Modest - Panoramic Faces - Credit Thomas Heere

MODEST MIDGET: A Very Strange Mix of Polarities

With an interesting name as it is, Modest Midget led by Lionel Ziblat bring progressive in a real meaning in the progressive rock. With an album behind them and with another set to be released, the band is to explore further. We talked to Lionel about many interesting things concerning the band.

Modest - live in Neerkant - Cafe de Muzikant

So, would you be willing to elaborate how (for God’s sake) come that you are described as rough as Paul Simon, as commercial as Ingmar Bergman and as sophisticated as Britney Spears. Mentioning all these names in the same sentence feels really weird and contradictory?

I came up with this description because its impossible to describe my music.

On the other hand I do understand that people who don’t know it need to have something to be able to “grab on to”.

I found that this description, whatever it means, triggers curiosity from the right people. Statistically speaking if you are not triggered by it, probably the music wouldn’t say much to you either, and if it does make you curious, the chances are you’ll find something meaningfull in the music. From that moment Britney Spears or Paul Simon are not so relevant anymore.

How do you look at the eclecticism in your music? Mixing so many different music styles into an entity knows to be really hard. How are you dealing with that challenge?

I don’t approach it quite this way. I just make music that comes to my head. I don’t experience it as eclectic or whatever.

In my opinion, an artist who knows how to listen (even if the music is in your head, you still have to learn how to listen to it, grab it, and make it “happen” in reality), doesn’t need to to think in terms of “lets make something special, and lets mix some Irish elements with Macedonian folklore”. You just write what you feel and hear, and the technique, knowledge and craft are there only to support your idea’s. Nothing else.

Your music is not easy to line up in any music category. What is the way you maintain to do it? How do you call what you create in terms of music styles?

You got that damn right. Its impossible to categorize and I’m pretty proud of it. As a creator you don’t spend your time putting fences around yourself or your music, putting labels on it or anything of the sort. Right the contrary. You tend to break rules & frontiers. How people call it is absolutely irrelevant to me. Anyways, the moment a style gets a name, it immediately takes out the real exciting part, at least thats how it works for me.

The fact that I keep doing it is probably because I’m either more naive that I thought, persistent or just plain nuts. Pick your choice (you may also mix among them).

Modest - Panoramic Faces - Credit Thomas Heere

A Modest Midget listener has to be one who is open to many different genres, to be open for experimentation. Would you agree on this? Due to all these challenges you are facing with, what can you tell about the people who attend your gigs? What’s their reaction on what you serve?

I have no idea and never thought about what a Modest Midget listener’s atittude should be.

However, if I think about it, in my experience the fans consist both of people who really know and love music, as well as others who just fall into it naturaly without much effort.

Why certain people like certain pieces, bands or artists remains a big mystery to me. I doubt that anyone has a plausible answer.

What’s the message of the “Rocky Valleys of dawn” song? It comes with quite meaningful lyrics (Find the beauty in whatever grim confronts you from within Rocky as it is, still in the end this is your path my friend). Tell us something more about it.

Thank you for asking.

You can see it as a little welcoming anthem that a young dad to be sings for his yet to be born son.

Imagine a young dad waiting for his kid and who’s anxiously thinking of how to help him deal with this world, with life, and to make sure he both appreciates and enjoys the beautiful moments, as well as is capable to deal with his own weaknesses.

Inside the album (which I don’t know when will be out, but hopefully within the next months), the song is part of the cycle of life.

The album is called ‘Crysis’ and it deals with the aches and joys of a life span, or of any chapter in life. The beginning, the middle and the end, which is often a beginning of something new. This song is the third track, right after two tracks that metaphorically deal with the making of a baby and the belly afterwards.

The spectre of the Modest Midget influences is interesting, ranging from Gentle Giant to Queen to Steely Dan and further more to Bartok and Stravinsky. When writing new music, do you usually listen to such heterogenous music on purpose?

