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TOM SPITTLE & TROY MONTGOMERY & DAMOND JINIYA ..... (Rebel Pride Band, Under The Gun Project)
ERIC STROTHERS ..... (Enjoy Church's Tribute To Trans-Siberian Orchestra) Interview 1 of 2
ERIC STROTHERS & ZACH LORTON ..... (Enjoy Church's Tribute To Trans-Siberian Orchestra) Interview 2 of 2
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A.L.X. ..... (Love Crushed Velvet)
GRAHAM BONNET ..... (Rainbow, Alcatrazz)
BRANDYN BURNETTE
JOE DENIZON ..... (Stratospheerius, Mark Work Rock Orchestra Camp, Sweet Plantain)
LESLIE DINICOLA
TOMMY FARESE ..... (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Kings Of Christmas)
ANGIE GOODNIGHT ..... (Fill The Void)
CORNELIUS GOODWIN ..... (12/24 Trans-Siberian Orchestra Tribute Band)
DAMOND JINIYA & TOM SPITTLE & TROY MONTGOMERY ..... (Savatage, Retribution, Under The Gun Project)
STEFAN KLEIN ..... (Dethcentrik, Dod Beverte, Dod Incarnate Records)
GUY LEMONNIER ..... (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Kings Of Christmas)
ZACH LORTON & ERIC STROTHERS ..... (Enjoy Church's Tribute To Trans-Siberian Orchestra) Interview 2 of 2
SARAH NICKERSON & JAMES NICKERSON ..... (Bangtown Timebomb)
PARK SIPES ..... (Sunset Strip, Barbarian Way, Standout, Tune In To Mind Radio Kelly Keeling Tribute album)
ZAK STEVENS ..... (Savatage, Circle II Circle) Interview 1 of 2
ZAK STEVENS ..... (Savatage, Circle II Circle) Interview 2 of 2

KEYBOARDISTS
SHAYFER JAMES
SCOTT KELLY ..... (Wizards Of Winter)
ERIK NORLANDER ..... (Asia Featuring John Payne, Rocket Scientists, Lana Lane)
DOUG RAUSCH
MICHAEL T. ROSS ..... (Lita Ford, Missing Persons, Raiding The Rock Vault)

BASSISTS
CHRIS NUNES ..... (Ornament Trans-Siberian Orchestra Tribute Band)
JOHN WETTON ..... (Asia, King Crimson, Roxy Music)

DRUMMER
RAFA MARTINEZ ..... (Black Cobra)

SONGWRITER
TROY MONTGOMERY & DAMOND JINIYA & TOM SPITTLE ..... (Under The Gun Project)

MUSIC AUTHORS
SEVEN (aka ALAN SCOTT PLOTKIN) ..... (Exile In Rosedale, Public Enemy, Busta Rhymes)
ALISON TAYLOR & RODNEY MILES ..... (365 Surprising & Inspirational Rock Star Quotes Book)

MUSIC MARKETING
MATT CHABE ..... (Bangtown Timebomb, Chapter Two Marketing)
JAMES MOORE ..... (Independent Music Promotion, Your Band Is A Virus Book)

November 11, 2017

"I am an addict of the music industry" An Interview With SEVEN (formerly ALAN SCOTT PLOTKIN)

Click here to visit the official website of Seven.

February 2015 (skype)

When thinking of the most under-rated people in the music world the joke usually turns to rock keyboardists or maybe bassists, both suffering with non-glamorous instruments usually out of the spotlight. But, when it comes to the most under-rated we really need to move beyond the musicians themselves, which then offers up the question: can you name a famous engineer? Don't spend too much time thinking about that, which you probably will, instead know that when you finish reading this interview you'll have an answer. Seven, formerly known as Alan Scott Plotkin, has spent his entire life in the music industry, now over 4 decades. He has played in numerous bands as a guitarist & drummer, while also composing, but his legacy largely rests on his under-rated behind the scenes work as an engineer & co-producer working for all the top NYC studios. His credits are countless & include a diverse array of musicians as Public Enemy, Vanessa Williams, Busta Rhymes, Virgin Steele, actor Philip Michael Thomas of the original Miami Vice & he was heavily involved in the pre-gangsta' rap scene. Since taking a normal day job some years ago & working through health problems, Seven hasn't spent as much time in the studio but instead refocused his energy on spreading the zaniness of his extroverted personality. He can be found via crazy youtube videos, radio interviews & live video broadcasts via his own Seven's Nuts. More importantly, in 2010 he published Exile In Rosedale: The Musical Life Of Seven 1963-2009 an 800 plus page no-holds bar look at his life covering everything from trying to make it as a musician, working in studios as an engineer, drugs, family life, ups & downs, pleasures & discoveries. This interview focuses primarily on his work as an author & response to the book, leaving his musical legacy to the book & its accompanying online virtual box set of over 300 songs & memorabilia, which is one of the first of its kind.

I love reading music biographies. I've even read biographies on musicians I didn't know, who I came to become a fan of. I met Seven through a friend & ordered his book & couldn't put it down. Because I read so much I've become somewhat critical of music biographies books, seeing too many musicians throw away an opportunity to share their innermost thoughts or answer fan questions or discuss making music, to instead focus on how much sex they have or shallow party stories which is as clich├ęd as writing a rock ballad about sex. After struggling through an 800 page book, which I never do outside of Ayn Rand novels, its easy to say it was a good read, just in honor of the effort. But, those who have read my other reviews blog know I'm not good at bluffing. Thus, I mean it when I say this really is a good read. This is the book I've wanted to see from far more famous writers who I have had higher expectations for. Seven writes the cliched rock stories, but then goes the next step & discusses his feelings & the experience of a struggling musician & industry professional. Its one of the best books I've read about the music business, away from the million dollar limo rides & MTV, about what life was like for many of those working in music. It's honest & scandalous, apologetic yet celebratory. It took awhile, but it was a pleasure to finally sit down with Seven over a few hours via Skype between Maine & NYC to discuss the book.

Special thanks to Maxx Mann who introduced me to Seven.

This interview is dedicated to Seven's father Mitchell Plotkin, an under-rated engineer in his own right, who died before this could be posted.


* * * * *

AJ: Let me start with the basics. What does your name, Seven, mean? Why did you choose Seven?

SEVEN: I never liked my name. Besides the fact that I just never felt comfortable with the name Alan. I would always fuck with it. I was Alan Scott. The rappers used to call me Money Al or A.P.. I've had all these different names through out time, but it was always like a glove that never fit. When I wrote the book I said I'd make the change. So, I was working for a computer company at the time. I never thought about what I was going to change my name to. That's the funny part about it. I thought the first thing I have to do is go to work & I have to tell them that I'm going to change my name. So, I walked into the HR lady's office. She asked if I lost my name badge again. I told her I was changing my name. She thought it was a joke, because I'm always horsing around. She said "What are you changing your name to?" Then I just thought: Seven. I just pulled it out of thin air. She said to me "You can't fuck around with the name database. If you don't stop horsing around, you're probably going to get fired, no matter how many computers you sell or no matter how much you've accomplished here." I said okay. But, it was just like that. It was Seven. I didn't even flinch. So, it went into the database. I just wanted it to be Seven. No last name, no middle name, no first name. At first it wouldn't let me, so I was Seven Plotkin. Then when facebook came along I didn't have a last name, but it also wouldn't let me not have a last name, so I picked Istheman [note: pronounced 'is the man']. It's so funny because people look at Seven Istheman and ask what the origin of that name is. I tell them it's Nordic.

AJ: I always thought it was Viking. Jewish Viking.

SEVEN: Jewish Viking? I don't think there were any Jews that were Vikings.

AJ: That's why nobody else has that name. You're the first, or the seventh.

SEVEN: They say we're going to conquer with gefilte fish ... So, it's from that day at work I became Seven. The funny thing is, of all the things I am - everything is based on this wacky history of music, my father, Mitch, and all this stuff - the name has no meaning whatsoever. But, it makes me feel so good when people use that name. Almost nobody except some family members & a few old friends refuse to go along with the program. A couple of times my girlfriend will slip & then she gets a look, but she's cool with it.

AJ: It's easy to play with, too. You can do so much with Seven.

SEVEN: It's great when I talk to people. They'll ask what's your name & I'll go Seven. They'll go 'Okay, Steven'. Also, the reason I wanted to change my name, besides not liking it, is if you look on all my album credits on the internet it'll take years, because they could never spell Alan Scott Plotkin right.

AJ: Then you get your bands like J.J./SCOTT with a variation on your name.

SEVEN: That was named after J.J. [Jennifer Jean], who was the singer, & Alan Scott, who didn't have a good name at the time.

AJ: That's your name & it doesn't mean anything.

SEVEN: Exactly.

AJ: Even before getting a better name, you have over 30 years of professional music work.

SEVEN: Officially, I started at Mediasound Recording in 1981. But, I was doing it longer than that. I was editing tape at 7 years old. It wasn't professional, but I was doing recording.

AJ: Stuff for your dad, like you share in the book, & having your own little bands. The question is ... suddenly after so long, you change your name. Did you wonder how people were going to relate to this person who has 30 years of music under a very different name and with a reputation under that name?

SEVEN: I didn't care. I can just tell you if you ask what have I done & I always say the same thing: PUBLIC ENEMY, AEROSMITH, Vanessa Williams, Ice Cube, all that stuff. In a professional setting no one will question it. But, I don't care, because people spelled it wrong so many times it's like I'm a guy who worked on 3 albums his whole life. So, it really doesn't matter. For those 3 albums I'd rather be something I like. It's like, if people believe about what I've done, then they believe me; if they don't, then it doesn't matter.

AJ: If they really want to know your music you can tell them where to go to find it.

SEVEN: They can buy the big fat book.

AJ: Then they can actually read the thing, which you know I did, though it took awhile.

SEVEN: They can also smack an intruder with it.

AJ: Multi-purpose publishing! Or, they can look at your online box set, the Exile Box Set, which might be the only online box set in existence.

SEVEN: There's other people that have done it since I've done it.

AJ: But, it looks like you have nearly everything in it.

SEVEN: It's got a lot, but it's not everything. In my house there's a wall of digital back-ups, multi-tracks, craziness. I've worked on so many projects over the years you couldn't put them all in. It's like Mitch Diamond, a guitarist I've worked with a lot, he thought the book was 25% of the excitement in my life. When you tell a person you wrote a book they ask how long is it. I say it's 819 pages. Again, I get the same look as when I say my name is Seven. 'Oh, Steven wrote a 619 page book.' No, Seven wrote a 819 page book.

AJ: Mitch has been with you forever, too. He's one of your all time guitar buddies.

SEVEN: He's one of my favorite guitar players in the world. He was a client, then he became a best friend. We do almost everything together.

AJ: So, if he says it's 25% he's the expert. I have to ask, you spent all your life writing music. You have composed music & written lyrics. Now you attempt an 800 page book.

SEVEN: Right.

AJ: This means you've gone from writing a song lyric that takes up a notebook page to 800 notebook pages. That's 2 different forms of writing and 2 different approaches. My first thought is: what went through your mind? Here you are stepping out of your comfort zone to experiment with this new form of writing & you even finish the project & its massive no less. Many people never finish their projects, let alone 819 pages.

SEVEN: The way the book started wasn't as a book. When my daughter, Lindsay, was born in 1994 I was so fed up with music & I had my ex-wife breathing down my back. We were split up for the 1st or 2nd time. My ex-wife wanted more money & I was done. I needed to get a regular job. I mention this in the book. I thought, before I get a regular job why don't I take all this music that I've worked on, or the favorite parts of my music, & put it into a box set. I'll give it to my friends & family & I'll have closure. So, once I decided that, I assembled all the music. Then I was like, I can't just hand this stuff to people. Some people won't know the history of the music. So, let me start writing some notes. I started writing some notes about some of the songs & then it started to look like a book. Then I thought I'd horse around with this. But, I never wrote anything but songs. English was the only thing in school I passed. I failed gym.

AJ: Do you really want to say you failed gym in public?

SEVEN: I wouldn't wear gym sweats, so the teacher would fail me. He's the only guy who would really call me Alan. He would call me Al Plotkin. I'd say rockers don't wear gym shorts. He'd go 'Rockers don't pass gym either.' I was like fuck it then. But, what was the original point I was making?

