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Progressive Rock Interviews

Izz

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with John Galgano of Izz from 2016
MSJ:
There is a new IZZ album on the way. What can you tell us about that?
The new IZZ album is called "Ampersand, Volume 2," and it’s a collection of new songs that have been written and recorded over the last six to eight years, actually. While we were writing, recording and releasing The Darkened Room, Crush of Night and Everlasting Instant, (which was sort of a concept trilogy) we were also writing other stand-alone songs. Tom and I listened to these songs recently and thought that they would make a really nice album. And since we had released something like this previously as Ampersand, Volume 1, we thought it would be a great time to come out with the second volume of Ampersand.
MSJ: What's similar to the work you guys have done before?
Well I think that anyone who listens to the new album will hear all the things that make IZZ IZZ. Everyone in the band loves a good tune, a good melody and we hope that comes across in all of our music. Certainly with these songs, there is a focus on being succinct with what we have to say musically and a focus on melody and song. So in that sense, it is really just an extension of all of the things that we hope people like about the band. We don’t just want to write long songs for the sake of writing long songs. Long songs have their time and place, of course, but sometimes it’s wonderful to hear a short song that has excitement, melody, interesting rhythms, etcetera. For instance, a song like “Take My By the Hand” on Ampersand, Volume 2, is the type of song that really, to me, is what IZZ is all about. It’s got an interesting time signature and interesting rhythms, but still has a very nice melodic arc to it. To me, that is as much of an IZZ song as any we’ve ever released.
MSJ:
What are the differences?
We didn’t consciously stay away from longer tracks on this album, but that’s kind of what happened. So I think people will find that there are less lengthy tracks and less multi-section tracks. For my money, this is a welcome change. Again, I love exploring long, multi-sectioned pieces, but I also like getting hit with concise, exciting songs as well. So I think while this record certainly still sounds like IZZ, people will find some really interesting tid-bits that are different. For instance, my acoustic guitar piece, “Hail Double Knob, Children of Mars” is just something really, really different. I don’t know if IZZ has ever released a song like this before. It was fun to record, adding layers of acoustic guitar on top of each other, and I hope people find it to be a fun piece to listen to.
MSJ: It's been a while since we chatted with you. What else has been going on in your world?
Watching lots of NY Mets games! (laughter) We all keep busy with lots of musical pursuits – Laura just finished a musical theatre show, Brian plays in the pit in a lots of shows, as well. We just played a festival in Chicago called “Progtoberfest” and we are always, truly always, writing new material and sending it back and forth to each other to listen to and arrange and record. It’s an exciting band to be a part of because the creative, songwriting energy is never low. I feel like there’s always one of us who has something new to share with the others.
MSJ:
If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Well, I’m also an attorney, and I do enjoy the entertainment law aspect of my life, as well. I’ve also been involved in improv comedy for about four years now, and I think if I didn’t do music, I would pursue comedy – maybe try to get a gig on "Saturday Night Live!" (laughter)
MSJ:
How did the name of the group originate?
Well I’ve already mentioned my love of the Mets and the name "IZZ" has its origins with the Mets. My brother Tom and I were thinking of a name for a band that we hadn’t even formed yet. I believe Tom said we should call the band “IS” because the music won’t be a particular style of music, it will just be what it IS. At the time, in the mid-90s, the Mets had a pitcher named Jason Isringhausen whose nickname was “IZZY”. I said, why don’t we call the band “IZZ” instead of the true spelling “IS," and Tom agreed. So that’s how the name came to be! We also liked how it looked written. You could make it really big with only three letters! I believe Yes said something to that effect as well.
MSJ:
Who would you see as your musical influences?
This would be a long list if I listed everyone, but let me see if I can narrow it down a bit. My bass guitar heroes are Chris Squire and Paul McCartney. I always just wanted to be Chris Squire growing up. I would come home from school and try to play along with Yes songs as best as I could. That’s really how I learned to play bass guitar. Squire and Geddy Lee, as well. I would try to figure out the bass parts for old Rush songs. In terms of pure songwriting, Lennon and McCartney probably. Genesis, Yes and King Crimson were all essential parts of my musical upbringing. As I got older, I discovered Joni Mitchell, and she opened up a whole new world for me. The band The Story has been hugely influential, and the singers/songwriters in that band (Jonatha Brooke and Jennifer Kimball) have each had huge impacts on my musical life. Nickel Creek is another band I love. I have recently been listening to BB King and the new Big Big Train album. Friends of mine also recently got me into Nas and Biggie Smalls. All amazing artists. I love them all.
MSJ:
What's ahead for you?
We are well into the recording process for our next new album and we are excited about the material we have for that one, as well. So, lots more writing and recording ahead. We hope to play some more live shows beginning in 2017, as well. It’s amazing to say, but we’ve been together for about 18 years now and yet I still feel like we are a new band!
MSJ:
I know many artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
