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Interview with MARIO PARGA

June 2008

There's a lot going on for Mario Parga. Highly respected for his guitar craft, the English-born Las Vegas resident, the axeman of choice for such heavyweights as the great late Cozy Powell, has recently released his second solo album, "Entranced", and embarks now on a new endeavor, SAVAGE PARADISE, the band fronted by former BLACK SABBATH singer Tony Martin - preceded with a vocal version of tremendous ballad "Spirit Of Night" - and a new label of his own. But is it strange that the happy family man, with a baby girl born prior to the album's release, is so full of energy? Let's ask the maestro.

- There's been a splash of activity since the release of "Entranced". Why is it now that you decided to remind the world of who Mario Parga is?

Well... I left the music industry back in late 1993 as I'd just gotten sick and tired of all the bullshit within it. The music industry is really that: an industry; it has little to do with music and musicality. I'd been around on the international guitar scene since I was eighteen years old, and I'd just reached a point in my life where I was bored with non-musical people trying to tell me how I should play or what I should play in order to make a living. I still kept in touch with a few people though, such as my old friend Graham Bonnet who asked me to play on his "The Day I Went Mad" album in 1998.

It was really Matt Williams, the head of Liquid Note Records who encouraged me to record again in 2001, I provided the tune "Valse Diabolique" for LNR's "The Alchemists" album. When my first website was built in 2003, I received a surprising amount of fan mail from around the world from people wanting to talk about guitars, my early career and "The Magician" and "Valse Diabolique". I was quite touched that I was still remembered after my long absence.

As for "Entranced", it was made up of several tunes I'd written during my time away from the public and media, I'd invested a lot of money in studio and musical equipment around 2004 so recording a new solo album since 1991's "The Magician" seemed like a good idea! It was kind of therapeutic, too.

- Therapeutic? In what way, please?

Mostly as I was able to get a lot of music out of my system that had been sitting there for several years. Being able to play all the instruments, produce, engineer, mix and master my own recordings in my own studio without budget or time restraints was also very therapeutic. I remember recording "Haunted" and "Spirit Of Night" very late at night whilst looking out at the moonlit woods across from the then studio, it was very calming being alone whilst recording.

- Has the parenthood boosted your creativity?

Well, first of all, I know you're a new father too, so congratulations! (Smiles.) I wouldn't say parenthood has boosted my creativity, yet as I'm tired these days from the baby waking during the night! (Laughs.) Having a child certainly makes you look at things in a different way though, things that were once important are now almost irrelevant as my baby daughter always comes first. Both my wife and I are touched on a daily basis with how wonderful she is. I've written a song for her, it's called "Lullaby For Skye" and is an all-acoustic track. I'll record it one day soon.

- What about "Spirit Of Night" - was the vocal version an afterthought or you had it in mind from the start?

When I originally wrote that song, I heard the melody as a voice but recorded the tune as an instrumental. When "Entranced" was released, I had so much positive feedback about "Spirit Of Night" from fans and the press - you yourself said some very cool things about it! (Smiles.) - that I decided I should try it out as a vocal based song. Tony Martin immediately sprang to mind as I've always loved his voice, and I knew that he was very capable of singing this kind of non-metal song and that his vocal melodies would fit. I also knew that his voice would suit "Spirit Of Night" perfectly, and I was right... (Grinning.) I'd worked with Tony back in the early Nineties so I knew what he was capable of. Tony's a bit like Graham Bonnet: both are phenomenal vocalists who can sing anything yet are often type-cast into repeating their past successes.

- Do your new projects with Martin mean you're going back to where your road to fame started?

Not really, as I found fame and success as a guitarist several years before meeting Tony. But in a way it feels like old times though, and I'm looking forward to the future and the SAVAGE PARADISE project.

- Don't you find it a bit offensive when somebody describes you as a heavy metal guitarist - after playing with the likes of Cozy Powell and Graham Bonnet?

(Laughing) Not really, I'm kind of used to it. But I've never really been a 'heavy metal' player, I started out playing rock, fusion, classical and latin jazz, my biggest musical influence is Al Di Meola. I'm more offended when non-musical people compare me to Yngwie Malmsteen - no disrespect to him - as I don't sound anything like him, have never been influenced by him nor even owned one of his recordings! I guess it's the fast alternate-picking thing... sadly a lot of people within the rock movement don't realise that Di Meola was picking fast years before Malmsteen - as were many others... Growing up in Spain meant I was exposed to a lot of flamenco and Moorish sounds, and I don't believe harmonic minor scales and the Phrygian Mode are common within Swedish music? (Grins). I saw some amazing Spanish guitarists as a kid who led me to experiment with different sounds. Far from 'heavy metal'... Having said this though, the new SAVAGE PARADISE project is pretty heavy... but still musical.

- How did you hook up with Graham and Cozy?

