Ally had the chance to chat with Dani Diodato, the guitarist and leader of PYJÆN.
The buzzing South London-based quintet, which consists of Dylan Jones (trumpet), Ben Vize (saxophone), Charlie Hutchinson (drums) and Benjamin Crane (bass), are making waves within the scene for their unique sound which melds jazz, funk, afro-beat and more, bursting with many different musical influences.
Following the release of their debut self-titled album in September 2019, the group are back releasing music, with their next EP out in May. Their latest single, ‘Sage Secrets’ teams up with London-based jazztronica duo Blue Lab Beats…
You’ve recently released your single ‘Sage Secrets’ which features Blue Lab Beats. How did the collaboration come around and how did it pan out?
So, basically, Dylan [Jones] knows Namali [NK-OK] quite well, and he’s played with Blue Lab Beats on a couple of occasions. David, the other member [Mr DM], he’s always out at jam sessions and stuff like that, so that’s how we met.
We wanted to create this new EP, and we wanted to explore working with other people… So we got [Blue Lab Beats] down to the studio, and yeah it was great. Namali is an amazing producer, I mean he’s just unbelievable. He produced the song… I remember when he sent the first mix back, I was like “Woah…”.
You’ve just released your second single ‘PJFC’ from your upcoming EP. It’s a lovely uplifting single, what can you tell us about the song and about your forthcoming EP?
So, we wanted, through this EP, to explore collaboration and also explore going into another style of music.
With five of us, everyone has different influences and tastes in music. Our sax player [Ben Vize] likes prog rock, he also loves metal. I like straight-ahead jazz and funk. We all like different things. But we still come together as a band.
We wanted to explore different genres. ‘PJFC’ – we call it a ‘pop’ song, but I think calling something ‘pop’ is a very broad decision. Nowadays, music is hard to define. ‘PJFC’ was created by our bass player [Benjamin Crane]. It, to me, feels like it should be on TV or in an advert. It’s just a very happy, lovely song.
We’re going to have different artwork for each release, which is going to be modified. Eve French has done the artwork, who has created this image of PYJAEN.
[For the EP], there’s going to be more collaboration. There’s going to be a rock tune, there’s going to be a prog tune. So, each one of us has written a song, so it’s going to be really broad sound-wise. But I think it glues together really well.
Am I right in saying you normally take the lead in composing Dani?
I did at the beginning [of the group], but now everyone writes. In the beginning, I wrote a lot of our songs. I can’t really write if I don’t want to write a song. Exploration is something you can’t really control. I can’t really write if I have to write a song – I find it really difficult. At times, I write so much. And then in a period of six months, I write nothing.
At that time [when the group started], I think I was really inspired musically so I ended up writing loads of songs. But now, everyone writes, and everyone is involved.
What’s nice, and what I love about the band, is the collaboration of people to bring something really good. I think, in general, that music-making is a collaborative process. Of course, you have the occasional genius who writes on his own. But even in software, computer, cars or whatever, is collaborative. That’s why I love the band, and I love working with other people.
It’s nice when I bring an idea in a rehearsal because someone brings something to it. They’re willing to put their own ears and their own creativity.
With this upcoming EP, and each member bringing their own compositions into it, how does the group settle on creating a song?
It depends who’s written it. Ben, the sax player, he’s got a very defined idea. He will literally write the whole thing out. He’s obviously open to ideas, and stuff, but he has a very clear idea of what he wants to do.
If Dylan writes it, it’s usually arranged, but we normally change it during rehearsals, and we come up with some other ideas.
I am the one who arranges the least. When I have an idea, I just have a vibe and I go into a rehearsal, try and play it and the group will join and create new ideas. Sometimes, I’ll go in with a tune into a rehearsal, and someone will suggest a change like, “Oh let’s make it Latin”, and I’ll just flat out say “No man no…”
It isn’t always easy, but when it works it really blends in, you know?
