Demetris "All Around" Katsikis
Apostolis "Retromaniac" Psarros
All out! This is the only thing we thought when this prolific musician and songwriter provided us with this interview below! Gee, what a progger! Fabio Zuffanti of HOSTSONATEN and a bunch of numerous others Italian prog bands shares with us all the petites nuances of his musical life and uncovers some of the most adventurous info concerning most of his projects! One of the most important figures in contemporary prog music unveils himself like a prog rose and carries on the flame of originality!
Well, Fabio, thanks a lot for your participation in this interview! It’s our honor to host your point-of-view in our radio (www.justincaseradio.com)!
The honour is mine, thanks very much!
Hello Fabio! Where are you now? Where this interview finds you exactly?!
I'm in my home-studio in Genoa, where I have all the equipment essential to the composition. It 'a small room but there are all the things that can be useful; an iMac, two guitars, a bass and a keyboard.
According to our info you are a multi-instrumentalist and a composer. Tell us some things about your career history concerning the above roles. How did you decide to become a bassist? Have you made any studies?
I was born in 1968 and I started to play the guitar in 1981, at the age of 13, because my father and my major brother played it. My brother also played bass guitar so in our house there was an acoustic guitar and an electric bass and I learned to play first the guitar and then the bass. My brother was the strongest influence for me when I was a child because he listened lots of music, had a great stereo hi-fi and a lots of records (vinyl) and books. In the middle of the '70's, when I was a little child, for me his room was a sort of "room of dreams". The music he listened, the covers of the albums (I remember very well the covers of "In the wake of Poseidon", "Nursery cryme" or "The end of an ear") was something magic and full of fascinating. A lot of my musical inspiration starts from these days.
What are your influences as a musician and as an artist? Influences that you have as role models in your life.
When I started to listen music for my own, in 1980-1982, there was a lot of new wave groups. So I discovered bands like Simple Minds, Ultravox, U2, Cure, etc... that I liked very much. Then I also re-discovered prog music without the aid of my brother and still today I remember very well the night in 1981 when I listened for the first time an old album of Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso (“Banco”, 1975). It was a great moment for me. Finally I re-discovered the magic sound of when I was a little child. From that moment prog music became a strong part of my life, not forgetting also the other music that I’ve listened. Prog, new wave, experimental, Italian songwriting, electronic, folk all together formed my musical tastes.
In your great number of albums you started with a classic Italian Prog style, but as time unfolded one can find also elements from Folk, World Music, Ambient, Electronic Music and other styles. Did you want to create such ambitious works already from your starting point of your career or was it something that surfaced through the sands of time?
Me and musicians with which I played we've always had wide musical influences. Finisterre, the group with which I started my musical career, was composed of musicians very open and interested in many different musical styles. In fact, in our albums there's a lot of symphonic progressive but also electronic music, folk, jazz, experimental, minimalism, pop and much more. I think that this very eclectic attitude had distinguished us from the "classic" prog bands and with all my other projects I did nothing but develop this attitude.
After almost two decades of recording, producing albums and playing live, actually how do you handle time with so many different projects? And how do you choose your priorities?
I dedicate the right time to each project and I try not to cross things. Right now for example I'm working on the promotion of the new album of Maschera Di Cera that comes out in these days. At the same time, in my spare time, I'm composing new Höstsonaten. However, when the album of MDC will be out and we starts concerts I will be 100% committed to the group. Once this is done then I will concentrate on other projects. Until now I was able to handle the work in this way and I hope to continue in the future.
You already have a prolific career with numerous musical initiations and collaborations such as Aries, Finisterre, Höstsonaten, laZona, La Maschera Di Cera, Quadraphonic, Rohmer, R.u.g.h.e., L’Ombra Della Sera between others (we kindly require to provide them for us!). What’s the source of all this creativity force? And, how do you choose the musical identity-direction of every new project from your part?
Everything comes from the variety of my musical influences and my desire to measure myself always in new musical challenges. For example, if I listen to an album of electronic music that I really like I ask myself "What could be if I'd do it ?". So I start to compose and experiment to see what I can do with these different musical styles. Thus were born the album of groups as R.U.G.H.E. (industrial music), laZona (post-rock), Quadraphonic (avant-garde) and many others. With the classic prog instead I go on the safe side; it is the music that I know best and love most and then I know how to compose it, although I always enjoy include elements that can make a distinctive and original piece.
