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Ivory Tower Project

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Ivory Tower Project from 2017
MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – both individually and as a band?

Tony Novarro:  I've been playing in a live band Karaoke act for the last 15 years while working on original music and recording - it helps paying the bills. 

Mark Regula: My family was somewhat active musically. My maternal grandfather sang opera, my mother was in chorus and played the clarinet. My father played classical violin and had some potential playing piano. My parents rooted me in musicals and show tunes in the 60s. Then my opera singing cousin gave me her Beatles 45 rpm singles which simply set me on fire. I wanted to write and play music like them. We always had a piano in the house, but I didn’t take private lessons until I was 13. I was taking guitar lessons and started applying music theory to the piano. Elton John was big in the early to mid 70s.

It was at age 14 that my life-long friend (Johnny Jace who would sit and listen to those Beatles singles and albums with me) started to show his creative aptitude and bring over sheets of lyrics. I would play him some of my original compositions and he would hand me a lyric sheet that he felt fit the music. I would start composing melody to the lyric and it appeared to be the start of a creative machine. When we looked back at those first few years of writing songs; we knew that the lyrics and some of the music were amateur; but most of the music was pretty solid.  As the years elapsed we both developed individually and as a team. Johnny listened to more of the theatrical rock artists like Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Ozzy etcetera. I got into the pop/rock and progressive rock artists like Grand Funk Railroad, Doobie Brothers, and then Santana, Styx, Yes, Foreigner, Kansas, Boston.

I was putting together basement bands doing cover songs since I was about 15. Johnny didn’t play an instrument but we would always get together separately and write songs. It was about two years after high-school that I met another long time friend Tony Novarro at the local record shop. We exchanged phone numbers and got together shortly after to jam. We had a good time talking and playing music together.  Tony Novarro played me this guitar composition he wrote on acoustic guitar that I thought was quite brilliant. I asked him if I could work on it, and he agreed. He gave me the song title, and we recorded his part on a cassette. I sat with it after he left and added a few musical changes to the verse and wrote a melody and lyric to it. He was pleased with the result.  Tony Novarro was busy playing with three different bands so at the time, he could not commit to working on a fourth . I handed him a recording that I did at a studio with another project, and after listening to it; he decided to start working with us.

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?    
Tony Novarro: I can't imagine not being involved in any form of the arts.

Mark Regula: I don’t think it would matter; because nothing else really jazzes me. When I was younger; I wanted to be a professional baseball player. But I really didn’t have the talent.

MSJ:

How did the name of the group originate?

Mark Regula: Our original bass player; Kevin Joyce came up with the name "Ivory Tower," as it is a metaphor for escapism. And as a group of guys who all had to work day jobs; we thought it was an appropriate name for the band. After  Sal DiAngelo (our original drummer) had died and Kevin left the group; we called in some studio musicians to finish the songs. That is when Ivory Tower (the band) became Ivory Tower Project.

MSJ:

Who would you see as your musical influences?

Tony Novarro: The Beatles, the Stones, Gary Moore.

Mark Regula: Johnny listened to more of the darker, theatrical rock artists like Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Ozzy, Mahogany Rush, etcetera. I got into the pop/rock and progressive rock artists like Grand Funk Railroad, Doobie Brothers, Santana, Styx, Yes, Foreigner, Kansas, Boston. But I also like artists like Elton John, Billy Joel, Supertramp and Asia.

MSJ:

What's ahead for you?

Tony Novarro: Continue playing live music, composing, and recording. 

Mark Regula:  Tony Novarro and I are currently recording a few R&B cover tunes. After that we have about a half dozen songs already written that we will record in the future.

MSJ: I know many artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?

Tony Novarro: classic rock

Mark Regula: I would call it "pop/rock with a retro 70s and 80s sound."

MSJ:

Are there musicians with whom you would like to play in the future?

Mark Regula: Actually we plan on having my cousin: Gary Flood sit in on one of our cover songs. He is going add a couple guitar solos. I would like to have Richie Cannata play sax on one or two songs I have written again.

MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading or streaming of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?

Tony Novarro: It gets your music out there, but makes it very difficult to survive without that lost income.

Mark Regula: Anything illegal would always be a hindrance to a musician and a songwriter’s career. As an indie artist; we get paid less than mainstream artists (if we get paid at all). The way the performance rights organizations work is that you have to be played hundreds of thousands of times on terrestrial radio to receive a nominal quarterly check. The PROs over-charge legal internet radios stations lots of money for an annual license, but they refuse to recognize the spins that an indie artist gets on these stations, so we never get our due. So the rich and famous get richer, and the little guy gets nothing.  According to ASCAP, they owe me $0.33cents and Sound Exchange owes me a little more. We have been getting a quarterly check from CDBaby for legal, paid downloading and streaming with Spotify, but certainly not enough to call an income. But people are willing to pay that dollar for the “Fart app”…

MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them or posting them online?
Tony Novarro: Like the Grateful Dead, it keeps the fan base active and involved with your music. It's great for building the live following.

