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Topic ClosedInterview with John Fontana of Shadow Circus

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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Interview with John Fontana of Shadow Circus
    Posted: October 07 2009 at 20:12

2009 gives us the follow-up to Shadow Circus' debut album, Welcome To The Freakroom. Met by critical acclaim while creating a buzz in the progressive rock community, the band have experienced both peaks and valleys. One thing is abundantly clear, and that is Shadow Circus have emmerged from the Freakroom triumphantly and are prepared to blaze their own trail with Whispers and Screams. Soundbytes and album pre-order are available on their website.

Guitarist/keyboardist John Fontana was kind enough to grant Progarchives a one-on-one to discuss their debut, health concerns for their frontman and how it affected those closest to him, and the creation of their second album, Whispers And Screams.

Hi, John. Thank you for being gracious enough to grant
ProgArchives this interview.

John Fontana: I'm honored!

PA: Can you give us some details on what has transpired with Shadow Circus
since the release of Welcome To The Freakroom? I understand there are some
personnel changes within the band?

JF: Our original bassist, Matt Masek, joined the band when he was expecting
to move to the NY area from western Pennsylvania. After we completed the
album and began rehearsing for live shows, those plans fell through, of
course he found it difficult to keep commuting all the way to NYC from
western Pennsylvania for rehearsals each week - it was an expensive and
exhausting proposition to keep up in the long haul. Fortunately, he was able
to come in to record cello parts for three songs on Whispers and Screams, so
it's nice to still have him "in the family", so to speak.

As for our keyboardist, Zach Tenorio, we always knew that he would be very
busy with the Paul Green School of Rock, his own band, as well as his work
with Jon Anderson, and going off to attend Berklee in Boston. We expected
that talent like his, and at such a young age, would be in high demand.

PA: I also was pretty concerned about some health issues that your lead
vocalist, David Bobick, was forced to face. How is he doing?

JF: Dave had PKD (Polycystic Kidney Disease). As of last Spring, it became
apparent that he would need to either go on dialysis or have a kidney
transplant. His old friend John Kelly, who sang some background vocals on
our first album, stepped up as the donor, and he was a perfect match. On
September 11th, of all days, he had a successful transplant. Within a few
days of getting home from the hospital, he was writing lyrics and singing
his heart out! Within a few weeks, he was back in rehearsals, better than
ever. He's doing great now, probably healthier than he's been in a decade.

PA: So, I'm assuming John will be getting a huge 'thank you' in the album

JF: Yes, of course!

Did you have any feelings that maybe he couldn't continue, or did you do
a 'Def Leppard' and stick by your mate?

JF: Honestly, I don't think it ever occurred to me that it might not go
well. I was very close to the situation, so I knew a lot about the process
and the expected outcome, which was always very promising. We rehearsed
right up until he went into surgery, and had the schedule for the production
of the CD in place, so we really just looked at it as a temporary
interruption. Dave insisted that we keep rehearsing during his recovery as
he didn't want any delays when he came back!

PA: To me, whenever I would contact you through ProgArchives, you never once
gave me an indication that David wouldn't be your singer.

JF: That makes sense - I don't think I ever even briefly considered it! He's
the voice and personality of Shadow Circus - if I ever have to work with
another front-man, it would not be called Shadow Circus.

PA: I know this had to have a tremendous effect on David, but how did it
affect you and the band as a whole? I can't imagine this is the same band
(psychologically) as it was a couple of years ago.

JF: Our friendships are long-standing, and we had so much history before
this that it was just taken as something to get through, a normal part of
life - something fairly serious, of course, but we had support from each
other and friends. If anything, we're all very grateful for the outcome, and
maybe it's strengthened our bond even more. So, I guess I don't feel it
changed us so much, but only because we were already such good friends.

Did it make you feel more vulnerable, or did you come out the other side
a much stronger unit?

JF: It affirmed how strongly we had always felt - if anything, it may have
given us a sense of urgency, in terms of wanting to take advantage of this
window of opportunity of good health, which can't be taken for granted, and
do what we can to its fullest potential.

PA: Before we get into the new album, Whispers & Screams, what lessons did
you learn subsequent to Welcome To The Freakroom (both positive and
negative) that you wanted to take into the recording sessions for the new
album? In my previous discussions with you, this sounds like a vastly
different project.

