MWE3 Feature Story
conducted by Robert Silverstein
for mwe3.com  





mwe3.com presents an interview with
Steve Nardelli of the SYN


 

 

Continued From Home Page


The SYN in the 21st Century
an interview with STEVE NARDELLI

 

written and produced for mwe3.com
by Robert Silverstein

I can't believe it's been ten years since beat-prog innovators The SYN released Syndestructible. A pioneering and pivotal rock recording, reuniting SYN members Steve Nardelli and Chris Squire, Syndestructible was proclaimed by 20th Century Guitar magazine in December 2005 as being the best prog-rock album released in the 21st century. Much has happened since late October 2005 when Syndestructible was released on the SYN label home Umbrello Records. True to his legacy as being one of the founding architects of progressive rock, Steve Nardelli has kept the SYN name in the news since Syndestructible with several brilliant CD and DVD releases including the Armistice Day album from 2007 and Big Sky from 2009. After a six year wait, the Big Sky period is fondly remembered with the 2015 CD/DVD release on Umbrello of The Syn Live Rosfest. Featuring Steve surrounded by a fine band, including Francis Dunnery and Tom Brislin, The Syn Live Rosfest was recorded live at the Rosfest music show on May 1st, 2009 and it’s a great way to revisit the wondrous songs on Big Sky. The CD is paired with an eye-opening DVD with two films that provides further insights into the nearly 50 year history of The SYN. In his third mwe3.com interview, from June 2015, Steve Nardelli looks back at the Big Sky era Syn lineup while also bringing the SYN story up to date with further insights about The Syn Live Rosfest as well as the long awaited Syn album, set to feature a SYN collaboration with the pairing of Steve Nardelli and Swedish prog-rockers Moon Safari.



 





mwe3: Why did you wait six years to get this new Syn live project out on CD? Is The Syn Live At Rosfest the right time for a Syn retro moment? Why Rosfest and why now?

Steve Nardelli: Six years ago I started P3 ECO to create a consortium of partners to acquire one thousand acres of Oxfordshire and to promote and develop the UK’s first eco town as part of a Government initiative. The Syn were touring the Big Sky album in America when I was informed that my project had been selected by government as one of the selected eco towns. As a result, I had to curtail the tour and return to England immediately and the last show we played was Rosfest.

When I start a project, I like to finish it and for the last six years I have been totally committed to my eco town and finally this year we have started to build it – 6000 homes, 4 schools, commercial centers to create 5000 jobs, hotels, retirement village, medical centers… etc., etc., all built with full eco credentials – a massive undertaking... a Prog town! A defining achievement for me that has been created against all the odds and crowned by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, granting it Garden City status and £100M grant.

After six years of all-consuming focus on my eco town, I can now finally focus on my music and the live CD release, The Syn Live Rosfest ... our last show at Rosfest seemed the logical place to start as part of the re-launch of The Syn and a prelude to a new studio album due for release soon.

mwe3: What did Francis Dunnery think of this live CD coming out after a pretty long time? I remember that Francis was upset by you canceling the Syn tour in May 2009.

Steve Nardelli: All the band were upset that I had to cancel the tour. They are all great musicians and the band was really jelling as you can hear on the live CD. The shows we did, including student music workshops and concerts at Gloucester High school in Virginia, were brilliant and it was a great disappointment not to complete the tour. The excellent live CD and bonus 2 film DVD marks that period in The Syn’s history for all the musicians involved and has been very well received by The Syn audience.

mwe3: Shame about Chris Squire being diagnosed with that disease he recently brought to light. Is it safe to say Chris will never record again as a member of The Syn?

Steve Nardelli: Like many people hearing about his illness, I am worried about Chris and pray he makes a full recovery. I can’t talk for the future of YES, but I want Chris to get back to health and come and make a new album with The Syn... that door has always been wide open for him, he will always be a member of the band. Our friendship goes back more than 50 years and that is sacred to me.

mwe3: You kick off the new Syn live CD with “14 Hour Technicolor Dream”. Is that track still considered the heyday of Syn lore? For those who don’t know, that song was about the big 1967 be-in in London… What do you remember most about that milestone event?

