Ron Jarzombek interview with Thiago Sarkis

1) Spastic Ink is about to release the second album. Will you keep the same spirit as on the first one? When can we expect this new release?

This album is coming together a lot differently than "Ink Complete". Bobby (drummer) and I started Spastic Ink together and we wrote all the songs, going back and forth with sheet music and cassette tapes. It was constant feedback for nearly every section of every song. Pete (bass) was in the picture from day one when songs started coming together. The 3 of us had "jammed" together as far as ten years ago, but never recorded anything together and this was the opportunity. "Ink Comptable" is being totally written by me. I'm writing parts and don't even know who is going to be playing the parts, or what's going to be playing the parts. At first, I was going to use drum programming because Bobby was too busy at the time to write, and I didn't have any contact with anyone who I thought could play Ink tunes. But I just started writing away on computer, and kept writing and about a year and a half later, I'm still not sure who is going to play the parts. There will be 2 video songs that I will do totally on my own with programming. Everything else will have a full "band" lineup of vocals, guitars, bass and drums.

"Ink Compatible" is based totally on computers. The songs deal with the internet, nerds, memory, bits, viruses, etc... I've become such a computer nerd within the past few years, and it really seems that computers are taking over everything, so why not base the whole CD on the subject. A few song titles are "Just A Little Bit" (a follow up to "Just A Little Dirty"), "In Memory Of...", "The Cereal Mouse", "Read Me", "Aquanet", I would say that the songs on "Ink Compatible" are heavier than those on "Ink Complete" and not as "experimental". The songs also seem more like constructed "songs" because there are vocals (Jason McMaster) on nearly every song. There will be some filmscore sounding pieces here and there. I'm shooting for a release date of early 2000.

2) On Spastic Ink's new album, the line-up of the band was totally changed, and the band will have Steve DiGiorgio and Sean Malone playing bass and Richard Christy and Sean Reinert playing drums. How did you contact these musicians? 3 of 4 of these musicians played with Death. What do you think about them musically, their work with Death, and how is it working with them?

Everyone was contacted by email except Richard Christy, although I did get his phone number from an email friend. I picked up every CD I could get my hands on that had these players, and just tried to imagine how it might sound with Ink. Chuck (Death) has always had killer musicians in every lineup of Death, so I knew that there was strong possibilities for all the players. Sean Malone emailed me over a year ago, and sent me his "Cortlandt" CD, and from that I knew that he would work out. Bobby had a copy of Cynic's "Focus" CD, which has both Malone and Reinert, so I checked that out for a while. Then it was rather difficult trying to figure out who should be playing what songs.

3) Spastic Ink now has 2 bass players and 2 drums players. Are you playing in the songs with this unusual formation, or the bassists and drummers alternate the songs they play?

That was the plan up until a few weeks ago, when we had another lineup change. Sean Reinert was going to play most of the drum tracks, but he had to decline because of his schedule. Richard Christy still might play on the CD, but right now it looks as if my brother Bobby will be doing most of the drum tracks. We live in the same city, and so working out parts will be more convenient and sensible than trying to communicate with someone clear across the contry. Bobby's scedule is very hectic, but we're going to try to work it out. Richard Christy works fulltime, and is playing in two bands right now and who knows if he'll be available. Everybody is too damn busy these days. Sean Malone does sessions, teaches and goes to school at Oregon University. And Steve is nuts. He's playing with Dark Hall, Sadus, Testament, and now Ink, has a full-time job, a wife and two kids. I don't know how he hell he juggles all that. There will be two songs where both Steve and Sean are playing bass.

4) You have added a vocalist to Spastic Ink formation now, too, Jason McMaster. How did you contact him ? How will be the vocal lines in such complex music, as is Spastic Ink music?

Jason McMaster was going to do the WatchTower "Mathematics" album a year ago, but everything fell apart. When I finally gave up on the whole idea of completing the album, I asked Jason if he would sing on "Ink Compatible". No, the music will not be watered down because there are vocals. It's still spastic. The main difference is the songs on "Ink Compatible" are more "song" oriented. In other words, there are obvious verses, choruses, bridges, etc... On "Ink Complete" there were just a few songs where we called sections a "verse" or "chorus".

5) How have been the sales of the first Spastic Ink album, "Ink Complete" ? Do you have financial aspirations with a project that is totally directioned to musicians? Don't you think that it's a little hard for non-musicians understand and appreciate what you do?

