Interview with Japan's Marquee
Who is the musical leader of ENTRANCE?
I'm afraid there no such thing as a formal musical leader in Entrance, we are five friends that love music and try to do our best to have a good band, each one from their own dexterity. I am though, the main composer and the responsible for the more prog compositions. But this band has always have a double style conception: a formal, classic prog style and a more direct rock oriented style. Richard Pilnik (Entrance's guitar player) has always the responsible for the latter. As I have formal compositions studies, when I compose, I tend to compose every part (except guitar solos). I like to work with the whole picture so in a way, I am sometimes seen like the musical leader but frankly, I am not. This has produced a very healthy result, everybody in this band contributes and is happy with that contribution. Sometimes I don't like the style some song is taking but that's ok because this is not Jaime Rosas' band. That formula has worked for us because we do not make a living with Entrance, we do it just for the music; so we have to be happy, each and everyone of us.
Weren't you involved in the original formation of ENTRANCE? In Japan, people think that you played a main role in forming the band, but when I read the latest biography, it seems that you were invited to join.
Well, yeah, I was invited indeed. What most people don't know though, is that Entrance was not a prog band at the moment, therefore, I was called to make it prog. So I worked in the composition of intros, instrumental parts, solos and bridges of the songs they had, always trying to respect the original spirit of the songs which in fact, were very good songs, not prog, but very good songs. The only songs composed after I arrived were Extraños Entre Dos Mundos, which I composed with Claudio Morice (former vocalist) and Alas Fugaces, composed with Claudio as well, since he wrote the lyrics. Those were the most progressive tracks of our first album, Entrance (1999). For our second album, En la Tierra (2002), I composed most of the music and half of the lyrics and since we had new musicians (vocalist, bassist and drummer) I was often looked as a former member. That album was very successful, in fact, most of the people first heard Entrance back then, so that helped me to be known as the original member as well; the truth is that Richard Pilnik is the only original musician of Entrance. That's the main reason why, when I left Entrance between 2004 and 2006, although Rodrigo and Alex left with me, and Richard didn't continue Entrance, I didn't use that name for the new band.
Please briefly explain your musical background, career and major influences.
Musical background: Formal composition studies (in fact I have always seen myself more a composer than a keyboardist), as a lyricist a psychology degree has helped me a lot, I love to read as well.
Career: 4 albums with Entrance, 4 albums as a solo artist. Many collaborations with other artists in Rock, Folk and Pop.
Major Influences: Beethoven, Stravinsky, The Beatles, ELP, YES, Genesis, Dream Theater, Vangelis, John Williams, Danny Elfman, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Iron Maiden, Frank Sinatra. Non musical influences: Abraham Maslow, Carl Jung, Richard Bach, Herman Hesse, G.I. Gurdjieff, J.K. Rowling, Steven Spielberg. M. Night Shyamalan, Cameron Crowe, George Lucas. Chilean influences: Roberto Escobar, my composition master; Dario Salas (aka John Baines) a remarkable philosopher, and several professors at the university.
Was there any Chilean band that influenced ENTRANCE?
We are mostly influenced by british and north american music, because those were the bands that made bigger impressions when we were young (ELP, Yes, Genesis, etc.). A chilean band called Los Jaivas, was a big influence as well, since they made excellent concept albums in the 70s and 80s.
Is your sound reflecting Chilean ethnic character and identity? Or is your sound essentially based on that of the West?
Music is, I would say, 95% influenced by west music. In chronological order that would be Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, ELP, Yes, Genesis, Deep Purple, Vangelis, Dream Theater, to name the first ones that come to mind. Only few true chilean music is on our compositions and it is not obvious, since I like to take some chilean elements, specially accented 6/8 and 3/4 metrics, for instance, but avoiding to sound as if we were a ethnic character band. Alex von Chrismar, our drummer, has a very latin feel in his style, a certain flavor that is only seen in Latin American drummers. Lyrics, on the other hand, have a strong connection with our land, in fact most of my lyrics refer to southern Chile, an extremely beautiful land full of volcanoes, rivers, lakes, forests, mysteries, myths, and UFO sightings.
Do you stick to Spanish in terms of lyrics, song titles and concepts?
Yes, all our lyrics, song titles and concepts are in spanish. As the music has mainly a traditional western progressive style, spanish is one of our main differentiators. It can be a wall though, if you don't understand, personally I like to understand the lyrics of the bands. I have heard wonderful bands from all over the world but when they start to sing in languages I don't understand it's hard to listen deeply. That has happened to me with bands from Italy, Poland and Germany, to name a few. Maybe that's one of the main reasons Entrance's music has strong audiences in latin america but in the rest of the world is still a rarity.
