Bongo John

Story

Bongo John, founder of Bongo John Studio, is an audio-video veteran. He is a true innovator, an enlightened soul and an explorer of aural-visual dreams. John has over 20 years of experience as a recording-engineer (Studio 313 & Bongo John Studio) in lieu of his 40 years drumming. He is a prolific composer & musician with a substantial collection of original works. ​ Recording engineering is his mainstay and is the place where he feels most at home. Working professionally at Studio 313 in Morrisville, NC full-time for almost four years, additional experience was gained doing part-time work for various local studios including session work as a drummer & percussionist. Bongo has recorded over 50 artists in the past 12 years collectively at both studios. John makes every effort in appeasing the vision of any given artist - not only basing mixes on reference material, but also by engaging the artist on a production level that maximizes creativity; to not only listen sonically, but also to hear out what an artist has to say on all levels throughout the recording & mixing process. John Metcalf is an off-line instructor and student mentor for The Recording Connection Audio Institute. He has extensive experience with ProTools 12, Logic Pro X, Sonar Platinum and Cubase Pro 9 digital audio workstations. For John, maximizing the creativity and minimizing the rigors of technology is key. As a percussionist, John has an eclectic and unorthodox approach to creating rhythms, often exploring unique configurations of percussion - from traditional Afro-cuban to African & West Indian instrumentation (i.e. bongos, bongo cajon, congas, djembé, doumbek, shakers, foot tambourine, hand cymbal, etc) to utilizing sample triggering technology to create an acoustic-electric sound palette. John's focus is to strive for an organic groove as a time-keeper, yet plays what a given song or instrumental calls for. Active listening is something he is always working on. Drumming for 42 years and counting, John Metcalf has been given favorable write-ups in Modern Drummer Magazine (March 2005 issue - 'On The Move' column) as well as Drum! Magazine (May 2010 issue - 'New Blood' column). In 2015, he released his drum book 'The Bongo Method' with a corresponding 45 minute video tutorial. The Bongo Method is a an open-ended approach in exploring coordination in polyrhythms, explained in layman's terms. John is often fascinated by polyrhythmic coordination in rhythm (i.e. 4-way independence). According to John: "In developing a natural sense of creating underlying counter rhythms, or polyrhythms, a drummer can more readily create the illusion of several drummers playing at once in the study of polyrhythmic coordination. Following said discipline can help one achieve a deeper 'groove-in-the-pocket' sensibility. Developing melodic, harmonic and dynamic skills are three key ideas therein, with musicality as the main focus." In other words, studying polyrhythms creates a larger & more substantial palette to facilitate freedom of expression in lieu of repeating that which is habitually familiar or mundane. To explore all possibilities in a given domain of rhythm is a main ingredient of 'The Bongo Method' - to help one in 'cooking up' what one brings to the table. John's distinct percussive style is the fruition of many years exploring his own concepts in rhythm. His main focus is complimenting & interacting with other musicians in a jam, band or through-composed scenario. "To connect with an audience is paramount. To have fluidity in one's own interpretation while actively listening is to communicate naturally and to have a better feel of a given arrangement. The purpose of keeping time is not to exercise or demonstrate technique. It is to seek what emanates from the heart and soul. That's the objective I am always striving for." The piano is essentially a percussion instrument, as a matter of physics in the percussive striking of the piano strings. John began tickling the ivories in his formative years, tinkering around on an old Chickering console piano. Little did he know that this creative process would lead him to develop his own unique voice as a keyboardist, not only with the piano-forte, but also with synthesis. Finding unique avenues, such as with exploring synthesis & electronics to create organic yet other-worldly noises, is also an area of exploration for the 49 year-old composer/recording engineer/musician. Synthesis is one of the mainstays of sonic textures that he explores with the keyboard, as evidenced by his progressive-pop albums 'Havana Sunrise' and 'Savannah Sunset'. He has delved into synthesis in the past several years sampling with dedicated keyboards as well as experimenting with VST-based instruments. "Technology should remain transparent by understanding thoroughly the technology at hand. In this light, creative ideas can be realized more readily. Creativity, intuition and playing with passion will take an artist's vision to a new level. We have the wherewithal to create transparency for any technology utilized to capture any given idea. It was out of necessity that I became a recording engineer in order to capture my own musical ideas, and by doing so, I have developed a skill-set to help others in making permanent their cherished creations..."