AJ: You were writing the song descriptions essentially.

SEVEN: So, I'm writing these little things & then it started to take shape as a book. I wrote about 8 chapters. Then, you know from the book, I got back with my ex-wife & ... I don't know, something happened. My ex-wife would suck all the creativity out of the room. So, I put the book away for a number of years. Then, I think about 8 years later I'd separated from my wife for the final time & I took it out & tried to write, but it wasn't right & it went back in the drawer. In 2009 my pancreas broke. Basically, I was out for  year. Actually, right before I broke my pancreas I'd pulled the book out & was like 'Wow, this actually reads kinda cool.' So, when I worked at the computer store one of my associates was a very brilliant woman named Laura Leitman. I had said to Laura, 'I wrote something a long time ago. Would you take a look at it? It's just a gift to my friends & family, along with some music, but I want to see what you think. It's nothing I'm going to sell. No one is going to put this on the market. It'll never be public. It's going to be short & simple.' She read it & came back to me the next week. She looked at me & said 'You're out of your fucking mind. You can't give this away.' I asked if it was that bad. She said it was that good. She said it was fucking brilliant & I had to finish it. She said 'You have to sell this. Your speaking voice comes out in the book. I can't believe it. You said you didn't go to college.' I said a got a very high score G.E.D. So, that's it. I worked on the book. I finished the book. It was an incredible process. I was in an apartment that had a load bearing beams. You know, those beams in the basement? So, I put sticky notes on the beams to create the chapters, which gave me the framing of the story. The entire book was written with about 3000 sticky notes.

AJ: How was this writing process for someone who was going from a lyric writer to a non-fiction writer?

SEVEN: Just imagine, if you will, I put up sticky notes asking myself what are the main things I want to talk about. Then I wrote down about my life. I just wrote. I wrote my story, so it wasn't hard. I wasn't going to gloss it up or make it any more crazier. You couldn't make the story any crazier.

AJ: That's true.

SEVEN: I couldn't imagine it any crazier without being psycho. I just wrote my story & framed it with these sticky notes on this beam. My biggest problem was time frame, what sequence things happened it. Luckily, I still have a lot of my friends still around who I could call to kinda double check time frames. I did the best that I could. I mention at the beginning of the book that if something wasn't correct or that my memory wasn't clear on I would change it. I did plan on doing an appendum.

AJ: It is your life history, a vivid life history, but on some level it also feels like its more than that. It feels like there's an apology to some people underneath it all. It's a confessional more than a glamorous story at times.

SEVEN: It's definitely a confessional, an apology. Not only did I use this book to apologize to people for my behavior ... I think in life we don't get a chance ... Look, nobody is perfect & I'm certainly as far from it as you can imagine. By telling my story I have the chance to kinda say I'm sorry, you know. At times when I was so young & working with my dad in the studio I fucked up. It was a chance for me to not only ask forgiveness from others, but it was an opportunity to forgive myself.

AJ: The stories you tell about you & your dad & just about fucking up as much as you can ... not deliberately, not always deliberately, that is ... in the book you're really just super humble about all that.

SEVEN: You got to remember I was in a recording studio as a child. I was 3 machine mixing with analog tape when I was 9 years old. I mean, I could edit with a razor blade pretty good at 9. I was doing it on my own at 7. I was stealing my dad's razor blade late at night, because he wouldn't let me use a razor blade at 7 years old. But, I could do it, so once he wasn't around ... I started editing on my own & then dad taught me how to do it correctly at 8 years old. I wasn't a spoiled child. I earned every bit of it. I fucked up in school. I went to summer school. But, even being 16 years old ... You're not a man at 16 years old, but I was pushing around microphones for the ROMANTICS. I was around when SOFT CELL was in the studio & the GRATEFUL DEAD were in the studio. I was hanging out, right before I got hired, when I was 15 or whatever it was, & Peter Frampton was working on Breaking All The Rules with producer Harvey Goldberg at Mediasound. I'm hanging out at the studio & I'm sitting there & Peter Frampton just sits down right next to me. I had my Sony cassette walkman on. He's like "What are you listening to?" "Oh, a song I'm working on." "Kid, can I listen?" Just imagine Peter Frampton takes my headphones & he's listening to my song all the way through from beginning to end. It was that kinda of  ... it was too much too soon for a young person. Even though I started washing toilets & stuff like that, I was assisting sessions the whole time. My first session was with Art Garfunkel & he was a scumbag, by the way, just for the record.

AJ: I've heard that before.

SEVEN: My dad worked with Paul Simon. He was the nice guy. I got the scumbag.

AJ: You were young. You had to start from the bottom.

SEVEN: That's another thing. People were very tough on me, so I reacted very cordially to them. Tough love. My father was out of control. He would lean on me so hard. I couldn't call him dad. I had to call him Mitch. Even if I fucked that up he'd look at me. You know what I mean? He was very hard on me & showed me no favoritism, which was a good thing. I worked very hard, but it was just a lot. I was too young. I was too immature. I was too A.D.D., at an age where they didn't know what A.D.D. was. So, yeah, there were a lot of screw-ups in the beginning. Then, of course, you know from reading the book, there was drugs later on & all that stuff.

AJ: You detail quite a few falls from drugs, alcohol, depression & all those good things.

SEVEN: I write about it real honestly.

AJ: Incredibly so. You detail that almost too well. But, I want to ask, you've put these details out there & there's nothing bad with it. You're not like trying to shit on people. You're very honest & confessional & it's not like one of these tell all pointy finger books.

SEVEN: In the book I'm way more hard on myself than I am with anybody else. Even the people that really legitimately fucked me over. A lot of times it was just the music industry being the music industry. So, what happens is your reaction creates another bad reaction on the other end, so all I was doing was setting the domino effect.

AJ: You add to that the drugs, the money & all that & it's just one long domino effect. But, being so honest & printing this book up & selling it, is there any point where you said to yourself that maybe it was too much & maybe you didn't want to share this much? That it's too public? You know what I'm saying?

SEVEN: I've always said, I get a zit on my ass just like everybody else, but I'll show it to you & we can pop it together. ... I'll tell you the truth. It's like, I don't know, there was something very liberating about telling the pure exact truth & putting it out there. Was I worried about what people were going to think? For about 10 minutes. Then I was like fuck them. I'm not that person anymore. I grew up & changed.

AJ: While maybe you hope some people have grown & changed enough, too, so they don't care anymore.

SEVEN: The people I wrote about in the book ... like producer & songwriter Jerry Ragovoy. I discussed it with Jerry & got to kinda make up with him before he died. Who else? Jenny, the singer J.J./SCOTT, my ex-fiancee. I talk about that brutally in that book. You know what she said to me? She said, "Thanks for not painting me in a bad light." I told her, I'm sorry, I just wanted to tell the truth. She's a psychologist now, a social worker, & she said it was very honest & she wouldn't change a thing.

AJ: Did your daughter or your ex-wife read the book?

SEVEN: My ex-wife read it. Actually, she stole my first printed copy of it from my possession. She changed the cover. She scotch-taped a different cover on the front & back. She actually re-wrote a good portion of the book. She made changes. She x'd things out. She said where things were true & things weren't true or things like 'I didn't know that' or stuff like that. Yeah, she certainly read the book!

AJ: Wow. She doesn't necessarily get painted in the best light. It's not the happiest point in your life.

SEVEN: I definitely paint her out as the devil. Basically, a wart remover.

AJ: Pretty much.

SEVEN: Right in the picture section.

AJ: There's not a good picture of her in there.

SEVEN: There is actually a picture ...

AJ: I'm not saying she's an ugly woman. She's actually very attractive, but the pictures you have of her are dark & moody.

SEVEN: She's a very attractive woman with a big nose & I didn't mind the big nose. But, under our picture it says: 'the day the music died.' That's really true. 10 minutes after we were married she looked at me straight in the face & basically asked if I was going to get a real job now. As for my daughter, she has not read it yet. I told her she wasn't allowed to read it as a child. But, now as an adult she's so busy with college. She's just glossed through it. My father read it.

AJ: What did he think?

SEVEN: He was destroyed in his trust. He didn't know a lot of stuff that was going on. I talk about in the book how I desperately wanted to tell my father how fucked I was on drugs. But, every chance that I had to say 'Dad, I'm fucked up, I need to go to rehab or something,' I couldn't do it. So, with the book, you know, he said 'Holy shit, you did a lot of drugs.' Then he cried. A lot of it made him cry. Like when I said I would have followed my dad through anything. If he was a baker I would have made croissants for a living.

AJ: How old is dad now?

SEVEN: He is going to be 80. [Note: He died in 2016.]

AJ: So, I guess from what you're saying there's nothing in the book you regret putting in there.

SEVEN: Believe it or not, in the editing process only 2 stories got cut out. One was a very very dark story with a famous person & the other was just a sex story with some girl.

AJ: You know, I've read a lot of music autobiographies & many are just 'look at how many chicks I banged.' That's the whole point of the book it seems. Bragging rights. You don't write about your excursions like that, which is the difference & makes your book more interesting. You're not showing off. You're like 'I had a good time, but that was a really bad mistake.' You don't hide from sharing these private moments, but you're not bragging or taking joy in them, but showing how they don't mean anything.

SEVEN: I definetly talk about my mistakes in the book, especially with women.

AJ: You don't glorify, like 'I was a musician & I had this & I partied & I had fun & did this great thing or that great thing.'

SEVEN: A lot of people said, as I'm so in your face as a person, that they thought the book was going to be a look at how cool my life has been. Even with my dad. It wasn't a look how cool my dad is, but it was more like 'isn't my dad cool?' I share him. One of my focus groups said she loved how I shared my father with the world in the book. The big part of the book is you can see that thread of respect & love. I worshiped my father.

AJ: Is there anything looking back, being its been a couple years since you wrote it, is there anything you wish you hadn't put in?

SEVEN: Yes, yes. The one thing I regret putting in it is I accidentally outed one of my lesbian friends. She read the book & I get a phone call & I'm like 'Hey, what's going on?' She goes 'I couldn't believe what you did.' I'm like 'What did I do now?' 'You outed me.' I'm like holy shit & 'You're not out?'

AJ: My next question is, what did Seven learn about himself after he wrote the book & after people started reading about his life?

SEVEN: I really thought a lot more people were angry. My life was like a snowball going down a mountain. A mix between a snowball & the Pied Piper, where I had no problem rallying people for my cause to do things with me that we wanted to do. You see in the book I've always been pretty much a team player. I've always enjoyed & loved team play. So, that was in the book that in that team play when things didn't go right people got hurt. I thought people were a lot more angry than they were. I think the one thing is that the people that I talked about in the book really appreciated the journey more than I thought they did, if that makes sense. It's like taking people on a trip with you. Sometimes you don't know if they wanted to go with you through that journey or not.

AJ: Exactly. You bristle people the wrong way but not deliberately & they don't understand your best intentions are there. I understand. Is there any surprise response you got that was negative? Other than your ex-wife? That's very interesting how she did her own version. Is there anyone who responded who really blew you away?

SEVEN: Recently someone told me there were a couple of things that were different, but other than outing my lesbian friend, no there wasn't. Like I said, I really didn't bash too many people in the book that hard. I bashed Busta Rhymes in the book, but I don't even know if he can read a book. I bashed him pretty hard, but I just told the story. Then there was an engineer who I kinda took a shot at because he was such a jerk. But, other than that I really haven't had anyone come out & attack me about the book. Even JAY & THE AMERICANS, who I slammed pretty hard. I didn't even hear from them. One guy who I wasn't writing about threatened me with a lawsuit if I wrote about him at all in the book. Johnny Blaze from SCARECROW, the hair metal band founded by TWISTED SISTER guitarist Eddie Ojeda. I was like 'Don't flatter yourself Johnny. You're not in the book.'

AJ: Sorry, buddy, & that threat isn't going to get you your own chapter, either.

SEVEN: In the food chain of people who took a bite out of my ass he didn't even take a bite. So, he didn't make it into the book. So, no, no one attacked me.

AJ: I ask only because attacking is a typical response when you get very personal like you did.

SEVEN: It's a valid question. One of the other people in my focus group was my friend Terry Collura Van Bellinghen who I wrote about in the book. An ex-girlfriend. She said she felt like she was reading my most intimate diaries & there where times when she felt embarrassed a little bit for me. I said it's okay. If I wrote it in the book I felt like I had to talk about it.

