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Progressive Rock Interviews

David Arkenstone

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with David Arkenstone from 2013

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music?

At age four I heard “The Nutcracker” and wanted to know how those sounds were made. That’s my earliest memory of the direction I would take in life.  I still enjoy seeing "The Nutcracker" and a couple of years ago I did my own version of “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” on my Christmas Lounge album.  It's a twisted, fun take on Tchaikovsky - imagine James Bond chasing Santa - and a real crowd pleaser at my Winter Solstice concerts.  By age eight I was participating in piano recitals. In junior high, I had my first gig, a talent show. I sang and played tambourine.

In 1964 the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan and it changed my life. In high school I took every possible music class (back then, music classes actually existed). Later I started to write songs I considered decent and started studying the orchestra. I also started playing only original music.

In college I took more music classes. I also had more focus on figuring out how my favorite music was made. Beyond that, it was more years in original bands, honing my performance skills. When synthesizers and computers started communicating, I quit my band and started making more complex music. In 1987 I got my first recording deal with Narada Records. In 1991, I was very excited to have my first number one record Citizen of Time. In 1992 I was thrilled to receive my first Grammy nomination for In The Wake Of The Wind. Subsequently, I was honored with two more Grammy nominations for Citizen Of The World and Atlantis.

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
I'd probably be a travel/tour guide in some exotic location.  I love to travel. It inspires me.
MSJ: You seem to get involved in some intriguing collaborations here and there. What can you tell us about those?
My second album, Island, was a collaboration with Andrew White, an incredible guitarist. It was a record company suggestion that worked out pretty well.

Spirit of Olympia was a collaboration with Kostia Efimov, one of the most talented musicians I've ever met.

The new album for 2013 is a collaboration with Charlee Brooks, a gifted vocalist and writer. It was just released in March and debuted at number two on the ZMR chart its first month. Reviews New Age just named it Best Album of April 2013 and nominated it for Album of the Year. The reviews have been amazing and I'm very pleased with this work. I'm always grateful to people for listening to and programming my music.

MSJ: How does the act of collaboration differ from solo work and what do you get (on a personal and artistic basis) from each side of that coin?
When it works, you make music that would have been impossible to create on your own. It transcends each partner. It's a richer exploration of musical ideas sometimes.
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, The Beatles, Yes, Peter Gabriel, Jethro Tull, Emerson Lake and Palmer, a lot of world musicians.
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
We just did an epic live, multi-media event called “David Arkenstone's Symphonic Adventure,” and filmed it for future broadcast. We'll be taking it on tour later this year. It's a celebration of my first 25 years in the music industry.  In addition, I'm writing a musical, an opera, and a spoken word classical piece.  And I'm already working on two new video games this year. It's a very creative / busy time in my life right now!
MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
It’s hard to say. Someone called it “cinematic new age rock.” That didn't bother me. "Epic neo-classical” maybe?  I'm told my diversity makes it difficult to classify my work in any particular genre.
MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
I'd love to be in Peter Gabriel's band…or play with David Gilmour or Greg Lake.
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
It's double-edged sword. It hurts the musician, as it's difficult to earn a living in a pirated world, yet more people hear your music because of it. Basically, I'm against it. People begin to lose sight that an artist created it.
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
I think shows are a little different from CDs, so that seems less destructive. To monitor it more effectively, I'd like to be able to provide a recording of a concert immediately afterward, or within days of a concert. That might be cool.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
I always liked Ming the Merciless, from Flash Gordon, I thought he was a colorful, creative adversary.
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
That's just too difficult. They'd never all fit on a stage!
MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view, who would be playing?
Again, quite difficult. . . Peter Gabriel, The Beatles, Yes, Amon Tobin, David Bowie, Judy Garland, Tal Farlow.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
The Hobbit, Life of Pi.
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
Don't seem to have the time. I'm in the middle of Grace Slick's book.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
The LA Philharmonic's performance of Mussorgsky's “Pictures at an Exhibition,” one of my favorites.  I also just went to a concert with Vasen (the Swedish folk group) that I really enjoyed.
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure”?
…don't think so. . . unless enjoying current pop music qualifies!
MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
John Lennon, Marco Polo, and Cleopatra.
MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Something for everyone. . . at least chips and salsa. Vegetable tempura
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
I've been blessed that my music has touched so many people around the world. I appreciate all the correspondence I receive, and look forward to performing a lot this year. Thank you!
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 3 at
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