Demetris "All Around" Katsikis
Nine solo albums and twelve ones as TAYLOR'S UNIVERSE! Avant-prog at its best with a mixture of numerous variations and some really strong jazz underpinnings. The story of one of the most prominent prog composers and multi-instrumentalists in the whole history of progressive music. Want some more? Sure! Prog ladies and gentlemen, ROBIN TAYLOR just opened the mindgates of his own universe and is leading us into the Eden of his own music world. Are his words a nonsense interview as he claims them to be, or, is that a "Return to whatever", as the title of one of his albums claims? No, not at all. "Return to INSPIRATION", we'd paraphraze!
Dear Robin thank you in advance for taking part in this interview! It’s an honor for all of us!
Where this interview finds you? What are your current musical activities?
I've just got up from bed. I was trying to take a nap; I have a bad cold, but all the coughing kept me from sleeping. My current musical activities are not so musical at the moment; I'm doing promotion work on my latest release, Worn Out!
Progarchives database mentions that you are “composer, multi-instrumentalist, sound manipulator, arranger, producer and record label owner”. How do you accomplish all these multiple roles in your daily life? What do you enjoy most?
It's just a matter of being flexible, doing what the situation needs. And also do the things, that on one else wants to do. Oh yeah, I love experimenting in the studio, taking all the freedom there is. Being a record label owner isn't all that funny, but it does give me freedom to record and release whatever I want to, without having big discussions with other people. But it's hard work and sometimes quite dissatisfying, when the CDs keep piling up everywhere, because the demand isn't what you'd been hoping for!
It’s true that labels run through touch times in today’s contemporary music scene. What’s your opinion on that matter as a record label owner? And, what’s the future for them?
Oh, I fear the worst, when we're speaking of music as a physical product. No need to say, what I think of music streaming. It's not for the benefit of the artists!
Have you any influences as a musician and as an artist?
My musical influences are countless: Since I started to have an interest in music as a kid in the '60s, I've been learning by listening - but I haven't taken much interest in 'new' music through the latest decades, as I hear very little, that I haven't heard before. For me the times of true pioneering were in the '60s and '70s, so that's what inspires me. Just call me an old-fashioned fool, I don't mind; I can tell the difference between the real and the imitation stuff!
You have a prolific and highly productive musical career with so many solo albums (9 studio) and TAYLOR’S UNIVERSE ones (12 studio). When someone listens to all these records (by the way, thanks a lot for your generous offer to send us most of them!!!), she/he is in front of a wide and vast palette of soundscapes and numerous prog genres. How would you describe your musical identity to someone that is not familiar with your music? We believe that the term R.I.O. /Avant prog is not always representative of your music although it often characterizes your musical direction.
Now you got me - I don't think, I can giver you a proper answer to that question... I can mention groups and artists, that have been important to me - but that doesn't say much about my own music. I have no education at all in music, I've never studied composition of any kind, so I guess my musical language is a kind of Esperanto, based on whatmade the greatest impression on me, while listening to bands in my youth. I went all the way from The Beatles over ELP and King Crimson, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Zappa - to ECM jazz and so-called modern classical composers. I don't know how to label my music; some say it's Avant prog, some say it's not!
After more than three decades of musical experience (we know that you played the bass guitar in several local groups, but we don’t know their names actually!!) almost two decades of playing music, recording, experimenting with different sounds, producing albums and playing live, what’s your state of affairs concerning music? That is, what’s and how do you see the term “music”?
The groups, I were part of as a bass player in the '70s, are not worth speaking of. It was a time of learning for me, when I started to compose material myself - but none of the groups had enough skills to make it sound right. Something first started to happen, when I became interested in recording the music myself. And when I listen to these very noisy and primitive recordings today, I realize, that the difference isn't far from what, my music sounds like today. Seems like, I found my 'trade mark' in those years. Of course the sound and craft has improved essentially, but many ideas, I came up with in the day, still has some value, and I have actually done several re-recordings from the old stuff in recent time. My answer to your question should be, that music - for me - is my 'second voice', speaking a language that some people - luckily - find no trouble in understanding!
Tell us some things about your collaborations with other musicians, e.g., your collaborations with Jan Marsfeldt, MadsHansen, Hugh Steinmetz, Jakob Mygind, Karsten Vogel, Rasmus Grosell, Michael Denner et al. musicians through all these years. We also don’t know about other collaborations you had during 70’s and 80’s. Any behind the scenes info would be appreciated here!!