I (Demetris "All Around" Katsikis) think "Rainsuite" from “Winterthrough” (2008) is one of your musical apogees! Especially to me, when I listen to this suite, I always say to myself “This is one of the reasons why I like progressive rock so much”. Give us some details about this song, that is, inspiration, composition, recording, emotions, and thoughts from your part, from the part of the listeners etc.
Thanks very much, also I think that “Rainsuite” is one of my top as a composer. All has begun with the composition of one of its section (“New year's theme”) the night of New Year 2000 at the piano in England. From this little piece the whole suite has evolved in the following years, piece after piece. I like particularly the section “Winter's end”, I think is one of the strongest melodies I've ever wrote.
Also, with HOSTSONATEN you released four albums in a row inspired by the four seasons of the year. Was that a VIVALDI inspiration or something else?
No, Vivaldi has nothing to do. I simply wanted to describe some particular human feelings at the changing of the seasons. Joy, melancholy, sadness, solitude, euphoria, etc... Vivaldi was more focused on nature, me on man.
We think “Winterthrough” and “Autumn Symphony” are some of the most magic moments for HOSTSONATEN, without underrating the other two “seasonal” albums? Which one(s) do you prefer? And, in general, what are your faves from your entire musical career?
Very difficult answer. I am very proud of the “Springsong” album because is the first of the Seasoncycle Suite (but at the same time the last part) and offers a great final to all the suite. I love very much its feeling of re-birth. About other albums, I am very fond of the first Maschera Di Cera album.
Also, tell us about your collaboration with Tommaso Labranca and the project where you supplied music to spoken words. How is it going and what’s the purpose of this project?
It's essentially electronic/ambient music, sometimes instrumental versions of some songs from my first two solo albums where Tommaso is reading lyrics taken from his books. Me and Tommaso have made two of this readings in 2008 and 2010 but unfortunately we never recorded a cd together.
We also think that “The rime of the ancient mariner-Chapter One” was one of the most musically interesting albums of 2012. Many times was featured in JustIn Case Prog Radio’s TOP-10 for this year. Is there something special with this album? How many chapters will follow?
The entire poem is made by seven parts. On the “The rime of the ancient mariner - Chapter one” I've put in music the first four parts, in the next chapter I'll put in music the following three.
We think one of your major musical points is your first official personal release titled "Merlin - The Rock Opera" (2000). We believe this is one of the best rock operas ever written. Every note is so well placed and played that every magic of what (we think) you wanted to give is absolutely listenable. An what a great set of collaborators! How did you come up with those ideas and how did you end up making that record?
Thanks very much, I'm pleased that you've liked it so much. In 1998 me and the lyricist Victoria Heward made a trip in Britanny and Victoria started to read a book called “Merlin, priest of nature” where the famous magician was described as a man instead that a fantasy-figure. A man with his troubles and the relationship with his wife, his sisters, King Arthur, Vivian, the fear of his magic power, etc... From this Victoria started to write the lyrics of the opera and then I've wrote the music. It was very stimulating and I'm very happy with it.
Why did you take some years to return with another personal album (“Pioggia e luce” EP, 2007) after “Merlin” album? Was it a matter of lack of free time because of other musical collaborations or/and because of other matters?
I don't consider “Merlin” as a solo album because it was done with Victoria Heward. We wanted to create a rock opera without a name of a band or other, simply Zuffanti & Heward. Just like “Jesus Christ Superstar” that is signed by Webber & Rice.
My first solo album was "Fabio Zuffanti" (2009) and before I've made this EP called “Pioggia e Luce”. So, I consider my solo career starts from “Pioggia e Luce”. It took a bit 'of years before I had the courage to come out with a real solo album under my name, after many projects directed by me such as Höstsonaten. When the time has come I've decided to come out with a REAL solo album. Produced, performed and wrote entirely by me. I was thinking of a very delicate and intimate music. So I did “Pioggia e luce” and then “Fabio Zuffanti” (2009) and "Ghiaccio" (2010). A mix between songwriter, electronica, and a little touch of prog rock.
What about the “La foce del ladrone” (2011) album? Is it more crossover (between pop and prog) or not?
