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Progressive Rock Interviews

Marcelo Paganini

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Marcelo Paganini from 2014

Can you catch the readers up a little on your musical history?

Well I was born in Brazil and I booked and played my first gigs at the age of nine in my hometown Belo Horizonte, MG (one of the cities with World Cup matches). I was ten years old in July 1975 when I sang in front of ten thousand people at a big outdoor music festival, a kind of Brazilian Woodstock. There I saw and met Brazilian psychedelic and prog rock band Os Mutantes, and was impressed by Sergio Dias' guitar playing. I decided to become a guitarist. From there I became friends with Rita Lee (former Os Mutantes singer and biggest Brazilian rocker of all time). I started to write my own music and to get on music song contests in schools around town. I started to study music theory and violin at the Conservatory and putting bands together to play my own compositions as part of the prog, rock and metal scene in Belo Horizonte. I was also working as a journalist and producing jingles for TV and radio stations. In 1983 I started producing my own concerts. I rented a theater for three days and that went great. Then for the next show I rented a lot of keyboards and lost a lot of money because of over-sized production for the time and heavy rain on the night that made me sell only a hundred tickets. To pay for the debts I sold my own guitar, and started playing in bars around town. So I started to get into the local jazz scene as well. I put a new rock/funk band together and played dozens of shows, had lots of press, some airplay on local radio. Then I moved to France in November 1984, hoping to put a rock band together and make it big time.

Instead I started playing Brazilian samba and bossa nova music to make a living. I tried to move back to Brazil for three years, but couldn't adapt to there anymore. But during this time I was one of the pioneers of electronic music in Brazil with the show “Marcelo Paganini is the Band” where I played several musical instruments on top of a drum machine and early sequencer with only 256 notes that had to be recorded in real time erasing the previous songs. One note too much and it erased everything. I also played an historic show with Brazilian super star Lo Borges, who played and sang one of my songs that he recorded later on my first CD. It was my last gig in Brazil. Just before I left, the band Kamikaze recorded my song “Blues de Ninguém” with me as a guest on keyboards for the label Cogumelo that released the first Sepultura albums. The song was a hit on local radio. Some people claim that it is one of the best Brazilian blues songs ever.

So I moved back to Paris, France, then to New York City for three years, where I was part of the Brazilian jazz scene. After that I moved back to France for good. I released my first indie CD in 1996, in Brazil and France, played a lot of gigs around town playing my own music, on top of backing up singers in more traditional Brazilian music gigs. In 2003 I made my first short film Interatividade. I have directed and produced quite a few shorts ever since, screened in several film festivals around the world. Then I moved to the countryside in Normandy in 2007, where I have my recording studio. Then I recorded and produced my dream project, 35 years old: a prog rock jazz fusion album called 2012 Space Traffic Jam with Gary Husband on drums, Marc Madoré on bass and guests Eumir Deodato, Tony Kaye and Billy Sherwood.

MSJ: What about the story of this new album?

When I composed “Lost Secrets” back in 1979 I knew that only a super human drummer could record that... “Impossible things I do right away, miracles take a bit longer”... Almost 35 years later Gary Husband was asked to play one song on the album, then two, and it became clear he had to record the whole album. Billy Sherwood accepted to play the bass on “Somewhere Somehow” and Tony Kaye played the Hell out of the Hammond organ on it, two ex-Yes members on the same song... About the song “2012 Space Traffic Jam”: I had composed most of the musical theme in Paris in 1985 and it was called “Reverie.” The second part was too complicated to play it live. I only played the slow part at “Le Trou Noir” in that same year without bass and drums. I played it on keyboards with a clarinet doing the melody. Fast forward to when Deodato kindly accepted my invitation to record on my album. First I was glad, fireworks and so forth. Then came doubt, confusion and the question: “What song he is going to play on?” We were in 2012 and we had all the talk about the end of the world, Mayan prophecy, UFOs soon to arrive and so forth. From there I started to joke and dream around it. Deodato's Grammy awarded jazz funk arrangement of “Also sprach Zarathusta” from the soundtrack of 2001: a Space Odyssey was number two in the USA in the early 70s. 40 years later there are so many UFOs coming our way at once that it will cause the infamous “2012 Space Traffic Jam” Answering Jimi's “Third stone from the Sun.” My idea was to imagine a session: Jimi Hendrix meets Eumir Deodato, psychedelic-space-blues-jazz-fusion-prog-rock... At the end Deodato choose to record three other songs on the album instead. Finally I played the Fender Rhodes and Hammond organ on that song that could have been recorded in 1969. Not a single synthesizer in sight, but the space rock takes off and flies deep into fusion territory before coming back...

