Interview with Noel Herbert

Noel Herbert

photo by Zane Johnson; photo courtesy of Noel Herbert

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Noel Herbert is a singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and composer located in Los Angeles. He is one of those rare artists that have the ability to deftly bridge the gap between personal introspective pieces and singles-savvy Top 40 fare. The prodigious songwriter and composer recently sat down with us to discuss his family, educational background, making it as a working musician in Hollywood, and the power of music as a vehicle for healing.

Eric Harabadian: Can you talk a bit about your background growing up?

Noel Herbert: I grew up in Farmington, Michigan. The very first groups that I listened to on my own were The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel. The only music that was heard in my parents’ house was classical music and Irish Celtic music from my father’s side.

When I was seven years old, my father had a stroke and was severely disabled. It was definitely rough on me and my mother. I went from Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel into darker music like Marilyn Manson, System of a Down, Lamb of God, and stuff like that. But I always thought of myself as a folk singer, though. The first instrument I played was the glockenspiel. I always liked to sing and made up melodies. I started guitar lessons at 10 years old. Within the first three months of lessons I wrote my first song. At first, this was an outlet for me being a caregiver, with me and my mother taking care of my father.

EH: When did you get into performing music?

NH: Right before I turned 18 I had a group of friends who were all musicians. And we all sat around and thought we’d try and put some kind of thing together just for fun. I was the only folk singer out of a group of hip hop artists and rappers. So, that was particularly interesting and I started writing lyrics for them. I was also playing acoustic shows at this time. But, at that age, I was interested in becoming a rock star. I never thought about getting into electronic music whatsoever.

Around 19 or 20 I put together my first band which was me and a friend who played guitar and drums. He would alternate between the two for live sets. That band was called Illumination. And that lasted mid-way through my attending the Detroit Institute of Music Education (D.I.M.E.). Actually, I went to Boston for a while and attended the Berklee School of Music before I went to D.I.M.E. I released a single while I was there. At this time I stopped playing live because I was going to college to hone my skills as a songwriter. I started looking at what kind of songwriter did I see myself as. Did I see myself as writing commercial pop music or more on the artistic side? And I really struggled with this until I figured why couldn’t I do both?

EH: Is that a question you posed to yourself or was that something your college instructors would ask?

NH: It was a question one of my instructors asked me. I was supposed to come back with an answer the following week. But I really didn’t have a good answer to that until two months later. And at that point I had already written my first single with my project called Grass Bat. The song was called “Cigarette Showers.” So, I could do pop songwriting and do Grass Bat which was an artistic outlet where I could express how I felt. Grass Bat was very much like MGMT, Animal Collective, with sounds drifting into ‘80s rock like Depeche Mode, The Cure, and New Order.

EH: You graduated from D.I.M.E. in 2018. Was your plan to move to L.A. right away? Did you have work out there?

NH: I live in East Hollywood and I was considering coming out here a year before I did. I was dating somebody in Detroit at the time but really wanted to move to California. I decided to move shortly after graduating. I had this plan to come out here prior to dating this person so I wanted to stick to my plan. I was also contacted by a filmmaker that wanted me to work on a score for his film out here. That ended up falling through but was a little more of a push for me coming out here.

Noel Herbert - Favorite Worst Enemy

image courtesy of Noel Herbert

EH: So, tell me about your group and your latest single.

NH: It’s not even a group, it’s just me. Sometimes I’ll work with other songwriters, but mostly I’m doing all the lyrics, production, engineering, and instrumentation. This latest single “Favorite Worst Enemy” was a different song for me to release. I actually finished the song about six months to a year before I decided to release it. I was thinking about releasing it on an EP with other songs. But there was the challenge of what the song meant to me. At the time I was writing it I didn’t know what it was about. It was kind of stream of consciousness. It wasn’t until later that I figured out what was going on in my head at the time. I had fallen into a pretty depressive state that had been creeping along for some time. And that’s what that song is about. Having a favorite worst enemy is really just my own struggles within myself. It’s more of a dance-y type song compared to my previous releases. That has to do with really coming back to the Detroit techno scene. But also the only time I felt free from myself was going out and having a good time dancing; pretty much anything to get my mind off the fact that I wasn’t feeling very good. So, it’s a song about escapism, but holding onto those feelings very close to me.

EH: Without getting too personal, did you find this was coming from a certain place, perhaps an incident from the past?

NH: As far as something particularly from the past, not really. It’s very much a song dealing with me in the present.

EH: Well, mental health is certainly a relevant and timeless issue that manifests itself in different ways.