JF: The first album was something that we really stumbled into by accident.
I had written these little pieces to use as demos to audition for other
bands as a guitarist or keyboardist, then Dave and Corey insisted that it be
turned into an album. So, it was funny in that the band formed around the
music rather than the other way around. Everyone recorded directly onto the
demos I created for the songs. For this reason, there wasn't a lot of input
from the other member as far as song structures, feel, tempo. Many of the
guitars and keyboards on that album were the original demo tracks I recorded
before we even had a band.

This time, I composed the music knowing it would be Shadow Circus material.
We played the songs together for almost a year before recording them, so
everyone had a say. Parts got changed around, things were sped up or slowed
down, improvisation led to some new ideas. This time, the music formed
around the band.

Left to right: Corey Folta, John Fontana, David Bobick and Jason Croft

PA: With that, tell me about the new album. Can you compare/contrast a bit
with the debut?

JF: The first album was very deliberately an homage to the prog rock greats
of the 70's. There was a very conscious effort to use specific equipment and
production techniques to pay tribute to that great era of music. There were
many times where we were tempted to pull in some ideas that were totally
different, but wanted to keep the vibe we had set out to do. It was a fun
challenge, as all of us had always been involved in projects that went for a
thoroughly modern approach, such as Corey's band Product, and my former
bands like Omnilingus and Persona Grata.

With Whispers and Screams, I think we set ourselves free to grow from that
sound we established on Freakroom. There are definitely some retro
production elements that we've come to love - you'll still hear plenty of
Hammond, Moog, and Mellotron. But the key change is in the songwriting and
performances. It's an incredibly emotional album, lyrically and musically.
There is a such a broad range of dynamics. Some parts are pretty and lovely,
like something from a dream - other parts really rock hard and hit you in
the forehead like an ice pick! Which is precisely what inspired us to name
it Whispers and Screams. Anyone who buys the album can feel comfortable that
the package contains precisely what is says!

Musically, it grows from where the last CD left off, with the Journey of
Everyman trilogy. It gets quite a bit more challenging and dark than that at
times, with fewer catchy moments like "Radio People". My goal when composing
for this album was to be progressive - as in, what many prog fans refer to
as "truly progressive" - the music does push against the barriers of what is
considered normal elements in rock - sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.
But I feel that even with experimentation, it should be an enjoyable
listening experience, and the music should always be soulful. To me, it
doesn't matter if something is groundbreaking unless it expresses something
that the listener can feel. And, above all, the genre is called progressive
rock. The word "rock" is there for a reason! Rock is meant to be a soulful,
sexy and fun form of music. A lot of bands that try to experiment and
innovate forget that, or feel that those aspects are unessential. So, I
didn't want to entirely throw away the formulas of rock that I enjoy writing
with - there must be power chords, huge drums, lots of personality and fun,
over-the-top solos! The ending of an epic should give you an adrenalin rush
and send chills down your spine. I hope that that's what this record will

PA: Uh mentioned the 'E' word. Are there any epics on Whispers &

JF: Yes! We have a piece called "Project Blue", which is lyrically inspired
by "The Stand" by Stephen King. That section of the album is about 34
minutes. There is also a shorter, 10-minute song called "Willoughby" (based
on the famous Twilight Zone episode), which I guess is more like a

PA: And, if I may quote you, "The ending of an epic should give you an
adrenalin rush and send chills down your spine." For me, Neal Morse can
compose a pretty killer epic, with endings that will just grab me by the
throat. Is there an artist/band from whom you pull inspiration?

JF: I'm a huge fan of Neal Morse's epics! He's a big source of inspiration.
Growing up I was inspired by Pink Floyd, The Who, Yes, ELP, Queen, and
Jethro Tull, so the idea of an epic tune, or suite of connected songs, is
very much ingrained in the way I imagine music. I also grew up with
classical music, which I listened to long before I got into rock and roll -
that is an important source for inspiration, as a lot of the kind of melodic
and conceptual development we've come to expect from progressive rock music
really has its heart in the classics - Beethoven, Mozart, Stravinsky,
Debussy, Ravel, Mussorgsky.

PA: Just curious, but who produced the new album?