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What is music to you? What does it give you?

Music is the catharsis of the soul. Music transcends all boundaries and is the celebration of our deepest emotions. Music is what makes life magical and worth living. Music gives the sense of urgency to express one's passion about life and empathy in death. It is the domain of yin & yang. You can't have the mountains without the valleys. It is the transcendence of chaos within and beyond that creates this passion that you can share with someone else. All that I am I can express through music.

What is your music dream?

To be able to collaborate with other visionaries like myself. To continue with my work in scoring for independent films which I have had some success with, thankfully. Pursuing music full-time is something almost realized now - it's a matter of wearing several different hats. Not all hats create financial gain, then again, happiness is not just about the money. Creating great music is a goal that is priceless.

If you could change the world - what would you start with?

World peace. Ending wars between countries. World hunger. Dependency on fossil fuels and switching to alternative energy sources like solar, wind and ocean wave power.

Which is the most memorable song from your childhood?

Probably "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen. Heard that song for the first time when I was about 7 years of age on a transistor radio while going to sleep one night in Omaha, Nebraska. Didn't know whom it was at the time. Remembered the sound of Freddie Mercury's voice. Heard another song on the radio some months later and recognized Freddie's voice and finally found out the name of the band (Queen). Started buying all of their albums and eventually stumbled upon "A Night At The Opera", and found my favorite song at the time.

Who are your favorite musical artists or bands?

King Crimson, Garaj Mahal, Peter Gabriel, Ravi Shankar, Phillip Glass, Frank Zappa, Dopapod, Phish, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Black Sabbath and many others.

What inspires you to make music?

Facing the chaos of the world creates the challenge that inspires me to make music. Mortality with its time limit inspires me to be aware that life is rhythm. Everything has an alpha & omega and ultimately it is paramount as a matter of time & space to make the most of it in every way, shape and form. Life as art is a celebration!

What is the message you want to send with your music?

All that is the chaos of humanity, the humility in being humble on all things, and to transcend all boundaries in this journey known as life.

How do you feel when you perform in front of an audience?

When I perform in front of an audience, I think of it as being as if it is Madison Square Garden. Perform every show to the best of one's ability - make everything that I perform count and have meaning.

How do you see the musicians’ reality nowadays? What could be improved?

Well, all too often, technology is used as a crutch to create musical ideas. Nothing beats woodshedding on an instrument and learning about one's instrument is a life-long process. You can never stop woodshedding - music is about communication and listening while playing and playing for the song.

What do you think of Drooble?

Drooble, while still ironing out some small technical issues the website is having, is an excellent idea and the premise of having musicians and song-writers getting credit by listening and commenting with each other is a major breakthrough. I hope that Drooble is successful in their vision and I support what Drooble is doing.

What frustrates you most as a musician?

The stereotypical mindset that non-musicians can sometimes have about musicians. That musicians are not to be taken seriously. That musicians are slackers and not in the same league as doctors, lawyers, bankers, etc. Such a mindset has led to low pay for gigs when in fact the efforts that musicians make require many, many hours of preparation, devotion, toil and sacrifice in order to bring said artist's work to experience both in a recording and/or live performance. Making great art should not be cheapened by a stereotypical mindset whatsoever.

Do you support your local scene as a fan? How?

Yes I do. I go to local shows, pay to get in, and cheer them on. The music scene here in Raleigh, NC has a great local scene. Many local bands of great talent as well as regional acts come through here to The Lincoln Theatre, The Pour House, Slim's, and Red Hat Amphitheatre. Chapel Hill, just 20 minutes out has The Cats Cradle, Local 506, The Cave. And there are many other venues in the area - I do my best to attend local shows when I am not gigging or working with recording session clients at my studio.

What qualities should a musician nowadays have in order to get their music heard by a larger audience?

To spend a great amount of time writing, re-writing and perfecting their songs prior to pushing themselves as artists. In this modern world, it is all to easy to publish one's efforts too early on. Really is important to perfect and become seasoned in song-writing before seeking to publish ones work.

Share some awesome artists that we’ve never heard of.

Farmer's Market from Norway. Gentle Giant. Nexus Percussion Ensemble. Laurie Anderson's "Home Of The Brave" avant-garde film.