We printed up something like 2,000 or 3,000 copies and they're all gone, so I guess it did alright for an instrumental CD that was recorded on a 4 track. I'm sure that if the label would have printed up another few thousand, they would be gone too, because we've been totally out of copies for nearly a year now. As far as a project totally directioned to musicians, believe it or not but there are tons of listeners out there who not only appreciate music, but don't care to hear any vocals, so I might be losing a few listeners by adding vocals. For what I'm trying to convey on "Ink Compatible", there needs to be vocals. As far as financial aspiriations go, I think there is a market for progressive music, because some killer musicians are actually supporting themselves playing what they want to play. It might be hard for non-musicians to appreciate the music that I write and play, but they're not really a concern of mine. If they don't like my music, chances are that I probably won't like their music either. And I'm not about to sacrifice musical integrity for a bunch of rap hungry dumbshits.

6) Do you think now, with a vocalist you can have more public acceptance?

Yeah, in general, that's the case, but like I mentioned erlier, there are some "music" fans that don't want to listen to vocals. I've received quite a few emails from WatchTower fans stating that it's difficult listening to "Control And Resistance" because of the vocals. Maybe they wish it was an instrumental album. Releases that have vocals are usually going to sell more copies than instrumental releases, but this is Spastic Ink, not Nirvana or Puff Daddy, so it's never going to have mass appeal, with or without vocals.

7) How was the composition process of Spastic Ink's first album ? Did you already have songs ready from Watchtower times? Which ones?

"Ink Complete" was written with Bobby and me, nothing was carried over from WatchTower. I was still in WatchTower when Ink started, and at first I was having to pick which "band" should play a tune that I wrote. At first, I would try things out with both bands and see which sounded best, but eventually, I gave up on WatchTower because I was having a hard time adjusting to the new musical direction. I would say nearly 95% of what I was writing was going to Ink. Usually when I write a tune, parts have to be played, it's not just some jam free-for-all, it's about organization and discipline. When WatchTower tried to finish up "Mathematics" a year or so ago, I wrote a few tunes for the band, but that project fell apart quick, so I used the tunes for Ink. The tunes ended up in the "Internet" song.

8) How did you know Pete Perez work and decided to work with him ? Why he won't play on the new album ? And why your brother bobby jarzombek won't play in the new album?

Bobby, Pete and I used to jam together when we were teenagers. We'd do mostly Rush covers. Never did a gig or recording though, so this was the change to do something. Bobby and Pete both rejoined Riot full time. When I got the wild hare to do another Ink record, I asked Bobby if he was into it, and at first he considered it, but his scedule was too hectic to write or do any recordings. When we wrote "Ink Complete", he used to come by nearly every day and we'd get together and talk about parts, but I've moved clear across town and getting together in person isn't near as convenient as it was back then. Pete did very little writing for "Ink Complete" and I was looking for someone else to write with. Sean Malone and I had been emailing and he was an obvoius candidate for the gig. He had sent me his "Cortlandt" CD, and I was just amazed that this bass player wrote these tunes and put everything together. Pete is a phenomenal bassist, but he just wasn't into contributing to any Ink writing. However, he played the parts unbelievably, and his solos are awesome. I remember Pete did spice up some sections on "Squeakie" that really brought the part to life. His two handed tapping in the waltz section on "A Wild Hare" was really cool.

9) A song that took my atention very much melodically was "To Counter And Groove In E Minor". How did you have the ideas for this song, and to make the very complex counterpoint parts in this composition?

I wrote that main groove for that song when my hand was screwed up. My little sister used to exercise to those aerobics programs on sports channels and they have this cheesy drum machine stuff in the background, and I just wrote something like that. I could only use two fingers on my left hand and that was about all I could play at the time. Where the classical counterpoint melodies came in, I have no idea. I probably just heard something like that in my head and just played it over the groove, and then whole song started taking shape. I'm not too fond of that song actually, it sounds out of place on the CD. The intro counterpoint section is kinda cool though.

10) You are very versatile in your first album, combining jazz/fusion to rock, neoclassical, metal, and even funk and other very weird ideas. With so much ideas and a so complex music happened many differences between the ideas and proposals of each musician ? As you made all the songwriting of the album, did the other musicians wanted to add things that you didn't agree with or something?

On "Ink Complete", Bobby and I just clicked. I don't know what it was, but I hadn't really worked with the guy in over ten years. I was off with WatchTower or teaching and he was with Riot or doing his local gigging. I was so used to how WatchTower used to write that it was such a change to have somebody actually play parts that were written, and have tune sound how it was supposed to. It was never ending how I would write a tune for WatchTower, and what came out was nowhere near how it was written. Sometimes it was amazing what came out, but other times, it was just a mess. Pete brought in a few things that he had written in the past, but none of it fit in.

