SARASTRO BLAKE
New Progmantics
(Mentalchemy Records)

 

The term progressive rock has carried with it some valuable and some invaluable moments with it through the past 45+ years. Ever since The Beatles took us one step beyond with Revolver, progressive rock as an art form has changed the music world for good. Only a few of the original 1960's progressive rock bands are still here although bands such as YES and The Moody Blues are sadly missing key members in 2013. Some of those missing YES members are to be heard on a fantastic new album coming out of Italy by the group Sarastro Blake entitled New Progmantics. The brainchild of two gifted Italian music conceptualists—Paolo Pigni (bass, guitar, keys) and Luca Briccola (electric guitars, keyboards, production)—the 2013 Sarastro Blake album is filled with memorable music and it’s also loaded with indelible performances by some well known musical legends. Among the music icons appearing on various tracks here are former YES keyboardist Rick Wakeman and late 1990's YES guitarist / producer Billy Sherwood. Also among the CD highlights is a track featuring vocals from Pilot cofounder David Paton while also on hand is Caravan cofounder Richard Sinclair, who turns in a most respectable vocal performance on what may be the standout cut here entitled “Remember”—an original song built around the words of English poet Christina Rossetti, who actually lived in England in the 19th century. That inventive song really captures the essence of the Sarastro Blake New Progmantics album—which takes the poetry of English poets and authors, including John Clare, William Shakespeare, Lord Byron and Robert Burns and constructs new song arrangements around them. The love of that nostalgic, wistful English poetry is well served on the New Progmantics album. Supported by these and other fine musicians, Paolo’s vocals are excellent and Luca’s guitar on target. With sonic geniuses like Wakeman, Sinclair and Sherwood on board the CD, how can you go wrong? You can’t go wrong because The New Progmantics takes the listener a bold step forward into the brave new world of 21st century progressive rock. www.SarastroBlake.com


mwe3.com presents an interview with
Paolo Pigni of the group
SARASTRO BLAKE


mwe3
: Can you tell us where you were born and where you live now and what you like best about it? Who were some of your big musical influences from all over the world while you were growing up?

PAOLO PIGNI: I was born in Como, Italy, apparently the town where Don Henley’s grandmother came from! Or, in more recent times, George Clooney’s holidays abode, just to set the scene; indeed a lovely place to live in, though I’d rather live somewhere in Scotland or in Kent, England. (lol)

I grew up listening to all kinds of music, and this is probably reflected in my song writing style, too many artists to mention here, but I could say I was equally influenced by American and British musicians, say from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to Pink Floyd, apart from classical music.

mwe3: How did you come up with the concept for the 2013 Sarastro Blake New Progmantics CD? It’s a real touch of genius taking the poetry of legendary English poets and writers from centuries past and putting new music to their words. You must have an immense fondness for great writing and then finding the inspiration to put new music to centuries old poetry. Can you shed some background on the CD, where and when was New Progmantics written and recorded?

PAOLO PIGNI: Honestly it’s not a very innovative idea, even Madame Carla Bruni recently did an album like that! Indeed I studied British poetry at high school and I’ve always been fond of it anyway; likewise, I am very fond of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. Most of the songs were written from the end of 2010 to late 2011 and the album was recorded from January 2012 till early 2013, though not continuously. It was recorded at Luca Briccola's studio, near Como.

mwe3: How did you enlist some of the great artists who appear with you on the CD and logistically how were their parts added to the mix of the CD? I must say, the overall sound of the album is quite a breakthrough in 21st century recording styles. For instance, Rick Wakeman, Billy Sherwood and Richard Sinclair on the same album? Is that a once in a lifetime event? Were you able to meet Rick and Richard and Billy too? Also singer Amanda Lehmann singing the Robert Burns poem “My Heart’s In The Highlands” is quite exhilarating. How did you meet Amanda?

