Prog Talk: Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius
With a musical background that encompasses classical, jazz, rock, world and all points in between, violinist-mandolinist-vocalist-bandleader Joe Deninzon is a whirling dervish of vibrant creativity. He is one of those folks who seem to have a limitless supply of intriguing ideas. Deninzon is the embodiment of a true progressive artist, with jazz at his sonic core.
“I was a jazz major in school, and that jazz influence has always been infused in our music,” he said.
Deninzon was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and is the son of a concert violinist father and a concert pianist mother. He grew up and was raised in Cleveland, and studied classical and jazz violin at Indiana University. After relocating to New York City in 1998, Deninzon recorded his first venture into the jazz-fusion milieu, Electric/Blue. Its release was concurrent with the budding string player’s burgeoning career as a freelance studio musician and sideman.
He was also studying at the Manhattan School of Music and teaching at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. It was there that he met and began a musical partnership with guitarist Alex Skolnick, known for his work in the metal genre. The two of them pooled their love of electric Miles Davis, Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra and the like into an exciting new ensemble called Stratospheerius. This collaboration resulted in the 2002 CD The Adventures Of Stratospheerius. The 12-track album consisted mostly of Deninzon’s compositions along with interpretations of songs by Wayne Shorter, Vince Guaraldi and Stevie Wonder.
Stratospheerius established itself as a high-energy performance entity, with extended jams, sophisticated improvisation and intricate violin/guitar interplay, as evidenced on the 2004 concert disc Live Wires. The album was a turning point for Deninzon and company in numerous ways. Jake Ezra replaced Skolnick on guitar, and it was the debut for drummer Lucianna Padmore, a fellow New School alum. They also trimmed the outfit from a sextet to a lean-and-mean foursome, with Ron Baron on bass. In 2007 the album Headspace took the band in a slightly different direction as more overt funk and jazz styles were laced with increasing melodic and progressive rock overtones. More personnel changes transpired as bassist Bob Bowen and guitarist Mack Price joined Padmore for the expansion of their sound.
Around this juncture Deninzon took a break from the fusion world, teaming with bassist Bowen and guitarist Steve Benson in the acoustic Joe Deninzon Trio, which recorded the 2010 jazz albumExuberance. It was at this point where the versatile violinist took a step back to his musical beginnings and cast all of his improvisational influences together in a fresh light.
“What’s really fun for us is to open up the songs live and take them in all directions,” Deninzon explained. “For that to happen, you’ve gotta have an improvisational jazz mentality and tap into a certain head space. We all have a jazz background and we bring that to the table.”
Following Straospheerius guitarist Price’s departure and Bowen’s tragic death in a biking accident, Deninzon recruited French guitarist Aurelien Budynek and bassist Jamie Bishop in 2008. This has been the group’s most consistent and enduring lineup thus far, documented on the 2012 CD The Next World.
“On my first [album] we did a cover of Thelonious Monk’s ‘Well, You Needn’t,’” Deninzon said. “On The Adventures Of Stratospheerius, we covered Wayne Shorter’s ‘Nefertiti.’ Our latest is a more focused and song-oriented album. It’s heavier and more rock-oriented but there are still a lot of jazz influences there, too.”
The all-original excursion contains a lot of jazz-influenced music, such as the dynamic and atmospheric disc opener “Release,” while the instrumental “Fleshbot” has a lot of fire à la violinists Jean-Luc Ponty and Didier Lockwood. “Missing Link” matches odd time signatures with strong vocal hooks, and “Ballad For Ding Bang” is a sweet dedication to Deninzon’s son Max that features smooth chord changes and delicate accents by Padmore.
“I’ve always admired artists who are spontaneous and don’t just rehash their recorded material onstage,” Deninzon said. “I always like to keep the band on their toes and keep me from being bored playing the same material. We’ll change what we play and how we play it. Zappa was notorious for doing that kind of thing. Weather Report did that. All the great jazz groups did that. I let the music dictate where I’m gonna go—sort of like a Ouija board where you tap into that spirit and it leads you where it wants to.”
Stratospheerius explores ‘Next World’ tonight at Sherlock’s
BY DAVE RICHARDS, Erie Times-News
Growing up, Joe Deninzon worshipped great guitarists such as Steve Vai and Jimi Hendrix, which doesn’t sound unusual except for this: He plays violin.