Steve Nardelli: I remember a beautiful Austrian girl I met there that night and sitting on the stairs with her listening to the Pink Floyd set. The event was at Alexandra Palace in a huge hall with a stage at either end and bands playing simultaneously... terrible echoing acoustics and all the hippy happenings going on in the half darkness, it all made for a very surreal experience. I wrote the song about the event and it has been one of the defining tracks in the history of The Syn, and it's considered one of the best psychedelic songs of the era.

mwe3: Are you happy with the sound of The Syn Live Rosfest CD ? It came out pretty good and I’m glad your vocals are mixed upfront. Who did the recording and mixing of the live Rosfest show? What else stands out about that show in your mind?

Steve Nardelli: I’m very happy with the sound of the live album, mixed by Stefan Ingles at Antenna studios in Crystal Palace and mastered by Jeremy Paul Carroll at Precision Mastering in Cropredy, introduced to me by Judy Dyble. Stefan and Jeremy are exceptionally talented young musical gurus who deserve great credit for the exceptional outcome of the sound quality and balance that makes it such a sonically good album to showcase some amazing performances from the all the musicians. Jeremy described it as ‘the best live album I have ever worked on’. I must also credit Michael Comstock at INDRE, recording in Philadelphia who recorded the show at Rosfest.

mwe3: I remember Gina, selling SYN CDs at Joe’s Pub and was she in one of the movies on the DVD. Who else were some of the behind the scenes people involved in the 2009 SYN shows in the US. For me, it was surely the most musically rewarding event of 2009.

Steve Nardelli: There were a lot of people behind the scenes who have given great support and contribution to the daunting task of touring a band like The Syn. Gina used to run Umbrello records in New York and oversaw all aspects of The Syn tour, from tour manager to CD sales lady. She has amazing energy, personality, beauty and talent... the cornerstone of the success of the Big Sky era.

I will always be grateful for the input of Steve Sykes-Nova on multiple levels, including setting up the Gloucester High school workshops and the V-band project; Gary Hill from Music Street Journal, who acted as agent in arranging a great tour and currently runs The Syn PR; Brett Kull and the Echolyn road and sound crew for their efforts before and during the tour; George Roldan for giving The Syn the Rosfest platform; and of course, you Robert, for your relentless support, advice, vegan dinners and friendship!

mwe3: “Milo” is the second track on the Live Rosfest CD. How is your grandson, if you don’t mind me aging you? Tom’s incredible mellotron flutes on that track have proven really indelible too. Milo must be at least 7 by now? You wrote that song with Francis. How was it writing with Francis compared to Chris? They are two perfectionists. Did you guys agree most of the time?

Steve Nardelli: Milo is 8 now and of course I am very proud of him and his sister, 4 year old Skyla. I wrote the song “Milo” the night he was born, it was 2 AM when we got the news and I picked up my guitar and wrote it straight off. It is a sacred song for me so I wouldn’t change it from how I wrote it that night, even my vocals on the Big Sky album track were taken from the demo, I wouldn’t re-record them because I wanted them to truly reflect how I felt the night he was born.

Writing songs with Chris and Francis was simple, I am not precious about my song writing. If you collaborate in creating music with the right people, there is a natural flow and you know what is right and wrong, what works and what doesn’t. I am a big fan of Chris and Francis. Quite aside from working with them, they're both ground breaking musical talents of the highest order.

mwe3: You said you originally wanted Francis Dunnery to play on the ill- fated “More Drama” SYN / YES / Steve Howe tour of Summer 2005, with Gary Husband, Chris and Gerard right? Did anything survive from that Summer 2005 period besides the pics? Looking back on it, was that the final straw so to speak for the original SYN with Chris? I know you don’t like to talk politics, but those terror attacks in London really messed things up...

