Shadow Circus from USA is already a familiar name in ProgArchives. Both their albums is a breath of fresh air in our scene and there is no doubts this band has the potential to become the one of the leading prog rock bands in the near future.
I got in touch with John Fontana and he very quickly answered my questions.
Your history and the development from
individuals to a band has been described in the PA profile so just
let us jump straight over to your two albums. Please give us your
long or brief thoughts on.......
Welcome to the Freakroom from 2006
This is, of course, where it all began.
It's hard to talk about this album without repeating some of what may
have already been covered here...After 15 years or so of playing in
rock bands in NYC, I had taken a break for a few years. As I was
coming back into it, I wanted very much to join a prog band, but
since none of the recordings I played on before demonstrated this
style, I needed to make a demo that showed I was capable of playing
this genre, so I set out to record some demos. Before sending them
out to prospective bands as audition material, I forwarded the
recordings to a few colleagues to get their feedback. Two of those
people - Corey Folta, formerly a bandmate of mine in an alternative
rock group called Persona Grata, and my good friend David Bobick, a
vocalist trained in musical theater, both had strongly positive
reactions to it, and thought it would be fun to complete the
recordings with a full band instead of offering them to established
groups as audition material. And so the core of the band was formed,
and I continued to write and record until all of the songs on Welcome
to the Freakroom were complete. Dave and I formed the concept of
Shadow Circus, based on a mutual appreciation for Ray Bradbury's
Something Wicked This Way Comes, and thought it would also make for a
fun image to surround the band with. The idea that we would put on an
outrageous live show was a key concept early on.
Whispers And Screams from 2009
With the first CD, the band formed
around the music as I described. But with this release, we had a band
in place, so the writing was much more collaborative, and with the
band's current lineup in mind. So, this time, the music formed around
the band! With the first CD, the other players actually recorded
directly to the demos I made, to click tracks and so on. This CD was
recorded with the band live in a room, with no click tracks. We
wanted to be able to do subtle and organic tempo changes based on
feel, rather than the rigid constraints of a click.
As I wrote the songs for this album, it
was apparent that the dynamics had quite a broad range. Some things
were softer than anything on the first CD ("When Morning Comes"
and "Angel"), and also much heavier ("Captain Trips",
"Willoughby"). It was also much more emotional music. It
was written during an emotional period for all of us - Dave was
having a kidney transplant during the production, each of us were
having heavy things that we were going through, but we all remained
dedicated to completing this, and it gave us all a lot of strength
through those times. The range of emotions and dynamics is what
inspired the title, Whispers and Screams.
How is the creative processes in your
It traditionally starts with me taking
the phone off the hook for a month or two, working on technique and
studying new types of music, until the influence of it settles down
and I can begin to generate ideas. With the first CD, I had spent
months studying classical piano. On the second disk, I did some of
that as well, and also studies composers of Celtic music. The over
the period of a few months, I accumulate various musical ideas until
they begin to take form. I can hear an epic begin to evolve when i
find a motif that can be expressed in many different ways (as with
the themes in "Journey of Everyman" and "Project
Blue"). Then Dave listens and begins to form the concept of the
lyrics, and we go from there. Once Dave and I have some solid things
to work off of, we bring in the rest of the band to help complete the
puzzle, and play it live in the studio.
When it comes to your music and your
artistic image, I feel it has some vaudeville theatre rock influences
in addtion to your main symphonic prog influences. In particular on
your first album. But how would you describe your music ?
As I mentioned earlier, the idea of the
band's identity was important to the concept of Shadow Circus since
the beginning. Dave and I observed that most new bands don't take
much effort in the area of "showmanship". In the 70's and
80's, if you met a rock star on the street, you felt like you were
meeting someone from another planet! There was magic and mythology in
it. Now you look on any stage, and see guys in cargo shorts and
t-shirts, and you wonder, who is babysitting their kids? I wonder if
their wives mind that they have a band? When punk rock deconstructed
the prog scene in England in the late 70's, it at least did it with a
sense of bravado and charm - the capes and flowing gowns of Wakeman
and others were replaced by Mohawks and piercings. But as the 90's
went on, and MTV faded, there was a rebellion against image - which
was needed in some regards. But then it turned rock concerts into
something that looked more like a high school Battle of the Bands.
So, we always wanted to put the band
out there as a group that could put on a show, and make you imagine
that you are experiencing something from another world.
You have chosen to release both your
albums on your own record label. What is the pro and cons of going it
The first is actually released on
Progrock Records. We decided to release the second one ourselves for
various reasons, but the biggest reason is freedom. The concern of an
indie label is to simply sell CDs. Which is great, we want to do
that, too. But that can't be the main focus when you are looking for
your audience. The primary goal has to be getting the music out there
so that as many of your potential fans as possible will know about
you. The way to do this now is through direct and quality interaction
with fans. We do all kinds of giveaways, get involved with charitable
causes of all kinds - these things are tricky with a label, because
even the indies have major distribution networks in place that will
restrict your ability to distribute freely.
Just to find out some more about you,
please give us your opinions on........
