I had the honor to be interviewed by the lady herself on LadyObscure.com
Here’s the full interview, enjoy.
Today, I am with the brilliant Shant Hagopian, the mastermind behind the Semantic Saturation project. I’m confident you will enjoy this candid chat with this very lovable and brilliant man as much as I did.
Lady Obscure: Hello Shant, thank you for taking the time for the Lady Obscure Music Magazine!
Shant Hagopian: Hi Nem, I have to be the one thanking you for your time, I know you’ve been pretty busy lately.
Lady Obscure: Oh, that’s very kind of you! Well, let’s start by talking about Shant Hagopian then, the man himself. I know you lived in Syria until seven-eight years ago, I know you had Nu.Clear.Dawn, if I’m not mistaken the first metal band with an album out of Syria in 2003 and I love about your love of Pink Floyd, how Comfortably Numb was your first favourite progressive song. But, if you please, I’d like to hear about reasons, motivations, drives… Did you know, for instance, as a teenager that making music would be the centre of your life? What made you decide to move to Canada?
Shant Hagopian: Ironically as a kid I was never interested in music, perhaps it was the local music that hadn’t appealed to me, but at some point after I’ve discovered my love for rock and metal, I’ve found some metalhead friends who played in local bands, everybody loved to play covers over there, and actually that’s how Nu.Clear.Dawn started. But when I first decided to pick up a guitar, I taught myself to strum some chords and play some lines, and started playing (or trying to play) along my favourite tracks on my own, some Pink Floyd, Metallica etc… But later I came to a conclusion that I have to attend a music school to learn the instrument the proper way if I wanted to start a band too, there was only one credible music school in town that I found through some friends, they didn’t teach rock guitar but jazz guitar was good enough for me. At the music school I’ve met more friends who were also like me; wanted to start their musical life the right way. So all these things motivated me and actually helped start a band, in fact one of the people I met at school was Ali Mearrawi with whom we formed Nu.Clear.Dawn, and after playing a few cover shows I was a complete addict, music was all around me.
Moving to Canada was a very hard decision for me to make, I had actually planned long ago to leave the country sooner or later, not because it was a bad place to live in, but it was inevitable if I wanted to continue with my musical life. There were a few problems, or let’s say obstacles that faced us rock/metal musicians wherever we turned, one of them were the authorities, who tagged every metal-head with the “Satanist” title, funny thing is these people in higher places had inherited this idea from problems in neighbour countries. In Lebanon; they found some metal tapes in a kid’s room who had committed suicide because of problems in the family, but they decided to blame the music genre instead. And there were some other rumours from Egypt as well, something to do with worshipping mr. Satan. Anywho! The other obstacle was the metal scene in Syria, back in the day it was very young and the media (radio/TV/magazine) did not cover any news; local or international, so we actually ordered magazines to people who were returning back to Syria, but it specifically hurt us as musicians later with Nu.Clear.Dawn because the media didn’t care.
Lady Obscure: Oh, I hear you Shant. Unfortunately that was the case in a lot of places. So sad… You came to Turkey in 2004 with Nu.Clear.Dawn and again if I’m not mistaken, you met Andy Kuntz there. Is this how the story began, so to speak? I mean, is that where you started laying the foundations for recruiting outstanding musicians for your project?
Shant Hagopian: Yes, I’ve met with Andy for the first time back then. We were in the hotel’s restaurant when Vanden Plas walked in, and that’s where we introduced ourselves and told them how big fans we were of their amazing music. At that point the only thing I was personally focusing on was Nu.Clear.Dawn, I was pretty much taking care of everything from rehearsal times to managing the website, contacting the press, booking gigs here and there, I didn’t have time to think about any side projects. It was a great opportunity and exposure for us at the time, we shared the stage with some of our idols and a lot of other big names like Pain of Salvation, Vanden Plas, UDO, Epica, Paul Dianno, Katatonia and even some extreme metal bands like Amon Amarth. 30 bands in total.
Lady Obscure: Did you like Istanbul?
Shant Hagopian: Beautiful city, a mix of the east and the west, a lot of tourists there and the scenery is great, people are very kind and the metal-heads were rocking. The first time I visited Istanbul was with my friend Saad Fanari who happens to be the cover and artwork designer of the Semantic Saturation album ‘Solipsistic’, the reason for my first trip was to finally attend a Dream Theater show after being a huge fan for 7-8 years. It was the trip of our lifetime. Returning to Istanbul a couple of years later to play was a dream come true.
Lady Obscure: Wow, you’ve just given me goose bumps! So, as far as I can tell, Nu.Clear.Dawn is on hold at the moment. Do you have plans to revive it? I understand you guys are physically not very close anymore but the same can be said for the musicians in Solipsistic as well…
Shant Hagopian: True. I’d love to do a new NCD record, but… there’s always a but. I honestly think it’s not going to happen anytime soon, if at all. I’ve asked the guys a few times after I moved away from Syria, every time I asked them they were excited and sounded like they really wanted to make it happen, but they never participated, or they did very little and then completely forgot about it, except (drummer) Aram Kalousdian; who was the only one who showed some enthusiasm, but later gave up all hope like myself on the rest of the guys. I wrote some demos for NCD and actually recorded some ideas with Aram, I created a folder on the internet for everyone to record their own ideas and drop their files in there for everyone else to download and add their own, the process was very slow because of the internet in Syria, and because of their access to it, or just because of personal reasons, it’s a mystery till today. Or they were probably being lazy fat-asses.
