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Jann Klose crafts an artful ‘Mosaic’: Different strummer

For all of those adventurous types out there – and any and all inquiring minds that just want to know – it would’ve taken three years to circumnavigate the globe in Ferdinand Magellan’s day. And for anyone with the persuasive talent to somehow hitch a ride on Richard Branson’s private jet, today the same trip would take around three days.

Jann Klose's exceptional new album is titled "Mosaic."
Chris Marolf

Now if you’re really impatient and have a hankerin’ to do the trek in oh, say a little over a half-hour, just give a listen to Jann Klose’s exceptional album “Mosaic.” The German-born, Kenya, South Africa – and northeast Ohio – raised singer-songwriter gives new meaning to the term “world music.”

The remarkable album brings together a variety of instruments, musical and lyrical styles from the street influences of reggae and punk to calypso, classic rock, and the folk and Afro-beat that has addicted fans to Klose’s music.

“Mosaic” is aptly named as the record is a sonic, lyrical and emotional montage from an artist known for his multi-cultural roots, widely-faceted career, and soaring voice. Soon after its release, the album entered the Roots Radio charts at number 22, above such notable performers as Bruce Springsteen and Sheryl Crow. Not surprisingly, “Mosaic” appeared on first round ballots for the 2014 Grammy Awards for Album of the Year and Pop Vocal Album.

Klose chatted with me about his masterwork and matchless songwriting in an exclusive interview. Melding such diverse styles can present a challenge for any artist. But the wide-reaching tunesmith has an innate ability to blend the disparate music.

“Yes and no. Writing songs is really about writing. It’s not about necessarily focusing on one particular style or making it one particular thing. It’s music. So what is important is that it is cohesive, that you work on blending the different styles together.”

“And you can do that by using instrumentation that matches from song to song. Or I like to let my voice tie the styles together from one song to the next. So there’s various things you can do to create a cohesiveness.”

“Then when you sequence the record, what song do you put after the next? How do you create a flow? That’s another thing where you can really get away with having one song be one thing and then the next song really kind of veer off into a different style. It’s good to do that.”

“That’s the times that we live in. When you look at anyone’s iPod or iPhone and their music collection on there, it’s not the same 10 songs. People like diversity. I listen to a lot of different styles of music. So it doesn’t have to be just one thing. I prefer it. If it’s not, I get bored very easily.”

Music fans do like diversity. But categorizing Klose’s music will be frustrating for anyone that feels compelled to shove him into a specific genre. And that’s just the way the inimitable artist likes it.

“There’s a part of me that wants to say, ‘You know what, don’t worry about the category. Just tell me if you like it. Do you like it or don’t you like it? Does it sound like something else? Does it not? What does it make you think of? What does it make you feel?’”

“There’s definitely a part of me that wants to say, ‘Don’t worry about all that. Don’t worry about putting it into a bag. Just enjoy it for what it is.’ People either like it or they don’t. I get a good reception just about everywhere I go. I don’t know what that says about me or the music. But if you really have something against a guy with a guitar that can sing, then I'm probably not your bag. Other than that, there’s a lot of different stuff that I can offer.”

“I want to do something that is unique, that has its own legs. But it’s very hard because if you start veering off, if you get too crazy, then people won’t know what to make of it. I want to please my audience too. I want people to like what I do.”

“I’m not up at night worrying about it and losing sleep over it. But it’s difficult because I really want to make a record that I like as well. I want to let the songs speak for themselves and I think I've done that. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do it again, and again and again. And hopefully people will continue to grow with that and people will ‘come to the party’ so-to-speak.”

“But, it’s difficult. It’s so difficult and it’s such a challenge to succeed in the music business, especially nowadays. I almost feel like if I don’t enjoy what I’m gonna do then what’s the point, because it’s so much work. I want to have fun with that too. I want to have fun doing this.”

Notwithstanding the perceptions of misguided fans, it is a challenge to be a musical success. But Klose acknowledged the importance of learning from a few special peers in his quest for the “Holy Grail.”

“I’ll name a couple. There’s not a single one really. There’s a few people I really admire because of the way they run their career. And I admire them as composers and performers as well. There’s quite a few, but I'm gonna say Prince.”

