Karl Denson has been playing music for a long time. If you’re not seeing him in Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, then you’re probably seeing him as the saxophonist for The Rolling Stones or maybe in The Grey Boy Allstars – another group he co-founded in the 90’s. One thing that really stands out about Karl is his need to create something that speaks to everyone for the purpose of informing. He is not interested in shying away from politics and is instead diving into the conversation through his music.
Karl spoke to Tour Stories about Gnomes and Badgers, the album he released in 2019 as well as some of the new stuff we can expect coming this year. He sets out on a four day run through California tomorrow starting in Los Angeles with special guest Brandon “Taz” Niederauer.
An Interview with Karl Denson
Tour Stories: How did you get started in music?
Karl: Well, I have been playing for 45 years now! I started playing in high school and I played all through college. I have been touring for the last thirty years. It is kind of like everybody else but along the way I got to play with Lenny Kravitz. I guess that was my first “big” professional gig. I started my own bands around 92’ and I have been doing that ever since. Then I ended up with the Rolling Stones about five years ago.
Tour Stories: I read you grew up in California, do you think growing up in Cali affected your sound?
Karl: Yeah, I think I sound like California to a certain extent.
Tour Stories: Your last EP ‘Gnomes and Badgers’ came out in April (2019) – how do you feel it was received and how has it been touring around it?
Karl: It has been doing really well and people have been digging the record. For touring, because its eleven new songs, it’s been good. Ten of those are vocal tunes. That has been helping that aspect of the show because for vocal tunes it’s not all covers which has been great.
Tour Stories: Was it a completely new process writing songs with vocals?
Karl: Yeah, it is kind of a new process. Well over the last decade or so but I have been doing it since The Tiny Universe came together back in 98’ but it wasn’t a real natural thing for me. I come from a real instrumental jazz background. So it has been a process.
Tour Stories: Can you talk to me about the name of the album and why it is called Gnomes and Badgers?
Karl: That is a play on the Republican / Democrat thing and a play on the red and blue. The records got a lot of political leaning. That is where the allusion comes from.
Tour Stories: A lot of people want to stay out of politics, I think it’s important for musicians to talk about what they believe in. How did playing with people like Lenny Kravitz and the Rolling Stones, who tour on such a big scale affect your musical journey?
Karl: With those two bands, it’s the worth ethic that is most glaring thing that pops out from being with those entities. They work really hard. I am just trying to get up to speed but it is really just about the art for me. I am just trying to create good art. To create something that will last, like most of those guys have.
Tour Stories: When you talk about “the art” is there an underlying thing that you want to express through your art or is it just art for arts sake, is it just getting it all out?
Karl: No, it really is just the idea of creating something that will last. The Gnomes and Badgers thing is about getting people to pay attention and be honest and informed and compassionate! All the things we need to live together in a civil society. That way we can get past this phase we are in right now.
Tour Stories: That makes sense.
Karl: And we will be calling our tour “election year” so we can try to inspire people to get out and vote?
Tour Stories: Do you work with HeadCount?
Karl: No I don’t but we might end up doing that because I am very motivated to get people out to vote. We must learn to think for ourselves. I think one of the biggest problems we are dealing with right now is that people don’t have the eternal fortitude to look at what is really going on and vote differently then maybe what they learned from their parents. Make your own choices and input the data and don’t just try to hide in the shadows. So, we might very well get involved with HeadCount.
Tour Stories: Before you spoke a little about wanting to create something that would last, what do you “makes something last” if you will?
Karl: That’s a good question. I’m not sure what it really is. There’s some spark. I think it takes some smarts, you have to put all the pieces together and it has to taste good. It needs to be fun, it needs to be informative, unique. It needs to evoke a real feeling from the listener. I think all those things have to go into something that people can listen to twenty years from now and still like.