Novello, John (Niacin) (April 2002)

All Natural Niacin Supplement (A Chat With John Novello)

John Novello (courtesy)Niacin. Just like every other important vitamin, an essential part of a well-balanced diet and an additional key to healthy living. Well, the trio comprised of keyboardist John Novello, bassist Billy Sheehan, and drummer Dennis Chambers is definitely on its way to acquiring very much the same qualities with the release of its fourth record, Time Crunch. An effort that has garnered the trio a more than healthy amount of critical acclaim, not to mention the continued appreciation and enthusiasm of its fans, the album is yet another offering from a band that is now known for its consistent quality output. The fact that Niacin's members are world-class musicians with enviable and insurmountable years of experience may just add to that, but it certainly hasn't kept this band from keeping its feet on the ground, as John Novello constantly demonstrates throughout this series of questions and answers known to many as ... yes, you guessed it ... an interview...

Marcelo Silveyra: Let's go way back to the age of disco and your stint as musical director with the group Taste Of Honey; a prime gig that you grabbed and saw you involved with a superhit disco band for a while. It's certainly no secret that disco isn't your favorite type of music, so how did it feel to move on to things more akin to your tastes later on?

John Novello: Well, it felt pretty good. I came out to Los Angeles after going to the Berklee School of Music ready to kick some butt, and then that just happened. I was at Guitar Center one day playing some of the synthesizers, and this guy came up to me and said, "hey, we're going out on a big tour and releasing our record, and we need a musical director and keyboard player." I just gave him my card and didn't think anything of it; and when that tune got released it just became a big hit. He called me up one day to go on tour with him, so hey, I went out and it wasn't my favorite cup of tea, but they're a bunch of good people and it was kind of fun in hindsight to, you know, go see the world. I was treated really good and it was a very first-class tour, we were out with the Commodores and that kind of people. So it was kind of fun; I have no regrets, but it wasn't exactly my cup of tea musically, so I did a ... I think I did one more of those kind of commercial tours with Donna Summer after that, and then after that I just started doing more of my own thing.

MS: I once read in an interview that even though you'd been in numerous projects and bands since then, none of them had you playing the Hammond B3 until Niacin. That seemed kind of awkward given your early fascination with the instrument, so one just has to ask if that's true...

JN: No, I had my solo project in Los Angeles, called John Novello, and I played B3 in that. And I had a record called Too Cool that came out in the late eighties, doing some B3 there, but it was more of a contemporary jazz album.

Niacin (l to r: Sheehan, Novello and Chambers; courtesy Magna Carta)MS: One thing that some people have mentioned about Niacin's lineup is the fact that you were the only member in the band to study music, which leads one to think about the differences or situations that the band encounters while writing music...

JN: Well, that's not exactly true ... everybody trains, whether they're self-trained, or formally trained, or a combination thereof, and it's just that Billy and Dennis are more self-trained. Perhaps, on their own, they listened to records and did their own thing ... I also did a little bit of that, and also went to school...

MS: and are there any difficulties or differences in approach due to the different training?

JN: Well, the only thing is with guys that don't read music ... it's a little harder sometimes to communicate charts, like when there's a very complicated chart. They have to hear the chart or otherwise it's very hard to explain to them what to do, but nowadays that everybody has a recording studio ... me and Billy have our own digital hard disc recording studios, Pro Tools, stuff like that, so I can usually make a demo now. So when we do the Niacin thing, once we've decided on the tunes I usually demo in my studio and then give everybody a CD, so they can listen to the demo and then they bring their own stuff. But we still jam with no problems or whatever ... we use our ears!

MS: The three members of Niacin are all very busy musicians with numerous commitments and projects outside Niacin itself. You are certainly no exception, and with a healthy number of activities that include things such as records and books, it would be a good idea to ask you how you assign priority to all these projects; especially Niacin...

JN: I don't know that I give them priority as much as we just try to schedule everything so that we can all do all the things that we like. Niacin is a labor of love - me and Billy started the band to play music that we wanted to play and really have a good time - so we always devote a few weeks out of the year to write and then do the CD, and then we leave it up to the manager and agents to try to focus our things with all our crazy schedules ... they're now trying to work something out at the end of the year.

MS: Another consequence of the band's members being involved in several different projects is that you are probably on the move constantly. With the good rock tradition of musicians in a band being really good friends with each other, and all of you quite busy for the most part, do you guys ever find the time to hang out?

Niacin - Time Crunch (2001)JN: Well, me and Billy live in the same town, so we always get to hang out and do stuff as well. Dennis lives in Baltimore, so I don't see him much, but we keep in contact through e-mail.

