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Progressive Rock Interviews

Days Between Stations

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Days Between Stations from 2013
MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – both individually and as a band?

Sepand Samzadeh: I discovered my affinity for music around the age of eight, in Marbella, Spain. My best friend made me a mix cassette tape containing music from The Beatles and the first song I remember was "Eleanor Rigby.” I spent much of my childhood listening to the synthpop and rock music coming out of Europe. My first exposure to rock was when Queen performed in Marbella. I snuck into the backyard, past my bedtime and from a distance heard music that stirred my soul.

I also grew up with my father playing classical Persian tradition music (known as “Sonati”), in the house and as a result was also influenced by this form of music. This influence can be heard on “Requiem for the Living,” “In Extremis,” as well as the use of the Persian lute, the Tar, on “Egg Shell Man.”  In 1986, my family moved to Canada, and Canadians love rock!

My musical style is the indelible culmination of musical genres and cultures that became engrained me as a child and adolescent, living in Iran, Spain and Canada. 

In April 1989, my dad bought me my first guitar - a Charvel Spectrum. By high school, the punk rock movement had dominated the music scene and I felt very connected to the music. There was so much experimentation, risk, attitude and eccentricity to the music; on an emotional level, it dealt with angst, isolation and not caring and this resonated with me.

I was a self-taught musician, and that had its limits so I began studying under Jeremy Castillo (appeared on debut album) and now Dave Celentano.  I’m not a prog guy and to be frank didn’t like soloing much. I’m glad Oscar inspired me to do so. Now I love it! 

Oscar Fuentes:  When I was a baby, my parents used to take turns carrying me in their arms in our home in Mexico City while a record played, and it never failed to soothe me.  When the record would end, I would raise my head up and motion for them to turn the record over.  They were always singing: my mom was from Oklahoma and would sing all sorts of tunes to me, “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” “Over the Rainbow.”  My dad was Mexican but he would sing both Mexican and American tunes, anything from Perry Como to Agustin Lara.  He had wanted to be a violinist, as a kid, but as the oldest boy in the family he had to be the responsible one and he was in medical school by the time he was sixteen!  My parents would have amazing parties sometimes and hire Mariachi bands, so that sort of snuck into my musical subconscious, although my musical diet at the time was mostly Beatles, and later my brother's huge record collection served as a musical training ground.  He had everything there from Supertramp to Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull and Kansas to Miles Davis to Glenn Gould.

My parents had a beautiful Steinway upright and in 1983, after a few years of picking stuff out by ear or from watching my brother Santiago, my mom got me lessons with an amazing Uruguayan lady, Ana Maria, who was conservatory trained.  The repertoire was classical:  Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Mozart, but I would also play along to my favorite albums by Genesis, Yes, Marillion, Beatles, Mike Oldfield.  When I moved to the U.S. in 1985, I studied piano and viola in high school and later studied music in college as well, although I changed my major a few times, from music to literature/creative writing to philosophy back to music, etcetera.  

I was in lots of bands before Days Between Stations, some of them quite good, but the pattern was always the same:  you write material and practice and play every show -- no matter how dodgy the place -- you can play, you start getting a following, building a buzz, then you break up.  Then it's back to square zero.  After a few experiences like this, you start to question your sanity, of course, and you notice that quite a few of your contemporaries have thrown in the towel and are getting "grown up" jobs.  

I met Sepand in 2003 at a time when I was pretty fed up with the whole cycle and had started studying film scoring at UCLA.  We got along right away and musically it just clicked.

MSJ: How did you guys hook up with Billy Sherwood for the new album?
Sepand Samzadeh:  We were looking for the voice for this album.  A fan mentioned Billy and introduced us to him.

Oscar Fuentes:  We met Billy at a coffeehouse near his house to talk things over.  It was really weird and to be honest quite intimidating as I've been a huge Yes fan since childhood and I'd been listening to The Ladder a lot in the months before Billy's name was even mentioned.  But Billy immediately put us at ease, and it was clear that he got what we're about and that this was going to be a good match.  It was scorchingly hot that day and I got sunburnt and looked like a lobster, but it was worth it.  I can't overstate what a huge life-changing thing it is to have musicians that you grew up idolizing actually wanting to collaborate with you.  It's a mind-blowing thing!

