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Progressive Rock Interviews

Cairo (USA)

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview With Mark Robertson of Cairo From 1998
MSJ: What prompted the name Cairo?
When the band started, it was after I had toured with MacAlpine, and Tony and I had had this band together for about three years. He moved to LA and I met up with Jeff Brockman, the drummer through Mike Varney. We had just kind of gotten together for our first time. He himself had been doing a lot of songwriting with sequencers and tape machines (with his D70, then he would sequence it). When we first got together, some of the ideas we worked on were first his. We took his ideas and I wrote songs around them, more or less. One of the ideas was that very first theme on the first record that`s now called "Conception". We used to, by default, just call it "Cairo", like "The Cairo Theme". So, after six months of that, when we came down to a band name, we said, "let`s name that Conception and let`s name the band Cairo". Part of it was Jeff had had this whole theme in the back of his mind for a long time to coordinate with video like there would be a planet Cairo, since Cairo in the dark ages was kind of the crossroads of the Earth. It was kind of a concept type thing.
MSJ: What would you consider to be Cairo`s major influences?
We`ve been at this for a long time, I`ve been a classical pianist for 30 years. Of course, in the `70`s, when I was in junior high school and that whole thing, guys like Emerson were my heroes. In my view one of the great last progressive records was Brain Salad Surgery. I loved all the records leading up to that point, by Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant, and Crimson. When that scene kind of went out, there were a few hangers on, but there was really not much place for keyboard players in bands, so I really didn`t play any keyboards with any rock bands until about 1987 when I joined up with Tony MacAlpine. He was doing that heavy guitar thing with keyboard influence. I had done nothing but classical music for about 6 or 7 years. Well, I had played with Davey Pattison, who was in Robin Trower`s band. We had a blues group for about 4 or 5 years, but that was a part time thing, but mainly I was just playing with orchestras and doing classical recitals for that whole time. When MacAlpine came around, I heard his music, and I thought, "wow, this is unique. This is different than when I exited out of the scene 6 or 7 years before, there was nothing around like that". I get tagged a lot for being an Emerson rip, but you put a hammond organ with moog synthesizer with classical mixed with jazz licks it ends up sounding that way. Keith Emerson is a fine player. I respect him a lot.We played on a CD called Steinway to Heaven together. There`s a lot of mutual respect there, and to me, it was kind of unique to be on a record with the guy who was my idol when I was 19 or 20 years old. About three months after our record came out, he was interviewed in Musician Magazine, and he was asked what his favorite bands he was listening to were and he said "Cairo".
MSJ: What do you think the bands that you have been influenced by have contributed to music and what do you hope to contribute?
When you look back at the Genesises , the King Crimsons, the ELPs, even down to the German bands like Symphony in the late `70`s, I think they all contributed to the whole progressive scene (especially ELP). You know, they came out there at the Isle of Wight and nobody had ever seen anybody spinning a mini-moog synthesizer on stage, to the point where the critics actually thought it was all taped. They went on for a good year, year and a half writing these articles on ELP saying that they had taped all that stuff. I thought that that got the whole progressive scene, which had never been done at that time, going. They really put the thing into movement. It went for 10 or 15 years, then the whole scene kind of disappeared. It smoldered in Europe the whole time, like Marillion has been over there ever since. It`s tough to say that there`s a real scene happening right now. That`s what Cairo fights with. I would hope that if and when a progressive scene returns that we can contribute the songs that we have written as a band, to kind of regenerate the whole thing.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought?
The last CD that I went out and bought was Steven Hough plays Franz Liszt, because I`m working on the Mephisto Waltz Number Two by Liszt right now. Whenever I learn something, I want to hear other guys` interpretations of it, just to get an idea where you sit in respect to all that.
MSJ: What was the last concert you attended?
About 4 summers ago, I went and saw Steely Dan play live. I love the Dan. I will always go see the Dan. The Dan is something that never wears out to me. If Steely Dan came out with a brand new CD, that would have been the last one that I bought, because I love Steely Dan.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 5 at
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