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Progstravaganza Questionnaire: Seconds Before Landing

With the release of “The Great Deception” album in February 2013, the ambient rock collective Seconds Before Landing led by John Crispino has all the predispositions to be one of the best albums of the year. And the fact that it includes Trey Gunn’s guest appearance, with mastering done by 2-time Grammy nominee and Pink Floyd’s engineer Andy Jackson, is just underpinning the previous statement.

Following the project’s appearance on the Progstravaganza XV: Ascension, John answers the Progstravaganza Questionnaire.

How did you come to do what you do?

My musical background began in elementary school. My friends dad was a marching band drummer, and when I would go to their house, which was often. I would hear him in the basement playing what turned out to be “basic drum rudiments”, along with John Philip Sousa records. He gave me a pair of 1′s marching sticks one day, and asked me to join in. From that moment on, I was hooked. It truly was a life changing moment for me… From there, I began private lessons, and then, I was in all of the school bands possible. By the time I was 14, I was playing in the top R&B band in my area, with guys who were in their late 20′s.

After that, I began playing in various rock bands, up until my bass player of that time and I built our first recording studio. Thats when I really became determined to be more than “just a drummer”. I wanted to learn it all. Writing, recording, producing & engineering. We ran that little studio for a few years, and then he wanted to take a corporate job for more security, which I completely understood. It was time for me to step out on my own anyway, and thats when I started my own “No Shoes” studio close to where I live now.

What is your first musical memory?

My first true musical memory, was my mom singing in the kitchen late at night while my dad was at work. I didnt know it at the time, but she did it as a way of comforting my sisters and I when we were little and in bed. Many nights, I fell asleep listening her to singing old show tunes and standards of her day.

Later on though, I was introduced to all of the great R&B music of the time, through a man who owned a nearby record shop, called Turk Brothers Records. They would go into the city of Pittsburgh every Wednesday to pick up the new releases, and bring them back to their store. Like clockwork, I would be there right after school, and Turk would introduce me to all the guys who played on STAX, MOTOWN, and the like. He would even go as far as put on records of guys like Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli, and others. He was wonderful to me, and introduced me to so much music. He passed away a few years back, and I still miss him a lot.

What does progress in music represent to you?

For me personally, it means me being able to do something better than I did the day before. Learning how to use the equipment better. Writing a better melody, or singing a better vocal part. I love music so much, that I wish there were more hours in a day for me. I have often said, that putting the key in the lock to my studio, gets me excited like Christmas was when I was a kid. The excitement level is truly that high for me, and has remained so for years now.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

As a young drummer, without a doubt my guy was Carmine Appice. I have said this MANY times before, but Carmine along with Tim Bogert (especially in Cactus), inspired me more than any other rhythm section. I wore those records out as a kid. My favorite band of all time though is Pink Floyd. Its literally the first thing I turn on every morning as soon as I wake up. Their music moves me in a way that not much else does. Much more recently, I have become a huge fan of Steven Wilson, and also Porcupine Tree. Their music is simply amazing. Not one single person, band or thing inspires me exclusively though.

What message does the song on our latest Progstravaganza compilation carry?

My entire first album “The Great Deception”, was written about one mans journey in a post apocalyptic world. “Instructions” is another step that this individual has to do in order to maintain his life. For this particular part of what he is living, he is responding to specific orders that he is being given… By “whom”, the listener can decide.

Do you tend to follow any pre-defined patterns when composing a piece?

I really don’t. I suppose, me being first a drummer, I look for a beat that interests me. It can be something I sit at the kit and come up with, or it can be a certain loop I hear or create on the computer. I tend to write better when I have the intended groove in mind.

What is your method of songwriting?

Well, I will say that my method is all over the place. Like I said, I am big on beginning with rhythm, but thats not true 100% of the time. Sometimes I hear someone speaking, and something they say catches me in a different way, and I jot it down. I’ll take a line or 2 I have heard, and build an entire lyric around that, then the music. This may sound odd perhaps, but I have had dreams as well about music or lyrics. I wake up, grab the pen and pad I keep beside the bed, and write down whatever it was I was dreaming about. For me, there is not any one way. I am “always” listening to the things around me… People, sounds, whatever it may be. I never know where my next inspiration will come from.

How do you see your music evolving?

Working on this album was such a wonderful experience for me. Trey Gunn (from King Crimson), is from another planet. The work he did for me on Welcome, To The Future, exceeded anything I could have hoped for. I am sure that is one of the reasons that the track and its video have become so popular. Then to have a childhood hero like Tim Bogert play on a track was awesome as well. Surreal in a way. Plus, my core group of musicians, Steve Schuffert, Maurice Witkowski, J.D. Garrison and Jamie Peck are all so good in their own right, they helped bring out my best on this album. And last but certainly not least, the great Andy Jackson from Pink Floyd, mastered this for me. He was gracious enough with his knowledge and skills to teach me as well. Thanks to all of these amazing musicians, I have learned a great deal, and hope to take that knowledge into album 2.

What advice would you give to other musicians, trying to make inspired music and get it out in the world?

I love this question, and I will explain why. When I decided to do a new album, I went into the studio and worked for a few months on several tracks. Some of them were killer rock tracks, but for some reason, each night when I went home, I would think…”hmmmm, this music is good, but I don’t think its me anymore”. I dont know if that makes sense or not, but it was if I was just going though the motions, writing the same type of tracks I had already written 10 times before. They weren’t moving me as much now. I suppose I could have continued to write, and produce a full album of stuff, but deep down, I wouldn’t have been proud of it. I mean “truly proud” of it.

After ruminating about it for a few days, I went into the studio, and just removed all of the files I had been working on. I made the decision to write music and lyrics that reflected what mattered to me in my life now. To get the message out as to where I stood, and what I believed personally, and if people liked it, fine. If not, I would have a body of work that I was proud of personally. Trust be told, it was a scary thing to do. I spent 2 years, pretty much alone writing and recording, and as the time to finish approached, I was nervous. My advice, if I am qualified to give any is this… Be true to yourself in whatever it is you do musically. Take the risks. Speak from your own heart. You will feel better about yourself once its all said and done.

What are you looking forward to?

From a musical standpoint, I look forward to working on album 2 which I am in the midst of now. Also, there is another video being made now for “I’m All Alone”, which should be out early next year. Music is my life of course, but its not who I am completely. I look forward to meeting more new people through this venture. The response has been overwhelming. I look forward to going out on a tour of some kind after album 2 is done and released. And I always look forward to being around those that I love. Thank you for your support, and taking the time to interview me.