Mark Regula: I find it is a two-edged sword. On the one hand it is exposure for an unknown artist. But if they intend on marketing a “live album," it cuts into the potential sales. Most people think; ‘Why should I pay for it; if I can get it free?’ But if you are into true sonic quality; an official live recording can be better recorded than what an individual can do with their digital recorder and a cheesy built in condenser microphone.

MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?

Mark Regula: I guess it would be Bono or Neil Young. Mind you; I love most of their music and I do believe their lyrics hold a substantial place in music history and as an art form. But what they write at times is politically motivated. They force you to look at political and social issues. I like to stay away from lyrics that could be perceived as controversial. I want music to make people think, but mostly I want people to feel good and to get a rest from the day to day arguments. I want our listeners (even if it is for a brief hour) to be in their own "ivory tower."  

MSJ:

If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?

Tony Novarro: Gary Moore - on guitar, Cozy Powell on drums, Dee Murray on bass , Billy Preston on keys - Chris Cornell on vocals - some of my favorite musicians. 

Mark Regula: As far as prog rock music goes: Steve Howe and Tommy Shaw on guitars, Phil Collins on drums, Geoff Downes on keyboards , Chris Squire on bass and Steve Walsh on vocals. I think their talent pooled into one musical project would be brilliantly creative and performed.

MSJ:

If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?

Tony Novarro: Gary Moore, The Beatles, The Stones, Eric Clapton, Aimee Mann.

Mark Regula: Yes, Kansas, Asia, Styx, Genesis, Foreigner, Queen, Boston and Paul and Ringo playing (only) classic Beatles.

MSJ:

What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?

Tony Novarro: Sheryl Crow's latest CD - last CD bought. I've been listening to the re-mastered Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Mark Regula: Ray Charles: Genius Loves Company

MSJ:

Have you read any good books lately?

Tony Novarro: Sex, Drums, and Rock n Roll - the autobiography of Kenny Aronoff.

Mark Regula: A Hard Day’s Write by Steve Turner; the story behind each Beatles song. I also read the Bible.

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

Tony Novarro: Andy Timmons at the Iridium In NY city.

Mark Regula: The Cast of Beatlemania. Close your eyes; and they sound like the records!

MSJ: Do you remember your first concert?

Tony Novarro:  Paul McCartney and Wings – 1976.

Mark Regula: Sure: New Riders of the Purple Sage opened up for The Charlie Daniels Band: 1979 - good show!

MSJ:

Have you come across any new gear recently that you love?

Tony Novarro: Louis Electric - Buster - great little 25 watt amp! 

Mark Regula: We have been using Logic software for recording, and they have some great really great sounds for keyboards, vintage guitar amps, electric piano, rotary (Leslie) amps, drums, etcetera. 

MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”

Tony Novarro: Buying musical equipment. 

Mark Regula: I sometimes like listening to some 70s Disco music.

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

Tony Novarro:  I've gotten lost back stage at the old Limelight in New York City - it was an old church converted to a concert venue. It had all these secret rooms and vaults - just like the Spinal Tap movie.

Mark Regula: This happened years ago during a show - getting my foot tangled on the cable to my guitar (and me not feeling it), the guitar got yanked into flight half-way through the stage, landed on its face and broke a string.

MSJ:

If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?

Tony Novarro: John Lennon, David Bowie, George Harrison.

Mark Regula:  Jerome (Curly) Howard, Lou Costello, Oliver Hardy

MSJ: What would be on the menu?

Tony Novarro: Whatever they want to eat. 

Mark Regula: For dessert: custard pie; what else?

MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

Tony Novarro:  Keep on rocking and enjoy every minute of it! Support the musical arts. Support live local music venues. Purchase Ivory Tower Project’s music on CD or retail downloads.

Mark Regula: When you buy from an independent artist, you are buying more than just a painting, a novel or a song. You are buying hundreds of hours of experimentation and thousands of failures. You are buying days, weeks, months, years of frustration and moments of pure joy. You are buying nights of worry about paying the rent, having enough money to eat, to feed the children, the birds, the dog. You aren’t just buying a thing, you are buying a piece of someone’s heart and soul, a private moment in someone’s life. Most importantly, you are buying that artist more time to do something they are truly passionate about; something that makes all of the above worth the fear and the doubt - something that puts life into living. 

 
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