Steve Nardelli: The terrible terror attacks in London messed up a lot of things for a lot of people, but that is irrelevant to the loss of life that it caused.

There is a More Drama CD that was made as part of the tour promotion that has become a collector’s piece. Working with Francis on Big Sky came out of the More Drama tour, so you could say the album is also a legacy to it.

mwe3: You said that the other SYN CDs, Original SYN and Syndestructible are being reissued in 2015 too. Who is handling the distribution of the SYN in North America and the world?

Steve Nardelli: The albums have been rereleased very successfully alongside The Syn Live Rosfest, we sold out the first pressings in the first week! I have to say it caught me by surprise, I was thinking it would be a soft launch and treated it as a prelude to the new studio album Trustworks due out later this year. Our headline distribution channels are Universal/Alliance/Nova, I got a shock and it was such a pleasure to walk into HMV and see a rack of SYN albums on display and see to see the reorders pouring in after six years of very little activity from the band.

mwe3: “Running Out Of Time”, from Big Sky, also makes its appearance on the Live Rosfest CD. It’s such a short song, don’t you think if you and Chris worked on it it would have had a different ending? It’s got that “Armistice Day” rock feel but the middle and ending closes it out a humorous way of course!

Steve Nardelli: I wrote the riff and the first section, Francis wrote the end section. His sense of humour does come through in his music, but I like the track a lot. You are right though, if I had made the track with Chris we would have come back and built the riff to end it.

mwe3: I know you are in love with New York. It was good timing to see you play live with The Syn in the city as I had missed the January 2006 show. Which 2009 performance do you like better, the Joe’s Pub or the Rosfest show?

Steve Nardelli: New York is my second home, it is a magical place for me; from Manhattan to Brooklyn Heights, from Staten Island to Sag Harbor. I really like Joe’s pub theater in the Village and will play there again next time we tour, but the show at Rosfest was the pinnacle performance of the tour full of great performances and wonderful audiences.

mwe3: Any other news on your P3 Eco town thing in Bicester? You’ve been totally absorbed in this Eco town project since the SYN tour ended in May 2009.

Steve Nardelli: I’ve referenced this in a previous answer already. The success of my eco town in England has created a lot of interest from America, including contact from Al Gore, a great advocate of global warning. Anyone interested, this is my company website: www.p3group.co.uk

mwe3: Do you even listen to the news now? The economy got much worse after those Syn shows in April 2009, the economy got worse as well as the ecological disasters, climate change, etc. Have people given up hope that things won’t change again? Are things coming back again? How do you stay positive these days?

Steve Nardelli: My life is incredibly positive because I always look at the positive, the “Big Sky”. Everything is possible if you believe in yourself and the goodness and strength of the human spirit; there will always be ‘devils and demons, trying to drag us under’, but they are an irrelevant distraction in the bigger picture. ‘Show me the Lovers, show me the Peace Makers, show me the Dreamers, the Builders and Creators.’…

mwe3: “New Reality” is another highlight on The Syn Live Rosfest CD. It’s a pretty disturbing lyric I always thought. You can’t take this anymore... (to) open your eyes it’s just an illusion... Man’s duality. Where does “New Reality” fall in the Syn canon?

Steve Nardelli: I wrote “New Reality’” at a time when everyone seemed to turn against me and I was under a lot of pressure, that’s when you find out who your real friends are, a “Cathedral Of Love’” moment. Life is a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. When you are down, you have to get up, create a new reality for yourself. “Kings Clowns Cardinals” was my answer to my critics at that time.

mwe3: The Big Sky band with Francis, Tom and Brett was incredibly tight. Do you think that’s because you toured the album so everybody knew the music inside out? “Devils And Demons” sounds very tight, maybe even better than the studio version from Big Sky. So by track 5 in the Rosfest concert, the band’s sound really comes together. Is “Devils And Demons” one of your favorite tracks from Big Sky?