NH: Yeah, many people do deal with mental illness and depression. I started opening up to family and friends about what I was dealing with. It had only been a month and a half since I released the song that I started opening up to people about what I was dealing with. And once I started opening up to people, I realized they had their own stories. And they had similar issues and not feeling comfortable talking about it with people. I guess the campaign of this song, if you will, is to be open about your mental illness because it really de-stigmatizes the way people view it. People deal with anxiety, depression and all sorts of things. It’s much more common than anyone would think. So, I’m hoping by putting myself out there it will help at least one person to open up to others. And maybe it will make their life easier because I know it has for me.

EH: That’s excellent, man! Good advice. Being located in L.A. and Hollywood, are you currently playing live shows?

NH: Currently, not right now. At this point I’m strictly a recording artist and songwriter. I’m writing songs for Grass Bat but also synch licensing songs for corporate videos, television, and movies and submitting them to music house catalogs. I am also working on an independent film score that’s coming up fairly soon. And I should start working on that in a couple months. I also do side gigs and record other artists in my studio and host songwriting sessions to help people with their songwriting. All these little things you do to be able to live in Los Angeles.

EH: Well, you’re making it happen, man! A lot of people talk about quote, unquote “making it.” But, you know what, you are making it! You’re doing everything in your artistic and musical realm to make a living. And you’re following your passion. Not everything is always built around a hit single, if you know what I mean.

NH: No, not necessarily. Going back to what I said earlier, do I see myself as an artist or a Top 40 songwriter? I see myself as doing both. But I appreciate you saying that. There are different levels of making it. I’m 25 years old and I’m living in L.A. and getting by. That’s more than a lot of people can do out here.

EH: And you being from the Detroit area and involved in electronic music, there is a rich history of that coming out of Detroit.

NH: Yeah, Detroit and Berlin were where techno really took place. And I think there are arguments on both sides which one actually started electronic music. But I’m not gonna get into that. People know where I stand considering where I’m from.

EH: Tell me about your songwriting and composing process. You said you were gonna be working on a independent short film. Are you working with the director on that?

NH: You definitely work very closely with the director. In this case he is also the writer of the film. I’m gonna be on set with him later this month seeing how the film is being put together. I’ve seen some scenes and already know the storyline so I can start to wrap my head around what sounds would work best for the different sections of the film.

EH: And with songwriting you like to write for other artists, correct?

NH: When I write indie electronic stuff I usually know that will be for me. But if I’m writing more of a top line where melodies, lyrics, and chords are written on piano or guitar, it generally is inclined to be a song for somebody else. Generally co-writes are either for the other person or to pitch to another artist or A&R person.

EH: What kind of keyboard and audio gear are you using in your studio?

NH: I work a lot with my Roland 88. I take a lot of sounds that are on there and add different sorts of effects. My primary DAW that I used on “Favorite Worst Enemy” is Ableton Live and Push. I also use a multitude of in-computer synthesizers. While I mostly record with digital gear I do have experience with analog synthesizers too.

EH: Well, that’s something I’ve noticed about your Grass Bat music. You are a well rounded musician, and I hear that in what you do. Your stuff doesn’t sound synthetic or antiseptic like some electronica can be.

NH: Yeah, and also knowing how analog synths sound compared to digital synths. Digital synthesizers can sound really really pure. That sounds more synthetic to me. I’ve been trying to create more of a lo-fi tone to my synthesizers where it tends to be a little more distorted live.

EH: So, is there anything you have going beyond what we talked about?

NH: I’m working on a largely collaborative project, with multiple producers, songwriters and instrumentalists. I’m not sure if this will be an EP or an album. There will be a number of different people I know on it, but I still will be doing a lot of my own writing and production.

EH: When are you looking to release this new recording?

NH: Probably sometime within the next six months. There’s a lot of funding, marketing, and branding that has to happen first.

EH: Finally, what’s your take on the state of popular music today?

NH: Well, being an independent musician today, it is easier than ever to get your music out to anyone. It’s all about if you have the knowledge to reach the right people. It’s about finding your fan base and who wants to listen to your music. But there is such an influx of music on the internet that, in some ways, it’s never been easier and also never been harder to reach people.

Contacts: Instagram: @no_lmusic Facebook: www.facebook.com/noel.herbert.7902 Soundcloud: www.soundcloud.com/noelherbertmusic . You can also find his music through all the usual online sources: Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Prime.