“From a writing standpoint and a performance standpoint, I was listening to guys like (Vai), even as a violinist, more than Itzhak Perlman or Jascha Heifetz,” Deninzon said. “I liked great guitar players like that who were also great showmen and entertainers. That’s what I strive for.”
With Joe Deninzon and Stratospheerius, he pulls off the unthinkable — leading a rock band with supercharged violin work that is — to his pleasure — signed to Vai’s record label.
“The Next World,” Stratospheerius’ latest CD, showcases a virtuoso band that dazzles technically and relishes stylistic diversity. The CD dives into progressive rock, fusion, hard rock, blues and, on “Tech Support,” electronica.
It’s all over the place, yet rocks with such conviction and impressive chops that it hardly matters.
“I always like a lot of different flavors every time I go to get a bagel or any kind of flavor of ice cream,” Deninzon said. “I’m always a guy who hates making up his mind.”
So he tries everything, though “Next World” finds the band especially diving into progressive rock.
“It’s a natural progression,” Deninzon said. “I started writing more songs with lyrics and singing more in the band. I’ve always been a fan of bands like Rush and Yes, bands with really great instrumental prowess but also great vocals and lyrics. So, its something I wanted to incorporate. Try to find a way to do it in cool way musically that works.”
“The Prism,” a CD highlight, features a Zeppelinesque feel.
“It’s kind of got a ‘Kashmir’ meets ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ meets whatever else feel,” Deninzon said, with a laugh. “I imagined it to be one of those epic songs. For that, I overdubbed a lot of strings. I have an octave violin tuned like a cello, so I cover cello, viola and violin parts. I wanted it to sound like a huge string (section).”
“Release” races with a Muse-like approach, while “Gods” features a crushing hook. Deninzon spent three years on the CD, which is nominated for best progressive rock album of 2012 by ProgressiveRockCentral.com, alongside works by Ian Anderson and Steve Hackett.
At Sherlock’s, Deninzon will rely on his trusty Viper, a seven-string violin that he can tune down to cello and lower, and an acoustic one. And while his kinetic playing is the focal point, don’t overlook his powerhouse band with drummer Lucianna Padmore, guitarist Aurelian Budynek and bassist Jamie Bishop. They have more chops than a black belt. They couldn’t do punk if they tried.
“Any time you have a rock band full of music nerds, you’re going to get crazy time signatures and modulation and a lot of different stuff you can dig around,” Deninzon said. “If I wanted to form a punk band, it’d be hard for me stay in character, as much as I love the Sex Pistols, Ramones and Clash. You gotta be who you are. If you’re not honest with yourself and your music, people feel it. You got to accept who you are and go with it.”
Out of this world album
For The Corner News
Published: September 5, 2012 1:32:17 pm
Joe Deninzon is a Russian violinist born to two members of that country’s leading Philharmonic Orchestra. He’s been labeled “The Jimi Hendrix of the Violin” by many, due to his extreme virtuosity on the seven-string electric violin. That’s right—seven strings. His style throughout his career has blended jazz, rock and gypsy music in ways no other could possibly imagine. He’s performed with an amazing array of musicians, including Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen, Phoebe Snow, Everclear, Ritchie Blackmore, Smokey Robinson and Les Paul, just to name a few. He’s also performed as a solo electric violinist with the New York Ballet.
Deninzon leads the band Stratospheerius, who’ve just released their fifth album, “The Next World,” on Steve Vai’s Digital Nations label, and once again shows the world that Russians and Americans can make beautiful and exciting music together. Actually, exciting is too tame a word for this album, as it opens with the astounding “Release,” a smoking progressive rocker that will suck you into this album like an industrial vacuum. What follows is a thrilling array of songs that run the gamut from complex prog tunes to simple ballads, from Zappa-esque epics to alluring soundscapes. Deninzon’s acuity on the violin is multi-faceted and consistently over-the-top amazing, and always deeply musical.
You’ll hear nods to influences like Jean-Luc Ponty, Jerry Goodman, and Dixie Dregs’ Allen Sloane, but through it all Deninzon presents a unique personality and perspective on the violin. “The Next World” is an electrifying album, guaranteed to take you into the stratosphere and beyond.
