Monday, February 24, 2014

Away With Words - An Interview With Angel Vivaldi

One of best interviews I have done and one of the best viewed articles on AFGM.  Is there any reason why I wouldn't want to get in touch with Mr. Angel Vivaldi once more to see what he has been up to?  For anyone who read my previous interview with Angel, you will see that he has been going full speed ahead with new material and a new album that will sure to make some heads spin.  Then again, this is generally the impression I get when listening to his blistering solos or precision based drum patterns.

The new album is titled "Away With Words" and will be released on March 11th, 2014 so mark your calendars folks!  Angel has been consistently producing top quality music for 10+ years and does not give any indication he is running out of material.  Quite the opposite, I find Angel's new material to be the best to date.  The concept EP will definitely make you rethink your thoughts on instrumental music and what it means to record, produce, master, and market your product.

If anyone out there is looking to get their own name out there, then I suggest taking a page from the book of Vivaldi (Angel of course).  AFGM was fortunate enough to have yet another outstanding Q&A session with Angel.  Check out his answers below!

AFGM: So was there any different mindset when stepping into the studio for “Away With Words” as opposed to “Universal Language”?

Angel: Yes- I wanted this record and all future records to be timeless. I don't want production value or tricks to date my material so I went for a mostly organic approach... Real amps, real keyboards/synths, real drums, genuine performances, crisp production but not overbearing.

I hit a horrible writing snag during "Away With Words." I got too wrapped up into writing music my fans would like and arranging the production to be on par with what my peers are doing these days. I finally realized that writing music for myself yielded so much more success than trying to please everyone, which is really an impossible task. I'm starting to feel that having so many opinions publicized is starting to intimidate artists into pleasing their fans more than themselves which in turn makes an unhappy artist. It's incredible to see how the music you write moves people, but it can easily be overwhelming if you take it too heart too much which I absolutely did esp after Universal Language. No artist wants to let down the fans who made them successful in the first place, so it's important to focus on what you did to create your personal success in the first place and maintain that. 

Define where you are. Define where you want to be. Take action. Monitor that action. 

AFGM: Machine Shop once more for these sessions.  So I take it that studio is capturing what you want for this album?

Angel: Not only are they nailing what I think each record should sound like but they're really just a great group of people. Even the most stressful situations have been remedied by their attitudes and work ethic. We all got along great! This record marks the beginning of my working relationship with Randy Leboeuf who tracked and co-produced along with Will. I don't think I've ever had that much fun tracking a record to date.

AFGM: Are you still using Logic Pro for pre-production and song writing?

Angel: Indeed I am! I’ve been using it for a good 2 years, (since the Universal Language sessions), so I’ve gotten a lot better with it. Now having gone to a Logic based studio again for "Away With Words" helped me get even better. 

Would I ever go out and produce my own record? Most likely not. Since a lot of bands these days are self-sufficient in terms of studio recording, marketing & touring, I think that other bands feel pressured to match that same level of self-sustainment and wind up half-assing something or falling short in some way. Just because you’re an amazing singer doesn’t mean that you can organize an album release or a tour. Being honest with yourself helps keep your ego in check and makes for a much better product in the end. I'm most confident in my skills as a songwriter and guitarist and mainly focus on that. It’s super important for artists to be honest with what their strengths are and aren’t. 

AFGM: Seeing that the lineup for your project has not changed since Universal Language, it's safe to say this lineup is solid and unwavering?

Angel: This is by far the strongest lineup I’ve had in my 10 years of doing this. Each player has something interesting to add to the mix so it’s always fresh. Everyone’s been in the band for over 3 years at this point (with Jake at around 7, Jason around 5), so unless someone gets another gig I think it’s safe to say that this will be static for the foreseeable future.

AFGM: So after watching your ‘behind the scenes’ piece with Jake and the bass licks of the album, I distinctly remember Jake mentioning the amount of improv versus written structure.

"I would probably say that about 75% of it is Angel's original vision and what he had in mind, with the other 25% either being 'OK Jake, do your thing here' or 'I took your part and did this with it'."

Do you find that you’re flexible with the other musicians having their input, or do you feel that the freedom tends to veer away from your original vision?

