it pop, prog or a techno-pop hybrid? Either or, the 2011 CD from Modest
Midget is a sonic blast of sizable proportions. Appropriately
entitled The Great Prophesy Of A Small Man, the
13 track album features the multitalented Israeli - Argentinean singer
songwriter Lionel "Lonny" Ziblat, who while backed
up by several players, takes on the lion's share of the musicianship.
Recorded in Amsterdam between 2006 and 2009 and produced, mixed and
mastered by Ziblat, the 2010 Modest Midget CD contains some of the
most arresting prog-rock made in the past decade. Track nine, an instrumental
"Jorge Knows" is reminiscent of instro rock pioneer Pekka
Pohjola while for various reasons, some of the Lonny's vocals evoke
a kind of full-bodied, early '70s Canterbury era sound of Hatfield
and Caravan, and how about the Richard Sinclair inspired track three
Troubles In Heaven. A more recent comparison would be
to Israeli band Rockfour. Ziblats sense of vocal dynamics are
quite kindred in spirit to Rockfour. With just a touch of accent in
his vocal delivery, Ziblats offbeat English lyrics add fun to
the international sound of the album. Also recent from the gifted
Ziblat is his 2011 solo project Songs From The Drawer,
featuring a surprisingly full bodied, one man band effort from
Lonny with his all original songs evoking the early D.I.Y. spirit
of McCartney and the sorely underrated Emitt Rhodes. Lonny's latest
masterpiece, Songs From The Drawer finds him again incredibly
performing all guitars, keyboards, percussion and vocals, topped off
by his memorable cover (with excellent drums too) of a rarely heard
(though, way back when, immensely influential and critically acclaimed)
Wings Wild Life track from 1971 called Tomorrow.
mwe3.com presents an interview with
LIONEL "LONNY" ZIBLAT of Modest Midget
Lionel, tell us where you were born, something about the Israeli and
Argentinean connection and how you ended up in Amsterdam. Also do
you prefer Lonny or Lionel?
LZ: I was born in Buenos Aires. My parents moved to Israel when I
was very young, in a time when Israel seemed to be thriving. I was
just a baby. We used to travel often to the Netherlands for family
vacations and it always left a positive impression on me. When I went
abroad to expand my knowledge and experiences it seemed like a natural
choice. My friends call me Lonny. If a piece of mine is being performed
in a classically oriented concert they seem to feel more comfortable
presenting me as Lionel.
mwe3: Why do you call the band Modest Midget, what is the hisory of
the band and who is playing on the recently released album The
Great Prophesy Of A Small Man and who is playing in Modest Midget
LZ: The band was actually just a dream of mine, a place where all
poles and hooks of music can meet. I loved certain rock acts as well
as certain hooks in the classical world, in South American folklore
(which I grew up listening to), blues, jazz and other folklore oriented
music. Well, I think that a lot of who I am as a musician is now in
the repertoire of the band and you will not find us sitting around
planning how to mix a certain sub-Saharan percussive style with Bartok.
I simply write what I think I would enjoy listening to. I find it
important that the music will flow naturally, but I also think you
should have something to say. I never pretended it to belong to any
specific genre, whether it be a World-music oriented band
or a Progressive-Rock band. It just is.
Another aspect is the fact that I believe that a musician always comes
to a point in which he has to choose between making music straight
from the heart, or from the brain. Im dead greedy so I went
for both. I think that this is the most important aspect of this band,
its challenge, the difficulty selling it, but also its strongest feature.
Modest Midget was just a joke, referring to Gentle Giant.
I was thinking about how good their name was and I was wondering if
I could find something similar but that wouldnt sound too pretentious.
Through the years I a weird collection of songs I wrote was piling
up, that wouldnt fit in any particular hook. I started recording
them on my own with the help of friends and musicians I knew, some
of them were jazz musicians like viola player Oene van Geel but there
were people like Bas Wiegers whos passion is I think
mainly contemporary classical music (Xenakis, Kagel etc.).
Emiel de Jong has worked a lot with me then and when it was time to
go on the road it was obvious that he was part of the gang. I consider
him a full member of the original band. The names of musicians that
I can reveal that participated in the album are clarinetist Ilse Eijsink
and violin and viola player Vera van der Bie.
We played a couple of try out shows in 2008 where Emiel and I were
joined by drummer Artis Orubs and keyboardist / pianist Tristan Hupe
whos been working with me ever since.
Emiels life has eventually taken him to a different direction
and he realized he couldnt commit to the touring life with us.
For the 2009 tour we had Richard Zoer on bass, who also played with
Kayak on a couple of tours.