Interview with Claudio Simonetti and Live Review of Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin at the Crofoot Ballroom

photo by Larry Fritzley

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Interview with Claudio Simonetti and Live Review of Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin at the Crofoot Ballroom, Pontiac, MI, October 14, 2019

Claudio Simonetti and the band Goblin are synonymous with the horror and suspense film genre. The Italian Brazilian-born keyboardist and composer Simonetti began his career in Europe in the early ‘70s playing in a band called Cherry Five. That initial group eventually morphed into what became the progressive rock powerhouse known as Goblin. The band’s partnership with famed Italian film director Dario Argento led to a flourishing career creating soundtracks for his suspenseful crime dramas and supernatural horror films like Deep Red/Profondo Rosso, Suspiria, Tenebrae, and a host of others. Both with Goblin and as a solo artist, Simonetti went on to compose soundtracks for many other directors such as Ruggero Deodato, Umberto Lenzi, Lucio Fulci, Lamberto Bava, and Sergio Martino.

photo by Larry Fritzley

Just in time for Halloween, we bring you an up close and personal conversation with Claudio Simonetti, as the band is currently on tour for its third U.S. leg since 2013. We also offer a recent show review from their stop in the Detroit area that was a rare occurrence indeed. So, sit back and enjoy a few moments with one of the legends of progressive rock and the global horror and suspense genre.

Eric Harabadian: Can you clarify the significance behind the band’s title?

Claudio Simonetti: After many member changes over the years I have my own band doing Goblin music.

photo by Eric Harabadian

EH: So, after various personnel changes, it’s back to you leading the band. How long has your current lineup been with you?

CS: My guitar player Bruno Previtali has been with me 20 years. My drummer Federico Maragoni has been with me six months, and our bass player Cecilia Nappo a year and a half. This is the band that recorded our new album.

EH: Can you tell me about the new album?

CS: The album is called “The Devil is Back” and has 10 brand new songs. At the same time we did a “Best Of” album which contains some of the most important songs taken from films like Zombi/Dawn of the Dead, Profondo Rosso, Suspiria, and Tenebrae. They were released for our U.S. tour but are available on Spotify and all the streaming services. Physical copies of the albums will be released everywhere in November of this year.

photo by Larry Fritzley

EH: How did you meet and work with director Dario Argento?

CS: I met Dario Argento in 1975 when he finished the film Deep Red/Profondo Rosso. He was looking for a band to score his picture. We had recorded one album under a different name but with the same members. And we worked with a producer that was already working with Dario. So, when Dario asked the producer for a band, he first wanted to contact Pink Floyd or Deep Purple. But the producer said, “No, I’m producing these Italian guys, and would you listen to them?” And so Dario came by the studio and listened to our music, loved it and decided to have us do the music for Deep Red. That was our first film with Dario, followed by Suspiria. We were very lucky because we were very young, but it worked out, too, because the soundtrack sold 4 million copies. It was incredible. This was especially weird for a prog band like us in Italy. Pop music was mostly big there then.

EH: And, of course, you’ve done a lot of music that goes beyond just horror films. Can you briefly talk about your process when you write for a movie?

CS: In the beginning I talk to the director, and I see the film. And I start to write some of the music for the scenes. Sometimes the director has suggestions, or they give me the freedom to do what I want. But I work watching the film, never before.

EH: Who are some of the biggest artistic influences that have figured into what you do?

CS: The big progressive bands from England like King Crimson, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Deep Purple, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

photo by Larry Fritzley

EH: How long has it been since you last toured with Goblin, and what has been the focus of this current tour?

CS: This is our third tour here. The first was in 2013 with different members. It was two from the original band and two from my band Daemonia. We did a second tour last year as Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin. Last year we played Suspiria, and this year Deep Red.

EH: In addition to this fall U.S. tour, you’re gonna be a part of “Cruise to the Edge” in April 2020, correct?

CS: Yeah, that will be a really good experience with a lot of big names. The band Yes is the main organizer of these gigs on a boat. I’m a big fan of Yes and grew up with them. It will be fantastic to be there. And we will be one of two Italian bands on the cruise. The other is Le Orme, another popular prog band from the ‘70s.

EH: You also worked with George Romero didn’t you?

CS: Actually, no. We did the soundtrack for Dawn of the Dead because Dario Argento asked us to change the music for the European version. I also did a vampire movie for Romero called Martin. But, again, I never did meet Romero directly. I finally did meet him in 2016, a year before he passed away. He was a very nice person.

photo by Eric Harabadian

EH: Your music encompasses so many different elements. How would you describe what you do?

CS: Now, my music is progressive like the ‘70s, but with new sounds. Maybe there is more energy too. I had this band in 2000 called Daemonia that was the same stuff but heavy metal. Now I’ve turned back to the original music. I’ve done a lot of film music for Dario like Phenomena and Opera; that was just me without Goblin. So, when I play live I play Goblin stuff and my stuff.

