I can still remember the first time I heard IZZ...I was amazed at their unique sound. I still am. They were one of the reasons I hopped on a plane and flew to LA's Calprog. It was great to see them live and meet them. Here's a long overdue chat with bassist John Galgano.
Jerry Lucky: Let’s start at the beginning. What’s the short-story as to how Izz came into being?
John Galgano: IZZ started when Tom was in College with Greg DiMiceli and through Greg met Brian Coralian and Paul Bremner. Being Tom’s brother, I was sort of already involved and working with the guys. We had originally gotten together to work on a piece called Deafening Silence that ended up being on the album My River Flows. Tom had written that piece of music and we all played on it for a few live shows. After that, we began writing material as a group and used that material for what became Sliver of a Sun.
JL: Who came up with the name? And what’s it all about?
JG: I’m a big fan of the New York Mets and at the time we started thinking about band names in the mid-90s, they had these three young pitchers who were supposed to be the next great pitchers for the Mets. One of the guys was Jason Isringhausen who was nicknamed “IZZY”. I loved this nickname and mentioned it to Tom and as we talked it over, we decided to drop the “Y” and just make it IZZ. It seemed to work well and we liked the way it sounded and
JL: Is the band a full time proposition or are there other day jobs that pay the bills?
JG: Part of the answer to your question is yes, the band and record label are full-time propositions. The other part of the answer is that the band and the record label are not the only things we do in our professional lives – for instance, I have a degree in law, which assists with the record label and it also allows me to engage in other types of activity in the legal profession, even with other musicians and labels that aren’t “progressive” so to speak. So while the band and record label are not the only things we do, they certainly are the number one priorities.
JL: I came across the band when you released the I Move CD in 2002…what kind of response was the band getting in those early days?
JG: I Move, seemed to be the album that propelled us into the consciousness of our fans. I think when people first heard I Move and when they combined it with the music on Sliver of a Sun, many of the comments we received were regarding the band’s ability to successfully meld many different styles – pop, celtic, jazz, long-form – We were also performing at several festivals with the release of I Move and audience response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
JL: Here we are seven discs later, has it turned out the way you expected?
JG: I don’t think any of us expected to have such a loyal following and to have a listening audience anticipating each release the way they do. It’s still hard to comprehend when we play live that there are people in the audience who are singing the lyrics along with us! It’s definitely something we could never have expected.
JL: “Crush of Night” is the second part of the trilogy…tell us in your own words, what’s the underlying storyline?
JG: I think the concept and themes in The Darkened Room and Crush of Night have slightly different meaning to all of the band members, but the common thread is that we all go through life, wondering about the decisions we’ve made in the past and the decisions we’ll be forced to make in the future. And at the end of one’s life, would we be comfortable or uncomfortable looking back at those choices? Did each choice slowly turn us into the sort of person we want to be or did each choice turn us into a different and unrecognizable person altogether. And all the while, throughout the journey of life, we’re met with people and books and songs that are all trying to teach us something – some good, some bad – who do we listen to? How do we know it’s the truth when we hear it? So, in a sense it’s a story about a person on such a journey – a person who has reached the end of their life and what do they find there? We’ll see on the third album!
JL: The vocals are one of the band’s distinctive sounds, both solo and harmonies - the new disc has that Izz sound and yet the band has certainly changed a bit here and a bit there over the years…how would you describe the band’s evolving sound?
JG: I don’t think it’s something we think about consciously. I think we’ve all been influenced and continue to be influenced by many different styles and sounds of music, so naturally, all of these influences find their way somehow into the music we write together. I think when you get all of us in a room together, you’ll naturally hear a sound that is uniquely IZZ – we’ve been playing together for years now, so there are going to be some familiar sounds that come out of us as a band. But at the same time, we like to keep the music we make adventurous, fresh and open to experiment. My bass playing, for instance, is constantly being influenced by different songs and artists that I hear, so maybe there’s a little something that’s unnoticeable at first that enters into our music and makes it evolve. Each album definitely feels different. Yes, there are some similarities, and as we’ve matured as musicians and become more adept on our instruments, the sounds may change naturally.
JL: Are you getting braver in the writing process?
JG: That’s a great question in so many ways. I’d like to think we are! We don’t follow rules when it comes to the writing process. I think we’ve always been the type of band that doesn’t think too hard over what a song is turning into. We’ve always tried to let the song dictate what it becomes. I know that sounds a little metaphysical, but some songs just need to be three minutes long. Some songs need to have multiple movements – We try not to censor our musical ideas. We just go for it and see how it turns out. For instance when I first wrote the guitar riff for Words and Miracles, I thought, wait a minute, I can’t play this – it sounds like Gentle Giant! So my first thought was, let’s just go with it and see how it turns out and I think it turned out even better than I could’ve hoped, because when you have a Gentle Giant playing the riff, it makes it ok to sound like GG!
JL: What’s the typical process of how a song comes together for you guys? Is the song usually pretty fleshed out or does it come together during the recording process?
