We can remember inviting this young guitar wizard on to our MTV show (see photo on the left). He was armed with a yellow Ibanez similar to the one we were giving away as a prize signed by Paul Gilbert and the Mr Big band. He was very fast and very flash but had a really mellow charm about him.
Parga later went on to work with the likes of Cozy Powell, Tony Martin and Graham Bonnet to name but a few rock icons. He has a new album titled Entranced available on his newly formed Midnight Café Music label. Mario Parga is living proof that "Shred’s Not Dead".
Mario, there are so many instrumental albums available at the moment, what’s going to make Entranced stand out from the pack?
Well, hopefully the compositions and overall sound/production. Yes, there are a lot of instrumental albums out there, but other than fast licks, these albums contain little else… Some of the ‘new breed’ of shredders sadly appear to have ignored fundamental basics such as melody, harmony, vibrato, and rhythm. Their main concern seems to be with how many notes per second they can achieve. A lot of them can alternate-pick a scale at speed, but are incapable of playing a decent rhythm or writing a memorable melody.
You have done everything on this album, played all instruments, produced, mixed, mastered and then released it on your own label. Why?
Purely out of ease and being able to work on recordings at any time of the day and night since I have my own recording facilities, MidnightCafe Studios. It meant that I could spend quality time on the recording and settings, keyboard patches, arrangements, orchestration, reverb programs, mixing, mastering etc. without having to watch the clock or comply with budgets. I also did the cover art.
My reason for releasing Entranced on my new label MidnightCafe Music made sense from a business point of view as well as being practical. The internet has made a lot of previously inaccessible things very accessible, such as world wide advertising, promotion and sales. It also meant that I was in control of my own product and its future. Having been in the instrumental guitar world for twenty years gave me enough insight into marketing a guitar album.
I’m sure someone like Lion Music would have released it in Europe. Why didn’t you approach another label?
Lasse from Lion Music and I know each other from the Lion release of Warmth in the Wilderness II (Tribute to Jason Becker) where I donated the track ‘Hourglass’. Lion Music are a great label and are helping to introduce guitar music and other non-commercial music to many new listeners, but I’d always thought about creating my own label and the timing worked out well for me.
Do you think a lot of musicians will become self contained in this way releasing albums via the web?
That would depend on a number of factors. Anyone can record an album, just as anyone can get a CD pressed. There’s more to releasing your own album than just selling it via a website. It helps if the artist is known and established, I think a totally unknown musician would probably struggle.
How did you approach the writing of this album in terms of the style of playing you wanted to capture?
The tunes on Entranced were written over a long period of time, some not in their entirety, but in parts. The title track ‘Entranced’ was mostly written in 1993, when I was putting together a band project called ‘Savage Paradise’. I recorded a demo version of it (without the verse and chorus melodies) in ’93 as it was originally going to be a vocal based track. I finished writing it as a full instrumental track in 2005 and re-recorded it at MidnightCafe Studios.
The remainder of the material was written on and off between 1995 and 2005. For most of this time, I had little involvement with the music industry as I’d gotten sick of it and the non-musical people who often control it. I also saw some very hard and sad times during this period and Entranced often reflects this in tracks such as ‘Haunted’, ‘Spirit of Night’ and ‘Farewell’.
My playing style and overall sound has changed considerably over the years. We all mature as musicians and things I once liked when I was in my early twenties no longer appeal to me at the age of 37. My early demos and recordings were often rushed and recorded with little preparation. I’d simply turn up at a studio, plug into an amp and start recording. The Magician (President Records, 1991) was recorded in a matter of days, and features what I now regard as an unacceptable guitar tone. My sound these days is more musical and has more depth. In terms of guitar tone, I no longer play with a harsh distortion; I prefer a cleaner and ‘thicker’ sound. I also use reverb differently for big, open hall effects and keyboards are now used to add depth to my recordings.
You say you recorded these songs over a period of time and you have changed your sound especially the tone. You have done really well to make the album sound as though the songs were recorded at the same time, how did you manage to achieve this?
I wrote the tracks over a long period of time, the recordings took place over a period of approximately two years or so. I’d already gotten the guitar settings I wanted, so it was relatively easy to achieve a consistency throughout the album. The hard part was getting the initial overall sound of all the instruments.
My electric guitar tone changed during the mid 90’s, I just wanted a cleaner and fatter tone. I achieved this by turning down the presence and using less distortion.
Let’s discuss some of the songs on the album and maybe you can talk us through the recording process and explain some of the guitar playing techniques you used.