EH: You’ve played all around the world. Where are some of your favorite places to play and why?

CS: Well, the United States, of course. But we’ve had a lot of success in Japan. I go there every year. We will be going to Japan soon for two concerts where we will play the score to the film Tenebrae.

EH: What has the response been from fans to what you do?

CS: Every show is different. But you know what surprised me more was that young people know this music. I thought only my generation would remember, but there are 20- and 30-year-olds that come with the records and want my autograph. It makes me give thanks to the internet, you know. I don’t think there is nothing special with a lot of new music. I think young people find something new in our vintage music. There is some great new music but the vintage bands like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin are still the best.

EH: Well, I always felt your music has a timeless quality that spans generations.

CS: Yeah, many generations. My audience goes from 20 to 60 years old.

EH: So, is your emphasis now on performing live?

CS: Yes. I don’t work much with soundtracks now. I think it’s a bad period for films, especially horror because they tend to be low budget. I prefer to play live with my new and old stuff. It’s better for me now.

photo by Larry Fritzley

Capturing Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin live is a rare and cinematic experience. You certainly get your money’s worth. The band, in the midst of a multi-state U.S. fall tour, stopped in Pontiac, Michigan at the Crofoot Ballroom for a three-hour-plus extravaganza. The first two hours found the members of Goblin poised on stage, each with instruments in hand, as they diligently watched the screen tracking live the score to Dario Argento’s Deep Red. The 1975 murder/suspense/horror hybrid holds up all these years later, and the original soundtrack performed along with it adds to the film’s vibrancy. From the opening plotline development to the closing credits, watching Simonetti and the Goblin crew in action was a true joy to behold. It was a rare glimpse into the studio process where sound-to-picture aligns and comes alive. Deep Red’s story of musician and amateur sleuth Marcus Daly’s (played excellently by David Hemmings) search to find a psychic’s killer is advanced by the band in three dimensional audio. A lot of the music had a jazz-fusion quality to it that never sounds dated, even though Simonetti is performing music he originally scored for the picture over 40 years ago. During many of the set pieces, Previtali’s tasteful wailing guitar, Nappo’s hefty and lithe bass lines, coupled with Maragoni’s syncopated beats elevated the film’s images to greater heights.

One aspect of the first section of the concert with the film that was truly phenomenal was a scene where main character Marcus Daly is in a haunted mansion and looking for clues to a murder. As he begins striking a wall and attempts to bust through the plaster, drummer Maragoni fervently eyes the screen, matching drum hits to each strike of Daly’s hammer to the mansion wall. At that moment, one really felt like they were in the recording studio laying down the music cues to the film with the band.

photo by Larry Fritzley

After the film portion was done, Simonetti and company played another hour of various instrumental pieces from a host of other Argento films like Demons, Tenebrae, and George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. They also performed some brand new tunes from the album The Devil is Back. Smiles on stage lit up all around as Simonetti, Previtali, Nappo, and Maragoni locked in place and bounced all over the landscape, driving their unique brand of progressive rock and electronic-laced rhythms undeniably home.

Claudio Simonetti is truly one of the original masters of Italian rock and world class film scoring. Along with the new Goblin they bring a classic sound that should keep thrilling horror film fans, and just solid music fans, for some time to come. For more information on the band just go to www.goblinsimonetti.com.

Looking Ahead

Per the “tour dates” page on the band’s website, Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin will be in Kawasaki, Japan on October 25th and 26th and Berlin, Germany on October 31st, followed by gigs in Italy: November 1st in Lodi, November 14th in Pistoia, November 15th in Milano, and November 16th in Bologna. And they’ll be performing on Cruise to the Edge 2020, departing from Miami on March 27th, 2020.

Interview with Simon Scardanelli

Simon Scardanelli

photo courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

An insightful interview with the highly creative and much undervalued singer and songwriter Simon Scardanelli

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Singer and guitarist Simon Scardanelli has released many creatively successful albums, singles, and EPs since his initial chart success in the late ’80s with the duo Big Bam Boo. Following the U.S. top 40 hit “Shooting From My Heart” in 1989, Simon relocated from London to New York where he lived, worked and recorded for a few years in the underbelly of New York’s Lower East Side. His darkly challenging album Death Row Tales in 1994 bears testament to that dark and dangerous lifestyle. Since then he released 4 albums and 3 EPs, all embracing different aspects and genres of his musical passion.

Now spending most of his time living in France, he has spent the past few months busily making a new album, his first in three years. The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide will be released in September, and I tracked him down to his bespoke studio tucked away in beautiful Brittany in France where he kindly agreed to answer a few questions about it.