STRATOSPHEERIUS: THE NEXT WORLD
REVIEW BY MICHAEL POPKE ON WWW.SEAOFTRANQUILITY.COM
The fact that in-demand electric violinist Joe Deninzon has performed with everyone from Bruce Springsteen and Ritchie Blackmore to Johnny Mathis and Smokey Robinson suggests that his band Stratospheerius has broad appeal. And does it ever!
This New Jersey-based outfit’s distinct hybrid of progressive rock, jam band, funk, jazz and Gypsy influences turns Stratospheerius’ latest album, The Next World…, into a formidable musical beast. The disc opens with “Release,” a track that evokes Kansas’ savvy use of violin, borrows a reggae-pop beat and boasts an elegant vocal arrangement akin to Spock’s Beard. The Yes influence begins showing up in “The Missing Link,” the manic “Tech Support” bounces along like something Umphrey’s McGee could have written, “Climbing” has a late-summer country-rock groove that would work on mainstream radio, and “The House Always Wins” is a sparse blues ditty.
Lyrically, Stratospheerius is just as adventurous, with Deninzon’s chameleon voice shifting on each song, not so much dominating these tunes as inhabiting them. And a trio of instrumentals — two wild ones (“Road Rage” and “Fleshbot”) and the mellowest track on the album (“Ballad for Ding Bang”) — showcases Deninzon’s prowess while not slighting his talent-rich band: guitarist Aurelien Budynek, bassist Jamie Bishop and drummer Lucianna Padmore.
Every Deninzon and Stratospheerius album is worthy of your attention, but if you’re new to these guys, start here. And if you’re not — well, you know you want this…
Track Listing: 1) Release 2) The Missing Link 3) Tech Support 4) Climbing 5) Fleshbot 6) The House Always Wins 7) Gods 8) Ballad for Ding Bang 9) Road Rage 10) One Foot in the Next World 11) The Prism
Added: August 29th 2012 Reviewer: Michael Popke Score: Related Link: Official Stratospheerius Website Hits: 159 Language: english
Stratospheerius – The Next World I’m just gonna say it, no one stop me, please: This album drove me absolutely nuts. So, why the good rating? It’s well done, I simply can’t argue with that. Stratospheerius is a unique band, melding blugrass, rock, prog, jazz, and funk. It’s really hard to describe. It’s got great violin happening all over the place, it breaks down to these blugrass and country moments all of a sudden, then this weird electronic bit, and all of a sudden there’s a funk guitar going, followed by classic rock guitars and vocals. Then, of course, there’s the prog elements on a variety of tracks, which prove to be quite well done (check out “Fleshbot” and “Road Rage” great instrumental driven violin rock madness). I’m not gonna lie, this violinist is really good, and really fun. If I were supersticious, I’d have to say that the devil came down and made a deal with Mr. Denizon for sure. Stratospheerius is all over the map on The Next World. Great band, not my style, but still a great band. This one’s worth checking out to see whether you love it or hate it.
-Matt Di Giordano
The Next World
Review by G. W. Hill
You just can’t go wrong with this outfit. Nor can
you assume what you are going to hear when they
release a new disc. While the fusion elements of
previous releases are still present, this one has
more pure rock in it, too. Frankly, this might be the
best Stratospheerius disc yet. At least until the
next world, err time.
Track by Track Review
Starting in a fusion way, this turns out to a killer, accessible prog rock tune.
It’s very much in an AOR motif and the peace lyrics are cool. There’s a great
non-lyrical vocal section as a bridge. There’s also a bouncy sort of section
that reminds me a bit of the reggae influenced period of Rush. There’s also
an intriguing space rock meets jam band instrumental section later. As one
might guess, there is also some tasty violin playing on this.
The Missing Link
The early sections of this have an almost modern alternative rock texture.
From there, though, it turns more unusual. Perhaps the most obvious
reference is King’s X, but it has more of a fusion element than that conveys.
As this cut continues the vocal arrangement becomes very noteworthy. In
addition, some of the changes start to feel more like some classic progressive
rock from the 1970s. This is another awesome tune on a disc that’s turning
out to be exceptional by this point.