I met Jan Marsfeldt, when we both attended an art school in 1988. He was much younger than me (had just left secondary school), and like me he was interested in art and hoping to get some inspiration during this five month course. He didn't have any musical experience - apart from some practicing on his parents piano. I hadn't been musically active for a couple of years, but though we'd rather study the visual arts, we were both persuaded to join the music lessons as well. It was terrible - but Jan and I found out, we were sharing an interest in the same kind of music, and when I played him some of my own tapes, it was like a revelation to him. We quit the lessons and started working together on my ideas, and we soon became very ambitious. After the course had ended, we kept contact and the following year, we were working on what was to become my first album, Essay - released in 1990. It was recorded under VERY primitive conditions (and sounds like shit!) - but we were proud, we had made it. Jan remained my working partner for the following five or six years, until he became a family man and lost interest in music. Mads Hansen was the drummer, who played on the first couple of releases by Taylor's Universe. When Jan and I formed TU (around 1993), we didn't know any drummers with high skills, but then at a concert during that year's Copenhagen Jazz Festival, we saw Mads doing a great job with a young fusion group, he was in at the time, so we simply asked him after the gig, if he'd like to come to a recording studio and play his drums on a weird project of ours - and he was on right away. With trumpeter, Hugh Steinmetz, it was a little different: I had never heard much of his playing, but I knew, from what I had read, that he was one of the 'big shots' in the '60s, when avant-garde jazz had its peak in Denmark. He later disappeared from public in a matter of years, because of illness - but now he was fighting his way back. By coincidence my father knew Hugh's father, so I took the chance phoning him, telling him who I was, and that I needed a trumpet player for a recording job in the studio, where something strange was going to happen. Hugh didn't have a clue, what he was going into - but luckily he agreed without reservations. Sax player Jakob Mygind, was a hero of mine, from his time in one of the '70s most exciting jazz-rock groups here in Denmark, Coma. We also spoke after a concert in Copenhagen, he was part of, and he was so down to earth, that I didn't hesitate to ask him, when saxophones were needed for the first TU album. He's actually made a strong re-appearance in later years, but that was on suggestion from his old Coma bandmate, Klaus Thrane (also a huge favourite of mine), who I made connection with via the internet a few years ago. Klaus is probably my best choice for TU. Sax player Karsten Vogel is one of my grand heroes from the Danish scene, as I grew up with the music of his groupsBurnin' Red Ivanhoe and Secret Oyster. When I first got the opportunity to include him in my work, that was a very big moment in my career. After a short spell in a project of Hugh Steinmetz', Communio Musica, we've continued working together for many years. First time was on the third album by TU, Experimental Health in 1998, but he's also been a regular guest on many of my solo albums. We also had a side project, Taylor's Free Universe, which was actuallyKarsten's idea. (More about that later!) Rasmus Grosell was a drummer, I was recommended, when Mads Hansen no longer had time to play, after he had committed himself to become an airline pilot. Rasmus took over in TU - as well as performing on several of my solo projects. Guitarist Michael Denner has also left his mark on a few of my recordings... Michael is an international heavy metal legend (Mercyful Fate, King Diamond), but as strange as it may sound, he also found it would be cool to put his fingerprint on a progressive album. We know each other from his second hand record shop, Beat Bop, here in Copenhagen, where he has a great variety of all kinds of music. He had been listening to some of my stuff and one day he asked me, how I would feel about giving him the chance to play on one of my projects. I said: Sure, why not! - so we recorded the album, Soundwall, which became rather successful in many ways. We continued for a couple of albums more - but the magic wasn't quite the same as on Soundwall, so we split ways.
I love your solo albums “Samplicity” and “Isle of black” a little bit more than others. I think they are more adventurous and experimental, even though these are more of subjective interpretations from my part. What’s so unique about those albums? And, what are the similarities and the differences of your solo efforts?
I typically allow myself more freedom, when I work on what's to become a solo release, because I can forget about the TU 'formula'. Not that I regard TU as being commercial - absolutely not - but I just don't bring the music as far, as I sometimes do on a solo project!
Though, I prefer more your work with TAYLOR’S UNIVERSE. I think that “Soundwall”, “Once again”, “Certain undiscoveries” and “Return to whatever” are your personal apogees (not listened to you latest yet, hehe)! Again, what are the similarities and the differences of your TAYLOR’S UNIVERSE albums? And what are the similarities or/and differences between your solo efforts and those albums? That is, are your solo albums more introvert than TAYLOR’S NIVERSE albums and do the former express better you inner world than the latter?
My solo albums are not necessarily more introvert than anything else, I do - but I like TU to be accessible to a certain degree, so I won't cause too much confusion. Some people already aquainted with TU would probably be chocked when hearing a few of the things, that came out in my own name. You can't expect people to like everything you do, when you sometimes turn radical, because that's a direction you'd like to explore!
We also read about a side project of yours called ART CINEMA. Please provide us with some essential info for that project.
Art Cinema was Michael Denner's idea. He had a friend, an unknown singer/songwriter, who had written a lot of songs. They had for years been talking about making a record together, but nothing had come of it. After Soundwall had just been released, Denner made me the suggestion, that the three of us should try to make this album of songs together, and I said: Why not. It would be a challenge for me to work with a singer, so they handed me a lot of demos to choose from. I started to make new arrangements of the songs, we were going to record, and in no time action had taken off in the studio. Suddenly Denner got one of his 'issues' with his big ego, and he no longer wanted to do it. The singer/songwriter guy felt, he would be disloyal to his big hero, if he stayed, so he also quit the project. That really pissed me off; I stood back with a halfway recorded project, that wasn't mine - but had cost me lots of hard labour and money. Well, I didn't want to give it all up, so I brought in a female singer, I knew, and a few more very good players for the completion. The project was rescued, and got maybe even better, than it was originally planned; the album was released (in 2008), achieved very good reviews in the international press - but was sadly ignored by the public!
