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Progressive Rock Interviews

Shadow Circus

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Shadow Circus from 2007


MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Can you catch the readers up a bit on the history of the band?
John Fontana: I used to play in a band with Corey and Dave and I were already good friends. I wanted to audition as a guitar player for prog bands, but all the material I had recorded was the alternative-rock, lollapalooza sort of thing. So, I thought I should record some demos of me playing in the prog style that I wanted to get into. So I recorded the first piece and sent it to Corey and Dave for their critique, and they really got into it and encouraged me to keep writing. So, I kept going and wrote some more tunes, Dave started singing to them and I was blown away. We all just got excited by the music and decided to try to take it as far as we could.


Dave Bobick: The band actually turned into a band when I first heard the main melody to “Find Your Way.” I realized that John did not have some amateur music writing ability... Once I realized that we had the ability to go as far as getting signed, I realized that I was given yet one more avenue to create art with as a singer. It was right up my alley because I am a musical theater performer by nature and this music allows that to come through for me. As the great Dennis DeYoung of Styx said of one of his songs named “Lady”...I’ll say it with “Find Your Way,” ”This is the song that got this whole train a rollin’”
MSJ: I know artists are not crazy about having their music pigeon-holed, but how would you describe the sound of Shadow Circus?


Rich Horn: Personally, I’m not afraid of having the band categorized as progressive rock. I love the genre and its fans. But the non-prog fans that I know actually love the album as well. I think that’s because, even though it’s got a real classic prog sound, it also has melodies and lyrics that everyone can connect with.


John Fontana: I was going for symphonic rock, but coming from a classic rock background, what I think we ended up with is a melodic rock album with lots of proggy goodies.


Dave Bobick: I would call it progressive rock with a pop sensibility.
MSJ: Who do you see as musical influences, both personally and as a band?
Rich Horn: My influences are Kansas, Yes, Genesis, Spock’s Beard, Echolyn, Saga, IQ, and other progressive rock bands. I really got into prog through listening to Kansas. I love their longer songs like “The Pinnacle,” “Song for America,” “Incomudro” and “Apercu.” They have such emotional and melodic elements, and the lyrics are meaningful in a greater sense of a personal journey. I see similarities with “Journey of Everyman.”


John Fontana: I very much wanted our sound to remind people of the great classic albums of the 70’s – late-Beatles, Pink Floyd, Yes, Queen, ELP, but I think that people will also hear modern influences like The Strokes and Jane’s Addiction. Personally I am very inspired by Neal Morse, Tom Scholz, Joe Walsh, Jimmy Page, Keith Emerson, Steve Howe.


Dave Bobick: That’s a tricky question because all of us come from such different backgrounds. I come from a more heavy metal/hard rock background. My biggest influence is Kiss - hands down. But I am also influenced by the likes of Queen, Queensryche, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath as well as Yes, Led Zeppelin and the great Stevie Ray Vaughan. For me, it’s a virtual hodge-podge of influences. I think as a band, we are geared more towards Yes, Peter Gabriel era Genesis, Pink Floyd and ELP.
MSJ: Where did the name come from?
Dave Bobick: The name Shadow Circus came from a lot of different choices being rolled around between John and myself. He actually came up with the name Shadow Circus but I wasn’t sold on it until he laid out what we could actually do with a name like that visually in a live setting. Since I come from a very theatrical background, the idea of presenting myself as a circus MC with a demented circus themed stage show was very exciting to me. Once we agreed on that, the band had a name.

MSJ: What's ahead for you guys?
Dave Bobick: We’re currently working on a video for “Radio People,” which is going to be a blast. It’s a total rip on pop culture – we smash cell phones with mallets and make fun of Ipod commercials and Britney Spears. After that, we’ll have some fun live shows coming up, hopefully get out and play the festivals next year and start writing for the new album.
MSJ: Are there musicians you'd like to play with in the future?


Rich Horn: I’d love to play with any other prog musicians.


John Fontana: I’ve always wanted to jam with Ryo Okumoto from Spock’s Beard. He’s just so cool, and I like his deranged sense of humor. And I always thought it would be a blast to play a cranked-up electric guitar with a full orchestra. It’s just the ultimate.