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
I would be making films, producing live events, owning a restaurant and cooking, working as a journalist, as a gardener and raising cats...
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
Paganini, of course, Os Mutantes, Rita Lee, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Yes, King Crimson, ELP, PFM, Frank Zappa, Stravinsky, Bartok, Charles Yves...
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
I am working hard on a documentary film about the “making of” the album. The deadline is June the 14th, working around the clock lately... It will be screened at the Portobello Film Festival in London next September... I have also several albums that I am working on for years, but they will only be released when they will not be improved anymore... That can take a while...
MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
This album 2012 Space Traffic Jam is what some people call space rock, art rock. I called it prog rock jazz fusion... My other projects are: Brazilian Instrumental Jazz, Brazilian funk/rock, Brazilian funk/bossa nova. I also have a French cajun/blues single project, electronic music with or without electric guitar on top. I wrote my first symphony “Belo Horizonte” in 2004. I have other orchestral works too...
MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
There are many other musicians and singers that I would love to work with... I would love to be the guitar player on the band Jon Anderson and Jean Luc Ponty are putting together... I would love to work with Peter Gabriel, Steve Wilson, Yes, Rick Wakeman. I would also love to produce the right artists looking to not sound like everybody else... I would love to join a touring band as a special guest. I love to play live...
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
I wrote an article (in Portuguese, I must translate it someday) back in 2007 before entering Myspace, reflecting about the situation. I came to the conclusion that the value of music is zero if you are famous and under zero if you are not. That means people will not download your music not even for free. It is not worth space on their MP3 player or whatever. It is a sad situation, to make recordings at this level is so expensive, and it is almost impossible to even recover the investment, let alone make a living out of it.This is killing innovation... In people's heads, especially young folks, music is free, which is not true. They pay for the computers, the Internet providers, the headphones, the MP3 player and don't want to pay for the music... But lately with smart phones and such it became worse, people became so blasé that they don't care about music that much anymore, at least not the way I do. For them it needs to be about celebrities... And lots of people who still dig music are into old stuff, making it hard to come up with something new. Of course not everybody is like that. Prog rockers, for example, are a bunch of smart, funny and passionate people...
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
That is less of a concern. I usually post as much live videos I can.... Now it is impossible to avoid somebody recording, taking pictures or making videos. I try to post the best videos I can. Everybody makes mistakes. Sometimes people should not post a video of a bad performance and make fun of someone. Everybody can have a bad night. The artist should give the best they can at the moment. Sometimes something goes wrong, such is life... People should forgive more and be nicer, but some people are evil, full time, and most of us have evil moments.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
The real arch nemesis would not be a musical person, but a kind of Wall Street monster who decided musicians and creative persons should starve. I would kick his butt until musicians and creative people are respected and can make a honest and decent living from their art...
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?
Adam Holzman, Glen Hughes, Jason Bonham, Steve Lukather, that would be a killer band with Gary Husband on keys and drums, the Mother of all live bands... Of course I would play guitar, keys and sing, and the band would play my music. Why? Because Glen is the best singer of rock music ever, Steve sings great too. They all play like angels. This band can cover a lot of ground musically...
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 think “Cruise to the Edge” and the other prog cruises are the ultimate festival experience. I would love to play one. The perfect line up would be: Yes, King Crimson, PFM, Renaissance, Steve Hackett, Peter Gabriel, Steve Wilson, Gentle Giant and fusion bands too: Allan Holdsworth, John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham. There are some great Brazilian prog rock bands that should play abroad: Os Mutantes (prog rock repertory), o Terço, Sagrado Coração da Terra, Saecula Saeculorum...

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

To be honest I mostly listen to my own music. For more than two years I have been working on the same ten songs. Before that the last CD I bought was a Rita Lee solo album from 1975 Fruto Proibido.
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
No, same reason as above. I bought Keith's (Richards’) book back in 2010 in San Francisco and I only read the first chapter. I hope to read it this summer... When I was younger I used to read dozens of books in a year...
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Ever since I moved to the countryside in Normandy, 200 miles west of Paris, I seldom go to concerts. I mostly go if it is a friend playing. Last time I went to see Ed Motta in Paris, before that it was Eumir Deodato in London. Allan Holdsworth in Paris was the best live gig I ever saw in my life...
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
I love playing and I love playing for other people. For me there are only two kinds of music: the one I like, and the one I don't like. There are good songs in any style, and some songs are perfect in some situations. So if I am playing the piano at a restaurant and someone ask me nicely to play “Feelings,” I will put all my heart in it...
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Brazilian singer Duduna asked me to play bass in the Carnaval gig at Divan du Monde club in Paris. I showed up there 4pm for the sound check, and the band was a banjo player, a drummer and a percussion player. We had to play two sets of samba in front of 800 people. I survived to tell you about it. Nylon string guitar would be a way better instrument for this gig, but I had no choice.
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?
It would be Niccolo Paganini, Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix...
MSJ: What would be on the menu?
I would do the cooking: fried calamari and shrimps, with basmati rice, black beans, broccoli, and great French wine...
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Well I am very proud to endorse Godin Guitars, Dean Markley Strings and Intex cables. After I put DiMarzio pick ups on my Fender Stratocaster it sings like an angel. Electro Harmonix and Jim Dunlop pedals are way too cool for words. It was wonderful to meet all the nice folks at the NAMM show. Everybody who works with music shares a passion and lots of positive energy. I am living the dream, lots of incredible people listening to my music and most are enjoying it, thank Heaven...
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 4 at
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