Mantra Sunrise guitarist "John Miner" expanded his use of alternate guitar tunings, through is work with Art Rock Circus and later the Art Rock Ensemble. This being evident in nearly all his compositions. Often a double necked guitar has enabled the performer to switch from one tuning to another within the same song in a live situation. An interest in odd time signatures is apparent in the majority of his work as a composer, particularly in the rock opera Heavens Cafe which was performed on theatrical stages in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Other distinct characteristics of the composer include the absence of repeating choruses. Drum and bass parts are usually hinting toward melody, rather than standard rock fare. As a producer, Miner is a devout user of analog tape machines. In 2005, Miner wrote and constructed guitar parts for the K² (band) album Book of the Dead that would integrate around the lead parts of Allan Holdsworth. The album won several international music awards.
Progression Magazine interview with John Miner by John Collinge
John Miner is a rugged individualist in the classic American sense, a survival trait common to the progressive rock rank and file. He has already written, produced, directed and performed in a critically acclaimed musical theater production in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, "Heavens Cafe'", co founded the Vegas based Tributary Music Label and plays in his own prog band, Art Rock Circus. "I basically like having control of my own thing" says Miner who's real estate dabbling allow the freedom to have such independence.
Honing his chops and progressive orientation with California band Mantra Sunrise, Miner found a generous benefactor in Mike Lewis, who initially bankrolled Tributary and helped the innovative musician bring his ambitious dream to the theatrical stage. Six years after it's debut in Las Vegas and a longer run in Los Angeles the allegorical Heavens Cafe' still has legs. A leap to the silver screen could be next as a live album of songs from the Vegas stage production continues to sell quite well. With Las Vegas being fertile ground for the performing arts, Miner needn't go far to flesh out his various projects". I just find the best smoking players I can to come in and do the session work," he says.
And meanwhile, the Art Rock Circus band has found a niche in the region's bustling music community. "When we play we have a healthy following not far off the jam band crowd, although we are not "jam band" per se, but we are complex, interesting and different, and there are always people who like and appreciate that".
JOHN MINER DISCOGRAPHY
with Art Rock Ensemble
Inner View by American Freedom Magazine
AF: Now I caught one of the Heavens Cafe’ shows congratulations!
JM: Thank you and thank you for the wonderful review..
AF: My Pleasure
AF: Tell me what it is like to to see your rock opera going up again after all these years..
JM: well, I guess you're right ...it has been like five years...how time flies..It was really great ...lots of new faces and working with
John Beane was wonderful.. such a committed person and true to the form.
AF: How did that come about...Insurgo and working with John Beane?
JM: Well Sean Crithfield who was the Vegas Classical Man knew John and he just loved the project and his wife Jessica did too so I’m sure that helped! They contacted us and we stayed in touch and eventually when schedules worked out we nailed down some dates...
I had never met John Beane until we showed up for dress rehearsal a week before opening night.
AF: How was it seeing someone else direct your opera?
JM: Well..the first time we did it Kristine Keppel directed it but it was difficult because she had one vision and I had another and me being the creator made it a very tough thing for us both...I just didn’t give her the control a director deserves to have..and on top of that we were seeing each other outside of HC...so it was really awful..but the second time I directed it at the Charleston shows so it was much easier and I got to do it my way! But with John I was determined to let him run with the ball and just keep my mouth shut..and although he many times asked for my advice I would just say...your the director and I am musical director..I’ll make sure the band rocks and you make sure of the rest!
AF: And did you like what he did?
JM: I really did...Insurgo and the whole crew just did a wonderful job..I am very proud of them.
AF: And the musicians were different as well?
JM: Yes.. John Wiesberg and Jon Cornell would have loved to do it again ...but six weeks in LA was just not going to happen with everyone’s schedules ...Nolan who I have been working with for the last few years already knew most of the material from various Art Rock Circus gigs we had done so he was the choice on the drums and I contacted Ken Jaquess from LA and the band Atlantis and he had just finished an Album K2 with Alan Holdsworth and he was already living in LA so it was perfect..
AF: How long did rehearsals go with him being there and you two in Vegas?
