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Friday, November 20, 2009

Music Without Borders - Interview: Farzad Golpayegani

Farzad Golpayegani is an Iranian born musician, composer and visual artist. His music seamlessly blends progressive metal and rock with the traditional sounds of the music of his home country. He is also a visual artist and graphic designer. He has released 3 cds so far and another is in progress. Due to the difficulty in getting his music to the wider world from Iran, all of his music is available for free on his website. Farzad has also just relocated to Istanbul, Turkey. Hopefully this will give him more to share his music with the world. He was kind enough to do this email interview with me just after his move. Please be sure to visit his website.

• Your music blends Iranian influences with western-style prog and metal. Was this natural for you to do?

It had been my idea since I started to compose my own songs. Personally I enjoy many different genres and I have tried to blend my favorite styles including Iranian traditional and prog metal to achieve my own style. I won’t say it hasn’t happened before but I’ve tried to give an Iranian taste and spirit to this type of metal music.

• What is the reception of your music in Iran like?

Unfortunately there is no space for musicians like me. Because metal music has been totally banned in Iran for years. I have had some concerts and releases in Iran but they were about 5 years ago. Even though my songs are instrumental and also have Iranian elements I still don’t have permission to release or perform them.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Blog Layout

If you are reading this you would have noticed that I have changed the layout template of the blog. The new design is easier to maintain and expand and also looks more clean. It features 3 columns (except at the top of the page), which means you don't have to scroll so much to see the links and other stuff in the sidebar.

Hope you like it.

If not, let me know in a comment to this article.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Who do you think you are?

Progulus listener Zaii recently commented in the forum:

Does anyone else get bored of new Prog Bands saying things like "for fans of Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree and Opeth"? It's always the same few massive Prog bands and most of the time they actually don't sound anything alike. It would be nice if they named a band they actually do sound like. I have become so disillusioned by people saying such things that when a band claims to sound like DT, yes and PT for example I immediately become very skeptical and assume they are a not particularly talented group who are just trying to draw in as many listeners as possible by claiming to sound like the biggest band they can think of. When was the last time someone said "sounds like Karmakanic" for example???
This got me thinking again about the difficulty of finding your own sound and also finding a way to tell people what you sound like. You want to be accurate, but you don't want to confuse people. Zaii also made reference to a band that's been spamming the Progulus tag board. Spamming will make people mad to begin with, but they also claim to sound like Dream Theater, Rush, and Genesis. They aren't even close. I think it's bad form to try to ride someone's coattails in a deceptive way. If you say you sound like Rush and you don't, I probably won't take the time to find out what you so sound like. I'll probably forget all about you.

Sometimes descriptions of bands are written by their label or promoter. In this case you'll probably hear an accurate comparison, but it will also be of the biggest bands. This is pure marketing, meant to catch the most ears. This isn't necessarily wrong either. I think you do need to speak your audience's language. Once after a Strange Land show one guy in another band (a well known guy in this area) said "Man, you guys have that Kansas thing down!" I know it was meant as a compliment, and I took it as such. But I also said to myself "Huh?!" I'm the only member of Strange Land that listens to a lot of Kansas, and they really are a generation before us anyway. But the guy who gave us the compliment was a little older and probably stopped listening to anything remotely prog in 1980. When people hear something unfamiliar the brain needs to find a place to put it. Sometimes the closest match isn't that close at all. Do we sound like Kansas? Well, more than we sound like Barry White. When I have to describe Strange Land to non-prog fans I'll say Queensryche, Rush, King's X, maybe Living Colour, maybe Dream Theater (if they're metal fans). Listeners of commercial hard rock radio will know some of those bands, and the comparison isn't inaccurate. If I start talking about Pain Of Salvation and Fates Warning I usually get blank stares.

Another problem in describing my band is whether or not to talk about influence vs. inspiration vs. emulation. We are influenced by Devin Townsend, Echolyn, Dead Soul Tribe, and Nevermore but I don't think we really sound much like those bands. Sometimes I want to make the comparison though because I've been inspired in some way by such a band even though I'm not copying their sound.

So, back to Zaii's point, and knowing your audience. If I know I'm talking to the prog crowd I can mention all of the above bands and more obscure ones. It's hard to make the comparison to the lesser known bands, there are so many and such variety. Strange Land is influenced by Fates Warning, but its later material. We are influenced by Queesnryche, but mostly Rage For Order through Promised Land.

It is a mistake to compare yourself to someone you don't sound like. I think it's also a mistake for younger bands to say "for fans of" when they aren't ready or are not up to snuff quality-wise. If I say "Strange Land sounds like Symphony X" and we don't, you'll be annoyed. If I say "we're influenced or inspired by" then we still might grab your attention. There is too much emphasis on being the next [fill in famous name here] that bands are unwilling to let time and word of mouth work. I find it better to sound like me than to not sound like someone else but say I do. Unfortunately, in the marketing world, "I sound like me" doesn't cut it. So many bands try to say they sound like whatever you like.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Be A Pro

There's nothing like good customer service. I even think it's worth paying a little more for great service. In the world of the performing musician, good customer service is contained in being professional. And by professional I don't mean making a living at it. I don't mean any particular level of technical prowess on your instrument. I mean common courtesy. I mean doing what you say you will do. I mean not behaving like a dumbass. One definition from Merriam-Webster: following a line of conduct as though it were a profession.

For the second time this year Strange Land ventured south of the border to Illinois. We played on the north side of Chicago at the Redline Tap. Cool place, good food. Big thanks to Progulus listeners Iceman and Falcon and their friends and family for coming out. 

For the second time this year, a show in Illinois was partly hosed because other bands didn't show up. Click here for the scoop on the previous show. This time there were five bands booked. One cancelled a few weeks before the show. Two more were total no-shows. No call, no excuse, nothing. We were expecting to play a 30 minute set. We played for an hour. The other band that did show, Seeking, was cool. Glad to meet them.

But what kind of a moron do you have to be to just bail on a show with no notice? I've seen other examples of not being pro. Chewing out the sound guy. Wrecking the venues property. Being rude to the other bands and to the staff. Getting drunk and making a fool of yourself. Sorry, but acting like a "rock star" doesn't make you one. I know I'm weird but I've never thought it was cool to behave like a typical rock star. The closest I think you can be to getting away with it is when you actually are a rock star with millions of dollars and a team of lawyers. Even then, I'll still think you're an ass and your behavior isn't cool. You'll just be better equipped to not care and get away with it. 

We are probably the most punctual band in the state of Wisconsin. I feel bad if I show up five minutes late. We treat the sound guy with respect. We thank the venue and the other bands we play with. We thank the people who came to see us. That's pro, and that earns us the respect of venues, sound guys, bands and fans. That gets people to buy cds. That gets us invited back to the venue. That gets us invited to open for national acts. That gets other bands to trade shows with us.  And that is why we are entering out 11th year as a band. One measure of success in my mind is survival. We've made it 11 years, 3 albums, and dozens of shows because we've outlasted so many other bands. One of the biggest keys to our survival is our commitment to being pro.