Friday, July 28, 2017

interview: Al Joseph

The earlier work of Al Joseph was The Great Gamble, a progressive metal band that is now inactive. Subsequently, he did the solo instrumental progressive album Out in the Open originally released in 2013 and that was a good sign that Al’s music mission was just beginning. In 2017 there is a new album called All of Creation, an instrumental progressive and melodic album that shows hard work, thoughtfulness and quality. Supporters of instrumental progressive guitar music will enjoy the songs that you can remember. When confronted with a million questions from this publication, Al was generous with his time and gave a professional and interesting interview, including some very exciting new developments, as you will see. Read on and learn more about Al Joseph and the new work All of Creation.
Congratulations on the album! Very skilled and it has real songs. It has been getting repeated listens around here for months now. We wanted to dig deeper into your new album. For the record, can you tell us who are the musicians playing on the album?
AJ: Hey, guys thanks for having me. As far as the musicians go I played all guitars on the album, except the guest solos for which I am honored to have the great Marco Sfogli play on the title track, Per Nilsson on “Ocean Levels”, and good friend Jack Gardiner on “Nightlights”. What an amazing experience working with these guys. Couldn’t ask for a better turn out.
The drums were programmed originally and later on I had my good friend Billy Gerrity play electric drums to it. We kept a good mix of what I programmed and what he actually played. Just time, money, and place determined that process.
I played most of the bass guitars, but I had help from my friend Sam BouvĂ© on Shogun and Nightlights. He’s an amazing soul and bass player.
On keys I had my friend Chris Mansi play on the entire album except the keyboard solos on “Eve in Flow” and “Calling”. I saved those for my buddy and amazing talent Santiago Vidal from Uruguay.
So the line-up was pretty thick on this one. I have all these incredible artists and players to thank!
Does the album sound close to the music as you heard it in your mind or do you feel like you are still pretty far away from making it sound like you hear it in your mind?
AJ: In my mind this album is my best work due to the process of how the music came to be. I made it a point to only write within my means as I was inspired. With the solos especially I made it a point to construct them for the song and not for my peers. I didn’t want to write anything that I would regret having to play live later LOL.
As for the arrangements I just feel like these are tunes that even I as the creator can sit back and listen to without judging them too harshly. This is the sound that I was looking for, for sure. But as my influences continue to grow and change so does my music.
For you, how do you go about choosing the sequence of the songs?
AJ: I definitely spent time on this. I believe in the flow of a song and thus the flow of an album. For some reason my more R&B and fusion styled songs end up toward the end of the record, but it’s just how I like listening to solo albums and such. But I don’t do it purposely to attack listeners. I just do it because it’s how I’d want to listen to the record. Ultimately I think this matters but it’s up to the artist I think.
Do you ever hear a voice or a lyric for a song?! You have done vocals before, with your previous band The Great Gamble. Do you hear music in your head pretty much all the time? If so, then, how do you deal with the times that you hear a lyric or a singing voice to it?
AJ: I’m usually inspired by one of three things to start out. A strong melody, a chord progression, or a rhythmic idea. For example, “Calling” was inspired by only the piano at the beginning. Then it pretty much built itself from there. I hear melodies all the time. It’s a blessing. I just love melodic ideas and I’m always sneaking away to a bathroom or something to sing them into my phone for safe keeping LOL.
As for lyrics I have a harder time. But I have learned from many of my peers how to write lyrics. So I’m getting better. I’m actually releasing an album with my new band soon and I am singing lead again. It just feels right for right now. More on that later LOL.
I have noticed that online you do not go crazy commenting on every news or event. I see musicians who feel the need to take sides in political arguments about whoever a president, senator or representative is or maybe something that they said or whatnot. Do you think that it’s better to stick to what you do best and let the politicians do politics?
AJ: Yes. I agree to let politicians do politics. I’m a professional musician and artist not a politician. I get it that we are all human beings and we have our opinions, or concerns, and fears. In fact, my friends and family will tell you that I’m a very opinionated and outspoken person but when the time is right. I don’t let that get into my profession because it’s not necessary. There are many times where I want to say something on Facebook or Instagram about another person or topic, but I’ve tried my best only to give the world what I was blessed to give and that is love and music. I think time will decide when it is best I give my opinions on such sensitive subjects.
Let’s talk about some songs. “Elysium” has some nice interactions between guitar and the keyboards. How did that idea come about?
AJ: Well for “Elysium” that interaction was premeditated. At that point I had written most of the songs and wanted to mix up the song form a bit. So having the keys in the verse for example freshens up the writing process for me. I brought my friend Chris Mansi into the studio and just had him shred for his life over the parts and then later directed him through the phrasing I imagined over the tune. He’s very easy to work with and very talented. I can’t wait to work with him again.
As far as guitar parts I just play what I hear. I don’t remember how many guitars I might have layered, but lately I’ve been layering and layering parts in newer projects to get a more solid arrangement. You can definitely expect more and more of that in the future.
Why is “Master Builder” so short?! Did you conceive “Master Builder” as an introduction to the last song, “Purpose”? By the way, “Purpose” is very pleasant on the ears. The guitars really sing on that song. Of course, one can say that this is your style, anyway. Did you always know that “Purpose” would end the album?
AJ: Well, “Master Builder” is a song that my brother Chris Joseph had written and produced for the record. I was done with all the other songs, but felt the album just needed a breather. Just a cool different vibe to compliment the record and then finish hard with a nice anthemic/farewell tune. And that’s where “Purpose” came into play. I love that song because once again it was about singing and melody and not giving my listeners a headache LOL. It’s definitely going to be one of my favorite songs to play live. I’m glad you liked it. I was worried there wasn’t enough shred actually LOL.
