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Progressive Rock Interviews

Firebird

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Firebird from 2015
MSJ:

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

Dana Richardson - I’ve been writing contemporary art music (“modern classical”) for close to forty years and have extensive catalog of chamber, solo and orchestral music. Growing up I was exposed to classical music through my mother and New Orleans Jazz music through my father.  In high school I listened to rock music intensely but in my freshman year at college (1970-1971) became disenchanted with what I heard as the decay of rock and refocused myself exclusively on the study of classical music to prepare to become a composer. . As time passed, the rock influence began to seep into my music in a form that clearly recognized as a rock influence within an avant-garde classical presentation. (i.e. the second movement of my Preludes and Dances for solo cello (1992) which a friend called “Bartok meets Jimi Hendrix” and Heartbreaker for solo sax (2001) that deforms the familiar led Zep Heartbreaker riff.) A turning point came in 2010 with the instrumental Phoenix where I went from rock influence with a classical framework to classical elements within a rock presentation.  After writing another instrumental Lost Love that is completely electric I added the vocal element. I founded the group Firebird to perform this music.

Jacqueline Milena Thompson -  I come from the world of opera, musical theatre and Jazz. I’ve performed with regional opera companies throughout the United States as well as the Broadway “Encores” Series in New York. I’ve always had a love of modern music and have especially admired the classical compositions of Dana. When he first told me about Firebird and his new compositions, I was fascinated. In the beginning the idea was to switch back and forth between and operatic and jazz sound. The switching of sounds; however, didn’t translate well in the studio so Dana decided to go completely with the operatic sound.

Jonathan Jetter - I played music since childhood, and spent years playing in rock bands. In my early twenties I started producing and engineering music, and that's most of what I do now. Worked with a few famous people, and many talented independent musicians.

Peter Fabrizio - I met Dana after a gig I played with Cesare and Ray with our band, Barbaric Yawp.  He liked the show and asked me if I wanted to record some of his songs.  That’s how I became involved with Firebird.

Cesare Papetti - I moved to New York City around five years ago after graduating from the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College.  Since then I have been playing with a wide range of different ensembles.  Being a classically trained percussionist, the city offers a great deal of opportunities to play with orchestras, operas, chamber ensembles as well as rock bands.  I am a founding member of Occasional Noise, a trio featuring percussion, trombone, and piano as well as Barbaric Yawp, an Indie-Funk band.  I try not to take the city for granted and appreciate every opportunity that comes along.  I also teach band at a middle school in Flushing, Queens.

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?

Dana Richardson - Writing poetry


Jonathan Jetter
- Either law or actuarial science

Peter Fabrizio - Music is the only thing I’ve thought of doing since I was 13.

Cesare Papetti - If I wasn’t involved in music then it is really hard to tell what I would be doing.  I have always played percussion, and it is truly a part of what I am.  However, considering that I have been exploring beer making as a hobby, I would imagine myself doing something in the bar industry.

MSJ: How did the name of the group originate?

Dana Richardson - Originally I wanted to use the name “Phoenix” to represent my own creativity and career rising from the ashes in a new form as a particular instance of a universal metaphor. . However there is already a group called “Phoenix” so I chose the synonym “Firebird.”

Cesare Papetti - Firebird came about through the creator of the group, Dana Richardson.  It reflects upon the theme of resurrection that is found in his lyrics.

MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?

Dana Richardson - Classical: Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, Debussy, Bartok

Rock: Led Zeppelin, AC/DC.

Jonathan Jetter - Everyone and everything. Every time I write off a certain musician as insignificant or irrelevant, I’ll find something valuable in their work a few years later. 

Peter Fabrizio - Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, James Brown, Herbie Hancock, Wes Montgomery, and Miles Davis 


Cesare Papetti - My musical influences include every person that I have ever played with!  However, as a drummer, Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, Glenn Kotche, and Danny Carey inspire me.

MSJ: What's ahead for you?

 Dana Richardson - Try to promote the record Bonds of Life. Keep writing on my dual track contemporary art music (avant-garde classical) and avant-garde rock

Jonathan Jetter - More performing, more recording, more collaborating. Hopefully in a wide range of genres with a wide variety of musicians and artists.

Peter Fabrizio - Recording an album and gigging with Barbaric Yawp, continuing to play with Firebird, continued teaching and various gigs.

Cesare Papetti - In 2015, I hope to record with my other group, Barbaric Yawp.  We have been playing a lot live and working out some great tunes!

MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Cesare Papetti - The music of Firebird is what I call “Art-Rock.”  It takes the classical idea of an art song and sets it to rock ensemble instrumentation.  The songs are almost entirely through-composed with only pockets left open to improvisation.  It reminds me of Zappa at some points, as well.
MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
Dana Richardson - As many as would like to play my music!  

Jonathan Jetter -  There’s a west coast songwriter named “Laura Veirs.” I’d love to collaborate with her one day.

MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?

