I would love to hook up Kirk Franklin with Mark Isham, then be a fly on the wall in the studio as they sit down to write and record. It might seem an odd pairing at first, a mashup of styles way too disparate to meld and morph and bring something new. But then, when the time was right, I think they would come together in an unexpected and fresh way, “like avocaodos and chocolate,” as the great Walter Murch once said, to create something delicious.
Franklin, pictured on this month’s cover in his brand-new Uncle Jessie’s Kitchen studio, is one of the leading lights in contemporary urban gospel and a hitmaker in his genre. His songs play equally strong in the church on a Sunday morning and on the big screen in a movie soundtrack. He showed musical aptitude early, and studied with musician-mentors and choir directors throughout his youth. His musical influences growing up came from pop, hip hop, R&B and soul—the Commodores, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Eurythymics, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel and the like. He brought those sounds, and the modern feel, back into his writing and changed the way many people look at gospel music, broadening its appeal.
Isham, meanwhile was classically trained on trumpet, with some piano thrown in, and displayed an early love and affinity for jazz and early electronic music, the avant garde, the ones who stretched the boundaries of analog synthesis and inspired improvisation. Already a noted performer and writer, Isham entered the world of film composition and scoring to picture as a novice on the Carroll Ballard film Never Cry Wolf in 1983. Just this past year, he wrapped up the score for his first big-budget animated feature, and he was invigorated by the process. In between, he has toured the world, continued making big records and lent his touch to a range of television and film projects. His style is impossible to pin down, as he is constantly moving and evolving his taste and his approach.
That’s all well and good, and I could say much the same about a number of artists. But in talking to Franklin and Isham for this month’s stories, I found that each thrives on collaboration, both within their own camps and with artists from the outside. Take a moment to visit Franklin’s site and click on a video where he’s writing in the control room, sitting at a keyboard with a bass player, lead player and a couple of background singers around the producers desk. It’s inspiring! At the same time, he has collaborated with others throughout his career, ranging from Yolanda Adams to Kanye West, and his music reflects that. He is a student of modern sounds. He pays attention to the kick and he listens for the voice.
Isham, meanwhile, admits that writing can sometimes be a very lonely experience, and he often feels the need to either hit the road for some festival pairings or jazz concert series, or work with a young composer. In the past year alone, he has worked on a project with Moby and he just went into the studio with BT, while at the same time beginning a new Marvel TV series and, as mentioned, scoring an animated feature.
Also, Franklin and Isham both love to create in the studio, using the technology and the sounds to inform their writing. They both are heavily involved in the production process, from the microphone to the mix. And they both are consistently seeking the new, looking to stay fresh.
But most of all, they are both musical explorers. The exploration of music, and its possibilities, is what drives them, and both seem willing to try just about anything.
So that’s why I want to hook up these two writers/artists/producers and see what they come up with. There would be a choir, most likely, and maybe a bassoon or some beats—certainly a trumpet, maybe a string quartet. I just want to be there when it happens, to listen to what they come up with to influence the next generation of artists to follow.