As far as guitar technique goes, my playing style is predominantly based around alternate-picking, sweep-picking, string bending and vibrato. I play a lot of emotive slower things, and I incorporate technique with melody. My sound these days is cleaner than it used to be, and my big reverb sound is all part of it. I get fan mail from around the world, and the reverbs and guitar tone are often mentioned.
With regard to the recording, I use more or less the same settings for everything. This way I can record with a consistency throughout a project and create the ‘Mario Parga’ sound on every recording without having to start afresh with the settings.
I use a variety of software that I’m familiar with (including sequencers for drums) and reverbs with modified settings to suit my sound. I use two amps, a 100 watt stack and a small 30 watt combo for variety (Entranced was recorded entirely with the combo). For recording purposes I have two electric guitars, a nylon strung electro-acoustic and a steel strung electro-acoustic. I have a no-name bass guitar. I have a synth-workstation with a vast patch library and additional tone generators. At the moment, I don’t endorse any musical equipment so I’m not going to mention brand names. If they wish to endorse me then I’ll tell all
There’s a lot of nice pivoting and string skipping techniques on the song Journey. How did you approach this song?
Thank you :-) ‘The Journey’ was one of nine pieces I wrote for solo electric guitar. ‘Valse Diabolique’ (The Alchemists, 2001) was originally one of these nine solos. (I plan on releasing 9 Solos for Electric Guitar later on this year). It consists of a ballad-like intro, then a melody based around a D minor arpeggio, with a sweep-picked arpeggio middle and an alternate-picked ending. It’s a short little piece, inspired by some of the short violin compositions of both the baroque and romantic periods within classical music.
How do you decide where to go next with an instrumental arrangement as it’s not like a vocal song where you need to follow verses, bridges and chorus etc?
This is exactly why I prefer instrumental music! Vocal music to a certain degree demands the usual formula of verse, bridge, chorus (as at times does some instrumental music). But with an all-instrumental composition, anything’s really possible as long as it remains melodic and musically interesting. I usually don’t decide in advance how I’ll write a particular piece, I just go with the overall sound and follow my instinct. The main instrument in an instrumental composition becomes the ‘voice’ and if played with mastery can convey any emotion the musician wishes without having to explain the song with lyrics.
Haunted is another cool song. It starts with a nice chord progression picking out single notes and then you bring in some really melodic slow playing. Would you describe the sound as classical?
Thank you, I’m pleased you like it. ‘Haunted’ is a very melancholic piece of music written at a pivotal period of my life. It’s not about anything ‘haunted’ in the supernatural sense, it’s about memories, and how they often haunt us. Some memories are good, some bad, and some are very sad. It’s mostly keyboard based with walls of keyboard pads and a piano, the guitar plays the melody lines until the solo piano ending. It could be described as ‘neo-classical’ but not the ‘neo-classical’ people associate with the ‘shred’ genre. ‘Mirage’ is another example of this.
I find the concept of being able to release your personal emotions instrumentally using musical instruments fascinating. I find it very therapeutic being able to writing songs but I can use lyrics to tell the story. I guess this goes way back to the silent films when music would set the scenes but even then there was writing on the screen (or so my mother says).
A musical instrument can convey just about any emotion. Some of the most beautiful music ever written is instrumental with a specific instrument as the main ‘voice’. I listen to a lot of film soundtrack music, and as well as fitting the particular scenes they were written for, soundtracks often convey the intended emotion without the need of the visual counterpart.
All the tracks on Entranced are full of emotion and all have a particular meaning to me. Perhaps the most relevant to your question are ‘Spirit of Night’ and ‘Farewell’, both very personal to me and written during particularly sad times.
The album, for me, loses some energy and dynamics without a drummer. Is this a fair analysis?
It depends on what you expect from the album and what you’re listening for. I agree that sampled drums cannot compete at all with a real drummer, but these days samples and sequencers can create pretty good sounding drum kits unlike the awful programs of the 80’s! I didn’t use any pre-set drum patterns, I quite literally loaded individual real drum samples (kick, snare, cymbals, etc.) into my sequencer and programmed every pattern myself. Considering I’m not a drummer, I think I did an ok job! :-)
With all due respect I thought the drums were too basic and plod plod. I also use sequencers to write. It’s so fast, just set left and right locaters, hit the record button and bang in a drum beat .you can quantize it if you are slightly out of time and its great for writing and doing demos . I also have some amazing drum samples but there’s no substitute for using a drummer. I feel you can also end up stuck in the same tempo. The fills a drummer puts in or different than what a guitar player thinks a drummer would do. You can change tempo and timing with a real drummer instantly, it just all sounds and feels more natural and how it was meant to be. I find by the time you have programmed your sequencer to do this you have lost the will to live. I wasn’t suggesting that your samples were weak it’s the lack of movement in between passages that a drummer would have pushed or embellished .Take the opening title track, there’s some great guitar moments and changes but very little in the way of drums, it’s very much the same drum pattern . I would argue that it would have been more interesting and dynamic with a real drummer but maybe you will say it’s all about the guitar anyway?