PAOLO PIGNI: Well, Luca was in charge of production, but I also had ideas etc., and I felt that some tracks needed extra input. If you look at the "making of" section of the web site www.sarastroblake.com you will find out the genesis and development of each song. I met Rick Wakeman a couple of times at concerts and I was introduced to him by a mutual friend and by his former Italian fiancée at the time (2004). Actually I also met and spent a couple of days with Jon Anderson when he spent some holidays in Como during a hiatus from a YES tour... I remember I even drove him and Jane to Milan where he had to reconvene with the rest of the band. Lost in fond memories here, anyway, I had written this mini suite called “Stanzas For Music” but I felt that my piano playing was a bit poor for such kind of song, so I sent an email to Rick Wakeman asking if he was interested in playing the song, sent a demo and he said yes and played the whole piano track for the song. I knew Billy Sherwood, Richard Sinclair and Amanda Lehmann via the internet. Again I felt that the songs I was working on needed a particular performance. “My Heart's In The Highlands” to my ears always required a female vocal so I asked Amanda if she was interested in singing the lead vocals. She accepted with much enthusiasm and then she also created those great harmonies you can hear in the song. With regard to the song “Flaming June”, we laid down the backing track with me on piano and bass and midi drums by Luca but we were stuck and Luca did not know what to do with the arrangement. Actually it’s another long song and a rather weird one having a first part which could be a pop single and a second instrumental section that goes a bit into rock and jazz territories. I thought about Billy Sherwood because he is not only a talented musician but he can play everything and he likes to cross boundaries and he’s not one of those boring proggers who might say, “Oh no, it has a refrain and it’s melodic, I won't play that engaging stuff... it has to be sad and gloom as well!” (lol) Eventually it became an even weirder song that sounds like a strange blend of Beatles/Yes “Into the Lens” ala Pink Floyd/Steely Dan. I am very happy with it, this is prog to me, mixing ingredients and I think the match between the lyrics and music creates a surreal picture. Indeed it was inspired by the canvass of the same name by Lord Frederic Leighton.

With Richard Sinclair it took me months of courting. I have to say, he was interested but kept delaying over and over again, but I was convinced that “Remember” had something reminiscent of those early seventies Caravan tunes and he was just perfect for the lead vocals having that unique warm vocal. Eventually he also played bass which I had already recorded and I am proud he kept some of my original lines! I hope there s a chance of working with them again as well as I hope to involve other musicians in the future but, apart from their willingness to do that, it will depend on the music that is to say, if I will be able to write a song that matches a specific talent/input I will ask. If I turn to rap for example I would find it difficult and embarrassing asking Nick Magnus to play keyboards! (lol)

mwe3: Can you tell us about the musical chemistry on the CD, between you and Luca Briccola and the CD drummer Mirko Soncini? How long have you known Luca? Everyone on the CD turned in a spectacular performance. Is there anyone else performing on the CD you’d like to mention?

PAOLO PIGNI: With Mirko on the drums I’ve played about one hundred shows or more so there is good chemistry as a rhythm section. I’ve known Luca for many years now and we played together in a couple of projects together. I think we are a nice pair musically and we match and complement each other very well though sometimes we have different opinions but eventually we manage to create good music I would hope! Sometimes instead we have the same vision and I think overall there is a winning chemistry. Also, creativity comes sometimes from conflict and different ideas, therefore we seem to have all the ingredients to create interesting stuff. I would like to mention Serena Bossi who sang “Sonnet 116” and “Flaming June”. She did a great job on the Shakespeare “Sonnet” not to forget “Flaming June”, where she sang the refrain with me... and yes, Luca was back with some great ideas about the vocals on that song!

mwe3: Richard Sinclair’s vocal on “Remember” is simply amazing. Richard is such a legend of Caravan in the late 1960s / early 1970s and I remember meeting him in New York in the 1990s. He was such a huge influence. How hard was it to write a song for Richard that good set to a poem written by Ms. Rossetti in the mid 1800’s? I think she must be smiling from heaven. Who is playing the keyboards on that track? It sounded like Rick too but if it’s Luca, he must also be a keyboard genius.

PAOLO PIGNI: Yes, it was Luca. He is a talented musician and he can play all the instruments. He’s also great with vocal harmonies and he came up with the idea of all those vocals at the end of the song which sound a bit like The Beach Boys, which was great for me since I am a Brian Wilson enthusiast! Richard Sinclair’s voice is great as we know and it was thrilling and bizarre to hear him on “Remember”. It sounds a bit like an unreleased track from the early Caravan, doesn’t it?

mwe3: Each of the tracks that Rick Wakeman (the 3 part “Stanzas For Music”) and Billy Sherwood (“Flaming June”) play on also are each ten minute, grand sounding epic progressive studio tracks. Can you tell us something about those two tracks? Did you set out to write those songs with Rick and Billy in mind and what was it like working with those two YES legends?