What is the major difference between your solo activities and ENTRANCE?
My first solo album (Virgo-2003) is a keyboard instrumental album, it has only one formal song (performed by Jaime Scalpello). I wrote it that way because, since I was playing with Entrance at the time, I wanted to write a very different album, a way to justify a solo effort and not just make a clone of the current band (which is something many solo artists tend to do). Although the sound of Virgo was not good, the music is, humbleness apart, very good. I am specially proud of the Symphony which is about 60% of the album; I'm really looking forward to record it again with a real orchestra. My second solo album (Extremos-2004) has a trio format, with Entrance's bandmates Rodrigo (bass, guitar, vocals) and Alex (drums). We were still in Entrance at the time and the story is the following: when we toured Mexico with Entrance in 2003, we were promoting En La Tierra and I had a segment of the show to play some music from Virgo; it turns out that I got invited for 2004 to play music of my solo career, but since Virgo is a keyboard oriented album and I didn't want to play with sequencers and pre recorded backgrounds, I wrote an album for that tour: Extremos, which was recorded in just two days. And again, I didn't want to sound like Entrance, so it is a 90% instrumental album. In some tracks I only play synth bass and Rodrigo plays guitar. My third solo album (Creciendo-2005) was recorded when we were no longer in Entrance so I added a formal guitar player. That album is what Entrance would sound if I were the formal leader of the band: a balance between instrumental and sung tracks, a wider range of sounds from new age to heavy rock, short and extensive tracks. Later, in 2007, Rock Symphony, the brazilian prog label, released a live album of the Brazilian tour of Creciendo, it's called Viajero Astral: JRC Live in Brazil. So, the main differences of my solo career and Entrance is a wider sense of composition, a different sonic approach (specially the two first albums), and more instrumental and complex tracks.
In your biography, you wrote, "learned under a renowned composer; ranked number-one in the charts with DIVA; got a psychology degree and an MBA, wrote a novel; work in the human resources consulting industry, joined ENTRANCE." This is really a career. Is it really true?
It is all really true, let me address each one of those events. My formal musical education is based on classical composition, as I had the chance to study in a master-disciple format with Roberto Escobar Budge, a renowned classical composer, for four years. With him I specifically studied musical theory, harmony, counterpoint, orchestration, structure, musical history and analysis. He lived in a house near the sea in Llolleo, a city about two hours from mine, so twice a week I went to his home, showed him the work I have done and work on new things, all day long. Roberto never told what to compose, but he did teach me how to compose; in other words, he gave the tools, but it was always my choice and responsibility to choose what to do with those tools. And the answer was pretty simple, since I have always loved classical music and rock (in most of its forms), progressive rock was a natural choice for me. In the early nineties I really wanted to make a living with music so I auditioned to play with DIVA a rock band with Van Halen, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi and Journey influences. Those were absolutely magnificent years, as the band was very popular in Chile. So we had a big fun club, a contract with a major label, managers, played on TV shows, sponsors, etc. I learned a lot in those years, not much about music itself, because it was rather simple, but recording sessions, playing live and a deep look inside the music business (which I learned to dislike a lot). In this 4 year period in the lighter side of music I eventually did make a living (most of the times anyway) but I was not musically satisfied, so when the band split up, I look for other ways. And complete other ways they turned to be. My dilemma was that I really wanted to stay true to my inner music and I want to make a living with music as well. But stay true to myself meant at least two things: not going back to popular music and not working in advertising; sadly those were the two things most musicians in Chile did to earn money on a regular basis. So I decided to enter the university and study psychology, that way could make a living as a psychologist and I would compose what I really wanted and never move a quarter note away from that. 5 years later I got my psychology degree, I specialized in Organizational Psychology and became a human resources consultant. A few years later I specialized even more and got an MBA degree in a two year program. Those years at the University produced an unexpected effect: I began to write lyrics, short stories and even a novel (unpublished until now). So I began to play with Entrance in the mid years of university and since then I have released 8 albums, 4 with Entrance and 4 as a solo artist. Now I am forty years old, I am currently working in a new solo album, entitled Flashback, and I am writing a musical called Opera. Besides ENTRANCE, I am also playing keyboards with TORKE, a prog fusion band lead by Javier Sepulveda, the next guitar hero from this part of the world. And in my parallel life, with two colleagues, this year we are starting our own Human Resources Consulting Firm. So yes, all those thing are true; I have had a pretty busy and amusing life until now, I might add.
Please introduce us to the composer whom you learned under, Roberto Escobar Budge.
