Interview with UK's Prog Archives
Twenty years ago, a bottle of red wine was my first ever contact with anything from Chile. It was actually my first ever bottle of red wine. Not that I am an expert on wines. But Chile really have some inexpensive excellent red wines. Why do I talk red wine when I should talk progressive rock? Although I am stone cold sober, it is this association I got when I was listening to the third album Creciendo by Jaime Rosas Cuarteto. An album which in texture can be compared with a deep red Chilean wine. Jaime Rosas Cuarteto's excellent live album Viajero Astral - Live in Brazil was a real eye-opener and put this band on my list of bands I and the rest of us should check out. As I wrote in my review, Jaime Rosas Cuarteto is a seriously talented band and one of the better symphonic prog rock bands on this planet. The two studio albums I also bought confirmed my suspicions. I also found Jamie's website and decided to investigate this band further. This interview is a mix of a presentation of Jaime Rosas past, the Jaime Rosas Cuarteto albums, the present and the future. So without any further time wasting, I give you Jaime Rosas.
Besides of having to endure my more or less insane ramblings, what are you up to these days?
Composing, recording and mixing mainly. There are two contributions for the Finnish Progressive Music Association and Musea Records: one is Cani Arrabbiati, based on Italian movie themes, which I just finished; and the other is a song for Paradiso, the third part of The Divine Comedy, based on Dante´s work. I am also mixing and recording some final tracks for Flashback, my new solo album. Besides that, I have been enjoying a very good summer and have recently updated my home studio.
Over to that past and “this is your life” bit of the interview. How was your formative years? Were you self taught or did you get any formal musical education?
The first time music was made conscious, or revealed before me in a certain way, was when John Lennon died. During that December, The Beatles and Lennon sounded in every radio near me. So I guess that was my call, literally. My dad bought a big, very uncool organ and I began to play by myself, first by ear, and then I took some classes. My repertoire: mostly The Beatles, but within a couple of years I had discovered ELP, Yes, Deep Purple and Genesis. Abbey Road’s “B side” had a lot to do with that openness which let me discovered other music styles. I have formal music composition studies, although I am very much self made as a keyboardist. After high school, I had the chance to study Music Composition in an old fashion master-disciple way. My composition master, Roberto Escobar, is a classical musician, a very prolific composer and a very respected philosopher. By the time we worked together he was in his mid sixties, so there was a lot for him to teach me, no only in music, but in life as well. With him I studied, music theory, harmony, counterpoint, orchestration, analysis, etc. He was very open minded about the kind of music I wanted to compose, he comes from the atonal trend in music, but, apart from looking at me in a suspicious way when he heard my tonal compositions, everything went smoothly.
Which keyboardists / musicians have inspired you most?
Beside The Beatles, the first group of musicians have to be the ones from the classical world, mainly Beethoven and Stravinsky. These artists have been so important, that music changed forever, for good. In a way, they belong to a very unique group of people (along with Newton, Einstein, Freud, Jung, Leonardo DaVinci, to name a few) who have transformed their own disciplines helping to the growth of human kind. Next, there’s a group of keyboardists, who definitely have influenced me in composition, and performing: Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Jon Lord and Tony Banks. I mean, you can be both, a rock star and a “classical composer”, talking about balance in life. From this side of the world there are remarkable bands who definitely have influenced me a lot: Congreso and Los Jaivas, from Chile; and Seru Giran, from Argentina. Finally, there is a group of musicians that don´t come from an obvious influence area of a prog musician, but they have been so important in my development and motivation as an artist: Iron Maiden, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Electric Light Orchestra, Bon Jovi (I know I just lost some potential fans here), Frank Sinatra, Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Jean Luc Ponty, John Williams, Danny Elfman, Journey, Queen, Triumph and Vangelis. Nowadays I like Dream Theater very much.
Jaime Rosas Cuarteto has it's roots in another prog rock band from Chile called Entrance. You were still a member there when you released your first solo album. Please tell us more about Entrance and the three studio albums and the live album you recorded with them.
Entrance was formed in 1997, we were just a group of musician friends who wanted to make “music with the spirit of the seventies, with a contemporary attitude”. Meaning: compose, record and perform, thinking about music first, and not about being popular, having a hit song or being famous (although it is always welcomed). The real strange thing is that I have travelled, have met so many people, I have been interviewed a lot, that many times I have actually felt like a mainstream musician. We released our first record (Entrance) in 1999. In 2000 the drummer left for personal reasons, and singer and bassist also left to pursue a popular career in music. In 2002 we released En la Tierra (On the Earth) with a new, and now, classic formation. The Mexican tour was recorded in 2003 and release in 2006 as Odisea (Odyssey: Live in Mexico). Finally, in 2008, we released our third studio album Entre Dos Mundos (Between Two Worlds).
What is it's future plans for Entrance?