Q. Your last album, Make Us Happy, was released three years ago in 2016. Have you spent that time writing new material with the goal of making an album, or do you sit down and write the album once you have decided to make one?

Simon: The plan was to record and release a follow-up much sooner, but building the studio here in Brittany took much longer than expected. It was quite frustrating to be in this beautifully inspiring area but have no way to record, until I’d got my hands really dirty and finished the studio. I was writing all this time – I do tend to be always writing, or at least sketching and laying down ideas on my iPad or phone, but I was itching to get into the studio and record them. The studio was completed in October 2018, and I started work on the album I guess around November.

Q. How many songs would you typically write whilst making a new album and do you find yourself being very critical of what you write, to the extent that maybe there are songs you recorded that you have left off?

Simon: What tends to happen is I have a lot (tens, probably more) of basic sketches, some more complete than others. Then a few will start to emerge as definite contenders. Around these I’ll start to form an idea for the overall shape of an album. The album started out with the title Wood Amongst the Trees, but I’d already sketched the title The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide as a possible song title in a separate thread of my sketches, intending that for a different album. Then as the songs started to emerge I realised the themes were pushing me towards The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide, so I shelved the Wood album ideas and started to look for the rest of the songs for this album. Yes, I’m super-critical of what I write! Much gets thrown away – or at least stored in folders called “song ideas” by year, such that I have countless possibilities to go back over, which I do from time to time. Occasionally I’ll dig into these archives and pull something out that I complete. My last single, “Human Nature,” was one of these that had been sitting on file for at least a year or more – not lyrically, just the guitar shapes and song melody. As to leaving off songs that are completed: not often really, as I find the process of completing the song in the first place pretty well determines whether it’s going to make the album. So if a song is not coming up to scratch, it doesn’t get finished. At that point I should throw it away… but it ends up in an “ideas” folder anyway. There was one complete song that didn’t make this album, though it was intended to be included – when I came to sequence the songs, I simply couldn’t fit this in. Thematically it was wrong. It’s a song called “Mary’s Home,” about a woman I met when I was in my 20s who’d spent most of her adult life in an asylum, and was child-like at 45, working as a cleaner in a cafe I worked in briefly. When all the songs were completed this one really didn’t fit. Not sure if I’ll release it or put it on another album. We’ll see. Also the single “Without You,” from the end of 2018, was originally meant to be on this album, but that was from the Wood Amongst the Trees mindset, and again, I didn’t really feel it belonged on this album. I’ve been playing it a lot live and actually want to re-record it as there’s a tiny error in the middle 8 lyric that bugs me, and I think it’s benefited (as most songs do) from being performed a lot. So it may end up on an album called Wood Amongst the Trees, or I may scrap that concept altogether and include this on a different album. There’s also the possibility that I re-record it with musicians in a different style; I never know…

Simon Scardanelli

photo courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

Q. After recording the songs how much do you have to listen and live with the tracks until you’re finally happy to release them, and do you ever listen back to your old albums and enjoy them, or do you hear all the things you wish, in hindsight, you had done to them?

Simon: Oh blimey that’s a can of worms! For this album I was trying to keep everything very live and spontaneous. I didn’t want a big production – Make Us Happy wasn’t a “big” production, but it had different forces and was definitely a project that took some serious mixing and editing, arranging etc. Most of that album had percussionist Javier Forero playing cajón, so I recorded that first with a guide, sometimes final, acoustic guitar part, then built everything around that. So violins, saxophone, clarinet, accordion, etc. were all added one by one, and that meant I could do several takes of each instrument, then compile the best takes. It also meant that I could really take time getting the vocal takes I wanted. The new album, however, I recorded mostly in one takes – vocal and guitar together. And this ended up giving me a completely different set of problems, ones that ended up being every bit as challenging as the multi-track approach. So my original idea, to quickly lay down an acoustic one-take album, went out of the window very quickly! I had to make some serious compromises. Firstly, I was playing every song finger style, something I’d been drawn back to these past couple of years – I studied classical guitar in the ’80s but hadn’t used finger style much in the intervening years. Now playing finger style and singing at the same time is – for me, at least – not as comfortable as plectrum playing. Or, at least, I had to re-learn how to do this. So as I was writing I was also exploring techniques – “Human Nature – the Cry,” for example, is an arpeggio (p.i.m.a. for those who play classical; I’ve written the score and it is available!) played throughout the entire song, and a couple of the shapes are a bit tricky to manage – and my engineering and producer head shouted at me whenever I misplayed or crashed a finger on a string, or let the wrong string ring, etc., etc. So I had ongoing battles between perfection and performance at every take. On top of that, when you’re doing loads of takes to try and get the playing exactly right and perfectly in time – can’t click-track this kind of thing – there’s often an engineering problem; you move a few inches to the left and go off mic, or the guitar develops a buzz (this happened to my lovely Furch, un-beknown to me the under-floor heating that I thought was so clever to install in the control room dried out the Furch sitting on a floor stand…) Add to that the necessity to get a great vocal at the same time and – well, it was to say the least a very frustrating process. In fact “Human Nature – the Cry” led to bleeding fingers on my right hand as I played the arpeggio over and over for three days to get it right… ah, so that’s why classical guitars have nylon strings!

