Let's run over your first steps in the world of music: you have begun very young to play drums and you have nourished a forward interest to music. What has carried you to take the sticks and to play rock? How do you came in contact with the world of the progressive?
I have two older brothers who were both involved with music before I was and it was their influence that led to my own participation. They both played drums, and so it seemed natural enough that I should as well. I made no conscious decision to play rock music, but when you’re six years old and you hear the Beatles – you’re going to be drawn into their world. Mid-sixties pop rock music was simple, but exciting and invigorating as well.
As time passed the music evolved in such a way as to draw in a number of influences from other styles. Musicians honed their craft and utilized their new found technical skills to push the envelope even further. I would suggest that my first contact with progressive music probably occurred when I first heard the work of Cream, followed shortly thereafter by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Both groups made good use of their considerable musicianship to fuse structure and improvisational techniques to devastating effect. I was just a child at the time, of course, but I still remember quite vividly how amazing it all seemed. The next two or three years brought us The Moody Blues’ “Days of Future Passed” and King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King”, two defining moments in the development of progressive rock. I loved them both, but the Crimson stuff hit me hard – no doubt due to the undeniable genius of their absolutely brilliant drummer Michael Giles. This particular influence remains a part of my music to this very day!
In the past, you had the chance to study drumming with great musicians like Joe Porcaro and Ralph Humphrey, I think it has been a special experience indeed! What do you remember about it? As a drummer do you consider yourself more like a Terry Bozzio, with his powerful eclecticism, or more like a conductor as Christian Vander/Daniel Denis?
What I remember most about that period is the daily struggle I experienced to not only improve my musical skills, but to simply survive. I was along way from home with almost no money. I was always hungry and never got enough sleep. What sleep I did get was on a one-inch thick mat rolled up next to my drum kit. I lived to play and selfishly cared about little else. It would be fair to say that I was obsessed. Or stupid. Probably both. Ralph and Joe loved my enthusiasm, but they also tempered my youthful obsession with their wiser and more worldly points of view. In retrospect it seems to have been at least as much about learning how to live life as it was about learning how to play music. I came to realize that if your desire is to be an accomplished musician, a good place to start is by being a decent human being. Maybe someday I’ll become one…
As to the Bozzio versus Vander/Denis comparison, my answer is both. Drumming is incredibly important to me and I play virtually every day. It has been the centerpiece of my self-image for four decades. I came to the role of composer during my twenties. Since that time, I’ve come to think of myself as a composer whose instrument of choice is the drum kit. Composer and musician, musician and composer, two sides of the same coin.
For the release of your CDs you engaged yourself as keyboard player too: I think that to alternate both drums and keyboards on your composition wasn't been easy. Moreover the orchestrations of the songs got a primary importance compared to the singular instrumental evolutions typical of such prog-rock…
Playing both keyboards and drums certainly does present a series of daunting physical challenges. I’ve discovered that playing more than one instrument has added a three-dimensional quality to my musical thinking. One enhances the other and vice versa. The tone color and texture of a grand piano is rather different than that of a snare drum. Having intimate knowledge of both can only be a good thing.
With respect to orchestration, I always try to make things as uniquely mine as I can. This means that I usually avoid the standard approach of soloing for a few bars on top of the rhythm section. That’s not to say that I never do this, because I do – just not most of the time. I’m much more likely to construct a sophisticated network of intertwining ensemble figures that change as they move through time. This can make the music seem staggeringly complex at times, and that’s because at times it is exactly that. I don’t make difficult music for the sake of difficulty, I make it to add interest and depth, and as a consequence it will hopefully have more power to entertain. At least that’s my intention. Mine is music for people with open minds… who like to use them. Or perhaps it’s for people who don’t wear pants and like to chew on aluminum foil.
Do your approach to composition changed between the publication of your first cd Darling (1996) and your last D2R (2003)? Which rules do you follow for the writing and the recording of your works?
I don’t think my approach to composition changed in any deliberate or fundamental way between "Darling" and "D2R", but having said this I do think it is apparent that "D2R" is a refinement of "Darling" in almost every way. "D2R" explores a wider range of musical style and texture, and while it is a natural if somewhat unpredictable follow-up to "Darling", it certainly does veer into different territory – touching on jazz and classical and the avant-garde, even elements of electronica.