Honestly, I just want to make music, compose, record and tour. It is sometimes hard to coordinate this with other musicians who have, as myself, day jobs. So that has been an important reason why sometimes I record with Entrance and sometimes as a solo artist. The only short term plan with Entrance is the recording of a song for Paradiso, the third part of The Divine Comedy, the project sponsored by Finnish Progressive Music Association and Musea Records. Of course that can change in the near future, and it would be nice, since I love the band and we have lived so many wonderful times together.
How is the music scene in Chile and South America these days?
Very healthy, more underground that it should be and full of talented musicians. From a very personal point of view there are very good performers, but talented composers are rare, progressive music should not rely on endless repetition of simples structures, it should be based in the search for structures and harmonic and melodic progressions (hence the name?). Author Edward Macan, defines Progressive Rock in his book Endless Enigma as a philosophy that is founded in five basic premises: idealism, authenticity, transcendence, the artist and progress. I agree with him and this means that is not enough to be a good performer. Back to the question (sorry), the last world economic crisis generated many problems for a lot of Prog festivals. So that part of the music scene has been living a real bad cycle, hopefully, we will return to normal. Labels, on the other hand, are betting almost everything on the internet, which is a risky move. Let’s see what happens.
Over to Jaime Rosas Cuarteto. Please give us a presentation of Virgo. The music, the recording, lyrics, the musicians, the artwork, the tracks.
Virgo (2002) is my first solo album, it has, in my opinion, the best music I have composed, but, sadly to say, the worst sound as well. It is a keyboard based album, all the music is instrumental, except one song. Virgo starts with Plegaria (Prayer), the deep, peaceful moment in which, before a difficult journey, you connect with the gods and ask for wisdom, clarity and success. The main composition of the CD is the Symphony, a four movement, 33 minute opus in which I invested several months of composing. I would love to record an acoustic version of it, you know, besides the regular keyboards, it should have a real orchestra behind it. I’m planning to compose another symphony and recorded it with a real orchestra by 2013, it would be an appropriate opportunity to re record this first Symphony. A trade mark of this and other albums are the Brief Rock Pieces, which stands for 2-3 minute instrumental rock music. In Virgo, I recorded numbers 1 to 5. They have proven to be real good in live concerts after playing 20 minute compositions, the audience tends to rest and just let their rock n’ roll spirits out. Lluvia (Rain) is the only song of the album, vocals are sung by Jaime Scalpello, Entrance’s singer. At the time of the recording I didn’t have much money so I was invited to use a studio in their non working hours, it could be 40 minutes in the morning, 1 hour at the evening, or the whole night. I remember several days in which I didn’t sleep at all during that time, good times I must say.
Please give us a presentation of Extremos. The music, the recording, lyrics, the musicians, the artwork, the tracks.
Extremos (2004) is my second album, now in a trio format, with my bandmates from Entrance Rodrigo Godoy (bass, guitars and vocals) and Alex von Chrismar (drums). We used the name “Jaime Rosas Trio” to promote this CD and the following tour. This time we had a studio at our disposal, but we didn’t have much time, so in an absolute career record, we made the album (recording, mixing and even some composition) in just three or four days. The concept of this album is the coexistence of two opposite styles in music: the rock side and the calmer side. In this CD I recorded another set of five Brief Rock Pieces, number 6 has become a real hit in concerts. Not girls-screaming-hit but, you know, people really enjoying and some screaming (mostly male though). Extremos also has two piano pieces: Sonido Vital (Vital Sound) 1 and 2, the first one has a classical approach, and a really cool thing happens when I played it live: people listen in a moving, respectful silence. To a performer, that is everything. Tiempos de Paz (Times of Peace), also in the calmer side, is a kind of new age composition with just keyboards. Extremos ends with Viajero Astral (Astral Traveller), the classic prog composition of this work. It is the first part of a three movement mega work. The second part is El Mito del Eterno Retorno (The Myth of the Eternal Return) from Creciendo (2005) and the last is Magica (Magic) from Entrance’s Entre Dos Mundos (2008). As a whole, is a 45 minute composition. Viajero Astral tells the story of a space and time traveller. We also recorded a version of YYZ from Rush but we couldn’t release it because permissions didn’t arrive, you can hear it in www.jaimerosas.com/Music.html. This CD was mixed and produced by Rodrigo Godoy.
Please give us a presentation of Creciendo. The music, the recording, lyrics, the musicians, the artwork, the tracks.