AJ: I totally agree with her. There were times when I was reading that I felt I shouldn't be privvy to what you were sharing. There were other times, particularly when I was reading about your ex-wife, when I couldn't read fast enough because I wanted to know what was happening next. I wanted to make sure you were okay.

SEVEN: How do you like that sword fight? She was coming at me with a knife. I was like Sparticus.

AJ: I'm sure her version is very different. I literally read parts of it wanting to know if you got out okay. It's like a novel at times. You forget that it's a real person. It's just so gripping & you're so honest & its all so crazy that it almost doesn't seem real.

SEVEN: The funny thing about it ... There was one thing I thought when I finished the book. I thought people wouldn't believe the story. But, because I was so honest ... you can't make this shit up. People don't say things about themselves, like they don't paint themselves in that type of picture. So, no one ever question the veracity of the book.

AJ: It's too honest to be faked. You mentioned in the book & you've mentioned a few times here about this focus group. Can you clarify what you are referencing?

SEVEN: Absolutely. When I wrote the book I wanted there to be people who were reading it. I wanted instant feedback. In the digital age I can do that. As I wrote a few chapters or if I wrote a big heavy duty chapter I would send it out to the people I had in a focus group. They would read it & get back to me. Most of the time, I'd say 99% of the time, all I got was 'holy shit.' It was great. It was almost like having a support group. It was supposed to be a sounding board group, you know, instead it was basically like an at the moment audience for the book.

AJ: Were these friends or strangers or writers?

SEVEN: Some of them were acquaintances & some of them were ... like my editor. She didn't edit till the book was done. The first editor didn't really work out, so I didn't really end up using her edits. Then the second editor was fantastic, but it wasn't very thorough. The third editor was just quick on-the-fly help at the end. So, the book could actually use one more editing to be tighter. I'll probably update the book sometime. There's a couple of things that I would change time frame-wise. For example, the one chapter about the kid who inspired me to play who was actually younger than me & remembers how I got thrown out of my first band. ... Its interesting, later on when I worked with his group I thought he knew about my drug addiction and I write that. After he read the book he said he never knew. We were kinda mad at each other for a long time for no reason other than the fact that he didn't know I was sick, but I thought he did. Believe me, I was sick from the drugs.

AJ: I do believe you, from first hand observation of drug addicts & just normal medical drug usage.

SEVEN: It's all about survival when you get down to it. It's really a book about survival. Can I survive myself?

AJ: Speaking of surviving, how's your health?

SEVEN: I injured a disc in my back. They operated on it. It's day to day. I may need some additional surgery.

AJ: That's laid you up for awhile.

SEVEN: For over a year.

AJ: Let's talk about what Seven is doing these days post-writing. That is, what Seven does best ... making music.

SEVEN: Yeah, it's making music. It's so funny. My favorite instrument is the guitar. No, I go back & forth between guitar & drums. But, I think my best instrument really is the console.

AJ: You started as an engineer & that's what you always come back to. I met you via singer Maxx Mann, formerly of TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA & 12/24, as you were doing some things with him.

SEVEN: Maxx was singing on my album The End Of The World. Unfortunately, other things got in the way of finishing it.

AJ: Where are you now with music? That may not be the best question given your health & restricted activity.

SEVEN: It's a good question.

AJ: Where are you about to go might be the better question.

SEVEN: I have my album The End Of The World. I also have a movie I've been working on called The End Of The World. Most of it kinda got put on the shelf, not because of my health so much as I've been trying to find a singer for the album. It just seems for one reason or another I can't find a singer. So, I'm probably just going to wind up singing it myself. It's too bad, as I'm not a good singer.

AJ: Tell me about the album.

SEVEN: I can't find a singer for the album. It's hilarious. It's just a wacky place I'm in. I've gotten good feedback on the album. I had a major label listen & tell me to get a singer. I said to the guy from the record label 'You're a powerful player. Why don't you help me get a singer. I'm having trouble.' He said they didn't do that. There's no more A&R in the industry. There's no more artist development. It's over. They basically want it ready to go & they want to be able to put it out or they'll mix it for you & then put it out. So, I may end up singing it myself, then finishing it & mixing it. After the vocals are done I'm going to finish the overdubs. Some additional guitars & keyboards & production. Then mix it & put it out.

AJ: So it's all written?

SEVEN: I left some of it open for a singer. I'd say it's 80% written. The music is there for the entire album, just lyrically there's stuff that needs to be done.

AJ: You've got 3 or 4 songs up on youtube with Maxx singing so folks can get a preview. What's the story behind the making of this album?

SEVEN: That's a great question. About 3 years ago my daughter & my ex-wife just worked me over one weekend really bad. My daughter was about 17 years old & she was just in a real ... you know how kids hit that fuck you stage. She was leaning on me. My ex-wife was leaning on me. Plus my health was wacky.

AJ: I think we should clarify about your ex-wife that she was doing what she does best to you.

SEVEN: Basically, yes, giving me brain tumors, effectively. So, after they worked over me one weekend I wrote a tune called "Enough Of Me". It felt so good to be writing again I started writing more. I was in a car accident. I passed out from diabetes, not knowing I had it. I guess it wasn't my time as I turned & hit a tree instead of going on to the parkway & getting struck dead. I wrote a song called "Medicine". That song was written in 45 minutes.

AJ: So is it a biographical album?

SEVEN: I think it's me getting my anger out. It's a pretty angry record. It's me purging.

AJ: Listening to the tracks on youtube I saw that both you & Maxx are singing, but also you're not doing all the instruments. You have folks like Mitch Diamond contributing.

SEVEN: Mitch Diamond plays lead guitar on some tracks & some rhythm. He's my go-to guy for most of my leads. I've got a bunch of great musicians: Joe Cortese, Tommy "Thunder" Semioli, Anthony Lombardo.

AJ: You've got a movie that's going with this, too.

SEVEN: A mockumentary. It includes a lot of my history & stuff like that. Like in one part of the movie I show all the different locations I had my studios in. I visit like 12 different places. It's very funny & crazy, like me. It shows the recording of the album, writing & producing it & stuff like that.

AJ: So that movie won't be finished until the album is?

SEVEN: It can't be.

AJ: What else do you have in the mix?

SEVEN: A second book. I look forward to writing the next book.

AJ: Do you mean an update to your autobiography or a true second book?

SEVEN: A true second book.

AJ: About what?

SEVEN: The continuation. Filling in the holes. There's a lot of stuff I didn't discuss in the first book.

AJ: You say that having written 800 pages.

SEVEN: The next one won't be so long. But, you never know with me. I involve so many people. I have 5-6 pages of special thanks to all the people who were a part of my life. I don't think I have to thank them all in the second book, do I?

AJ: I don't think so.

SEVEN: I think being associated with me once is enough.

AJ: Depends who you're talking to. Your ex-wife might say that's too much.

SEVEN: Right, exactly. I think she probably deserves special thanks.

AJ: She deserves something for all the stories she spawned. She also gave you a daughter. She did something good for you.

SEVEN: Yeah, she did. What am I going to say? She gave me my daughter. You're right.

AJ: Was there any musical heritage that continued down?

SEVEN: She tried a little music, but it wasn't her path. I discouraged her as much as possible.

AJ: For someone not related to you who might want to pursue music, would you discourage them also or encourage them? What advice would you give?

SEVEN: I always think of this kid when I worked at the computer store. This kid came in with his family to buy a computer. This kid was 6'2", good looking, real smart. He said he was looking for a Mac for a music set-up. I could just tell this kid was as bright as anything. I looked at him & said 'How are your grades?' I just knew it when he said straight A's, 4.0 kinda stuff. I said 'You want to go into music?' He said yeah. I looked at him & said 'You know, kid, I'll make you a deal. I'll tell you, my father was in the music business & I have been in it since I was a baby. The day I was born was my father's first day in recording. I had every opportunity possible in the music business to make it & it's super tough & it's super unforgiving. Why don't you go to medical school? Why don't you just take a day or 2 & really think about this purchase, because I'm 46 years old & I work in a computer store, yet I engineered one of 'Rolling Stone' magazine's top 500 albums of all time. So, why don't you go home & think about that & if you want to still be in the music business I'll sell you a computer.' He never came back.

AJ: There goes that commission, but you may have done better, in another way.

SEVEN: I never made commission. I didn't care about commission anyway. If I had made commission I would have had 6 figures in my bank account.

AJ: So, here you go recommending to someone to not go into music & you say that as someone whose spent 5 decades working in music. You have played in bands, but many of us know you as an engineer, a producer, a composer before anything else. The old theory is that the musicians aren't making money. It's the ones behind the scenes who make money. But, that's not necessarily true either.

SEVEN: Recording engineers very rarely make money. You didn't get points on the record. You get paid by the hour.

AJ: People in your field don't really get enough credit, let alone money. Nobody ever talks about the engineer or the guy who mastered the album or numerous other console jobs. Even the cover artists suffer. People who don't know music don't know what you do. I mean, aren't you, Seven, just the guy that sets the microphone up?

SEVEN:  I'm an addict. I am an addict of the music industry. My thing is, when I was a kid I was always setting goals. I wanted to be an assistant engineer & when I was there then I wanted to be an engineer, & from there I wanted to be a producer. Through that there's a sidebar where I'm a musician the whole way through. I was worst musician in the world. I really was. It was true for a long time & then something happened. A friend gave me a Strat guitar & it changed the way I played. It just created magic. I can't explain it. ... So, I was lucky & could experiment & discover, but I wouldn't recommend the music industry to anyone. Its a very unforgiving drug. It's not only cost me relationships, but it's cost me ...

AJ: Sanity?

SEVEN: I willingly gave up sanity.

AJ: I think part of it is when you were young & your father was still working it was a slightly different world.

SEVEN: Phil Ramone, Bob Ludwig, Elliot Scheiner, all the behind the scenes gods of NY all came from A&R Recordings, my dad's studio. It was a different world. It used to be fun. In the old days you got signed because you were different. Then the BEATLES & all that stuff kinda changed it where the music industry realized 'Fuck it, they have the BEATLES, let's get HERMAN'S HERMITS, which will be our own version of the BEATLES.' You know what I mean? That cloning. Then disco came. Disco was like 'Not only are we going to sound like the last artist that played, but we're going to do it at the exact same tempo.' Everything had to have that boring double high-hat. I hated disco. Hated it.

AJ: Disco was just a music factory churning out the exact same song over & over until trends changed.

SEVEN: Look at these new bands. Look at alternative music. How many of these are same sounding bands? By the way, why even play in tempo? Let's play behind the beat. STONE TEMPLE PILOTS were great for that shit. It's like being in the RAMONES, '1, 2, 3, rest'.

AJ: I find the RAMONES & the SEX PISTOLS obnoxious for that reason.

SEVEN: I love the SEX PISTOLS.

AJ: I grew up on YES & prog rock. After YES guitarist Steve Howe's classical weavings how can I turn to the RAMONES?

SEVEN: RUSH was a big influence in my life for many years.

AJ: Are you a music cynic, Seven? Do you believe there's no more good music? No more guitar heroes? No more Steve Howes? That the young music sucks such as folks like to say in the media?

SEVEN: Nope. I'm not like that. I will say, people say that disco really hurt the music industry & maybe it did, but it actually kept a good portion of the industry alive. Rap music was phenomenal until it lost its path. Rap music used to be a way for the people who listened to it to get information with great beats & stuff behind it. Now its just guns, fucking bitches, how much can I drink. Kanye West ... Sorry, I'm not supposed to mention him.

AJ: You created a No Kanye Zone on facebook. You can't break it now.

SEVEN: That's right, I created a No Kanye Zone. But, its unbelievable. The bad thing about hip-hop was there was no publishing. No one covers hip-hop songs, so the publishing industry took a very big hit. No muzak is hip-hop. That music rarely plays on the radio.

AJ: I never really thought of that.

SEVEN: That's why the publishing industry was in such a panic & in such a bad way. There's no covers of rap songs.

AJ: While you have contributed to countless rap albums, like PUBLIC ENEMY, so you are very familiar with that world.