No. As I said before as far as my personal creation goes; the music I make as an artist, I don’t ever sit and plan what to listen to in order to “cook” a specific kind of music.

In my case – this is going to be an extensive answer so if you get bored fast, don’t read it –  I heard and learned every noto of the Beatles when I was between 7 to 12 years old. In the background at home there was a lot music too, South American (Chicoa Buarque, Jobim, Leguizamon & Piazzola) as well as Dixieland, Choral music, sympnies and piano concerto’s of the Classical guys (Talking about Haydn till Beethoven). I later discovered Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan etc. and was fascinated by a bunch of very notable groups which are now described as Progressive Rock, but which originaly had no category. Somebody gave me two albums by Emerson Lake & Palmer and I absolutely loved it. Then it was Yes, King Crimson, Genesis & Gentle Giant. Many Israeli artists were also very influential, like Matti Caspi and Kaveret (rings any bell?).

After discovering Frank Zappa I didn’t know where else to turn and I found the answer in the modern classical world; from Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky & Bartok to Schnitke and Mauricio Kagel.

Nowadays I hardly listen to any kind of Pop music unless there’s some special incentive. If I ever do any recreational listening its to artists for which I have big regard as composers or who are great “troubadours” like Chico Buarque.

 The Great Prophecy of a Small Man

Your first album named “The Great Prophecy of a Small Man” received very good reviews from the media. How satisfied you are with its reception in general? When you look at it now, is there anything you would love to change on the record?

As often is the case, I worked my ass off on the album and I like it the way it is. Nowadays I would have more experience with production, but I realy can’t complain.

The only thing I would have loved to be different is if I had the means to promote it more massively. I’m sure there are many more people out there who could enjoy it.

Your new album is called Crysis and it’s about to be released. Reading the press release, you say that it’s more eccentric than debut. Make parallel between these two records. What is it that makes Crysis more eccentric?

I don’t know exactly what it is but listening to it now that its ready (it only needs to be mastered and I want to think carefully how I want to publish it), its a very strange mix of polarities. A lot of fun but a lot of strain as well, a few very delicate tunes and a few which are extremely assertive, some very straightforward and catchy melodies as opposed to others that are quite wild.

There is no way under the sun to be able to compare the two albums. I think you hear that its still Modest Midget, but its completely different. In a good way I hope.

It’s said that you composed music for different orchestras and productions, working with Holland Symfonia and Wouter Hamel. Besides, one of the movies your wrote the soundtrack for called Footnote was nominated for the Oscar. What can you tell us about this side of your personality? Is Modest Midget in some way escape from that other Lionel Ziblat?

First let me correct something essential about your question. I DID NOT compose the music for Footnote. My very good friend and talented composer Amit Poznansky wrote that, and he did a marvelous job!

What I did was give him a hand with orchestrating because I have a lot of experience doing that and because I studied it for many years. Orchestration, as opposed to composition, is the art of implementing the music into an orchestra. Knowing how to write for the different instruments, and how to make it mix properly. Its a technical as well as an artistic craft, but in this case it was more technical because Amit knew what he wanted to hear. I just happen to know how to take a brass section of 8 players and make them “kick ass”, in a way that still allows the strings and the woodwind sections to come out.

In relation to your question in general, Modest Midget is as much a retreat compared to writing for chamber ensembles, as composing for classical groups is a reatreat from Modest Midget. When you’re married, is your job a reatreat from your family or is your family a retreat from your job? I think that having two or more polars allows you to charge yourself with some extra energy and they indirectly feed and inspire each other. This is why my company is called Multi-Polar Music.

What the future holds and whats your favourite beer?

The last year has I was totaly consumed by producing the new album.

I’m actualy looking forward to do something different in the near future. Writing another piece for a chamber ensemble is definitely in the air, and as you mentioned above I do write more and more music for film, and thats a craft I’m still learning to master.

My favorite beer is actualy Port. I love a good wine with a good meal, but Port is my favourite drink.

I don’t like beer that much I’m sorry to say. Thanks for the interview and thank you all for reading!