13 October 2008

10 Questions With...Frank Camiola

One thing I can say about progressive musicians in general is that they tend to be pretty strong characters…and Frank Camiola is no exception. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen him at NEARfest in a rainbow curly haired wig. Saying this makes him seem like a joker…someone who isn’t serious about his music or anything else. I don’t know the man personally, but I think nothing could be further from the truth. His tastes may lean toward the quirky, but musically he is as comfortable with avant-garde and classical music (Camiola is one reason I’ve discovered the American composer Charles Ives) as he is traditional symphonic and progressive rock.

Camiola appears on three Frogg Café albums; the self titled debut (2002), Creatures (2003) and Noodles, a limited edition CD-R of improvisations and instrumentals recorded between the studio efforts. Unfortunately, some health concerns (as seen below) forced Frank from Frogg Café, and he moved on to a new project, Cardboard Amanda, a 22-track opus described as “...the most bizarre and unique CD released this year...” (Peter Pardo, Sea of Tranquility), "...a very intriguing, weird and unusual listen, and if I can say that after all these years, that's saying something!" (Steve Feigenbaum/President, Cuneiform Records/Wayside Music), and "One of the most truly 'progressive' works in decades." (Robert Marone/New Jersey Proghouse). A ‘final’ live performance/reunion with the Froggies at NEARfest 2005, performing the epic “Waterfall Carnival,” added a nice touch, and for some of us, seemed to indicate the final closing of that chapter of Camiola’s musical CV.

Recently fans were overjoyed to discover that Camiola was invited back to Frogg Café for the recording of their next studio album. Work on this release continues apiece, and it’ll be interesting to see what directions the band goes in with Frank back in the saddle, musically speaking.

I'm pleased that Frank agreed to a profile here...he's insightful, incisive, and has a lot to say about the importance of music in today's society, his influences, past and future work, and much more besides.

1) Tell us a little bit about how you got involved in music.

FC: Hmmmm....here goes. Played the violin in 4th grade - wasn't any good - switched to string bass in 6th. Got better. Parents bought me a Peavey electric bass in 8th grade. Played in a rock band as well as the school jazz band. Music overtook my life rather quickly from that point on. Discovered the usual prog suspects (Rush, Yes, Crimson, ELP), that changed my life, went on to music school and received a Bachelor's and Master's in Music. There is probably more, but that is it in a nutshell. It is my life and always will be.

2) Doing a quick Google search finds a band called Euphoria, with songs like "Hey Baby, Touch my Organ!". Was this a group you were involved in?

FC: Yeah. Wow - you found that! That was actually the second band I ever played in (first was Inertia). Euphoria was our high school band. We played 95% Rush covers and then 5% anything else. "Hey Baby" was a joke (obviously) that turned into our greatest original - how sad is that? Great fun though playing in this band and it was basically training for future musical endeavors. That was the first and last piece of music that I have ever sang lead vocals on - and for good reason.

3) How did the Cardboard Amanda project happen?

FC: After I discovered that my tinnitus was severe enough to curb my involvement with Frogg Cafe/live electric music, I had an idea to create an album of predominately acoustic-based textures. My interest in modern classical music and the avant-garde was growing heavy at this time, so that essentially was the impetus of the record. I had contacted my good pal Chris Tunney and another pal Dee Harris, both of whom played on our wacky track called "The Celestial Metal Can" on Creatures. Chris is really a brilliant guy and he is so creative in about a million different ways. And Dee is one of the more accomplished musicians I know as well - he religiously practices about 20 different instruments for hours-on-end. The sales pitch was something like "Are you guys interested in making one of the strangest albums that we've never heard until now?" And they said sure, and we mainly recorded the material at Dee's house and I did some stuff at my old apartment in New Paltz. I wrote a good deal of the music, and Chris wrote some music as well as the entire "libretto", lyrics, and story line. There were a few pieces of collective improvisation as well. All in all, it is an album that we are proud of and it was the most liberating musical experience I've had thus far. It sold some copies, but understandably it is not for everyone. But there were some very positive comments made by some people who I highly respect, so I feel it was a success.

4) Will there be a future release by CA, or has Dr. Amanda Mueller's story been told?

FC: If all goes as planned, my next major musical project will be the second CA album. I have written great deal of material, and Tunney has as well, so it will be just a matter of learning the stuff, finding the time to rehearse and record, and getting it down. I hope to have some more musicians on this one, maybe some special guests, and expand the textures quite a bit.

5) How did you get back together with Frogg Cafe?

Andy Sussman called me last winter and asked if I was interested in recording the next FC album. I was honored to be asked. He basically proposed any "anything goes" approach to the material which sounded enticing (!), so I said yes. I have contributed two pieces for this album, which are probably the most complex pieces of music I've written up until now.

6) How is work proceeding on the new album?

So far, so good. Bill's engineering skills are constantly improving, as is his gear, so sonically this will be the best sounding Frogg Cafe studio work to date. As for the material, I am feeling really good about what is on display. The pieces were written by Nick Lieto, Andy Sussman, and myself. We all seem to have different approaches and musical visions, so I think that one of the strengths of the material lies within it's diversity and eclecticism. Some of the stuff is HARD, so it is not an easy session by any means! Working with these guys is incredible. We have a great chemistry both musically and socially, so the sessions are always a fun endeavor. Sometimes too fun...

Will your current work with Frogg Cafe be limited to the studio?

I would say so. The guys understand this, and live electric music is not the best environment for me these days. But that does not mean that you will never see me on stage again - anything is possible.

Irreverent question number 1: Charles Ives or Burl Ives, and why?

Haha. As much as I like the old Rudolph Christmas special, I'm gonna go with Charles. With all of this talk on TV recently about "mavericks", well Ives is a TRUE maverick. In a nutshell, Ives wrote music way ahead of his time, and in a most original manner. His music is an incredible conglomeration of looking over his shoulder at the past while searching for the future. He has turned my musical world upside down. Charles Ives is the very definition of progressive music, and a lot of this was accomplished before 1920. He is still very much ignored and misunderstood by many, even amongst the "musically elite", but it is their loss. Some of my favorite music on Earth. I cannot hold any higher regards for his musical accomplishments.

Irreverent Question number 2: Complete the following: "What the world needs now..."

In the states - I would start with a new president. I would also say that our culture does not see the arts as a top priority. Think about this - if a school district is fortunate enough to have an instrumental music program - and the budget was cut severely for some reason - guess what program would be the first to go? Music is so important in the development of children, and to ignore it is to ignore a vital aspect of life. When as the last time you turned on the TV on a Sunday afternoon and saw 80,000 people attending a classical music concert at Giants Stadium? See my point? We seem to glorify other activities that I feel are way less substantial in my view, at least here in the states. The most important advice I could give at a taxpayer is to please, please, please support the arts. Once they are gone, you will never get them back.

Do you have any final thoughts for us?

FC: Yes - thank you so much Bill for taking the time to "pick" my brain. I really appreciate it and I wish you the best of luck in your musical endeavors.

Links of Interest:
http://www.froggcafe.com/ (under construction at this time)

(Photo of Frank Camiola live with Frogg Cafe @ NEARfest 2005 by Bill Knispel)

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