Gigs and festivals
Finding an audience through constant
gigging is a relic of the 70's. What really killed it in the U.S. was
when the drinking age was raised to 21. Before that, college kids
used to pack the clubs and see as many bands as they could. Once the
drinking age was raised, the clubs emptied out, and the only people
who would see you were the ones you personally invited to come to the
Now, with the internet, you have a
chance to gain an audience online before you hit the clubs, but the
trick for a new band is getting the critical mass in one geographic
location. A new band may quickly gain 2000 fans, but they are spread
out all over the world in such a way that maybe only five will come
to show in any given place! The trick here is to focus on a
geographic area to start with, even though you have access to the
world. So, we're pushing very hard in the New York area, and are
currently planning shows on the East Cost beginning in September, and
culminating in our big show at The Triad Theater in NYC in October.
As for festivals, we are looking
forward to playing our first festival at Progday this year, and are
very excited about it! We hope we will get to play another one next
year. I wish there were more one-off events. It seems a shame to me
that the prog live scene in the U.S. consists of only 4 or 5
festivals each year. I would love to see many smaller events
throughout the year - I'd like to see this happen both as a fan and a
Classic prog rock bands like Yes,
Genesis and Camel
To me, Yes was always the prime example
of a great progressive band. I can't say enough about them - Rick
Wakeman and Steve Howe have always been my heroes and inspiration on
guitar and keyboards. I have also always been a huge fan of ELP,
Jethro Tull, and King Crimson.
Vaudeville theatre acts like for
example Alice Cooper and Kiss
Of course! When I saw Alice Cooper's
show, I thought - that's what I want to do! He has guillotines and
dancers acting out the songs - his shows are so much fun! Kiss is
less so an influence for me, but our singer, Dave, is a huge Kiss
fan, and we agree that their magic is in their presentation, and we
definitely aspire to have that kind of effect on people live. If only
we could afford the pyro, we would do it!
Record labels and the future of the
It's anarchy right now! There is more
music than ever before. There are more music listeners than ever
before. Yet the business model used by the labels is less effective
than ever. The problem is, without labels acting as gatekeepers, and
without DJ's and journalists telling us what to look out for, it is a
monumental task for listeners to find the music they want to hear -
it's a needle in a haystack. And artists wonder how to find their
There will ultimately need to be a
system of dispensing music that is similar to cable television.
Producers of television shows do not need to figure out where there
audience is - they are all sitting in front of a TV, so they at least
have a starting point. Music will eventually get its bearing and find
a central way to connect listeners with music, but it's not there
The death of the record stores
As Brian Eno once said, selling albums
in the post-internet world is like trying to sell oil lamps after the
invention of electricity. There's going to be something new, we just
don't know what it is yet. Personally, I think buying music was
ruined with the invention of the CD - I miss getting that beautiful
album packaging - big, legible lyrics, gatefold sleeves, great
artwork. If albums were still the main medium, mp3's would never
replace them because with albums you could hold something of value in
your hands that you couldn't reproduce yourself. Now anyone can burn
a CD, but you would never press a vinyl album on your computer. I
would love to see a serious resurgence in vinyl, but that's doubtful.
USA and growing up in the USA
I have no reference for comparison!
From what I know, I wish that music and arts education were better
here. It seems there is more of an appreciation for musicianship
elsewhere, yet so much of the world still looks to the USA for music.
I don't think much about how geographics effects musical influence -
the world is a much more homogenized place now. Now communities are
spread out physically all over the world, the boundaries are the
ideals, not the physical borders so much.
Barack Obama vs. Sarah Palin
Oh, good heavens - certainly not Palin!
I am so liberal that I have marks on my palms from hugging trees!
Usa vs Europe
I'm going to make a lot of people mad.
But, you know what? I am tired of artists that are afraid to take a
position on anything anymore because they afraid of scaring people
away, but it was the social statements of the 60's that made music
more important to people. I wish the USA would get over its macho
insecurities. It seems that the USA is more afraid of female leaders,
gay rights, etc. It sickens me that there is so much bigotry here
now, and the conservative element is so afraid of any kind of change.
The partisanship and culture wars have gotten too extreme. The right
is defined by a "tough love" attitude that's inappropriate,
in my opinion, for modern times - and the left is incapable of moving
passed it. It does seem like Europe has much more of a focus on "we'd
rather be happy than right", and I wish the USA would adopt some
of that attitude.
After these rather untraditional –
and very nerdy- questions; what is your plans for the rest of this
year and next year ?
Starting with Progday in a few weeks,
and the big show in NYC in October - some more live appearances are
in the works. Then, after the holidays, we begin work on the new
Anything you want to add to this
I would like to thank you for this
interview, and all of our fans at Progarchives for their amazing
support! And to anyone in the NY area, come see us at The Triad in
NYC on October 16th, and you will see what we're really about!
A big thank you to John Fontana for answering my questions.
Shadow Circus PA profile is http://www.progarchives.com/artist.asp?id=2878 -
& their homepage is http://www.shadowcircusmusic.com/ -