Shant Hagopian will be releasing his album “Solipsistic” under project name “Semantic Saturation” on January 21st 2013.
Who is Shant Hagopian?
Shant Hagopian is a Canadian songwriter/guitarist, of Syrian/Armenian heritage. From 1996 to 2003 he specialized in Jazz guitar studies, and in 1997 he founded the progressive rock/metal band Nu.Clear.Dawn along with musicians in the Syrian city of Aleppo, as one of the first and very few bands to emerge out of the Syrian scene.
Touring throughout the Middle East and playing in large festivals such as “Rock the Nations” in Istanbul along many international names like Pain of Salvation, Epica, Sentenced, Vanden Plas and more, their 2003 album “Poem of a Knight” which also was the first officially released metal record in Syria, received positive reviews from acclaimed webzines such as Metalstorm and the Metal Observer and others.
Shant moved to Canada in 2005 and recently started working on his solo project “Semantic Saturation” with the debut album “Solipsistic” which is set to be released on January 21, 2013, featuring progressive rock and metal gurus such as drummer Virgil Donati, bassist Ric Fierabracci with guests; keyboardist Derek Sherinian (ex. Dream Theater) and vocalist Andy Kuntz (Vanden Plas).
We would like to thank Shant for this interview. We hope our readers will enjoy it.
1) What challenges did you face to get this project ready?
The biggest challenge was writing music that keeps spinning in your mind after you hit the stop button. Nowadays it’s very hard to find music that is catchy, music that satisfies your appetite but leaves you wanting for more, a lot of musicians forget that part and concentrate on the technical aspect, or how fast they can play. Music is not a race, it’s art.
Of course there were other challenges too; as a guitarist, getting the right guitar tone and recording it. All of us guitarists know that it takes months, even years to bring a tone to perfection, and by the time you shape it down there’s probably some new ideas in your head that keep you wanting to tweak the sound even more and try different versions.
Another challenge was completing the project in time, which was a tough one actually. I’m pretty organized when it comes to any project, and I made a lot of planning during the writing process, I even made Gantt charts (if you don’t know what a Gantt chart is: it’s a bar chart to illustrate the project timeline and schedule,) but a lot of times I had to modify it to meet the new deadline, it’s very hard working with musicians who are constantly touring and have their own projects, it needs a lot of planning and coordination. But needless to say they were all excited to be part of the project, and they all tried their best to meet the deadlines. For example Virgil Donati only had a couple of days in September to record one of the tracks, he was back from tour and preparing to leave for another with Allan Holdsworth, but he managed to record and finalize the drum line.
2) Why did you choose Derek Sherinian, Virgil Donati, Ric Fierabracci and Andy Kuntz to contribute to the album?
Derek is an inspiration, being a Dream Theater fan since 1995 “A Change of Seasons” was the first album I had, and up till now it’s still my favorite track (let’s call it a long track), one of my favorite parts was Derek’s jazzy chords, but let’s not get this to sound like a review from the past. Derek also played on another DT album “Falling Into Infinity”, that was an album I disliked in the beginning, the songs were all radio friendly and less technical, but then eventually it grew on me and I began to notice the hidden layer of creativity and musicianship, Petrucci’s and Derek’s solos are captivating on that record.
Why Andy? Andy is the most amazing, down to earth, very supportive and friendly musician I have ever met. Does that answer the question or not yet? Probably not, because those add as a super bonus to the amazing voice and the writing and producing talents he has.
I’ve met Andy when we performed in Istanbul-Turkey at the “Rock the Nations” metal festival with Nu.Clear.Dawn in 2004. We were all sitting in the hotel restaurant having breakfast when he walked in, we introduced ourselves and told him how we admired their (Vanden Plas) music, so we sat down and had our meal together, he was also very interested in our music, we had a copy of the album with us and we gave it to him. Later on, the next day it was the day we both had to play on stage, so we hit the stage first and at some point, in the middle of the crowd, I noticed a metal horn held high up and rocking and I released it was him! Can you imagine the amount of excitement when you see your idol watching, listening and cheering for you? As if that was not enough, when Vanden Plas were about to wrap up their show, Andy grabbed the microphone and said a thank you to Nu.Clear.Dawn, we were all left speechless. It’s all on tape by the way.
As for Virgil and Ric, it was natural to have them on the album. Derek Virgil and Ric worked together before with Planet X, they are simply virtuosos, they are all top of the line musicians, they are world class progressive rock gurus, and how can you go wrong? Virgil was even one of the seven drummers who were auditioned to be the next Dream Theater drummer after Mike Portnoy left the band. DT picked Mangini, their loss is my gain.
Virgil was a late addition to the line-up, initially I had asked drummer Aram Kalousdian my friend and band mate from Nu.Clear.Dawn if he wanted to be part of the project, of course he was more than happy to help, but unfortunately for him the problems started in Syria back then and it was very hard for him to keep up, he even recorded one of the tracks “Blessing in Disguise”.
