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Progressive Rock Interviews

Barry Cleveland

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Barry Cleveland from 2010

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

Yes, but starting with my latest album, which is quite different than my previous work. Besides being the first album I recorded with lyrics and vocals, Hologramatron is also my first “rock” album—though it also drew on progressive, psychedelic, metal, ambient, trance, funk, electronic, and various world music. The core team was myself on acoustic and electric guitars, Moog Guitar, and Guitarviol; Michael Manring on bass; Robert Powell on pedal-steel and lap-steel guitars; Celso Alberti on drums and percussion; and Amy X Neuburg on vocals. Harry Manx and Deborah Holland sang on one piece, as did I, and Michael Masley—a.k.a. the Artist General—improvised the rant on “Warning.” Turkish electro-acoustic guitarist Erdem Helvacioglu co-wrote “You’ll Just Have to See It to Believe,” and percussionist Gino Robair and drummer/percussionist Rick Walker also played on the record. Besides the eight original songs, there are covers of Malvina Reynolds’ “What Have They Done to the Rain” and Joe Meek’s “Telstar.” Bonus tracks include remixes by Evan Schiller (“Lake of Fire”) and Forrest Fang (“Abandoned Mines”), as well as an alternate mix of “You’ll Just Have to See It to Believe.” Grammy Award-winning engineer John Cuniberti mastered the album.

My first gig was a solo performance at a junior high school “Happening” in 1969, where I played a mostly improvised piece of original music with my amp’s vibrato and spring reverb effects cranked way up. Next, I formed a band that played Zeppelin, Cream, Purple, and Hendrix. While I was in high school I played with older musicians, and my musical tastes expanded to include progressive bands such as King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Van der Graaf Generator.

I listened to a lot of ECM jazz while in college years, such as Terje Rypdal, Ralph Towner, and Barre Phillips, along with fusion bands such as Mahavishnu, Miles, Weather Report, and Oregon. All of this music influenced me to some extent, particularly sonically. By the early ‘70s, I was using tape-echoes, spring reverbs, fuzzes, wahs, phasers, and other devices. I also studied electronic music in college, where I was exposed to Stockhausen, Subotnick, Schaeffer, and Ussachevsky. Eno was also a big influence at that time.

In 1978 I joined an eight-piece funk and soul band and played throughout the Southeast U.S. non-stop for about a year.

In the early ‘80s, I began learning more about recording, while playing in several groups, including an improvisational instrumental duo called “Thin Ice” with bowhammer cymbalom player Michael Masley. In 1981 I recorded an album called “Stones of Precious Water” that was released on cassette by a Canadian label a few years later. Mythos was recorded in 1984, and was the first project I did in a professional studio. It was one of the first albums released on Larry “Synergy” Fast’s Audion Recording Company label in 1986.

I was still signed to Audion when I recorded Voluntary Dreaming in 1989. The album was scheduled for release on Audion, and an early mix of the title track appears on The Best of Both Worlds: The Second Audion Sampler—but the label imploded before the project was completed. Fortunately, I got another deal shortly thereafter, and Voluntary Dreaming was released on Scarlet Records.

In 2003, I released a 2-CD set titled Memory & Imagination. The first disc contains most of Mythos and Voluntary Dreaming, and the second disc contains nine loop-based improvised guitar and percussion compositions recorded in 1992, along with two ambient guitar pieces from 1981, and an improvised solo guitar loop piece recorded live on the Echoes radio program.

The following year I released Volcano, which featured pieces based on African and Afro-Haitian rhythms arranged by Michael Pluznick.

The other two principal players were bassist Michael Manring and sax/flute/clarinet/EWI player Norbert Stachel. Although the rhythms were African and Afro-Haitian, the music drew more on rock, jazz, ambient, and progressive music than it did African music.


If you weren’t involved in music what do you think you’d be doing?

I’d be either a brain surgeon or a double-ought spy.

How would you describe the sound of your music?

I’ve already loosely described the music on Hologramatron. As for sounding like other bands, people say they can hear traces of everything from Pink Floyd and King Crimson on the one hand, to Joe Meek and Phil Spector on the other—so you tell me.

Who would you see as your musical influences?

I am influenced by music of all styles from many places and times—but I already listed my main influences.

What’s ahead for you?

I’m currently recording an experimental ambient album with Michael Masley called “The History of Light,” and I also hope to record with French guitarist and synthesist Richard Pinhas later this year. Early next year I may go to Indonesia to record with a gamelan percussion orchestra for MoonJune Records. I’m also doing some live performances with Michael Manring, Celso Alberti, Robert Powell and Amy X Neuburg—and at least one solo-looping gig.

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

Right now I’m quite happy working with the players that I just mentioned.

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?

For an artist at my level illegal downloading is both a curse and a blessing. Hologramatron is currently available on dozens of pirate sites and I have no idea how many copies have been downloaded, or whether the people who downloaded them would have paid for them if they weren’t able to get them without compensating me for my work. As for major labels, illegal downloading is only one of many challenges they are facing, including releasing tons of garbage.

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

I don’t have any problem with that—though I would request that they do so using good gear so the recordings sound good.

If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?

If I were a superhero I’d round up all of the music business people who had cheated artists over the years and force them to spend eternity with only each other for company.

If you were to put together your ultimate band, who would be in it and why?

I’m already working with my ultimate band.

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?

Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, Tampa Red, Lonnie Johnson, Robert Johnson, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Harry Partch, Les Paul & Mary Ford, the Beatles, and the 1969 lineup of King Crimson.


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

The last CD that I bought was a reissue of McDonald and Giles. Other CDs that have seen a lot of time in my players recently are Live Extracts by Eivind Aarset and the Sonic Codex Orchestra, Hallucination Engine by Material, Orlando Cachaito Lopez, and Bloom by Ben Monder and Bill McHenry.

 What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

Paul McCartney at AT&T Park in San Francisco. He was fab.

Do you have a musical "guilty pleasure?”

I don’t listen to any music that has to be explained.

What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

I played in a mostly black funk and soul group that was mistakenly booked as a country band for an all-male party at an Air Force base in Florida. That led to some tense moments.

If you could sit down for dinner and conversation with any three people from history (living or dead), with whom would you be dining?

Henry Miller, Jimi Hendrix, and Lao Tzu.

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

Nothing other than saying thank you for this opportunity.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 4 at
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