SEVEN: I did PUBLIC ENEMY's Fear Of A Black Planet. I worked on Ice Cube's solo debut Ameri-ka-ka-ka's Most Wanted. I worked with ROCK MASTER SCOTT & THE DYNAMIC 3. You remember those guys? "The Roof Is On Fire."

AJ: That was the good old days of rap.

SEVEN: I did their next record or a couple of records after that. I worked with Terminator X. There were so many rap groups that I worked with. But, look at LEADERS OF THE NEW SCHOOL with Busta Rhymes. They pretty much put the nail in the coffin for me with rap music, because when they did their second & last album T.I.M.E. (The Inner Mind's Eye) it didn't make sense. The way they put the record together just wouldn't work, so they came to me & they said 'You're the guy that helped with all those inserts on the PUBLIC ENEMY album.' Yeah, I came up with a lot of shit. So, they asked if I could help them. I said, 'Okay, here's the deal. I gotta get writing credit. I want a producer credit.' He guaranteed it to me. It was the kinda thing where they were very much in a rush to do it. We shook hands on it & made a deal. Then when the album came out there was no production credit whatsoever & Charlie Brown said those were all his ideas. After that point I was pretty much fried. Then you read about what I went through with Busta Rhymes, in my book. He's a real narcissist. What can I tell you? They're the reason why rap music is so fucked up. They don't want to share the credit.

AJ: Is he the one in your book, I remember one story all too well, where this guy was listening back to the music in the studio & it was so loud it almost made your eardrums bleed?

SEVEN: That was Hank Shocklee of the BOMB SQUAD. I was doing, I think it was, "Joy & Pain" the Frankie Beverly remix. He was listening so loud. He turned the knob on the console all the way up & then kept turning it until it broke its threading. It was just spinning. So, I said to Hank, 'Listen, I gotta work in the morning. I need my ears. You're hurting me.' He just looked at me & said, 'What's your problem?' I said, 'Nothing, but you're hurting my ears. I need my ears. It's really violently loud.' He goes, 'Just keep working.' So, I actually put earplugs in & I put headphones on that weren't plugged in. It was still blasting loud. The next day Hank went to the owner of the studio & said he didn't want to work with me anymore. The owner asked why? Hank really said, 'Alan doesn't like black people.' I don't like black people? Just because I didn't want to listen so loud that my ears bleed? That's the story of hip-hop, really, when you think about it.

AJ: That was one of my favorite stories from the book. So, now I have to ask, who was the best person you worked with over the years, either as a fellow musician or engineer?

SEVEN: I worked with Ronnie Ventura, who produced the JACKSONS, Gloria Estefan. I did dance music for him & rock & pop music. He's phenomenal. He's one of my top clients. He's one of my favorite people to work with. I loved working with Chuck D. I really did love working with him. He was a lot of fun to work with back then, as he was pure art. The reason that Chuck D loved me was not only did I get everything really clean & present, but there was nothing he couldn't dream up that I couldn't bring to life sonically. My big thing in audio is depth of field. I love painting this 3 dimensional picture that comes out of 2 speakers. I'm not a 5.1 surround sound guy. I'm an old guy. I believe that if you can't make it come out of these 2 speakers then god bless you. But, a lot of people are making a lot of money remixing the music for surround sound where you need 40 speakers to listen. But, Chuck D was great. Though, when it was time to do his solo album he went to the studio I was working at & they're like 'You're gonna work with Alan, right?' He's like 'Nah, Alan is about cigarettes. He smokes too many cigarettes.' That's why he didn't want to work with me, instead of just saying 'hey, can you not smoke in the control room.' For the creative process: Ronnie Ventura, Chuck D. These are some of my favorite people that I worked with. Recently I worked for the organization C.O.P.S. or Concerns Of Police Survivors. They're doing like a tribute album for cops. But, that's been on hold since my back has been bad. The very top of the list is guitarist Mitch Diamond, as I've said. Working on his Diamond album was really incredible. I wish I hadn't been so fucked up at the time. It could have sounded a lot better.

AJ: To return to something you just said about the sound mix. The majority of people that are listening to music are not listening to it on surround sound. We're listening to music on our phones & small headphones & things as far from surround sound as you can get. So, you were mixing really for the way most people listen to music.

SEVEN: I'm so glad we work hard on these mixes so you can listen on your phone. The hard part is, & you can quote me, if I connect a positive & negative lead to my anus it'll sound just like an iphone speaker. So, I'm so glad the entire world is listening so critically to these incredible mixes through my anus.

AJ: What's even better is if the internet connection isn't good the music stops streaming midway through.

SEVEN: On youtube I click on that little icon that says HD, you know to get the better quality of the video, but I really just want to hear the audio the best it can be. Than I look at the original upload quality of some of this stuff & I just want to jump out the window. What are you going to do? There's a great story from the book I'll tell you. When I was a kid & had my vinyl records ... I still listen to vinyl, by the way. I think that its the truest, most delicious media ... You know STEELY DAN's Aja was mixed at my father's studio. Elliot Scheiner, who was a good friend of my father, mixed that album. When Aja came out in 1977 I used to lay in bed at night & listen to that album & go 'One day, I'm not going to work with STEELY DAN's producer Gary Katz & I'm going to be the guy.' When it came time to work with JAY & THE AMERICANS, sure enough, when I got there to work with the co-producer with the new Jay, Jay Black, as Jay Traynor lost his name in bankruptcy court, he said to me they were thinking of bringing Gary Katz in to work with me & would I be cool with that? Of course! It would be great to work with him. It was my dream. The first time he comes to the studio I'm giving him the tour of the big room explaining the set-up. I'm telling him how we're using Japanese wiring for the multi-tracks to get a great warm sound on digital. He just goes 'No one cares.' If Gary Katz says no one cares that hurts, you know what I mean? But, the thing is, it's true. If you guys are listening to these songs on those tiny little speakers ... there's a saying in Yiddish: go with God Or, there's fuck you.

AJ: That's the state of the record industry.

SEVEN: The music industry set itself up for failure, putting a noose around their own neck, by not investing in new artists & not adopting mp3 technology when it happened. No, they said, 'Fuck that, we're going to squash it. We're going to sue them & sue their kids & this mp3 thing will go away. We're going to keep selling our $22 CD's & keep giving the artist fuck all. We'll still be fat pigs.' What they failed to realize was you can only starve people for so long. It hurt. But, finally they figured out where the food was, that is online, & guess what, they were going to eat. But, really it hurt music sales. It hurt all the artists as they weren't getting paid all the royalties anymore. I gotta say, U2 I think is brilliant, giving away their album Songs Of Innocence on iTunes free like that. They said fuck it. They decided their fans were so awesome they were going to give them all the album for free. Let them pay for concert tickets. Right?

AJ: I haven't heard the album, as I don't have itunes, but it was actually pretty genius, I'll agree. I don't know why so many were upset. Who doesn't like free stuff? I didn't quite get the backlash.

SEVEN: You know the story of LINKIN PARK? They were getting no push from their label. They uploaded their album to mp3.com & at every gig they did they said you could go to mp3.com & download the whole album for free. They did this without the record company's permission nor knowledge. They said if you like the album than go buy the real thing. Next thing you know their album is selling really well. Brilliant. They taught the music industry a lesson & the industry still said fuck you.

AJ: The music industry didn't fix the problem or deal with it early on & now its too late. Now they can't & they are upset the problem can't be fixed their way. Even if they sue people it's still too late.

SEVEN: They're suing a lady because her kid downloaded music.

AJ: That's going to have about as much effect as Gene Simmons of KISS getting into the news & shitting on something, like he does. It'll only make more people upset, not stop the problem.

SEVEN: Talk about building a brand. Look at Gene.

AJ: I think he's a jerk & I'm not a KISS fan, but Paul & Gene created an industry & brand that is undeniably untouchable. I will give them credit for working hard for a long time to build that brand.

SEVEN: But, they've hurt the brand so badly.

AJ: It's not about the music anymore though, it's about the experience & these more-than-human participants.

SEVEN: I was a huge KISS fan as a child. Dressed To Kill was one of my favorite albums.

AJ: Speaking of favorite albums, when Seven the music guy likes to relax & just enjoy music, plain & simple, what does he listen to? What's his musical sweet tooth?

SEVEN: Everything from like Paul McCartney's Ram & John Lennon's Imagine. I like Mozart & Bach. I like METALLICA ... but, the later METALLICA. I'm the opposite of all the METALLICA fans that like the early stuff. For me, its the black album on.

AJ: Did you like the Lulu album with Lou Reed?

SEVEN: That was horrid. That was a really bizarre.

AJ: I'm a big Lou Reed fan, so for me it was METALLICA that failed, not him. He did what he always does. Though, his poetry was more bizarre than usual.

SEVEN: I love Lou, too, but that's a bad Lou Reed album.

AJ: He makes plenty of bad albums.

SEVEN: It's horrible. My favorite METALLICA album is S&M when they're with the symphony. Just hearing those old songs done new with that symphony orchestra just gives it so much power. It's funny. I love bands like TONIC. I think they were really great. Since I met Mitch Diamond I've been a gigantic DEEP PURPLE & RAINBOW fan, even though he would laugh at me because I'm a newer DEEP PURPLE & RAINBOW fan. My old keyboard player John Ruotolo used to beg me to listen to RAINBOW. I'd be like 'Not on your life.' I was too young. I was too into RUSH & KISS & stuff like that. It was just too above my head at the time, but now one of my favorite albums is DEEP PURPLE's Burn.

AJ: I love that album with David Coverdale & Glenn Hughes. "Stormbringer", "Burn", I love those songs.

SEVEN: I can play "Burn" on drums. It's a fun tune.

AJ: Richie Blackmore is one of my guys. He's my Hendrix. ... Seven, I have no more prepared questions. Is there any more you want to talk about that we haven't?

SEVEN: There are some things I want to express that I think are really important. I think in this day of Pro Tools every kid goes to audio school & he walks out saying he wants to be a producer. Then he takes dad's credit card & he goes to the store & buys padding for the walls & then he goes to the guitar store & buys Pro Tools & microphones, whatever. He opens up a studio & sells studio time for $10 an hour. I have a very important message. Just because you can buy a scalpel doesn't make you a surgeon. Just because you can cut open a frog & you can cut a steak, I don't think you want to remove a heart in an operating room. I think if people realize that then the music industry will come back. I truly believe the music industry can come back. The recording industry can come back when people realize they're not doing themselves any justice by making their own albums. It's cool once in awhile. I mean, BOSTON did it. The first BOSTON album was done in a house. A-HA "Take On Me" is another one. There are exceptions to the rule where people will make their own albums & it will work.

AJ: But, also many of those people kinda knew what they are doing.

SEVEN: Either that or they were just so super gifted. In this Pro Tools world bands are cheating themselves. That's something I really want to get the word out on. Don't cheat yourself. Why would you produce your own album if you can afford to hire a producer? You're really cheating your own dreams. The art of recording is in a coma. It's not dead. It's just in a coma & its waiting to wake up & its waiting to come back. There are guys like myself who are waiting. We are waiting for that time when people come back & want that craft & that art. They just want to make records for people who appreciate having records made for them. Just do what you do & get paid for it &do it right. But, that's not happening, because these guys aren't recording engineers. They went & bought ProTools & some great speakers, but do you know what it costs to build a proper studio to get a recording environment neutral so you can hear properly or track or to mix properly? People are missing that. Plug-ins. That's a great thing to talk about.

AJ: The floor is yours. Go ahead.

SEVEN: You know when you go to a bar & you get a soda, right? You notice that the ginger ale takes like Coke & the Coke tastes like 7-Up? They all have the same kind of taste? Welcome to digital recording. One of the things that made audio so incredible & special was plugging into compressors, limiters, etc. All these things had different sounds. It was almost like cooking. You know in a good Italian sauce you can taste the oregano, garlic, tomatoes, yet they work in this wonderful synchronicity where everything is working together, helping each other to tasting great. In digital everything is going in & out the same way & it all tastes the same. All these records have such a similar sound to them. People aren't using different recording consoles, different compressors, different wire. When I master with Greg Calbi - this is very important - he even uses different types of wire to see how it'll sound. Wire has a sound. Like we talk about albums & that terrific sound of vinyl. Now it's gone. Now you're listening to it through an inadequate speaker. Or, how about this, remember when you still bought records you'd put the needle down on track one & listen to the entire record. Then you'd flip it over & listen to side 2. Then you looked at the album cover & read the credits. It was all very tangible. It was a very physical experience. You invited your friends over & you all listened to this record. It was an experience. That's fucking gone. We have to bring that experience back. In the end it's a soundtrack to your life.

