Saturday, January 03, 2015

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Interview: Modest Midget


Lionel Ziblat, leader of Dutch band Modest Midget spoke with Diego Camargo for Progshine about their music and their new album Crysis (2014).

The result is a very interesting and a great reading in the Interview below, have fun:

Interview by Diego Camargo

Progshine – Hello guys! I would like to start with the basics and the band's beginnings. How did you start playing together and when how Prog Rock came about for you guys?

Lionel Ziblat - Hi Diego, hi readers! I’m determined to be very serious and thorough with my answers, so I’d like to thank you in advance for your patience. I answered everything myself because the band is not active at the moment, and it is not clear what shape it will have in the future.

The band was my idea, and it’s one that is difficult to put into words. I grew up listening to many different kinds of music, and because of my parents’ musical background and interests I heard a lot of South American music, Dixieland and Classical music. I noticed that each of the artists that really left an impression on me have all done things that were deviating from their contemporary norms. The big names that left an impact were - among many others - Piazzolla, Chico Buarque, Tom Jobim, Ravel, Faure, Led Zeppelin, Yes, Gentle Giant etc. I loved the Beatles as an infant, and although they are now being seen as “Classics” they were very fresh and innovative for their time. Most of the mainstream Pop and Rock in my youth didn’t really sound too fresh. The ones that I discovered to have had their own special sound were acts that I later grew to learn were regarded to be “Progressive Rock”. But it was never my intention to create a band that would fit into a “Prog” genre. It’s more important for me to know that what Modest Midget offers is somewhat new and most of all: Honest.

Progshine – And how you decided on the name Modest Midget? You have to admit that it is a funny name at a first glance! There’s any meaning?

Lionel - I was looking for a name and I was gazing at a Gentle Giant album at the time. I realized they had a good name but it hid a slight pretentiousness. I thought I’d try an opposite direction. I wasn’t afraid of that because I knew my band will not sound like them, and it doesn’t (contrary to what many say, it really doesn’t).

Progshine – And talking about your released albums, how different you think they are from each other?

I don’t feel the need to compare them really. I’m still very happy with the first one, and with the fact that they each have their own character. If I did have to point something out, I think the two main differences might be: First, the fact that ‘Crysis’ was created with a band that has already toured and rehearsed a lot together, while the first was all me with friends helping out; having had an active band has definitely influenced my writing and there are a couple of songs I wouldn’t have written if there were other people involved. “Gone Is” and “Birth” wouldn’t have happened if Maarten and Willem weren’t there. The second thing is my will to dare to go to the extreme in terms of variety and mood swings.

Progshine – And if we’re on this topic, how about your new album, Crysis, how was the process of writing and recording it? How much time did it take and how’s the response so far?

Lionel - The first two tracks that were written were “Now That We’re Here” and “Secret Lies”, which were already performed during the first couple of tours (2009-2010) while promoting the first album. During the 2012 tour, when Maarten and Willem joined, I came up with the idea of playing “Pretty Woman” (with a slight deviation as you may have noticed), and the songs “Birth” and “Gone Is” have also emerged. After the last tour show in September 2012 I took 2 months to write the rest of the album. Having discovered Maarten’s music I thought we should try to fit something of his too. Eventually we went for “Periscope Down” which had a title but no lyrics yet. Maarten also writes his own texts usually so I was happy to hear that he liked what I came up with. I assisted with completing the structure of the music even though the collaboration was very subtle and mostly via the mail, it was very fruitful and satisfying. By November I recorded demo versions and wrote parts for most of the songs and we had 2-3 weeks to rehearse before heading up to the studio. It took about three or four sessions but the most productive one was a 2 day marathon session in which we nailed the backing tracks for most of the album. The rest was recorded in different studios, taking the time to re-record bass and guitar parts as we saw fit. It took about 8 months to record but another extra year was needed for technical, financial and contractual hassles.
The responses were mostly cautious in the Netherlands but for the rest they are overwhelmingly positive and heartwarming.

Progshine – Do you use all the digital retailers available to distribute your music, like Bandcamp and others? How important is the digital selling to you and do you think it's important for a band to have a label nowadays or independence is the way to go?

Lionel - I personally consider digital retailers to be worthwhile, simply because I’m a loyal iTunes customer myself. I chose to avoid Spotify because the rewarded royalties are quite insulting. Bandcamp offers a nice environment which is also worth it. A label is extremely handy, simply because a well-connected company can network for you and bring you to places that would be almost impossible to reach on your own. It also facilitates your work allowing you to focus on the music rather than to play “promoter”. Let’s say that answering this kind of interviews is by far the nicer part of the job. The problem with a label is that being a good or an interesting artist is often not necessarily enough for them to sign you, and then, when you do get signed, most of them shamelessly do their best to abuse your rights (I intentionally avoided a “screwdriver vocabulary”).


Progshine – Talking about that, how you guys in the band deal with music nowadays? Do you collect CD, LPs, etc?

Lionel - I love the concept of CD’s still, but the way I listen to music nowadays has shifted a lot. It’s still changing so I wouldn’t know how to describe it. It’s also because I usually listen to classical pieces or to film music, if not to music that is directly related to work (I make film scores, arrangements and orchestrations for different instances).