Steve Nardelli: Yes, “Devils And Demons” was the first track I wrote for the album and yes, Francis and Tom were incredibly tight and are incredible musicians. Listening to Big Sky a lot recently both on the live and studio albums makes me realize what a great body of work this album is that has stood the test of time... it’s music I’m very proud of indeed. The versions on the live album supplement those on the studio album and vice versa, it has turned out a remarkable success for The Syn.

mwe3: How about the other Syn members? Peter Banks died a couple years. How about Martyn Adelman? Besides Chris, who else is left from the 1960s Syn lineup? What is Martyn doing these days? I guess you’re not in contact with Gerard or the Stacey brothers anymore.

Steve Nardelli: The passing of Peter was very sad indeed... he will be an integral part of the history of The Syn, a brilliant and unique guitarist. I had lunch at Villandry’s in London with Max (Martyn) Adelman on Friday. He is a great photographer and is in fantastic shape, he worked with me in putting The Syn Live Rosfest together and we are planning further Syn projects, one that I’ve been specifically asked to do for Alliance in America. I have been working with Moon Safari in Sweden intermittently on the new studio album between building the eco town over the last six years and have lost contact with Gerard and the Stacey twins. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a huge respect and affection for them and their contributions as members of The Syn in the making of Syndestructible.

mwe3: You always say that you wrote “Grounded” when you were 14! Let’s see, how many live versions are there of that song? Speaking of “Grounded” what was involved in buying back the rights to your Decca Records releases from the 1960s?

Steve Nardelli: “Grounded” is a defining song for me, the start of my musical journey, considered one of the finest freak-beat tracks of its generation and keeps popping up in films set in the 1960’s. Chris and Gunnar Hakonarson on that track, what a rhythm section! Peter’s guitar riff with Andrew’s organ and harmonies. It is such a good track, a lot of people have covered it. When I got the chance to buy back the rights, I jumped at it!

mwe3: Another highlight of The Syn Live Rosfest is a version of “Madonna And Child” which is another favorite from Big Sky. Is that about a specific painting or artwork? Is that a good example of how you worked with Francis? Did he bring in that great mid section instrumental part - “when the world is going crazy” thing with the mellotrons? The lyrics are very beat poetry yet the instrumentation is very prog.

Steve Nardelli: I have a beautiful Italian painting my wife bought at auction in Milan of the Madonna And Child, which is in our London home. That is what the song is about - the sanctity of your home in a world that’s going crazy. “Cherokee Princess Dancing Over Flowers and Leaves” is another painting, “black spiral staircase leading to the stars”, everything in that song is in my house. That brilliant mellotron and Nardellotron part in the midsection is all Francis’s work, I love it.

mwe3: There’s a funny story regarding “Flowerman” on the Live Rosfest CD. Is that BBC panning of “Flowerman” the reason the Syn didn’t get wildly popular? I’m glad Tom added in toy piano. Is the Rosfest version the best live version of “Flowerman” ever recorded?

Steve Nardelli: The “Flowerman” story I tell at Rosfest is just a bit of fun, in fact the single was very successful and I like the lyrics. The radio DJ didn’t get the lyrics because he was all caught up in the hippie flower movement of the day, the lyric was written as a satire about a gardener, a real “Flowerman”, as opposed to someone with flowers in their hair. It’s a very English lyric. I think the Live Rosfest version is great as is the version of “14 Hour Technicolour Dream”, with a great synth solo from Tom Brislin.

mwe3: I really enjoyed the DVD that comes with the Rosfest live CD, “The Syn In The 21st century” but I was surprised you left Pete Banks off of the album credits but you credit Moon Safari? When was the SYN In The 21st Century film made and who wrote and directed the film? Also, was there anything filmed of the original Syndestructible lineup with the Stacey brothers at the Marquee?