I would disagree about the drums being too basic, but as I said earlier, sampled drums cannot compete at all with the real thing. I didn’t just input a basic rhythm and hit the quantize key though, I programmed the drums in measurements of two bars so there were plenty of variations to choose from in the track. Even a ‘real’ drummer repeats drum patterns on a piece of music. And as you rightly say, a guitarist can’t write a drum fill as good as a drummer would. I would always prefer real drums over a machine. I think that the drums on Entranced work fine, and they fit the overall mood and style of the album. Yes, it would have probably been better with real drums, but at the time, the sequencer route was the best way to go.
The same argument can also be had with keyboards. Can a keyboard really compete with a real orchestra? Or a real grand piano? Whilst some keyboard samples are very impressive, the ‘human touch’ has yet to be perfected in technology.
You have already showed your talent as a guitar player with your previous releases. Wasn’t it time to do a Milan Polak and record a vocal album?
In a word, no. I don’t class myself as a vocalist and I have no desire whatsoever to sing. I’m known purely for my guitar playing and music and happy with that. The vocal thing is a modern phenomena, people seem to think that vocals should be on everything in order to be more commercial or interesting to people who need to focus on words rather than music. I think instrumental music should remain instrumental.
Ok let me come back in here. I wasn’t meaning why don’t you sing I was thinking about you doing an album using a vocalist. Take what Paul Gilbert did with a fantastic band called MR Big. I would have thought something like that would appeal to you?
That would depend. I don’t listen to a lot of vocal based bands as I’ve always preferred instrumental music. I think Paul Gilbert is a wonderful guitarist and musician, and I much prefer his solo material (instrumental and vocal) over anything he did with Mr. Big. A vocalist who I think is outstanding is Devin Townsend. The material he’s recorded with Devin Townsend Band is phenomenal. Albums like ‘Infinity’ and ‘Terria’ are prime examples. And, there are hardly any guitar solos!
So yes, under the right circumstances and with the right musicians, a vocal band would appeal to me. The problem (as always) would be in finding a singer!
There’s a constant use of arpeggios and picking that is regarded as very 80’s style rock. Why did you feel the need to incorporate this into a modern release?
I don’t think it’s very 80’s at all. I’m mostly influenced by Al Di Meola who I discovered at an early age during the 70’s. Fast picking on the guitar has been around for a very long time, Django Reinhardt was playing fast scales in the 1930’s. I think the 80’s saw a lot of sudden ‘neo-classical’ players modeled on Yngwie Malmsteen, and they probably turned people off anything containing fast picking due to their monotonous use of the technique. I think that Malmsteen popularized the technique in the rock genre during that decade so it’s become associated with it amongst rock fans.
Alternate and sweep-picking are part and parcel of my style. I’ve been playing the guitar since the age of four and began alternate-picking at around the age of 10 or 11 after hearing Reinhardt and Di Meola. It was roughly during this time I also began experimenting with arpeggios as I was aware at an early age of specific classical composers.
Personally I think whammy-bars and tapping are very 80’s but still part of current players’ styles; Joe Satriani and Steve Vai spring to mind amongst others. Floyd Rose whammy bars were the big thing in the 80’s. With regard to the tapping technique, I think that although Edward Van Halen was probably the first to record it in such a groundbreaking way on 1978’s ‘Van Halen’ album, it became universally recognized during the 80’s, unlike the picking techniques mentioned and recorded during previous decades
I suppose you create a fan base where the fans expect a certain style and sound and it’s hard to move on without disappointing them?
Not at all, my sound and playing has evolved since the time I began playing. Entranced is very different to The Magician but my fans like both albums. I plan on recording an all-acoustic album soon, and I’d like to think that my fans will enjoy that just as much. I’ve never been one to play to others’ ‘expectations’, that would be insincere and ultimately show in my music. In order for me to create music, I have to be happy with what I’m doing.
