Shapiro, Dan (October 2005)


Bringing Progressive Music Into The 21st Century - An Interview With Dan Shapiro

Dan Shapiro is the head of 2 ambitious prog labels, Clearlight and Cypher Arts Music based in L.A. He is also an accomplished bassist and producer, assisting all the musicians on his roster in both capacities. Forward-thinking, Dan is looking to help Prog make that next evolutionary step and to top it all, he's also a very nice, friendly guy (as are all the people in prog I have interviewed thus far, without exceptions) and was happy to answer my questions.

George Heron: Tell me about the formation of your record labels.

Dan Shapiro: Clearlight music was formed more to release products from Cyrille Verdeaux, and Cypher is a little more experimental and art-oriented. Cyrille's material is more spiritually-based, new-ageish I should say, and world music influenced. My aim with Cypher is to release music from progressive artists from the great bands in Europe in the US who wouldn't otherwise be released here. Bands like Le Orme from Italy and Éclat from France are two great examples. It's funny that I'm more interested in what is happening with the European bands and most Europeans are interested in what is happening over here. Funny the way that works.

GH: What are you up to at the moment?

DS: There are several projects that I am working on right now with Cypher Arts. We are working on a project called Waterline with a great Italian keyboard player named Alex Carpani. He is from Bologna and the album is a thematic jazz-rock fusion. Paul Whitehead did the amazing cover and we're about two-thirds of the way through that album. Paul Whitehead and I are collaborating on the second Borg Symphony CD, MACHINE which is the follow up to the Cyber Rock opera Ode To The Hero Tixe. That is going to be an elaborate thing incorporating video, live stage show and theatrics and it is going to be a rather complicated undertaking actually. We are still in the process of working out the details for live performances. I'm also working on the Shaun Guerin Live album and a second volume of his archives where we go further back into his musical history. I'm also working on an album with my friend Neil Bettencourt, a jazz-rock fusion project with him, a piano player, and it's going to be a kind of duet with keyboards and drums, it will be pretty avant-garde. And then I'm also preparing to release several albums from Europe, including Le Orme's and Éclat's. Paul and I are starting a new venture where we are doing a set of comic books that have rock music associated with them. The first one is called the Colossus of Rhodes and it features mainly Italian progressive rock bands. There are some great, incredible bands on that one - the cream of new Italian progressive rock. We're doing another album after that called Pirate Tales, which is going to be different comic strips of pirate-associated stories throughout time with progressive music accompanying each tale. It should be pretty out there on the fringe.

GH: I think you might have stumbled upon a niche there as I haven't seen a comic combined with an album before. I've thought of combining a book with music but not a comic. That sounds unique to me.

DS: I think because everyone can duplicate CDs so easy now, you have to package things differently and do things that other people aren't doing to make your product stand out to make it special. Everyone has a CD burner in their computer now all over the world, so if you give them something else that makes them want to have that packaging, like a world to live in, as progressive music to me is like an alternate reality. That was the beauty of the old LP covers that enabled large artwork. When I was a kid I would look at the album cover and I would get lost in it. Yes' Close To The Edge or Tales From Topographic Oceans or Genesis' Foxtrot or Van Der Graaf Generator, these classics give you a world that you want to inhabit and that is what we are trying to do, creating an alternate reality to inhabit through the music and the visuals.

GH: Have you always been into prog, or was it a passing and returning phase?

DS: I have been a fan of prog pretty much ever since I was a musician. I became a musician when I was 15 years old and the bands that I liked right off the bat were Genesis and Yes and Pink Floyd, Nektar and I never stopped liking those groups. I have a wide variety of interests. I got into the New Wave bands like Talking Heads and the Ramones and those groups, but I always come back to the progressive. But I think progressive needs to be taken to the next level, which is rather than trying to repeat, using the same old instruments and mellotrons. That's kind of silly to me. I think people need to take it the next level and make it progress rather than repeat what has been done in the past. That's what we are trying to do with the Borg Symphony. It's progressive but it doesn't sound like the Moody Blues and Genesis. It sounds modern. Alex Carpani's project Waterline has elements of that old progressive sound but he isn't afraid of new technology. There are sounds of mellotrons and analog synthesizers, but he also has a modern sound as well, so we are taking it up to the year 2005 and trying to create something new rather than trying to repeat what's already been done.

