Joe Deninzon Interview
Interview with Pete Devine of Pete’s Rock News and Views (http://petesrocknewsandviews.com)
I was very fortunate to be able to chat with Joe Deninzon, the multi talented Violinist and Vocalist of Stratospheerius and much sought after musician throughout so many different musical genres.
PD: Thanks for taking the time out to chat today.
JD: My pleasure! Thanks for having me.
PD: Can you tell us about your early days, who or what were your musical influences, what lead you to take up the violin?
JD: I grew up in a musical family. My father has been a violinist with the Cleveland Orchestra for 39 years and my mother is a classical pianist. They run a music school out of their house so there is constant traffic and violin and piano lessons blasting out of different rooms. That’s the environment we grew up in. My parents are strictly classical musicians and don’t improvise. Naturally, they shoved a violin under my chin when I was 5. I knew I wanted to be a musician but was certain that I didn’t want to follow my father’s footsteps into an orchestra. Long story short, I fell in love with rock and jazz during my high school years, learned guitar and bass, wrote songs, played in many bands while keeping up my classical violin studies. At one point a local Cleveland celebrity named Michael Stanley heard me play violin and invited me to sit in with his band. That was a life changing moment for me. Around the same time I discovered Jean Luc Ponty, Jerry Goodman, Stephane Grappelli, and was a huge fan of Led Zeppelin, Queen, KISS, Aerosmith, Kings X, etc. I ended up being a jazz violin major in college and bought my first electric violin when I was 20.
PD: You’ve covered so many genres in your career, from Classical, Jazz Fusion to Progressive Rock. What would you say is your preferred genre to play.
JD: I love every genre of music for different reasons, but I think progressive rock encompasses all of my favorite musical elements. You can rock out and be theatrical, you can have long-form classical-inspired compositions with the harmonic sophistication of jazz, you can incorporate ethnic influences from all over the world. Anytime I’ve attended a prog festival, its some of the most diverse music you can find anywhere. The audience is open to being challenged and trusts you to take them wherever you want to go.
PD: As far as the electric violin is concerned you are very much the ‘go to’ guy now for many different artists, artists such as Ritchie Blackmore, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder to name but a few, do you ever get surprised at just how in demand you are and how do you find the time to create new music?
JD: I love contributing to other people’s projects, and often get inspiration for my own music through the sideman work I do. I carve out the time to write. If I’m working on other people’s projects, I can go for months without writing anything, then a bunch of new music will spill out of me in a few short days or weeks. I try to designate time to write in the morning when my kids are in school. Sometimes a riff or lyric comes to me in the middle of the night and I have to wake up and write it down before I forget it. That way, I accumulate a scrapbook of ideas I can fly in later when I’m working on new music.
PD: Moving on to Stratospheerius, how did the formation come about, was it planned or one of those ‘the magic just happened’ moments.
JD: I always dreamed of having my own project and could never be fully satisfied just being a sideman. When you play electric violin and you want to try to do something different with the instrument, you can’t sit around and wait for the perfect band to hire you. You gotta build your own musical playground and let your freak flag fly. When I finished college, I was heavily into fusion and recorded an instrumental jazz fusion album called “Electric Blue” with local Cleveland musicians the summer before I moved to New York. When I got to NYC, I had my debut CD in my hands, shopped it to clubs and labels, and tried to form a band. The new music I was writing was incorporating more and more vocals, since my first love was songwriting and I came more from a rock background. I kept experimenting and trying to merge my love of songcraft with my love of Mahavishnu Orchestra and Frank Zappa. After numerous personell changes, Stratospheerius was born and gradually morphed more into a prog/jam rock outfit.
PD: Your new album with Stratospheerius, ‘Guilty of Innocence’, has been heralded as a ‘breakthrough album in Progressive Rock. Can you give us some background about the album, where was it recorded, how were the songs developed etc?
JD: In the past, we would develop songs and tour with them until we had enough material and felt comfortable enough to knock them out in a studio over a few days. For this album, we tried a different approach. The first four songs were written and recorded in 2014. We would release a new single every three months starting in 2015. Then we’d write a few more, record them, etc. So the album was tracked from Jan 2014 to Feb of 2016.
