Introducing Piano Virtuoso Jason Lyle Black
Music composer, performer, YouTuber, educator, and entrepreneur, Jason Lyle Black released his new album titled Piano Preludes on 6 May 2016. The 15 track CD produced by Paul Cardall, the successful owner of the independent record label, Stone Angel Music, is par excellence and is one that people will be listening to for some time to come. The album recently debuted at the #1 spot on the iTunes New Age chart.
Jason is known professionally as “The Backwards Piano Man” ®. He began playing piano at the age of 8 and by all rights has had a very successful career in the music business thus far. Such social media channels and outlets as Huffington Post, Yahoo, CNN, Seventeen Magazine, and Good Morning America frequently feature his amazing, popular YouTube videos. He is a frequent concert performer and has appeared on television in Hollywood as well as in Tokyo, Japan, on Fuji TV. He is also the composer and self-publisher of three piano solo albums: Another Point of View (original compositions and classical remixes, 2009); Midnight Clear (Christmas music, 2011), and Hope of Israel (instrumental religious, 2012).
The Exclusive Interview with Jason Lyle Black
On Saturday, 7 May 2016, Gabriella Loosle from the More Good Foundation was privileged to be able to sit and talk with Jason Lyle Black after he had finished a signing of his new CD “Piano Preludes” at the Deseret Bookstore in Orem, Utah. What follows is that intriguing interview.
Questions and Answers with Jason Lyle Black
When you began playing the piano at eight years old, were you self-motivated or did your parents play a significant role in encouraging you?
Well… All of my siblings had taken piano, so I just naturally did too, but I think I enjoyed it more and I like took off more with it. None of my siblings still play the piano; I think my sister can play maybe a few hymns but you know, they did other things. My sisters are both dancers my brother is a DJ actually; they’re all in the creative artistic world but never got as into piano as me.
When did you first become interested in entertaining?
That, I don’t know. Interesting kind of little tidbit. I didn’t start writing music until I was 15, and that’s when I became interested in being published, having an album, that type of thing. I’m not sure if I was really into performing then or not. By my senior year of High school, I was because one of the senior recitals I did I came into the recital in the middle of it dressed as James Bond. So in the middle of the recital I was like “I need to get a drink”, and I put on a suit jacket and sunglasses and came back into James Bond music playing over the speakers, and started playing the James Bond theme on the piano. So at that point, I knew I was interested in the entertainment side of music, but I don’t remember when it first started before that. Probably it was when I started playing the piano backward which was when I was 15.
But even before that, there was a little youth conference also where I was taking requests, even in high school I was messing around with the piano; it all started when I was 15.
Why did you first start playing backward? How did that come about?
That was actually for Especially For Youth (EFY). I wanted to get into the EFY talent show, so I learned to play the piano backwards so I could get in… and I got in. I got one girl’s phone number from it, didn’t work out with her, but got her phone number, so…
What is the inspiration for your latest album?
That’s pretty cool; I should share a little bit about Paul Cardall with this. So you know, Paul Cardall is a producer and owns the label that I signed to, Stone Angel music. Of course, people know him in the Church for his music. Although his music reaches a worldwide audience, there’s a lot of people in the Middle East and in Europe that are familiar with his music, not just an LDS audience. So as the producer he sets the creative direction, what it’s going to be, what people will enjoy. So he said it was going to be very meditative, very relaxing, soothing, very spiritual, to help people access spiritual feelings. That’s the goal of Stone Angel Music; it’s put out as a tool to help people access spiritual feelings. So, Paul gave me a prompt; he said I either want you to go to the temple or to go up to a mountain or someplace spiritual, and I want you to see what you feel up there and what you would write to elicit those feelings.
So did you go up to a mountain?
So, that was supposed to be the feeling of it. So I took some very different experiences from different times. I wrote the music over the course of a month. All of these different songs took about a month and a half of writing.
How long did it take you to write each song?
That’s tough to say. Some of the songs I improvised a lot of ideas and then they turned into the album. Some I worked on more. I remember, actually “Champs-Elysees” came together on a Saturday night and Sunday. I knew it needed a little “kick” to it and it’s at the very end of the little melody line. It’s this little note at the end of the chord; it’s a dissonant note and that’s what adds the character to that song. That’s what makes it sound nostalgic. I had been working on it for an hour with different ideas like, “What could give this song that little bit of a different sound?” Later in the album, he gave me another prompt. After I had already done 20 songs, he said, “I want you to write five more songs, and I want you to picture that you’re playing in sacrament meeting, “What are you playing?” Another one he had given me was Christ has come to your home and is resting on your couch taking a nap, “What would you play for him?”
