Stratospheerius

Sunday, May 29th, 2011 @ 1:41 am

Ben Sommer: Hi, this is Ben with BandsLikeZappa.com. I’m here with Joe Deninzon from the band Stratospheerius. Joe, why don’t you just say hi, and just give a little introduction about yourself, the band, and what you guys are all about.

Joe Deninzon: First of all, thanks for having me on your program, and my band is called Stratospheerius. I play the electric seven-stringed Viper violin, and basically, Zappa’s one of our biggest influences. In fact, we performed a few of their songs live. The band is hard to describe, but it’s a mixture of Zappa, Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Police, little flashes of Dave Matthews but not too many, and I’m the lead singer of the band, and it’s prog, rock, funk, jam music with the influences of gypsy music and classical music as well.

Ben: Yeah. Cool. Now, it’s an excellent and very interesting instrumentation you’ve got, with mix of song styles. I’m not sure if you’re a violinist or fiddle player. Oh, you’re like Jean Luc Ponty or you’re like Dave Matthews. I mean, in this case I guess there is that element of that Dave Matthews angle. You’ve got that bit of a jam band element where you guys rock out and then take trade solos, and then you’ve also got absolutely the prog and jazz fusion element. The precedent there is – I guess – Ponty. I’m not sure who else.

Joe: Well, in the worlds of progressive rock, bands like Yes, King Crimson, that’s old school progressive rock and they influenced us a lot, but not so much as a lot of the newer bands out of that genre, but jazz fusion, I would say with Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jean Luc Ponty, Return of Forever, groups like that. We take elements of all that, each of those genres of music that we like, we mix them together.

Ben: Tell me about your instrument. You have a name for it. It looks like a tricked out electric fiddle, but you have a different name for it. Tell me about it.

Joe: It’s known as a Viper. It’s made by a man named Mark Wood out of Long Island, and he was the violinist for Trans Siberian Orchestra for a while. He’s manufactured these violins for about twenty years now. And they’re shaped like flying-V guitars, and they have a unique harness strap-on system that goes around your back, so it sort of becomes an extension of your body. And me being a singer, it’s very comfortable to play and sing with this instrument, and it’s a solid body violin.

Ben: It’s the seven strings? How is it strung? What are the pitches?

Joe: Well, the top four strings are regular violin strings, from the highest which is E down to A, D, G, then it goes down to C, like a viola, F and then B flat. And B flat is a whole step lower below a cello.

Ben: Oh, awesome.

Joe: It’s got a range of most of the bowed stringed instruments.

Ben: Basically, it’s a guitar, roughly.

Joe: Yes. I put it in through about sixteen different effects pedals. I have a huge pedal board onstage, if you come and see our shows. Basically, if you put a distortion pedal on it, you get those low power cords on this instrument. It sounds really cool.

Ben: Cool. Yeah. What’s the training like to take that up? I play five-stringed instruments. I’ve tried out a seven and ten-stringed guitar, and it’s not so weird. You can adjust to it. You’re going to learn. Is it the same deal with the violin? Was it pretty easy to pick this up? I presumed you were trained classically?

Joe: Yes and no. I mean classical training is definitely important. I mean it really is a foundation for everything I do, but it takes a bit of adjustment because the angles of the strings are different, the intonation is a little different. It took me about a month of just practicing and getting used to it. It also has frets like the guitar, that’s the other thing and that takes getting used to for a violinist.

Ben: Doesn’t that make your life easier?

Joe: It does in a lot of ways.

Ben: Why did they put frets on it? Is it to make it easier to play now that you’ve got seven strings and a weird set up, or is there a sound reason, a sonic reason, when you electrify the thing that it sounds better with frets?

Joe: It’s not really a sonic thing. He gives people the option to order the instrument made with or without frets, so it’s not heis only option. But I chose frets because I never had an instrument with frets before. I have another electric violin and I play a regular violin, too, and also I was in a lot of situations playing in sweaty loud clubs where the monitor mix sucks and no one’s listening to you when you want to be heard, and also, you don’t know if you’re nailing the high note or not because the violin with no frets you have no idea. So in that regard, it helps relax you a little bit. And also as a singer, it just takes a bit of the load off trying to sing and play at the same time which is what I do – singing and playing the violin.

Ben: How does that go? I mean, it’s always tricky to play and sing at the same time. I’ve done it, depending on the instrument you play. I’ve actually found it easier to play rhythm instruments that typically go with the melody like the guitar, rhythm guitar. The bass is always difficult. I have a friend who sings and plays drums. He says that’s a murder to do. Is it tricky?

Joe: I look at the violin as a rhythm instrument equally as much as a melodic instrument, so many rhythmic things a violin does, but I think it’s not incorporated enough in rock music, but it’s a challenge. And sometimes I come up with vocal lines that are totally contrary to what the violin is doing in a song, and I really have to isolate that part of the song and just work it over and over and over and over again until it comes together. Once it comes together I move out the next piece and I put the music together that way. The more songs you do that way, the more comfortable you get. It’s like anything else. But I thought I would challenge myself when I started. When I was like in my early twenties I started writing songs that I would sing and play the violin on just to see if I could do it.

Ben: What are some of the Zappa songs you’ve covered?

Joe: Zombie Wolf, Hot Rats, King Kong, Magic Fingers is our favorite, and it’s out in one of our CDs actually.

Ben: The early stuff, then?

Joe: I like a lot of the early stuff. Yeah. I mean I love the seventies, the early seventies is my favorite Zappa period. But I have a huge Zappa collection, and we were going to do City of Tiny Lights, we’ve been working on that one as well.

Ben: Wow. Cool.

Joe: I like choosing stuff. It’s not as often covered. The songs that I have always been intrigued by have been sort of ignored a little bit or at least I felt that way.

Ben: Right. Cool. So do you have any upcoming gigs or releases you want to plug?

Joe: We’ve been working on this crazy album for like two years and finally the mixing is almost done. We have like two songs left, and we’re going to be mastering and hopefully have it out by the fall. Tentative title or working title is The Missing Link. And I think it’s the best thing we’ve done so far. I’m very proud of it. It’s just taking a while because I’ve been involved with a lot of different projects, and my wife and I had our baby right after this album was tracked so I sort of put it on hold for a while.

Ben: That feels good, doesn’t it?

Joe: Yes it does. But we’re back on track and about to finish it, and as far as gigs, we’re doing a few things in May around New York and a tour of the South in June. We are going down to Chattanooga to play that River Band Festival on June sixteenth.

Ben: Cool.

Joe: I’m playing around that area in North Carolina and Tennessee, maybe Georgia. But we’re based in New York area, so, we’re going to do a bunch of things in the northeast and we are currently booking more stuff for next year.

Ben: Cool. Where do people find you online?

Joe: Stratospheerius.com.

Ben: Good name for a band. Yeah…

Joe: Yes. Nice and catchy.

Ben: You’ll be the first result in Google.

Joe: Yes, it keeps the audience size manageable.

Ben: Cool, well, thanks for talking, Joe. This has been great.

Joe: Thanks. Oh, I just going to mention, we’re also on FaceBook, yeah.

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