Angel: Sometimes veering away from my original vision is a good thing. I make it appoint to always take their creativity and suggestions into consideration- more so with “Away With Words” than any other record. It’s a lot like a healthy relationship in the sense that everyone brings out the best in everyone else musically. I respect the way each member hears the material and if they hear something different I’m all about trying it out. 

AFGM: Let's talk album artwork.  Who designed this lovely piece?  What does it represent in regards to your album?

Angel: Every facet of this record embodies the concept of how everything possesses their opposite within itself- in every bad person there's compassion, in every teacher there is a student, in every male there are female attributes, etc. To sonically/visually pull this off I decided to split this album into 2 very different sounding EP's, (one electric, one acoustic) and also have dual-artwork that when put together made a beautiful mural that conveyed the sort of yin-yang concept. 

The artwork, like almost every other aspect of this record, was such a nightmare to complete. I worked on mockups with 3 different artists who couldn’t artistically nail the concept. I finally stumbled upon this incredible Estonian artist named Amandine Van Ray who really hit the nail on the head in achieving what I wanted.

AFGM: What prompted this artwork?  Any sudden moment of clarity/vision that led you to it?

Angel: Mainly the concept of the record. Once the theme hit me the ideas just started to snowball immediately. It went from the album title, to Morse code song names, to a double EP, to dual artwork and fast.

Trying to convey this idea to artists was a real mind fuck. Some of them understood what I was going for but couldn't execute it in a way where both sides played into one another. I'm deeply moved by surrealistic art and knew the moment I saw Amandine's portfolio that she’d knock it out of the park.  I can honestly say I haven't been moved by an album cover as much as I have this one in a very long time. 

AFGM: Will Morse Code be used for all the track names on the album?  Does that have something to do with the album title?

Angel: Yes. I did this for numerous reasons. The first is obvious which avoids using actual words to go with the album title. More importantly however, I was captivated with how the numbers look when listed vertically in Morse Code. The last 5 tracks are almost mirrored reflections of the first 5, so it has that two sides of the same coin feel. 

AFGM: So from your "Away With Words" album preview, I noticed you are strumming an acoustic guitar (around the 6:38 mark).  Could you elaborate a little more on the acoustic side of your upcoming release?

Angel: I really wanted to go big with this concept and thought what better way than to show a completely different side of what I can do musically than to release two COMPLETELY different CD's under the same album. It’s kind of like fire and water in the sense that both need oxygen to come into being; both of these albums share ideas from the same source while sounding completely different from one another.

AFGM: I couldn't quite tell what type of acoustic you are using, care to divulge?  Any specific reason why you went with this specific brand/model?

Angel: The guitar I used in the preview is a Taylor, couldn’t tell you which model for the life of me. I’m rather partial to Ovation so chances are you’ll be hearing one on Part 2 of Away With Words. I just love the feel of their necks and how robust and clear the tone is. I’ve found that finding a good acoustic guitar that sounds as good as it plays has always been a real challenge, so once I found my home with Ovation I stopped searching. It's a real nuisance.

AFGM: Will AWW Part II feature you as a solo guitarist or have the entire band adding elements?

Angel: The acoustic portion of the record will mainly feature myself as a solo acoustic guitarist. There may be some percussive additives here and there, possibly even some strings. I think that will be dependent on who I have produce that portion of the record which is still up in the air.

AFGM: Do you find the acoustic side of the album to be more or less challenging than your heavy side?  Is acoustic something you regularly compose with?

Angel: Each side poses its own set of challenges. My heavy side gets challenging mainly due to my desire to get better and more proficient as a guitarist. It used to be that I would write material that I couldn’t play in order to push my technical abilities further since practice time is scarce. While there are moments that really tested my ability on Part 1, I wanted to focus more on evolving my songwriting capabilities.

Playing solo acoustic guitar is a very vulnerable thing for a metal electric guitarist to do. There’s nothing more unforgiving than playing an acoustic guitar without the backing of a band. I wrote most of this material a good 6 years ago shortly before moving to New York. Once there I would go around different lounges and venues to play this material out randomly, even did the whole subway thing once which was really a lot of fun. While I’m familiar with these songs I still need to practice a tremendous amount in order to pull them off. Experimenting with different tunings and techniques like finger-style picking really helped me to open up and write material that wouldn’t normally write or sound like. I’m really happy with the result and hope to do more acoustic projects in the future. 

AFGM: Can we expect another great music video in the works soon?