So listen and live with the tracks? Yes, and try not to be so OCD about sound quality or timing issues or mis-fingerings, etc. The song “Different” caused me real heartache! So the original almost-demo version I laid down was in my view the best I’d ever sung it. The falsetto voice in the choruses had exactly the fragility I wanted. But some of the verses weren’t great. For a couple of weeks I’d record another version and then leave it a day or two to compare. Always came back to the very flawed first take. But I knew I simply couldn’t get away with it. So eventually managed to re-record a version I was happy with – performance-wise – only to find that the final chorus was really distorted on the guitar mic. The guitar part throughout is very delicate, and I’d obviously set the input level to suit that. But with no possibility to adjust it when I got to the end (the perils of working solo), there was a very limited amount of headroom to play with, and I crashed through that. In the end I had to live with it.

I don’t tend to listen to old albums, though when I do hear tracks I’m usually just about OK with the result from that distance, with the exception of the Dr. Scardo album Dark Dog Days; I hate the sound of that album. I was working in a leased studio (before I built my studio in the back garden) that had the worst control room ever, and I tried to compensate for so much, ended up over-compressing and distorting much of the album. I keep saying I’ll re-mix and master it, but it’s such a big job I probably won’t; I tend to want to move forward always and not dwell on past recordings.

Q. You write, record, and produce your music in your own custom studio. Do you like the autonomy of working this way, or would you like to work with a producer who would take some of the creative decisions for you? I think I am right to say that the last time you were produced by someone else was back in your Big Bam Boo days (for the uninitiated, check out the 1989 album Fun Faith and Fairplay),although you did have others working with you on the recording, mix and mastering of your acoustic album Hobohemia in 2005.

Simon: Well, I’d absolutely love to have a producer or an engineer work with me! But the reality of being an independent self-releasing artist is that there is simply no money for that. In the “old days,” signed to a label, a well-rehearsed band could put an album together in weeks with the right team. And certainly sharing some of the creative decision-making would take the album in different ways and could be rewarding. However, I do like the autonomy, of course. I’m not trying to either “get a deal” – or compete with anyone with my artistic output. So I’ve no “sound” to mimic or achieve in order to satisfy some vague industry trend or standard. In fact, I think music has become so commodified and coded that as an independent artist I feel an obligation to do exactly what I want, even to the point of it not appealing to mass media. I’ve learned to make records (let’s call them that – they are a record, a document of artistic statement of a particular time, not a product to be foisted upon a gullible public!) that satisfy, or at least attempt to satisfy, my artistic development. The popular song format has been around a very long time, and my duty as an artist is to try and stretch it, build upon the format, just a little. Not revolutionary, just evolutionary. Trying to dig into the genre and dig into my inner musician to see if I can add something to the cannon.

Hobohemia was interesting in the making in that I hadn’t recorded for many, many years. In fact, I was rather out of voice at the time and had only just started playing live again. So whilst I had an engineer at the studio, it was pretty well straight takes. I called in my friend Richard Mainwaring (producer of the first Big Bam Boo album, with a very fine set of ears!) to help me master it in my then-damp, dark studio basement, and that was really helpful. However, going back to your earlier question, I cannot listen to that album at all! For me the voice is strained and restricted. I was an emotional wreck at the time, going through divorce, becoming a single parent, etc., and it shows. When asked at gigs which album they should buy, I tend to steer people away from that one, even though my attic has plenty of stock that I should be shifting! I always feel that they may be disappointed by it, having seen me live currently. But then again, plenty who do buy it tell me they love it so… what does the artist know? Nothing!

Q. Your new album is an acoustic, solo affair. This is only the second time you have made a whole album like that. As I mentioned, Hobohemia was your previous acoustic album, and it includes one of your most popular songs “Fish Out Of Water.” Did that have any influence on your decision to make the new album, or is there a particular story and theme behind the new album that made you think it should be recorded in an acoustic style? I believe you recorded the songs in live takes. Did that present you with any particular difficulties?