JM: I was a bit concerned because Ken could only get out for one weekend but he is a real pro and he just showed up and by the second day we ran the whole show..it was amazing before we spend 6 weeks learning all the material..
AF: How do you view the contemporary art rock scene?
JM: Is there a scene? I’d love to be part of a scene!...But really I guess at this point there are just many little camps of the genre surfacing all over the planet and the web is sure a big help to tie things together to some degree...some very nice magazines and webzines and a handful of dedicated people putting on festivals and such....everyone is just so important..
.AF: You seem to always have a big hand in all your projects with regard to production and you do most of the sound engineering yourself as well?
JM: I have always admired the artists that self produce...The producer is really the one holding the paint brushes if you will....and if you’re making records you should learn as much as you can about the process so you can take the responsibility if you kill your own career! A lot of fine artist’s have come across a bad producer along the way that someone or the label people suggest or ordered and made them a bad record by no fault of their own.
AF: Yes I would suppose so...
AF: You seem to gravitate to the power trio setup..any particulars?
JM: The more people in a band the harder it is to keep together...the less people the more room each musician has to get in their voice and three is good because when you argue it is either unanimous or odd man out! Of course there is no doubt that lots of people can add lots of wonderful things...this is true but on the other hand as far as a band goes...the less... the more vital the role is for each member...and I always like to think I can get the job done stripped down to just three piece if push comes to shove. As an artist you are just really trying to get a point across...in one way or another....if you can make it with less why more? Rush did just fine don’t you think?
AF: A Passage to Clear has had many mixed reviews...was that a kind of departure?
JM: We’ll after Heavens Cafe’ I didn’t feel the need to do a huge thing to try to topple it over...but in a lot of ways things are even more complex I would suppose on Passage to Clear. It is surely a transitional album and when an artist changes direction the followers of that artist often don’t like it at first...but change is good to a point. I suppose transitional works by any artist have always been received with mixed feelings. I really feel Passage has been long and away the most important recording I have done...I feel it is really setting the stage for something much more wonderful in the near future...
AF: How often do you practice?
JM: Well I have a dozen or so guitars hanging off walls and such around the house so I try to keep playing all the time to some degree but I don’t spend hours practicing scales or overly obsessing over chops...there are lots of guitarist who fill that niche nicely. I would never downplay the importance of good technique, but to play with feel and speak from the instrument is obviously more important...and in a strange way sometimes you can do that with less time on the instrument.
AF: Who are your favorite guitarists?
JM: I could only take on that if everyone did an instrumental solo record... but I think that how one works within the context of a band is more important... so I could say I like this or that person in this or that situation...
AF: Do you have any particular formula for songwriting?
JM: I always seem to write music first....but within that I start with any number of vantage points.. once that is done if I feel the song needs vocals I will work on a melody first then pen the lyrics last...and often spend the most time on that as well...lyrics are very important if you have them...that really becomes what you’re saying! You can tell that a lot of the progressive bands really don’t seem to care much about lyrics and singing...that is a shame...I do pride myself on always working with top shelf vocalists...
AF: Is it difficult to split your time between Mantra Sunrise and Art Rock Circus?
JM: Not really...Mantra Sunrise is so much Joel...so it moves really at his pace...he is probably a bit more deliberate than I am...but when he moves on something it always seems to be the right thing...
AF: People seem quite divided on his vocal approach.
JM: Joel doesn’t leave any emotion in the bag when he sings...he is true blue to the core ...nothing fake or phony....I will always take a vocalist who is connecting with the listener on an emotional level rather than someone who is overly careful in the delivery. Mantra is not good time Charlie music...it is dark, haunting and often a bit disturbing...So is a lot of good art. We never wanted to make wallpaper music....the lyrics are deep and thought provoking and Joel’s voice is perfect in my opinion for what we try to do in that setting...Now if I start a reggae band then Joel goes out the window!
AF: I’ve heard you like Jaguars?
JM: Yes they are the best..I currently own three a 71 and 74 XJ6 and XJ6L and I have a late model XJS if I am really in a hurry! Three hobbies I suppose!