You also had some collaboration with the Russian label MALS records. Why is that? We ask this because you already had your own label. Was that a promotion tactic from your part?
Having your own record label isn't the same as being a successful record seller. I got an offer from MALS, that I knew wouldn't bring me any money - but if they could break a few barriers distribution-wise, that would be alright with me at the time. They actually succeeded in selling what they had in stock (five titles) in a short matter of time, and I doubt they made much money from it, as CDs are sold ridiculously cheap in Russia!
What’s your personal philosophy in life? How do you cope with barriers? And, simultaneously, how do you build your strengths?
My personal philosophy in life is to be good at what you do, and to do what you feel like doing. Otherwise you're heading in a wrong direction!
Where do you attract so much inspiration that you fully instill it in your albums then? What’s the motive behind your unending productivity?
I'm not aware, where inspiration comes from - but I've always been an imaginative and creative person. That's just the difference between human beings, I guess. You can't be good at everything, and I am certainly not (ha-ha-ha)!
What would you suggest to someone who desires to play some prog music out there?
Don't become a prog musician (or any other 'serious' musician for that matter), if you don't have 'it' in you. There's too many musicians out there with absolutely nothing to offer, because they've chosen their profession out of the wrong reasons (greed for money, for example). Everybody can learn to play an instrument; that's just exercise - but if you haven't got talent, you will never become an artist!
What are the reactions of the people who come to your live shows?
Opposite most of my colleages, I don't like performing live. In the beginning of the millennium Karsten Vogel talked me into forming a side project for live performances. As Taylor's Free Universe we played at a dozen clubs and festivals: free, totally improvised music. Sometimes it was kind of exciting - sometimes it wasn't (according to me), and we had a few hard-core fans, who thought we were awesome - but when the size of an audience, who attend these concerts, rarely exceed 15-25 people, it's not much fun. I don't miss it!
What is prog rock for you? And prog music in general, anyway? We think this is a concept and not a genre, as many insist to believe. Also, what do you think about the future of prog rock and prog music in general?
Prog rock to me will always be the music, I grew up with in the '70s. Or rather: Most of the (non-commercial) music of the '70s was progressive - until adventurous and complex (rock-) music forms were doomed in the latter half of the decade, thanks to a bunch of leading people from the media, who declared, that real new music had to be dead simple - and most people believed, they were right. Call it fashion! I don't really believe, that progressive rock survived the '70s; the music of today, called prog rock, hasn't got much to do with the '70s music - apart from all the cliches. There's too much 'retro'; the originality is gone. I don't say, that the future won't bring us more progressive music - but it wil sound different. That's about the concept. You can't go on making music, that sounds like it did 40 years ago and believe, it's progressive. Prog rock, yes - but that's different; that has become a genre - a label!
What music do you listen to this period? What are your musical inspirations too?
I don't listen to as much music, as people might think. I have a solid collection of 'old' music, and when I feel like listening to a record, I'm always able to find something that will match the mood, I'm in!
How is life in Denmark? And, how is the Danish music scene actually?
Denmark is alright in many ways, if it wasn't for the long cold and dark winters. The Danish music scene is awful!Any plans for a DVD.
Have you ever provided your music to a film? That would be magical!! Also, any plans for a DVD? And, last but least,have you ever thought to work with a symphonic orchestra?
Many years ago I contributed a few parts to the soundtrack for a Danish (unknown) short film. That's the only time, I've made film music by request - but in later years, some of my album material has been used with great effect in TV documentaries! Also, a DVD would be very awkward to make, as the recording studio doesn't give you much opportunity to make interesting visuals (unless you are a prominent filmmaker). Finally, working with a symphony orchestra... Yeah, if I was a millionaire...
Tell us about any upcoming albums and collaborations. Also, which are some of your plans for the future?
I haven't any plans as such, apart from taking up work on a new album soon!
Did you ever had any contact with Greek people, in terms of music (for a possible live here etc.) or in terms of simply contact with them. Have you ever been in Greece? [Maybe JustIn Case Prog Radio could mediate about that! It’s in our future plans, actually!)]
I don't know why, but this is the first time ever I've been in contact with Greek people, when it comes to my music. And yes, I have been to Greece. I was on vacation on Rhodes with my parents in 1965, when I was only 9. I remember the heat (it was summer), the beautiful nature - and that the record shops had Beatles records. That impressed me!
A message from your part for the listeners of JustIn Case Prog Radio and all the prog’n’rollers out there is…
I hope the readers will get the opportunity to listen to some of my music on your radio - and hopefully like it!
Anything that you might add?
Thanks for letting me spread out a lot of nonsense in this interview! LOL
Dear Robin, thanks a lot about answering those few (lol!!!!) questions!
Demetris “All Around” Katsikis
Founder and Progducer of JustIn Case Radio (www.justincaseradio.com)