Mosaic IV: A Celebration Of Sound at the Ford Amphitheatre – Part II

The Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Association Western Region will stage its successful concert series Mosaic on October 17 at the Forth Amphitheatre. In its fourth  iteration, Mosaic has become a staple of the Armenian community music scene. Last week we published our talk with Mosaic IV organizers Tamar Abkarian and Lori Tatoulian, as well as interviews with members of the bands Armenian Public Radio and Armenian Space Station, both of which will perform at the concert.

This week we feature members of VIZA, Echocell and A Spliner to round out our talk with the performers of this year’s Mosaic IV.

VIZA: An Interview Members K’noup and Andrew Kzirian

They are the global rockers, who recently returned from an international tour with Serj Tankian. VIZA is the only band that has performed at two previous Mosaic concerts in 2007 & 2008. MOSAIC IV will mark there third appearance. VIZA is a diverse nine member band. Extraordinarily cohesive, synchronized, seemingly by nature, and a band where each member brings its distinct instrument, performance and genre, yet always remaining an integral part of the band in unison.

The band members are:
K’noup – Vocals, Guitar
Hiram Rosario – Drums
Jivan Gasparyan Jr. – Duduk
Orbel Babayan – Guitars, Vocals
Shant Bismejian – Guitars
Andrew Kzirian – Oud
Alex Khatcherian – Bass
Chris Daniel – Percussion
Suguru Onaka – Keys

Asbarez: How did the nine member group come together?

The project has been around for ten years and it actually started off as a two-piece. In 2000 in NYC, I had a vision of creating Mediterranean music with my co-partner at the time Johnny Nice. After my departure to Los Angeles in 2002 we both went our separate ways and I hung onto Viza. After passing my demo around, I attracted a few players that were interested in helping this band develop and sure enough years later we’ve grown to be a nine-piece ensemble as I like to put it.

Asbarez: Was there a certain “a ha!” moment when you knew that music was going to be a career for you?

K’noup: I myself can pinpoint that day when I was around 16 years old while living uder my parents roof. I was asleep upstairs and had this epiphany about becoming a singer, I jumped out of bed ran downstairs woke my parents up and told them the good news. Startled they looked at me as if I was talking gibberish and never thought I would even carry that desire for a week much less the rest of my life. Needless to say music is in my blood, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.
Asbarez: Tell us about your creative process… What kind of environment do you have to be in to make music?

Well for starters it’s an open market in our room; anyone can bring anything to the table but most of the time the songs are conceived by the 3 songwriters of the group: Shant Bismejian, Orbel Babayan and myself. After an idea has been introduced the rest of the band follows through and adds there two cents, sometimes we disagree but if we don’t a song could be done within a week or two.

You’ve released several music collections, including “Made In Chernobyl” – what should our readers who haven’t sampled it yet expect from the record?

K’noup: Our music catalog is an evolution of themes with “Made in Chernobyl” being no exception. In this record we’re tackling a very experimental and aggressive side of our sound/message and we parallel it to the Soviet regime of the early 1900’s in which they had a plan to govern themselves into glory. Let’s just hope we don’t follow the same destructive path. But all jokes aside, the idea of the group is to not limit ourselves and to creatively explore other worlds and cultures in the form of music.

Asbarez: How would you describe the sound of Viza?

K’noup: The sound of Viza is a fusion of international cultures.

What should the Mosaic IV Concert goers expect from VIZA? How will this one be unlike the previous mosaic performances?

K’noup: VIZA is no longer the band that only brings you to the dance floor. VIZA is now a band of various emotions with a degree in performance and with that Mosaic concert goers should expect to be entertained to say the least.

Asbarez: Tell us about your first live performance as a band.

K’noup: As Visa, our first show was quite the memory. It was only I think about 5 of us and we performed at a private party for an Anti-Circumcision organization here in Los Angeles. Needless to say it was one of the oddest performances I have ever done.

Asbarez: Share with us your take on the current music scene.