MSJ: How would you compare your previous work to the new album?
Sepand Samzadeh:  Musically, we have matured.  I wanted to take more chances with In Extremis, so we had a great deal of diversity while maintaining our mojo.  The music itself demanded lyrics, yet it was important to keep the balance between the musical landscapes we had on the debut and adding songs with lyrics with In Extremis.  We also have legends on this album and I developed this paranoia to be at my best - making sure we made our parents proud, so to speak!

Oscar Fuentes:  Favorably, hopefully.  I think In Extremis is more sophisticated, in ways, and personally I certainly let the prog flag fly a lot more, in a way, with my keyboard work.  But there are areas we explored in the first album that we might revisit in the future.

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Sepand Samzadeh:  What I am doing now, a small business owner and hopefully away from any cubicles.

Oscar Fuentes:  I'm sure I'd be writing.  I've published quite a few short stories, articles, and poems in the past, so hopefully I could make that pay off.  Either that or I'd shave my head and move to Tibet.

MSJ: How did the name of the group originate?
Oscar Fuentes: It's the title of one of my favorite novels by Steve Erickson.  We sort of stole that one.  I'd like to add that this is not the same writer as fantasy writer Steven Erikson, who is also very good but just, you know, not the same guy. 
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
Sepand Samzadeh:  Melvins, Nirvana, The Jesus Lizard, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Guns 'N' Roses, Queen, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Depeche Mode, Arvo Pärt, Górecki, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Zappa, Radiohead, Sonic Youth, Bill Nelson, David Bowie and Six Finger Satellite.

Oscar Fuentes:  Beethoven, Bach, Philip Glass, Genesis, Marillion, Yes,  Mike Oldfield, ELP, Simple Minds, Keith Jarrett, Pink Floyd, Herbie Hancock, Van der Graaf Generator.

MSJ: What's ahead for you?
Sepand Samzadeh: I would like to work on a symphonic album, with a real orchestra again.  I also would like to do more of an experimental synthpop-ish album in likes of Low (David Bowie), Six Finger Satellite, Bill Nelson with our mojo of course.  I feel a great need to experiment.

Oscar Fuentes:  I really don't like to think ahead too much, personally. 

MSJ:

I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?

Sepand Samzadeh:  So far progressive rock.  I don’t mind being pigeonholed, but I don’t like using the word “post,” as in post-rock or post-prog, as if rock has died and we are trying to rise from its apocalyptic ashes.

Oscar Fuentes:  I like the term progressive, but I do have some problems with labels.  A label might automatically turn someone off from some music they may have actually liked were it not for the label, for example.  And unless you get obsessively descriptive - grunge/polka/Mariachi/post prog - they can be somewhat meaningless.  What on earth is alternative rock, for example, if both Nine Inch Nails and Goo Goo Dolls can fall in that category?

MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
Sepand Samzadeh:  I’m open as long as it is has nothing to do with Bieber, Richard Simmons or the Kardashians.

Oscar Fuentes:  That would be a very long list for me.  It would be a dream to play with anybody who's been in Genesis, Marillion, Yes, King Crimson, or Van der Graaf Generator;  but there are many more.

MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
Sepand Samzadeh:  Both.  It helps people decide to buy or not.  I do it too.  If I like a band though, I purchase their albums.  Yet, I really despise it when people put it up so when one craves the song they can just play it.

Oscar Fuentes:  Well it's amazing to me how much people will spend on dinner or a night out drinking without batting an eyelash and then complain about spending $15 on a CD.  I mean, that's like two drinks in LA!  What's going to last longer, you know?

MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
Oscar Fuentes:  I think it's cool if the band's aware of it.  Bands should realize that a lot of times people want a bootleg of a certain show for sentimental reasons, so it's not always the ugly piracy thing.  My dad took me to my first Marillion show at the Roxy in 1986, for example, and I'd love to have that show.

Sepand Samzadeh:  Good for them. . . I just hope they get quality.  If someone hears a band and then gets turned off because of the recording that would be an injustice.  You can’t get upset about these things, it’s like trying to p*** on a wildfire to put it out - you aren’t going to win!

MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Sepand Samzadeh:  I don’t have an arch nemesis. I really can’t stand people that are arrogant so this type of people would all be my arch nemesis.

Oscar Fuentes:  It would be an evil label chief who had an army of generic PopBots complete with mini lap dogs and was ready to unleash them on an unsuspecting public. 

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?
Sepand Samzadeh:  Jim Morrison (vocals), Thurston Moore (guitar), Tony Levin (bass), Sherwood (drums).

Oscar Fuentes:  Jeff Buckley or Peter Gabriel on vocals, Tony Banks on keys, Steve Rothery on guitar, Chris Squire on bass, Keith Moon on drums. 

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?
Sepand Samzadeh: Steven Wilson, Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Bruford, Levin, Wakeman, Circa, Eno, Marillion, Miles Davis and King Crimson.

Oscar Fuentes:  Kate Bush, Elbow, Fish, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett, Marillion, Brad Mehldau, Mike Oldfield, Radiohead, Simple Minds, Yes.  I'm terrible at this.

MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Sepand Samzadeh:  I purchased Sides by Anthony Phillips, I’m just listening to all the old stuff. . . catching up, I guess, on the prog world. 

Oscar Fuentes:  I just bought Spock's Beard's new one, as I'm going to their show tomorrow and I haven't heard it yet, and I also got Steve Hackett's A Midsummer Night's Dream.  I've been listening to a lot of Mike Oldfield lately!

MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
Sepand Samzadeh:  Since I have a newborn son, mostly baby books, which constantly remind me that females are gods and we are just bus boys.

Oscar Fuentes:  The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon was great, and I'm currently reading Bones of the Earth by Michael Swanwick. 

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Sepand Samzadeh:  Steven Wilson. . . kicked a**.

Oscar:  Yes, Steven Wilson at Nokia in Los Angeles. 

MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
Sepand Samzadeh:  Oh boy. . . Bee Gees, Abba (love the choruses and vocal harmonies) and yes, Mötley Crüe.

Oscar Fuentes:  I'm not going to be able to top that one.  I'm not even sure if I should feel guilty about these:  Goldfrapp?  Frou Frou? And The Buggles. . . I love The Buggles!  Hmmm, maybe Journey and the first Ozzy Osbourne album?

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Oscar Fuentes:  I did a gig in an art gallery with a full-size replica of Stonehenge as the backdrop.  

Sepand Samzadeh:  During high school, our high school orchestra was performing “Eleanor Rigby” during parents’ night and I had a huge crush on this girl that played the cello. I was playing double bass.  I was so madly in love with her that I was playing out of time and out of key.  Our music teacher (the conductor for that evening) stopped everyone and turned and looked at the parents and said “Ladies and gentlemen, there are great players, there are OK players and then there is Sepand.”  Everyone laughed, and I just wanted to die.  The teacher kept calling me Waterboy in class in front of everyone the remainder of that year. Let’s just say I didn’t have a chance with this girl!!!

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?
Sepand Samzadeh:  Helen Keller, Jesus and Richard Dawkins.

Oscar Fuentes:  Tesla, Faulkner, and Beethoven.

MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Sepand Samzadeh: Pork and Halal Meat.

Oscar Fuentes:  Strawberry soup and tequila.

MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Sepand Samzadeh: Thank you for the refreshing questions, I had fun.  Thanks for your site, it has inspired many moments as you have connected us with bands we otherwise would not have known about. 

Oscar Fuentes:  Thanks so much for the interesting questions and to everyone who has supported the band in any way: a huge thank you!

 

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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