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Tempano interview (by George Rossolatos)

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    Posted: January 03 2023 at 06:16

Tempano- 45 years in Progland: Interview with Pedro Castillo (by George Rossolatos)

GR: When did Tempano officially form and what was the original line-up? What changes were made to the original line-up throughout Tempano’s different prog periods?

PD: Tempano was born around 1977 in a Caracas neighborhood. Two bands used to rehearse on Saturdays in two houses that were located very close to each other, so all members were friends and went to hear other rehearsals. It occurred that one member of my band Diedra (drummer Alberto Bellorin) left for the USA to go to college and Franco Morales (guitar player for Magia) went to France to do a telecommunications master. At that point, the remaining members from both bands formed the first generation of Tempano. The original name was Tempano de Papel (something like a Paper Iceberg), but eventually we decided to have a simpler name, and so we ended up with Tempano. The first line-up consisted of two guitars, bass and drums. No keyboards, no vocals. Shortly thereafter, we added a keyboard player (Jose Gonzalez “Pirulo”) and a singer (Jose Benmaman). After that, “Pirulo” decided to go to Berklee College of Music and Jose Benmaman and bassist Leo Arias left the band. Cesar della Noce came, Pedro took over the vocals and Miguel Angel changed from guitar to bass, giving shape to the line-up which recorded Atabal Yemal.

GR: Atabal Yemal is rightfully considered a prog classic. It forged a unique sound that is still fresh and surprisingly appealing to contemporary audiences. Which composition elements do you think contributed to its longevity? 

PD: We were inspired by the bands we admired at that time (Happy The Man, Genesis, Crimson, experimental music and fusion). The original line-up (with no keyboards) was inspired by Wishbone Ash. But the style was changing, eventually to something more elaborate, and we were free to experiment which made us different from the rest of the bands in Venezuela. It was fun to take risks making our music! When Cesare joined the band, he brought his passion for classical music into the mix.

GR: Tempano as a band appears to a broader audience to have a split personality, as after Atabal Yemal and until the original line-up’s reformation in 1998 you followed a largely popular music orientation. It is like the band was frozen in time and suddenly revived after a long period. What were the main reasons that the prog side of Tempano remained dormant for so long and what drove you to return to your prog roots in 1998? 

PD: After I left the band in 1981, the prog movement worldwide had to adapt to survive. I adopted a more pop-rock oriented prog style (with the third Aditus record “ Fuera de la Ley”), while the remaining members of Tempano took the same direction. We never imagined that Atabal Yemal would remain in the heart and mind of prog lovers around the world. For me, the reunion in 1998 was a natural step to continue the body of work that began in 1978. The first reunion rehearsal was like a miracle. It was then that we realized that we could never abandon our love for progressive music and keep enjoying doing that.

GR: In the meantime, you (Pedro Castillo) also made a huge commercial success with the pop side of Aditus who followed a similar path, while transforming from a prog/fusion band to a pop idol. How come you didn’t opt for following this trail with Tempano who demonstrably also followed a more popular trajectory for quite some time?

PD: I would have loved to stay in Tempano but I was fired in 1981. The reason my friends evoked: I was too commercial! And it made sense because I discovered that I could sing, my contribution to the new material for the Atabal Yemal follow-up was charged with lyrics, whereas the rest of the band wanted to keep doing mostly instrumental music. That changed once I joined Aditus, and, funny enough, Tempano followed a similar path later on, becoming one of the most successful AOR bands of its time in Venezuela. It was the trend of those times.

GR: Pedro, you are an accomplished prog musician whose enthusiasm for the genre shows very vividly in your live shows. How would you compare between this more eclectic facet of your musicianship with the requirements of performing as a popular music artist in front of larger and broader audiences that are not as musically involved? How does it feel having been a pop idol, but also an underground prog musician, in different waves throughout your career?  

PD: I have the privilege of enjoying the best of both worlds, bringing prog elements to my pop songs, but also learn to adapt musically and emotionally to every situation. In the end, I feel comfortable living in both worlds. This may be confusing to some fans but I truly love both worlds 

GR: Share with us some of the most memorable moments from your early period live shows. How do live audiences compare between the 70s, your later, more pop-oriented followership and your post-Childhood End’s performances? Where do you feel more like being at home?

PD: My day-to-day work is doing pop shows which I enjoy a lot. However, when I have the chance to play with Tempano it’s like a “special gala” filled with enthusiasm, and the audience is so different. I believe that our prog audience owns a particular musicianship that we share with them and the experience is very rewarding.

GR: Can you describe for us some of your most memorable live moments? Did you ever share the stage/jam with other artists? 