Frantic and funky, this is a short song, but what a monster it is. It’s definitely
more like jazz, but there’s even a vibe to it that feels almost like Red Hot
Chili Peppers. While this might not be the prog powerhouse that the first two
cuts represented, this thing is full of energy and the instrumental section is a
While this cut is good, and presents a definite change of pace, it’s not nearly
as strong as the rest of the disc. The bulk of this fits somewhere between an
alternative rock sound and country music. Still, there is a smoking hot
instrumental section that’s more prog meets fusion and manages to save this
from pure mediocrity. Honestly, the problem isn’t weakness with this
particular number. It’s just that compared to the rest it’s a bit lackluster.
After a gong blast, the violin heralds a killer fusion jam. This is angular in its
progression and mid-tempo in its pace. Its shifts this way and that and really
rocks like crazy. At times I’m reminded of some of the most adventurous
music from Yes. They take it out into some world music after a while. Then it
becomes more pure jazz for a short time. They drop it to a weird percussive
bit and then move back into the song proper. It gebit and then move back into the song proper. It gets pretty crazed after a time. Other than some found sound type voices, thie tune is an instrumental.
This one is certainly proof that the disc is back on track after the last one.
The House Always Wins
While this cut is a big change, it’s far from a let down. It’s sort of like a jazz
ballad with a lot of New Orleans and some blues in the mix. It’s a weird little
tune and features some small oddities in the arrangement. It’s also very
tasty and has loads of charm and style. It’s probably not really a progressive
rock number, but there’s enough fusion here to make it a close call.
What a powerhouse this one is. It comes in hard rocking with a modern
progressive rock sound. As it continues it just gets more potent. The vocals
are among the best on the disc and the music also stands out. At times this
leans towards metal. At other points it’s closer to fusion. There’s almost a
Jimi Hendrix goes fusion feeling to it at times. The guitar solo is especially
powerful as it soars over the top of the mix. There’s a full on progressive rock
interlude that serves to link the instrumental movement back to the song
proper. This is arguably the standout number on show here.
Ballad for Ding Bang
This instrumental starts out much more like pure jazz. It gets more rock
infused as it continues and it has some particularly inspiring musical interplay
and soloing. It suffers from having to follow the masterpiece that “Gods” was,
but it manages to pull it off very well by not occupying similar space.
The frantic jam that opens this allows Joe Deninzon lots of room to simply
scream out his violin soloing. This is a high energy cut that’s part Charlie
Daniels and part Kansas, but all Stratospheerius. The guitar also gets a
chance to shine and this thing is a crunchy crazed progressive rock meets
fusion instrumental that’s another highlight of the set.
One Foot in the Next World
While the first parts of this have that alternative rock turned modern
progressive rock sound and seem a bit lackluster compared to some of the
rest of the music here, this includes plenty of powerhouse jamming later. It’s
another standout tune. It’s got strong vocals, killer instrumentation and a
They saved a winner to close the set. The progression of this cut includes
some Eastern tones, and I’m a sucker for that sound. It’s also powerful and
features some killer instrumental work alongside the vocals. This is another
that has a bit of a Kansas element to it, but it also seems to lean on some
modern epic metal in some ways. Still, this is Stratospheerius, so it’s got
plenty of prog and fusion built into it. This is definitely a great way to end the
disc in style and power. There’s even a little symphonic turn that actually
closes the track.
Stratospheric Violins | Progressive Rock Central.com | Learn Violin
Saturday, May 19th, 2012 at 1:46 pm
Violinist Joe Deninzon is one of the musical sensations of 2012. He is the founder of Stratospheerius, an outstanding rock band that crosses boundaries, incorporating classic rock, progressive rock, fusion, world music and electronics. Joe discusses his musical background and latest projects with Progressive Rock Central.
Can you give our readers a brief history on how you came to be a musician?
I was born into a family of classical musicians. My father played (and still plays) the violin in the Cleveland Orchestra. My mother is a concert pianist and has around 40 students. Our house was literally a music school with people coming in and out and simultaneous violin and piano lessons being heard in different rooms, but my parents are strictly classical musicians and had no frame or reference or knowledge about any music outside of that genre.