Roberto Escobar (born in 1926) is a chilean composer and philosopher. He studied composition at the National Conservatory in Chile and Electronic Music at the Manhatttan School of Music. He has composed over 100 musical works, including 5 symphonies and 4 string quartets. In his academic life he has been Senior Professor in the Universidad de Chile and Professor Extraordinary in the Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso. From 1971 till 1992 he was Visiting Professor in the University of Missouri (USA), where he was appointed Honorary Professor in 1989. His music could be defined as experimental, atonal, with many sonic color contrasts; he is what one could define as a true contemporary classical composer. Roberto has published several books about music and philosophy as well.
What kind of work was the novel you wrote in your psychology days?
It is called The Story of a Man, is a narration about the key moments of a man’s life in which he understands his purpose in this world as he helps other people to overcome difficult situations, such as drug abuse, abortion and delinquency. As you would expect from a first novel, it is very autobiographic in terms of dreams, intentions, and ambitions. It’s has never been published yet.
How has the prog rock in Chile grown?
My generation almost never saw major international artists live (artists outside latin america to be more precise) when we were teenagers or even young adults. For economic and political reasons too, the bands didn't come to Chile. With chilean economic growth in the eighties, that began to change and suddenly every single artist you really liked was in front of you. I remember the very first big concert (maybe since day one) was Rod Stewart in 1987. It was a very good show with 70.000 people. After that, every artist began to consider Chile on their agendas and the quantity of international live shows increased dramatically in every style: Chick Corea, Jean Luc Ponty, Bon Jovi, Deep Purple, Aerosmith, Peter Gabriel, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Paul McCartney, etc. This produced an outstanding amount of energy in music lovers and many bands, labels, radio shows and magazines were formed since then. In the mid nineties, most of active prog bands came to Chile, like ELP, Yes, Marillion, Rick Wakeman, Jethro Tull, IQ, etc., and that was a boost for chilean prog rock. We are a small country, with 16 million people, but we have so many excellent prog bands. So I would say that in the last ten years, prog rock in Chile has grown dramatically. Needless to say, is not mainstream but is very respected and has a solid audience.
Under the military regime, could rock be active?
Very active, because rock has always been a way of rebelling against authority figures and a military regime is indeed one. But since it was not as hard regime as the ones in Cuba, North Korea, The Soviet Union, or others, these bands could actually exist and many of them in a mainstream way, especially in the eighties. There were labels, magazines, radio shows and a lot of concerts. Rock bands with direct messages against the government were banned from TV though (but that gave them more popularity, as it always happens when you ban artists). We were isolated because of political and economic reasons, so very few bands came to Chile. That meant that a very big movement of rock bands was born in Chile and four or five actually made it outside Chile to the whole latin american market, which is about 500 million people.
In Japan, only Los Jaivas was known among earnest rock maniacs. Were they popular? Was there any other band with nation-wide popularity?
They still are very popular because their style is a mix of progressive and folk. They use chilean and latin american instruments and have deep roots of the continent music elements on their compositions. There is another band called CONGRESO, which has a similar approach on their style but with a jazzy feeling and with more virtuosity. Both bands have been active since the late 60s and are still playing.
Had there been any prog rock label before Mylodon was formed?
Mylodon (which is named before a dinosaur that lived in southern Chile), is the first prog rock label in Chile. Although before Mylodon you could still rely on big labels that had specialized small labels within them, the work Juan Barrenechea (the label's CEO) has done is absolutely remarkable. He is one of the main responsible of the growth of prog, not only in Chile, but through out the continent.
Tell us about Santiago Art Rock Festival (promoter, scale, number of audience, etc.)
Santiago Art Rock is a two day festival held in Santiago every year. It is still a rather small festival, with audiences ranging between 200-400 people per night. Typically, 4 to 6 bands play in each festival. I believe that only bands from latin america have performed there, from Mexico, Argentina and Chile.
In South America, Brazil and Argentina may be known as the developed country in terms of rock. Do you have any exchange with artists in neighboring countries?
Yes, actually I have toured Argentina and Brazil in my solo career, and we have played with musicians from Argentina and Brazil in those countries, Chile and Mexico. I am afraid though, that progressive rock has not the strength you could expect from Argentina and Brazil, that have such solid musical heritage. Argentina had one of the biggest prog bands of the continent: Seru Giran, their records are full of all the musical elements every prog fan expects.
Chile has many earthquakes like Japan, which makes me familiar with the country. What impression do you have about Japan?