11) As you seem to be very much into jazz/fusion, a question borns naturally. "Ink Complete" was an album totally programmed and rehearsed or you improvised on some songs ? Which ones?

No, we're taking about organization here. If somebody wanted to change a note they better have a good reason why. If parts were written a certain way, then that's how they were to be played. We rehearsed maybe two times a week for a few months and then put the songs down on tape. I don't think I improvised one note on that album. On WatchTower's "Control And Resistance", I improvised a few sections of solos, but "Ink Complete" was about notes being set in stone. On Sean Malone's Gordian Knot CD I played 5 solos. Two were improvised, two were composed, and the other one was improvised but I relearned it, then rerecorded it so I could double track it.

12) In all songs on Spastic Ink's first album there is a big and almost insane complexity. But, in some moments, I felt that it lacks a melodic sequence. There are changes in the themes very much characteristic of jazz/fusion. But there are parts very classical/baroque sounding, like "To Counter And Groove In E Minor". Did you think some time in recording an album with more compositions in this style? What do you think about it?

Again, I don't care much for "To Counter". Whenever anyboy tells me that that's their favorite song on the CD, usually it's because they're into cliche classical melodies/counterpoint, haven't bothered to give the wilder songs a good listen, or just don't understand the other songs. Yeah, it's probably the most melodic song on the CD, but it's just too average of a song. There are lots of cool melodies in the other songs but they're probably going by too fast or it's too syncopated. I think the stuff has a great feel to it, but you just have to be able to find it. In "To Counter", the progression is too normal, it's all 4/4, nothing too characteristic here going on. Now I'm not saying that you can't have a great song in the key of C in 4/4 time, but I've just become a little too twisted over the years.

13) I showed "Ink Complete" to some jazz players, shredders, and fans of this kind of music, and they had an unanimous reaction: admiration for the band's work. How are you receiving these praises from many musicians? How do you feel about that? How is your contact with fans?

The email that I've received from Ink fans has been overwhemling. Some of the shit even motivates me sometimes. I'm not into any of these obvious bullshit "you're GOD", or any of that crap, but sometimes I get a really thoughtful email from a fan who really gets what I'm doing. There are a hell of a lot of people who can relate to progressive music, and that's really cool. Not everybody hops on whatever bandwagon is coming around at that time. Some people actually think for themselves and have integrity. I have seen a few reviews on the net knocking the "mathematical" content of Ink's music, but if somebody can't understand what I'm doing, it doesn't bother me. If they understand it, but just don't like it, that cool too. I mean I don't like everything I hear these days. I'll listen to what they critics have to say, and if it's a valid criticism, I'll take it into consideration. If I disagree, I move on. But belive me, I'd rather hear some good constructive criticism that will help me out somewhere down the line, rather than any of this mindless "Dude, you fuckin' rule" crap.

14) I would like to know your opinion about "Ink Complete". I'd like you to say the best and worst moments, the hardest moments to play, the moments you had more work composing, the songs you like more, etc.

My favorite songs on the CD are probably "Mosquito" and "Data Race". One thing I really dig about the CD is that all of the songs have their own character. Yeah, the music is chaotic on almost the whole thing, but there's originality all over the place. The hardest song to write was "Just A Little Dirty". I thought we had all the songs done for the CD, and Bobby insisted that we needed something heavier with a driving straightforward groove. I didn't see the point in doing the song, and I was having difficulty writing guitar and bass parts because I didn't know what I was shooting for. Bobby had all his parts done, but I didn't get it. As it turns out, quite a few fans have mentioned that one as one of their favorite tunes, so I guess it was a good thing to do it. The song that took the most effort was "A Wild Hare". I had to transcribe all the orchestral parts from "Bambi" and arrange them for guitar, bass and drums. That was a LOT of work. The easiest song to write was "Mosquito". That whole song just fell into place. We just had all these different parts written when we started the project, and it was like putting a puzzle together. Most of the pieces were there, it was just a matter of arranging things, adding some parts, and making it dramatical in spots.

15) Let's talk a little about Watchtower. The first question I'll make you probably already answered many time, but many people still ask: What happened with Watchtower?

To make a long story short... I was having severe problems with my left hand during and after the recording of Control And Resistance" in Berlin and it took nearly three years to recover from all the surgeries. Alan (vocalist) left after the European tour and we could find a replacement. When my hand was ready to go, and Jason (Tower' first vocalist) was back in the picture, too many years had passed, and the musical direction of the band had changed too much, so Bobby and I started Spastic Ink.

