Matus, Jim (Paranoise) (May 2001)


The (Not So) Private Power Of Paranoise - An Interview with Jim Matus

Paranoise - IshqI must admit that I had never heard of Paranoise until the day I interviewed Pete Trewavas, bass player of Marillion and Transatlantic. He urged me to check this band out, and you know what ... he knew something! In fact Paranoise are great; a true progressive act that brilliantly merges African chants with prog rock atmospheres. So I turned on my computer and tried to reach Jim Matus, their leader, hoping (that) he would tell us more about his band ... well, here is our good conversation.

Igor Italiani: Hi Jim. The first question is about your new album. When do you think it will be published and what are your distribution plans to reach the progressive faithful of the world?

Jim Matus: Our new album should be released in June or July on Ancient Records, which is my own independent label. It will be distributed through The Laser's Edge (www.lasercd.com) and other US distributors as well as our own site (www.paranoise.com). As for worldwide, we are working on setting up licensing deals for UK, Europe and Japan. The business end of Paranoise is slowly coming together and gradually catching up to the music. After all, I'm a guitar player and not a lawyer, but I am discovering that the future of innovative music is better handled by the artists themselves whenever possible since the record companies rarely understand anything that falls outside the boundaries of predefined musical categories. There are no progressive/world music channels as of yet. So for now I wear two hats and try to sell myself as a product.

II: Regarding Ishq ... the title of the new album has some references to the concepts of Terrence McKenna, depicted on your web site, right?

JM: "Ishq" is a Sufi word meaning roughly "transcendence." I am an avid follower of Terrence McKenna (an ethnobotanist and expert on the subject of psychedelic plants and Shamanism). Since the general idea of Paranoise is to join East and West in a new and different way, I attached this word to McKenna's voice and an ancient Celtic chant; I'm trying to conjure up a little alchemical magic and surprise. The Sufis achieve their altered states through repetition of sacred words and poetry and singing for hours at a time. The shamans, although sometimes singing themselves, get to the same place through the use of hallucinogenic plants like mushrooms and peyote. The end result is the same: A real and natural connection with a higher way of perceiving reality.

Paranoise - Private Power (1999)II: Can you tell me if there will be a lot of differences between Ishq and Private Power, your 1999 album, that was made with a totally new line-up of musicians?

JM: The musicians are the same. This is a great band that I hope will stay together indefinitely. We've added more percussionists and singers, (in the studio) like the Yale Womens Slavic Chorus and African drummer Martin Obeng. The overall sound is more of a seamless integration of prog and world music than the last record, not quite as "heavy" but more "trancey" and groove oriented. We still have kept the hard edge and the serious political message while giving the ear an occasional rest to "space-out." We've created some otherworldly sounds and strange textures punctuated by disturbing outbursts and bone crushing rattles and rolls.

II: However your first two albums marked Paranoise ( Start A New Race and Constant Fear ) were made with a three piece line-up. Can you tell me what are the differences between those two and the rest of the Paranoise history? It seems to me that Paranoise went on a sort of prolonged hiatus after Start A New Race ?

Start A New Race (1993)JM: The original Paranoise was a much different sound. It was a power trio with 4 saxophones and a wild screaming lead singer, Miguel Ortiz. It was like the World Saxophone Quartet meets Led Zeppelin on speed. By the time we landed a deal on Island Records, the live band had fallen apart so we used studio musicians like Anthony Jackson, Percy Jones, Don Cherry, and Gary Windo to record the first two records and did not do any live gigs. When Miguel died in 1994, Paranoise was in mourning and hibernation for a while until I got it back together in 1997 with all new people and a new concept. Ancient Records is trying to acquire the old masters and reissue them.

II: Jim, having worked with a lot of talented musicians, who is the one with whom you really enjoyed playing? And is there someone you would like to work with, but haven't been able to reach yet? I'm sure two are Peter Gabriel and Robert Fripp?

JM: Without diminishing any of the others, I've been lucky to have played with 2 out of 3 of my favourite bass players in the world. I would have loved to have played with Jaco (Pastorious). Anthony Jackson is the most musical and well rounded player I know. He has rock solid time and knows how to support and play off anything in a way that is always unique and surprising. Percy Jones is the most original bass player I know. He is an unschooled musician who plays almost totally by ear and as a result has developed a style and vocabulary that no one has ever been able to duplicate. Many people have been influenced by him and have gone on to be successful while he still wallows in obscurity, known mostly to other bass players. Regarding Peter Gabriel and Robert Fripp... well, they've been huge influences for me. They are people like Miles Davis or John Coltrane, who always managed to stay one step ahead and set the standard by which everyone else must be judged.

II: You studied at Berklee and then with the incredible John Scofield. What can you tell me about those two really important musical experiences?

JM: Berklee was the turning point in my life. It's when I realized that I couldn't do anything else but play music. Berklee was like a cult of fanatics that existed in a bubble world where the only language was musical notation. It was boot camp for a music army. I took lessons from Pat Metheny at Berklee and later in New York with John Scofield. I spent a lot of time with Pat Metheny just playing tunes and trying to absorb his genius. He has the most melodic mind of any jazz player I know. He can construct a solidly logical improvisation over the most harmonically obscure changes, or play dissonantly over a standard tune to where it sounds like free jazz. Scofield is the ultimate "Jazz cat." He grooves and swings unbelievably with the most unexpected twists and turns of melody and he always blows my mind. They are both great composers as well. If I absorbed 1/10th of the stuff these guys did, I'd be happy forever.