K’noup: The music scene is and has been uneventful for many years now. It lacks the great talent that this world is so thirsty for and yet they are out there. Luckily the internet allows the listener to search for good music and avoid the surface garbage that’s out there. One day though, talent will reign once again it always does.

Asbarez: How would you describe the experience of your recent international tour?

Andrew Kzirian: Traveling abroad was an amazing experience – we reached out to so many new fans in new places. This gave many people the opportunity to see and hear Viza – and the response has been overwhelming. We’ve had more than a dozen fan pages pop up in various countries throughout Europe and Asia. It was also a musically fulfilling atmosphere where we could share our creativity and passion with so many new fans.

Asbarez: Which international city was VIZA’s ultimate concert?

A.K.: Each city on the tour had its own special quality and allure. Athens, which had a Woodstock-like feel at Terra Vibe Park and Bologna, being the last show of the tour, were especially memorable given the enormous crowds and the overwhelming emotion of the fans. We cannot wait for our next tour and hope to visit each and every city and beyond very soon.

Asbarez: You’ve performed at previous Mosaic concerts. Tell us VIZA’s experience at those concerts.

K’noup: Well my first experience was a few years ago at the Alex Theatre in Glendale (one of two concerts) and it was when VISA was still at its infant stage as a band. I recall how excited i was to play for the community as I felt we would generate some interest on a high level. In the end we came away with many new diehard fans and quite a few close friends. Mosaic undoubtedly has helped VIZA in its growth and we will always be grateful for the opportunity they’ve given us.


ECHOCELL: An Interview with Vocalist Belinda Kazanci and Production and Arrangement Specialist Adamn Beltran

The group is one of the five up-and-coming acts performing at this year’s Mosaic IV Concert, who will provide the cure for our soul hangover through a fusion of the organic with the electronic.

Asbarez: How did the group come together?

Belinda Kazanci.: Echocell came together in 2000. I had just started working on a solo album and in the meantime started auditioning for different bands as a singer. I answered an ad Adam and his partner at the time, Josh, had posted. They had auditioned various singers over the course of 6 months and couldn’t find anyone to join them. I came in and started just improvising over their music…making up melodies. That same day they asked me to join.
Eventually Adam and I found that we had great chemistry and became a duo. We later started adding more players for our live shows.

Asbarez: What kind of music were each of you listening to growing up? What was the first concert you attended?

Adam Beltran:
Growing up I listened to a lot of synth pop bands like Depeche Mode and eventually got really into Nine Inch Nails. The first show I ever went to was when my neighbor drove me down to Mexico to see this synth pop band called Anything Box.
B.K.: I was really into synth pop, pop, ska as well as jazz. Ska was huge for me especially when I discovered local bands like Vodoo Glow Skulls and Dance Hall Crashers who I’d go to see all the time. Probably one of the first bands I went to see was No Doubt for $5 a few miles away from where I live in Orange County.

Asbarez: Was there a certain “a ha!” moment when you knew that music was going to be a career for you?

B.K.: Music was always a part of my life from a young age and I was involved in different bands. I played jazz flute in school so that really influenced me to listen to Jazz. In college I was in a ska band called “Juxta Position” and also very into electronic music like house and down-tempo. But when I heard the Portishead album Dummy for the 1st time, I instantly fell in love and probably listened to that record a million times over the course of 1 year. I realized I had been searching for a sound that felt home to me for a long time and this was it. I automatically knew I was going to set out to write a trip-hop record and knew this was going to be my career because I remember spending a lot of time in college classes writing lyrics.

Asbarez: Tell us about your creative process. What kind of environment do you have to be in to make music?

B.K.: The environment always varies when it comes to writing songs. A song idea can pop in my head while driving so I always have some sort of recording device handy. It usually starts with a melody idea then I write lyrics to it. Or sometimes I’ll be having a conversation with a friend and they will say something that resonates with me and I’ll write it down right away and it can become a song. For example the song “Soul Hangover” came about this way. I was on the phone with a good friend and was telling him about something I was going through and he said to me “it sounds like you have a bad case of a soul hangover”. I was inspired immediately and I had to write something around that concept. I love co-writing, because bouncing ideas off one another always results in a better song at the end. The songs I write are chapters of my life. It’s like putting a moment of your life in a jar and closing the lid. You can always go back and set it free to re-live that moment again.