Steve Nardelli: The film was made by Kaz Bielicki, a very fine young movie maker. The album credits were prepared by him and included everybody featured on film. Peter is talked about in the film itself but doesn’t appear other than in photographs.

The Marquee Syndestructible show was filmed by George Pasano and recorded by Yes sound man Nigel Luby. Paul Stacey has all the tapes so maybe one day it will be mixed, mastered and released, who knows... it would be ridiculous not to release it. There are bits of the Marquee show in the film.

mwe3: Also on the The Syn Live Rosfest CD, “Kings Clowns Cardinals” is a very Dylan-esque track but it’s also a pretty dark song. It’s a great showcase for Francis’ guitar work. I remember the version at Joe’s Pub was equally great. What do you remember most and like best about that song?

Steve Nardelli: Again, I reference this song earlier alongside “New Reality”. ‘People coming at me telling me how to run my life’ and treating me ‘like I’m some kind of Holy Cow’ – ‘I don’t need that crowd around’ says it all really. I agree, it is very Dylanesque, it was a real showstopper when we did it live as you can hear on the album, amazing.

mwe3: I’m glad that you chose to end the Rosfest CD with two of the best songs on Big Sky, the title track and “The Reason”. Should “The Reason” have been a bigger hit? But you didn’t include the “Big Sky Reprise” instrumental which ended the Big Sky album!

Steve Nardelli: A version of “The Reason’” was recorded as a demo with Chris and Gerard for consideration for the follow up to Syndestructible. I always knew it was a good song. "Big Sky" was the centerpiece to the album, it had spiritual significance for me at a time when the world was in trouble, but ‘like a phoenix rising into the midnight sky’, as Pete Seeger said, ‘We shall overcome’. ‘I won’t give up if you don’t give up’ is a great mantra for the challenges facing the modern world.

mwe3: What ever happened to the “Reasons And Rituals” song? Is it now a kind of Syn cult track as it’s never come out on CD? That song kind of preceded whole Big Sky era?

Steve Nardelli: Well, it’s a good track and it was a wonderful experience working with a great group of musicians from across the world in the making of it. The V-band movie that features the song and the story behind it is still available on Amazon video on demand and went to number one on that chart when it was released. Steve Sikes-Nova gets all the credit for coordinating the making of that track and shared vocals with me along with musicians Kevin Still, Cary Clouser, Steve Nicholas and Kelly Child.

mwe3: “Big Sky” is still a great song, six years later. What did Francis Dunnery bring to the album’s title track? I know the concept is yours. It’s a cool way to end the Live Rosfest CD. So do you speak with any of the Big Sky lineup guys, like Brett anymore? Seems like the band got scattered to the wind. I guess that’s the way you like it. Hit a peak, record it and move on.

Steve Nardelli: Not just Big Sky, but the whole album is a joint collaboration between me and Francis, with him also producing with significant musical input from Tom, Brett Kull and Paul Ramsey. The impact of Francis on all aspects of the album is huge, in the song writing, the musicianship and production... he is a great talent.

The band has scattered over the last six years in multiple creative directions and I have moved on to the new Trustworks album, working in collaboration with the amazing Moon Safari and now with Jonas Reingold of Flower Kings producing. As I have said before, every project is like a race to run from start to finish. It’s important that I finish to know how well it turned out, then I move on to the next project.

mwe3: Who did the narration and who wrote the screenplay for the Syn In The 21st Century film? When was the 21st century movie made? Had to be recent as Moon Safari are in it. By the way, thank you for mentioning my quote about Syndestructible from my 20th century guitar mag article. I still stand by that quote as I doubt there will be another progressive rock album that will have that much impact and influence.

Steve Nardelli: The narration was by a lovely actress whose name is Sheridan Macdonald and the screenplay was written by Lennie Varvraides and I commissioned it specially to accompany the CD. I use that quote of yours all the time Robert, I like Chris’s response when we did that interview in LA – ‘but the century is only 6 years old’! Wait until you hear Trustworks - it’s a new progression for The Syn.

mwe3: What’s the status with Umbrello Records these days? You had a lot of ideas ten years ago. Has coming out of the 2008 recession been making it harder to carry forth your ideas in 2015?