That’s a really organic way to create music though
To be honest, it’s hard to sell… From a point. If I’m doing afrobeat, if I’m doing rock, it’s easy to be like “Cool, we have this”. Because we’ll then target a certain radio station or promoter. But, when something is so broad, sometimes it’s difficult to market and sell it, you know?
Gigs and live performances, they work really well because we just go with the flow. We’ve done so many gigs in the last few years which just flow really well, and we know when to have a hype, or when to have a chill, or when people are really listening. We just really read the crowd.
So, when will get to hear more of this EP?
We have our next track coming out this week, and then a month after that. The whole EP is coming out around May, which will be five songs in total.
Your upcoming EP will be your third project, having released ‘Prologue’ in 2017 and then your self-titled 7 track debut album. What have you learnt as a group since forming, and how has this fed into your music?
We were really young when we got together, as we met at [Trinity Laban] college. We got together for the jokes; you know what I mean? We just like to play together, and we started playing in pubs, and then all of a sudden, we turned into a proper band. We started setting up properly, we started creating socials, a website and at the beginning, it was all so DIY. You have to find your way around everything, even finding gigs and putting songs on Spotify.
From the business side, I’ve learnt so much. Obviously, then, we had the label coming in and distribution, which has been a little more pro. But I’ve learnt so much about business…
You can be an amazing musician, you can be the most amazing artist, right, but you don’t share it with the right people, it’s so hard to go ahead. To me, I want to share it with as many people as possible. If I just put something up on Spotify, no one could listen to it. So, it’s really important to know how to promote yourself, and how to do things properly.
It’s all a learning curve, even with timings of creating this EP, and how long it takes.
On a personal level, whilst being on tour for two weeks straight in a van and seeing each other 24/7, it’s challenging. It’d hard. So, you have to learn how to do these things, and learn how not annoy other people, or you have to learn how to tolerate other people.
We’ve also learnt each other’s stories. When you have so much time to just talk in a van, you can really tell each other stories of each other’s life. So many stories and so many memories are shared. We’re lucky, as we’re such good friends. We really enjoy each other’s company.
Obviously, it’s challenging at times. I’ve managed the band for two years, and sometimes things go amazingly, and sometimes things don’t. Sometimes, you’ll send thousands of emails, and no one replies to you…I’m lucky that I have this tribe where I won’t get put down, because someone doesn’t reply to an email. I’m going to do my own thing, as I’ve got my own vision and I’m just gonna do it.
It’s great to hear you guys have stayed strong, as being in a band can be a real strain on relationships. Particularly with you leading and managing the group, that’s a lot of pressure.
It’s also great, as I’ve learned so much than I do three, four years ago. If I wanted to start a new project or go into a meeting, and I’ll know about it.
I’ve met so many good people, so many nice people in the industry. So many nice managers, nice promoters etc with the community. It’s such a good industry… most of the time.
With the new jazz world, everyone is nice.
The group see themselves as being more than a standard quintet or group. PYJÆN sees a group as a reflection of themselves, merged together in one unified higher identity...
You can see more of Eve's work here.
"PYJÆN...is a metaphor for life, growing up, and getting thrown into an environment"
PYJÆN is more than a quintet, PYJÆN is also a caffeine-fuelled conceptual being... What is PYJÆN – the character’s backstory – and how did this come about? How does this feed into the group?
Three years ago, or so, there’s an indie festival called Brainchild. We’ve played there a few times, but before PYJÆN was even a thing, we went there to enjoy the music and party.
On the Monday morning, where we were all having the festival blues and we didn’t wanna go home. Dylan went to go get a coffee, the guy – who was writing Dylan’s name on the side of the cup – wrote his name something like PYJÆN…
We had the band already, but finding a band name is so hard and it’s so much nicer when it happens organically. With it being nobody’s band, we thought this name, through this shared experience, would be great.
