World, soul, and funk outfit Michael Pignéguy & The Awakenings Ensemble are set to release their double album Duality on Thursday, April 22. The album, which was originally planned to be recorded live before the onset of COVID just over a year ago, had to find a new direction in unprecedented times. As the leader of this dynamic group, drummer Michael Pignéguy guided the project into two different, but complementary sides; Introspections and Collaborations, allowing contrasting aspects of the artists’ musical personalities to be exposed, explored and enjoyed. To hear selected previews of tracks from the album head to www.theawakeningsensemble.com, or pre-order it on Bandcamp now. BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with Michael Pignéguy to find out how it all came together.
Congratulations on the release of your new album Duality. How long has it been in the works for and where do you feel the idea for it started from?
I started actively writing new tracks for the album towards the end of 2019 but 2020 was when almost all of the actual recording took place. The group’s first album Speak was recorded while I was living overseas and brought together artists from many different countries but the initial idea for this album was to record a live show. This was scheduled to take place at The Rechabite in April 2020 featuring exclusively WA musicians, however, with the onset of COVID, these plans had to be completely changed. With everyone in lockdown, the only option was some kind of studio approach with different artists working remotely. Although this started out as a daunting prospect, it did have the benefit of opening up the album to musicians that I have collaborated with from around the world.
For those not familiar with your style, what kind of artists have you drawn from for ideas…and how has that changed since you first started playing music?
The Awakenings Ensemble was formed while I was living in the Middle East and at that time I had the privilege of performing with artists like Ziad Rahbani from Lebanon, Kamal Musallam from Jordan and Rasha Rizk from Syria. Those artists plus the traditional Khaleeji (Gulf region) music and wider Oriental styles were really inspiring me, particularly the rhythms used by percussionists and the scales used by the melodic instruments.
Prior to forming The Awakenings Ensemble, I co-led a group called Salamander in WA with bassist Pete Jeavons and drummer/rhymer Nathan “Floods” Winterflood. And, shortly after leaving WAAPA in the nineties I formed the Michael Pignéguy Sextet. I have realised in retrospect that Salamander and The Awakenings Ensemble actually have quite a bit in common as they both bring a range of styles together with jazz language and contemporary production techniques playing an important role in gluing the music together.
Across all the music that I write, I think rhythm always plays a key role. As I’m first and foremost a drummer, artists from Dave Weckl and Steve Gadd through to Anika Nilles, Larnell Lewis and Robert “Sput” Searight are players that I return to regularly for inspiration. I guess over time, my tastes have broadened to include more World music styles.
And is there a theme or idea that ties the album together? Does the title Duality represent something you were doing conceptually as well?
As mentioned earlier, the creation of the album did not proceed as initially planned and I am actually really happy about that! One of the turning points after the live concept had to be shelved was the showcase performance that we did at The Rechabite in September of last year. Up until that point the album was due to be a single disc, however after the show I realised that I had to find a way to present the vocal and instrumental tracks in a way that worked both artistically and for the listener.
I did struggle with this for a while but began to explore the idea of duality which I felt linked to the idea of two different but complementary musical identities. I also saw this as a concept that might be relatable to a lot of people as we often transition through different roles every day that allows different parts of our personalities to come to the fore. I felt this had a lot in common with artistic balance that was taking place across the different tracks. The only issue with coming up with this new angle for the album was that more vocal tracks had to be written!
The album comes as two different sides: Introspections and Collaborations. Which was the most difficult to complete and why?
Great question. Introspections is the instrumental component of the album and the writing of this was done almost exclusively alone, however Collaborations features all the vocal tracks which are mostly co-writes. Some of the vocal tracks were done long distance either due to COVID or the fact that the artists were overseas. From a composition perspective, each approach presented quite different challenges but I think I probably felt most at home in the instrumental realm but really enjoyed balancing the different creative inputs during writing of the vocal tracks. I’d probably say the vocal tracks were possibly more enjoyable to write due to the collaborative aspect.
Who have you brought on board to bring these songs to life? And did any songs turn out differently than how you originally expected?
To answer the second part first, I think most of the tracks turned out differently than I had originally planned! On the vocal side, songs such as Love Your Lies and Like a Fool probably went through the most iterations and I guess one of the funniest things was that with Love Your Lies it took us quite a long time to realise that we didn’t really have chorus! So it wasn’t until about three weeks before the launch that the final vocal sessions were completed.
The instrumental tracks definitely developed during the recording process as well with only Off the Reservation and Footprints remaining the closest to the original conception. The changes and development of the tracks really comes, to a large extent, from all the artists involved in the project and I feel very lucky that they agreed to be part of it.
From Australia, they include Troy Roberts (Saxophone), Bobby Singh (Tabla), Brodie Stewart (keyboards, engineer & co-producer), Peter Jeavons (bass), Kristian Borring (guitar), Aysha Amani (vocals), Ricki Malet (trumpet), Jeremy Greig (trombone), Alex Boyd (saxophone), Steve Richter (percussion), Simon Jeans (guitar) and Trilby Temperley (co-producer/mastering).
From overseas other artists include Philip Kuehn (bass) – US, Enrick Adam (guitar) – France, Yassine Ayari (ney flute) – Tunisia, Samantha de Lune (vocals) – Malaysia, Evelyn Feroza (vocals) – Malaysia, Alemay Fernandez (vocals) – Singapore, Anton Davidyants (bass) – Russia, Travis Tan (bass) – Malaysia, Marques Young (trombone) – USA, Israel Varela (composer) – Mexico/Italy, and Robo Jupiter (keyboards) – Malaysia.
In bringing all of the different musical ideas and musicians together on this double album, it’s really important to mention the roles of Brodie and Trilby as co-producers. Brodie’s mixes, great performances and musical knowledge combined with Trilby’s stylistic and technical experience has meant that the album’s diversity still has musical cohesion. I’m really grateful to them for helping to achieve that.
And musically speaking, what have you done on this album that people might not have expected from Michael Pignéguy & The Awakenings Ensemble?
The music on Duality sees great vocalists take a larger role than in previous projects. In addition, the sound palette is skewed away from acoustic instruments to more synth based sounds and the tracks are typically a lot shorter than previous offerings. I think those two factors will be unexpected to some people but I hope that listeners find the music of this album really dynamic and exciting!
What’s next for you for the rest of 2021 and beyond? Any more new music or live shows in the works we can look forward to?
We have a range of shows coming up around Perth and WA over the remainder of this year which I’m very excited about. Some of these are at venues that we haven’t performed at before such as Lyrics Underground and The Sewing Room and others are at our more regular haunts. As things are now becoming more stable nationally, we are itching to have the opportunity to share the new album with audiences around the country and hopefully internationally after that – fingers crossed! For those wanting to hear the group’s new sounds please check our website for show dates and socials for the latest picks and reviews. Thanks so much for the opportunity to chat!