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Progressive Rock Interviews

Modest Midget

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Artis Orubs and Lionel Ziblat of Modest Midget from 2010
MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of the group and your involvement in music?

Artis Orubs: I studied classical percussion for 10 years, since I was 8. Parallel to that I also started to play drums professionally when I was 13, starting locally and then slowly working internationally, all around Europe. Since then I've been playing in (roughly) a million bands and projects, recordings and tours as a side man, arranger and producer. I met Lonny (Lionel) 3 years ago through a friend; Boele Weemhoff, and since then we have this great musical trip together in the Midget world.

Lionel Ziblat: Music was part of my life ever since I can remember. I worked with different people, groups, theatre, classical ensembles, some operas, a few bands, and I slowly cooked up the idea for this band. It was a fantasy idea that developed in my mind. Apart from different songs and pieces that I composed in recent years, I also gathered a pile of music which seemed to belong somewhere else, some special production which I couldn't put my finger on. It was just not clear to me who might take part in it, so as soon as I finished my music studies I just started recording these songs on my own. Different people helped out with the recordings, and before the album was finished there was a line-up for doing three short performances. Among them was my friend Emiel de Jong who did all the saxophones and some clarinet parts in the album, as well as a lead vocal on “Troubles in Heaven”. It was during this time that I met pianist / keyboard player Tristan Hupe. Artis and I have worked together in a peculiar promotional jingle that I produced along with a mutual friend.

MSJ:

Where does the name Modest Midget come from? Is there some significance to it?

Artis Orubs: I have no clue.........Lonny knows better, but I like the name very much.

Lionel Ziblat: It comes from my mind. And I didn't think of anything very specifically. I was thinking that the title of this project shouldn't sound too pretentious. Musically I just wanted to do something good and authentic. I thought of the name of another great band; Gentle Giant, and thought it might be a funny counterpoint to their name, which seemed to hold some measure of high self esteem...

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Lionel Ziblat: I guess I would probably be an importer, or an exporter, but god knows what of!

Artis Orubs: I was thinking about that lately, but I can not think of anything better than playing music, even though it sometimes is a painful profession. Maybe I could be some kind of a manager or organizer too.

MSJ: How would you describe the sound of Modest Midget?
Artis Orubs: It’s great music with a very intelligent touch which never existed before and which never will in the future either.

Lionel Ziblat: Imagine the best gnocchi you've ever had, a great piece of beef, hummus, some top notch quality Belguim chocolate, Brazilian coffee, and some nice fresh sushi. Mix them all together, and what do you get? Precisely! It’s pretty darn awful! I'd like to think that we somehow managed to do it with music, just that for some reason - it works!
MSJ:

Who would you see as your musical influences - both as a group and individually?

Lionel Ziblat: I would say that I was very influenced by a few musicians that are very known in America and Europe, and some which are probably not known there. To name a few: Cuchi Leguizamon, Yoni Rechter, Matti Caspi, Danny Sanderson, Damian Sanchez, Stravinsky, Ravel, Schnittke, Kagel, Rachmaninov, Bartok, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Bernard Hermann and a few more....

I think I should also give some credit to the Beatles being able to have a fresh sound, being authentic, as well as being able to make fantastically popular music, and Frank Zappa as someone who was stubborn enough to keep doing what he liked, never giving up, and managing to make a living from creating something which was supposedly unsuitable for the market.

MSJ:

What's ahead for you?

Artis Orubs: A tour in the Baltics

Lionel Ziblat: We're about to go on tour around the Baltic states this summer (August 2010). After that we have a modest tour through the Netherlands and then... there are many options open. We'll see. A second album is definitely one of the plans.

MSJ:

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

Lionel Ziblat: Nobody in particular.

Artis Orubs: Time will tell

MSJ: Do you think that illegal 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?
Lionel Ziblat: One thing it definitely does is hurt the big industries and record companies. I don't see why they should be saved. For the last 35 years they've been exclusively going after money instead of exciting new music, and I think that what we're witnessing is their tragic end, which is a result of how they were. I'm sure the market will have new ways of producing music and money after new artists will have more equal opportunities to present themselves. The illegal downloading is partially because the prices that the companies have set on CD's was ridiculously high. Even during their "good years", there was hardly any musician that wasn't abused by them. I think it’s time for them to go.

Artis Orubs: I agree with Lonny

MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
Artis Orubs: It is great that fans have bootlegs of band concerts etc. It just helps to give the band some more promotion, popularity and it might make a few interesting and legendary stories about band members.

Lionel Ziblat: I think it’s understandable that people want to record and share their own experiences, although I think that the real experience is the show itself, or the recordings produced by the band. These are creations that the band found good enough to approve and to share. A recorded show is in most cases not the best quality, and in the end it’s not worth any amount of money. But if somebody is that excited about you I prefer for him to trade a bad recording of you performing than to go around selling your underwear.

MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Lionel Ziblat: What do you mean: "If I were a superhero..."? Aren't I one already? Any musician that manages to make a living is a superhero.
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band, who would be in it and why?
Lionel Ziblat: Quite seriously, I don't believe in "The ultimate band". You have enough examples where a bunch of musician's who were not necessarily good individually but were fantastic as a band, and vice versa.

Artis Orubs: The band is just there. You can't take loose pieces and put a band together. It’s an organic process.

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?
Artis Orubs: New and interesting bands who have strong sound and identity that you can not compare with something else - something fresh and never heard before.