JG: It happens both ways really. There are quite a few times where Tom, Brems or I will come to the band with a full song and we look to each other to help arrange it. Examples of these types of tracks are “Half the Way” which was written all by Tom and “Almost Over” which was written all by me. But something like the “Crush of Night” suite is made up of different themes that were written collaboratively over a number of different sessions. I might come in with a musical idea, but then the band takes it and makes it into something completely different. Our thinking is, if it’s a good song, it’s a good song, no matter how we come about it.
JL: How did you meet up with Gary Green and convince him to participate on a couple tracks?
JG: I first met Gary at a NEARfest some years ago. We got to talking and it turned out that he was a fan of IZZ! Being a Gentle Giant fan, I was honored and we struck up a friendship. I had joked that one day, we’d have him on one of our albums. Once I wrote the guitar riff for Words and Miracles, it seemed like this was the time to do it. I told Gary that I couldn’t imagine having anyone else play guitar on that track and that it needed to be him! After listening to it, he graciously agreed to come to NY and work with us for a few days in our studio putting down tracks for that song and also adding some bits to the second part of the Crush of Night suite. It was a real treat for us to work with him and I think his contributions to this album are just pure gold. He’s a master guitarist and an even better person.
JL: The band performed at the Terra Incognita Festival in Quebec City on May 19th…how did that go? That wasn’t your first visit to Canada was it?
JG: The Terra Incognita Festival was great! The Quebec fans gave us quite a welcome and the vibe at the festival was amazing. We were able to play some new material including the whole Crush of Night suite and got a great response to it. We had played this same festival two years ago in 2010 just months after The Darkened Room was released. So we’ve been fortunate to have played lots of material from our two latest albums in Canada. We love it there.
JL: There are many prog band’s today that are quite happy to just work in the studio…How often do you get out on the road and is that something that you’d like to more of?
JG: I would think the reason why this is true is that touring is complex and the risk of losing money is very real for many bands. In order to survive financially, bands need to limit the amount of time spent on the road and maximize their studio time. For IZZ, the focus is and will always be to make interesting and emotional music that becomes a listening experience and we hope to bring that music to more live venues in the future.
JL: With the Crush of Night just released what’s the promotion process like for an independent progressive rock band. I mean it’s not like you are the hottest rock or pop act getting asked to be on all the TV morning shows. What are the necessary steps to getting your music out there?
JG: Promotion is time sensitive with the release of each new album, so coordinating a media campaign is one of the ways the word gets out. We employ traditional media networking through a PR company that works with us. And obviously social media has streamlined the process of connecting with the music public and our great fans. And speaking of fans, we are fortunate and grateful to have been associated with the most loyal and supportive fans a band could hope for. What better way to get the word out than through word of mouth?
JL: Setting flattery aside, within the prog community I’ve always considered Izz to be a first tier prog band along with Spock’s Beard or The Flower Kings…is that a fair assessment…or where do you see yourselves?
JG: Well thank you! That is certainly great company to be in. It’s hard to assess yourself and to compare yourself with other musicians – I think that’s the job of fans and reviewers. I think we see ourselves as song writers who focus on melody and as musicians who play from the heart. I’m not sure we can or even should assess ourselves any further than that. Once you start comparing yourself to other people, you’re missing the whole point of music. Music needs to come from the heart and if we can look ourselves in the mirror and honestly say that our music comes from inside us, then that’s really all we can ask of ourselves.
JL: If rock stardom were placed before you…is that something the band would jump at or would it be viewed with some Faustian suspicion?
JG: We’ve never gotten caught up in that mindset and I think we would view it with Faustian suspicion as you put it. We are fortunate to have the artistic freedom to do whatever we want. We are free to stay true to our music and we are very appreciative to have an increasingly loyal following that want to listen to the music we make. We also get to live our private lives on our own terms, which we put great value on.
JL: So with the new disc out, dare I ask what’s on your agenda for the immediate future?
JG: We are well into the making of the third album of this IZZ trilogy and will continue recording this summer. Without making promises, it would be great to have the next IZZ album out in 2013. I am almost finished with my first solo album, which will feature some of the IZZ guys (Brems, Greg and Brian) and also features Laura Meade on almost all of the tracks. I hope to release this in September. And Brems is about halfway done with his second solo album as well. So there are a number of things in the works.
JL: Lastly then…if you were stuck on a desert island…where strangely no mp3 players were allowed…what five discs would you have with you and why those?
JG: Ah yes, The Island of No MP3 Players! The five desert island discs change monthly for me, but at the current moment, here are the five I couldn’t live without, in no particular order:1. Foxtrot - Genesis,2. Sgt. Peppers - The Beatles, 3. Come On Feel the Illinois - Sufjan Stevens, 4. OK Computer - Radiohead, 5. The Wall - Pink Floyd...But my goodness – what would I do without Close to the Edge, The Lamb, Abbey Road, Grace (Jeff Buckley), Trick of the Tail, Brain Salad Surgery or Red or many, many more. Please don’t make me choose!