I started playing violin and piano when I was 6, but when we immigrated to the states from Russia, I fell in love with what I was seeing on MTV and hearing on American radio. When I was 12, I took up bass, started writing songs and formed my first band. I later taught myself guitar and really felt more connected to rock and jazz music than classical. In high school I listened to a lot of Zeppelin, Kiss, Queen, and Aerosmith. I knew I wanted to be a musician for as long as I can remember, but I always knew I did not want to spend my life sitting in an orchestra. The first instruments I learned to improvise on were the bass and guitar. I later transferred the rock and jazz language I learned on those instruments to the violin.
What kind of musical training do you have?
I was studying classical violin with my father since age 6, and later at the Cleveland Institute of music. I have a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Violin and Violin Performance from Indiana University and a Master’s degree in Commercial Violin from Manhattan School of Music.
What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?
My musical tastes are eclectic, to say the least. Rock is the foundation, but all my varied influences creep in, like jazz, funk, bluegrass, Middle Eastern Music, all filtered through a distorted electric violin-fueled rock n roll meat grinder.
Your music crosses boundaries. Who can you cite as your main musical influences?
I think my top five artists of all time are Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, and Led Zeppelin. I have a deep love of 70’s fusion and progressive rock (Mahavishnu Orchestra/Jerry Goodman, Jean Luc Ponty, Yes, King Crimson, Return to Forever), But I also love great songwriting and admire people who are master performers and communicators (Beatles, Steely Dan, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Steve Vai), and the larger-than-life escapism of pure rock (Zeppelin, Queen, Muse).
I think what all my favorite artists had in common is that they just didn’t give a shit and did their thing. I think it’s about figuring out who you are being true to yourself. The music has to be honest and not contrived and the audience will feel that immediately. I am also a big fan of modern composers like John Corigliano and John Zorn, as well as Mark O’Connor, both as a writer and a player.
Your current band is called Stratospheerius. How did you come up with the name?
Years ago, I was playing in an orchestra backing up Smokey Robinson. One of the violinists had to play a solo with some really high notes and someone said, “Wow, that’s really up in the Stratosphere!” to which the violinist responded “I should’ve brought my Stratospheerius.” It was a play on words and he was making a reference to the great 17th century Italian violin maker Antonio Stradivarius. I thought this word applied well to the kind of music I was trying to write; space rock that was fueled by a wild electric violin playing way up in the stratosphere. It’s not the catchiest name in the world, but once people know us, they never forget it.
The Next World… is dedicated to bassist Robert Emmet Bowen III. What was his connection with the band?
Bob Bowen (Robert Emmet Bowen III) was a member of Stratospheerius from 2004-2007. He can be heard playing all the bass parts on the 2007 CD, Headspace, the song “House Always Wins” on the new CD, “The Next World…,” and is the upright bass player on the Joe Deninzon Trio 2010 release, “Exuberance.” I met Bob when we were both doing our Master’s Degree at Manhattan School of music in the late 90?s. We became fast friends and worked in a variety of groups together until he joined my band. He was also an incredible graphic artist and provided all the artwork for our new CD.
Tragically, Bob was killed in August of 2010 in Manhattan when his bicycle was hit by a passing truck. He was 45 and is survived by his wife, son, and daughter. In addition to my projects, Bob also worked with legendary jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz, as well as Tony Trischka, John Hicks, Joe Lovanno, Matt Wilson, James Moody, and many more. The new album is dedicated to his memory.
How would you describe the music in your latest album The Next World…?
Progressive, melodic rock with sprinkles of jazz, fusion, metal, bluegrass, ska, and Balkan Gypsy music.
Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.
Joe_Deninzon’s debut album Electric Blue
My first CD, “Electric Blue”, was recorded during the summer of ‘98 between graduating from Indiana University and moving to New York. It was an all-instrumental jazz-fusion album and I used a bunch of great musicians I had known in the Cleveland scene for many years. My goal was to arrive in New York with a CD in hand that I could give out, find a band, and start gigging as much as possible. At the time, I came out of jazz school and was listening to a lot of Jean Luc, Didier Lockwood, Weather Report, Mahavishnu, etc.
After this album came out I went through a bunch of different lineups in New York which eventually morphed into Stratospheerius. I had always been a singer and had written vocal songs, but could not find a way to reconcile that with all the instrumental fusion I was writing. I gradually set out to incorporate some vocal material into my set list.
