Three musicians, three instruments

Rasheeda Ali, Josh Martin, and Max Boecker meditate on making music



THE GUITARIST: “I try to make a unique contribution to the culture of guitar. Try to do something different.”


Josh Martin plays an eight-string Ibanez extended range guitar with baroque indie pop band Little Tybee. Martin has also honed a rapid technique of playing multiple notes in the same fret, called "glitch tapping."

I started playing when I was 12 years old, and was consistently affirmed by it. Then I buried it deep in my sense of self and spent the rest of my life trying to defend that. You have this affirmation as a kid and you're trying to be accepted. But the guitar itself, and music itself, and trying to pursue it, it's not always pretty or optimistic. It can be driven by insecurity and fear, and I think that gets kind of swept under the rug. It's hard to justify trying to play guitar all day. So I think about infrastructure projects, and societal problems, and all these other things when I'm practicing.

I think about all the things that are essential to what we need as a society and how I'm doing this, and it's kind of hard to justify, but I've tapped into that fear to use as a kind of motivation to keep going, and it's in those moments when I hit the perfect note or I fall into the rhythm and it expresses that ineffable thing inside of me that I couldn't convey in any other way. It's in those moments where I placate that fear of losing it all. I can only hope, as a player, that someone can hear that, hear what I'm playing, and have their fears alleviated, or the burdens they bear, just for a moment, they can hear it and feel awe or wonder or something that lets them transcend that space they're in.

It's not always there. A lot of times it's frustration — probably 90 percent of the time — but it's kind of like this constant searching to get to that moment where you're like, "Oh this is what I meant. This is what I wanted to show. This is what I wanted to represent myself with." Ideally, your vision would dissipate and you would be in the moment, which is kind of like this ecstatic feeling of holding the guitar and zoning out, almost leaving the space you're in.

I try to make a unique contribution to the culture of guitar, I guess. Try to do something different. I grew up in the suburbs and I really wanted to, I don't know, the clichés would get me, just the monotony of suburbia. I feel like you want to stand out and it's kind of some urge to feel valued because you're doing something interesting.

It's that relief, like you're placating a fear that's deep within you, and it's kind of justifying your existence, justifying a need to play an instrument. As frivolous as it sounds sometimes. And to be, I don't know, I guess, accepted.

— As told to Joeff Davis

Video shot by WIl Hughes | Interviews by Joeff Davis | Produced by Joeff Davis



THE FLAUTIST: “It’s like having a conversation: I don’t want to dominate it; I don’t want to curse nobody out.”


Flautist Rasheeda Ali collaborates regularly with Kebbi Williams and the Wolfpack, the Convergence, and has appeared on numerous albums from Atlanta soul, jazz, and hip-hop artists such as J-Live's S.P.T.A. and Darryl Reeves' career-defining Mercury.

I started playing the flute when I was a little girl. I believe it was in the fourth grade. Like most kids, I put it down. I didn't take it seriously till seven years ago when I took a leap of faith and walked away from a job in advertising to play music. I started playing along with the radio trying to develop perfect pitch, and to develop my ear. I was listening to Les Nubians, Talib Kweli, D'Angelo, neo-soul, hip-hop, and jazz.

Now I teach flute privately to children and adults. It's flute all day for me. I play a Gemeinhardt open-hole with a B foot extension. It's a basic professional flute.

I play in a lot of private schools, pre-schools, middle schools, high schools. Music needs to be in schools and I'm willing to use myself as an example, especially for young ladies, because often times there aren't very many women playing music.

I play in a few different bands: the Convergence, the Wolfpack. I'm launching a band in September, but I can't talk about it yet! It'll be an unconventional twist on various genres.

Almost every show I've ever played has been improvised. Instinct, feeling, intuition, and mood are important when playing with others. It's probably 80 percent listening and 20 percent playing. It's like having a conversation: I don't want to dominate it; I don't want to curse nobody out.

I learned how to improvise in life by playing this way; by taking a nontraditional approach to what a young woman should do in life. Our families have one thing in mind for all of us, but we have another. There's always someone saying: "You could be a doctor or a lawyer! Why don't you go to church on Sunday? Why aren't you a vegan?"

Before I play a show I center myself. Whatever the energy of the day is, I don't rely on that because it's always changing. You want to have your own inner knowledge that inspires others. I've put in a lot of groundwork but I'm no master. Mastery is death.

I could be working in a corporate office making blah blah blah, but the intrinsic reward of my work has nothing to do with money and fame. I'm not concerned with external things. I like them, but I want to say, "I started from nothing and this is what I created." I have my eyes on other things. I own a few different instruments, and I want to be an all-encompassing artist and musician for as long as I can. Hopefully I won't ever get dragged back into the business world.

— As told to Chad Radford

Video shot by WIl Hughes | Interviews by Joeff Davis | Produced by Joeff Davis



THE BASSIST: “I took a few lessons because I wanted to join the jazz band … But I realized, with the kind of music I wanted to play, I could teach myself.”


Maxwell Boecker's name has become synonymous with bass playing in Atlanta. He is a frequent collaborator with the Convergence, and a founding member of Aalborg Group.

I started playing bass when I was 15 years old. I played tuba in the school band, but I quit and started a band with a couple of buddies called Grundle. We were 15. I picked up a bass because it was necessary for the band.

I found this bass in Cleveland, marked down from $885 to $500. It's an EKO, an Italian model. That company was bought out by a Chinese company that started making really cheap instruments. I don't know anything about gear, man, this is all I know from researching this bass, and it is a great bass. I assume it's older than I am, probably 30 or 40 years old. I pulled it out of the case and it's in like-new condition, just sitting in this shop in Cleveland before it went out of business. It was the only good bass they had in the shop.

I took four lessons when I began playing, but then the dude that was teaching me moved out of town. Then I took a few lessons because I wanted to join the jazz band in high school. But I realized, with the kind of music I wanted to play, I could teach myself. I wasn't thinking about the kind of jazz this dude wanted to teach me. He wanted to teach me rhythm changes, which is essential to know, but I wanted to learn the stuff on Bitches Brew! It was hard for me to figure it out, so he was like, "Oh there's not much there." But listening back to those songs now I think, "Are you kidding, man? That shit's crazy!"

I listened to music all day as a kid. My parents gave me a boom box for my sixth birthday and they had maybe 100-200 CDs of '80s music and other stuff. They gave me Graceland for my birthday. I'd listen to that album all the time.

I remember the first time I heard the Cure, too. It was like the greatest thing I'd ever heard. It was so beautiful. I think I was 7 years old.

I've been learning Bach recently. I'm just about to finish up "Lute Suite No. 1." I'm playing it on bass. I think I'm going to release that simultaneously with a new composition I'm working on now. The pieces are going to develop into each other — mutate and transform. In the end, all music is really similar. Everybody has a preference as to how to do it. Everybody hears music differently. We couldn't possibly make the same music because we don't listen to the same things. We don't live the same lives, none of us do.

— As told to CR

Video shot by WIl Hughes | Interviews by Joeff Davis | Produced by Joeff Davis

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

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