This was great because it allowed us to spread out the budget, gave us new music to announce on a regular basis, and gave us perspective on the initial mixes so we could go back and tweak them when we released them on the finished album. The ironic thing is that in the past, we’ve been criticized for being stylistically all over the place on our albums. This one felt like the most focused and cohesive, even though the songs were recorded over the greatest span of time.
PD: Having listened to ‘Guilty of Innocence’ several times, I have to say that it is one of those records where every day I could pick a new favourite track. (Today it is ‘Take Your Medicine’) How has the feedback been for the album?
JD: Thank you so much! I’m glad you like the record. The feedback has been tremendous, both from fans, critics, and fellow musicians who I admire. It means the world to us…and it keeps on growing!
PD: What plans are there to promote ‘Guilty of Innocence’?
JD: We ran a great multi-media campaign in the U.S. resulting in some of the best critical reviews we’ve ever had, and the album went to #72 on the top 200 European Indy Charts and #4 on the Relix Jam charts along side David Byrne and Willie Nelson.
The album has been out for a year and seems to be getting a second life, with more great reviews coming in from European media and new fans discovering the album. We’ve also just printed vinyl for the first time and have been promoting that as well, so this record keeps getting a buzz and I’m very grateful for the way people have embraced it.
PD: I have read comments from you about the difference in the depth of sound achievable from the electric violin compared to an acoustic one, is there a track on Guilty of Innocence where this is very apparent?
JD: In my 22 years of playing the electric violin , I have come to the conclusion that the electric violin is really it’s own thing. Some string purists still see the instrument as a gimmick or a novelty. It is not your grandma’s violin, and you should not expect it to feel or sound the same. It’s one thing to amplify an acoustic violin or even get a solid body electric and plug it into an amp, but if you really want to take advantage of the full sonic kaleidoscope the electric violin is capable of, you have to get one with extra strings and put it through a distortion, wah, delay, looper, phaser, or any kind of effect. I spend half of my professional life playing a traditional violin, but I’m a big advocate for the electric. Mark Wood is a great pioneer of the instrument who built my 7-string “Viper”. I’ve been teaching at his Rock Orchestra camp in Kansas for 8 years now. If you really want to hear the scope of an electric violin, listen to Mark or Tracy Silverman, Jean Luc Ponty, Jerry Goodman to name a few. To answer your question , I think “Dream Diary Cadenza” on the “Guilty Of Innocence” album is a good example of me really showcasing the instrument.
PD: With such a diverse career and all that you do for aspiring artists with regards to teaching and development, what has been your proudest moment in music?
JD: There have been many. A few that stand out are in 2015 when I premiered my 30-minute concerto for electric violin and orchestra with the Muncie Symphony under Douglas Droste. That was a bucket list moment for me.
Also one of my greatest rewards is when a young string player attends one of my classes and comes back years later to tell me how much that class was a game changer for them. That has happened a few times. It’s the ultimate high to know that you have influenced younger musicians.
PD: How is 2019 looking for Joe Deninzon and Stratospheerus?
JD: We just had an incredibly successful performance at Progstock in New Jersey and have been invited to play the main stage in 2019, where we hope to record a live DVD. I’m in my studio spending a lot of time writing and working on the follow-up to”Guilty of Innocence,” which will feature collaborations with some big names in the prog world who I can’t disclose at the moment. I also have some shows coming up with Annie Haslam and Renaissance, and booking some tour dates for Stratospheerius in 2019.
PD: Thank you again for chatting with us today, have you any message for the readers of this post?
JD: Musicians gotta get paid!
Some of my favorite artists on the planet have day jobs and can’t support themselves with their music. As a fan, you think everyone’s driving around in Ferraris and living it up. With minuscule steaming revenue, It’s harder and harder to make a living as a creative artist.
There is a generation that grew up feeling entitled to free music, and that pisses me off!
I might be fighting the tide here, but this needs to be said.
Support creative music. Check out an artist you’ve never heard of. If you like them, put some money in their hat, buy their cd or record, contribute to their kickstarter or patreon. Respect the work that person put in to create something that inspires you.
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