Progshine – Do you think that being a Dutch Prog band makes any difference? How is the scene for Prog Rock and alternative music in the Netherlands?

Lionel - I’m not Dutch so I can only share my subjective impression. My guess would be that musical genres are very defined in The Netherlands and people have a specific idea on each of the styles. People are very open-minded in respecting different styles, but once you announce you make a ‘specific’ kind of music, they don’t appreciate you deviating from it. The term “Alternative” might be seen as something more of an intuitive style, basic and simplistic, although by now it’s already quite institutionalized. I know about that only because I was requested to write / design “Alternative-style” music for TV and media. The term Progressive music is difficult for me to describe. I don’t consider myself to be specialized in the field. It does seem to me that it changed a lot through the years and nowadays I feel it is very easy to describe it in “Academic terms”, like the usage of a ‘grand’ sound, skillful performance technique, long compositions, the usage of Moog synths, as well as an irrevocable will to impress using fast riffs, a pretentious sound and so called “odd-meters”. This is not very appealing to me. The original bands that were later described as ‘Prog’ were not busy confining themselves to a genre, but rather with breaking new grounds and looking for a new European, elaborate stamp on Rock music. They were actually more busy bringing different genres together rather than trying to fit themselves in a static ‘hook’.

Progshine – And talking about a scene, how do you see Progressive Music nowadays?

Lionel - The fact is that the bands that really inspired me, like King Crimson, ELP & Yes, existed in a time when – as I stated above - this term was not invented yet. They were simply innovative musicians who broke the rules of Rock music, bringing styles together that never mingled before, particularly Jazz, Classical influences and Rock, and did it in a very clever and creative manner. The elements of skilled playing have developed a lot, but what I hear that was done since the eighties (when the term “Prog” was conceived), seems to lack the humor and the audacity of the good old bands. Most of the time it sounds to me like a calculated, heavy circus. It’s funny to see that now everybody uses those so called “Odd meters”, which by now aren’t so odd anymore. When Dave Brubeck did ‘Take 5’ (in 5/4’s) in the fifties it was fresh for its time. It’s not the case anymore, which means that playing in 7/4ths is not enough to actually offer something new.
It’s not appealing to me to try to sound “Progressive”, but rather to accept all that’s been done as a new given “mainstream” and start a-fresh. I like to find a way of combining styles which are considered to be unrelated under one roof. There’s nothing more cool than putting together something that sounds corny and something that sounds ‘serious’ and actually making it work.


Progshine – As a reader, I have always liked to know about my favorite artists tastes such as their favorite bands and albums. If you guys could name the bands/albums that influenced Modest Midget’s music, which ones would they be?

Lionel If you don’t mind I will first name a few artists that left an impression on me, because for some of them the term “album” is not relevant. Their influence can be traced back in everything that I do. Some of them would seem obvious, others irrelevant but they all played a big part this way or another.

Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Bartok, Ligeti & Frank Zappa: For not having succumbed to what “the market” was demanding. They rather stayed true to themselves.
The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Chuck Berry, Little Richard & ELP, for bringing an element of aggression which was pure, honest, and with a great rebellious vibe (yes, in their time, even the Beatles sounded very aggressive).
Chico Buarque de Holanda, Darius Milhaud, Poulenc, Stravinsky & Bartok, for showing that you can use different styles, quote other composers and steal, while at the same time being honest and having an authentic and original message.
Tom Jobim, Astor Piazzolla, Ravel, Faure, Mozart, Chopin, Paul Simon, Louis Armstrong & The Beatles (again), for teaching me that you can create very delicate, organic and friendly music which is truly innovative without having to be a “wise-ass”.
Django Reinhardt, Pat Metheny, Dave Weckl & Chick Corea: For showing what great skill can mean to your music.
Joao Bosco, Elis Regina, Hugo Diaz, Stevie Wonder, Bjork, Pearl Jam, Joni Mitchell, Cuchi Leguizamon & Radiohead: For reminding me again and again that skill is useless without soul.

Albums that impacted me:
Rubber Soul, Abbey Road (The Beatles)
Roxy & Elsewhere (Zappa)
My Spanish Heart, Eye of The Beholder (Chick Corea)
Meu Caro Amigo, Para Todos (Chico Buarque)
El Canto de Salta (El duo Salteño & Cuchi Leguizamon)
Relayer, Close To The Edge (Yes)
Still Life (Talking), First Circle, Offramp (Pat Metheny)
Can’t Buy A Thrill (Steely Dan)
Déjà Vu (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
The Plastic Ono Band, Imagine (John Lennon)

Progshine – In all of my interviews the final space was devoted to messages from the bands and artists to their fans. So the space is all yours!

Lionel - Once more, as I said in the beginning: Thank you all! For listening to our music, for your invaluable support, for purchasing the albums and thereby allowing me not to starve, and for reading this interview.
If you are interested in purchasing “Crysis”, do consider buying the CD, which is supported with a very tasteful and meticulously designed 24 page booklet, created by Netaly Reshef. Thanks to her work, the experience is complete.
A happy new year everyone, and god bless!

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