I’m a pretty enthusiastic person myself, if I plant an idea in my mind, I HAVE to do it as soon as possible without any delays, because if not; the excitement dies and the passion fades away.
Lady Obscure: Ah, it can only happen when everyone can commit, doesn’t it? Now, on to your fantastic album, Solipsistic… Virgil Donati photographed at Remo Recreational Center in North Hollywood on 08/19/10 and 08/20/10You are working with such outstanding musicians there! How did you get the rest of the team to join up with you? More importantly, how did it feel when they said yes?
Shant Hagopian: Working with these guys is very enjoyable, they are all very talented musicians and their responses were always very prompt. I am very lucky to have these virtuosos on the record. In early 2011 I have contacted Derek Sherinian to ask if he’d be interested in playing on the album, when I sent him an email with some early demos, he immediately asked for my phone number and called me to discuss the details, needless to say I was very surprised, and extremely excited to have one of the best prog keyboard players on the album. Derek is a great inspiration to me; his work with Dream Theater always amazed me, when he accepted to play on the record it was a dream come true. When I was almost done shaping the melodies with Derek, it was time for Virgil Donati and then Ric Fierabracci to come in. And I’ve met Andy again on my Euro trip in 2011, I had the demos with me, so we sat down together and listened to them, he really liked all the melodies and when I asked if he wanted to sing on a song or two he sounded very excited and the rest is history.
Andy is the most amazing, friendly and supportive musician I’ve ever met, I’ve said this and I’m going to keep saying it, the guy is so awesome and he did the impossible to support Nu.Clear.Dawn when we first met in Turkey, he thanked us on stage (we didn’t do anything) he added our name to the thank you list in his Abydos CD, I mean who does this?
As for the music creation process, it was very simple and effective, we communicated by email/skype/phone, I send them my tracks and then they add their input and send their recordings back to me, I listened to them, fell out of my chair, and then moved on to the next track, or if there needed to be some modification I’d just ask them and so on.
Lady Obscure: So, I know solipsism is something you’ve been interested in since – you were very young? How did you decide to tie the concept in with your debut solo project? How does it tie in with the concepts in the album? Did it have a significant effect on the compositions? I mean, I just want to understand how the concept interacts with the album from your standpoint, go wild, neither my nor my readers’ existence can be deterministically proven to you anyway 🙂
Shant Hagopian: Hahaha! Ok then, next question. 🙂
Lady Obscure: Hahaha!
Shant Hagopian: I have always thought about the idea as a teenager, I used to sit and wonder what was actually happening at the same time somewhere else on earth, did it really exist for everyone, or is it only there whenever I am. The idea fascinated me but I didn’t know it actually had a name, so when I learned what it is called I kept it in mind, and when it was time for me to find a title for my album I thought it was the one.
I can’t say it’s a concept album, none of the songs are actually related to each other, they all come from a philosophical point of view, that’s the only thing that ties them together, but they’re related with the album title, each on its own; It’s our existence, in space and time, our views and perceptions. I hope that was confusing enough! The other reason I went with the title ‘Solipsistic’ was because it was a solo project for me, which made me relate to my previous band Nu.Clear.Dawn.
Lady Obscure: The album was released at the end of January, barely more than a month ago, and positive reviews are raining, so to speak (one of which was by our Rocio, here). Were you expecting this? How does so much positive attention make you feel?
Shant Hagopian: Rocio’s review surprised me on so many levels! The way she reviewed the album was very unique and original to begin with, but it was the last paragraph that reached the climax in sending chills down my spine, where she described how bands overlook one very important aspect of prog, and music in general nowadays. I have posted an article on my blog just last week where I’m talking about this phenomenon; I had a draft of the article sitting on my drive weeks before she reviewed the album, and that is what exactly caught me by surprise. The fact that she completely understood my state of mind telepathically just blew me away.
I’m actually kind of surprised of all the positive feedback the album is receiving, and just this last Sunday I was surprised again to see my album cover featured as the Facebook cover page for
“Morow.com – The Prog Radio.” I wasn’t expecting that at all, I was already content that they’ve put my music in rotation on the most amazing prog internet radio, and now this! How awesome is that?! I’m very happy that two years of hard work and effort is paying off with such great recognition.
Lady Obscure: Glad to hear that! Rocio moved me profoundly with her review as well! Ok now, you know, some projects focus on studio efforts, some do live shows and some – in cases where the musicians involved are busy with their main projects or live half the world away – just put together a separate band to tour with maybe some of the project members playing with the band. Do you have anything like that planned? I would certainly love to see you perform in Istanbul again!