Simon: Well, yes, difficulties I’ve already spoken about, and in future if I record this way I probably will take the songs out live for a time first to really know them and break them in. I think there may have been a small influence of the Hobohemia legacy that made me want to do a totally acoustic album, but mainly it was that here in France, where I’ve lived for a couple of years now, my audiences are mostly real listening audiences. It’s the reception I get here that encouraged me to write songs that were less “in your face” than before. So songs like “Patience” or “Requiem,” from the new album, go down really well here, even though not everyone understands the lyrics to any real extent, but they do seem to get the overall emotional story. And that is an interesting situation for me, as I began my songwriting career as a 16 year old trying to write interesting, lyrical, and not very commercial songs in my various bedsits and hippy camps! Some time around the ’80s I must have decided that I needed a “record deal,” and that’s when the art took second place, I think. So, in a way, being here is a return to an artistic sensibility not based on any commercial considerations. I’m pretty sure I can say that I wouldn’t have written most of this album had I still been in the UK and trying to gig there.

Q. Do you think in the future you may return to a full band sound like you had on Make Us Happy, or would you even consider working collaboratively with musicians in a band as you did in 2013 on your Dr. Scardo album Dark Dog Days? What are the pros and cons of working these ways and in the end do you actually prefer working alone?

Simon: Definitely planning a follow up to Make Us Happy; I’ve wanted to for a while. It may be called Makes Us Mad, as the political situation worldwide continues to deteriorate and distress me. I have started collecting musicians I feel would work for this next ensemble piece. I want to see if I could get a near-full Breton musician line-up. So that’s probably my next move. There are sketches in a folder, and of course the studio is ready. Biggest problem here is everyone lives 50 kilometres away from anything. So getting disparate forces together the way I could in Brighton in the UK is a far harder task. But, fortunately, most of the musicians I’ve met are keen to be involved in anything challenging and new, so that’ll happen eventually.

I’ve also just this week had a visit from an old friend from my Berlin and New York days, who has been living back in Australia these past 5 years. I last saw him in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he was living, designing sets for the Kirov Ballet. We did a couple of great shows there with his band. He’s putting a really exciting audio-visual project together, and it looks as if I’ll get involved. It’ll be a live show over three days in a theatre in Edinburgh next year, not available as a recording, but as a video eventually. Something big and noisy and completely uncompromisingly art-rock! As to a rock outfit like Dr. Scardo, probably not, but I did recently meet a piano player and rhythm section at a “boef” (a jam session) in Dinan, and we promised we’d try and get together and do something. I’m keen to try a sort of piano trio with guitar outfit in a cabaret type of setting, sort of louche and slightly decadent. Funny enough a few of my songs will work as they are with a piano backing. We’ll see!

Q. After over 30 years of writing songs do you feel more creatively equipped and inspired now than in the past, and do you continue to strive to find words and music to illustrate your songs that stand out from the ordinary and contrived songwriting, that could be said to be widespread these days? Is it possible that this laudable attribute in making your songs as interesting and challenging as you can could somehow mean people find it hard to pigeon hole your style? This is probably a good thing anyway, isn’t it? I mean, after all, great songs are exactly that, whatever their style or genre, and who wants to ruled by what people expect you to do or sound like? Has it held you back, or are you past caring?

Simon: More equipped, definitely. Inspired, too, but it is always hard work, my cliché-o-meter works overtime. Certainly that means I’m not pigeonholed, but it makes following my own path harder, and whilst musicians now have the means of production, the sheer volume of noise out there makes it very difficult to be heard. As to being held back or whatever, I really don’t know. I’m not good at self-promotion. I used to be way back in London in the ’80s when I was flogging my various bands, but now I really don’t know how to do all that stuff, so I’m not past caring, but I am really more interested in spending my time creating works of beauty.

Q. Once the album is released in September, what do you plan to do next?

Simon: I’m already planning the next projects as I’ve said, Breton musicians, cabaret quartet, and Edinburgh project – no doubt something else will come up, too, that may distract me from all or any of these projects. The important thing is to be always creating, always writing. I intend to also spend my time booking shows here in France, build up my network of musicians for my own projects, and possibly get involved in others.

So after a thoroughly enjoyable, insightful and enlightening conversation with Simon in his lovely French countryside studio I thanked him kindly and wished him well before heading off to listen to my copy of his new album which I shall enjoy reviewing for you next month.