16) There's a first Watchtower album, called "Energetic Dissasembly", that became a real rarity. Many fans that have "Control And Resistance" search for this CD, but can't find. Why does it happen ? Where can who search this CD find it?

I think Noise is printing more copies of "Control And Resistance" because I keep seeing them pop up in different places. I haven't checked on the internet to see what distributor currently has them in stock, but I'm sure there are copies floating around. "Energetic Disassembly" was rereleased by "Institue Of Art". I don't know if they are printing up copies as they sell out, but again, there are probably copies around.

17) Now comment about your albums with Watchtower, making a comparision with both, and highlighting the best and worst points, and give your general opinion about them, now, some years after they have been released.

Well, I wasn't on the first album "Energetic Disassembly". Billy White was on that one. He left WatchTower to join Dokken, and recorded one album with them. He's a monster guitarist. Not sure what he's doing right now. "Energetic" got the name WatchTower out there, and "Control" picked up where it left off. I think the writing on "Control" is more mature, but the songs on "Energetic" have a cooler feel to them. They just rock more, and they're more fun playing live. We used to open up shows with "Asylum". My favorite songs from "Energetic" are "Tyrants" and "Asyum". The song I really don't care for is the "hit" from the album, "Meltdown". I knew WatchTower was going to be something from the very first time I saw them play live. They had some much energy, and it showed on "Energetic". We had some great shows playing on the European tour, but it was always weird hearing Alan sing those songs when Jason's voice was there for so long.

18) Please, compare your work with Watchtower with your work with Spastic Ink (style, aspirations, quality, complexity, the rest of the band members, etc)

Bobby and I used to talk about that when magazines first started comparing Ink to WatchTower. Both bands are progressive rock/metal, but Tower is more free-form and Ink is so disciplined and thoughtout. If Ink tried to play a Tower song, it would be possible but it wouldn't sound as wild and chaotic. Rick used to improvise most of his drum parts, even while we were recording for final takes. We never knew what he was going to throw in. I got pissed quite a few times because I would write a fill or something to what he did on a demo, then when we recorded "Control", I had to change my part, because he did something different. WatchTower could not play an Ink tune. There's too much discipline required. The timing on Ink songs has to be extremely accurate for it to work. If tempos or timing swayed with Tower, it didn't really matter. When Bobby and I recorded our parts for "Ink Complete", we knew exactly what the other would be playing. On all the solos we did whatever we wanted, but the actual parts for the songs were to be played exactly as written. And I suppose that's where we get most of the "it's too mathematical" critique, but that's what we were going for. Some people said that it sounded too much like a computer. That's actually what triggered the concept of "Ink Compatible".

19) Which of the albums that you released until today you feel had a better acceptance by the public? Why?

I've heard that "Control And Resistance" sold something like 40,000 copies. I'd imagine that if there were a lot more copies of "Ink Complete" printed, it would be somewhere around 4,000. "Control" was released on an international label and had great distribution, "Ink Complete" was released on a small label has very little distribution. Both releases made a statement, but of course WatchTower had more appeal. There are a bunch of demos that I've done floating around through tape trading. I've even received some email about those recordings. If the sound quality was better, I'd think about releasing that stuff. I could rerecord the stuff I guess, but why backtrack.

20) You made guest appearences in Guardian Knot debut album, one of Sean Malone's band, and in the album Raymond Scott Tribute de David Bagsby. How was your participation in these albums? How the opportunity to make participations in these albums appeared and how did you feel about it? What's your opinion about these albums?

David Bagsby contacted me and asked me to do a cover of a Raymond Scott tune. I've known days for several years nw, I first met him at a WatchTower show that we did in Dallas. I'm not really a fan of the "big band" sound, but I am a HUGE Bugs Bunny fan, and Carl Stalling (Bugs Bunny composer) was heavily influenced by Scott. I had a tape of about 20 Scott songs to choose from and I just thought "Mars" had cool melodies. I wanted to make it real heavy, and think I did a pretty good job with the song, but the production wasn't the greatest. It was my first attempt at doing a tune on my own with my computer setup. The Raymond Scott CD came out great. I'm sure Bagsby is very happy with it.