AJ: I remember the the first time I heard YES's Close To The Edge, I literally sat on my bed & listened to the vinyl while pouring through the liner notes & investigating the cover, which was made of a particular paper to have a unique rough feel. I was reading the lyrics & had them nearly memorized by the time I was done listening the first time through.

SEVEN: I would sit on my parents carpet with headphones on & my father would put on a record & we'd sit together & read the lyrics to BEATLES songs. I fell in love with music. That love in me is still alive. Loving music is a great engineer's life. Jay Messina ... 2 albums he did were nominated for Grammys. Jim is coming over to my house this weekend. I still see these guys. My father's studio friends come & visit every few months. I love it. It brings my childhood right back.

AJ: I'm always telling my girlfriend about liner notes & whose who. I've read liner notes like they are novels & learned so much. I want to know who is who. But, that's a lost art.

SEVEN: That's all very important to me. I think that covers it. I said what I wanted to say. It's really important that people need to realize the need to rediscover the value of an engineer & a producer & the whole process. Even going to a studio, not your home. There is a music industry that wants that, but people have to want that again. There's more to it than basements & Pro Tools. There's an art. I lean on an old school mentality as a engineer in a new digital world. I think that makes real rich & interesting productions. There is a sonic experience that is lacking. That's super important to me. I think that's my final message.


October 9, 2016

"We do a re-working of A Tribe Called Quest" An Interview With JOE DENIZON

Click here to visit the official website of Joe Deninzon.
Click here to visit the official website of Stratospheerius.


June 2012 (live interview, World of Trans-Siberian Orchestra Podcast episode 88)

The NYC quartet Stratospheerius defies labels has it fuses funk, jazz, rock, classical, country & classical seemlessly & unpretentiously. So many bands put a classical riff against a Led Zeppelin melody & consider it unique (even if the drummer of Led Zeppelin was a major classical music fan & already did the mix), but Stratospheerius takes the soup a step further nearly creating their own musical fusion genre that needs to be listened to, if not watched, to truly understand. Part of the magic comes from the frontman in violinist-singer-composer Joe Deninzon, who has been labeled the Hendrix of violin, though references to Steve Vai are probably better placed. He's a teacher, including with the Mark Wood Orchestra Orchestra Camp, Mark O'Connor's String Camp & co-founder of the Grand Canyon School of Rock. He authored the Mel Bay instructional violin book Plugging In. Outside of Stratospheerius he also plays in his own jazz trio, the Sweet Plantain String Quartet String Quartet fusing latin jazz/classical/hip-hop & the Robert Bonfiglio Group, for starters. Elsewhere his violin has been heard alongside Sheryl Crow, Blackmore's Night, Bruce Springsteen & others.

I had the opportunity to see Stratospheerius live in a small Harlem club, invited by a friend whose daughter was one of Denizon's violin students. The show was the CD release party of their new album The Next World..., but it was rumored the band would be joined by a former member who was invited to impromptu jam with them. Even after the group took the stage nothing was confirmed ... until Alex Skolnick showed up guitar in hand. Skolnick is known for his work with thrash titans Testament, Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra & an extensive solo career including funk & jazz-rock. Skolnick's unique chordal approach against Stratospheerius's punch made for a mind-blowing night. Not so long after Denizon joined me on a live broadcast of my World Of Trans-Siberian Orchestra podcast for a nearly 30 minute interview. Obviously, he qualified for my show via Skolnick who had played with TSO, but I knew going in that I only wanted his work with Skolnick but a mention of a far bigger & far more interesting musical life that needs no qualifiers.

Special thanks to Dan Roth, whose daughter learned violin under Joe & invited me to the show & to booking manager Ann Leighton who arranged the interview & put a CD in my hand literally fresh out of the box.

*****

AJ: We met briefly at your concert at The Shrine a few weeks ago. I was blown away by STRATOPHEERIUS.

JOE: Thank you so much.

AJ: You guys absolutely rock.

JOE: Thanks so much. Really appreciate that. It was a really special night for us.

AJ: The bonus was that I got to see your former member Alex Skolnick jam with you, too.

JOE: That was a last minute thing & we hadn't played together in 8 years. So, it was really cool. A really beautiful moment.

AJ: Joe, I want to ask you about the band & your new album, The Next World, & also about the other things that you do, as you've got a diverse resume. But, first, how would you describe STRATOPHEERIUS?

JOE: Descriptions are really a hard thing for us.

AJ: I've heard that this is one of the hurdles you run into, because reviewers & promoters don't know how to describe the band.

JOE: It's not like I set out to create a band that defies description. It was just a culmination of my musical influences. I guess you could call us a rock'n'roll band, but its so much more than that. So many different things melted into one.

AJ: How do you describe the band to somebody who maybe has not heard you? Or, do you not try?

JOE: I have to try, because when we're trying to book the bank or convince people to let us play in their festival or in their gig or whatever we have to explain what it is, but ultimately they just have to listen to us. I used to call it psycho jazz electric fiddle trip funk. But, that didn't totally fit.

AJ: That's a mouthful.

JOE: It is. So, I say now, its a mixture of progressive rock, funk, jazz, blues, metal, gypsy music, you know, a little bit of jam band thrown in, all played on an electric violin.

AJ: That's still a mouthful. I know when I was listening to you guys I heard everything. You introduced one song as having some LED ZEPPELIN & then there's another song that's right out of the bluegrass world. So, you guys really are all over the place. But, that's not a detriment. Your new album, The Next World... is really strong even though it's a range of musical styles.

JOE: Thank you. My biggest challenge over the years has been to really focus & I've developed this sound over many years. My earlier albums I've been criticized for being all over the musical map. There would be a jazzy type tune, a fusion-esque song, a straight up hard rock song. My favorite bands of the 70's, like QUEEN & LED ZEPPELIN, used to have albums that spanned the stylistic gamut. My issue with a lot of stuff that comes out these days is you hear a song on the radio you like & you buy the album, but all the songs sound exactly like that. You want to yawn. I guess its just the nature of the business right now, but I've always admired artists that were maybe under the umbrella of rock or hard rock or whatever, but within that had so many different variations in different areas, acoustic, more ambient kind of stuff, you know. MUSE is a band that comes to mind. I think they embody that spirit more than a lot of other bands today. Anyways, that's what I've been striving for, but still within a signature STRATOPHEERIUS sound.

AJ: It's a tightrope walk, really.

JOE: It really is. You've got to learn to edit yourself & stand back & see the big picture. When you're making an album you're so deep in it's hard to really ... in hindsight you're like, 'So, that's what that was.'

AJ: 'I didn't know I had that in me.'

JOE: Exactly.

AJ: Moving to the songs, when I listened to your album there was one song that stood out for me. Actually, there were many, but one stood out so much both musically & lyrically so much that I actually found a youtube video of it that I sent to some to some friends encouraging them to listen to your music. I guess you could call this my favorite.

JOE: I'm dying to know which one.

AJ: It's simply called "Gods." I love the lyrics. They are really simple, but really cool. Catchy, singable & memorable.

JOE: Thanks.

AJ: The band started back in 2001. You've gone through numerous members & lots of changes, both musically & in your own life. Some folks who know you might say your membership is one of your more memorable traits, not just the lyrics. One particular past member has quite a reputation. Former SAVATAGE, TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA & TESTAMENT thrash guitarist Alex Skolnick. Would you mind giving some history of the time when you had Alex in the band?

JOE: It was a very funny turn of events. It was kinda random. I used to teach at NYC's New School University, the extended studies program at night. They had this music program & I taught violin. I was walking out of there one day - this was just a few years after I'd moved to NYC - & I saw an ad for a student recital listing a bunch of people in a Miles Davis ensemble. It said Alex Skolnick. I wondered if it was the same Alex Skolnick from TESTAMENT & what in the world would he being doing here at the New School in a student recital? I grew up listening to heavy metal. I had posters of Alex & all those guys in my room. Zakk Wylde & Kirk Hammett & all these guys. I used to be a guitarist. I used to subscribe to Guitar Player magazine where Alex had an educational column. He was a celebrity in my eyes & a lot of other peoples, of course. So, I went to the recital & there he was. It was the Alex Skolnick. I went up to him. At the time I was finishing my Master's degree at the Manhattan School of Music. I introduced myself & asked how he came to be there. He said he was doing his Bachelor's degree in jazz guitar, because he loved jazz. I vaguely remember reading an early interview with him a few years back where he was talking about how he loved Michael Brecker & Pat Metheny. He just had this interest in jazz. He was like the only metal guy I knew who also loved jazz, which I thought was very unique. I could also relate to that, because I was a huge jazz fan, as well. I mean, I was majoring in jazz. He said he got bored playing metal. He quit the scene & moved to NY & wanted to sorta start fresh & decided to finally do his undergrad. It's really bizarre. A few weeks later I mustered up the nerve ... I had this gig & I was trying to put a band together to play my music. I had a CD I had recorded in Cleveland where I grew up. So, I sort of hesitantly asked if he'd like to play & he was like "Yeah, sure, let's do it." I was really surprised. Anyway, we ended up playing together a lot. We became best friends & he ended up playing with what became STRATOPHEERIUS, for about 3 years. He recorded on 2 albums of ours. It was a period in his life when he was he going back to school & sorta starting over. When his trio got really busy & he started playing with TRAN-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA again & with TESTAMENT again, he got too busy to play with us after awhile. But, it was a fun period to have him in the band.

AJ: Excellent.

JOE: It was definitely an era I'll remember as long as I live. He's a great guy. Great player. It was fun to get to know somebody personally who I grew up with listening to as a kid.

AJ: Then here you are, 8 or so years later, you bring him on stage to celebrate the new CD release.

JOE: We stayed in touch. We've both been very busy, but we've been trying to come up with situations to play together again.

AJ: It's hard to do when one's on the road & you both stay pretty active.

JOE: You do what you can. We've been talking about organizing more of a duo gig in the city, more of a jazz thing. Like an acoustic jazz kinda situation.

AJ: That's cool.

JOE: We'll get around to it hopefully soon.

AJ: You just said you started on guitar. How did you go from that from that to the violin, which is surrounded by this classical aura, the complete opposite.

JOE: The truth is I actually started on violin. I come from a family of classical musicians. My father is a member of the CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA. Classical violinist, pure 100% classical violinist. He's been playing in that orchestra for 33 years & that's a world re-known orchestra. My mother is a classical pianist. I grew up with music in the house, but it was all classical. When we immigrated from Russia when I was 4 years old all I knew was classical music. My father stuck a violin in my hand when I was 6 & I went through the Suzuki method. That's like the most common method taught in the U.S. My dad taught me for awhile. I just did the typical book 1, book 2, book 3, the typical repertoire of the classical violin. At some point when I was 10 I just turned on the radio & heard this really cool music that fascinated me. It was rock'n'roll, pop music. I started watching MTV. I was adjusting to life in the States. There was a language barrier, a culture barrier. I wanted to fit in. Everyone knew I played music, but I felt like this was just a great way of communicating with people. It really just tugged at my heart strings. Around age 13 I took up the electric bass, because no one else was playing bass. I figured violin has 4 strings, bass has 4 strings. That was actually the first instrument I learned to improvise on. I formed some bands in high school & I taught myself guitar when I was 15. I got really into guitar. I used to worship folks like Alex & Steve Vai, of course Hendrix. I was totally into hard rock/metal guitar. Later I got into jazz with Pat Metheny, John Scofield, John McLaughlin. So, bass & guitar were the instruments I learned to improvise on. But, at the same time I was leading a parallel life just playing classical violin, going to youth orchestras, going to lessons. At one point when I was 17 I heard a recording of Jean-Luc Ponty & Stephane Grappelli something clicked in my mind. 'Wow, these guys are doing something on the violin that I didn't even know that was possible.' Around the same time I got an opportunity to play with Michael Stanley. He's a pretty well-known singer-songwriter in Cleveland. He saw me play & he asked me to play violin with his band. It was just some cool bluesy kinda rock'n'roll. I just fell into it. I already knew the musical language. I just had to transfer it to the violin. So, that's sorta how my path was set. Then I listened to Jerry Goodman with MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA & Sugar Kane Harris with Zappa & I was like 'That's it, this is what I'm meant to do. It combines the instrument that I've played all my life with the music I love so dearly.' That's sorta how it came about.