Now that some time has passed, what do you think about the pacing/sequence of the album? Sometimes I get the impression that you wanted to have a wide variety of moods. I don’t necessarily feel like there is one particular mood; some of it is fast, some melodic, some of it proggy, some shred. How conscious is all of that?
AJ: I am very conscious of that. I want to be able to sit back, relax, and listen to this album later and not feel like I overdid anything. That’s what an album is all about to me. A build up, a climax, and a cooling down. I definitely wanted to showcase my influences and execute those traits in an authentic yet sensitive way for me and all my listeners. I’m also glad you caught on to that because that’s exactly what I was going for. I didn’t want to make just a metal, rock, or fusion album. I wanted it diverse yet still all part of a progressive rock work.
You have some moments of big shredding, but were you consciously trying to hold back a little? Of course, on the song “Shogun” you display the metal music side, with the double bass drumming and the speedier tempo. Do you feel like you want to avoid being seen as a shredder?
AJ: I believe in branding 100%, but I won’t be molded into anything that I’m not. For me it’s not so much about my image, it’s about the art. There will always be someone faster, more technical, and just better than the next. My mission was to play what was physically, mentally, and melodically comfortable for me at all times. I want my sound and lyrical choice, so to speak, to be my stamp or my brand. Not my technique.
To be honest, I’m quite tired of the idea of the “next level’ or “pushing the boundaries” of playing being associating with technique. It’s ambiguous at best and oftentimes quarantines the musician or artist from their listeners. There are only a few players in my opinion that can actually balance this. There are also a few that are not subject to “keeping up” with the “level” of skill they display as well. In other words it’s truly a part of the way they speak and they can use it in may different settings. They just have it. And that’s the type of player I want to be. To show my truer emotions through the instrument in any setting. That is my strong point and I’m sticking to it.
Does it bother you that, since you do instrumental music, people do not know if you are a liberal, conservative, socialist, atheist, Muslim, Jew or whatever? Or, does it feel very nice, actually, that if someone is a fan, it is strictly based on the music? As you know, some rock and metal musicians really want the world to know that they are atheists or that they hate religion or whatever!
AJ: LOL I know what you mean. These subjects are way too personal to be mixed in to the industry of art. Too much talk. They should be shown. That’s the vulnerability music brings. And I look for that in people.
Take Christianity for example. I grew up Christian but do not practice religion. I know what I believe and it works for my good and I work it for the good of others. If that is true then I would share the result of that good with people not push my views on them. And social media is the perfect place to do that whether intentionally or non-intentionally.
For example, I can release music and share my expertise through tutorials and videos. But I take time with my students on a one-on-one basis to see where their hearts are leading them. Even if it leads them away from me and to do other things or study with someone else. I look for a few things when sharing ideas with people. 1.Is it something that works good results in their lives and others and 2.is it an experience they are willing to share with me freely?
Do you see yourself as a Christian and as someone whose life is guided by Christianity? For instance, I long ago noticed that online you don’t use vulgar language in order to be edgy or cool or funny. Of course, as already mentioned, you keep it very professional, and on point about music, aside from the rare comment about whether to go or not go to the gym!
AJ: LOL. I am a Christian but I’m more a person than a Christian. Just like I’m more a human than I am an African American. I have a dirty mouth, I like to party A LOT, and I’m not the nicest fellow all the time. But I love life and people in my own way. Isn’t that what a human being is?
I’ve been a bit edgier lately on social media and you can expect more of that in doses LOL. But I abstained from it because it just wasn’t professional for me at the time. I’m so big on that, but social media is getting more and more personal and demanding the realer side of people. Especially public figures.
I find that people (myself included) are becoming much less impressed with the “mystique” of being “famous” and calling on the realer “Al Joseph” not the corporate “Al” if that makes sense. A lot of people just assumed I didn’t swear online because I’m a Christian but that’s not true. To be honest I just didn’t want to deal with the backlash of offending my community back home. Just seemed I could still be just as affective as an artist with or without the use of profanity. Lately I just don’t care though LOL.
By the way, do you ever see yourself singing again? If not, do you no longer have the urge to express yourself by singing, too? Do you still sing while you are cooking or taking a shower? Or, is the desire to sing totally gone at this point?
NOOOO. Not all gone. In fact, I’m singing again in my new band and it feels awesome! I can’t wait to get this music out to all of you. It’s a new direction and my band and I just love it. I can’t speak more on it yet, but the new album with me singing is done and waiting for mixing and mastering. So stoked.
What is next for you? You have two albums now. I don’t know, but it looks like your career is on the upswing. What are some of your plans for the rest of 2017 and for 2018? Do you have shirts? Do you have videos planned or already done for these new songs?
AJ: Well, right now I’m just getting my house in order, figuratively speaking. Financially, network wise, and just inspirationally all together. It’s hard out there and a lot of what goes on shapes you no matter what. I’m excited nonetheless and most of all I’m ready. Tours, more videos, building my site, the whole nine. Just expect all of that real soon.
Has it been worthwhile to dedicate your life to music so far? As you know, music is not a great business nowadays, in part because the stealing of music is considered normal. Do you ever doubt yourself and think that maybe you should have become an insurance salesperson or a lawyer?
AJ: It’s hard, man, but hell to the no. I’m a musician period. I love being me in this world of music more than anything. I hope to hire insurance people and lawyers some day but I’m sticking to music!
Finally, can you tell what is that sound at about 2:50 in the song “Shift”? It’s a bit like rattlesnake or echo or something! It’s also the sound that we hear at the very end. What is it?
AJ: LOL. Yeah. I believe you’re talking about just a rhythmic/synth patch I used. That’s all it is. I heard it, liked it, and used it. That’s all I can say. I need to get better with synth and programming. I’m sure my bro can help me with that. Expect that in our new project soon!
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