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Progressive Rock Interviews

Mike Visaggio

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Mike Visaggio - January 2008
MSJ:

This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Can you catch the readers up a bit on your musical history?

Being 55 years old it goes back a long way.  In the 1960s I gave up the accordion when I heard Felix Cavaliere play the B-3 with the Rascals.  From there Ibegan playing in bands in New York where I grew up, and was in my first original progressive rock band in 1970 called Randori.  I went from a blues player influenced by Al Kooper, Jon Lord of Deep Purple, and Lee Michaels, to a prog lover influenced by Tony Kaye and Rick Wakeman of Yes,  Keith Emerson of ELP and Tony Banks of Genesis.  Randori almost had a shot but fell apart in 1974.  A bass playing cousin of mine, Ed Gagliardi, and I moved to Tampa in 1975 to try to start something but it fell flat and we returned to New York where we both ended up in the band of a singer-songwriter named Billy Falcon, who today is one of Jon Bon Jovi's songwriting partners.   Ed left us to join Foregner in 1976, and Billy and I were together until 1981 doing what's now known as the Americana genre.  I played a lot of B-3 and piano for Billy, and we began moving into multi-keyboards when I showed him how much more color he could have if we went that route. 

 

Anyway, after three LPs and an EP Billy let me go, and I found myself in a New York show band called Sound City Orchestra for five years until 1985. We covered everything imaginable in pop music and I was also the band's bass player with my left hand, in order to not have to hire another person!  I got pretty good at it.  In 1985 my faith kind of led me to get into a Christian group, the Ambassadors, doing music specifically for ministry, but by 1987 I had had it with music because it had never made me any money and I had a couple of kids and a wife to support. 

 

So I went into trucking to get paid, and I guess I got as far away from music as one could.  From 1987 till 2000 I didn't even think of myself as a musician because it was too painful.  I completely lost track of progressive rock.  I thought it had disappeared because all I heard on the radio was Pearl Jam. But in 2000 I came into a little money and bought a synthesizer to amuse myself.  It sounded so great that I decided to return to playing in bands. After three bands started up and failed I had an epiphany moment when I believe God spoke to my spirit and showed me what I should do, and I said, "OK God" and began doing it.  I recorded a solo CD of my old music and one new piece and called it "Starship Universe" and put it out there,  started relentlessly promoting it online which I knew nothing about and had to learn from scratch, and two years later there are a bunch of prog fans, labels, produces, promoters, reviewers and musicians who know who I am and what I'm doing.  I have been favorably compared with my heroes which humbles me greatly, and I have found out that progressive rock has been here along and is in fact thriving thanks to the Net.  So that brings us up to date.

MSJ:

I know artists are not crazy about having their music pigeon-holed, but how would you describe your sound?

I think it lies somewhere between Deep Purple and Emerson Lake & Palmer.  Except I have no guitarist.   I usually describe it as classic rock with prog influences but at least one reviewer saw it the other way around.  It's too prog to be classic so it falls for better or worse into the old school of prog.  It also has a Christian tint to the lyrics which has gotten me grouped as "Cprog" or Christian progressive rock.

MSJ:

Who do you see as musical influences?

Without a doubt they are Keith Emerson, Tony Banks and Rick Wakeman. But I also learned from jazz guys like Jimmy Smith, blues guys like Al Kooper, and pop guys like Felix Cavaliere. 

MSJ:

What's ahead for you?

I wish I knew, Gary. There's a desire to land a label deal because I just can't do all the promotion and finance everything myself.  But it appears I will have to do at least one more self-released CD with my band Kinetic Element and put that out because Starship Universe appears to have run its course. 

MSJ:

Are there musicians you'd like to play with in the future?

I would love to try to do something with guitarist David Pack who was in Ambrosia.  Not that he even knows who I am.  I just hear his playing and think I could fit in well with what he does. I'd love to be able to play with one of the great bass players like Chris Squire or Billy Sheehan because I have always felt that bass is the most important instrument in a combo.   I'd love to play with a bassist who can really sing, like John Wetton, because then I wouldn't have to!  But I have an excellent guy named Matt Harris on bass, and another excellent guy named Michael Murray on drums, so I will be singing (if you use the term loosely).

MSJ:

Do you think that downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians? It's been said by the major labels that it's essentially the heart of all the problems they are having in terms of lower sales – would you agree?

I see this as a double edged sword because on the one hand it has given life to a lot of music that would never have seen the light of day when the labels held all the cards, and on the other hand it is causing the labels to release stuff that is degrading to the art in their desperation to hold onto the market they built up before the Net.  Of course it's a problem for them.  They were late to the party understanding that their business model was no longer going to work.  God forbid they should address it with good music instead of pop culture icons with nothing to offer but image.  I just wish the fans would download it all legally and pay us for our work instead of thinking it's theirs for free. So I guess it helps those who need exposure, by helping them give their product away to be noticed, and hinders those who have achieved some success, by allowing people to take their product.

MSJ:

In a related question how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?

How I feel about it is irrelevant because they are going to do it, because technology has put the ability to steal intellectual property into everyone's hands.  It is flat out wrong to do it.  But we have abandoned right and wrong except when it affects us directly, haven't we?  So my take on it is that if they are going to record my show, please at least buy a download too so I can eat and do another show for you to illegally record next week. 

MSJ:

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

I don't buy much because I am so busy promoting mine.  But the last band that really knocked me out was Niacin.  The last four CD's I bought were all Niacin CD's. Niacin is like my band, B-3/piano/synth, bass and drums except they are jazz fusion rather than rock - very intense playing.  Lately I have been given CD's by many varied prog rockers like Neal Morse, Spock's Beard, Nemo, Three, Advent and Qoph - no big names there except Morse and the Beard, but unbelievable music.  I also listen to a lot of bands online.  I like Magenta, Porcupine Tree, Analog Missionary, Spiraling, what I can tell you, I'm hooked on prog.

MSJ:

What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

The Keith Emerson band in June 2006, and the reunion Asia tour in September 2006.  I kind of missed everyone in 2007.

MSJ:

Finally, are there any closing thoughts you'd like to get out there?

Sure, got three hours?  



Seriously though, I have become all about Kinetic Element.  If you like what Emerson Lake and Palmer and Yes have done, I think you will like us.  On the other hand, if you know nothing about prog I think you will like us.  We've found that at our shows, which for the most part have been in support of bands that are nothing like us, we have dazzled, amazed and astounded the people who stayed to hear us.  And at the few prog rock bills we have been on, the prog fans have shown us that we delivered the kind of experience they like. It's as I have always known: progressive rock crosses all demographic lines, and is loved by white and black, young and old, punks, shoegazers, jammers, rappers, synth-poppers, blues riffers, jazznobs, and of course, prog nuts.  Did I leave anybody out?  Please come visit us at www.myspace.com/kineticelement, www.kineticelement.com, or www.mikevisaggio.com. OK? Thanks!

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