SOUND AND VISIONArt-rock bands tend to make me nervous. It's not because of feeling indifferent to the music or the imagery. My unease has more to do with not being able to get to the heart of the matter in an interview as easily as I could with a punk band or a roots band. With a band like the U.K. based CIAM (pronounced see-am) , the music is only a part of the story and/or package. "We're not trying to change the world, but we're trying to do something that excites different senses and represents a creative atmosphere and a backdrop for our music or perhaps the other way around." says the bands lead singer and guitarist JEFF SHAPIRO. "So it's more than just sitting down and writing a songs and putting chords together for it."
JEFF SHAPIRO ON CIAM
TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
ABOUT THEIR CD 'ANONYMOUS'
MERGING ART AND MUSIC
AND APPEALING TO OTHER SENSES
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
CIAM (a name taken from the Congress Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne - a league of architects and designers who sought to modernize Europe to fit the needs of it's people) has released their CD 'ANONYMOUS' and I must say that it is the missing link between VELVET UNDERGROUND and the future. No, I'm not going by the band's emotronic spin on 'VENUS IN FURS' alone. It's as if JOHN CALE from 1967 was broken down molecule by molecule and teleported into modern times in the form of violinist HADAR GOLDMAN. "He [GOLDMAN] plays the violin in the classical sense." says SHAPIRO. "He uses a very unusual electric violin. It's a very powerful instrument. He also plays the viola which he plays like a guitar and like the electric violin, it goes through effects and distortions and so on."
ROCKWIRED spoke with JEFF SHAPIRO of CIAM the day following a performance at TANGIERS in Hollywood. Here is how it went.
How was your show at TANGIERS last night?
It went very well thank you.
I wish I could've gone. It's unfortunate because this is the sort of band that I always want to see live - something that's visual and muscial at the same time.
Hopefully, there will be another opportunity.
Hopefully. Now that 'ANONYMOUS' is out there for people to sort of hear and experience, how do you feel about it?
Really good actually. It's getting tremendous responses and we're getting more and more fans on MYSPACE. If you go on our MYSPACE page, you'll get to see how wonderful our fans are. They are such tremendous, warm people. You make an album out of isolation and you make an album to suit what you feel is right but when you release it, it has it's own life.
I know where the the name CIAM comes from and what it means, but how do you feel that it applies to the band and to it's music?
I think that it does in the sense that we are a band but that we work with other people outside of the band, such as the filmakers, or architects, or animators. There are two reasons for the name. One is, the group of architects of CIAM are sort of an inspiration and the other thing is that what we are doing is more than just being a band. We have representatives from different areas that contribute to the visuals and the ideals of this project. That is where I feel that it is connected. We're not trying to change the world, but we're trying to do soemthing that excites different senses and represents a creative atmosphere and a backdrop for our music or perhaps the other way around. So it's more than just siting down and writing a songs and putting chords together for it. The arhitects of the Congress Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne, were people from different countries in Europe who were responding to social changes and ideas that were happening in the world and trying to create a contemporary lifestyle for people and meeting their needs. So in that sense, it's the inspiration for what we aspire to musically and artistically.
I read that 'ANONYMOUS' was recorded in 12 months in Tel Aviv, London, and Norway.
Yes. It was mostly recorded in London. The violinist in the band (HADAR GOLDMAN) lives in Tel Aviv so we recorded some sessions there and also did some writing there. Then we would take the project back to London in our studio and go to a bigger studio to record the live band and Norway is where our producer JOHN FRYER, mixed the whole album. So, yes. That's all true.
So this wasn't exactly recorded in a somebody's garage.
Well, the vocals were actually recorded in a very small second bedroom with a desktop and pro-tools and a microphone. Instead of headphones, we just used a bedroom.
Well, I guess you can record anywhere now.
You can. But in order to record the live band, we needed to move into a bigger studio to record drums and stuff.
How did a project like this get started with everyone based in different countries? How did it happen?
The core of the band is in London. The four of us. It was pretty much people who knew people. It was brought about by mutual musical interests and other interests in life such as design, art, lifestyle, politics and a lot of other things. It all came together very naturally. When we were looking for a producer to work with, an engineer who had worked with us was recommending someone. The guy was quite a famous producer who had done some work with NINE INCH NAILS and lots of other bands. This was how we came across JOHN FRYER to produce the album. He came onto the project and mixed it in the best possible way.