GH: So you think the current state of progressive rock is stuck into that 70s vibe. Bands on labels like InsideOut and Magna Carta, for example.

DS: I don't think Magna Carta has stagnated so much. They have done a lot of interesting albums where they have put musicians together and got them to do some really creative things. I think that there is more great music being made now more than ever. But there is so much of it that it is really difficult for people to get a hold of all of it. I think there is definitely an element of conservatism in the progressive rock community that are more hungry for what is familiar as opposed to what is something new. The musicians will always struggle to break the boundaries of style that are imposed upon them. Bands like Spock's Beard, their sound is definitely a retro sound. Nevertheless, they are just using it as a base and still taking the genre further by building on it. I'd like to think that K2 (Ken Jaquess from Atlantis) did that pretty well as well. K2 doesn't sound like old UK or anything. It has its own modern sound to it, but it is a classic sound at the same time. Sampling technology is going to have a great impact on how progressive music goes, as well. If you think that mellotrons were the first samplers, and for somebody to sample an orchestra before now, they would have to record it on magnetic tape and then cut the loops. My brother in law is a mellotron expert and is known as the mellotron doctor, but he doesn't keep his mellotrons in his home studio as he uses them as museum pieces as there is better technology out there now.

GH: Are there any producers or bass players that have inspired you in your own craft?

DS: Oh absolutely. Tony Levin and Chris Squire and Mike Rutherford; Victor Wooten (Bela Fleck & The Flecktones), of course; Jaco Pastorius (Pat Metheny, Al Di Meola, Weather Report - all jazz greats), Charles Mingus (of Mingus Dynasty, Big Band and Orchestra fame), and Jack Bruce (Cream). I'd say those are the main ones. In terms of producers, Alan Parsons, Chris Thomas (Beatles, Roxy Music, Elton John). The king would have to be Brian Eno, I guess. I'd say those 3 are the big ones for me. I like the idea of experimentation and Brian Eno is very good at getting those happy accidents in the studio. I think that is a really important thing and is something Paul and I shoot for with the Borg Symphony. We don't always know for sure what we are trying to get but when we get it, we know it's something that we want. But we try to keep things creative rather than to be stuck in getting a specific thing, allowing those accidents to happen and then it is sometimes those mistakes that you value the most. Chris Thomas is a big one for me, his work with Bob Marley is fantastic.

GH: What bands do you listen to nowadays?

DS: I listen to mostly my own stuff as I am doing so much music. I listen to a lot of older stuff really. I listen to Bob Marley and I listen to Peter Gabriel and King Crimson, Jimi Hendrix. Mostly the stuff that we do is the stuff I listen to. I've been listening to a lot of Steve Reich lately and I think that is about it.

GH: What is your ultimate ambition for the future?

DS: I would like us to be able to continuously do a high level of quality work and have it distributed around the world so that people who want it can get it. I would like us to be able to do feature films and large tours as well, especially with the Borg Symphony, I want to do a live show that incorporates multimedia. Same with Clearlight, I have a pretty ambitious stage design. With the Borg Symphony we would also like to do a feature film and we are working on a script. These Borg aren't like the Borg of Star Trek.

GH: RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!

DS: Yeah. They didn't quite get it right, we're gonna get it right.

GH: The way the Borg SHOULD be.

DS: Yeah, exactly.

For further information check out both labels' websites: www.clearlight888music.com and www.cypherarts.com.


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Added: October 30th 2005
Interviewer: George Heron

Artist website: www.clearlight888music.com
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Language: english
  

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