Dave Bobick: If I had one person who I wish would come up for an impromptu jam with us, it would be Ace Frehley - probably one of my favorite guitarists in the world.
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?
Rich Horn: I think the internet and downloading has helped many indie bands; it’s an amazing resource. The only people that are hurt are maybe the major labels and acts (they mostly peddle commercial garbage anyway, so who cares). They just have to change their business plans to fit the modern world, instead of fighting it.


John Fontana: I think it’s most dramatic effect has not been on sales, but on what people listen to. When I was a kid, there were like five genres of music: rock, disco, classical, jazz, and easy-listening. Now there are thousands. It’s taken away the record companies’ ability to corral people into these genres. Anything can be considered hip. But the downside is, everyone is so scattered in their tastes, that there is hardly any market for anything to become really, really huge. You now have lots of little markets instead of a few big ones.


Dave Bobick: Well, in Shadow Circus’ situation, it’s about getting our music out there and heard. So, if 10,000 people download our CD, then that means we have 10,000 potential fans. This is great for smaller bands like us who are just starting out. Sure, would we like to sell 10,000 CD’s? Of course, but that won’t happen until people know we exist. In my opinion, artists like Metallica have so much money it’s ridiculous to cry about it. They are always going to sell millions of CD’s when they release them and they will never have to worry about money again for the rest of their lives regardless of who is downloading what. You can also view downloading as a way to hear an album before you buy it...test driving it if you will.
MSJ: In a related question how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
Rich Horn: I think that’s great. Especially in the prog world, it’s a community in addition to an audience. It would be cool if people could connect through Shadow Circus music. And hopefully the fans will like what they hear and want to come to another show!


John Fontana: If it’s a fun hobby for people and gives them another reason to enjoy a band, let them do it. Personally I’m very fussy about sound quality, so it is not often that I’d rather hear a live bootleg than a well-produced studio or live album. Sometimes you get a rare gem, though.


Dave Bobick: I don’t tape shows personally but I download hundreds of them (legally). I love live music especially in its rawest form. This is something you don’t get when a band releases a live CD. They take out all of the imperfections. I want to hear all of the imperfections. I think trading live shows is a great hobby and it keeps fans connected with each other. I hope that people tape our shows when we do them. Shadow Circus will take after the Grateful Dead and The Black Crowes in that we will always allow tapers and would always provide a space for them to get the best sound. Being a Grateful Dead fan as well, this is something that I would hold near and dear to my heart.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought, or what have you been listening to lately?


Rich Horn: The last CD I bought was Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso - Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso. And actually, I’ve been listening to a lot of Garth Brooks lately. I’ve got a varied taste, but prog is my main genre.


John Fontana: I’ve been into orchestral sounds lately – Ravel’s Bolero has been getting repeated listens, and I’ve been enjoying soundtracks by Danny Elfman and John Williams.


Dave Bobick: The last CD’s I bought were Rush’s new one called Snakes & Arrows (awesome by the way) as well as the new Dennis DeYoung CD called One Hundred Years from Now which is one of the most brilliant CD’s to come out on the Styx front in a long time.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?


Rich Horn: Symphony X at BB King’s in New York. Great encore, they played “The Odyssey.”


John Fontana: The last concert I attended was Heaven & Hell (Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio) who was touring with Alice Cooper and Queensryche - an absolutely phenomenal show out at Jones Beach on Long Island.


Dave Bobick: I was there! Alice Cooper totally blew me away. Now that’s an entertaining show, I’d love to get that theatrical and insane on stage with Shadow Circus.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Rich Horn: I forget my cables, frequently. Does that count?


John Fontana: Our first show!


Dave Bobick: Oh, I’ve got many! One time playing CBGB’s, back in ’92, my band decided to try to use dry ice. The band before us announced their last song, so our singer panicked and put the dry ice in buckets of water on the stage while the previous band was playing. We gave them a great fog show for their set-closer, they were really grateful for it! But by the time they unloaded and we got set up, the fog was gone, and all we had was five buckets of seltzer on stage - very anti-climactic.
MSJ: Finally, are there any closing thoughts you'd like to get out there?
Rich Horn: I’m just pleased to play with such talented musicians.


John Fontana: I think that we’re going to see prog gain a larger audience over the next year or two. It’s coming full-circle, and it’s becoming less and less fashionable to discredit it as a relevant genre.


Dave Bobick: Please give a listen to our song samples on our site!
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