AF: Obviously you enjoy working in the studio, how do you feel about live performing?
JM: Well I know I am a very obsessive studio person but when I am done with a project I feel as most artists do the importance to perform that material live...live really is what it’s all about...but you have to have something to play! So you do your studio time...kinda like homework preparing for the test!
AF: Any insight into the new album “Tell a Vision”?
JM: Well...it’s been many years in the making....It’s a strong follow up after “Passage” which I know has been received with very mixed reviews as I knew it would... but Tell a Vision to me is without doubt something I am very proud of. And it is not a concept album! After doing two concept albums I felt it important to take off the cuffs and just shoot from the hip!
AF: Heavens Cafe Live has been the most acclaimed work for you so far...
what was it like to bring something like that to fruition?
JM: I have always been very goal oriented...and I guess we’d go into some really deep stuff if we had more time...metaphysics and all ...basically though..I worked with a Yogananda disciple for 4 years on a private basis....guru I think most might call it...and he taught me the dynamics of the physical manifestation of thought and form..so if you know the mechanics behind the machine it’s really not that difficult to get things to happen in this reality. Stop me here!
AF: Wow... sounds like a whole other interview!
JM: like I said!
AF: What did you like the most and the least about Heavens Cafe?
JM: Getting on stage and getting it done...correctly...we had shows with horrific tech problems.. wireless mics picking up interference from taxi cabs...bad lighting cues...we never seemed to get enough tech rehearsal....but when we finally nailed it ...it really felt triumphant. The least fun is just dealing with all the red tape...and I mean mountains of it....when we did the Charleston Art Center shows we were the first “rock” anything to ever go in there...these stuffy people running the theater just couldn’t get over the word “rock” having anything to do with culture..I had to explain that we had this choreographer from NYC and all these pro dancers from big shows on the strip like Sigried and Roy and all that...good art is always pushing the edge I suppose and we had a really tough time getting dates nailed down with all their rules and regulations...I remember the day before the first show some tech geek sitting in the theater with a decibel meter saying we were too loud and it was in violation of city OSHA standards and I’m thinking what a bunch of crap when you have bands like Megadeth playing down the street at the Hard Rock ....it was just Gestapo madness!
AF: As a producer you have a reputation as having a very 70’s sound ....any thoughts?
JM: Well...I dislike drum machines and digital editing software and I love live drums and big loud amplifiers...I prefer real reverb over canned ones and real people playing in real time, analog over digital....does that make me retro?
AF: I read somewhere you talked about your approach to the studio...might you talk a bit about that?
JM: First of all I am no fan of digital recording, I mean I certainly understand why people use it being so much simpler and easy to work with but the sounds just get flattened like a tank ran over them..and I dislike compressors as well...now this in turn makes the mixing 100 times more tedious but to keep the dynamic life of the recording in my opinion is well worth the effort..most all the recordings I’ve heard since about 1985 just sound canned and sterile to my ears and I don’t like it one bit... I’m not talking about musicianship but just the over compressed lifeless sterile final mix of most of the more recent music. The whole computer recording thing just makes everything that much worse.. Great art is not always a photograph or some perfect replication. The abstractions in the delivery system itself give wonderful color to any quality art. “Bad” production has it’s place as well...think of the mood and feel of a 1940’s scratchy vinyl record spinning in the corner playing some old blues or jazz while you sip on vintage port with a good friend. But I do think things are getting better, with sampling rates going up and all. I really feel a lot of the homogenizing of guitar sounds or any sounds really, is a direct result of the medium on which music is being recorded.
AF: You've received your fair share of criticism about production from more than one reviewer, any comments?
JM: Well....again I’m not a digital player and that is what most people are accustomed to these days. I prefer to blend sound a bit more than have it all separated out. I guess I see music like sonic soup rather that having everything cut into neat little piles. I have no interest in making a sterile clean record with pristine production values that would win the contest at the sound engineering academy but which just lays flat and lifeless to the ears. Take Sergeant Pepper for example...the entire drum tracks are recorded in mono and panned hard right and no one is complaining or insisting it be reworked for today's markets...Pet Sounds is entirely mono and done so on purpose...If Zep 4 was recorded today with pro tools it might sound cleaner but I am sure it would not carry the life and humanity it does and I think it sounds just wonderful...