JF: Our drummer, Corey Folta, and myself. I tend to design the sounds of the
guitars and keyboards, do the melodic arrangements, and Corey focuses on the
drums, bass, and engineers the mix. What's nice is that he's produced so
many things that have nothing to do with prog, so he brings a lot of fresh
new ideas.

PA: Any thoughts of using an outside producer? If so, who would you love to
work with?

JF: I would love to have the chance to work with any number of producers -
there are a lot of people out there who are not big names, but have
brilliant ideas. Of course, in my dreams maybe, Eddie Offord, Quincy Jones,
Alan Parsons.

PA: So, we have an overall feel of Whispers & Screams. What's next for the
band? When will the disc be released/available for pre-order and how?

JF: The disc is currently available for pre-order form our website, and
we'll start shipping them around November 1st.

PA: Any touring? Possibly going to Europe ... or Kansas City? I'll treat you to
BBQ that would have you weeping. <<laughs>>

JF: You know me too well, Eric, I will travel anywhere for a free dinner,
and you especially know my appreciation for Southern comfort food!

We expect to play shows in the Northeast U.S. shortly following the release
this Fall, and we're looking forward to getting around to one of the
festivals next summer. We definitely have a goal to get to Europe, but when
that opportunity will come to us, who knows.

PA: I brought this up when I interviewed Allan Reed of Pallas, but illegal
downloading is increasingly becoming worrisome to me. How has your band
weathered this particular storm? Can bands in such a niche market like prog

JF: The internet giveth and the internet taketh away. On one hand, the
internet has made the current prog renaissance possible - a decent band of
any genre can find a community of potential fans very easily. Also, the
technology has made it possible to produce and distribute professional
quality releases very inexpensively. Shadow Circus couldn't exist without
these advances. The trade-off is: The market is overloaded with artists.
People can't find the time to listen to everything that's out there. And,
there's really not much of a living to be made at it. Most bands are
delighted to recoup the cost of production, if they can even do that. Bigger
bands keep making living off of touring, but there is a lack of venues for
bands just starting out.

So, I think that the mp3 phenomenon is a permanent factor - it comes
hand-in-hand with our ability to even do this, so we have to accept it and
move on. What I believe is far more damaging to upcoming bands is the lack
of a robust live scene to play in. That is how known bands make up for the
loss of income due to mp3's, but there's not much in the way of live venues
for newer bands. We do intend to seek them out and play out as much as
possible, of course, and we'll have to work very hard to make it happen.
Hopefully more promoters will pick up on this and some good bands will come
along to promote more of an interest in original live music.

PA: In closing, what is your mission statement for this band? Where do you
see Shadow Circus in 5-10 years?

JF: Well, continuing from my statement about developing a live scene, one of
our greatest interests has always been in developing a live show that will
be truly memorable. I believe that one of the reasons there is less interest
in live music, is that few bands bother to present themselves creatively.
Whether fans admit it or not, people do experience music with all their
senses. The same applies to food! You don't want to take a beautiful filet
mignon and put it on a piece of white bread, do you? By the same token, why
take something as majestic as progressive rock and stick it up under boring
white lights wearing a t-shirt and jeans?

So, we'd like to get out there, get on stage, and give people a show they
will keep talking about and want to see again and again. We want to keep
making the best music we can, keep challenging ourselves, and hope that
people will notice.

PA: John, it's pretty cool to be a fan and to get to ask you questions like
this. I really appreciate it.

JF: Thank you for this interview,  it's always a pleasure talking with you,

Edited by E-Dub - October 08 2009 at 10:17
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 07 2009 at 20:17

Excellent interview, Eric, great work and thanks for sharing!

Edited by The Quiet One - October 07 2009 at 20:17
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 07 2009 at 20:29
Great interview, Eric and thanks John for the time to answer the questions.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 08 2009 at 19:42
kudos to another musician dedicated to the working hard for his fans
"Here I am talking to some of the smartest people in the world and I didn't even notice, Lieutenant Columbo, episode The Bye-Bye Sky-High I.Q. Murder Case.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 08 2009 at 20:13
If you guys liked Welcome To The Freakroom, then this one will blow your socks off. From what I've heard, it's incredible stuff.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 20 2009 at 06:31
Great interview!  We (3RDegree) are only a few towns away from these guys.  I'd agree with all the points he made above about the live scene (lack thereof) and other insights above. "Defiling Perfectly Good Songs With Prog Since 1990"
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