Steve Nardelli: I was right about the revolution the internet would bring to the music industry and the way music was marketed, but I now see Umbrello as a vehicle for making albums not the delivery of music, I’ll leave that to Apple and itunes and the myriad of other distribution portals.

mwe3: The “Making Of Big Sky” film, also included on the Rosfest set, really shows what a great chemistry you had with Francis and Tom Brislin. It’s a once in a lifetime kind of thing. What are Francis and Tom doing these days? What you get from the movie is really how proud they were / are about being part of the Big Sky CD.

Steve Nardelli: I’ve contacted all the band recently to send them copies of the live album/dvd and everyone involved in the project was very pleased it was being released and looking forward to receiving it. We are all very proud of Big Sky for good reason. It was not surprising the band were so disappointed when my eco town got in the way of continuing the tour.

mwe3: I was just remembering about that “Prog-Opera” you wrote and recorded demos of with Chris and Andrew with one of the tracks being “Last One Leaving”. How about that project coming to life in the future?

Steve Nardelli: My concept for Trustworks was to create something of Italian operatic proportions, that’s why I was so pleased to link up with Moon Safari and their amazing five part harmonies. The Gangster Opera you reference, the first rock opera ever, is a piece of The Syn history now... who knows if it will rise again, maybe in Chicago.

mwe3: So now with Live Rosfest already released, I guess you’re moving full steam ahead with the Trustworks album? This album has been a long time in the making! Are you looking ahead to 2016 and beyond? 2020 is slowly coming up on the horizon.

Steve Nardelli: I have a lot of new music in process at the moment and a lot of approaches to work with some other great artists as well... it’s a question of timing and priorities. What I can say is that I will be making music and touring for as long and as far as my horizon takes me.

mwe3: What are some of the soon to be highlights from Trustworks that you can mention? Has flying to those remote locales like Sweden and Austria hindered the timing of the release? Seems like you’re always on the move.

Steve Nardelli: It’s schedules that cause delays more than locations, but making Trustworks in Sweden and Austria with wonderful musicians has been inspiring. Trustworks is a concept album of operatic proportions. As I’ve already mentioned, you need to hear it as a total piece of work. I talk a lot about the harmonies of Moon Safari, but Pontus Åkesson is as good a guitarist as I have ever worked with, he has performed brilliantly on Trustworks, a highlight of the album.

mwe3: Do you ever think that your schedule of hard work is too much? How do the English deal with these harsh new realities of life in the 21st century?

Steve Nardelli: I enjoy the work I do, I wouldn’t do it otherwise. Creating an eco town is like creating an album, assembling many parts to create something unique and special. Everybody has stress and we all deal with it in different ways I guess. For me, music is a great stress reliever, a day does not pass when I don’t play a guitar. The English are good at dealing with stress, we are a laid-back nation.

mwe3: So Trustworks is set for release soon I hope. What’s the plan on this next Syn album? So 2016 could be another milestone in Syn lore.

Steve Nardelli: Trustworks is destined for big promotion across the world including shows. The first thing we need to do is finish it and that is scheduled for July. I am certain it will be a new milestone for The Syn.

mwe3: Between your job at P3Eco and your keeping the SYN legacy alive, how do you find the time to relax and enjoy life? Is music forever in your blood? Is it too late to slow down and stop and smell the roses?

Steve Nardelli: I am surrounded by my family, while creating new concepts every day, whether eco or musical. I’m also a keen tennis player and have always had a close association with racket sports, I’ve owned four racket companies at various times, Donnay being the best known. I have good friends around the world and try to live my life to the full. My life is a happy one filled with family, friends, eco projects and music.... I smell the roses every day without even having to stop.



Thanks to Steve Nardelli @ www.synmusic.net

 








 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

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