The guys in the current lineup are Tristan Hupe on keyboards and vocals,
Willem Smid on drums, and Maarten Bakker on bass guitar. Yours humbly
sings and plays guitars.
mwe3: What came first, writing and recording wise: The Great Prophesy
Modest Midget album or your new solo CD Songs From The Drawer?
And when and where was the music on both albums written and recorded?
LZ: They were both recorded during the same period, although I ended
up finishing the solo album later. They both had songs that were written
specifically for them, the most recent ones being Contemporary
Ache and Buy Me in the case of the Modest Midget
album, and How Much in the case of the solo album. There
were also a couple of very old tunes of mine that I resurrected for
these sessions. Here I Go (The Great Prophecy)
was written just after high-school. Black Hill (on Songs
From The Drawer) was written when I was traveling in Chile, about
15 years ago. I wrote it in a small village at the foot of a smoking
volcano. It happens to be the same one who has erupted just about
the time that I published the album. A mere coincidence? Who knows
I've seen your video for "Contemporary Ache" which is excellent.
Can you say something about that track and where and when was the
LZ: The video was shot during a show in Riga, Latvia, at the beginning
of a tour through the Baltic states. It was August 2010. Its
been filmed and recorded with slightly old-fashioned equipment, which
gave it a special 70s sound. The band is playing rather well,
with a local bass player taking Richards place for the tour
(Oskar Sprogis), although for some reason the studio didnt allow
us to perform on the full volume we are used to. I tell you, singing
a heavy rock song on t.v. with your drummer holding brushes in his
hands makes you feel pretty darn ridiculous.
This track was the first one where I consciously integrated certain
hooks, making an ode to Bach, the Beatles and Contemporary classical
music. The lyric is very general on one hand, but it also specifically
addresses the absurdity of humans being able on one hand to develop
their art and open-mindedness, but on the other theyre also
committing huge mistakes.
mwe3: How about the song "Troubles In Heaven"? What's the
sentiment behind that track and is there a little Israeli music influence
in that track too?
LZ: I dont know if I can describe a specific sentiment behind
the song. Theres something to it of course which I feel every
time we perform it, but I couldnt put my finger on it. The song
is more or less about the fact that technology is evolving and although
we seem to have more means of communication at our disposal, we actually
seem to be growing distant from each other, at least in certain personal
aspects of social life.
There is absolutely no Israeli influence on this song as far as I
can tell. Its almost a joke in this sense really. It seems to
be enough to lower the 6th grade of a major scale and everybody thinks
its an oriental song. And because Im from Israel
everybody thinks Hey! Theres his Israeli background coming
out! whereas in fact nothing I ever heard in my youth in Israel
had ever used such scales. I personally think it is one of those superficial
stereotype-myths. In fact I, honest to god, when I took that particular
note on the scale I actually thought there you go, now youre
doing World Music! And people are going to put that sticker on you
forever. I didnt mind. I just went for it.
mwe3: The Modest Midget sound also incorporates a new kind of instrumental
jazz fusion as evidenced on the track Coffee From Yesterday
and also on the track Jorge. How big an influence is that
classic 60s and 70s Euro sound on your sound, especially
when you consider your base of operations Holland has some of the
greatest classic Euro-rock and instro rock bands in history. Now that
I think about it, some of your music sounds very Focus like!
LZ: I used
to like Focus a lot. I dont know about musical terms like Euro
sound. Ive always perceived the music thats made
in Holland as very clean. Dont ask me to explain
it because its purely a subjective impression. I dont know if
Coffee From Yesterday has any jazz in it. I see it as
a straightforward rock piece with a harmony that is slightly more
adventurous than an average rock song would be. Jorge Knows
is almost an accident. I was practically getting up and
walking from the living-room to the kitchen and when I got there I
already had the A theme in my head. For a while there
I had a short struggle between my head and my stomach because I was
hungry, but in the end I thought it was worth walking back to my desk
to write it down before I forgot it. By the time I arrived at my desk
I had the second theme ready. The next day I completed it by adding
a bridge. It felt natural to add a solo section too. These two themes
are two of the quickest compositions that ever came out of me.
Jorge Knows is all based on Argentinean music. More specifically
the Chacarera and the Chamame. Two styles that are played a lot in
the heartland. I performed it in 1999 with a jazz combo
in the conservatory for the first time. Later I wrote an arrangement
of it, orchestrated for chamber orchestra, and later on I made a 9
minute version for symphonic band and another 5 minute score for a
fanfare orchestra. It sounds quite different but pretty interesting.
mwe3: How about my favorite Great Prophesy track, the amazing
instrumental I Came I Saw I Left which sounds to me very
influenced by Pekka Pohjola and even Lasse Hollmer, two artists many
of todays listeners dont recognize I might add! Whats
your influence coming out there and any story on that track?