Asbarez: What should the mosaic concert goers, who haven’t been at any other Echocell performance expect?

B.K.: A unique sound they probably haven’t heard in other concerts they’ve been to. We blend a lot of different elements in our music from electronic beats, to synth parts to string arrangements within the context of pop, trip-hop & rock. It’s moody, fun and sexy all at the same time.

Asbarez: Tell us about your first live performance as a band. How have you evolved since?

B.K.: Oh wow! I remember our first show was at the Roxy, where we had booked a show without even having a band name. We were so innocent then and did not really know who we were just yet. Our sound was so much darker then. I think we have come out of that darker cloud mainly because Adam and I have grown up together and are in different places in our lives.

A.B.: We have learned to embrace life, and the difference is heard in our music today. It’s much more optimistic than before.

Asbarez: Share with us your take on the current music scene.

B.K.: The music industry is so different today. Labels don’t necessarily back up bands financially, unless you’re a big act like Beyonce or Lady Gaga, so bands are forced to do a lot on their own in terms of marketing, tours and so on. This can be a positive and a negative thing. It all depends on what angle you look at it from. Labels want to put you into a category and want you to sound like another popular band that they can group you with it. But I think as an artist it’s always important to be true to yourself and your craft, because your audience can smell inauthenticity from a mile away. You got to love what you do and who you are, and so will your fans.

Asbarez: Is there one artist or group out there that would be your dream collaboration? Why?

B.K.: My dream collaboration would probably be with Bjork because I think she is probably the most unique artist I know. I respect her immensely and know working with her even for 5 minutes would change my musical vision.

Tell us about performing at the Mosaic IV Concert. Are your feelings different from other concerts you’ve performed at?

B.K.: This is an important show for us because it’s a bit of a comeback show. We haven’t played live in a while mostly because we’ve been working on our new record. This past year we’ve put all our energy into the new record and focusing primarily on being in the studio. We’ve been in creative hibernation in a way, which was necessary to refuel ourselves as a project. It’s great to come back, share the stage with bands we respect and be a part of a great cause, all at an enchanting venue like the Ford.

Asbarez: So, what is next for Echocell?

B.K.: We are currently working on our next record which is more than half way there. We have been working with Producer & Arranger, Simone Giuliani, in NY and working with amazing musicians such as guitarist Simon Katz, previously with Jamiroquai and Gorillaz. It’s been such a great experience collaborating with new musicians and producers, and being able to work between NY and LA. I think this is by far becoming our best work and I can’t wait to perform some of the new material at the Mosaic concert.


A SPLINTER: An Interview with Lead Vocalist Ashot Tadevosian

A Splinter is an Armenian language alternative/folk band and one of the five up-and-coming acts performing at this year’s Mosaic IV Concert.

A Splinter: Ashot Tadevosian (vocals, guitar), Byuzand Azizyan (jembe, vocals), Meline Aleksanyan (cello), Jose Hernandez (charango, quena, pan flute), Romeo Palacios (guitar), Michael Albert (guitar).

Asbarez: How did the group come together?

Ashot Tadevosian: I had been writing songs for about 10 years. One day, I gave in to the encouragements and talked a few friends into starting a band. We liked how the music developed further, so we put on a couple of small concerts. The band changed from that point on, as some of our members had to leave due to obligations and time restrictions, and we started seeking other musicians. The band has not stopped developing, but the process has been more fascinating than we would have ever imagined.

Asbarez: What kind of music were you listening to growing up? What was the first concert you attended?

A.T.: I listened to Beatles and Rouben Hakhverdian on vinyl and cassette tape respectively. The first concert I attended was Rouben at the Cental Library in Yerevan. The ever-present exposure to classical and Romani materials in Soviet film and music has also had a great impact on me. Once in the US, my taste expanded to world music, jazz, blues, folk and the unclassifiable mad geniuses in the likes of Tom Waits. The rest of the band has been influenced by many genres, including but not limited to classic rock, Arabic, classical and South American music.