Dana Richardson - I haven’t really thought about it but I imagine it hurts because no one is going to invest in you if they can’t make money off you. It means you have to do all the work.

Jacqueline Milena Thompson -  I think it’s both. It can be a huge help when trying to get the word out about your music, but at the end of the day you have to be able to put food on the table. If money can’t be made on an album, then that forces the artist to seek out more traditional routes in order to make a living. It’s harder for individuality to thrive in most of the traditional routes thus the heart of the music is often sacrificed.

Jonathan Jetter -  It can be either, or neither, depending on the specific situation at hand. There’s no one-size fits all answer and breaking down all the variables would take a long time. I do think, however, that whatever one's thoughts on downloading, it's counterproductive to sue one's fans. 

Peter Fabrizio - I think it helps because the Internet is a great learning tool for musicians.  The freedom to be able to hear any song or see any video instantly is excellent for the growth of a musician.  It’s also useful if we need to learn a specific song for a gig or for a student.

Cesare Papetti - Downloading is a part of mainstream culture at this point.  Companies and musicians need to harness the great versatility of this medium.  People will still support artists they care about if the tradeoff is fair.  Consumers don’t want to support record executives.  They want to support artists.  Illegally downloading music sidesteps the businessmen and gets the consumer directly to the art.  It is a hindrance that so much money is lost, but it makes your art available instantly all over the world.

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

Dana Richardson - Somewhat inconsistently with my previous statement, it wouldn’t bother me.

Jacqueline Milena Thompson -  I love the recording of shows when it’s done out of enthusiasm. The beauty of a live concert is that it’s live. It exists in that moment in time and will never be heard or seen the same way again. A recorded show from a fan is different than even a professional recording. They are ultimately showing their friends a concert from their unique perspective and that’s awesome.

Jonathan Jetter -  I’m fine with that. 

Peter Fabrizio - I think that it can only spread the popularity of the artist that they are recording unless the show isn’t good.    

Cesare Papetti - Fans should record everything!  If the experience created on stage is so special and good that people want to keep it and share it, then the performers have done their jobs.

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?

Jacqueline Milena Thompson -  I would want a festival that encompasses the best from all genres of music. It fascinates me, the connections you can find between each genre of music.

MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Jonathan Jetter -  I don't want to speak ill of anyone, even in a humorous context. It’s a tough business and anyone who's earning a living has also earned my respect
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Dana Richardson - I only listen to music in the car. I check the classical station. If there is something good (which is rare) I listen. If not I turn to the classic rock stations.

Jonathan Jetter -  …Been listening to Laura Veirs Warp and Weft, Spiral Architect A Skeptic’s Universe, later Coltrane records, and Death Cab for Cutie Narrow Stairs  

Cesare Papetti - I stream so much music over Spotify, legally!  Recently, I have been listening to chamber music by Borislav Martinu and Stanton Moore’s Conversations.

MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
Dana Richardson -  I am always reading. At present I am doing research into the German Occupation of Greece WWII.

Jonathan Jetter -  Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Mark Danielewski's Only Revolutions, Franz Kafka's short stories

Peter Fabrizio - East of Eden by John Steinbeck. It may be the best book I’ve ever read.  

 

Cesare Papetti - I am reading The Tine Drum by Gunter Grass right now.  It’s a fascinating account of World War Two from the perspective of a somewhat madman.

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Dana Richardson - The opera Lady Macbeth of Mtensk by Shostakovich

Jacqueline Milena Thompson -  Jazz Festival on Governors Island in New York

Peter Fabrizio - Primus on Halloween.  


Cesare Papetti - I saw Stanton Moore play at the Blue Note in New York City.  He has such an impressive feel!      
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”

Dana Richardson - “Super Freak” by Rick James

Jacqueline Milena Thompson -  I love Queen, does that count?

Jonathan Jetter -  Fall Out Boy…love their work. Patrick Stump is an incredible vocalist.

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Jonathan Jetter -  Not with Firebird, but I once played a 2500-capacity venue to a crowd of 15 people 

Peter Fabrizio - It was more of a Blues Brothers moment, but I was playing a gig in a bar a few years ago in Newport, Rhode Island and the owner kept giving all the musicians beer after beer without us even asking for them.  At the end of the night, he expected us to pay for all the beer he gave us, and the money we made from the gig barely covered our bar tab.

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?
Dana Richardson - Cleopatra, Shakespeare, Beethoven

Jonathan Jetter -  Jesus, Buddha, da Vinci 

Peter Fabrizio - Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, and Walt Whitman.

MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Dana Richardson - Eggplant parmigiana

Jonathan Jetter - Steak and  potatoes

Peter Fabrizio - Tortellini bolognese

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

Dana Richardson - People should attend to music instead of treating it like a sound environment. Thirty years ago I protested that ubiquity of music is making it less meaningful, a trend that has accelerated with the digital revolution.  It will be interesting to see where it goes. One ironic development is that with the decline of record sales music careers are totally dependent on live performance- just like the 19th century!

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2015  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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