Out of this, PYJAEN grew as a character who could represent all five of us – this young person who comes from another planet, and doesn’t know anyone, and tries to become adapted to this new environment. He tries to enjoy himself, but he doesn’t know where he’s come from. He’s a metaphor for life, growing up, and getting thrown into an environment, and he’s told to just “deal with it”, but it doesn’t even know what “it” is. But, he doesn’t even know why he’s feeling anxious, why he’s feeling emotional, or why he’s feeling love for someone…
When your young, and there’s so much around you. Like heading to college, and there’s so many people or a club, and there’s just so much to deal with nowadays, just to sink in…
"appreciate how much music brings people together"
With this in mind, you moved to London having come originally from Naples. What elements of your background from Naples do you think has carried through into your music? In what ways has it influenced your music-making both with PYJAEN and your other project SUNAAT?
Growing up in Naples is an amazing experience – Naples is so colourful. It’s just amazing as a city. I grew up with my brother and my Dad being a musician. My Dad is really into swing, and stuff like that, but also disco and funk music. So, I grew up listening to that music. And then, my brother introduced me into straight-ahead jazz.
I played the guitar since I was 10 years old, but then I didn’t start playing seriously until I was like 17 or 18 years old. I moved to London, and I was a chef for a while... But all these experiences have influenced me. To me, music is about vibration and about sound.
Naples has got such a big history of music. There’s Neapolitan music that is like a whole other language.
Do you look fondly back on that time in Naples?
100%. I mean, it was a really tough city to grow up in, it wasn’t easy. And it was hard to be just what I wanted to be, back in Naples. Every time I go back, it’s so beautiful.
Although I feel half-British inside, I’ve had this strong connection to Britain since I was 18. I love everything about Britain, I love speaking in English. London, to me, is my home now.
Moving to another country is very introspective. You learn so much about yourself. You come to a country, and you’re in a different environment. A completely different environment and culture…the ways that you act is out of order to people, but you’re not doing anything – you’re being yourself. You’re acting always the way in which you have been since being a kid. All of a sudden, you question yourself, and you are so introspective. It’s amazing, as you learn so much about being a person, and you learn about who you are. If you live for a while outside of your country, and you go back…you have all this emotion coming over you. Even being with your friends and being in a different environment. That’s why I think travelling and moving to another place enriches you so much, it’s so important.
It'd feel strange to not acknowledge the current Coronavirus outbreak, as it’s clearly hitting musicians particularly hard. Other than buying music and merch from artists, do you have any other words or thoughts of the ways in which we can support the music community right now?
Once this is done, and one thing is good to do, is avoiding asking for a refund. Just leaving it… If you had the money in the first place, then not asking for a refund, thinking of it as a contribution to the music.
Obviously aside from that, listening on Spotify, on Bandcamp is always amazing, but following artists’ social networks…
Once this is over, buying tickets and seeing live music more often than you might have done before. It’s so important. At this time, it makes you think if art and music wasn’t there, what would people do? So, use this time to appreciate how much music brings people together.
Hopefully, there’ll be a lot of positivity after this, and people won’t take live music and arts for granted. Fully appreciating musicians and artists creating and innovating in front of you. You lose sight of it…
It makes you realise just how insecure the industry is. There’s no social security for artists.
From one side, it makes you think that people will come from a rough background, and that’s what gives you drive. But, from another level and from another side, social security would be so much better, as it’d all give us so much time to create music, create events and create arts. I know so many people, even older musicians, who are working as Uber drivers or other work, and they are incredible musicians. Incredible musicians and incredible artists. Because we have no social security, they have to do that. As a result, you take time out of the music and out of the artistic process.
I really hope we come out of this, with a shared knowledge of how important it is just to protect people. I hope this extends to everyone, not to just musicians and artists.
PYJÆN's new single 'PJFC' was released April 2nd 2020, with their new EP releasing in May.
You can listen & buy PYJÆN's music here:
You can keep up-to-date with PYJÆN via the links below:
Dani Diodato - Guitar,
Dylan Jones (also of Ezra Collective) – Trumpet
Ben Vize – Saxophone
Charlie Hutchinson – Drums
Benjamin Crane -Bass