I rarely think in terms of rules, with the possible exception of how to most effectively break them, but there are elements that I will deliberately attempt to include in my compositions. I strive to bring a large and varied number of meters, tempos, keys, dynamics and tone colors to not necessarily every song I write, but certainly every collection of songs. Music is such a beautiful palette of subtlety and nuance that I feel it is an opportunity lost to not draw from virtually every possible source of expression.
One particular thing that impressed me about your last CD is the claustrophobic and heavy atmosphere that characterizes most parts of the compositions. Despite of your sense of humour, notable in the witty cover notes, your compositions do not seem to be reassuring at all. The unexpected inflecting of rhythms and the frenzy arrangement almost convey an alienation's feelings. As well as the means included in the booklet, I think that your song could be interpreted musically also like an effective representation about the chaotic civilization of the new millennium, a pessimist and grotesque vision about the future (but, unfortunately, about the present too) of the mankind... what do you think about it?
It is probably inevitable that the music I write is (in a generalized sense) a reflection of my feelings. How could any composer really separate one from the other? I think that your characterization of this music is accurate – there certainly are elements that I hoped would evoke a sense of alienation, a sense of desperation, an immediacy that plainly states – act now, or lose all. Life on earth in 2004 simply moves too quickly. We chase money as if it were the only thing in the world of any value. We obsess over material possessions and technological trends that are irrelevant. Religions and governments work their savage wills of deception and distortion as if the truth was something that simply never existed.
The media produces a weekly MTV sponsored awards ceremony featuring a tiresome litany of lazy, mouth-breathing pop icons with near perfect vacuums between their ears and who apparently never learned how to dress themselves as they stumble through their predictably inane you-hump-me then I’ll-hump-you dance routines desperately hoping that they won’t shit themselves from the volatile cocktail of french fries, slimfast and meth-amphetamine they just ingested. I may sound like a pessimist, but I am not. A pessimist looks at the world and despairs. I look at the world and get angry. Anger is more useful than despair. To change the world for the better, one must see it for what it is. The pervasive darkness of my music reflects not only what I see, but what I know can be changed. Let it be a clarion call to all of those who would change it.
Would you like to talk about the concept that has inspired the D2R's closing piece, Asunder? I thought it was quite interesting as topic, either since in the world of rock certain topics was never been probe enough…
"Asunder" is a song about how so much in life turns out to be very different than we imagined it would be. Outcomes are forever changed by such small things – a choice here, a bit of luck there – it seems the only real measure of control we have is to think very carefully before we act. Stupid and selfish choices can produce an ensuing chaos that removes all possibility of control. "Asunder" is a musical representation of this maelstrom. As an artist, I sometimes choose to open the book of my life, to reveal my foibles and character flaws, to let others see me as I really am. Asunder required me to see myself as I really am. It is not about any single event or specific regret. It is a self-acknowledgement that I have done wrong.
Your last cd has received various excellent reviews and it's passed a year from its publication: would you say how many copies has been sold? The self-management combined with the www's potential can be the ideal system for the realization of works not connected with the laws of music business?
Let’s just say that it has been selling steadily. I don’t like to get into specific numbers because I am an independent artist and a comparison of my record sales will inevitably be made to that of a major label release. Such a comparison is not valid or fair, especially to the independent artist who can survive on much smaller numbers. The internet is the instrument that makes it possible for a musician like myself to reach a fan base that is scattered all across the globe. I receive emails almost every day from people who hear my music on internet radio or find my website online. Because my music is far too intense and complex to ever qualify as mainstream, I simply must release my own recordings. Without this technology my record sales would decline by ninety-eight percent or more.
To conclude, could you reveal to us your future projects?
I will continue to write and record music utilizing the technology best suited to the task at hand. I do plan on turning my standard operating procedure on its head by recording some free form “drums first” tracks. What I mean by this is that I will lay down the drum tracks before anything else, then proceed to build the composition up track by track, supporting or following the drum parts as appropriate to the musical context. I will continue to collaborate with other musicians as the opportunities present themselves. My musical credo may well be “massively rehearsed improvisation”.
Thank you for this opportunity to spend a little time with your readers, I appreciate it very much. Be well.