Fans of the more adventurous side of the prog genre will be interested in this interview with Steve Feigenbaum founder of Cuneiform Records. November 2011 is a big month for the label as they are hosting two live multi-day events. I have posted the details at the end of this interview. Read on!
Jerry Lucky: It is my custom here to look into the history of the people who provide us with progressive rock music, so perhaps you could enlighten us with how you came to be fan of progressive music?
Steve Feigenbaum: I discovered The Mothers of Invention in the 9th grade and a big door opened up for me musically. Many discoveries (The Muffins, Soft Machine) came quickly after.
JL: I ask this of a lot of prog artists, but was there a moment in your life where you heard something that made you sit up and say…Now that’s different!
SF: Many times! Certainly hearing The Mothers, as I said above. Hearing Ethiopian pop music for the first time in the 80s (Mahamoud Ahmed), the first time I heard Don Caballero, etc. etc. etc.
Just to elaborate. I guess what I was trying to say is that there's a lot of music out there and if you are willing to listen beyond what you already know and things that relate to what you already know, there's a lot of musical surprises out there. Astor Piazolla may not have been a surprise to someone who listened to tango or Argentinian music or whatever, but when I heard him in 1984 (?) it sure was a big surprise to me!
JL: Do you have a favourite type of artist?
SF: In terms of working with an artist? Realistic. (I was making a joke.)
[But seriously] Some artists expect to be signed, we do all the work and they are world famous within the year. It doesn't work that way....
JL: How did the interest in this music make the transition to creating a label?
SF: I started Wayside Music, a mail order company in 1980. After a few years, it seemed to make sense to add a label to the business mix.
JL: The genre has many sub-genre’s was it an intentional move on your part to focus on the more adventurous side of the prog-rock spectrum?
SF: What Cuneiform releases reflects are my interests and tastes and understanding, so I guess the answer to your question is 'yes', but really I guess that I am saying that there's no point in releasing things you can't relate to. If you are going to do that, you might as well work at a paperclip factory.
JL: Do you think it was easier to start the label back in 1984 than it would be today?
SF: Much, much easier now. That's why there are a zillion labels now and a zillion self-released releases now.
JL: If you were to compare the
music scene today with that of 1984 what are the big differences…both good and bad?
SF: Much less activity and much less competition from zillions of labels/bands then.
Now it's much easier to reach people and the internet now means that everyone has everything at their fingertips....and nobody cares!
JL: Has the internet helped more than hurt the music business?
SF: I think it's probably helped us a bit more than it has hurt us because we do two things. We have a label that the internet has hurt a lot and we have a mail-order/internet store that the internet has helped tremendously.
JL: I’m interested in your thoughts about the whole illegal downloading/pirating business…My guess is that many of your artists don’t sell in the “millions” so there must be some impact?
SF: Very large impact on us. Sales are significantly less than they were 5 years ago. We cannot release some things that we used to release. This decline in sales (along with the decline in the quality of what is being offered to us) is one of several reasons that we have shifted some of our focus away from 'progressive rock'.
JL: I notice that many labels are packing discs with extras like DVDs…you’ve done that with some artists…does that help sales? What else can be done to stimulate sales?
SF: In general it doesn't help with sales. I do it because I think it's important for fans to be able to see a performance and it may help the bands get more shows. But it doesn't help with sales.
JL: If you could change one thing about the music “business” what would that be and why?
SF: Short answer: internet theft (how do we change that…tighter controls: Don't know.)
Longer answer: the entire devaluation of recorded music over the last 10 years in the eyes and minds of the public at large. (Why has this happened?) [I guess]…It has happened because everything is available at your fingertips on the web and in most cases available for free (not legally, but available) and everyone has a 300 gig HD filled with music files that they have never listened to and never will listen to...
JL: What’s your take on the prog scene these days…there certainly seems to be a lot of musical activity…and even some growing media acceptance of the genre. Is that real or do you think it will fade?
SF: I'm pretty uninterested in 'the prog scene' as I think you mean it by this question and as it relates (I think) to your point about 'growing media acceptance. Additionally, I think we have never really been fully a part of it at any time period, although sometimes we have been closer to it than other times.