The second album I did, “Adventures of Stratospheerius,” had Alex Skolnick on guitar, whom I befriended when I was teaching at the New School. This album was 50 percent vocal and had a mishmash of styles. I was still trying to figure out who I was musically. The Live Wires album also captured that era when Alex was in my band as well as Jake Ezra (guitarist for The Book of Mormon) and we were travelling around playing a lot of fusion with a few vocal rock tunes mixed in.
Long story short, I think our last album, “Headspace”, and especially the new one, “The Next World,” really capture that sound I have been seeking for years, one that combines my influences as an instrumentalist and my influences as a songwriter and vocalist. It took me ten years to really figure out what I wanted to do and establish the true sound of this band. I know it’s an ongoing journey, not a destination, but I’m really happy with the musical direction we are on right now and the response has been amazing!
How’s the current music scene in New York?
The music scene in New York is in constant flux. It’s hard for me to recognize any specific trend dominating the scene right now, but there are always amazing and creative musicians in the areas of jazz, rock, crossover classical, singer songwriters, and hip hop. I like how venues like Le Poisson Rouge have created a way to hear classical and hard-to categorize crossover music in an intimate club setting.
I love the scene in Rockwood with free music and an enormous variety of great artists coming through. World music venues like Drom and Mehanata are incredible places to hear diverse music from all over the planet. There are cynics who say the scene is not what it used to be, but there have always been and will always be cynics. New York has a way of always reinventing itself and even though your favorite venue may close, there are always new venues opening up. Plus there is the constant influx of new talent from all over the world. It’s great cause as a musician, it keeps you on your game. No matter how weird or out of the box your music is, there is always a venue in New York City where you can play it.
If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with whom would that be?
I love all the people I’m collaborating with right now, but I can mention a few names of people I have never worked with who I think would be fun and creative: Steve Vai, Mike Keneally, Eddie Van Halen, Tal Wikenfeld, Jeff Beck, John Corigliano, Mark O’Connor, Chris Thile, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, Kanye West, The Roots, John Mayer, L. Shankar.
What violins do you play?
Joe Deninzon with his acoustic violin
My main acoustic violin is made in 1979 by Bernardo Gutterman, out of Chicago. The first electric violin I purchased in 1995 was a 6-string made by Eric Jensen. Right now, I play a Mark Wood Viper fretted 7-string Flying V electric violin and alternate that with my acoustic.
The day I bought my Viper in 2003, I went straight to a rehearsal with a band, plugged it in, drew my bow across the strings for the first time, and right at that moment, the big blackout happened that knocked out the whole Eastern Seaboard. Sorry about that.
Where do you purchase your violins?
My acoustic violin was given to me by my father. He had played on it for twenty years and was looking for something that would blend into the orchestra more. I brought both of my electrics directly from the makers.
Do you play any other instruments?
I play mandolin, which I picked up a few years ago, as well as guitar and electric bass. I also sing all the lead vocals in Stratospheerius. I studied piano when I was very young, then gave it up. That’s one instrument I wish I played better.
Which are your favorite violin guitar effects or techniques?
I’m interested in going beyond the traditional functions of the violin. I see a lot of unpaved territory with this instrument, even though it has been around for hundreds of years, we are just scratching the surface.
First of all, I’m endlessly fascinated with the percussive things the violin can do. “Chopping” is a technique invented by Richard Greene in the 60’s that involves muting the strings with your left hand and coming down hard with the bow, creating a “chopping” sound. Basically, your violin becomes a snare drum. This technique can be combined with chords to imitate a funky rhythm guitar, and can also be used to imitate a guiro or a DJ scratching a record. It sounds amazing with a wah wah pedal.
I also love incorporating delays and loops into my solos. It’s fun to use pitch-shifting pedals like whammy’s to create lightning fast shifts that are not humanly possible on a regular violin. Many traditional string players and acoustic purists don’t realize that working with effects is not just blindly hitting pedals or buttons. It requires taste, timing, and precise coordination between your hands and your feet.
There are times when I’m singing, improvising on the instrument, and changing sounds with my feet simultaneously. I don’t see the use of effects as a crutch to compensate for any lack of playing ability but simply a wider palette of colors to paint your music with. When it’s done right, it really has the WOW factor.
Do you still pay some of your early violins?