Tell us about your plans for the Midnight Café label?
MidnightCafe Music is a new independent record label I‘ve set up. As well as releasing all my music, we plan on adding other artists to the label from all different musical genres. I would like to make it quite clear that the label isn’t solely for guitar instrumental music. At the moment, we’re open to submissions from bands and artists who would like to have their original (no cover versions) material considered for release. Full details are available on our website www.midnightcafemusic.com
Have you got the facilities to record live drums at your studio?
Yes I have, but it’s more practical to use a local studio with a great drum room and then transfer the music files to the MidnightCafe. My next project Somewhere at the MidnightCafe will feature ‘real’ drums and will be recorded this way.
What type of artiste are you hoping to attract to the studio?
MidnightCafe Studios is available to anyone for mixing and mastering. The recording facilities are only for my music and projects. We offer a number of services, catering for both the amateur and professional, details of which can be found on our website www.midnightcafestudios.co.uk. We also create soundtracks for film and TV, examples can be found in the ‘Midnight Gallery’ on the site.
If you are working with producing other artiste won’t this mean your own music will suffer? Or are you also wanting to be recognized a good producer?
Not really, as my involvement would be at the end of the recording with the mixing and mastering. If a band/artist specifically wanted me to produce them during the recording phase then that would be arranged between my own projects’ schedule.
I’ve never really thought about producer recognition. Quite often, producers are overrated and given more credit than they really deserve. Good producers are few and far between, simply mixing an album isn’t ‘producing’ in my book. After all, it’s the artists who come up with the goods…
I totally agree with you to a point, a solo artiste writing instrumental material the way you do is very much in control anyway. A producer would offer an unbiased opinion maybe say, did you really need to come back and sweep pick all over the ending of this melodic offering when you have already shown your speed on tracks A, B and C? He would have challenged you on the drums, He may have heard things you have missed etc but if he would have been able to actually really improve on what you have achieved on your own for his slice of the royalties would be dependant on the final outcome. Bands however are a different kettle of fish and a good producer can really prevent band members from killing each other.
I hear and understand what you’re saying Dez, but I prefer to produce my own music for a number of reasons. I don’t use a technique purely to show what I’m capable of, I listen to the overall piece of music and play what I think fits. I admit that I used to when I was younger, but as I’ve matured, so have my musical goals. If I think an ending should have sweep-picked arpeggios then I’ll add them, similarly, if I think an ending should be atmospheric and have less guitar, then I’ll record it that way.
I think that as far as solo instrumental music goes, a producer isn’t always necessary. Bands can be a little different though; producers are often employed purely to keep the members sober and keep the album on target and budget, and as you’ve already mentioned, to prevent wars…!!
If we all listened to producers, our art wouldn’t really be ours. Dirty Harry once summed it all up in a movie and said: “opinions are like assholes… everyone’s got one".
If you were to produce a band what qualities would you be looking for especially if they were UN signed?
Originality and ability. I’m sick of hearing bands who all sound the same, the pop and nu-metal genres produce a lot of these. I’m neither a big fan of cover versions. We currently live in an artistic climate of copies. The movie industry is doing the same, making stupid remakes of already great movies. Originality and creativity are essential in the arts.
Milan Polak was talking about you guys doing an acoustic album together. Are you any nearer a date for this project? Will you initially record it separately sending files down the net or just get together from scratch?
Due to our current schedules, it’s unlikely we’ll record the acoustic project in the foreseeable future. The original plan was to demo the tracks by sending files to and from, but we would have recorded the final versions together in either Milan’s studio or mine.
What are you doing in terms of promotion for this album? Do you intend to do some live shows?
Yes, the band is eager to get going! I’ll announce show dates as and when on my website.
Once again how can the fans purchase your new “Entranced” album? Is it available to buy as a Down Load?
Yes, Entranced is available as a CD or high-quality MP3 download. It can be purchased from the store at www.midnightcafemusic.com.
Mario Parga should be writing music for film and Television. His music should be appreciated by a much wider audience than just the lovers of good shred guitar. He’s definitely got the talent and the business accruement to run his own label, whether he has the financial clout and the marketing recourses to get this album to the masses we shall have to wait and see. If there are any European publishers reading this then we suggest you grab Mario Parga by the guitar neck he will be attached to and get his signature on a contract. The USA is a big market for Mario and he’s seriously considering a move but where ever he resides, the ever improving Mario Parga is a musician we will always be interested to hear from.
Interview by the Bailey Brothers
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