Creciendo (Growing) was released in 2005, guitarist Javier Sepulveda joined the band, so now we are Jaime Rosas Quartet, or “Cuarteto” in Spanish. As you may have noticed, in each CD the name of the band changes (I know I have to look for advice in marketing and branding, I’m working on it). This album also has a good balance between heavy and calm moments. It has a track called Un Volcan en las Nubes (A Volcano in the Clouds) which I composed looking at the magnificent Villarrica Volcano, in southern Chile. One particular day a set of clouds have formed on it’s base so you could only see the top half of the volcano. It is orchestrated for electric guitar and Pipe Organ. Another favorite is La Hermandad del Fin del Mundo (The Brotherhood of the End of the World) scored for piano, acoustic guitar, soft percussion and voice (without lyrics). It was first composed for a DVD featuring landscapes of southern Chile. My favorite track though is without a doubt El Mito del Eterno Retorno (The Myth of the Eternal Return), which is heavy, real heavy: heavy lyrics, heavy composition structure, and heavy performance. The lyrics are based in the inevitable return to itself, to the real inner truth; and also to the return to the South side of the world after a mystical voyage. The artwork shows a magic place where wisdom and knowledge is an everyday goal for the people who live there, humans and people from other planets (a theme that was fully developed in Magica, from Entrance’s Entre Dos Mundos - 2008). So you can see these ancient trees called “Araucarias”, a hidden city, plenty of vegetation, mountains and this human figure full of light. Southern Chile is a land that has many myths and regular UFO sightings. Creciendo was recorded and mixed during a three month period, since we worked in one of the bandmates’ studio, we took all the time we needed. Rodrigo Godoy again mixed and produced this recording.
You are currently working on a new album, according to your Twitter feed. What can we expect from this album?
You know when you are reading a book, and at the end of a chapter, the author makes a summary? Well, that is Flashback, my new album. It has a certain look to the past, with compositions that I have never recorded and new music that has strong connections with my history in the form of music themes and guest musician friends. As always, it doesn’t have an obvious stylistic unity so you will find the classic 20 minute prog opus; a very relaxed-jazzy-piano-guitar duet, a formal verse-chorus song, a couple of heavy instrumental pieces and of course, Flashback: the summary of my approach to music, in which different styles and moods are mixed together.
I have already touched upon your live album Viajero Astral - Live in Brazil which I think is a real eye-opener of an album. Please tell us more about this live album and how it was recorded.
It was recorded during the Creciendo Tour by Bob Nagy and mixed in Chile by Rodrigo Godoy, that particular show was held in Rio Art Rock Festival, where we played with Nektar. I love playing in theaters, the energy is so different, I think the audience is more comfortable so it all comes to music and people in a direct and honest way. Everybody should go to Brazil at least once. In this amazing country everything is sports, music, girls and a “don’t worry be happy” approach to life. They can be filled with problems, but they are always open, enjoying, healthy, smiling. So the whole Brazilian tour was having a good time, and that particular show just followed that trend. This was one of those shows where after playing, you go to the lobby of the theater, and you meet the audience, in a one-by-one basis. It doesn’t get better than that: talking and knowing that many people, taking pictures, signing records, and just hanging around with them. I really appreciate this after show, it fills me with energy to keep composing, recording and touring. The show itself was very enjoyable, the band played very tight, the onstage sound was excellent and I remember we all had a wonderful time. One good anecdote: in this festivals, it is common that a section of the theater’s lobby is reserved to sell records and music related items. So we all had spots: Nektar, Rock Symphony (Brazil’s Prog Label and producers of the festival), some other merchant and ourselves. There’s this friendly competition for who sells the most, so every guy does his best. So we used this very basic strategy: Barbara, our drummer's girlfriend, had joined us for this part of the tour, and we gave her the mission to sell CD’s. She is a blue-eyed blonde with a very direct and outgoing personality, and, as (male) logic dictates, we sold all of our CD’s and just crushed the competition.
I guess you will not be mortally wounded if I say that both fans of Dream Theater and ELP will get a lot of pleasure from both this live album and your three studio albums. But how would you describe your own music?
This is a tough one, because music is, as musicologist Jaime Donoso remarks, “a self-referenced language that doesn't need to be translated in emotions or symbols because it has a meaning by itself”. It is always difficult to describe music with words since you will always fall short. One alternative is to use comparisons: my music can be compared to prog rockers, such as ELP or Yes. It also makes references to classic romantic nineteenth century composers because of the search of new structures and tonality. Other alternative is to use music concepts to make the description: I try to keep a balance in every music element, so there’s room for harmony, melody, rhythm, structure and orchestration. A third way to describe my music is by the message I want to communicate: positiveness, finding your own way, hope and friendship. Finally, it can also be described as how it sounds: a lot of keyboards, solo analog sounds, with peaceful, calm moments and that alternate with strength and rock n’ roll with heavy guitars and drums, and Spanish lyrics (though that will change in the future).
How is your record label situation and the distribution of your albums both in South America and in the rest of the world? What is your experiences with the music / record industry?