People see me wailing on my electric with Stratospheerius, but at least 50 percent of my life, I’m playing unplugged on my traditional acoustic violin. It’s funny that people see you doing one thing and thing that’s all you do. Most guitarists I know play a bunch of different electrics and own at least a few acoustics and go back and forth depending on the gig. I want to see the day when all string players function the same way and the electric violin is not seen as a novelty.
What was the first big lesson you learned about the music business?
That kid sitting next to you in algebra class in high school can end up being the head of your label or your booking agent or your bandmate. You might grow up hating country or bluegrass music, but 15 years later you are on a session and the producer wants you to cop that style, but because you never respected it or gave it any credence, you can’t do it and he ends up calling the next guy.
The big lesson I learned is; you can’t discount anything or anyone. Diversify your palette and respect and honor whatever music you are playing and whoever you are working with at any given time, and it will pay dividends.
Do you have any plans to take the The Next World… album on the road?
We are always performing. There are no 3-month long 90-show tours planned at the moment, but there are always shows going on in any given month in many different cities. Just check our website or facebook page and sign up for our e-list.
What music are you currently listening to?
I’m always revisiting my favorite bands like Yes and Zappa and Mahavishnu, but I’ve been listening to the new Springsteen and Keane albums. Also there’s a solo tuba and classical guitar recording of Alan Baer from the New York Philharmonic with Scott Kuney playing some badass Astor Piazolla arrangements that someone turned me on to.
Also digging the recent Black Keys and Foo Fighters releases. There is a great Maxim Vengerov recording of all the Eugene Ysaye sonatas and reworking of the Bach Tocatta that’s ridiculous. The new Nikki Minaj album has some nice moments too. Also, have you checked out this Swedish band called Dirty Loops? They do some heavy reworking of Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, and Lady Gaga that’s off the hook!
Do you have any upcoming projects to share with our readers?
Plugging in; a Guide to Gear and New Techniques for the 21st Century Violinist
I just published a book for Mel Bay titled “Plugging in; a Guide to Gear and New Techniques for the 21st Century Violinist.” Half of the book is an introduction to improvisation in the styles of blues, funk, and rock. The other half deals with gear-related things, like choosing an electric violin, shopping for an amp, working with effects. There is also a CD and DVD. This book basically answers questions that students have asked me repeatedly over the years. Some of these are things guitarists take for granted, but are completely new to string players. I basically wrote the book I wish I had when I was 17.
I also recently joined the Sweet Plantain String Quartet. This is a traditional acoustic string quartet which combines classical, jazz, Latin influence, blues, and hip hop. I sing and play violin and mandolin, the cellist raps, and the other violinist, Eddie Venegas, also doubles on trombone. This group has toured all over the world and just signed a new management deal. Look for the debut CD in the near future.
I am also constantly writing music. I have about 80 string quartet arrangements of well-known rock songs I have written which I hope to publish and make available on my website. Someday, I’d love to write an electric violin concerto, if I can find the time.
Aurelien Budynek (guitar/vocals)
Aurelien hails from Bordeau, France and is a graduate of Berklee College of Music, where he studied with Dave Fiuczynski. In addition to playing with Stratospheerius since 2008, he has also toured and performed with Cindy Blackman, Vernon Reid, Daredevil Squadron (with Members of the Trans Siberian Orchestra), The Dan Band, and Rock of Ages.
Jamie Bishop (bass/vocals)
Hailing from Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Jamie is also a graduate of Berklee College of Music and has been with the band since 2007. Jamie has laid down the groove for a wide variety of artists, including the Syn and Francis Dunnery’s New Progressives, Stefani Vera, and The Prigs.
Lucianna Padmore (drums)
A member of Stratospheerius for over a decade, Bronx New York Native Drummer Lucianna Padmore has been praised by Modern Drummer magazine for the “Deep grooves and serious fusion chops.” Lucianna has been involved in many different projects in the New York scene. Performing highlights include jazz tuba player Bob Stewart, opening for Shirley Horn, Chico Debarge, Amel Larrieux, Kelis, James Spaulding, Bertha Hope, Jimmy Heath, Clark Terry, Sun Ra Archestra, Josh Rosemen Quintet, Oscar Peterson trio, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, to name a few. Lucianna has toured in Austria, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Morocco and Haiti.
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