PD: I’ve been a special guest in many well-known international artists’ live-shows like Fito Paez, Roxette, XTC. With Tempano there were a couple of special moments in the past. One of them with Roger Waters, in the closing day of the Caracas Pop Rock festival, we were on stage, surrounded by “hard cases” labeled Pink Floyd!  We were nervous, this was the last day of the festival and we knew people were excited to hear Roger. The organizers wanted us to be the band before Roger, at the end of our set the crowd was so excited and warm….And another unforgettable moment was opening for Yes. When I was about to start my soundcheck with the band, a tech guy from Yes started yelling at me, asking to get off the stage because “nobody open for Yes”. We tried to explain to him that country regulations in Venezuela require that in every international artist performance, a local artist must open the show. We ended up speaking with Jon Anderson at his hotel lobby across the street from the theater, who said in his angelical tone that he’d be glad to have us opening the show. The day after, for the second show, when I was doing my soundcheck, the same tech guy that was screaming the day before asked very politely if I could stop my soundcheck for a while for Steve Howe to do his check because he was stuck in local traffic and arrived late at the theater. I said “my pleasure, on the condition that I stay here watching.”

GR: What were your main influences at the time you recorded Atabal Yemal? How did these influences change in later albums, such as Agony and Ecstasy and Nowhere NowHere? 

PD: When we recorded Atabal Yemal, our influences were a mix of Wishbone Ash, Genesis, La Maquina de Hacer Pajaros, Gentle Giant, but also because of Cesare who listened mostly to classical music, Beethoven and Wagner. That was the music we were into in that moment. Atabal was created in the late 70’s. Childhood’s End was recorded around 2000 but the music was part of many unreleased songs we had for a forthcoming album before Cesar left the band. I think that music maintains the original spirit of our youth, while adding the individual experience of each member through many years.

GR: Atabal Yemal is mostly an instrumental album. What do you think about the ability of music per se and the musical properties of vocals (what Barthes has called the ‘grain of the voice’) to evoke and instill feelings and synaesthetic imagery as against the semantic properties of lyrics? Was the decision to exclude vocals an attempt at reaching out to your evoked audience through the unadulterated by vococentric properties power of music? If so, can you describe in the context of some of the songs that are contained in Atabal how the instrumentation and the compositional pathways reflect the nomenclature of the song titles? 

PD: It’s interesting that Tempano started as a quartet with no keyboards and no vocals. Soon after our first rehearsals we felt the need for classic keys and synths as well as some vocal and hired our first keyboard player (Jose Gonzalez “Pirulo” and Jose Benmaman). Once they quit the band, I took over the vocal duties, but lyrics were not our main thing. In fact, Atabal Yemal is around 80% instrumental but we had vocals in three tunes, I believe inspired by Renaissance and Camel. Around that time I discovered that I could sing and those were my first shots!

GR: Atabal Yemal is currently re-released by PQR-Disques plusqueréel with a dual cover. What is the story of the previous cover, who is the artist and how come you never proceeded with it in the first place?

PD: The cover and all the original art around Atabal (including the name Atabal-Yemal which is a play of words intended to mean “winter drum”: Atabal is an old drum and Yemal comes from Yamal, a frozen peninsula) are from a great visual artist and music collector who sadly passed away, Alberto Barnola. He was in charge of all the visuals and graphics for the band and also acted as our band “guru”. The previous cover and the new one belong to the same concept, and for this re-release we wanted to show as much as possible the whole graphic work of Alberto. The new cover was used as the poster for the only show we did for the launch of Atabal-Yemal in a very nice theater in Caracas (Teatro Paris), a choice we made back then. He was impressed with our work and told us all that we should record an album, that he did not understand why we had not done it yet. His words surprised us since in our innocence and youth we had not thought about it yet. He told us with firmness that we were already mature to release an album. We were between 18 and 20 years old at that time, soon after came the recording sessions at the Odisea studio with Jimmy Kovacs at the presence and tutelage of Vytas Brenner who was favorably impressed by the group. We were the studio mascot for a while.

GR: Atabal Yemal was originally released via a small indie label. How difficult was it back then to release prog albums in Venezuela? 

PD: In Venezuela we had a culture that welcomed all things coming from outside and we were in some way victims of that way of thinking. But eventually we managed to release our record with hard work, with the help of a fan and later our first producer, Juan Ramírez who approached the band and created the indie label Vinyl Internacional. I remember that we had the audacity to go to an AM Radio station at that time with hopes that they could air some tune of our first record and I’m sure everybody knows the outcome LOL.

GR: What sort of technical constraints did you face when you were recording your debut album that could be easily managed with today’s technology?

PD: First of all, only 8 tracks and a very limited mixing board. And of course very little time to record at Odisea Studios as we had to share time with Vytas who was recording at the same time. Also almost no processor units in the studio. Today, all of the above would be very, very different!

