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Progressive Rock Interviews

James Sudakow

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with James Sudakow From 2009
MSJ: Can you give our readers a look at the history of your involvement in music?
I am actually a third generation classically trained violinist and started playing when I was about three-and-a-half years old.  As a violinist, I received a lot of early schooling in music theory in the context of classical music.  As I got older and continued to focus entirely on classical music as a player, there were some big differences I was finding between the music I was playing and the music I loved to listen to when I wasn't playing.  Whereas I enjoyed classical music, I gravitated heavily to jam music, funk, progressive rock, fusion, alternative rock, and industrial electronical rock music.  It made for kind of an interesting continuum of music I was involved with.  Eventually, that impacted how I played the violin.  I never saw myself as becoming a classical violinist in an orchestral setting, so I just started to try to evolve and modify my sound to fit into musical styles I loved to listen to. 

That's where the movement into more progressive, rock, and fusion settings began.  Through the years, I honed into a style that I liked, which ultimately became my style now - a combination of psychedelic, distortion, fusion, and progressive sounds but hopefully with some classical sense to it.  Over the last 10 years, I got involved with a number of studio projects, primarily fitting into the context of the band that was interested in some violin component to their sound.  That ultimately evolved into me playing full time with a really interesting all instrumental progressive hard rock band with a heavy middle eastern influence called "Human Life Index."  We've released a couple of CDs together, and I think the sound is quite unique. 

Ultimately, I evolved to beginning my own project several years ago.  I released my first electric violin CD in 2007 and followed up with my second release in 2009. Both CDs incorporated a lot of improvisational rock electric violin with a variety of sounds and effects combined with live and programmed bass and drums. 
MSJ: If you weren't involved in music, what do you think you'd be doing? 
That's a good question.  As a musician, I'm clearly a right brained focused person, so doing something creatively would be important.  I'd probably end up trying to pursue writing of some sort. 
MSJ: How would you describe your sound?
My sound has got a lot of different elements to it.  It's all instrumental with the electric violin serving as the "voice" of the ensemble.  I think it pulls from a lot of genres such as progressive rock, psychedelia, industrial electronica, ambient, and improvisational fusion.  There are parts where I've even tried to incorporate some of my classical roots.
MSJ: What’s ahead for you?
Going forward, we're looking to do some touring across the country in 2010 and are currently working on getting that organized with our management and booking agency.  The live band is really looking forward to that because we're also looking to record a live CD as part of that touring process.  I really like the way the studio recordings on both of my CDs came out, but there's something at even a higher level that happens when you capture really good live performances.  The energy level of the music is that much higher, and we take a lot of improvisational liberties when we play live.  When that comes together well, it's a lot of fun and can end up being some of the best music I've recorded. 
MSJ: Are there musicians you’d like to play with in the future?
Two of my favorite guitarists are Vernon Reid and John McLaughlin.  In many ways, both of them have been tremendous influences on my playing style - even though we play different instruments.  The work Vernon Reid has done with Living Colour and his solo projects since then and the work John McLaughlin did with Mahavishnu was tremendous.  Playing with either of them would be an incredible honor and humbling experience.
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?
It's an interesting question.  We definitely live in a period of time now where it is so easy to access and get a hold of music without necessarily having to purchase CD's.  Quite honestly, illegal downloading of anything is a problem in that musicians and artists work hard and spend money to create the art that people are essentially taking without paying for it.  Sometimes, I wish people who download illegally would think about the impact they are having on the musicians they are downloading.  That being said, downloading music legally and paying for it is a great option for people.  As an independent musician, it has given me tremendous access to people all over the world to get to hear and listen to my music that I may not have otherwise had access to.  It's just like anything else in that it requires a little bit of regulation for it to work out well for everyone - musicians and consumers.
MSJ: In a related question how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
In some ways, I have the same thoughts on that as I do on illegal downloading, but in other ways, it's great exposure for independent bands if people really like the footage given that many bands have not spent a huge amount of time and resources creating full live concert DVD quality recordings.  
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch-nemesis and why?
I'm pretty sure that my arch-nemesis in music would be Britney Spears...or for that matter anyone who has decided that lip syncing is an acceptable approach to a live show.  Quite honestly, my arch-nemesis might be the entire pop genre.  Hopefully, if I were a super hero, I'd be really strong with lots of incredible super powers because taking on the entire pop genre could be quite taxing on just one super hero.
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band, who would be in it?
Vernon Reid (guitar), John McLaughlin (guitar), Carter Buford (drums), and either the Flea or Bootsy Collins on bass.  We'd have the ultimate funk/jam/rock fusion band.  It would be fantastic!
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?
If I was completely in charge of a music festival, we'd definitely have a variety of new and old bands playing together across a lot of different genres.  Some names that come to mind include The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Living Colour, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone, Jane's Addiction, Muse, Nine Inch Nails, King Crimson, Phish, Genesis, Parliament, Mr. Bungle, Rage Against the Machine, Jimi Hendrix (we'd of course bring him back from the dead), Soundgarden, Stevie Wonder, and Herbie Hancock.  It would certainly be an eclectic show!
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought, or what have you been listening to lately?
I've been listening to a lot of Muse lately.  I've been really into them for quite awhile and just love the sound they have.  They've found a way to bring some mainstream accessibility to really well constructed, technical playing ability.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
I recently attended the U2 and Muse show in NY.  It was a great show.
MSJ: Finally, are there any closing thoughts you’d like to get out there?
In terms of closing thoughts, I think that there's so much good music out there even though it feels like in many ways we are bombarded with the pop "cookie cutter" and formulaic music (e.g. "American Idol").  I think today we just have to look a little harder to find that music given that it's not in the forefront.  Being in the more underground music scene for the past several years has allowed me to hear some tremendous musicians playing some really interesting music that the general public may not tolerate or gravitate to but still is amazing nonetheless.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.
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