After the EP and the first two albums I wanted to go in an another musical direction, less intimate and electronics. So I started to wrote songs in a more pop direction. In reality I wanted to put together all my prog influences with pop music and see what came out. The result is “La foce del ladrone”, an album that I love much because I've put in it all my musical influences without barriers. It's a sort of summary of my work with prog music and other styles.
Why did you choose your name as a title for your 2009 studio album? We don’t know but the basics of Italian language so the lyrics are not fully translated to us!
As I said it was a very intimate album. It tells about my life without masking anything, all in a very direct way. I choose to title it with my name as to say "That's me!”
What’s your personal philosophy in life? How do you cope with barriers? And, simultaneously, how do you build your strengths?
Ten years ago I've left my work, deciding to dedicate all my time at the music and become a professional composer/musician. In this ten years I've not become rich but I discovered the great pleasure to do the thing I wanted more in life. This is my strength. Many sacrifices has been done and I know very well that many other will have to be done but this is the life I want more of all.
Is there any specific compositional approach from your part you follow through from a musical point-of-view? Also, what are the moments that you mainly compose your musical parts?
I'm a self-taught musician so the only approach I follow is my instinct. Usually, I feel that is the time to compose music so I sit on a chair with a guitar (or the piano) and a computer and record musical ideas and melodies. From that I create home-made demos and later I give them to the other musicians and togheter we study how the song has to be.
How do you approach the creation process of a concept album? What concepts do you stick with usually?
Usually from book, movies or life experience. I like very much to create concept albums from books and give music to something that originally doesn't have it.
What would you suggest to someone who desires to play some prog rock out there?
Make music with passion, don't expect to became rich and famous and try to put in music something that could touch the heart of the listeners, not only technical exhibition.
Do you prefer writing lyrics, making some instrumental music or both? Concerning lyrics, what are your favorite issues?
The thing I love most is to write melodies. I'm always in search of the right tune that can touch my soul and the one of the listeners. Sometimes I like to hear these melodies done with a voice, sometimes with instruments. For example I love very much the oboe and flute and in "Autumn symphony" and "Summereve" I think there are very good melodies made with these instruments. And the vocal parts on “The rime...”, maybe the strongest I've ever wrote. About the lyrics, I think I've wrote my best words in my solo albums. As I said, these albums are very intimate and every word tells about my life in a very deep way.
How are the live experiences you already have? What are the reactions of the people who come to your live shows?
I love to play live but often in Italy people are very cold and rigid and I would like that they could communicate most to us on stage their passion while they listen to our music. But this happen very rarely. Abroad, the situation is very different; when I played in Belgium, France, USA, Mexico, Portugal, etc...the crowd was very hot and it was a pleasure to play for these people. I think that the musician on the stage can communicate to the listeners a great passion but only when the listeners returns this passion with their appreciation, then this is the perfect concert!
What is prog rock for you? And prog music in general, anyway? We think this is a concept and not a genre, as many believe.
Yes, absolutely. Prog for me is not a specific genre but a union of styles. I love when musicians try to break the barriers and put together different things to create a music that is the result of this union. In progressive rock I find epic, delicate, hard and surreal moments. And the perfect mix of all these elements make prog rock the most perfect music, for me. The thing I don't like is that kind of prog influenced by metal and AOR because this kind of music has lost its magic and has become only a gym for virtuosism.
Also, what do you think about the future of prog rock and prog music in general? Are there any ways for the betterment of its promotion through the net and other means?
I'd love if prog rock one day could become a "popular" style because I think that listen to prog music can make a transformation in the listeners. It's a very deep music and if you listen to it carefully, it can open your mind and this open mind can be very useful in all days life. I strongly believe in the power of music for the changes of the people, prog music in particular. It will not be simple that this kind of music can reach the ears of many people in the future because all radio and TV stations are full of terrible pop music but I'm optimist and I think that if prog music doesn't reach people, people can reach prog music. In these days we need a music like this to go away from all the plastic that surround us.
What music do you listen to this period? What are your musical inspirations too?
As always, I listen to different styles of music. In this particular period in my iPod there are some jazz (Migus, Roach, Evans), prog rock (Niemen, Quinteto 1111, Sintesis, Taurus, Banco, Dezo Usrsiny, Steven Wilson), ambient music (William Basisnsky), pop (Muse), Brazilian music (Milton Nascimiento).
