Q&A with guitar virtuoso Marcelo Paganini, from classic prog rock, with unexpected contemporary harmonic solutions and melodic turns.

"Music is the most powerful form of magic and has the power to change people. And people can change things... The problem is how the right music finds the right people and the fact that there is way too much information, and nobody can deal with all this flow... We are drowning in meaningless stuff and missing on important stuff that could change things... From that chaos the culture is being destroyed because it is falling to reach the right audience..."

Marcelo Paganini: Music Against The Crisis 

Guitar virtuoso Marcelo Paganini released the album titled “Identity Crisis” (2020) featuring special guests Billy Sherwood (YES/ASIA), Adam Holzman (Steve Wilson Band), Rachel Flowers, Lenny White (Return to Forever), Chad Wackerman (Frank Zappa Band), Jan Dumée (Focus), Marc Madoré, Karla Downey, Jamison Smeltz, Damilton Viana, Esdras Ferreira and Adriano Campagnani (Beto Guedes Band). 5 out of 6 songs of the album were mixed and mastered by Gudjon Sveinsson in Iceland. The single “Circus is empty” was mixed by Daniel Boivin in France and mastered by Maor Appelbaum in LA, California, USA. “When Allan Holdsworth passed away all of a sudden it was up to me and the others to keep guitar composition and playing moving forward. ‘Do your own thing’ he said every time we met. Now Eddie Van Halen passed away as well and we realize how hard it will be,” remembers Brazilian-born Marcelo Paganini about his intentions when he started this project.                                               (Photo: Marcelo Paganini)

“I changed the tuning of the guitar so I could not repeat anything I knew before. I decided to only use in the whole album, except for acoustic 12 string intros, the black guitar X-Ing Ibanez, no vibrato bar, bare bones. And to record just one guitar per track, to be able to play it live and sound like the album, or better. When live concerts will come back.” The music on “Identity Crisis” mixes up the best influences from classic prog rock, with unexpected contemporary harmonic solutions and melodic turns. The songs can break loose by surprise in furious jazz fusion improvisations. As impressive as the casting in the album can be, and it is, the incredible alchemy that happened between Marcelo Paganini and Rachel Flowers in 4 out of 6 songs, at the 11th hour, was a game changer in the intensity of that musical language. Mr Bowler Music Agency in the Netherlands is booking Marcelo Paganini Band featuring Rachel Flowers.

Interview by Michael Limnios          Special Thanks: Bill James (Glass Onyon PR)

How has the Jazz and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

In the begin when I had hair, was younger and naïf, I embraced counterculture as my way of life. Today I believe that while there is a genuine counterculture among intellectuals and artists, the mainstream counterculture was manufactured by the CIA as a way of preventing people to become communists. It worked with me, I never read Marx to this day and don't speak Russian.  So, I am talking money making mass culture. Motown, but above all Chess Records success and the Chuck Berry's rock and roll revolution provoked the "invention" of Elvis Presley. And later The Beatles, Rolling Stones and the whole "British Invasion". It was a way of robbing Afro-Americans of their culture and wealth. Same thing happened later with funk and disco. Bossa Nova came into mainstream, and all Latin Jazz, to counter-act the Cuban revolution. There is improvisation in jazz, but improvisation is way older than jazz, so all improvisation is NOT jazz. And there is the trap of American culture. They "own" everything they love.

Since the URSS collapsed, the need to be the "nice guys" vanished. And Capitalism started slowly to come back to its natural form which is Fascism. Just look around you.  Today talent-less people are famous because they are famous, and music is not that important anymore for lots of people. And you really need lots of faith to believe in a Free Market with 3 recording labels left, and just one of the GAFA... The Pandemic is being used to erase all the independents in any field, while all the money goes into even fewer pockets...

So now I know that I was tricked into choosing the "Hendrix clone" among the options CIA offered me when I was growing up, but it was a cool one, that became space prog rocker jazz fusion and I found a way to go way beyond it... (Marcelo Paganini / Photo by Gingembre)

"It was this fearless feeling on top of all this fragility that made him unique to me. What happens once corporations own his image and work is beyond him. He died so young... Hendrix was not only the best guitar player of his time, he was above all one of the greatest composers and interpreters as well. He made Dylan's songs something else, he got the power, he showed us the way..."

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and "Identity Crisis”?

My sound is prog rock jazz fusion and it was invented by people who was not interested in robbing old blues-men, but into playing avant-garde music with the new electronic instruments and sounds for the new rock audience. Half a century later that approach still sounds fresh to my ears. My philosophy is to become the best version of myself and allow the music to go as far as possible where it wants and needs to go... To be bold enough to accept to not be popular, since I am not into making more of the same and be accepted in existing musical circles, but as Gilles Deleuze pointed out, making art to a public yet to be invented... Once in a while I got nice surprises and some folks dig right now what I am doing, while others become overnight enemies, all this shows I must be doing something right...