In the politically incorrect part of the interview, I must say that in my experience, the music industry is awful. Not only in prog or similar styles, but as a whole. This is a bad time to be a musician (as a business). The music industry is made of a value chain consisting in musicians, labels, media, live show industry, music stores and audience. The goal of labels, media, live show industry and music stores is to bring musicians and audiences closer, but in doing so, they should work together, in long term business relations, knowing that they need each other to succeed. Now, this gets very complex because of piracy, and, as revenues had fall, my perception is that everybody is trying to win as much money as they can in a short term basis, fearing that business will die soon, dangerously forgetting about the importance of working together and trying to come up with new business models. This is a time of change in the industry, there are, and there will be many wounded. What I have seen? Labels invest as little as they can in recordings, the marketing is poor and the distribution is very reactive-oriented. Music stores and labels had suffer the most since they didn’t understand that they sell music, not CD’s (iTunes understood this and they achieved an impressive market share in a very short time). Musicians have the illusion that they don´t need a label in order to succeed (since the internet is free...). The live show industry has now a tendency for tribute bands (maybe the art of composition is somehow lost), is it difficult to compete with that. And the media, I miss music related journalism, almost everything is mainstream, and it’s not even about the music, it’s about sales, fame, and sensationalism, who is dating who; but there is a part of the media, mostly internet based, that is doing a very good job, but, even though I’m optimistic, the long term effects are yet to be seen. I must add that this whole situation has discouraged many talented musicians and composers to keep going, I think it’s a mistake, but I understand them. My own experience with labels and the music industry as a whole has been mostly negative. Now, what will happen? In my opinion, labels, as we know them today, will disappear; they will turn into highly specialized marketing companies. The recording process will be in charge of the musicians and their home studios (more affordable each year), and distribution will be mostly through light speed internet, so almost only marketing is left. We need aggressive labels to do their marketing job, it doesn’t matter if the music industry will be real or virtual, labels have an importamt task to do, but they need to act now or they will be shut by others.
Your Twitter feed also describe an album with Italian film music you are currently working on. Please tell us more about this album.
It is a project sponsored by the Finnish Progressive Music Association and Musea Records. The CD is called Cani Arrabbiati (Rabid Dog) which is a term used to describe Italian essay movies of the 60's and 70's (Horror, Police, Spaghetti Westerns, etc.). It features many musicians, mostly from Europe, each on of us had to make new arrangements of Italian film music. I chose The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, by Ennio Morricone, which is the classic Clint Eastwood western music theme; The Great Duel, by Louis Bacalov, mostly known for Tarantino’s Kill Bill; One Silver Dollar, by Gianni Ferrio, also used by Tarantino in Inglorious Basterds; and Tentacles, by Stelvio Cipriani. The arrangements are mostly keyboards with some acoustic guitars and percussion.
You are also working on a rock opera. Please tell us more about this project.
It is the kind of project that I would love to be remembered for. Honestly, I think that music is a mean for something greater, an instrument to express ideas and ideals. This rock opera stands for everything I believe in life, it’s the story of a soldier first in war and then back home and all the changes he goes through. The score is composed for rock band (drums, guitar, bass and keyboards), string orchestra, vocals and chorus. I’m taking all the time needed for this composition, and ETA is March 2011.
I guess music does not fill every hour of your life. What else are you up to and how is life in Chile?
Well, yeah, back to real life... I have a Human Resources Consulting Company, besides musician I am a psychologist and MBA. We focus mainly in executive coaching, leadership and teamwork. I do not complain, I have never complained, this other side of me allows me to make the music I have always wanted, helps to pay the bills, and gives me peace of mind to think big in music. I would love to be a full time musician, that’s for sure, but in this time of history, the kind of music I compose is not commercial, so I have taken another road. Some fellow musicians have migrated to pop music, others have entered the advertising music business, others can’t pay the bills. My choice has been the development of other area of interest. I release one album a year and have played and keep playing in many different places, so it has worked for me. I know this is a common issue for non commercial artists, everywhere in the world, but it’s ok, our adaptation skills are tested everyday.
Life in Chile is wonderful, I live in Santiago, where the climate is awesome, like in LA. The sea is 90 minutes to the West, by car; and the mountains (and snow) are 60 minutes away to the East. Chile has a remarkable stable environment in both economics and politics, so it is rather different from the others countries of the region. It is an open economy and it’s main exportations are copper, cellulose, wines, salmon and fruits. Landscapes vary a lot, starting from the driest desert in the world in the far north, to the glacier zone in the far south. There are wonderful beaches, lakes, mountains and forests. It is a wonderful place to live. Soccer is the most popular game and we have always have good tennis players too.
Anything you want to add to this interview?
Just like to say thank you for the interview, I had a great time answering it and recalling many anecdotes of recording and touring. I try to follow my own path in an honest way, and in doing that, I have known different people, cultures and countries, so it all makes perfect sense. I’m really grateful with life. Thank you.