home | new | faq | editorial | resources | community

Interview with
Jeff Bohnhoff

By Debbie Ridpath Ohi
March, 2001

Basic stats/background: Jeff was born 2/1/59 in Van Nuys CA. He and Maya have been married since 1981, and have two children Alex (15) and Kristine (7). They have two CDs available -- "Manhattan Sleeps" and "Retro Rocket Science". I have both, and *highly recommend* both albums. To find out more info about how to order, please contact Jeff.

How did you and Maya get together?

Maya and I met when I joined a rock band that she was a member of called Talisman. That band went through several incarnations, at times playing all original progressive rock, and at others playing top 40 covers in bars. In 1982 we were selected for inclusion on an album of local music put out by Sacramento radio station KZAP. Later, we formed a 5 piece band Syntax. When that band broke up in 1986, we both decided we had had enough of "band dynamics", and I started to explore the world of computers and MIDI. We continued to play as Syntax, performing all original music as a duo, with extensive computer back-up. We recorded a tape Silent Planet in 1990. Once we got into Filk in 1995, we got away from performing with the full MIDI setup, and now predominately perform with acoustic guitars. I still use synthesizers and electric guitar in the recording studio, but to a lesser extent than in the Syntax days.

How did you get into filk?

It sort of happened in two stages. My very first exposure was at the 1991 Nebula Awards in San Francisco. Maya had just recently published her first story "Hand-me Down Town" in Analog, and the editor, Stan Schmidt invited us to attend. We had never been to any sort of convention, and really didn't know what to expect. Friday night, there was a party in the SFWA suite at the Hyatt. I kind of made a fool of myself gawking at all the writers I had grown up reading and admiring (Poul Anderson, Larry Niven, Robert Silverberg and many more). After a while, I heard some music coming from the back bedroom. I went in to see what was going on, and I found three ladies with guitars, singing very funny songs. I sort of shyly hung around, watching, and eventually they asked if I'd like to play along. One of them handed me her guitar, and I just sort of jammed along, putting in some lead lines on what they were singing. They were extremely gracious and welcoming. It turned out that they were Dr. Jane Robinson, Cynthia McQuillan and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. I was surprised the next evening to see one of the ladies I had played music with walk up to the podium at the awards ceremony to pick up a Nebula for "The Healer's War". At the time, I had no idea I was playing music with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. I just thought she was a very funny song writer. Of course, I later learned that Dr. Jane and Cynthia were also very well known in the filk music community. I'd say I got a pretty good introduction to the scene, although I didn't even know that the term "filk" applied to what we had just been doing. That was pretty much all the filking at the Nebulas, which is a "Pros" only event for the most part.

Several years passed, and Maya and I attended a number of conventions to promote her writing career. However, I still really had no idea that there was a music scene at these. In 1995, I took my guitar along to Baycon, to amuse myself. When we arrived, Maya and I went to the "Green room" to pick up her credentials. Kathy Mar was there, and when she saw my guitar asked me if I wanted to play a concert set that night. Maya had to borrow a guitar, but we went ahead and played some of our originals. I was very pleased to find Jane and Cynthia there that night, they were scheduled to play the set before ours. Jane came up to me, gave me a big hug, and said "I wondered when we'd see you again!" I was completely touched that they even remembered me from 4 years before. We got a nice reception for our set, and attended our first full blown filk circle that evening. We were instantly hooked. We filked until the wee hours, and then went back to our room and wrote our first parody "Knight's in White Satin".

How would you define "filk"?

I shy away from any definition that would make someone think that they might not be able to participate. I've always been attracted to the working definition that anything played in a filk circle is filk music. With recorded music, I guess the definition gets a little fuzzier :-). I've seen lots of definitions, and there's always something excluded by them. I think that filk may be more of a spirit of sharing than a musical style that can be defined. The bottom line for me is that I *love* the fact that anyone can take part in a filk circle. Maya and I have been professional musicians for many years, and I can say that participating in filk circles and performing filk concerts has been as rewarding as any musical experience we have had.

Do you ever sing?

No, I'm afraid not. I think Maya does a more than adequate job. You may have noticed that she has an unbelievably good voice. It's really cool when I'm writing and arranging a song to know that she'll be singing it. She makes me sound like a much better song writer than I really am.

Each person has their own method for writing songs. Some do lyrics first, some music, for example. What goes into your songwriting process?

I'm not very prolific, songs tend to gestate for quite a while. Almost always, I'll come up with music first, and then lyrics. I think this is partially because the music comes more easily to me, so there's generally a pretty large queue of music waiting for lyrics. I try to wait until I really have something to say before writing a lyric. For instance, I fooled around with the music for Manhattan Sleeps for over a year before I wrote a lyric. The funny thing with that one is that when I finally did write a lyric, Maya and I got very busy with other things, and when we finally got ready to sit down and work on it together, I couldn't find the notebook that I thought I had written the lyric in. I finally gave up, and wrote it again. The second lyric was much better than the lost one. I found it a few months later (in a different notebook than I had thought it should be in), and I was really glad I had "lost" it.

You are an AMAZING guitarist. How long have you been playing?

Thanks! (blush). I started playing when I was 14 years old, so I guess for about 28 years. I had no sense of rhythm, and a tin ear, but I desperately wanted to play, so I drove my family crazy, constantly practicing. After a couple of years, I managed to get past the point of causing pain to others with my playing, which made things safer for everyone involved.

What kinds of music do you like listening to?