Are there specific songs that go with each of those prompts?
For the sacrament ones, yes. The one about Christ, I thought that was cool, just very spiritual. This album is not at all just for LDS audiences, but it is very spiritual in nature, and even people that aren’t very religious will still enjoy it. I mean, “Soldier’s Prayer” and “Morning Prayer,” these songs are just soothing, you know, but they also have a lot of spiritual undertones. “Father’s Blessing” was one of the ones that I wrote as a sacrament prompt and I think “Communion” was too – track 1 and 3. “Communion” is one of Paul’s favorites on the album, so that proved to be a very good prompt. I think the “Offering,” track 9, might have been one of those that was from the sacrament meeting prompt. “Winter’s Passing” was one of the very first ones I wrote and it’s one of my personal favorites, out of all of the songs, from the composition standpoint, it has very rich harmonies. “Champs-Elysees” has the most memory and kind of Disney feel to me, it just has this walk down memory lane, nostalgic, happy feeling, so does “Celebration” actually, that one is also really fun. “Evening Prayer” is the deepest emotionally for me. It’s very somber, and it has a very specific mood.
Where are you from originally?
I’m originally from Northern California. I consider Utah home now. I came here to go to Brigham Young University (BYU), and since graduating, I have been in Utah for four years. So other than attending BYU, I have lived here for four years. I spent five years at BYU. I did business school there, and then I worked at accounting firms before deciding to go back to music.
What sparked your decision to return to music?
There were a few things. I had always kind of missed it. But one of the biggest things was the music industry is very hard to make it in, and to tell the truth I had given up for a while. It is probably good for people to know that I stopped producing videos on YouTube for a couple of years and started working in accounting because of the difficulty in working in the music industry. A few years later, I decided to give it another try, and it was seven months after that decision that the “Frozen” video took off and all of a sudden I was a worldwide celebrity on YouTube.
I had worked on a music career for years before that, and I had just become discouraged. The thing is you look at these other big artists like John Schmidt. Before he was the piano guy he spent 20 years working hard at his career and never really made it big until The Piano Guys. He made a living, but it wasn’t easy for him. Even Paul Cardall has told me that 20 years ago he towed his keyboard into Deseret books to play and sell a couple of CDs. I have paid my dues. A lot of people don’t realize how long I worked at it to get where I am now; now I can do it full-time, especially with this record contract and Paul. Many doors of opportunity are now open for me.
So what’s next on the horizon for Jason Lyle Black?
The next step after this is I want to go on a national tour in 2018. So I’m going to sign to an agent maybe later this year, and I’m going to start looking at a tour. I’d like to go on a 20-month tour. Typically, it takes about a year and a half to put together a tour, so that’s the timing.
Yeah, that’s what’s next on the horizon for me. And, you know, the big thing with the label is that your charting determines whether or not you will be able to do another album. Because the album came out #1 on iTunes in New Age, that’s encouraging. A good Billboard chart debut also looks promising, so the odds of another album are very good. So it’ll be sometime next year that we’ll do another album.
Would the next album be similar in tone to “Piano Preludes”?
The label hasn’t made a decision on the second album at all, but it’s obviously the kind of thing that will happen. Especially with this album doing well. That’s the goal, build up your name so that people will want more albums and people will know who you are. For your first album, people aren’t necessarily familiar with your name. With Paul, he’s very well-known now, but that took years to happen. I do have the advantage of YouTube, which makes me better known starting out than Paul was.
It’s been amazing to work with Paul because he is so invested in the success of the album. Paul’s fantastic. Paul’s one of my favorite people in the music industry I’ve ever worked with, no question. That’s the first time I’ve said that but… he’s just a good friend too, I like him, he’s a really funny guy, and I enjoy working with him. Very supportive, very invested.
Concluding the Exclusive Interview
The interview concluded with the questions, “Have you ever wanted to perform with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?” and “Is there a certain song you’d want to perform with them?” Jason replied:
Oh, I would like to. That’s actually on my bucket list, to perform with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
I don’t know; I don’t write as much vocal stuff. It would be fun to do my “Come, Thy Font of Every Blessing” arrangement, mix the piano with the choir. That would be cool. Have Marshall McDonald arrange for the orchestra, the version I did for piano. Marshall McDonald did the background orchestrations on the album, so he writes a lot for the choir. So I’ll have to talk to him at some point and be like, “Hey, how can you get Mack Wilberg to let me play with the Choir.”
Mormon Music would like to thank Jason Lyle Black for taking the time to grant this exclusive interview. We would also like to thank Gabriella Loosle for conducting the interview for us.