I was talking to some musicians who played what is now considered “prog rock” back in the 70s. They were saying that it was never called “prog rock” back then – it was just rock. That’s really the way I feel as a songwriter. I do understand that people have put us into the “progressive rock” category, and that is something that is okay with us – the fans of prog rock are some of the greatest fans in the world. And at the same time, I feel that we are really just a rock band who like to experiment with unusual forms for our songs. So I think I’ll let the fans and critics put us into categories. For me, I just like to write songs.
MSJ:
Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
Well, I’ve gotten to play with three of the best keyboardists of this generation of prog rock: My brother Tom Galgano, Jason Hart (of Renaissance, Camel, Duncan Sheik) and Tom Brislin (Yes, Renaissance), so I feel really lucky as a bass player that I’ve gotten to share music with three geniuses. And I don’t use that word lightly. They are all geniuses – very different geniuses – but geniuses nonetheless. IZZ has had the great Gary Green of Gentle Giant and Three Friends on one of our albums, so to be on the same song with him was a dream come true. I suppose in my fantasy world, I’d love to play with Marillion (alongside Pete Trewavas) for one song and perhaps with Jonatha Brooke or Jennifer Kimball. That would be just a lot of fun.
MSJ:
Do you think that illegal downloading or streaming of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
This is a really tough question. There’s no question it’s had a negative impact on the dollars that song writers and artists are able to get when they release albums. I think illegal downloading is actually only a small part of the problem. Apps like Spotify really hurt artists like IZZ because someone may listen to our album 100 times on Spotify, but we only get a tiny, tiny fraction of money for that. And Spotify isn’t illegal. So it’s tough. I do want our music to be accessible to everyone but at the same time, if we can’t make some kind of money on sales, it’s very difficult to continue financially. We’ve been fortunate that we have recouped money we spend on recording each album, but I know a lot of bands really struggle with this. Touring, on the other hand, is extremely tough for a band like us. It costs a lot of money to take seven people with equipment out “on the road,” and there is no guarantee we wouldn’t lose money. That’s part of the reason we don’t go “on the road” for any extended period of time. I think the fan-backed model of things like Pledge Music and Kickstarter is really the way to go. Fans can back the bands they love and bands can feel financially secure before taking on a big financial risk. Not sure if that answered your question!
MSJ:
In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them or posting them online?
I don’t mind this at all. There are so many people in the world who may never have a chance to see us play live, so I’m all for it.
MSJ:
If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Ha! That’s a good question. I feel like Robin Thicke would be my nemesis. I feel like he just released that one song a few years ago – and the lyrics were so disgusting – and he basically stole the beat from Marvin Gaye…I dunno. I feel like he is everything wrong with pop music. And don’t get me wrong, I love pop music. But some of it is just really sanitized and awful.
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?
Great question. I’d probably want to hear Peter Gabriel and Jennifer Kimball on shared vocals, Chris Squire on bass, Bill Bruford on drums, Keith Emerson on keyboards, and Adrian Belew on guitar. Sadly two of those on the list are gone. I suppose I would substitute Rick Wakeman on keyboards and Paul McCartney on bass.
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?
I’d love to get an array of different types of bands. I’d love for Big Big Train to play, perhaps Nickel Creek, Sufjan Stevens, IZZ (of course!), Jonatha Brooke, I and Thou, Anderson, Rabin, Wakeman…that would be a cool festival.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
I bought Jonatha Brooke’s new album Midnight. Hallelujah, which is excellent. She continues to make relevant music with great melodies. I also have the new Marillion album which has just sort of “hit” me finally. I think it’s a great piece of art. Also, BB King Live at the Regal has been on rotation for me - great record.
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
I’ve been reading the Letters of John Lennon which are just super, super interesting. I’m about to crack open Phil Collins’ memoir which should be good fun.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
I just saw Anderson, Rabin, Wakeman, and it was excellent. It was kind of emotional seeing the three of them on stage together. Also, Lee Pomeroy on bass was really, really good. I enjoyed that show very much.
MSJ:
Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
Kylie Minogue. I have a secret love of dance music!
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Well we never had a mini Stonehenge on stage, but there have been some moments. During Progday 2002, the power went out in the middle of our set! It turned out to be quite a magical moment as we played some acoustic songs while they sorted out the power issue. But it certainly was interesting trying to keep the song going with the power off!
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?
John Lennon, Abe Lincoln and Jackie Robinson
MSJ:
What would be on the menu?

Mashed potatoes for sure – that’s my favorite food. Probably a really nice piece of steak.

MSJ:
Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Thank you for the opportunity to do this interview! It’s been great fun answering the questions, and I hope that people pick up our new album, Ampersand, Volume 2. I think there is really enjoyable music on the album and I think that even fans who haven’t yet discovered IZZ may find it to be a good entry into the band’s catalog. Thanks again!

 

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2016  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.
You'll find concert pics of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
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