I was offered a major recording contract back in 1989, and my then manager who owned a well known studio got in touch with Graham Bonnet who agreed to sing on the first album. Typical of the music business, the day before we were to sign contracts with the record label, they pulled out, stating that they required the money they were going to give us to fund something else they'd already invested heavily in... (Laughs.) Graham and I kept in touch though, and it was he who got me to play on the FORCEFIELD albums and introduced me indirectly to Cozy Powell.

- Did you hear the original HAMMER's tapes prior to joining Cozy's band?

No, I didn't. We didn't play any material from that period either. It was Don Airey who put me forward for Cozy's band. Don came over to my house and we ran through some ideas - Don was originally going to play in the band. When I first hooked up with Cozy, we played a few tunes from his then new album "The Drums Are Back". On tour, we played a selection of RAINBOW, BLACK SABBATH, WHITESNAKE, Cozy's solo stuff, Tony Martin's solo stuff and even a Billy Cobham instrumental! Cozy was very cool though as he allowed me free reign with the solos, so I didn't have to copy someone else's.

- The FORCEFIELD project featured a wealth of talent including such guitar greats as Ray Fenwick and Micky Moody. Did you chance to meet the guys and learn from them?

Back in the FORCEFIELD days I knew Ray Fenwick quite well. We worked together on my "The Magician" album in 1991, and Ray did a guest solo on the song "The Midnight Cafe". I was endorsed by Ibanez guitars at the time and I remember taking Ray with me to see them where they gave him a beautiful guitar. Ray's a great blues player, he has a wonderful tone and vibrato. I never met Micky Moody though, he recorded his parts on a different day to me.

- Ritchie Blackmore once said he'd found it hard playing slow as he used to be fast. Have you gone the similar way?

No, not at all. Playing fast, slow, mid tempo, etcetera should be a part of any guitarist's or musician's repertoire. As much as I was a 'shredder' back in the Eighties and early Nineties, I still recorded and played ballads. Part of the problem with today's new generation is that they can't play slow, or even play a decent rhythm. They spend all their time concentrating on speed alone, and much of what they play is musically void... I wrote an article on this very subject for my blog.

- Speaking of today's guitarists... Do you think they have the right to play what they call rock without knowing how to play the blues, the basics of the genre?

'The blues' is a basic form of music and real and great blues guitarists are very rare. Whilst 'classic rock' was bluesy, modern rock and metal - nu-metal, industrial, thrash, etcetera - has different influences. Musical style variety is always a good thing. Although great blues players shine with obvious musicality, the blues genre tends to attract a lot of bad musicians; I've heard countless 'blues' and 'blues rock' guitarists play with as much musical credibility as a learner pianist playing the tune 'chopsticks'... Whenever technique is questioned - even bare minimum - they claim that they're 'feel' players and disinterested in technique, and hide behind this in an attempt to shroud their obvious lack of talent. Bending a string and pulling a silly face doesn't automatically produce 'feel' nor emotion, there's a bit more involved than just that. Some of the most emotional music in the world came from the Romantic period within classical music, with violinists and pianists in particular having great control of their chosen instrument whilst playing moving slow passages. Those same violinists and pianists could play anything from the super-technical to a haunting adagio: somewhat more than just a handful of pentatonic licks with two or three fingers.

- A band of yours being born right now... But weren't you trying to set SAVAGE PARADISE in the early Nineties? Why did you fail then?

Yes, SAVAGE PARADISE was originally conceived in 1993, the year I left the music business for a while... I'd recorded some material at a friend's studio in London but struggled to find the right singer. I always liked the name though, and it fit the new project. None of the material recorded from the SAVAGE PARADISE sessions in 1993 will be used with the new band. Incidentally, the song "Entranced" from the album of the same title was from the original SAVAGE PARADISE project.

- What do the words "savage paradise" mean to you - image-wise? What would be in the painting with such a title?

The very world we live in is a savage paradise. Despite the staggering beauty of Earth, there's an ugly side to it caused by man. If I were to paint a picture to represent it, I'd probably paint half of the painting with a tropical paradise island, with distant mountains and a beautiful sunset. The other half would probably depict the state of the world today; crime, famine, terrorism, corporate greed and destruction, and so on.

- Will the new SAVAGE PARADISE be a touring project or a studio one?

When I first came up with the concept, we were just going to be a studio-based band, but I've since had several credible offers from tour promoters who are very interested in us, so I think we'll tour at some point. We'll start recording the first album around October time, we all have other commitments at the moment so we'll have to base SAVAGE PARADISE around them.

- SAVAGE PARADISE is a band of yours. How did you react when the newslines on the project mentioned Tony and you were sidelined?

That wasn't entirely the case as I saw several newslines that mentioned both of us. There were numerous guitar-based sites that only mentioned me. To be honest though, I really don't mind at all. SAVAGE PARADISE is a band project and not one of my solo guitar things. I don't care which individuals from the band are mentioned, as long as the band's name is! (Laughs.) I think there's a lot of natural curiosity out there amongst fans and the press with regard to Tony, as he's been away from the scene for a while. All I can say is that he won't dissapoint them, I sincerely believe he's at his peak right now and sounds incredible.