Shant Hagopian: Everybody keeps asking me the same question. As much as I’d love to tour with these amazing musicians, unfortunately there are no plans for the moment for any live performances. I have actually thought about hiring other artists like you suggested but finding musicians with the same capabilities as Derek, Virgil, Ric or Andy is actually the toughest part. The other possibility is touring alone and playing along backing tracks, but I’m not sure how will people react to that. Either way, touring or playing shows will be pretty hard for me, but trust me I wouldn’t miss a chance if the opportunity rises. For now I’m trying to categorize myself under those musicians who are focusing on their studio efforts.
Lady Obscure: You have your hand in a lot of things don’t you? Now, Semantic Saturation is independent meaning you are doing what a record label would be doing from recording to mixing and mastering, from advertisement to distribution… I heard you even did the album booklet for the Nu.Clear.Dawn album! Are you always like that? You know, hands-on with everything? Do you think it would change if you signed with a major label?
Shant Hagopian: I love doing it all by myself whenever I get the chance or have time to do it, after all that part is really fun to do for me, but also sometimes stressful and very time consuming. There are a lot of other (famous) musicians who do the same and they actually motivate me. Yes I actually designed the cover and artwork for the Nu.Clear.Dawn album, the website, and most of the concert posters, tickets, flyers etc… I even wanted to do the Solipsistic album cover myself but then I realized I had to actually focus on the music and I already had too much to do on my hands. That’s when my friend Saad Fanari came in, and he did an absolutely amazing job. But that didn’t stop me from diving in and having my part in the artwork creation, the album cover was actually an idea I had sketched and gave to Saad who magically transformed it and created this beautiful landscape of delusional city that spans over the entire digipak inside out. And as a bonus he added a lot of hidden easter-eggs and nuggets here and there something that I love searching for and finding on album covers or DVDs.
I wouldn’t decrease my contribution even if I sign with a label, small or major, at least the artistic side of it, the visuals and artwork, because they compose a big part of the project, the artwork for one is actually going to wrap all the work you did as a musician and present it to the listener visually.
I haven’t mixed the songs on Solipsistic myself even though I was thinking of doing it at some point but again I’m not a sound engineer and I don’t have enough experience to do the mixing and mastering myself. Friendly advice to all musicians out there: Never ever mix your own music. The main reason is because your mind will be “saturated” enough from over-hearing the same music to a point where your brain will only translate the parts it wants to hear, omitting any errors and weird sounds, not to mention the volume levels.
Solipsistic was mixed and mastered by Alex Argento who is also an amazing prog Keyboardist from Italy. Alex did a wonderful job; I’m extremely satisfied with the result.
Lady Obscure: Speaking of which, would you sign with a major label at all? Or do you prefer being independent?
Shant Hagopian: I don’t mind staying independent, what record companies have done in the past can now be done using the Internet; the tools are all out there for new starting musicians, you just need the time to find them, and a little bit of effort to understand and to use them. But just like the many eras in the music industry history, this is now the norm in a new era, and I believe I could do the same things these companies are going to offer me. Better yet, I won’t share a penny with someone who had nothing to do at all with the music I wrote, and I’ve heard a lot of horror stories from different bands; small and major. On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind being signed to a major label, and release myself partially from time consuming tasks and concentrate more on music, but only if the deal is acceptable on my terms.
Lady Obscure: So, what’s next? I hear you want to work with Anneke van Giersbergen in your next album. Have you other names in mind? It may be too early to ask, I understand that, but is there anything in the works for the next big thing?
Shant Hagopian: I’d love to have Anneke on my next project, I love her voice and her work with The Gathering and I love her solo albums even more. Actually I have asked her if she wanted to participate in Solipsistic but at the time she was very busy with her projects and she was preparing to go on a European tour with her band, so I’m hoping to have her on the next album. There are no other names yet, I’m concentrating on promoting Solipsistic for now which is taking a lot of my time. As for projects, I’m trying to put together a set of frames and create a music video for one of the songs on Solipsistic (can’t say which one yet) but I’m hoping it will happen.
Lady Obscure: So what is it that’s losing its meaning by repetition? 🙂
Shant Hagopian: Good question, I’d say everything. Remember how creative we were as kids, thinking outside the box and asking questions out of this world? But then we were brought in the giant bubble where everything is shaped down, including our minds and ideas. Our brains are being saturated on a daily basis, fed by multiple sources; on the news, in the paper, in people’s mouths; the effects may seem slow but are significant on the long run. We are being crowd controlled and we don’t even know it. We’re all busy consuming and boasting about the latest toy we bought, “be-the-first-or-be-nothing” mentality that is killing our motivations, our desires, and our creativity.
Lady Obscure: That’s one kick-ass answer! Thank you for this lovely chat Shant! Again, at the risk of semantic saturation, though this is not a word but a wish, I’d love to see you guys live!
Shant Hagopian: Thank you very much Nem. Cheers!
About the author
I find bands and albums like me; obscure… I see that which others do not and make them obscure no more; I hear that which others do not and let people hear what I hear; I am the conduit through which the light of a million stars unleash to make the poor, incomplete human soul whole again in perpetual ecstasy… I am the music freak extraordinaire… I am obscure… and that’s Lady Obscure for you…