I associate Japan, first of all, with two major concepts: wisdom and resilience. Wisdom, because you have a wider view of life, respect for the elder, the ability of being both work oriented and good planners and the ability to observe. Resilience (the capacity of people to cope with stress and catastrophe), because the time between the end of the Second World War and the leadership you took in the world, was extremely short; that says a lot about the rare ability of learning fast, looking to the future, not letting hate rule your life and working towards a shared goal. In my humble opinion you have a kind of balance that is rarely seen in human history. Maybe earthquakes has something to do with it. In Chile we have majors earthquakes every decade and we are used to it, not only in terms of not having fear to earthquakes, but we, as chileans, are used to reconstruct parts of the country every now and then, so we have developed a very high sense of solidarity, shared goals and mutual support. Other impressions I have about Japan is the high tech and excellence-oriented workforce: Toyota, Sony, Korg, Yamaha, Honda, Nintendo, Konica, Minolta, Nissan, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Casio, etc. are examples of remarkable achievements, that have brought positive things not only to you, but to the whole world. And not only in terms of products but best practices as well, for example, in Chile some companies have adopted the Toyota Method for quality. Other personal keywords for Japan: Karate, Ultraman, Ultraseven, Godzilla, Akira Kurosawa, Budokan, high speed trains, sushi, Mount Fuji, Toshiro Mifune and Ken Watanabe.
Do you know any Japanese artist?
Ars Nova, Isao Tomita, Gerard, Kitaro, Makoto Ozone, Seiji Ozawa and KBB. In our first mexican tour with Entrance, we met Ars Nova, at the Baja Prog Festival. Talented, nice and wild girls. I like their music, full of tension, virtuosity and strength.
Juan told me that you are preparing a new studio solo album. Can you tell more about this as well ? Title, planned date, musical direction etc.?
It is called Flashback, and its direction has changed since I first started the composition process. It was going to be a full keyboard and computer album and I was really happy with the sound, but I have never been a fan of playback and sequencing on live situations. So the original keyboard parts was divided into keyboards and guitar; and all the computer based drum programming is now being recorded by a real drummer (at least through most of the record).
I recall that in 2006 Entrance did one off re-union gig as your farewell concert. Please tell your memory upon this concert.
Well, we never had the chance to play a farewell concert mainly because we didn’t want to play at all; you know, maybe the one thing that has sustained this band is friendship and in mid 2004, our personal relations were not as we liked, so a farewell concert was not something we were looking forward. But time heals most of things and it certainly does that to human relations, so in 2006 everything was different: we have had some time without seeing each other and, as friends, we kind to began to miss each other, and certainly some fans began to miss us as well. In fact, this concert was organized by fans and it was an opportunity to show what we have been doing since 2004. It was a very special evening indeed. The show began with Jaime Scalpello (Entrance’s singer) showing his solo album with Alex von Chrismar, Entrance’s drummer in the band. Then Astralis, the solo project led by Richard Pilnik played (with me on keyboards). Later on, JRC (my solo band played (with Entrance’s drummer and bassist). So when Entrance finally played everything was friendship and rock n’ roll. The audience was so pleased and we all were extremely happy.
How did the Entrance reunion in 2008 happened?
This farewell concert was indeed a pre reunion concert, because it really settled things up among us. For me it meant a sign of putting thing back and working towards a shared future, so a couple of weeks later I told my Alex and Rodrigo, my bandmates in my solo project (and former Entrance’s drummer and bassist) their opinion of putting on hold JRC and playing again with Entrance; they both agreed and it was as simple as that. I remember we discussed the reunion with Richard Pilnik (guitarist) and everything went smooth. Later on I phoned Jaime Scalpello (vocalist) and he said something like I was waiting for this call for some time now, let’s do it.
Please tell how the making process of the Entre Dos Mundos went, and how do you think about the album. Many fans in Japan consider Entre Dos Mundos as the best Entrance album. How do you feel about this opinion?
I am extremely happy with this album, I also consider that is our best work, for many reasons. First, it is an honest album, as we declare without any complex that our band has a double style, progressive and direct-rock oriented; we can play a 15 minute opus or a 3 minute song having fun, enjoying and fulfilling our musical needs. Second, we have matured as musicians, I think it is a well performed work. Third, we recorded this album for ourselves, staying true to our own musical vision and when we play live, the audience can sense that, you know watching musicians honestly enjoying their performance is a good thing to see. The recording process was somehow different to other recordings as we didn’t record the drums first in most of the album. In Voces Ahogadas and Magica (my two compositions, 15 minutes each) and Hijos de Bagdad (Scalpello’s songs), the keyboards were recorded first. I recorded the tempo tracks and then I added all the keyboards, including solos, in my Logic-based home studio. I tend to be a control freak composer and I wanted to set the exact tempos and accents for my music. I also wanted to set a difference between tight-up-studio recording and loosen-up live performance.