GR: Which prog band mates would you name from Venezuela and abroad in the 70s? Bands you toured with or used to rehearse in the same place? Apart from Aditus, were you acquainted with any of the seminal bands that are featured in PQR’s celebratory Prog Venezuela releases, that is, Estructura and Equilibrio Vital? If yes, in what capacity and how would you describe your relations?

PD: I remember going to Estructura’s rehearsals and being friends with their members as well with other bands. We toured with other bands like La Misma Gente (a trio similar to Grand Funk), Resistencia (a hard rock band with prog touches) and we were fans of other bands that sadly never released a recording like Mandala, Xenon and Un Pie Un Ojo.  But for us the great success was Vytas Brener Y su Ofrenda. Vytas played a fusion between prog and Venezuelan music that made him gain national recognition and open doors for other bands and artists making “non-commercial” music.

GR: What sort of cultural resources (books, artists, movies, folk myths) have been influential in moulding your individual artistic persona and vision?

PD: I started listening to British prog. That was the beginning and the seed of all that came after. Then I discovered prog rock from Argentina which was accessible to us in Venezuela through vinyl editions and magazines like Pelo. That was my main motivation to start singing. There was a belief that rock sang in Spanish wasn’t right and Argentinians showed us it wasn’t true, Seru Giran, Invisible, Sui Generis, La maquina, incredible lyricism in their lyrics. Also Italian prog like PFM, Banco, Area, Jumbo, Toto Torquati, Perigeo and others that were edited locally in Venezuela. Then, I added American classic rock to my repertoire and also jazz fusion like Return to Forever’s first albums. Today, after so many years, my “artistic persona” is focused on making music that I can enjoy, trying to learn continuously and raising my own standards.

GR: Did you receive recognition outside of Venezuela during the 70s/early 80s prog years (e.g. gig/album reviews by the foreign press), and if yes, from which countries?

PD: There were things happening outside of Venezuela for Tempano that we found out many years later! We never knew it! On another note, Aditus were big in Panama in the 80’s apart from Venezuela.

GR: Have you been listening to emergent and by now established genres such as prog metal? Are there any neoprog bands that have attracted your attention? What do you think about the contemporary scene and the proliferation of bands compared to the 70s when only a handful were in existence? Does the quality of contemporary musicianship compare to the scene’s forerunners or gems are getting more scarce to locate amidst the hype?

PD: I spend much of my free time listening to new music and trying to discover things that I might like. Regarding neo prog, honestly, it is not my thing. I am deeply into Canterbury (Hatfield and the North, Egg, National Health, Caravan etc) and when I find some new band which sounds close to Canterbury I am happy! Same thing with prog metal. I’m not a fan of shredding. I prefer listening to an Andy Latimer solo with Camel. I like bands like Flower Kings, Kaipa, Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson’s solo adventures, Pineapple Thief but not limited to prog. I also enjoy listening to things happening in Chicago like Tortoise, Sea and Cake and solo works from their members, Jim O’Rourke and Ryley Walker, also from Chicago. And one guitar player that I’ve always followed and admired like Bill Frisell. But my list contains pages and pages of music covering more than 5 terrabytes storage space in my hard disks and more than 5000 albums at home.

GR: What are your perceptions about the relationship between bands and contemporary fandom, in a social media dominated age where 1-2-1 relations may be formed between individual fans and bands? Does the effacement of the distance between fans and bands contribute in any manner to the loss of an artist’s aura and the role he may perform in a fan’s life? How would you describe the pros and cons with regard to this matter? 

PD: I don’t think so. In my experience, a straightforward relation between bands and fans contributes to expanding our horizons as musicians and artists. Things beyond social media like the Cruise to the Edge experience have been great for both fans and bands. I’ve never been there but have friends who have and repeatedly so, year after year. This is a place where one can see the bands live and the next day have breakfast with them! The “aura” you mention in my opinion comes from the music, the concept, the recording, the cover, the art and many of those things have been lost in modern times but curiously some folks from new generations are enjoying buying vinyl records today! So not everything is lost!

GR: Some of you have pursued parallel professional lives alongside your roles as musicians. How have you been managing your dual roles?

PD: I have the luck and privilege of working in different areas orbiting around music. Performing, recording, composing music for commercials and tv shows, and teaching among others. I have a degree in Electronics Engineering and an MBA in marketing but only worked as an engineer for 5 years after graduating. I made a life decision in 1987 to dedicate myself exclusively to music and I don’t regret it for a second. Being an engineer has helped me solve many technical issues involved in recording and performing with all the equipment needed which in a way is an advantage. Music is my life.

https://pqrrecords.blogspot.com/
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote telefunk Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 12 2023 at 11:51
Love Tempano. Maybe the only band from latin america that is good enough?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote disquesplusqueréel Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 16 2023 at 09:20
Absolutely absurd statement
https://pqrrecords.blogspot.com/
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