While this might be listed as a Pyramaze interview, prolific keyboardist, piano dude, and orchestral composer Jonah Weingarten has also been involved with dozens of projects that span multiple genres. Here he is very open and candid about his life and day to day going ons as a professional musician in 2020. In an age where it seems everyone (including me) are complaining about the current state of affairs in the industry, here is a hard working musician who is continuing to be creative and produce high quality, enjoyable music.
As of December 2019, how many albums have you been a part of?
I think somewhere around twenty, twenty five or so. I'm only counting albums that have been released on labels of various sizes. My most recent release that I've been a part of is Cyhra’s No Halos In Hell album.
Is it slightly overwhelming to have been a part of so many albums?
I wouldn’t say overwhelming so much as rewarding honestly. It always feels so good to be a part of so many important Metal albums that have so much reach and are so integral to the international scene. Every now and then I feel like I want to slow down and just take some time to be a “normal person,” but then I get the bug to record again and be creative so quickly so that’s kind of pointless. My career continues to snowball and grow larger with each release. The best part of all of it is getting to work with so many of my childhood heroes.
How did you transition into becoming a session player? Did it mainly happen during the hiatus that Pyramaze took from 2008 to 2013? Could be wrong on the reactivation year.
That started to happen after the first few Pyramaze releases. Once my playing got out there and started to get some recognition people began to approach me to play on their albums and write songs for them. It seems more and more lately that it’s my orchestral work that I’ve been being commissioned for, as well as things like guest keyboard shred solos and arrangements. No, 2013 sounds about right. I personally took some time off around then when my daughter was born and some additional time to fix myself and figure out what makes me happy. You have to have that kind of foundation to be able to create in a positive environment. The session work thing just happened organically to be honest. Only over the last few years have I focused a bit more on marketing myself as a session musician. My girlfriend Mallory is a web designer and social media specialist, so she has helped generate additional business for me through jonahweingarten.com Check it out!
During this hiatus did you have doubts about the future of your music career?
No, I have never had any doubts about that. I have always believed in myself and in what I do.
Was transitioning to session work out of necessity during the hiatus or did it happen due to free time?
I don’t ever feel like my session work is out of necessity or I wouldn’t enjoy doing it so much. I know that bands, artists, and record labels approach me because they are seeking out what I do as an artist, so what I deliver to them is very “me” in its sound and style. I have my own distinct thing going on and it's fun to have that be sought after. I have other sources of income outside of music so I never have to take session jobs that I don’t like out of financial pressure.
It seems you work with alot of European bands. Is the reason the European bands utilize your skills because A. they aren't as cheap as North Americans and would rather have a musician play than a patch someone in the band diddles with? B. Europeans "respect the arts" more than North America? C. The Euro style just tends to gravitate towards keyboards and orchestration?
I think it has to do more with stylistic approach more than anything else. I work with a lot of symphonic bands over seas, mainly from Germany, Sweden etc. European Metal is more rooted in classical and folk music so it’s definitely more my jam in that regard.
Do you think that being a high level keyboardist rather than a virtuoso guitarist has opened many more doors for work as a session player?
Absolutely! I have an incredibly unique skill set and that has only served to my advantage. Plus I tell hilarious jokes ;-) I'm always able to nail what it is that people hire me for because Metal is generally pretty transparent in its influences.
What have been the ranges in terms of musical styles you've played in your various sessions?
Everything from all the styles of Metal, symphonic, black, melodic death, industrial, power, prog, folk, etc. to things like instrumental relaxation projects, sports team anthems, book trailers, indie film scores, and album intros.
Where do you record your session work? Is it in a home studio or do you go somewhere dedicated to record?
I have a studio in St. Paul that I work out of with my engineer partner Tom. I like having someone to bounce ideas off of and get a second opinion on. He mainly works with big musical theater productions so he has a highly developed ear as well
Do you ever use Skype with a client in a session where they instruct what they want in real time?