Angel: I'm actually working on an unbelievable treatment for the first single "One." The storyline is spectacular and is going to require a tremendous amount of work. My aim is raise the bar even further from where I left off with "A Martian Winter," which is no easy task. But I'm feeling pretty confident in this one! Until that's out I am filming a few play through videos as well. Shooting to have either a play through or a music video for each song this time around. 

AFGM: You seem to be a man of many talents.  Besides the excellent writing of your songs, you also seem to act as your own manager, booking agent, and promoter.  Do you find this to be equally fulfilling to do or do you have the intention of having someone else manage these things with you?  

In a nutshell, do you like to act as both sides or just want to focus on the writing/performing side of the music industry?

Angel: I do. At the end of the day, no one is going to be as passionate/work as hard for your music as much as you would. I genuinely enjoy the business aspect of the industry… I love analytics, crunching numbers, budgeting my marketing/promotion plans, working with graphic designers and producers, scheduling video and photo shoots, etc. 

This album cycle was a beautiful learning experience because the entire experience was such a disaster from the moment I began writing it 2 years ago right up until the end. I hit a horrible period of writer’s block during which at the time was pretty devastating. Then after I finished the writing portion, scheduling of the recording studio was another hurdle. The studio got hit with flood damage which pushed tracking back 2 months. Once there we bounced from lead guitar to drums, back to leads, finished drums, did bass, then rhythm guitar, then finally finished off lead guitars. The studio was so backed up from the damage we were at the mercy of their schedule which was fine but certainly difficult. 

Once we were done tracking I went right to editing all the video footage to compile a 4 episode documentary series. I had over 10 terabytes of footage from 2 cameras so I had to essentially relive the entire experience another two times to capture all the magic moments. That entire process was more cumbersome than tracking the damn thing. Moving onto the artwork was another disaster. The first 2 artists I started to work with dropped the ball during production, then the last artist I stuck with had periodic computer issues which lead her to having to redo the artwork completely from scratch. We’ll see what other adventures life has in store for this record, (laughs). 

AFGM: I know we touched base on this in the last interview but since my site(s) are completely 100% social media advertised, I had to know if the social media pages like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube have helped/hindered you and getting your music out there.  Did you see an increase in activity after releasing Universal Language?

Angel: The beautiful and intimate thing about social media is that it is fan driven. For a video to go viral it needs the support of people and that's why it boggles my mind to see how many people support what I do, especially after Universal Language. I've never seen love like this before and it's astounding and positively overwhelming. For someone to say they picked up a guitar after hearing my music, or used my music to get them through a difficult hardship or even just a simple "hey, whats up" has been an incredible privilege that I respect and don't take for granted. 

If it weren't for these platforms or more importantly if it weren't for those who enjoyed my music enough to share it  I wouldn't be doing this interview right now. 

AFGM: I know touring can be quite difficult when doing everything on your own and understandable if some places you wish to perform are out of your reach/control.  Is Canada been a place on your list you wish to visit?  Do you find you get good exposure here north of the 49th parallel?

Angel: I'm looking to get anywhere that isn't New York, New Jersey or Pennsylvania. I have been branching out some the past few months with shows out in Indianapolis, so it's a slow process but one that's progressing well. I'm focusing on trying to slowly cover the US as much as possible at which point maybe Canada, hopefully!

AFGM: So I see some new activity with Frederic and his I, Legion project.  What is Angel contributing to the album?  Writing songs?  Adding solos?  Production?

Angel: Indeed! Frederic's been writing up a storm and has a really strong line-up of collaborators for this second release. I contributed a few riffs and ideas to the project this time around and will also do guest solos on 2 songs. The guy is really talented and a good friend, so working with him on this level has been nothing but enjoyable.

AFGM: Is this your first time doing Skype lessons?  Do you do them on a regular basis?  If so, where can people find out about more online lessons such as this with Angel?

Angel: I’ve been teaching for a good 4 years now & love every second of it. To me there’s nothing more awesome than to share musical concept with another passionate musician. They’re done pretty regularly for the most part, however during busy periods or album cycles I’m forced to teach much less. More info is available on the Facebook page under the "Lessons with AV" app.

AFGM: Angel, thank you once again for your time and attention to this interview.  I can’t wait to hear the rest of “Away With Words” and hope to see you perform someday.

Angel: Pleasure's all mine as always!

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