LZ: I dont really know what influenced me to write it. I just
wrote it. Honestly! I started it a long time ago when I was sharing
an apartment with my good friend Amit Poznansky (currently an accomplished
film composer). I had no idea what to do with it then. It was one
of those pieces that didnt really fit with anything else I was
doing at the time. In the end I realized it would be perfect for The
Great Prophecy album.
mwe3: What guitars are you featuring on your new CDs? What are some
of your favorite amps and other guitar enhancing devices and do you
follow all the wild technological leaps in the guitar world and the
I was never too much into the guitars and amps thing.
My guitar does great, is quite versatile in sound and handy to play
and thats enough for me. Of course after all those years my
Yamaha SG1000S is very dear to me. I used to think in terms of writing
a song and making it happen when recording it, either
myself or with a band. Nowadays I think in terms of production and
orchestration. This means that all sounds, contrasts, tempos,
voicings, rhythm etc. are all just techniques that are available at
my disposal in order to serve one simple purpose: the music. And what
The Music might be depends on what tune were dealing
with. Some are straightforward numbers where the arrangement and sound
are a secondary thing. Others are based on a written score, where
each instrument has a written part, conceived as a part of a whole
picture. In this case you also think of a lot of the sounds and the
textures already when writing. I like sound manipulations, but merely
as tools. I used to be very attracted to them when I was young. At
some point I realized they can easily distract you from whats
really important, and that is concentrating on what the song or piece
mwe3: What are the challenges of recording the solo album all alone
compared with working with in a band with Modest Midget?
LZ: Well, I wrote and produced both albums on my own actually. So
in that sense there wasnt too much difference. I did have to
rediscover however how delicate it is to perform a naked
song, with only a voice accompanied by a guitar.
mwe3: Looking back on music history it seems to me like you would
rather have been making music during the time of the first Wings album.
Interesting your choice of covering McCartney on your new solo album.
How about choosing the Macca track "Tomorrow" and the Beatles
influence on your work and also what are some of the other musical
influences on your writing and recording? Also who are your big guitar
LZ: I didnt as much choose Tomorrow as I just did
it for testing some new equipment that I bought for my humble studio.
It ended up sounding pretty good and I found myself thinking of releasing
it in the album. Quite frankly I would have preferred to avoid all
the hassle around arranging the rights to release a cover of a McCartney
song, but I think in the end it was worth it. I like the song because
I always thought
it was charming, and because its so old. Im not sure I
would have fitted in that period myself, although I did like a lot
of music and films from that era. So.. maybe youre on to something
there. Talking about influences and inspirations, my biggest, and
maybe my only real idol ever has always been Chico Buarque, the Brazilian
singer and poet. He also works with some of the most brilliant arrangers
Ive ever heard. Particularly Francis Hime. Another idol is George
Martin, the man who actually packed and presented the
Beatles musically. Cuchi Leguizamon, Ravel, Beethoven and Varese were
huge influences, as well as Zappa, particularly his courage as a musician
and an artist, and just as Chico is a pure true artist who expresses
the most personal stories, a trait which I tend to think is a must
for an artist, so are Woody Allen and John Lennon. McCartney is a
great perfectionist and a fantastic writer and bass musician (note
that I regard it as something else than just being a bass-player).
When I was younger I listened a lot to Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin,
Yes and Deep Purple. Mind you: It was never the guitarist
that attracted me. It was the whole vibe, the band. The rawness in
Hendrixs recordings, the feel and freedom in Zeppelins,
and the tight grooves of Deep Purple. In that fantastic whole I was
very aware of what each instrument was doing, and because I was the
handiest with the guitar, thats the part I picked up the easiest.
I taught myself to play tight and worked on my sound in those years.
Later, I learned
some jazz and started writing complex compositions for classical performers,
chamber and orchestral. When I started writing this way for Modest
Midget I found I had to study and practice those weird new parts.
Thats when I really learned to play guitar.
mwe3: How about future plans, writing and recording solo and with
Modest Midget too?
LZ: I dont have any specific plans on a solo album yet. Time
will tell. I am however already working on new music for the Modest
Midget album and were slowly discussing the shape it will take.
I think it will be very different in sound, but just as exciting.
Theres already some written music piling up for it on top of
Thank you to Lonny Ziblat @ www.ModestMidget.com