That has never happened before, but I think in some cases that might be helpful. Nothing is more irritating than having to go back to the studio to change or redo something because a client wasn’t clear and upfront about what they were looking for specifically.
What is a typical deadline for you?
Of course this is circumstantial, but usually the answer to that question is “ASAP.” Labels always want their albums completed and delivered by a certain agreed upon date so that they can plan out the promotion and release schedule for an album well ahead of time.
Describe a "standard" day of waking up and going to work as Jonah.
Well, coffee has been life changing and has increased my overall productivity exponentially. So it always starts with that. Then I pack up and head to the studio for usually four to five hours, gym, then repeat. Not terribly exciting actually.
Do you or would you consider being a live player for various bands for tours? Why or why not?
I filled in for Mindmaze in 2017 on their tour with Sirenia and Arkona, but since then I haven't played live a lot. Mostly just one off gigs with Pyramaze over in Europe which is always a blast. I've been focusing more on building my career as a session/studio musician than a live entity, but that very well may change in 2020.
Back to Pyramaze questions! How does it feel to be in a band that loses "The Guy", Michael, and still be a legit band? My theory is that you had quite a large role in co-writing and arranging, and Jacob knows the band very well through producing them and him being a musician himself.
I think we have handled it quite well actually. We replaced Michael with Jacob Hansen (yes THE Jacob Hansen) and we are about to drop our best album yet in 2020 along with a brand new record deal. The Michael era is something we are all very proud of and helped launch us into stardom, as it were. Yes you are correct on all fronts. Jacob and Toke also write fantastic songs and when we all come together to turn them into studio recordings it always sounds like Pyramaze somehow. While our music is slightly less Power Metal these days and more Prog, its also become increasingly more orchestral ad cinematic.
At what point did you guys decide to forge on and find Terje, or did he contact you? And was it a conscious decision to not play fast songs anymore?
Jacob found Terje after things didn't work out with Urban Breed. Jacob was producing a band that Terje was singing some backup vocals on and was like “Holy S*%#t this guy is awesome and should be the new singer of Pyramaze.” True story. And we still have some fast songs, but I think we focus more on creating melodies and riffs than just all out speed metal these days.
Is the session work basically to fund your main band Pyramaze? I was going to ask "what do you prefer, session work rates or royalties" but I'm pretty sure I know the answer to that one.
Pyramaze is funded through our record labels and live performances. My session work rates go to support my life and pursuance of career goals. And yes you are right about royalties... they are pretty much a joke.
What are your thoughts on Spotify and streaming in general? I've finally come to terms with paying for digital files, but mainly do it on Bandcamp if I can. Because of the transparency of Bandcamp, I'm more inclined to purchase from there knowing it's a direct line to the bands.
I still try and buy cds when I can to support the bands and the industry. Spotify is great for checking out new bands or albums that I want to sample before I purchase. If I personally tried to make a living from Spotify plays I would be living in a dumpster eating old moldy hamburger buns.
Contingent and Disciples are on Bandcamp!
Fantastic! Purchase away people!
Have you actually ever received a royalty check from a streaming service?
No, I haven’t personally received one from a streaming service. Our label has always handled that.
How would you describe your solo albums compared to the rest of your work?
My solo albums are usually instrumental piano based music that are very melody based. I haven’t done one of those in about five years because I've been so busy with everything else.
Many of them are one offs, yet do not come across as vanity projects. Do you see yourself doing lots of different styles of solo albums in the future, or would you say that all the solo work so far has been to refine the present player?
I would love to find the time to work on more solo material. I think if I were to release another album of purely Jonah music, it would be epic film score music that could be placed in games, movies, and trailers etc.
At the ProgPower USA XVII festival you guys played with Matt Barlow live. Was this his first time singing Pyramaze songs live with the band and was it recorded?
The show was filmed, and hopefully the footage will see the light of day soon! Yes, it was Matt’s first and most likely last time singing live with Pyramaze, but you never know!

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