"Life is so much more than being an artist" - Artyom Manukyan

Artyom Manukyan

Artyom Manukyan is an Armenian cellist currently living in Los Angeles. He traveled the world as the youngest member of the BBC World Music Award-winning Armenian Navy Band. Artyom plays at jazz clubs, concert halls, and rock festivals with major international artists including Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of Run-D.M.C., Grammy-winning Draco Rosa, Natasha Bedingfield, scoring for film and television or leading his electro-jazz quartet. Artyom also performs on TV shows including Dr. Phil and Jimmy Kimmel Live where he has joined Coldplay, Bono and Odesza for performances. Artyom’s genre-defying approach to playing the cello like a bass emerged from a combination of his conservatory training and exposure to the music of hallmark jazz bassists including Jaco Pastorius and Marcus Miller.

Since moving to Los Angeles in 2010, Artyom has been in demand as a session musician and soundtrack composer (Hannibal season 2, Dear White People season 2, Cartel Land, and many more), as well as performing live with diverse players (Everlast, Kamasi Washington, Melody Gardot, Daedalus, Flying Lotus, and many more). Artyom also was a guest artist at the 2016 New Direction Cello Festival.

After the success of his debut solo album, “Citizen”, Artyom has been touring and working on two albums. First is  a collaborative album with French electro jazz producer, Dawatile Kiledjian, titled “HILA”. The second is a solo album titled “Alone”.

A native of Yerevan, the Armenian capital, Artyom was influenced as a child by the music of both his mother, a classical piano teacher, and his father, a part-time DJ known as the biggest collector of jazz vinyl in Armenia. Artyom spent five years completing his classical cello education at the State Conservatory, and began playing in jazz bands before joining the 12-piece “avangard folk” Armenian Navy Band in 2006, playing the bass as well as cello. In his free time, Artyom teaches private lessons and has been an invited guest teacher at the world-renowned Tumo Center for Creative Technologies.    

Miles Davis famously said: “I always hated categories.” You seem to have the same genre defying style. Do you think the future of music is genre-less? What are some inspirations you use in your music? 
I think it is good to be genre defying these days. We all are studying and exposing ourselves to different types of music so now is the time to mix together these influences and create something new. This is what I do in my music. I have been the sideman for artists in many different genres; from Ruben Hakhverdyan to Kamasi Washington. Every time I play with somebody, I learn something. I pay attention to what resonates with me and apply this to my music. I am a classically trained cellist from 3Mas (a region in Yerevan, Armenia) and I’ve always loved Hip-hop music. The contrast is already there and my music is naturally kind of mixed up. Actually, “Kontrast” is the name of my next album! 

With social media, we are all connected to each other more than ever. How do you preserve your vision and originality with the amount of feedback that social media gives? 
Social media has it’s good and bad sides. First, there is so much new music coming out that it’s hard to check it all out. Also with social media, you can think you are the first to do something with music and then, you see somebody from France doing the same thing but even better, and you realize you are not alone in this. I have learned to only do what I like to do. What I am doing is honest, and it seems people from all over the world love it like that.

How do you stay creative and not stagnant as an artist? Do you have other artistic hobbies outside of music?
Good question - I don't have any artistic hobbies, but I do get inspired from everything (travelling, food, movies, fashion, interesting people, good conversations). But, the big projects are always born when some major things are happening in life. And of course, there are times when I just don't feel like creating anything. I have learned to live in that period of life too. No worries. We are all human.

You have collaborated with some incredible musicians. Have you learned any creative habits from them? Any interesting stories from these collaborations?
Oh, I have a lot of stories. Every artist I have worked with has given me a big lesson in something; music, street smarts, business, or life lessons. Once I moved to LA I learned many things. The rhythm and the tempo of life here is so different than it is in Armenia; and of course, the people are different too. In LA, I grew as an artist and as a human being. I almost have  become another Artyom.

What is your favorite part of the music creation process?
I love to play free improvised music with my friends. A great idea or concept always comes out when we are all in the same mood and playing together. I try to remember that idea and build something around it. And if  I practice a lot (which is not often) a good idea always comes up too.   

You have travelled many places with music. Which places are most inspiring for you for what they are doing with art and music these days?
Everywhere - I see people in India killing it with their projects; in France, in Germany, in Armenia also. Creative music is coming from everywhere; you just have to be open to catch it all!

To achieve a level of mastery over an instrument or any artistic endeavor takes a lot of practice and hard work. Do you have any advice for young artists during their years of practicing their craft? How did you maintain the level of discipline to achieve the level of skill you have now?
I have to say thanks to my Mom for that.  She is the one who kept me disciplined. Of course, my first teacher Valery Antonyan was very hard on me too, which helped me to practice when I was younger. But I wish I would have practiced more when I was in Conservatory. I kind of did the whole “young artist” thing; hanging out with my friends, partying, and living the “Rock and Roll” lifestyle.  I wish I would have been smarter during that time. But it is what it is! I would say to keep practicing and don't listen to what people say to you about genres; just create!

Your newest project, HILA, is influenced by acid jazz and electro acid. How did you come up with the idea for this project? 
So, HiLA is a project I did with my friend Dawatile Keledjian from Lyon, France. I called him two years ago and asked if he could come to LA for 20 days so that we could create something new. He was fearless like I am. We created a whole album, a show, and we played the whole program in 21 days. That’s why our album is called “21”. It is a completely new vision for the cello. It is more like acid jazz and electronic. We have toured a little, and we are now waiting for more tours!

What are your goals as an artist? Do you have any “dream collaborations” for the future? 
Recently, for me the number one goal is to be a good human being, and then an artist. Life is so much more than being an artist. I love my family, my daughter, my girlfriend, my friends. They all make me a better artist. My dream collaborations are maybe with Sting and Snoop Dogg.

Interview by Hannah Kazanjian Brewster