Lionel Ziblat: Then I think Deep Purple, Pearl Jam, The Police, Chico Buarque, the old Steely Dan line-up, King Crimson, and some of Dweezil’s greatly produced fatherly nostalgia. Did I mention Modest Midget?

MSJ:

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

Lionel Ziblat: I bought the first Oz Noy CD. I think it’s fantastic! I've been listening again to Mahler and Stravinsky, as well as some old Deep Purple recordings I haven't heard in a while. Two more CD's I bought were Bernard Hermann's soundtracks to Citizen Kane and Psycho. I also listened again to Jobim and Joao Gilberto's recordings produced in America. I still love listening to them!

Artis Orubs: I haven't been listening to other music for the last two years - only when I have to study new material. Sometimes I listen to the Christian radio, sometimes to some Bavarian Jodel choir, but not too much. Sometimes it feels great not to have to hear anything.

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Lionel Ziblat: Paul McCartney. As long as he's alive and kicking, I'd have to be crazy to miss it!

Artis Orubs: Steely Dan

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Lionel Ziblat: I just bought their DVD, actually. It’s nice to have it. I was in a band in the army. We were supposed to perform during a special army event in one of the nicer halls in Tel Aviv. It was one of those nights which would be full of high ranked generals and such. We were informed that the show would start at 20:30. We had to be perfectly dressed for these shows and we'd heard horrible stories about other musicians who were caught performing with an unpolished boot or one button unbottoned that therefore had to spend a few weeks in a military jail, so it was obvious that you had to look sharp (the military way...). I was more or less "resting" in the rest room when our commanding officer suddenly banged on the [rest room] door, shouting that everyone was waiting for just for me. I thought she was really out of it, but I just had to come out as quickly as possible, not wearing the performing uniform, my boots unpolished, which were also untied (it takes about 5 minutes to tie them up properly), an open shirt, being unshaved etc... I quickly sat on the stage which was still completely dark, ready to button up my shirt, when suddenly heard a voice whispering: "He's here!" I heard the drummer count off for the opening song and I picked up the guitar. We hit the first chord, the lights went on and I saw the hall full of people, the first three rows embellished with the most dense population of high officer ranks that I've ever seen. I somehow survived the show without any remark, but to this day I can't remember anything else that happened from that moment on. It's one big black-out.
MSJ:

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

Lionel Ziblat: Yes! Love you guys for approaching us, and for enjoying the album. Thank you and god bless you! And keep enjoying your families' company, your friends, and always make time for some good music!

Artis Orubs: Play honest, good, new music.

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Lionel Ziblat: I just bought their DVD, actually. It’s nice to have it. I was in a band in the army. We were supposed to perform during a special army event in one of the nicer halls in Tel Aviv. It was one of those nights which would be full of high ranked generals and such. We were informed that the show would start at 20:30. We had to be perfectly dressed for these shows and we'd heard horrible stories about other musicians who were caught performing with an unpolished boot or one button unbottoned that therefore had to spend a few weeks in a military jail, so it was obvious that you had to look sharp (the military way...). I was more or less "resting" in the rest room when our commanding officer suddenly banged on the [rest room] door, shouting that everyone was waiting for just for me. I thought she was really out of it, but I just had to come out as quickly as possible, not wearing the performing uniform, my boots unpolished, which were also untied (it takes about 5 minutes to tie them up properly), an open shirt, being unshaved etc... I quickly sat on the stage which was still completely dark, ready to button up my shirt, when suddenly heard a voice whispering: "He's here!" I heard the drummer count off for the opening song and I picked up the guitar. We hit the first chord, the lights went on and I saw the hall full of people, the first three rows embellished with the most dense population of high officer ranks that I've ever seen. I somehow survived the show without any remark, but to this day I can't remember anything else that happened from that moment on. It's one big black-out.
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Lionel Ziblat: Yes! Love you guys for approaching us, and for enjoying the album. Thank you and god bless you! And keep enjoying your families' company, your friends, and always make time for some good music!

Artis Orubs: Play honest, good, new music.

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Lionel Ziblat: I just bought their DVD, actually. It’s nice to have it. I was in a band in the army. We were supposed to perform during a special army event in one of the nicer halls in Tel Aviv. It was one of those nights which would be full of high ranked generals and such. We were informed that the show would start at 20:30. We had to be perfectly dressed for these shows and we'd heard horrible stories about other musicians who were caught performing with an unpolished boot or one button unbottoned that therefore had to spend a few weeks in a military jail, so it was obvious that you had to look sharp (the military way...). I was more or less "resting" in the rest room when our commanding officer suddenly banged on the [rest room] door, shouting that everyone was waiting for just for me. I thought she was really out of it, but I just had to come out as quickly as possible, not wearing the performing uniform, my boots unpolished, which were also untied (it takes about 5 minutes to tie them up properly), an open shirt, being unshaved etc... I quickly sat on the stage which was still completely dark, ready to button up my shirt, when suddenly heard a voice whispering: "He's here!" I heard the drummer count off for the opening song and I picked up the guitar. We hit the first chord, the lights went on and I saw the hall full of people, the first three rows embellished with the most dense population of high officer ranks that I've ever seen. I somehow survived the show without any remark, but to this day I can't remember anything else that happened from that moment on. It's one big black-out.
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Lionel Ziblat: Yes! Love you guys for approaching us, and for enjoying the album. Thank you and god bless you! And keep enjoying your families' company, your friends, and always make time for some good music!

Artis Orubs: Play honest, good, new music.

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.
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