RPI (Rock Progressivo Italiano) is one of the major musical forces since four decades. We assure you that it’s almost completely unknown in Greece (we and some other “researchers of the music” guys are exceptions, we bet on that!). Why is that?
I don't know and that is very strange because I think that RPI is the most famous style of prog after the one from UK and USA. Greece and Italy culture are similar in many ways so this is very strange. Maybe in the past italian records could not reach Greece and so the listeners simply don't know their existence. I hope that in the future Greek listeners could have the chance to listen to our music.
RPI has also a distinct sound that triggers many people’s ears when they here it: All this mellow sounds intermingled with some of the best dark or/and obscure passages and soli and all the Italian tradition of classical and neo-classical musical tradition of the past, this is awesome! We think this is more than that of course! But, do you think this is a trademark sound? And, what’s the difference between Italian sound and other trademark sounds we acknowledge such as the British, the Polish, the Swedish prog etc.?
I think that RPI has a real trademark sound because it has been very influenced by classical musical and opera. Maybe English band such as Genesis, KC or Yes were more influenced by folk, jazz, contemporary but the large Italian tradition with opera has given birth to bands like Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso (for me the best of all in RPI) that put an originality in its music that you can't hear in other bands.
The progarchives.com platform labels Fabio Zuffanti under the Crossover Prog genre and the majority of your collaborations under the RPI genre. It’s easy to make such simplistic descriptions, but we will leave it up to you to describe your music to someone who's never heard of your music.
The page on Progarchives dedicated to Fabio Zuffanti is refered to my solo albums that are really a sort of mix between prog and many other things. But maybe all my musical carreer, all the albums I did and all my projects could be catalogued as "Crossover prog" because I think I've explored many kind of doing prog music. So "Crossover prog" could be a good description to what I do.
Is there any possibility to record with a major symphonic orchestra (in case we don’t know this is the case till today!)? What about a live DVD with a symphony orchestra with some of your solo or/and project works in the future?
This is one of my dreams and to tell you the truth I'm planning to do a live show with orchestra and record a live CD/DVD with Höstsonaten's four seasons (not all the 4 cd in its entirely but a selection of the major themes). This for now is just a dream but I will work hard for transform it in reality.
Tell us about any upcoming albums and collaborations. There is a rumor that Finisterre, your first ever project, are coming back after so many years with a fresh new album on Mellow Records. Also, which are some of your plans for the future?
Finisterre has been reformed two years ago after a long pause and we did some gigs with great success but for now the band didn't have still the occasion to sit all together and think seriously about doing new things. All of us have different lifes and projects so it's not very simple to find the right time to think about a new album. Finisterre is a band that work very slowly so we have to find the right time. We'll see...
About new plans, during this year I hope to make a lot of concerts with Maschera Di Cera (of whom is just out the new album). Apart from this, during May will come out the Höstsonaten “The rime...” DVD+CD live in theatre, Will record the second chapter of "The rime ..." and put on a new project..
We are really curious if you get any feedback from Greek listeners regarding your works. And actually, is there any possibility for a prog fan here to see any of Fabio Zuffanti's projects playing live in Greece? Greece is not a prog music paradise, so actually what should a Greek organizer do so that Fabio Zuffanti could ground in Greece for a live performance? [Maybe JustIn Case Prog Radio could mediate about that! It’s in our future plans, actually!)]
A message from your part for the listeners of JustIn Case Prog Radio and all the prog’n’rollers out there is…
To tell you the truth I didn't received much feedback from Greece in these years but your country have always fascinated me and I've never visited it. So for me it would be a dream visit and play in it. If you can give us a hand to make this dream real just tell me and we'll organize!
Anything that you might add?
I think that this interview offers a great excursus in all my career with very stimulating questions, so, I think to have said all. The only thing I want to add is: I hope very much to meet you all in Greece soon!
Demetris "All Around" Katsikis
Founder and PROGducer of JustIn Case Radio (www.justincaseradio.com)
Apostolis "Retromaniac" Psarros
PROGducer of JustIn Case Radio and Neo Prog Collaborator in www.progarchives.com