I listen to lots of different music. I grew up liking hard rock (I was absolutely obsessed with Deep Purple, and their guitarist Ritchie Blackmore when I was a kid). I founded the first heavy metal band in Nevada County CA (where I still live). Over the years, I kind of got away from that sort of stuff, but now that our son Alex is a teenager, we're finding more hard rock music in the car's CD changer :-). I also love very atmospheric music, like a lot of the stuff that Peter Gabriel does. I love Joni Mitchell, if I could write songs like that, I'd feel like I'd accomplished something. Emmylou Harris' last two albums, especially "Wrecking Ball" are incredibly inpirational for me. I love her voice, and the production on that album gives me chills. I also enjoy other filk musicians like Steve Macdonald, Urban Tapestry, the Duras Sisters, etc. It's funny, Steve and I joke that we must be long lost brothers. My natural strum pattern on the acoustic guitar is a bit odd, more syncopated than is typical, and Steve has exactly the same strum. If we play together, we strum in absolute lock-step, without even thinking about it. I played guitar on his WorlDream project at Consonance, and it really struck me again how odd and effortless it was. Usually, when I play with another guitarist, I have to "straighten" out my strum in order not to clash.

Do you and Maya ever play at venues other than filk conventions? If so, where?

Not too much. We got started playing in rock bands together, and used to play in a lot of bars. We learned quite quickly that people in that sort of venue aren't terribly interested in listening. One of the things that attracted us to the filk community is the fact that people *really* listen. That means a lot to someone who puts a lot of care into their music and lyrics. Maya and I are both members of the Baha'i Faith, and we do play at Baha'i meetings every so often.

Are you and Maya still known as "Syntax"? I notice that the name wasn't used on your most recent CD.

Not really. Syntax was the name of the last rock band we were in together. The band broke up, and for a while we continued using the name. We recorded the tape "Silent Planet" under that name, before we got into filking. Nowadays we just go by "Jeff and Maya".

How much of your music do you write?

Maya and I both write, but lately I've been writing most of the music and lyrics. Maya spends most of her creative time writing books and stories these days. I also write most of the parody lyrics, although Maya also does some.

How did you find the recording process for your CD?

It was a lot of fun. I have a fully equipped digital studio at home, so we were able to work on it whenever we felt like it. Having such easy access can be a bit of two edged sword. There's never any time pressure, which is really nice. However, it can be easy to let "reality" intrude, and keep you from working on the project, whereas when you have time booked at a studio somewhere else, you pretty much make sure that the session happens. I tend to be very detail oriented when mixing (some people say "anal-retentive"), so it's nice knowing that if I hear something I don't like in a mix I've done, I can just go back and do it again, as many times as I like. Everytime I've done a project at a commercial studio, there has been a demoralizing moment where I realize that there are problems with the mix, and I'm not going to get another shot at fixing them. The main problem with working at home is knowing when it's done. I can always find something new to fiddle with in a song I'm recording. I judge my own work against professionally recorded albums, so there's always a lot of room for improvement. I'm not even close to that level, but as long as I keep improving, I'll keep trying.

I've also been working with other filkers in the studio. Last year I collaborated with Nancy Freeman on 7 songs. She came out from Phoenix and laid down vocal and guitar tracks for the songs, and I added drums, bass, electric guitar and orchestrations to them. We just laid down some guide tracks for several more songs, that I need to arrange, and hopefully she'll release it as a CD later this year. The title will be "Blues for Dumuzi". It was a lot of fun getting to work on someone else's music, it gives me a whole different perspective on the creative process. I think people will really like it when it's done, it's all blues based material, although very creatively realized. Nancy is a very talented song writer. I think her past studio experiences were also very rushed, and I can vouch that many hundreds of hours have been put into the current project.

Debbie Baudoin and I are also discussing collaborating on a CD of her material too. No schedule has been set, but I'm excited about working with her. She has some really good material, and an incredible voice. I'm sure that Maya and Nancy will lend some backing vocal support, so there should be some "Divas of Chaotica" moments...:-)

Are the "Divas of Chaotica" ever going to come out with their own CD?

Anything can happen, but I'm not expecting it. All our material is really just the solo stuff from our, Nancy's and Debbie's repertoires. We got together to help Debbie Baudoin out at Conchord 2000 where Maya and I were GoH, and she was Toastmistress. She asked Maya, Nancy, Jane and I to back her up for her set. We performed all her material, and had a great time. Jane decided to schedule us as a group at Consonance 2001, with each of us contributing material. However, I don't really think of it as a working group, more as a special occassion that comes once in a while. That being said, since I'm playing on Nancy's next album, and both Maya and Debbie sing on it, you can pretty much get the "Diva" experience when she release "Blues for Dumuzi". I'm also going to be producing and playing on Debbie's upcoming CD, and I'm quite sure that Maya and Nancy will be on it too.

What do you do when you're not at filk conventions?

Sleep! :-) I work for a major international music software company. I take my daughter to Little League games, and am teaching my son to play the guitar. He and some friends are about to start a band. I try to record regularly. Now that Retro Rocket Science is done, I'm concentrating on an album of originals.

What conventions do you plan to attend this year? Any on the East coast?

We're planning on attending Norwescon in Seattle, Baycon in San Jose and probably Worldcon in Philadelphia.

Comments? Please post them here.

Base URL: http://www.filking.net
Copyright © 2001 Debbie Ridpath Ohi.
Reproduction and/or distribution of the whole or any part in any form
is forbidden unless prior permission has been granted.