JL: Having done this now for over 25 years…what is it that still makes you jump out of bed and go to work?
SF: That's a good question and I don't really have a answer that isn't a jokey answer. So for now I will pass on it.
1. Complete Bartok piano works (5 CDs)
2. Complete Duke Ellington works 1926-1946 (40 CDs)
3. Complete Charles Mingus 1956-1966 recordings (doesn't exist, but...)
4. Klaus Schulze - Historic Edition (10 CDs)
5. not sure what else, but it doesn't matter; I'd be bored with all of this within a month; can't listen to such a small amount of material over and over....
JL: Steve, thanks so much for taking the time to chat. The Cuneiform label has provided us with some great music and I for one certainly wish you much success in the years ahead.
Cuneiform Curates The Stone - Nov. 15-30, 2011
When one of avant-garde music's chief protagonists, John Zorn, asked Steven Feigenbaum, head of Cuneiform Records, to curate two weeks of live music at Zorn's NYC venue, The Stone, avant-music fans worldwide knew to expect an unprecedented treat. Unveiling his vision for Zorn's visionary space, Feigenbaum & company proudly present Cuneiform at The Stone, a music festival/ label showcase that exceeds all musical expectations. From Nov.15-30, 2011 - the two weeks spanning Thanksgiving holiday - Cuneiform serves up a staggering feast of jazz, rock, electronic and beyond-genre music in The Stone. Featuring 25 groups who record for the label, many of them travelling to NYC from across the USA, Cuneiform at The Stone brings to lower Manhattan a sonic cornucopia, packed with revered musical icons and fiery rising stars.
Festival highlights are numerous, and include performances by special guests normally only seen at much larger venues. Cuneiform at The Stone opens on Nov. 15 with a performance by Ideal Bread,Josh Sinton's revelatory repertory group dedicated to Steve Lacy. Later that night, trombonist and avant-garde icon Roswell Rudd - who's featured on several Cuneiform recordings, including a key archival album (Early & Late) by the legendary Steve Lacy-Roswell Rudd Quartet - will perform with Ideal Bread as his backing band. Later in the festival, on the evening of Nov. 27th, award-winning jazz pianist Jason Moran performs with Ergo, Brett Sroka's jazz/electronics group.
Every evening between Nov.15 and 30th - except
Thurs. Nov. 24th, the Thanksgiving holiday - Cuneiform presents two musical feasts, most priced $10 each. There is something here
for every avant taste. Nov. 17 is jazz dance party night, with The Revolutionary Snake Ensemble from Boston (New Orleans Second Line
meets Ayler & Sun Ra) and Taylor Ho Bynum & Abraham Gomez-Delgado's alterna-avant-Latino-jazz band, Positive Catastrophe.Jason Adasiewicz, Chicago's 2011 Musician of the Year (Chicago Reader) brings his group Rolldown to the Stone on Nov. 18th, the same
night that The Claudia Quintet + 1 performs with Theo Bleckmann. On Nov. 20th, an all-acoustic version of The Mahavishnu Project performs,
while the next night, two legendary avant-rock groups from Denver- Hamster Theatre and Thinking Plague - make an extremely rare East
Coast appearance. The last two nights of the festival feature, on Nov. 29th, two avant-rock groups that have been with Cuneiform since
its earliest days - Forever Einstein and Doctor Nerve - and on Nov. 30th, two young jazz/rock/genre-bending groups - Zevious and Gutbucket-
that are among Cuneiform's newest signings. And in addition to the groups mentioned in this paragraphs, there are much much more...
Concurrent with it's two-week New York festival at The Stone, Cuneiform will present a two-day music festival in Baltimore, calledCuneifest: Cuneiform Comes to Baltimore. Cuneifest features a 6-band rock showcase at Baltimore's Orion Sound Studios on Nov. 19th, and a 5-band jazz showcase at An Die Musik on Nov. 20th, 2011.
For more information about Cuneifest, see: