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Arcangel - 2002 Interview with Jeff Cannata
INTERVIEW: Arcangel/Jeff Cannata (Apr 2002) - CONFESSION TIME
In The Spotlight - Jeff Cannata.
Written by: Gdazegod (Apr 25, 2002)

Fans of melodic rock and pomp will need no introduction to Jeff Cannata. Responsible for such efforts as ArcAngel, 'Images Of Forever' and 'Watching The World', and songs like 'Tragedy', 'Confession' and 'King Of The Mountain', Jeff has been putting out albums on a slow release timer, not too dissimilar to our friends Def Leppard and Boston. What is it about the length of time in between albums? In any case, Jeff has quietly returned to the music scene, with the release of his new album 'Tamorok'. Exotic in name, and exotic in theme. Bought up with a history of progressive influences, 'Tamorok' is a culmination of all those past efforts, encapsulated into today's modern musical climate. Not bound by the sometimes suffocating boundaries that rock music genres can create, 'Tamorok' is a musical experience in freedom and flight - using the styles and influences of the world to draw the listener in. Released locally on his own label, Jeff has recently secured a distribution deal with new Swedish megalabel Atenzia.

Though Jeff is a well-rounded musician, writer and producer, it wasn't that way to start with. Initially he focused on drums and percussion, and got his introduction from some unlikely sources. 'Actually one of my earlier influences as drummers was Keith Moon' says Jeff. 'Not so much for his quality and accuracy of play, but for his reckless abandon and don't give a #%@ attitude. Secondly, Michael Giles from King Crimson - for his interesting approach to fills.'

As we can see, those early years for Jeff zeroed in on the British scene. The musical leanings were a bit deeper than that, considering what was going on with the progressive rock scene, it was a very happening thing at the time. 'In the early days of my career, I did enjoy bands such as Gentle Giant, King Crimson, and also early Genesis with Peter Gabriel. By the time Jasper Wrath was together in the 70s, we pretty much were developing our own style'.

Yes. It's only recently that many rock followers have become aware of Jasper Wrath and your involvement. How did this outfit come about? 'I was drummer in a band called The Warlocks and was approached by a local manager/booking agent to leave that band and join another band called Buckle' explains Jeff. 'They had Michael Soldan on drums at the time, who I was told had a great voice and was a talented arranger and that I should work with him. Also, their guitarist/flutist was Bob Gianotti (played on Tamorok), along with Phil Stone, bass. So both bands split up and it became Jasper Wrath. We put together a handful of originals and got signed to MGM Records. Two years later, we added James Christian (House Of Lords) and Jeff Batter - keyboards and Scott Zito on guitars to the lineup.'

What was the inspiration for the band name? 'To tell you the truth, the name popped into my head, it rang true, so we used it.'

If we mention the James Christian connection. Obviously he's a relatively big name in melodic rock circles now, but he would've been unknown back then? 'As you said, he was unknown but shouldn't have been' agrees Jeff. 'Once he moved out to Los Angeles, things started to happen. He has one of the best vocals in rock. When we, in Jasper Wrath discovered him, he was aged about 16 or 17 doing Zeppelin covers. Robert Plant to the letter, or anyone for that matter. I said, 'we need this guys voice in the band'.' Was the band more of a local identity, or did it spread it's wings up and down the Eastern Seaboard? 'We did mostly tri-state area colleges and outdoor festivals.'

Jasper Wrath split up in 1976, and Jeff moved on to the next phase of his career, which became the in-between years of the late seventies/early eighties ' between Jasper Wrath and ArcAngel. 'At that time I felt the need to learn some additional instruments. I picked up flute, soprano sax, and oboe, and started to write some things on keyboards. The song 'The Ghost Of Way' on the Wrath CD I play the sax, oboe and flute parts' adds Jeff. 'As a matter of fact, and not too many people know this, I was playing woodwinds and guitar, enough for us to look for another drummer. We put an ad in the New York Village Voice. Who came to the audition? A young Doane Perry, I eventually passed on the idea of a second drummer and went it alone. A few years later I went to a Jethro Tull concert, and who was the new drummer? Doane Perry! True story.'

Moving on to ArcAngel now. You've obviously dabbled in various styles of melodic rock through the years, and this is how the project was born? 'Before settling into totally writing our own material, some of the early influences for me, like Moody Blues, Tull, Yes, Genesis - stick with you sub-consciously. Eventually, you stop listening and it becomes your own work.'

I read somewhere that this was more a solo project rather than a band effort, and that Lennie Petze and Tony Bongiovi got involved production wise. What was your reaction to the final result? 'Yes, I was signed to Portrait/CBS Records and then was given control over which musicians to use for the project.' Jeff adds: 'Nothing against Tony Bongiovi (Owner at the Power Station, NY) because he has had major hits in the past, but we did fight tooth and nail during the mixing stage over sonic concepts and balances. Lennie, well known respected A&R in the industry, signed Boston, Aldo Nova etc, has great ears. The final result? Judging by its reviews, I guess it went well.'


Arcangel - 1983 (Portrait)


When I first read the review of ArcAngel in UK's Sounds magazine during 1983, they called it the (then) third Boston album, and that you must have been locked away with a crateful of Kansas albums! It wasn't all like that surely? 'Firstly, With due respect to both bands, I've never owned a Boston or Kansas album. Sometimes its hard for certain people to imagine that you actually sit down and write and what comes out is already there, not copied.'

Did you want the ArcAngel record to be more progressive rather than the commercial effort it turned out to be? 'The difference between the writing I did with Jasper Wrath and ArcAngel was: With Wrath I would co-write something with Michael Soldan or Phil Stone and then present the song to the band and we would then collectively would create the progressive passages around the song. With ArcAngel it's the striped down version of the piece. Live, would be a different story.' admits Jeff.

Are you surprised how popular the record is in the melodic rock community after all these years? 'I know. That is great to hear!'

As an aside, did you ever hear April Wine's version of 'Wanted Dead or Alive' (from their 1985 album 'Walked In The Fire')? If so, what did you think of it? 'I kind of vaguely remember it.' Jeff muses.

On the Cannata 'Images of Forever' album from 1988, it was an attempt to move closer to a real band/live situation, rather than a reoccupation with sequencing, which was all the rage back in the late eighties? 'That is true, a small dose of sequencing to create some movement is useful, but to base everything in the track on it can sometimes make the song feel stiff. Adding live percussion to it can solve that.'


Cannata - Images Of Forever (1988, Carerre)


To my ears, the album had more of a symphonic feel to it, though 'Middle Of the Night' is a bit of a belter a la ArcAngel. How would you classify it overall? Symphonic, or progressive? 'Hopefully both, but leaning a little more towards song and melody than chops.'

Tamorok is the batch of new material you've got ready for public consumption for 2002. Some interesting angles this time around Jeff, incorporating many different styles. Tell us about its theme. 'Well.. the Egyptian theme actually came about after the songs were completed, at the 'Finding the art' stage. Once I found the look I wanted to use, 'Tamorok' seemed to be the right song for the lead track and title of CD.'

The world music approach - have you tried to utilize varied percussive styles from exotic countries, like Africa or Asia for instance? 'Some years ago I got a chance to visit in Cairo, Egypt and Istanbul, Turkey. Experiencing their culture and music in various nightclubs was very moving. You can find some of those grooves on 'Tamorok' as well as 'Big Life'' says Jeff.


ArcAngel*Cannata - Tamorok


It has more of a contemporary feel this time around. Not as pigeonholed into the progressive genre as before perhaps? More like Sting, Peter Gabriel etc. 'I think it is important to 'progress' progressive music so to speak. That's what it's supposed to be.'

It's available now on your own label Oxford Circus, but you've recently landed a European distribution with Magnus Soderkvist's Atenzia label. How did that come about? 'Magnus contacted me a few months ago, asking what I had been up to. I sent him a copy of the new CD and he offered me distribution at his new label Atenzia. It's great timing!'

I take it this work is more project-oriented? No chance of getting it out onto the road? 'If the CD took off in a big way, I would put tougher the necessary people and tour. It is very expensive to support great players without the proper backing. It would need to be done right, or not at all.' Jeff points out. He adds: 'I've just put in a computer generated automated workspace to my analog studio to have at my disposal, with unlimited tracks. Also, I have begun a steady writing schedule.'

Now I put a series of general questions to Jeff, starting out with a query that our resident tech-heads might ask - what sort of gear resides in the Jeff Cannata studio? 'There's a Sony 24 track analog tape machine, Amek Console, Focusrite EQ, Neumann Mics, Summit Tube Compressor, and racks of outboard fun!'

Do you fiddle around with drum machines, programming at all? And what do you recommend to any aspiring drummer/percussionist in this modern/digital age? 'Firstly, I usually program during the writing stage, and then once the song is composed, I play the parts in real time.' Jeff continues into the second part: 'If you do program your drums and percussion, have a real drummer play the parts on triggers so that the 'real' feel will be there, and not robotically quantized.'

I mention to Jeff about being a long time New Haven Connecticut resident. 'Yes, I also moved to the UK for a short while in the seventies exploring the possibility of putting together a band together. Michael Soldan and I wrote what was to be most of the Wrath stuff while there.' I also mentioned that Michael Bolton is a long time New Haven resident too. You ever bump into him at the mall? 'If he does come by, I think he sends in his driver!' laughs Jeff.

Finally, to get an idea as to what Jeff Cannata likes listening to in the year 2002, name us 5 artists who you rate quite highly (can be popular, obscure, independent, young or old). 'It's funny how many people ask that question, and how most of my friends, who do write their own material, including myself, don't really listen to what is going on out there unless something is recommended by a friend. But here goes. To and from the store, I will listen to the classical symphonic PBS stations, other than that, some of my favourite past-tense CDs have been: Court of The Crimson King, Gentle Giant, Moody Blues, Genesis, Return to Forever, Weather Report and more recently, Porcupine Tree.'

So, there we have it. An update from the man himself. Soon to be heard on 'Tamorok' through Atenzia Records. You can catch some samples on his website, or over at MP3.COM, or even on GLORY-DAZE's Webstation where one of the tracks is featured. Welcome back Jeff, and lets see if you bring your slower timer 5-10 year release schedule down to a couple eh?

Resources:
Official Website http://www.arcangel-cannata.com
Atenzia Records: http://www.atenzia.com

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