“He was one of the first people that really made me want to be a performer and he’s been through a lot of changes in his career and in his personal life and his artistic endeavors. I admire how the guy keeps going and keeps being creative and keeps changing up.”

“And then Paul McCartney is a big one. Paul is the consummate performer. And he’s also a good businessman. Even with The Beatles when they were kids, I think they had a good business sense.”

“Then Ian Anderson is another one. I have gotten actually gotten a chance to meet Ian on a few occasions and talked to him and am friends with his son and have played gigs with his son. What I really like about Ian is that he’s basically self-managed. He doesn’t have a manager. He has people that he hires, but he runs the show. And that’s great because he also has a very hugely creative side and he’s a fantastic performer. He’s a success.”

“That’s inspiring to me that you can be ‘old school guys,’ that have been doing this forever and then took that and made the most of it. That’s really inspiring to me because in 20, 30 years it would be nice to look back and see that I've accomplished something similar.”

The talented tunesmith is just as much a teacher as a student. And he offers indispensable advice for emerging artists. “I do songwriting classes occasionally. I talk about the whole DIY thing and how to build it up and how to get from point A to point B and C and D, but it’s probably the best piece of advice. It’s not about getting from A to Z. It’s about getting from A to B and C to D to E.”

“It’s a long journey. You have to do it every day and you have to love it, even when you hate it sometimes. And you have to do it every day and you have to get up and do it again and be creative and change it up. So I would say that’s always the biggest piece of advice.”

“When I was younger, I did think that things were just gonna happen overnight. It doesn’t work that way. It happens slowly and then like all of a sudden, now I have a record that’s charting on the AMA charts and it’s just kind of cool to see that. It makes it all feel real. That’s what you want. What you want the most is to put on a good show and be able to do it every night and to write good songs.”

Klose’s songwriting brilliance is indisputable. But even he wonders sometimes whether or not a particularly affecting tune is too raw. “Yeah, you do think about that in the writing process. When you’re in the writing process you think, ‘What kind of a picture does this paint? What kind of picture does that paint? What kind of visual goes along with that?’”

“And sometimes I go back on stuff and say, Well, that’s too much or too little.’ It’s a process and sometimes you change stuff. But I would say that especially with ‘Mosaic’ and ‘Reverie,’ the album before this, I really took risks. I just put it out there the way I felt it and it didn’t hurt. Quite the contrary, it’s more when I do that that I reach people.”

The world traveling musician reaches his fans with songs like “Make It Better” from “Mosaic,” wherein he emotively sings, “Welcome to the world of the great divide where the rich get rich and the poor stay poor all the time.” The moving tune belies Klose’s essential optimism.

“I feel a responsibility to do a good job, to write a good song and put on a good show. As far as talking about social issues, I don’t feel so much responsible, rather than just interested. I'm interested in the issues and I want to know what’s going on and I want to talk about it. I want to sing about it.”

“I didn’t really used to feel that way. This is really the first time that I've come out saying, ‘You know what? We can do better. And we can make a few changes that aren’t that hard to do and it will yield results.’”

“The music video for ‘Make It Better’ is coming out in a couple of weeks and wait ‘til you see it. It’s fantastic. I just feel strongly that when we look deep into ourselves and find a way to get rid of negative energy and negative feelings, we can make the world a much better place and do it much quicker than we think.”

“The responsibility is to the next generation, to leave behind a place that’s livable. That’s the responsible part, I think. I don’t have kids, but I have nieces and nephews that are little. They’re babies.”

With perceptive artists like Jann Klose spreading their message of hopeful possibility, the babies are in good hands.

You can catch Klose live on the following upcoming dates:

Feb. 7 Redwood City, Calif. Angelica's
Feb. 9 Novato, Calif. Hopmonk Tavern
Feb. 10 San Francisco, Calif. Acoustic Bistro at Osteria
Feb. 12 Benicia, Calif. The Rellik Tavern
Feb. 13 San Luis Obispo, Calif. Linnaea's Cafe
Feb. 14 Altadena, Calif. Coffee Gallery Backstage
Apr. 26 Park Ridge, N.J. Acoustic Cafe Concert Series

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