Interview with Carmine Appice and Album Review: Camine Appice – Guitar Zeus

photo courtesy of Anne Leighton Media

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Interview with Carmine Appice interspersed with Album Review of Carmine Appice: Guitar Zeus

Carmine Appice is a true living rock and roll legend. His credentials are practically unparalleled when it comes to accomplishments in modern music. He’s a drummer, vocalist, songwriter, author, educator, storyteller and, overall, raconteur who has done it all. Beginning his professional career in the ‘60s with Vanilla Fudge, Appice created the template for contemporary rock as we know it. Predating and paving the way for Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, and a number of guitar and theatrically-based bands, Appice almost single-handedly forged the genre known as “stoner rock.” The drummer-vocalist was also a founding member of the bands Cactus and worked with Jeff Beck and VF bassist Tim Bogert in Beck, Bogert & Appice. Perhaps one of Appice’s most commercially significant musical stints was as a member of Rod Stewart’s band. It was there that he also wrote one of Rod’s biggest hits to date, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” and the follow up “Young Turks.” During the ‘80s, Appice worked with Ozzy Osbourne, Ted Nugent, Edgar Winter and led his own groups King Kobra and Blue Murder.

image courtesy of Anne Leighton Media

Currently, Appice is on the promotion trail discussing the re-release of a major recording project he began in the mid-‘90s called Guitar Zeus. In it, the drummer/producer brought together some of the finest guitarists of all time to collaborate on a multiple original song project that brought various genres of hard rock to the forefront.

“Actually, this idea started in ’95 and ’97 when I was working in a band called Mother’s Army with Joe Lynn Turner and Bob Daisley,” explains Appice. “I was doing searches for band names because it had been ten years since I did a solo album and I wanted to do something new.”

It took Appice a couple years to get a record deal for his new project, but, as fate would have it, he did a clinic at a music store with guitarist Brian May. At that time Appice came up with the concept of guest guitarists from various genres appearing on his solo album, so May ended up being the first artist he asked. Ted Nugent was also invited as well as the members of Kings X and many other artists.

“I finally got this deal out of Japan and I recorded it,” says Appice. “I did two records, and it cost me $100,000. I paid everyone who played on it the going rate and Guitar Zeus was released in Europe and Asia. It sold over 150,000 records worldwide. It was finally released in the U.S. in 2005 with a European label that eventually went out of business. I decided I wanted to re-release these albums because everybody that’s on it is big again.”

And there is a virtual who’s who of rock guitar on Guitar Zeus. The list will surely make any serious music and guitar fan salivate profusely. On-board are Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, Richie Sambora, Steve Morse, Brian May, Ted Nugent, Slash, Neal Schon, Yngwie Malmsteen, dUg Pinnick, Pat Travers, Vivian Campbell, Jennifer Batten, Warren DeMartini, Elliot Easton, Bruce Kulick, Dweezil Zappa, Paul Gilbert, Leslie West, and many others.

“Of course, Brian May is huge now with all the movie stuff as well as Neal Schon with Journey,” says Appice. “But back in the ‘90s, grunge was big, and we were all dinosaurs. I spent most of the ‘90s working in Japan because a lot of folks didn’t wanna hear from guys of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and even ‘80s. I also had a bunch of tracks that never really made it to the American version of this project.”

Brian May and Carmine Appice; photo courtesy of Anne Leighton Media

Guitar Zeus features over 30 original tracks all digitally re-mastered by Stephen DeAcutis and executive produced by Carmine Appice himself. The core band on each track consists of all stars Tony Franklin on bass; Kelly Keeling on vocals, keys, and rhythm guitar; and, of course, Appice on drums. Highlights of some of the tunes include Brian May’s wah-wah guitarwork on “Nobody Knew,” Steve Morse’s dark proggy Jeff Beck-like licks on “4 Miles High,” Ted Nugent’s inspired feedback-drenched fretwork on “Days Are Nights,” Pat Travers’ re-make of “Do You Think I’m Sexy,” and many other performances too numerous to mention. It’s a very special digital release that will be available on all platforms along with special vinyl and CD editions.

“A lot of people will finally get to hear this that never heard it before,” says Appice. “There is a Soundgarden meets Blue Murder kind of vibe with the tunes that has a lot of guitar playing and jamming like the ‘70s. Each song has its own tuning and is unique. And there is a lot of ear candy on here where the mix moves the music around the speakers like in the days of The Beatles’ Revolver or Sgt. Pepper where sounds would move from left to right in your head.”

For all the information on Guitar Zeus and Carmine Appice, just go to www.guitarzeus.net and www.carmineappice.net.

This Weekend

On Saturday, March 30th, Appice will be teaching a Drum Master Class at the Trilogy Lounge in Seymour, CT. On June 29th, he’ll be performing as a member of Vanilla Fudge at the Boulton Center in Bay Shore, NY. Watch Carmine Appice’s website for additional dates, and be sure the double-check with the venue to confirm.