AJ: You mentioned John McLaughlin, a guitarist who I also really like. He really created a fusion of rock, jazz & ethnic music. His violinists pushed what the violin could do & they it did it without drugs, no less. This is exactly what you've done. Do you see any change these days in how kids, since you're a teacher, or people in general approach the violin? Is it still the instrument good only for classical music or country fiddle & just gimmicky in the rock world or is it now seen as an instrument much more diverse than it has traditionally appeared? That's a big question, I know.

JOE: It's a great question. It's really amazing to me that an instrument that's been around for literally hundreds of years that the bar has been set so high in the classical world. When you play the Tchaikovksy "Violin Concerto" you think of all the incredible players that have played it. You can't help but ask yourself, 'What am I going to say with this "Concerto" that hasn't already been said, you know?' The instrument has been around so long, but yet I still see so much uncharted territory for it, even after all this time. I think we're just scrapping the tip of the iceberg. I also think in the last 15-20 years there's been a surge of young players that not only have a great classical foundation, but also are hip to playing blues or jazz or rock or thinking outside the traditional box of what the instrument can do. I think part of that is you see a lot more string players in bands, like the DAVE MATTHEWS BAND or TANTRIC. Also, the Mark O'Conner fiddle camp that's been around for decades. Mark Wood has been travelling around schools doing his Electrify Your Strings program for a long time. For the second year in a row I'm teaching at his Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp. All these educational things really come into play. We're seeing the results of that. Also, in NY I book string players for different occasions as a contractor. I also have a rock string quartet I play with. So, I get to know a lot of string players & I see more & more people that can really just rock out. 10 years I might have had a much smaller pool of people to choose from. So, you know, there's so much you can do with the violin. I play a traditional 4 string violin, but I also play an electric 7 string fretted violin that can play power chords & walk bass lines & do all kinds of stuff like that.

AJ: I noticed when I saw you live you had the Viper 7 string. I'm curious, with the frets on it does that actually make a difference or is that just more of a visual thing that you can't feel, more like a fretless guitar?

JOE: For me, as a singer who sings & plays violins simultaneously, it just helps. It helps me get oriented. Also, in live situations the monitoring might not always be ideal, so it also helps knowing that you're really on when you can't hear. It's the same reasons you might want to play a fretted guitar versus a fretless guitar. But, that being said, I'm not going to say that everyone should buy a fretless violin. I play both. I want to see the age when ... most guitarists I know have an acoustic they bring on certain gigs. They have an electric they bring on certain gigs. I want to see that with string players. The other thing, in order to survive as a musician, to make a living, you have to be able to do it all. You have to be able to play in an orchestra. You have to be able to improvise. You have to be able to understand how to play electric violin & work with effects & perform, not just sit in a pit reading music. There's a lot of skills serious musicians have to have. That's what I've been advocating.

AJ: You just mentioned a rock string quartet. Is that the SWEET PLANTAIN QUARTET?

JOE: No, that's my other quartet. I'm in a lot of different bands. SWEET PLANTAIN is an acoustic group that I joined 2 years ago. This is a really cool band. It's basically mixes classical, Latin, jazz & hip-hop music in a traditional string quartet format. The cellist raps & the other violinist doubles on trombone. I sing & play violin & mandolin. We do originals & arrangements of Jobim & different jazz & Latin tunes. We do a reworking of A TRIBE CALLED QUEST. It's a very interesting group.

AJ: Joe, you're mentioning diversity. I think of the funky little ska influenced "Tech Support" from the new album that comes out of nowhere.

JOE: I thought it would be a good song to tick off prog fans. It's the last kind of style you would expect to hear with a band known as a progressive rock band.

AJ: But, for you guys it's funky. It's not straight ska. It opens traditional but goes funky.

JOE: It goes into a heavy rock thing at one point.

AJ: You mentioned earlier in passing someone you work with & before we parted I wanted to mention him again. I consider him a real renaissance guy when it comes to music due to his work not just as a musician but also as an educator, while he's also a violin maker. I really admire his work. He's really tried to change how people view the violin. I'm talking about Mark Wood, who with his wife, vocalist Laura Kaye & folks like yourself, is really inspiring a new generation of young musicians. Would you mind sharing a little bit about the experience of working with Mark?

JOE: He's a very inspiring guy. He built my Viper 7 string. I take my cue from him. I've also been going into the schools & doing a lot of clinics & residencies & improvisation workshops. I do this both on my own & with STRATOSPHEERIUS or SWEET PLANTAIN. Mark has been doing that since the late 90's. He's one of reasons we're witnessing a change in the string world. I think in a few years you'll see even more of us in rock bands & doing all this kind of crazy stuff. The camp is a really special experience. I was there for the first time teaching last summer. It's in Kansas in mid-July. It's mostly high school kids & they're just like I was when I was their age. They have this intense love for music that's maybe outside the classical realm, but they all grew up playing classical. They're so passionate & really want to do something or be creative with their instruments. It's really fun to feel like you are inspiring them. It's a really great community. All the other people on the faculty are also really great, in their own right. I have the deepest respect for Mark, everything he's done for the violin & for music education.

AJ: In your playing, do you ever have a situation where there's maybe a parent of a student or maybe they've just seen you perform & they come up to you & say something like 'Joe, you're really good, but how dare you do this on the violin? You're hurting the legacy of this instrument.'

JOE: Not that I recall. I've actually been able to turn people around. I went to a pretty conservative music school for my undergrad. All the faculty were these old school classical legends. But, all these teachers sorta accepted me on my own terms. They knew I was a jazz guy & a rock guy & I was there to work on my classical technique, but they never tried to push me into being something I wasn't. I sorta forced them to respect me & appreciate what I did. I think everyone's on a mission to expand people's minds, that is everyone who plays what could be called alternative styles on a string instrument. The whole conservative classical mentality is dying out. I think people are a lot more hip to what's going on, even the older generation. My parents, who very much came up in the traditional classical environment, whatever they were thinking they never said it to me. They were always supportive. The further I went along the more they totally just kept cheering me on. That really helped me out. I can't really think of a time I had to fight the power. I try to avoid people like that. I knew what I wanted, or I knew what I didn't want.

AJ: Joe, we're down to the last few minutes. I want to say a big thank you for talking with me tonight. It was a bit of a struggle finding a night where you were free, so it means a lot that you would take some more time away from your family to talk with me.

JOE: Thanks, it was a pleasure.

February 27, 2016

"It's my own fault for making up that melody" An Interview With GRAHAM BONNET

Click here to visit the official website of the Graham Bonnet Band.

May 2011 (live broadcast, Roman Midnight Music Podcast Episode #19)

British metal vocalist Graham Bonnet is most famous for replacing Ronnie James Dio in Rainbow, featuring guitar icon Richie Blackmore, followed by fronting Alcatrazz that helped propel the careers of guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai. While Bonnet is also famous for cutting his hair short & looking more like a James Dean inspired 1950's rocker than a long hair metal singer. But, outside of these two famous gigs he's also had an extensive solo career, guesting on numerous albums, & singing & touring with an array of musicians & one off groups, including the Michael Schenker Group, Impellitteri, Blackthorne with Bruce Kulick, Japan's Anthem, the Taz Taylor Band, the Rainbow tribute band Catch The Rainbow. At the time of this interview he was discussing a new album by Alcatrazz, which would be their first since 1983, but instead he'd find himself playing with the new Graham Bonnet Band experimenting with a softer rock side. In 2016 his official biography is set to be released.

As a 34th birthday gift to myself I invited Graham to be a guest for an hour on my podcast. As I tell in the interview I'd discovered his voice not so long earlier & was an instant fan, slowly listening my way through his extensive catalog. I was looking forward to this interview for months & he was the first high profile guest I'd had on my show, stepping up from more regionally known musicians. It ended up being a wonderful hour as we discussed everything that doesn't get typically mentioned in an interview. I had already decided I would not bore him with the same questions about singing with Malmsteen or Blackmore, even though the later is one of my personal guitar gods, as not just had he been asked those questions too often but they focused on the other guys not Graham. I didn't know my modest questions would lead into a discussion of his R&B background, singing with the Bee Gees, his musical heroes & even bike riding, let alone some very honest statements about his career. His openness & joy when talking made me feel instantly at ease, versus pacing the floor nervous which I really was. It also helped that earlier in the day he'd sent me a personal e-mail, we'd communicated only through his assistant, & asked me to call him because of a question he had. It was a mix-up as I was one of 3 interviews scheduled, but talking to him before him really broke the ice for our interview later that night. I later ordered a personalized Alcatrazz DVD from him & have been awaiting the release of his biography. After the fact I received a nice comment from a listener in Canada whose the bassist & singer of the rock trio Guys With Wives. He said he'd grown up listening to the Marbles & patterned his vocals on their stuff. He didn't know until hearing my show that Graham Bonnet's first band was the Marbles, as Graham had moved into rock & metal & my friend had thus lost track of him. Hearing Guys With Wives the influence is obvious. I opened my show with a list of his many accomplishments, to which this transcription opens immediately after that.

*****

AJ: ... An absolute honor to have as my guest tonight, Mr. Graham Bonnet. Graham, I absolutely welcome you to my humble show & if I could roll out a red carpet from Manhattan to L.A. I absolutely would right now.

GRAHAM: That was such a great intro. Thank you very much. How can I follow ? You made me sound so ... are you talking about me?

AJ: Yes, I am!

GRAHAM: As you said, to replace Ronnie James Dio in RAINBOW was probably one of the hardest things I ever did because it was complete switch for me music-wise.

AJ: I have to confess, Richie Blackmore is my Hendrix. For me, one of the greatest guitar players in the world, so you were stepping into some humongous shoes, maybe even bigger than you even realized.

GRAHAM: Yeah, as you were saying, my background was more into the pop R&B kinda thing in the 60's, as that was what I was doing all my life, as I was telling you earlier today. I started basically when I was 19 years old. I was doing a completely different field to where I am now. What has happened to my career has taken a totally different direction than I ever thought would happen.

AJ: Do you ever get nostalgic? Like, 'Things aren't working out with my career right now, I wish RAINBOW still existed?' Or, 'I wish I was an unknown soul singer in the middle of England again.'

GRAHAM: All the time. Everyday. I was telling a friend of mine yesterday ... there's a guy writing a book about how I started in my music career. He's sending me photographs which were taken back when I was like 16/17 years old. I'm looking back & I think to myself I wish I could do that again. To do that again, to go back & do all these R&B songs that I used to do way back when. Play all those Chuck Berry songs, etc. I miss those times when I look back now. Now, somebody is writing a book about me, which is very flattering. It's incredible. I've known this guy for years & one day he says, 'Would you mind if I wrote a book about you?' Nobody else will, so why not you? Anyway, it's nice to look back. I do miss those times, because those were times when I was creatively hungry. I wanted to do something, I came from a small town. I was the only ... there was about 3 guitar players in town where I lived & nobody played drums, nobody played bass. But, if you had a drum kit you were in the band. If you had a bass you were suddenly playing bass. It was very difficult to find musicians to play with. But, I was in a couple of bands in my home town. We did okay. We played local bars, like everybody did back then & listened to all the BEATLES & ROLLING STONES records & things like that, Chuck Berry & did a lot of that kind of music. A lot of Otis Redding & Steve Wonder things. Whatever we could do, because back then you had to play everything, because you play probably like 3-4 hours or something.

AJ: Not like today.

GRAHAM: Yeah, yeah. 20 minutes, you know, or an hour & a half or something like that. But, you had to play that long & you'd take a break. Of course, the people in the audience that we'd play to, you know we'd play in bars & pubs in England, they wanted to hear all the hits. So we had to ... that was my upbringing, from playing everything from jazz things to pop, you know, everything. You had to be able to play every kind of music to please the audience & keep them listening or have them dancing or whatever. This is what I did & a lot of my friends did. The BEATLES did the same thing.