II: And when you started to view things in a radical way, like the one that shines beneath the thoughts written on the Paranoise web site? Was it a shocking episode that abruptly started this process, or was it a gradual thing, slowly gaining space in your mind?

JM: I've been politically radical ever since high school when I protested the Vietnam War, abruptly realizing that my country was an undemocratic imperialist super power committing war crimes and destroying an ancient culture with chemical warfare in an illegal invasion. After the war, I slacked off in my activism until I discovered Noam Chomsky, the leading intellectual of the left. He has been able to analyse and synthesize the most obscure and hidden information about how the business of the world is conducted in a way that is coherent and consistent. This is the source of my inspiration to try to politicise my music and bring attention to the plight of indigenous people who have been exploited by corporate globalisation and the cultural hegemony of the USA. If we can just play a small part in the growing network of politically progressive movements around the world, maybe we can help slow down this process of environmental and social devastation that is threatening the survival of the planet.

II: You said to me that Paranoise had a few dates in support of Transatlantic. How have the shows fared in your opinion? Will you embark with your band on a world tour and when?

JM: Opening for Transatlantic was a great experience. We only did one show with them in our home state of Connecticut. We will be working on putting together a European tour as soon as we hook up some distribution for our albums. Any worldwide agents out there?

II: Jim, speaking of the world ... reading your web site it seems that you've already visited a lot of places. Surely you've experienced a lot of things that the average human being, feed only by TV most of the time, doesn't know. Can you tell us some tales that you encountered on your journeys?

JM: In fact I have not done much world travelling. I'm a very poor man, deeply in debt because of putting all my attention into my very non-commercial music. I get most of my information by digging through the muck and reading alternative press. I'm hooked into many progressive political webrings and environmental causes. In America it takes a keen eye to focus on a tiny amount of truth that escapes the sophisticated corporate propaganda system.

II: OK. Going back to Transatlantic. They're one of the main acts of a thriving progressive scene. What's your opinion about this new wave of prog bands, like Pain Of Salvation, Fates Warning, Dream Theater, Shadow Gallery? And do you think, like me, that the prog forefathers (Yes, Kansas, Jethro Tull...) are still alive and kicking?

JM: I'm not familiar with too much of the neo-prog stuff. I love King's X [Yeah!!! -II]. I like some Dream Theater, but in general I find the older bands much more interesting. I mean: King Crimson, early Jethro Tull, Spirit, early Yes, National Health, Hatfield And The North, Gentle Giant, etc?

II: Well. Don't you think that all those bands could lead another 1968 (as it is suggested in the words of Chomsky, published on your band's philosophy page) real soon; even if the first one, in my opinion, had a lot of great ideals that weren't fulfilled in the end?

JM: 1968 was a very special time. Kind of like a portal opened up and closed, letting in a flood of creative and revolutionary energy. It was an optimistic, idealistic, and almost naïve period in the sense that people actually thought that things would change quickly and that by the year 2001 we'd have this wonderful "Stanley Kubrick" civilization. There was a very horrific ROLLBACK of this vision by very powerful economic forces. Without going into too much of a rant, the answer is NO. This kind of thing will not happen through music alone. Take a look at the anti-FTAA demonstrations in Quebec. This is the new 1968; much more serious, they don't have time for music. We musicians can help, by providing a soundtrack and doing some consciousness raising, but the job is HUGE and I believe that a worldwide revolution has to happen naturally, gradually and pragmatically until it reaches critical mass. It's not fun a games like the 60s.

II: Maybe the web is the media that will enable a complete change of the human landscape? In fact I think that one of the last bastions of freedom are the hackers and their work. Your opinion about these topics?

JM: Absolutely. The internet is what will connect this world revolution. It's uncontrollable, at least now, and as the cyberpunks used to say: "Information wants to be free." And as Terrence McKenna says: "If the truth can be told so as to be understood, it will be believed." It takes a lot of energy to hide the truth and only a small leak can bring down a mighty dam.

II: What's your approach in portraying Paranoise music live? I mean, how do you reproduce all the different aspects of the songs (such as African chants)?

JM: We play along with the loops live (recorded on CD with a click track for Geoff, the drummer). It actually works and sounds better than the record sometimes. We use live percussionists sometimes and sing along and harmonize with the chants. My goal is to eventually reproduce everything totally live.

II: Finally, can you share some thoughts about the other musicians that are with Paranoise at the moment (for example, how about Bob Laramie who studied bass with the mighty Michael Manring)?

JM: Bob is a great bass player; as good as Michael Manring any day! Rohan Gregory is a brilliant eclectic violin player. I couldn't ask for a player more suited to the Paranoise sound. Geoff Brown's drum solo on the new album is going to blow a lot of people's minds. I love Thorne Palmer's voice and his lyrical sensibilities are right on the mark.

II: Anything you want to add before saying goodbye?

JM: Check out the Moroccan group Nass Marrakech. I just wrote a review of their new album in Tone Clusters Magazine.

II: OK, Jim. Thanks a lot for the interview and I hope that one day, real soon, Paranoise will be amongst the music leaders of a better world!

JM: Oh, I hope this, too. A big hello from America and see you soon someday.

[Paranoise ceased and Mawwal was born circa 2004 -ed.]


Discography:
Constant Fear (1988)
Start A New Race (1993)
Private Power (1999)
Ishq (2002)

Added: May 22nd 2001
Interviewer: Igor Italiani

Artist website: www.jimmatus.com
Hits: 1064
Language: english
  

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