Where does your creative drive come from?

From inside, from an early age I felt all this powerful music going on in my brain continuously. So, I have to put it out to make room for the newer ones, I am afraid if I don't it may kill me. I am not satisfied with the music that is already there, or else I would be glad to be just an interpreter of existing music... I feel music in a different way, it took me half a century to find the right singers and musicians, among the best of the best...

Obviously, there is also the need to impress the opposite sex. Being 4th in a 5 children family made me find the way to be heard and understood among stiff competition in adverse conditions.

Also, to compose music with complex harmonies is a several centuries old tradition in Minas Gerais state, going way back to the Baroque Period. German musical organs came all the way from Europe on ships, then on donkeys back for weeks from ports several hundred miles away.  Luthiers were hired to travel with the instruments, to make sure they stay in tune and in working conditions in the hard-tropical climate. The organs completed churches covered with gold from the floor to the ceiling. My family came from Diamantina, means city of diamonds, it was one of the richest places in the planet around 1756 when Mozart was born... Lobo de Mesquita is among the best composers around, he deserves way more recognition. When I came to Diamantina for the first time in 1979 it was like a revelation... There is no way you can convince me I come from a poor country. I come from one of the richest places on the planet where many poor people live. I was born in Minas Gerais capital, Belo Horizonte from where Milton Nascimento and the Corner's Club emerged, I joke there is a genius in every corner... Sepultura, among many many, others, is also from my hometown and my music reflects all this diverse background...

"My philosophy is to become the best version of myself and allow the music to go as far as possible where it wants and needs to go... To be bold enough to accept to not be popular, since I am not into making more of the same and be accepted in existing musical circles, but as Gilles Deleuze pointed out, making art to a public yet to be invented...(Photo: Marcelo Paganini)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences?

My father, he is not a professional, but he is among the best singers I know. My brother Franz who showed me how to play the guitar in the begin. I figured out the rest on my own. Then I met Brazilian rock band Os Mutantes in 1975 in a festival I sang in front of ten thousand people with the band my brother as playing guitar with.  I was ten years old... I met Brazilian rock star Rita Lee in 1977 and we became friends. I produced my first recording in 1982 and my first show in 1983. Then I moved to Paris in 1984 where I met with the best jazz and world musicians at Le Baiser Salé. There I met Marc Madoré who plays bass in my band since 1996. In France I met drum machines, sequencers and computers. I moved back to Brazil to become a pioneer of electronic music there with show "Marcelo Paganini is the Band", which in retrospective was the most important meeting: meeting myself and discovering I could play all  these instruments and really let my imagination run wild, free of the interference from others. After moving back to Paris in 1989 just in time to play at the Bicentenary of French Revolution at Jardins des Tuilleries with Luiz Antonio Band, I moved to NYC in 1990. There I met Eumir Deodato and many of the best jazz musicians in town. Michael Molenda was editor of Guitar Player Magazine and became one of my best friends, and through him I met a lot of cool folks that helped me get where I am now. He invited me to the NAMM where I met Billy sherwood, Adam Holzman and many others... I also met on my own Gary Husband and of course Lenny White, some of the best drummers in the Universe who recorded my music and put it in another dimmension... I met Joao Gilberto's son Joao Marcelo just for a few hours, but he gave me advice for the rest of my life... It is also interesting to note that a lot of very important people in my life and career I never met yet. It all happened online and/or over the phone: William James, Larry Morand who invited me to Cruise to the Edge in 2015, artists Rachel Flowers, Tony Kaye, Chad Wackerman, just to name a few...

What´s been the highlights in your career so far?

Being one of the pioneers of electronic music in Brazil with the show "Marcelo Paganini is the Band" in 1986.

My song "Blues de ninguém", which I recorded as a guest keyboardist with Brazilian rock band Kamikaze, being number one in local radio in Belo Horizonte for over a year in the early 90's.

My Brazilian funk-rock band in Paris in the late 90's shows at New Morning, Divan du Monde and many other clubs. My song "Beatrice? Que Dalle!" on the playlist of radio Latina in Paris for 2 years during the same period...

My song "Technodream" owned Myspace ROFL and is still one of my most popular songs, btw I will release more electronic music in the future...

I released prog rock jazz fusion album "2012 Space Traffic Jam" in 2014 with Gary Husband, Eumir Deodato, Tony Kaye, Billy Sherwood. It was followed by a Brazilian tour in 2014 with top musicians that became a film and a live album "First time in Rio". Then I released "B4ever now" with Pink Floyd singer Durga McBroom, Eumir Deodato, Marc Madoré and Gary Husband. It was folloed by another Brazilian tour in 2018 and a showcase in Alençon, France. After that I started to workday and night in the album that became "Identity Crisis"...

