Patreon this month will be receiving a Biopholio™ (see below) valued at $20 courtesy of Biophilia and Nextbop. Unfortunately we have to limit this offer to residents of North America due to shipping costs. Thank you for your support.
Sebastien Helary: You have a solid pedigree: piano chair in the National 2002 Grammy High School Jazz Combo, Brubeck Institute fellow, Manhattan School of Music graduate, sideman to Terence Blanchard, yet you chose to start your own label, Biophilia Records, when it came to releasing your debut as a leader, 2011’s Personalities. Why take the road less travelled by?
Fabian Almazan: I didn’t have the experience or resources in 2011 to really make the label what I envisioned it to eventually become, but I believed in the philosophy behind it and hoped that eventually I would be able to bring together a community of artists with like minded goals.
SH: In 2014, you released your sophomore album Rhizome on Blue Note/Artistshare which garnered you #1 Rising Piano Star in the Downbeat Magazine Critics Poll, yet your third record Alcanza, released just this year, sees you returning to your own label. Other musicians also seem to be migrating from major labels to independent ones or even go the way of the self-release. Do you feel this is an actual trend? How do you explain it based on your personal experience?
FA: It’s no secret that the internet has proven to be a both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it has made a wide range of music easily available for the masses, but on the other hand, it has made it increasingly difficult for the artists to have the same sort of income from recorded music that was once the norm. You also see technology evolve in such a way that certain roles in the music business which were once only available to a small group artists have become somewhat unnecessary. Global distribution, for example, is now available to literally anyone with twenty bucks and an internet connection. And so yes, I think it is a trend, out of necessity, that artists are deciding to release their music independently.For me, my reason for starting a label is not related to wanting to maximize profits for myself, it is the result of concerns I have in regards to society, the state of our living planet and the welfare of future generations. I feel it is my responsibility to make sure that Biophilia Records exists so that it creates a scenario where musicians and artists take music and sustainability into account. The reason I released my second album on Blue Note/Artistshare was because Bruce Lundval asked me to. I was completely honored to receive his phone call and could not, out of respect to him, turn it down. I went to his office a couple of times and he told me first hand stories of Charlie Parker and countless other mythical creatures in the jazz pantheon. That alone made it worth it. He passed away months after Rhizome was released.
SH: Biophilia is defined by the Merriam-Webster as “a hypothetical human tendency to interact or be closely associated with other forms of life in nature” and your label’s logo is a shell which evokes a visual representation of the Fibonacci sequence. Why name the label Biophilia?
FA: Back when I had a T.V., I used to put PBS on while doing things and one day, Bill Moyers interviewed an interesting man named E.O. Wilson; that is how I learned about Biophilia. I went on to read some of Wilson’s books and I quickly realized that I had had something brewing inside me that I didn’t quite understand yet. Biophilia cleared it all up. Little by little, these blurry ideas I had had churning in my mind began to get more in focus. The Fibonacci sequence is beautiful but coincidental in the case of the Biophilia Records’ snail logo. I picked the snail as the logo because Cuba, my homeland, is known for it’s beautiful endangered snail shells (Polymita picta). Google them if you’d like, they’re beautiful.
SH: Your label created a new medium for selling music, the Biopholio™, a double-sided, 20-panel origami-inspired medium, bursting with vibrant artwork and liner notes; each one made entirely out of FSC-certified, robust paper, hand-folded and printed using plant-based inks. Found inside each Biopholio™ is a unique code for the listener to digitally download the music in hers/his preferred format. How did you come up with this idea? Why is it important for you to sell a physical product that isn’t a CD?
FA: Two years ago I spent countless hours online, researching alternatives to the CD. I had a relatively superficial knowledge of origami when I began, but I was struck by the beauty, intricacy and elegance of the paper art I was coming across. There are some truly wonderful paper artists out there. I learned more about the different types of traditions, including pop-up books, and settled on experimenting with the current design we now have about a year ago. As a musician, I can say that it was very difficult to switch hats for a minute to learn how to design and patent something new. All of a sudden I was an inventor! It is important to me to sell a physical product that isn’t a CD because I think it’s time that a new choice that is more environmentally friendly is introduced into the music market. We are headed in a direction where CDs will no longer be the format of choice but die-hard music fans that cherish physical products will continue to yearn for something they can take home and hold in their hands as part of their treasured collection. The Biopholio™ seemed like the best middle ground that I could think of. Lastly, I want to help my fellow Biophilia Records artist by providing them with something that they can directly sell after their gigs to their fans. Musicians need all the help they can get to make a living as an artist!
SH: Biophilia Records albums are available via most popular music-streaming services. As an artist and as a label owner, what is your take on streaming platforms such as Spotify?
FA: I leave it up to the artists on the label if they want their albums to be on streaming services or not. The music is easily accessible to wider audiences if it is put on a streaming service such as Spotify. But with the average single play on Spotify only providing the artists with $0.00437, one can easily see that it’s not a sustainable way for music to be shared as far as the welfare of the people actually making the music.
SH: Biophilia Records has released albums for nine different bands. It seems your ranks are growing with notably the recent addition of Linda May Han Oh to your roster. What brings musicians to your label? How involved are you as a label owner in the creative process for each record you release?
FA: I am a pianist and composer so I try to run the label from the artists’ perspective. I do not get involved in the creative process of the artist unless I am asked to. I believe that musicians are attracted to the label because they respect the music that we have put out thus far and because they resonate with the environmental and sustainability philosophy of the label.
SH: As a nod to Pannonica, if you had three wishes, what would they be?
1. That every child, regardless of sex, religious belief or ethnicity would receive the best possible, unbiased education on all subjects.
2. That every child, regardless of sex, religious belief or ethnicity would receive the best possible, unbiased education on all subjects.
3. That every child, regardless of sex, religious belief or ethnicity would receive the best possible, unbiased education on all subjects.
Sébastien Hélary co-founded Nextbop in 2009 with the objective of introducing modern jazz music to a younger generation of fans. Aside from music, his other main obsession is food, particularly ramen and other Japanese delicacies.