Tell me about the rest of the band. Who are they and what do you think that each of them sort of brings to the table musically, creatively, or personality wise.
CHRIS HALL is our drummer. He is our bonding personality and when we perform live he is our musical director. He keeps everyone in check and he keeps it all together Then you have FARRELL LENNON. He's a musician but also an engineer. He also plays keyboards and creates sounds using loops and samples and such. We recorded much of the project in his own apartment. That was where we recorded the vocals, the samples and some of the guitars. So he brings a lot of sound to the table. MARK FERGUSON is an incredibly accomplished bass player. When you hear the tracks on the album, you'll here that it has this warm bass sound and a lot of the songs were written around the bass as opposed working a sound around a guitar or piano. Then you have HADAR GOLDMAN who is violinist and viola. He plays the violin in the classical sense. He uses a very unusual electric violin. It's a very powerful instrument. He also plays the viola which he plays like a guitar and like the electric violin, it goes through effects and distortions and so on. I do guitars and vocals and I writie all of the lyrics and I do all of the guitars. Maybe I could be considered the art director. HADAR, the violinist works in advertising and he's involved in producing films for advertising so he brought to the table some of the filmakers and I brought in some of the architects that we work with. So, there are all of these processes that we go through in creating this.
Is it easy staging a show for a band like this. It's not just the music. There are visual considerations that have to be made as well.
The show at TANGIERS was a trimmed down show. We are looking to play in galleries or museums of contemporary art. We prefer to make more of a visual impact with two or three screens. For last night's show, we only used one. Sound-wise it was okay. It was a bit limited if you like. TANGIERS is sort of your normal little club. The headroom isn't very high but it was a good show. The band can pretty much play anywhere. In terms of the visuals, we had some visuals, but it wasn't the full thing because of the space and the nature of it. Still it was very enjoyable.
What drew you to art and music specifically?
I think it was a natural thing for me. The band isn't high art in anyway nor do we think that we are or trying to be in any sense. It's just that these were the things that had already existed in our lives. Playing music at a very young age and singing and going to school and going to choir and learning to play instruments was simply what you did growing up. Everyone in the band is well accomplished as a muscian from a very young age. In terms of architecture and art, these are passions that we are involved in everyday life. It seemed natural, and this band is just an extension of what our passions and interests are. We didn't have to to think about things in terms of what are we going to do and how are going to do it. Art and music are simply a matter of everyday life for us.
Explain the process of songwriting, if it's explainable.
There are two different ways. There isn't a formula. It will either happen in a live jam situation where we record everything. When we play it back and if we feel that we've got something, then we work on it and explore it and turn it into a song. The other way is write a song on an acoustic guitar in my apartment and then bring it into the studio for the band to work on. I think writing music can work in different ways.
From 'ANONYMOUS', I love your interpretation of VENUS IN FURS.
Thank you! I always think if you're going to do a cover, you have to give it a new interpretation otherwise it becomes kind of karaoke. I don't think that any song is holy. If someone took one of my songs and decided to do something different with it, I would like to think that I would either like them or hate them. But thank you for that!
I'd like to do one of their other songs. Perhaps SUNDAY MORNING.
That would be interesting! Or ALL TOMORROW'S PARTIES.
That one is fantastic.
Or I'LL BE YOUR MIRROR.
There are so many.
I'm just throwing stuff out there.
The thing with VELVET UNDERGROUND is that I never realised how many years it took for them to become really popular. I read that when they did a world tour in the early 1990's, that all of a sudden they had so many new fans. Initially they were a sort of a cult band and they made about two records and then they split up and then people rediscovered them over the years and to me that's pretty incredible how much time it took and it was just on the strength of the music and nothing else.
And something like that is very important to this band. We called the album 'ANONYMOUS' because it is the music that is important. We've just made a video for one of the songs MISUNDERSTOOD, and in it, we're all wearing masks. With this album, were trying to put the music forward. The music is how we should be judged.
What is your hope for 'ANONYMOUS'. What would like people to walk away think or feeling about?
It's like anyone who does something, you hope that people will like it. I think more than anything else, that you get an audience of people who like music like yourself. You're creatng sort of a tribe. A group of people who share the same ideals and lifestyle. That's why it's not just the music. It's the visuals as well. All of these things exist alongside eachother and all of these things are important. That's what I hope people take from it.