AJ: & the ROLLING STONES & all those bands. That was the way it was done. So different from today.

GRAHAM: You basically had to play everything, from waltzes to cha-cha-chas. All these horrible dance songs ... that were like, 'What am I doing here?' & getting paid like 2 or 3 bucks a night for doing it, playing like 4 hours. But, what a great learning experience it was for all of us. It later became very helpful to me, you know, finding jazz chords & things like that on my guitar that I never would have known unless I played that kind of music. That's what I brought to songs later on. & a lot of other guys did too who were in bands, that ilk, you know, back in the 60's. It was good schooling.

AJ: You've basically made your reputation for most people as a heavy metal or hard rock singer, but have you ever considered doing an album of the old stuff, going back to the soul or the Chuck Berry? Has that ever crossed your mind?

GRAHAM: Well, I've thought about it, but I think that would be like a luxury at the moment. It's something I would love to do one day, but at the moment I'm sort of in a bag of whatever it is right now. I'm stuck in this drawer of being this so called heavy rock singer, whatever you want to call me now. For me to suddenly change & do something totally R&B will be very strange for people, I think. Where's all that high singing & whatever else? It is something I'd love to do. But, at the moment, we really have to get a new album out for my band ALCATRAZZ, which is a new line-up now. I'd love to do that. To have the time to do that, but really I have to get something new band-wise. That is like the main thing, because I do a lot of sessions. I'm doing a few sessions now that I haven't finished yet & to do a new album with ALCATRAZZ or to do a new album with R&B type songs on it or whatever, for me, means time out & not actually working. That means being off the road. When you're in a studio you're not making money. It's not like it was. Back in the '60's people were throwing money at you to go into the studio for months on end. That's how I started & you're in there for however long it took to make the album. If it took 6 months, then it took 6 months. But, it's not like that anymore. Everybody ... or, I do, or most people, record at home now on ProTools. Everything is done by e-mail. Everybody e-mails their parts to each other. 'I've got this idea for a song. Can you put some words to this?' That's the way it goes. What we're trying to do now is to get more shows on the road for us to keep alive, basically, because the past 3-4 years have been very very bad for bands of the 1980's, let's say, that style of music. It's no longer the flavor of the month, or whatever. There is an audience out there, but they're being neglected. It's very hard to convince promoters to actually put some money into a band that may not be AEROSMITH or whatever or may not be very very well known by everyone. As you said, you found out about my stuff a year ago. You know what I mean? So, it's just the way it is. The economy is crap. A lot of my friends, as I was saying to you earlier, they're just saying 'What do we do? We can't get any work.' A lot of people are doing sessions or getting themselves a regular job like a real person, you know, instead of playing at being a rock'n'roll star. That's the way it is.

AJ: I absolutely understand. The other night I saw in concert WHITESNAKE & here's David Coverdale, been around as long as you, played with the same guitar player even, & he's doing a show at a 1000 person venue. It's not an arena. He's not at Madison Square Garden where he might have been 20 years ago. I know you have said it in past interviews, you're honest enough with yourself to know you won't be playing in arenas again.

GRAHAM: Oh yeah, yeah.

AJ: I said at the beginning of this show, & I wasn't being mean but just making an observation, that I feel that you're under-appreciated or what people know you for is 30 years ago. That kinda ties into what you were saying, as you still have to make a living & tour & do stuff. You know, continue to get out there. When I say that you're under-appreciated, what's your thoughts on this & where things have gone & struggling as a musician now versus when you were whoever?

GRAHAM: I think a lot of it is my fault. I didn't stay with one project long enough. You know, the stint with RAINBOW. I was with RAINBOW for one album. I should have stayed for at least another 2 or something, but I got on this ego thing ... actually, it came to a disagreement between me & the band. Nothing was being productive. I sang on that first album [Down To Earth] & second album began & nothing was happening in rehearsal. So, I thought I could do something on my own. I wish that I'd stayed with RAINBOW longer & that's why I kinda disappeared into the great unknown. I was just becoming known by a brand new audience of real cool people that I'd never met before & meeting all these great musicians that I was blown away by. I'd always met people more in the pop side of the business, so to speak. It was an opportunity I blew. I should have stayed with them. ALCATRAZZ should have lasted longer when I put that band together. The Michael Schenker thing [Attack Assault] was a one-off again. One album in the studio. I never stuck with anything & people were kinda like, I guess, wondering where I'd gone to. I wondered where I'd gone to as well. I didn't know what to do. I was never satisfied. I think the thing that kinda made me uncomfortable & dissatisfied with the whole business was quiting RAINBOW when I did. Then maybe my name would be in people's minds & they would know me better than they do now. Whereas, what's happen is, with ALCATRAZZ, it's bred 2 guitar players that everybody knows about. That's Steve Vai & Yngwie Malmsteen. Instead of it being a band that kept my career going I kinda helped those guys. I was a stepping stone. ALCATRAZZ was a stepping stone for better careers for Steve & Yngwie, you know. I should have just hung in with other people longer than I did, but I was never quite sure what to do. I was always wanting to do something ... you know, something else & I wasn't sure what it was.

AJ: You're actually kinda answering a question I had or you're hinting at maybe an answer. As I was looking over your catalog, you've performed a lot with bands & you've done very few solo albums, versus someone like your successor in RAINBOW Joe Lynn Turner whose done lots of solo albums, or versus someone like David Coverdale whose basically been in one band, even though it has rotating members. You have pursued many directions & I was kinda wondering why you hadn't chosen a path of just Graham Bonnet solo albums or just ALCATRAZZ albums. I think you kinda hinted at dissatisfaction being there & wanting to explore new territories as the reason behind that, also just making a living.

GRAHAM: You have it so much safer being in a band. Then you don't have to take the blame if nobody likes the album. It's a scary thing to step out there on your own. Like The Day I Went Mad, that was all my own deal there in 1999. I got great players to come play on that album, but it was all my own songs, except for one, that's the Paul McCartney tune "Oh! Darling." That was it. That was the only cover on there, I think ... Oh no, there's 2 covers. Sorry. There's another one, "Don't Look Down" [by guitarist Mick Ronson]. Yet, there's safety in numbers, as they say. At the moment, as I said, it would be a luxury to do a solo album & do exactly what I wanted to do. But, I wonder if people would actually want to listen. I'm not sure anymore. Wondering if I have to stay with this kind of music, which I think I have to, which is like ALCATRAZZ, the ALCATRAZZ kind of sound, if there was one, if there is one. That kind of thing. Which is how I'm writing tunes now, which is very much in the style of ALCATRAZZ, but with a little twist here & there, bringing it into 2012 eventually. 2012 will be about the time we get the album done, I think. It's gonna take awhile. I mean, as I said, we have this stuff together for about 4 or 5 years now, ready to go. But, it's got to have ... to do an album for people to go 'Show me what else you can do, you know.' It would nice to have the elements of the old, so called old ALCATRAZZ sound, but with some new influences. You know something that suddenly takes a left turn when you think it's going to go straight on. Which I think happened with ALCATRAZZ when Steve joined the band. That was, in fact, my favorite album of ALCATRAZZ [Disturbing The Peace], was when he joined. It was just a little bit different. It wasn't your regular heavy metal, as it was called then, album. ... I think I've lost the thread of the question.

AJ: No, no, I'm enjoying listening to you. I have to be honest with you, I appreciate your candor. I really appreciate your honesty. There's a lot of musicians out there that go 'Well, yeah, you know, everything is great.' But, you're opening up & just saying what you feel & I know you do this in other interviews, too. You are telling your insecurities & as a fan that really means a lot to me to be able to share in that. It's not just about the music.

GRAHAM: As I said, I'm not going to be playing arenas anymore, even though I did 4 years ago when I went on a tour of Australia with a whole bunch of people that were on a TV show called Countdown, which I happened to host 10,000 years ago, twice, when I lived in Australia for a short time. Like all my early stuff, my solo albums, were like number one albums there, for some odd reason. Don't ask me why. We did actually play arenas. It was Rick Springfield, Doug Fieger of the KNACK. Poor Doug has died. I think it was 2 years ago now. Katrina of KATRINA & THE WAVES, Samantha Fox, the Australian band the ANGELS & a bunch of other Australian bands nobody would know about. But, we were playing every night to, I don't know, 30,000 people. Something like that. It was one of those magic moments when I ... it suddenly felt like I was back where I was before. It very much felt like American Idol. It was like an audition. 'Here I am.' Every night was like a huge stage, we had the same stage, tons of trucks & shit, you know, taken almost to every city in Australia. But, it was like being on American Idol, because it was almost like a talent show.

AJ: An audition 30 years after you got the gig.

GRAHAM: It's been a while since I've played such big places, you know. It just felt weird. But, I was at home, but at the same time it felt like I was auditioning all over again, you know.

AJ: Graham, the song that converted me to your voice was "Killer" from The Day I Went Mad. It's a new song for me, yet working on a couple decades ago in your career. When you listen to your own music, whether you chose to do it or are forced to do it like during interviews like this, whether it's early stuff or more contemporary stuff, what goes through your head?

GRAHAM: Well, that particular song reminds me of how many beers I drank that day! That was when I was drinking. I have been sober now for 8 years. I quit doing all that stuff. But, I remember doing "Killer" & Kevin Valentine was the drummer on the album & engineering. He was touring with CINDERELLA at one point. He's played with Lou Gramm & in the studio with KISS, as well. He's played with a lot of people. He was engineering & he did the whole album with me. He just said, 'You okay?', because at one point I suddenly stopped & I blacked out. I actually fell on the floor.

AJ: That's a good nostalgic memory!

GRAHAM: It was a wonderful day, what can I say! I ran out of air. I was like not taking a breath, because we're doing this damn song & there's high bits & low bits & whatever else. Suddenly he says, 'Are you still there?'. I had my headphones on & asked what happened. I fainted while I was doing that song. It's a very hard one to sing, but of course, that's me & my melodies. It's my own fault for making up that melody. I mean, what can I say? But, the song is about one of my heroes, Jerry Lee Lewis. He was called the Killer, you know.

AJ: I'll tell you, Graham, when I was listening to this album I was planning on writing a review of it for a blog I do, but I didn't want to go beyond this track. I'd heard 3 great songs & I knew that once I finished listening to the album the review would go up & I'd go on to the next album, of course. I didn't want the initial experience to end. I literally postponed writing the review for a month, until I could no longer keep the album a secret & had to share it with the world, just so I could stay in that listening place. If that's not a glowing review right there! I've listened to your other solo albums since then, but I think this is an absolute highlight for you in your solo work.

GRAHAM: I haven't heard it since I recorded it, to be honest with you. I never listen to my stuff.

AJ: You should listen to it again. I highly recommend it!

GRAHAM: You mentioned it again & I realized I'd forgotten how it went, the tune, the guitar solo. I just never listen to anything again, because you do the song over & over & over, as everybody knows. By the time you've got to the 20th take you've had enough & then you have to pick it to pieces & put it all together. That's the part that drives me nuts. So, I usually leave that somebody else. But, with this album I actually sat there with Kevin & I went through every vocal just to make sure it was how I wanted it to sound, because it was kinda my baby. But, it brings back many painful memories.

AJ: Sorry.

GRAHAM: But, I like it. They're nice painful memories. Nothing bad about it. We had fun doing it. It takes a lot of energy to do some of these songs. By the time you've sung it 20 times you just want to put your head down the toilet or something. But, with this, we left it for a week or whatever & then he came back & asked if I wanted to piece the vocals together. So, giving it a little bit of time off. Otherwise, you just get a headache & you don't want to hear the song ever again. So, once the thing was done & we put it together I never listened to it again.

AJ: When you're writing what motives you? How do you keep your music fresh?

GRAHAM: Well, it's just everyday experiences. As I said before, it's basically like being a country & western writer, like Chuck Berry's lyrics. There's something about Chuck Berry's words that always fascinated me. The way they sounded lyrically & the way they just rolled off your tongue.

AJ: Yeah, I know.

GRAHAM: There's something about his words. They're just magical, you know. I know John Lennon was a big fan of Chuck Berry. He said he was his idol.

AJ: I actually got to see Chuck Berry perform about 3 years ago here in NYC.

GRAHAM: You did?

AJ: I was watching him play & do all his stuff. I walked away, & I'll confess, it was almost orgasmic. It was unbelievable.