Asbarez: Was there a certain “a ha!” moment when you knew that music was going to be a career for you?

A.T.: Music has been a haunting force throughout my life; I’m still not sure how much of it is written by me to deal with anger, sadness, even happiness, and how much of it has written me into these emotions. If you ever see me trip and fall, it’s because much of me is trying to deal with these melodies in my head. The fall, as much as our concerts, are nothing more than the expressions of a dreamer, going for his dreams. Hopefully, the outcome is as beautiful, layered, and meaningful as I have dreamt it to be.

Asbarez: Tell us about your creative process… What kind of environment do you have to be in to make music?

A.T.: Most of my actual writing happens past 1AM. I turn off the lights to feel the silence around me, counterweighed by the thoughts that had been gnawing at my soul all day.

Asbarez: How would you describe the sound of A Splinter?

A.T.: It’s difficult to categorize. We started out with what we could only describe as alternative folk, blending Hakhverdian/Cash – like lyrics with folksy tunes, but the band has taken a somewhat different direction since then. We have been blending in the spirit and sounds from more cultures – some traditional, some not. I guess the closest classification now would be World Music, or “Alternative World Music,” as certain elements separate it from strictly traditional based world music.

Asbarez: What can fans expect from A Splinter performance at the Mosaic IV Concert?

A.T.: Fans can expect stories that will connect with them, melodies that will be ringing in their heads for days… hopefully in a good way, and humor in just about everything we do. We try to laugh at everything, even through the tears… and especially at ourselves.

Asbarez: Tell us about your first live performance as a band. How have you evolved into who you are now?

A.T.: Our first show as A Splinter was not long ago, it was in the beginning of April of 2010, and yet so much has already changed. Three out of the five performers at that concert have had life changing experiences, dragging them away from us. With time, and with exposure to various musicians and instruments, our sound has matured and has become richer.

Asbarez: Share with us your take on the current music scene.

A.T.: The current music scene, as in any other time in history is over-saturated with pop music. There are lots of musicians just piling onto whatever is the flavor of the month. Some like this music, some don’t, but essentially it is music that is easy to listen to, but that does not leave you with anything – it has very little transformative power. It is like the difference between a nice cold drink versus a day in the forest. Of course, as always, there are also musicians/bands that try to create music that is rich and meaningful, engaging the listener on several levels, taking them on emotional and intellectual journeys. What has changed in time, I guess, is the addition and integration of a variety of genres. As time goes on, musicians have more genres and styles to build upon, thereby, having the opportunity to weave even more intrinsic and detailed musical webs.

Asbarez: Do you have a dream city that you’d like to play in?

A.T.: It would also be extremely special to perform in Yerevan, where our music started its journey.

Asbarez: Is there one artist or group out there that would be your dream collaboration? Why?

A.T.: There are many musicians I love and look up to, so this is difficult to answer, but from the ones that are alive, it would be very special to perform with Tom Waits or Buena Vista Social Club, just because of the garden of sound that they bring into their music and how inspiring that would be for us.

Asbarez: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about A Splinter?

A.T.: We’re not proud of this, but a splinter was born thousands of years ago, around 6000 bc, with the first ax.

Asbarez: Tell us about performing at the Mosaic IV Concert. Are your feelings different from other concerts you’ve performed at?

A.T.: We are honored to have been chosen by Hamazkayin to participate in the fourth Mosaic concert and are very excited to join these great bands on the stage of Ford Amphitheater! I think as we strive to branch out of the community to reach a broader audience, this experience will remain as a testament to our continued connection and special bond that we have with our own community.

Asbarez: So, what is next for A Splinter?

A.T.: After the Mosaic Concert, we plan to finally find a full time lead guitarist, develop further as a live band and then do some recordings to cut our first album. We want to tour on the east coast towards the end of next year for the opening of our CD.


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