- What did make you want to form a band again - now that your solo record's just been released?

I like working within a band situation, the problem is always finding the right singer and chemistry with the other members. When Tony agreed to be part of the project, it all made sense and encouraged me to pursue the other band members. We're looking for a keyboard player right now, the full requirements can be found on my site. I'll still record instrumental guitar music though; in fact, I'm starting work soon on a new album.

- What did you do when you got away from the music business?

Beg, steal, borrow, ran away to the circus... (Laughs.) I went into hiding and stayed with my sister for a while. I played some low key 'local' kind of gigs with an all-acoustic set and also spent some time with my father back in Spain. I did quite a lot of artwork too, mostly 17th century Old Master copies and portraits. I also painted the murals inside one of England's oldest houses built in 1260 AD.

- How often do you get to paint these days? Would you like to have your works exhibited one day?

I hardly ever have time to paint these days as I'm usually recording or playing guitars! When I'm not involved with music I like to spend the remaining time with my wife and daughter. I've had artwork exhibited in the past, but my heart and prime interest will always be with music.

- The cover picture of Bonnet's "The Day I Went Mad" that's something! Who was your inspiration as an artist?

The original version of the cover was painted with oil paint, it was very detailed but got accidentally damaged whilst some of the paint layers were drying. (Sighs.) The second version that was used for the cover was painted under pressure of a very looming deadline, so I had to use fast drying acrylic paints. The painting's style was inspired by the strange visions of Hieronymus Bosch.

- How instrumental was Liquid Note Record in raising your profile anew?

Very. Without Matt William's encouragement and support, I probably wouldn't have recorded commercially again. It was Matt alone who enticed me out of my hiding hole... We're actually very good friends, when I lived in England Matt visited me regularly and we often had epic conversations about guitars, music, books and movies.

- What are your favorites in each of the categories?

Guitar-wise, my favourite - electric guitar - for a few years has been a Washburn X50 PRO. I only play mahogany bodied electric guitars now, as I have done since 1993, and prefer through or set necks and strung through the body. I stopped using whammy bars about ten years or so ago. I prefer fixed bridges as tuning is way more stable, and let's be honest, harmonics played with a whammy bar is now a little dated and overdone. My favourite acoustic guitar is a Crafter CE15-N that I use for most of my acoustic work. It's nylon strung and has Koa wood back and sides. I like acoustic guitars for their dynamics and pure sound.

My biggest musical influence is Al Di Meola, so he has to be in my list! I like a lot of film soundtrack music, I think that some of the greatest contemporary talents work within this field. I also like some ambient and new age music. I don't listen to as much classical music now as I did when I was younger. Rock or metal stuff these days is pretty dull, but THE DEVIN TOWNSEND BAND always amazes me with albums like "Infinity" and "Terria'. I usually listen to older albums, I was playing "Passion, Grace & Fire" by Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia earlier today.

I've not read a book, or novel, in years as I just don't have time these days. The last book I bought and eventually read was an art book about Caravaggio. I remember reading Stephen King's "Pet Sematary" back in the Eighties, it was a great book, full of King's dark humour. I also remember reading "Jaws" by Peter Benchley when I was a little kid, it gave me countless nightmares!

Hmmm... movies... I like so many, I'd end up compiling a massive list! I think movies in recent years have been pretty bad though, and I'm sick of all the pointless remakes. Some favourites off the top of my head are, in no particular order: "Godfather" I and II, "Blade Runner", "For A Few Dollars More", "Alien" and "Aliens", "Once Upon A Time In America", "Rocky", "Monty Python And The Holy Grail", "The Devil's Backbone", "Perfume (The Story Of A Murderer)", "Leon", "Leaving Las Vegas", "The Deer Hunter", "The Shining", "Pulp Fiction" and "This Is Spinal Tap".

- What was the motive behind MidnightCafe Music? What qualities should an artist have for you to sign him?

The motives were quite simple: I was sick of dealing with dickheads at record companies! I realised that I had enough contacts and resources to create a label, so it wasn't a particularly difficult thing to do. This way, I'm in total control of my own music and don't have to explain my art to a non-artistic moron. Another reason is that record companies seem to look down upon instrumental music. They're more interested in silly fabricated pop songs that everyone forgets the year after. As I mentioned earlier, the music industry is an industry, where making money is more important than making music...

As for artists and bands interested in the label, well, originality and musicality are what we're looking for. We're open to all musical genres, and people can email us their demos at music@midnightcafestudios.com.

- Is MidnightCafe amassing a roster already?

Let's just say that I've got my eye on a couple of things. (Smiles) The biggest problem I have right now is how busy I am personally, it's hard to find time for other acts at the moment.

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