MS: Looking at the discography of Niacin, it's possible to see that the project has further allowed all of you to play with more quality musicians, such as Glenn Hughes and Steve Lukather. Eric Clapton has already been considered or asked a couple of times by you, but he somehow remains ever elusive by accident or coincidence. Is there any chance that you will finally play with him in the future?

JN: Well, you never know. Him, Jeff Beck, and Steve Lukather were the three choices that we wanted to use on the last record (Deep), but Steve lives in town, so it was much easier to get a hold of him. We met Eric Clapton in Japan when we were touring; he was supposed to come down and sit in with the band at the Blue Note, but he and the guys got food poisoning that day and didn't make it down, so that was close, but it didn't happen... Niacin - Deep (2000)You never know what's gonna happen ... sometimes people ask me, "what musicians would you like to play with that you haven't already played with?" and I always say that I'd love to play with Eric Clapton. Maybe someday I'll get a chance to play with him in his project, or maybe we'll get a chance to fit him in with me ... I don't know...

MS: We have mentioned your involvement with several projects along the course of this interview, and there is one in particular that I'm interested about: Lunatek. Has there been any progress with that?

JN: Yeah, we're in the middle of working on that record now; we're about halfway done. It's a lot of fun 'cause my partner Alan Howarth is a synthesist, so it's gonna be a lot of synthesizer realizations and interesting stuff; we're making it a concept album. So we're working on that, and I'm hoping that it should be done by this part of the year.

MS: While several musicians decide to confine themselves to a particular style of music when becoming involved in other projects, you have decided to keep branching out and experimenting with different sounds and approaches. In the ever-growing world of a musician, do you find that the variety is still contributing to your expansion and development as both musician and keyboardist?

JN: I think by now I'm at the mature stage of my musical style, but I'm always trying to improve it by venturing out to new projects with various other incredible artists. Or sometimes I'll get an idea, like this Lunatek thing. I've got a whole cool music production studio now with my partner that we call Lunatek Music Productions, and one of the first projects that we're gonna do is of course Lunatek - the album - and we're also working on film scores and all kinds of stuff... I'm also playing with Billy and Dennis, I've got my own John Novello project, which is a quintet with which I'm actually doing a live record next month, and that's gonna be me on keys, Eric Marienthal on sax, Melvin Davis on bass, Randy Drake on drums, and Eric McKain on percussion. That's gonna be more of a contemporary jazz project, where Niacin in more of a progressive rock project. So it's kind of fun to have all these different projects, because they offer different creative outlets and I think they all contribute further to developing my own musical ability, and I also think the fans like to listen to a lot of different things, too.

MS: One last question, and not to leave our most recurring subject, it is one that has to do with the various musicians that one gets to contribute with when involved in several projects. The list of musicians that you have been involved with is nothing short of amazing, and the mere mention of Chick Corea is enough to prove that. Playing with all these formidable artists, do you find that you are constantly pushing yourself?

JN: Absolutely. I'm always excited to surround myself with players that are the same or better than I am. Especially when they're better, because then I learn and I kind of rise to the occasion. When Chick Corea wrote a tune for our second record, the Niacin record Hi-Fi, he played Fender Rhodes and I got to play the B3, and that was sort of a dream come true; to play with him. Dennis has always been my favorite drummer in the world, Billy I'd known about a long time, playing with Steve Lukather was great, Glenn Hughes, all these people... I mean, I did a record years ago with Mark Isham that we got a Grammy for ... and it's so incredible to play with such great musicians, because they always inspire you.

Niacin (courtesy Magna Carta)

Chick Corea - Eye Of The Beholder (1988)
John Novello - Too Cool (1990)
Mark Isham - Mark Isham (1990)
John Novello - On The Other Side (1991)
John Novello - What's Goin' On (1993)
John Novello - The Lady Sings The Blues (1995)
Niacin - Niacin (1996)
John Novello - Here & Now (1996)
Niacin - Niacin Live! Blood, Sweat & Beers (1997/2003) Niacin - High Bias (1998)
Various - Encores, Legends & Paradox (ELP Tribute) (1999)
Niacin - Deep (2000)
Gloria Rusch - Tightrope (2000)
Various - As Long As You're Living Yours: The Music Of Keith Jarrett (2000)
Andy Summers - Peggy's Blue Skylight (2000)
Niacin - Time Crunch (2002)
John Novello Quartet - Always & Forever (2004)
John Novello - Threshold (2004)
Various - Man Of The Year (OST) (2004)
Niacin - Organik (2005)
John Novello - B3 Soul (2008)

Added: April 19th 2002
Interviewer: Marcelo Silveyra

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Language: english

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