KITTEL & CO. The fiddler of Fairbridge

American folk fusion act Kittel & Co. are one of the highlights hitting Fairbridge Festival at Fairbridge Village from Friday, April 26 until Sunday, April 28. Fronted by acclaimed American violinist Jeremy Kittel (formerly of the Grammy Award-winning Turtle Island Quartet), Kittel & Co. inhabit the space between classical and acoustic roots, Celtic and bluegrass aesthetics, folk and jazz sensibilities. BRAYDEN EDWARDS spoke to Jeremy Kittel about his restless musical growth across multiple genres, being nominated for a Grammy alongside childhood heroes, and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Cardi B and Ron Jeremy at the Awards night.

So how did you start out playing the fiddle and what was it about it that interested you in the beginning?

My older brother played violin, actually. And he wrote tunes on piano too, at age five. I have these clear memories of sitting in the living room when we were so young, and hearing him play music that he wrote, which sounded like beautiful golden threads in the air. So I think he was my inspiration. He later fell in love with science, and I went full into music.

I think I’ve kept keep falling in love with the violin (and) fiddle more over the years. It’s such a beautiful instrument – I might be a little biased.

As someone who has played across multiple genres, is there one that you find most enjoyable or most challenging?

Nope, not one genre. Great music transcends any one genre of course, and so those occurrences of great, meaningful music can happen in any one. Plus, genres are constantly in flux, too, and the borders overlap; I can’t think of any genre, that I’m really familiar with at least, that isn’t progressing and changing in some way and being inspired by other genres too.

You’ve performed and recorded both as a solo artist and as part of Turtle Island as well as multiple other bands and collaborated with many other artists’ songs. What is different about Kittel & Co. stylistically from what you have done before?

This body of music, for our first record as a band Whorls, was unique for me in that I really tried to compose music as organically as possible for the group to play, and then our process all together was as organic as possible too. It was almost completely learned by ear, for example, even the Bach arrangement on the record. And it’s definitely the first string band record I’ve led in this style, with a chamber aesthetic but so many influences – most obviously various folk styles.

And what do you look for in the people that you work with musically? Why were Quinn Bachand and Josh Pinkham the right fit for this group?

I definitely look for a certain kind of like-minded musician for the band; it’s just kind of necessary to be able to play the music (laughs). Josh and Quinn are fantastic improvisers, play their instruments so beautifully, have great rhythmic sensibilities, and are at least good if not great with multiple styles like folk, jazz, bluegrass, classical, Celtic, etc. All that comes in handy for sure!

Have you made it to Australia before? What are you looking forward to at Fairbridge and your tour over here in general?

Nope, first time! Looking forward to meeting people for sure, and connecting with everyone at the festivals and gigs. And sharing what we do with everyone.

What artists do you get inspiration from? Is it all other strings players or also from other genres of music like rock and pop acts?

Oh, definitely lots of different kinds of artists and bands. I’m loving writing some string parts today for my buddy Theo Katzman of the band Vulfpeck, whose original music is really more rock; just sublime stuff. I love great acoustic music, but I really dig certain electronic artists too; it’s all sound after all.

How did it feel getting nominated for a Grammy for your song, especially amongst such great peers?

Unreal! Especially for the 12-year-old inner fan of Star Wars and Back to the Future. Both composers for those soundtracks were also among the five nominations. It’s really quite an honour, to say the least!

And how was it attending the awards? Were you starstruck at all by some of the people you were rubbing shoulders with and do you have any stories from the night?

I wasn’t exactly starstruck but I was laughing at some of the insane celebrity situations I found myself in. As a nominee I was invited to walk the red carpet and take photos in the press queue, and I ended up between Brandi Carlisle, who sounded amazing at the awards, and Cardi B in the photographers queue. My sister also got to meet Weird Al, which made her year! Plus, we apparently got photobombed by a concerned Ron Jeremy on the phone.

You’ve always pushed yourself creatively and musically into different and new styles and projects, what’s next for you?

I’m actually finishing up the second of two pieces for big classical groups, one for orchestra, and one for wind ensemble. That’s been a really exciting challenge, and I can’t wait for those pieces to be out there when they both premiere in 2020. I also can’t wait to get back to small-group recording with Kittel & Co. and more. Plus some exciting NYC-based projects too!

Are there any other acts at Fairbridge you are looking forward to catching? Any you would encourage our readers to check out?

Definitely, there are quite a lot of bands, and seems like a lot of musical diversity. Manran sounds interesting, and Banditaliana has a neat instrumentation, for two. Looking forward to it!

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