GRAHAM: Yeah, yeah!

AJ: I literally walked away & said 2 things to myself. First, he copped every Keith Richards lick out there ... you know, that's a joke.

GRAHAM: Yeah, I got it.

AJ: Second, I now understand the history of rock'n'roll.

GRAHAM: Oh yeah?

AJ: Listening to him it was like I'd heard everything since him. You know what I mean?

GRAHAM: Yeah, I do. The first song I remember playing when I was 16 or 17 was "No Particular Place To Go". The title itself I thought was intriguing. I mean, what weird title for a rock'n'roll song. The words, no particular place to go, that is so un-rock'n'roll. That it's like what the hell is this song about? Then I heard it & we, of course, played it in my little band. The words ... they're made ... I don't know what it is about the way he writes, but they just roll off your tongue & they sound so interesting. Because, they are! Because, they tell a story. Even "Johnny B. Goode", which everybody has done & everybody knows, but the words are great. You can just read the words & its poetry. I try tried to cop his style in the ALCATRAZZ years. So, he's been my idol. I always liked Ray Davies of the KINKS, as well. You know, "Lola" & all that stuff.

AJ: Whose your idols, Graham? Who do you turn to for inspiration?

GRAHAM: As I said, Chuck Berry. I love the BEACH BOYS. I love Brian Wilson. The way Brian Wilson puts together chords sequences. I saw Brian's Smile, when he had that album out. I went to see the concert in Australia. I came out of there just with goosebumps. I just said ... that's what ... I don't mean the surfing music. I mean the later Brian Wilson.

AJ: Like Pet Sounds.

GRAHAM: Yes, Pet Sounds & all that. Oh, man. I mean, those chords are so beautiful & the words are great. I saw that show. He basically redid parts of Smiley Smile, the original album. I just couldn't believe what I'd seen. The perfect singing from all the people he worked with. They all played different instruments. It was the best thing I'd ever seen in my life. I remember [late drummer] Cozy Powell & I ... when Cozy was in the MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP we would be rehearsing, you know when we did the Assault Attack album, & Cozy would say 'You gonna come over to my house tonight?' So, I'd go over & he'd say 'Let's put some real music on.' Of course, he puts on the BEACH BOYS. That was his favorite band ever. Him & Jeff Beck love the BEACH BOYS. I couldn't believe that we all had the same ... you know, I was kinda shy to say I liked the BEACH BOYS. It was a bit like saying I like the PARTRIDGE FAMILY or something. It was so un-rock-n-roll, you know, but then suddenly Cozy cranks up Pet Sounds as we're driving home & we're just saying 'Listen to that ...' I mean, "God Only Knows" & all those songs. & the album Surf's Up. Have you heard that album? That's a really great album.

AJ: Remember, Graham, Paul McCartney has said it was Pet Sounds that inspired the creation of Sgt Pepper.

GRAHAM: Yes.

AJ: That album basically revolutionized music & that inspired the creation of how many bands? So, the BEACH BOYS. They are un-assuming, but it is amazing. That's one of my favorite albums.

GRAHAM: I just love the later albums. Carl & The Passions was another album. Though, all these guys are dead now, Carl [Wilson], the brothers. Those guys inspired me. The harmony side of it. I love harmonies. I like to do my own backing harmony & that kind of thing. They've always inspired me, ever since their earlier albums when they did like "Barbara Ann" or whatever. You know, those kind of songs. But, I've always been a harmony freak &, of course, later on when I met up with the BEE GEES in London. When we'd all get our acoustic guitars out we all sat around singing BEACH BOYS songs & Stevie Wonder songs. There were 2 things we used to play. Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb & Robin would sometimes be there, but usually me, Barry, Maurice & my cousin Trevor would sit around singing BEACH BOYS & Stevie Wonder. That was our thing to have fun at a party.

AJ: Graham, what have been some of the influences on you as a singer in terms of how you sing technically? Has there been any influences on that which have effected or changed the way you sing over the years?

GRAHAM: Yeah. The first people I listened to were people like Paul Anka from the 50's when I was a kid. I'd stand in front of the mirror lip-syncing to Paul Anka songs when I was 7. Then later on, because I had an older brother, he was a teenager & I was a little kid, but he brought home these records by Fats Domino & Little Richard. I love Little Richard. How does he make that sound with his voice? That rough, edgy, shouty, whatever it is he's got about him. He's one of my favorite singers. I love him. I love his phrasing. Again, he's just one of those guys that it just comes naturally to him. The way he did all his ad-libs were just like throwaways to him. It was nothing, because he was into church music, obviously. Who else do I ... ? People like the RONETTES, the CRYSTALS, FRANKIE LYMON & THE TEENAGERS, which is like the original JACKSON 5, I guess. Have you heard of them? Do you remember those guys?

AJ: I know who you're talking about.

GRAHAM: & Ronnie Spector. She always said, 'I always wanted to sing like Frankie Lymon.' So, she emulated his voice. That's where she got her style from. I always like Ronnie Spector, because we used to do, when I was playing in my little band in pubs & things when I was 16, we did a lot of RONETTES stuff. I found out later, Brian Wilson's daughter said something like 'You know what my dad plays every morning? "Be My Baby" on the piano. Every day.' So, Brian Wilson was a RONETTES fan, too. You can hear that in some of their earlier songs. There's very much a Phil Spector type thing going on there. But, then, of course, he developed his own style. He's one of those guys I would just love to sing more of his songs. You know, what I mean? I respect the guy to death. The BEACH BOYS are the American BEATLES, to me anyway. Not to everybody, I know.

AJ: I understand. I understand, totally.

GRAHAM: People tend to think of the BEACH BOYS as being the surfy thing. You know what I mean.

AJ: That's their stereotype, but when you really get into the history of music they are a necessary stepping stone as you discover the major influences in the history of music.

GRAHAM: Oh yeah. There's a lot of people, but as I said, a lot of the time I was influenced by girl bands. I don't know why. Probably because they were singing in my key. That's where all the high notes came from, I think. I'm not sure about that, but there was something about it. But, Frankie Lymon was like my hero. I thought he was great as a kid.

AJ: Do you listen to a lot of the new music out there? Do you keep your thumb on what's going on in the moment?

GRAHAM: Yes I do. I hear it, but I don't hear anything that grabs me & says 'That's something new.' I'd love to hear something new & I haven't heard anything. Everything is so damned processed at the moment. Everything is ProTools to death & auto-tuned. Blah blah blah. A lot of it sounds like elevator music to me. I hear some bands are influenced by LED ZEPPELIN or RAINBOW or DEEP PURPLE or whatever. I couldn't tell you all the bands names at the moment, but I hear that. You can tell they've been influenced by 1960's/70's bands. What's happening is a lot of distortion on the guitars & everything to make it sound a bit ... to make it interesting. A lot of not really very good singing. Whereas back then ... it sounds like I'm an old guy, doesn't it? But, back then there wasn't that trickery that there is now. So, if you have a crappy day singing you just auto-tune it. You can tell. Those kind of records I can't stand them. They just sound like commercials to me or something, for butter or something. But, it's very difficult for me to ... I want to hear something new like 100 years ago when QUEEN first came out. I was a BEATLES fan & that was it. There was no other band in the world. Then suddenly I heard QUEEN & I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I'd like to hear something like that again, that surprises me.

AJ: Maybe you have to be the one to create it?

GRAHAM: Well, shit! ... Your challenge for this week is ... !

AJ: I'm giving you some homework, Graham.

GRAHAM: Yeah, yeah, shit. If I could get some new ears to listen.

AJ: Let me ask you an easier question. Is there anyone out there who you'd like to work with but you haven't?

GRAHAM: Brian Wilson would be great, as I said. I'd love to work with him. Let me think. Jennifer Batten. Do you know her? She played guitar with Michael Jackson for years. She had to cop the Van Halen lick. She was very worried about that. She said she slowed it down & everything. I've been in touch with Jennifer for a few years now, but we've never worked together. I saw her 10 years ago. She did a little guitar clinic thing here in my area & I took my daughter down to see her. I said she had to meet this girl. She plays like Steve Vai, but it's a girl. So, we went along, got her autograph & photograph & all that. I've been speaking to Jennifer over the past year or so about doing something & she sent me stuff. But, because of the way things are ... she's having to work. She's gone back to Japan. She was over there when the tsunami hit, then she flew back here & then she went over for a benefit or something. But, now she has a manager who is a guiding her career & so she said to me 'I don't think this thing between you & I doing an album together is going to happen.' Obviously her manager has given her a new path to follow like managers do. 'You'll make more money on your own, baby. This is what you should do. Do this on your own. You'll be a star by yourself. Don't worry about it.' But, she's one person I've admired for a long time & she knows it. As I said, talked on the phone, e-mailed, over the years.

AJ: When you're not stressing out over having to make money & doing a new album, how does the non-performing Graham Bonnet do to relax or distract himself? Can you reveal the real person off the stage a bit?

GRAHAM: I'm just like everybody else. I mean, my dog died last year, but I used to take him for a walk everyday. I'm now divorced, unfortunately. I was married for 30 years. So I have my 11 year old daughter with me now. She stays with me on weekends & she'll come here after school during the week. But, during the week when she's at school I ride. I do a 2 hour bike ride every day. That is my sport. I've got a nice Trek bike & it weighs like nothing. It's my Lance Armstrong thing. I'm a rider. I've been riding for years. I used to ride in Australia. A guy made me a bike in Australia. I was in a junior cycling team there. So, that's what I do. I ride for about 2 hours every day & there's some tough hills out here. You know what California is like.

AJ: Do you write? Do you work on your music every day, & things like that?

GRAHAM: In my head on the bike.

AJ: I mean, do you sit down at a desk at some point & go 'Okay, it's 2 o'clock, time to work on some lyrics now.'

GRAHAM: Sometimes. But, I usually make up words when I'm on my bike. For instance, The Day I Went Mad album. All those words came to me while I was cycling. You're out there seeing the world & you're passing things & you see things & get inspired. Things come at your mind when you're exercising. I don't know why.

AJ: It's a physical thing with your head, I've read. When you're moving it actually settles the thoughts a little bit. It focuses you in. I've heard that many times.

GRAHAM: Yeah, yeah. Something sparks up in there. Suddenly an idea will come to me & I remember it & then I write it down when I get back. I don't actually sit down & actually write a tune in front of a tape machine or whatever ... but sometimes I do, especially if its somebody else's arrangement. Then, at night I will sit & play my guitar & think of how an arrangement should go or something. I play the guitar every day. With the other guys in the band I have to sit down with a recording device of some kind, headphones on, & think about words.

AJ: Speaking of which, we're nearly the end of our time together, Graham, & I want to make sure you talk or mention at least what you're currently working on. What projects are in the works that people can look forward?

GRAHAM: Okay. ALCATRAZZ is playing the House Of Blues in Hollywood with HURRICANE. We're also playing in San Diego. Those are 2 gigs that are coming up & we're trying to fill-up our daybook. Our dance card isn't very full at the moment. But, those are 2 gigs that are kind of exciting.

AJ: Is there an album in the future for ALCATRAZZ?

GRAHAM: There will be. But, at the moment I'm recording for some friends of mine & the album is sort of a rock opera. It's called Lyraka [i.e. Lyraka Volume 1 & also on Volume 2]. That is something I'm starting on now. There's 6 tracks I have to sing on. Then eventually get around to doing the ALCATRAZZ thing, one day. The songs are there. It's just a matter of standing in front of a microphone & doing it.

AJ: & not passing out.

GRAHAM: I maybe will, but that's the way life is with me, you know.

AJ: Graham, is there anything more you'd like to share?

GRAHAM: Is the rapture coming? I think it's going to be a rupture?

AJ: If it's coming then I guess this is your last interview.

GRAHAM: Do you have your ticket? I've got an all access backstage pass.

AJ: Graham, I have to tell you how pleased I am to have spent an hour with you. You have my absolute thanks.

GRAHAM: You're welcome, Aaron. My son's called Aaron, by the way.

AJ: I think you've done some great work over the past 40 years or more.

GRAHAM: 40 years.

AJ: I'm sorry, making you sound old again.

GRAHAM: I don't think I'm ever going to get old. I've made my mind up. Something that other people do.