For Gordian Knot, Sean Malone and I just worked out a little trade. He asked me to do some recording for his next project and I asked him if he would play on "Ink Compatible". I was a bit disappointed with my contribution to the CD. Sean was on a strict deadline, and I was hoping that we were going to collaborate writing. I thought I'd be playing some of the actual songs, not just solos. He just sent me an ADAT tape 2 weeks before mixing was scheduled, and told me where the solos were going to be, and that was it. Glen Swelnar did a great job with the songs, but I wish I cold have played more on the CD.

21) Do you have other projects besides Spastic Ink ? Many musicians have contacted you to participation in their albums or something?

I'm hoping to get into the whole multimedia field. Writing music for animations, video games, films/movies, etc... I'm writing 4 short videos that will appear on "Ink Compatible" as avi files. The full piece is called "Read Me" and is divided into the 4 individual video sections. It would be really cool if I could find an animator to work it, so I could just focus on the music, but right now, I'm doing the video and the audio. I've got some interesting pieces happening, but I'm not claiming to be an animator, I just want to write music to moving objects. I guess I've been watching too many Bugs Bunny cartoons. I also wrote a music score for a video clip from the film "Charlotte's Web", which will be called "The Cereal Mouse". I doubt the video will be on "Ink Compatible", because of the copyright hassles.

I don't know if I'll be on the next Gordian Knot. Sean's just beginning to write the CD, and who knows who he's got in mind. I'm schedules to do some playing on the demos.

22) Don't you think in making an instructional video or something? I think many people would be interested. Do you write columns for some guitar magazine? Do you give or gave guitar lessons?

I've been teaching guitar/theory for about 15 years, and it's getting very old. It's not what I want to do, but I have bills to pay. I'd rather not gig around town playing country music and old rock covers. I've learned from gigging with WatchTower that the money doesn't come flowing in if you're doing your own songs.

I've been asked a few times to do columns for guitar magazines, but so far, nothing has happened. I think if I did an "instructional video" it would be totally different than other guitar video that I've seen. It would probably be more of a lesson in creativity and note abuse.

23) Some other day I had the opportunity to read a message from Mr. Jens Johansson with an equation representing a 4/4 beat, and it was something like 5*6+2/8=3D5+6+5+6+5+5/8. After listening your work, I became curious to know how would you think in a beat in a 4/4 beat. Could you make some equations represting them for us?

Jens is a nut. I was emailing him for a while, then I lost contact with him. He's been very busy touring with Stratovarius. I've seen him live with Yngwie a few times. What else could you ask for in a keybordist. He sent me his "Heavy Machinery" album that he did with Alan Holdsworth, and his solo CD "Fission". He's a great writer too.

As fas as chopping up a measure of 4/4, there are hundreds of different ways to divide it up. I sometimes find it difficult to write a tune in 4/4, because I might have a series of notes that I want in a melody, and forcing everything into a normal time just won't work. Chances are that I'll have notes left over after 4 or 8 counts, and it will fit better in an odd time. I know a lot of listeners might think progressive writers purposely try to make the timing difficult, but usually, that's just how the tune goes. I write more parts in my head than on guitar, so I'm not sitting there counting out the beats. However, for example, there is one section in the "virus" song from "Ink Compatible" that has one guitar playing a theme with measures of 4 4 4 4 3/8 4 4 4 4 3/8, another guitar is playing a 2nd theme with 10 measure of 7/8, and the bass is playing a 3rd theme with 7 measures of 5. All 3 themes are played simulatenously. It works since all of the themes add up to 35 beats. Now on that one I had to whip out my calculator. That would be something like (4+4+4+4+3/8)*2=7/8*10=5*7.

24) When did you start to play? Were there any musician/band who made you want to play the guitar?

I started playing guitar in the fifth grade, I think. I first took piano for two years or so before I picked up a guitar. I remember my mommy was mad at me because I wanted to switch to guitar. I only took 2 guitar lessons when I was a kid. When I picked up a guitar, I already knew a few scales and chords from taking piano. But mostly I would just take my old turntable and slow down records and try to figure out solos. My biggest influence was Rush. When I was growing up, some of my favorite guitar players were Alex Lifeson, Michael Schenker, Uli Roth, Glenn Tipton, and Ace Frehley. Bobby and I had a band with our older brother and we did quite a few shows when we were in high school.

25) What are your biggest influences as musician and songwriter? What have you been listening to lately?

I'm still listening to the film composers. My latest discovery is Mark Snow who does the "X Files". Elliot Goldenthal, Danny Elfman and Richard Band have been favorites of mine for a few years. Guitar wise, I don't listen of much of what's out there. The only CDs I've picked up lately are Fredrik Thordendal solo CD "Sol Niger Within", Symphony X, and Pantera.

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