3) Is a live performance possible? Are there obstacles to such a project?
As much as I’d love to play on stage with these amazing people, I think a live performance is highly unlikely, given the fact that they are all busy on different schedules and projects, not to mention the distance between all of us.
4) Tell us about the album “Solipsistic”. Who do you dedicate it to?
The music says it all, I can’t describe it per se but I can definitely give you an idea what it is about. Solipsism is a state of mind, it’s a philosophical idea, a theory that proves that only one’s own mind or self to exist, and everyone or everything else is just a manifestation, do not confuse solipsism with selfishness, they are completely two different things. The idea came to me when I was a teenager and I started to think about it every now and then, so now that I was about to release a SOLo project, it all came back to me and hit me in the face, this was the perfect opportunity to let it all out. Who do I dedicate it to? It doesn’t matter because you don’t exist anyway, haha.
5) Is Semantic Saturation a temporary project or a solid band with more projects to come, more releases in plan? Are there any interested Labels?
It’s definitely NOT a temporary project, I’m planning to do more releases in the near future, as a band I can’t say for sure, my plan is to work with different musicians on every album, but that doesn’t also mean that I can’t work with the same musician(s) again. As for labels, there may be a couple of labels interested but the thing is I’m not J, unless they’re really big labels with a good reputation. At this electronic age, it’s no secret that labels and record companies are suffering, some of them went bankrupt already, the digital world of downloads and file sharing has killed the music industry; but only partially, as on the other hand it opened the doors wide welcoming newly starting artists, now is the time for the listeners to choose their favorite artists, not the record companies. It’s not easy, it’s a big world out there, and technically you are competing against every single musician on earth.
6) Tell me about your experience in Nu.Clear.Dawn. Is the band still active? Is there an album on the way?
We had a great time in Nu.Clear.Dawn, we played a lot of cover shows when we started, but then we realized it was time to put out an album, which was a whole new experience for all of us, so we created “Poem of a Knight” in 2003, the album received positive reviews from acclaimed webzines like Metal Storm and The Metal Observer, we played more shows in the region promoting the album, and we’ve been asked to perform at the “Rock the Nation” metal festival in Istanbul Turkey, to share the stage with many other big names and bands, some who were and still are our idols, Pain of Salvation, Vanden Plas, Circle II Circle, Epica, Amon Amarth and many others. Of course we couldn’t decline such an amazing opportunity, and we had an amazing time and experience.
The band is not really doing anything, since everyone is away from Syria, that’s not an excuse to stop, but you never know, maybe one day we’ll get back together and create new music again. I’m currently the one maintaining the website and the fan page, to keep the memories alive.
7) Why do you think there are few Progressive metal bands in the Middle East and many Death Metal bands?
Very good question… is it the extreme roars and growls that fans crave? Is it the feeling of being extremely angry, frustrated or upset and letting it all out? Or is it because it doesn’t matter what chord you play anyway? I think it’s the latter, I’m just kidding. (no I’m not)
To be honest I’m not sure, I mean if you’re talented enough why waste your powers when you can be more creative? I honestly don’t see any talent in death metal bands, I’ve listened to a lot of extreme bands, some have amazing musicians and stunning melodies, but when they start to sing I literally cringe. Not my cup of tea.
8) Any artists you wish to cooperate with in the future?
Ah! Glad you brought this up. I’d love to have Anneke Van Giersbergen (vocalist previously with “The Gathering”) on my next album, I was a big fan for them, and now I’m in love with Anneke’s solo projects and albums. I don’t have any other names in mind for the moment, but I’m sure I’ll find more amazing musicians along the way.
The following questions are random fun questions (part of the “Jerking and Interview” article series…coming soon):
– Most Useless Instrument?
Is there really a useless instrument? I’m sure I can hit anything and make music.
– Music you never liked?
Justin Bieber? – somebody kill the kid already
– Your Muse and Inspiration when composing?
Musically… Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation, Porcupine Tree. Anything can inspire me really, George Carlin, some of my favorite movies, could be a website or an article I’m reading, or just a full stomach.
– How would you kill a singer (using musical instruments and gear)? You can state your reasons too.
I wouldn’t hit them with a guitar (too expensive). Perhaps by playing the ugliest guitar chords in a room full of 100,000 watts speakers, that would kill them.
– Favorite move on stage
Once I was trying to move from one side to the extreme other, that was my favorite move until the guitar cord that was connected to the effect processor got unplugged and started following me J
– A memory from your childhood years
There was this cartoon that I always wanted to remember what it was called, I searched for years and couldn’t find a lead. It was pretty funny, there was very little dialog, if any at all. Some old man who lived in the desert with an annoying blue furry creature. If anyone knows the name of the cartoon or the creator, I’ll send them a free CD.
– Name a band that should reunite or an album that should be recorded again.
No album should be recorded again. But as for reunions, all hope is gone now… Pink Floyd