PAOLO PIGNI: Actually, as I mentioned before, Rick Wakeman played piano all through the three parts of “Stanzas For Music” I had written this track on the piano and to me it sounded a bit like those “dramatic” middle period Genesis songs like “One For The Vine”. Well in the end that was my inspiration at least, you know... those great Tony Banks songs where he changes melodies, time signatures but still in the format of a proper song, you may say songs within songs. I recorded the whole piano part, but I felt the song needed a better piano player definitely so I thought about Rick Wakeman. As I said I had met him personally a few years ago, we swapped a couple of emails during the years. I still had his own email and I said to myself, let’s try, he will be very busy and never answer back or say he is not interested. On the contrary he showed much enthusiasm and once he heard the song he said yes and went on to record the piano with his own engineer Erik Jordan. I added bass guitar and Luca played guitars and keyboards and it sounded rather YES like. Well with Wakeman on board it was rather obvious! For the lead vocals I had written some parts that were a bit too high for my style so I thought about another great hero of mine, David Paton of Pilot, Alan Parsons Project... just to name a few. I contacted him and after he had a listen to the song he decided to sing ALL the parts, including the ones I had originally intended to sing, but he did them so well and with so much enthusiasm that we obviously kept them all. My dear... Rick Wakeman and David Paton on the same song, I was on cloud nine! David was also very kind because he asked me to write the Italian version lyrics of a song from his latest album, Under The Sun. The song is called “Voglio Stare con Te” (“I Wanna Be With You”) so it was a great honour working with such a legendary artist.

About Billy, and I spoke to you in a previous question, I can only add he was great and especially his guitar lines brought the song to another level. There are sections that are really magic in my opinion, dreamlike, romantic, ethereal. In the end, being a huge YES fan, it was incredible to have two members or alumni on the album indeed!

mwe3: How are you planning to expose the Sarastro Blake CD masterpiece to a large number of rock fans as there’s clearly something here for everyone. What’s been the reaction so far and are there plans underway as far as writing, recording and performing new music for Sarastro Blake and will there be a New Progmantics Volume 2 at some point in time? What’s in store for the progressive music of Sarastro Blake in 2013 and beyond?

PAOLO PIGNI: Good question Robert! Indeed this is my main worry now and to be true I am a bit at loss since it’s a sort of DIY management and I am actually in charge of PR, myself only! So you may imagine my difficulty. I do what I can do and it’s fine, but it would be better and more proficient to have a press office that, as you say, could help us reach a large number of rock fans. As a matter of fact, the first response is very good and people in Japan showed some interest apparently, thanks also to some valuable help from Yoshiko and I just checked a web site that sells CD’s and the album is number one in the sales... but I bet most progressive rock fans don’t even know that the album exists, indeed!

So, my main goal now is to help the album to take off a bit more if possible... well if somebody’s reading this interview and has ideas to forward, please get in touch!

Then, yes I would like to write new songs for a second album which won’t be necessarily New Progmantics Volume 2, but I still haven’t thought about a concept. This one had a sort of common thread which was given by poems and paintings but which was ultimately exploring the meaning and concept of LOVE whether spiritual or material. Actually the album kicks off with the “I love you” of “The Lady Of Shallot” and ends with the Sri Aurobindo dedicated lyrics of “Beyond” into the heart of love...

For the next one, lyrically, I would like to explore other emotions still in a conceptual way, something like Pink Floyd used to do for example. I am more interested in that rather then telling a story. Also, musically the last two albums I did were very intense and filled with so many ideas, themes, melodies, so this time I would like to slow down a bit so to speak, maybe write a typical 20 minute long 1970's suite and a few more songs to go with it not exceeding the old vinyl LP duration, maybe with a sort of side one and side two… who knows what the muses will suggest!


Thanks to Paolo Pigni @ www.SarastroBlake.com
photos of the musicians: (top to bottom: Paolo Pigni, Luca Briccola, Richard Sinclair, David Paton, Mirko Soncini, Serena Bossi, Richard Allen, Rick Wakeman, Dave Lawson, Marco Carenzio, Billy Sherwood, Nick Magnus, Amanda Lehmann)

 

 
   
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