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Joe Deninzon

Interviewed by Gary Hill

Interview with Joe Deninzon from 2017

MSJ:

I know I interviewed you for Poetry of the Air, but beyond that it appears that we've not done a Music Street Journal interview since 2005. What's been new in the world of Joe Deninzon?

Great to speak with you again! Thanks for having me back. The last half a year has been a whirlwind. Stratospheerius signed with Nick Katona and Melodic Revolution Records and released our fifth studio album, Guilty of Innocence. I signed a publishing deal with Ludwig Masters and published a string quartet and solo piece for violin. Other highlights are tours with Stratospheerius, Sweet Plantain, and Renaissance, playing with artists like Peter Criss from Kiss and Gary Hoey, traveling and teaching at places like Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp.

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
I might be a writer of some sort. I always enjoyed writing stories and also writing about music…or maybe something involved with politics. I’ve always wanted to get more politically involved, not running for office but fighting for causes I believe in. I’ve always been too busy running for musician (laughter), but we live in tough times and we all have to fight the good fight.
MSJ: What's the best thing that's ever been said about your music?
I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of good reviews and some quotable stuff, but one that stands out in my mind is a personal message a high school orchestra teacher/friend of mine sent me after going through my book Plugging In: “I think you’re one of the only Viper players who is truly exploring and utilizing the true capacity of the instrument with its own unique set of possibilities. When I talk to other musicians and educators about the electric violin, I talk about you and the way you play.”
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
In 2018, Stratospheerius will be putting out a new video of our song “Behind the Curtain” filmed by MTV producer David P. Levin and doing our first ever vinyl pressing of our latest album, Guilty of Innocence. Aside from that, I plan to do a lot of writing for Stratos and other projects, working a new educational book for electric violin/alternative styles, follow up to my first book, Plugging In. Also continuing to shop my Electric Violin Concerto to get it performed by more orchestras. Aside from that, more touring, teaching, playing...I never sleep!
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading or streaming of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
It's a double-edged sword. If you’re a new artist struggling to break in, it increases the chances of people hearing your music and becoming fans/concert attendees. The flip side is that it takes a lot of income away from artists, making it that much harder to earn a living, and it creates a culture where people feel entitled to free music and don’t understand the concept of paying someone for their craft. I once heard a guy at a club complain about a $5 cover charge for the music while drinking a $7 beer! We need to change that mentality.
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them or posting them online?
I don’t have a problem with it because it gets the word out about your band  and means people are excited about the music. But I totally understand and respect any artist’s decision to forbid this at their concerts.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
I love these questions! Any “purists,” people who try to define a certain genre of music and fit it within certain parameters. You either fall within their narrow definition or you are shut out. Every genre has its own purists, especially the jazz and classical scene. Also, the anti-intellectualism in a lot of rock music. The idea that Flavor Flav and Sid Vicious got into the Rock N Roll Hall of fame before Yes did is messed up! I love hip hop and punk and get the idea that they came from the streets. The idea that anyone can rise from nothing, teach themselves to play, and tell their story to the world is a beautiful idea, but virtuosity and great musicianship must also be recognized and celebrated. It’s a shame that rock created by trained musicians became the butt of many jokes. In the rock world, the idea that a musical education will somehow drain your soul is bulls**t!
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?
My band is the ultimate band! (laughter) I wouldn’t trade any of the cats I work with. 

But if we’re creating a fantasy band, here’s who comes to mind….

Singers/front people: Robert Plant, Steve Perry, Freddy Mercury, Tina Turner, Ella Fitzgerald, Jon Anderson, Bruce Springsteen, Paula Cole, Janis Joplin. 

Guitarists: Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, Alex Skolnick, John Scofield, Steve Howe, Jimi Hendrix, Adrian Belew, Oz Noy.

Keyboards: Art Tatum, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock 

Bass: Jaco Pastorius, Oteil Burbridge, Victor Whooten, Julie Slick.

Drums: John Bonham, Neil Peart Elvin Jones, Bernard Purdy, Nick D’Virgilio, Bill Bruford. 

String section would be Nicollo Paganini, Zbignew Siefert, Sugar Cane Harris, Jerry Goodman, Mistislav Rostropovich, Maxim Vengerov. Itzhak Perlman

Why you ask? Some of my favorite people on these instruments. All have inspired me as an artist at some point.

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?

Here’s my dream: I’ve always wanted to put together an Electric String festival featuring original projects fronted by creative, innovative string players, not just hundreds of folks you find on youtube who will shake their a** while playing electric violin to a loop of Despacito, but real artists writing creative music and and blazing new trails on their instruments. People that come to mind are Mark Wood, Tracy Silverman, Earl Maneein, Haydn Vitera, Mazz Swift, Val Vigoda, Greg Byers, Christian Howes, Jesus Florido, Eugene Friesen, David Wallace, many more I can think of….
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
I’m on a Spock’s Beard kick, love that band! Have been listening to their whole catalogue non-stop all year. One of the most underrated bands of all time, in my book. Also Neal Morse Similitude of a Dream, Seven Suns For The Hearts Still Beating, District 97, Bent Knee, Sound of Contact,  Thank You Scientist - all innovative progressive artists who fly a bit under the radar.
MSJ:

Have you read any good books lately?

I loved Bruce Springsteen’s book, which I recently finished. Currently reading Long Way Home, a fascinating book chronicling the experiences of a guy who was a child soldier in Sierra Leone, survived the civil war there, and made it to the United States through the efforts of UNICEF.
MSJ:

What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

King Crimson at the Beacon Theater in NYC last month blew my mind! Also, the NY Philharmonic (where my wife is a violinist) playing Brahms 2 and Mozart Piano Concerto in D minor with Emanuel Ax last week.

MSJ: Do you remember the first concert you attended?
My parents playing chamber music in Cleveland when I was five. I kept trying to get up and conduct them. They asked a friend to sit and make sure I didn’t make a spectacle of myself, but I ran away and jumped in front of the audience and started conducting, embarrassing my parents and completely ruining the concert. I was a pain in the a**!
MSJ: Have you come across any new gear recently that you love?
I love to run around on stage and just got the Line 6 Relay Wireless, which is a digital USB system - sounds really warm, has a wide range, and is very reliable. Also, I’m a pedal whore; I collect pedals that intrigue me and am always looking for new sounds to explore. Recent acquisitions are the Arpenoid by Earthquake and the Miku Stomp by Korg, which makes my electric violin sound like a Japanese anime character. You can hear it on the intro to “Dream Diary Cadenza.”
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
I’m gonna take a lot of s**t for this, but I have always been a fan of Kayne West. I think he’s a very talented rapper and producer. I’ve been enjoying his music for many years. I don’t know why he feels the need to put forth that idiotic persona, but if he just shut his mouth and made music, he might gain an even bigger fan base than he already has. I really respect his artistry.
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?

Barack Obama, Frank Zappa, Mahatma Gandhi.
MSJ: What would be on the menu?
I love sushi and sashimi. Maybe some nice uni with cold soba noodles and ikura. Ghandi was a vegetarian, though, so I’d have to accommodate him too.
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
We’re not on this planet for a very long time, so surround yourself with people you love who shine a positive light. Follow your passion and do what you love. Don’t waste time chasing after someone else’s dream, chase after your own. Speak out and fight for justice…and vote, d***it!
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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