"I want it to affect people the same way some artists and songs saved my life and soul, change my view and helped me during hard times and also during happy times... Music was there when nobody else was... Learn to sing and/or play an instrument and you will never be alone again..." (Photo: Marcelo Paganini)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, tours and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Of course, what is great about the 21st century is the videos on the Internet that saved magic moments forever until GAFA hits the erase buttom...

2011 "Johnny B Goode" at Disneyland Paris in a Hendrix Birthday show, it was pure magic...

2012 studio recording session in London, Gary Husband records "Somewhere somehow" and "Lost secrets" on the first take and got hired on the spot to record the rest of the album too...

2014 "Somewhere somehow" encore live at Audio Rebel "First time in Rio" the walls were melting, the band was burning...

2015 Cruise to the Edge pre cruise party at Magic City Casino, Miami, Florida USA, rehearsal-less rendition of King Crimson"s "21st century schizoid man" in front of the musicians of YES and many other bands. I broke the D string and managed to carry the song until the end, the crowd couldn't believe it... I survived that, I will live forever...

What touched (emotionally) you from Hendrix's music?

It was this fearless feeling on top of all this fragility that made him unique to me. What happens once corporations own his image and work is beyond him. He died so young... Hendrix was not only the best guitar player of his time, he was above all one of the greatest composers and interpreters as well. He made Dylan's songs something else, he got the power, he showed us the way...

What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?           (Photo: Marcelo Paganini)

My hope is that the Dark Side plans to enslave even more humanity and kill all the arts will fail... Every time music is attacked like now, the whole society is being attacked... I was so lucky to have studied Musicology at Sorbonne and have this understanding of the History of Music and how everything is reflected in the music and arts... My hope comes from places like Bandcamp and from the wonderful people who support musicians there, buying the album and paying more than the minimum asked... We just need way more people there, but if all money go in few pockets and people can't pay rent and bills, how can they buy music from indies? This whole idea of profit is absurd in a finite planet, banking, money creation is robbing, just ask Yanis Varoufakis (economist and politician) ... I want to discuss some ideas with him btw...  I really love the Greek people and I admire all your fights... I would love to come play in Greece one day... But coming back to the future of music, the hope is that people will come back to live music after the pandemic, without arts the lockdown is just slow death...

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Make stream pay fair, Facebook and other places should pay me and others to write there, we create content for free in the hope of becoming known, but that never happens. For the first time in history they do control everything. You can even pay for ads, they will do what they want, show your ads to who they want, where they want, when they want, you have no control at all. It is a Black Hole, a Fascist cyberspace, a treason for the wonderful concept of Internet. And nothing kills me more than people who just want to go back to business as usual. This is the planet's destruction and the suffering of people... We need real change, not Biden putting minorities in important places but to apply the same old politics of chaos and wars...

What are the differences and similarities between Latin American and European music scene?

You mean back when they existed right? ROFL I only know about Brazil, there is music everywhere but only a few people can play their own music... It is mainly covers Hell... In Europe as long as you could be identified as a "real Brazilian musician", whatever that means for different people, there where way more possibilities to play original music. But 20 years ago, things became way more sinister, with very few people controlling lots of venues, and the money kept shrinking...

"From inside, from an early age I felt all this powerful music going on in my brain continuously. So, I have to put it out to make room for the newer ones, I am afraid if I don't it may kill me. I am not satisfied with the music that is already there, or else I would be glad to be just an interpreter of existing music... I feel music in a different way, it took me half a century to find the right singers and musicians, among the best of the best... Obviously, there is also the need to impress the opposite sex. Being 4th in a 5 children family made me find the way to be heard and understood among stiff competition in adverse conditions." (Photo: Marcelo Paganini)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Music is its own reward, and happiness is a construction from inside out. Don't expect it to come from outside...

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications?

Music is the most powerful form of magic and has the power to change people. And people can change things...

The problem is how the right music finds the right people and the fact that there is way too much information, and nobody can deal with all this flow... We are drowning in meaningless stuff and missing on important stuff that could change things... From that chaos the culture is being destroyed because it is falling to reach the right audience...

How do you want it to affect people? 

I want it to affect people the same way some artists and songs saved my life and soul, change my view and helped me during hard times and also during happy times... Music was there when nobody else was... Learn to sing and/or play an instrument and you will never be alone again...

"Circus is empty" was released last year on the right time, I love to think it was like the butterfly wing flapping in the chaos theory... Little cause that produces big effects... Not even my mother knows, but I may be one of the most influential guys around ROFL... Biden called the guy a clown in a debate, and there was this Times Magazine cover, I feel vindicated...

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(Marcelo Paganini / Photo by Gingembre)

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