AF: Can’t you have both?
JM: In my opinion...no...as soon as you have perfect clarity and cleanness you hear all the mistakes and shortcomings of the musicians so you go into pro tools and digitally line everything up to make up for the inability of musicians to be machines and you are really forced to or else the cd will sound really ghastly....then once musicians find out that they don’t really have to play in precise time because all this can be fixed in the studio what then are you really left with? It’s a terrible spiral of complacency from top to bottom. Everything here at the label goes down in real time...like it or not...!
AF: And your favorite producer?
JM: Well....there are many wonderful ones but I always admire the artist that self produces. Shouldn't the artist also be holding the brushes? I think Jimmy Page would agree.
AF: If a big label came your way and said John, we have a million dollars for you to make your next record, would that change your mind?
JM: Ok..this is one of those questions that might come back to haunt me! ...but really...I am quite aware that I am a relatively underground artist...and I choose this...don’t think I couldn’t be down on the strip tonight playing in a lounge band at the Stardust Hotel...I have had many offers but I am much happier here doing what I do...so I don’t concern myself with what I am supposed to do...I’ve been in the middle of the major label thing that everyone is so desperate to have and I think it is just sickening. I’m just an artist that is all....some people just love the way I do things and others just hate it...and I think that is just wonderful.. art is not a competitive sporting event but a subjective experience with objectivity only at the creations core...I think the artist is a very noble player in the overall role of life.
AF:How do you feel about the major record companies?
JM: Well, they are companies that are trying to survive in competitive markets of business and they do what they do...I’m sure many feel there is a void of artistic responsibility there and that may be true I suppose but on the other hand I don’t really worry much about what’s going on in the pop world because I don’t own any of their company stock! but if I did.....
AF:I'm sure you feel there is a lack of quality music getting out to the listeners, but who do you blame if anyone?
JM: Everyone wants to blame the big labels but there are so many fingers to point. You could blame MTV; how about late night art rock videos that are 20 minutes long and shot like small movies...they played “Thriller” right? How about radio and the conglomerates that own most all the big stations...they feed all this homogenized garbage to the masses...they could be blamed...blame the major press...I don’t see Rolling Stone and Spin giving ink fairly to all the genres nor AP. How about the bands themselves? I don’t see many bands trying to cut new ground around here...it’s the same ol thing over and over everyone trying to mimic what they see on MTV or hear on the radio. I think maybe the whole “rock star” thing seems more interesting to people, the fame and money and attention, than the art they are making... You see all these “rock stars” that don’t really have anything more to offer than your next door neighbor so you figure...hey I can do that..I just need to be in the right place at the right time...or get my demo to this A/R person or be seen here or there...and in a sense they are right...that is what you do...so you have 100,000 people trying for a handful of spots all doing the same cookie cutter thing..but in all this madness the art itself is suffering. So how does it change? Very slowly I suppose! Buy a book on Zen!
AF: So what advice do you give young artists?
JM: Well I’m still pretty young! but really to be patient...refine what you do and don’t expect people to do everything for you...and don’t be afraid to have your own voice. In the old days labels allowed bands to develop something over time...take for instance “Pink Floyd” they weren’t always hugely successful they had a cult following sure....but it took them 9 or 10 albums to get to say “Dark Side of the Moon” and that of course needs no introduction. Look at Fleetwood Mac...15 or 16 albums before they got to “Rumor's”..how about the Beatles...how many albums before they did Sergeant Pepper? .....and I am in no way saying that these groups as well as so many others didn’t make some really wonderful music before they became mega stars but these examples are the milestone points that led to fortune and fame...and few would argue that they didn’t deserve every bit of it...so it’s really about the long process of developing and pushing and learning and experimenting and letting all the rest of the outside crap to work itself out. This all would be advice to anyone in general, or if your goal is fortune and fame...now if your a progressive or art rock artist I might speak in a different tongue!
AF: And what advice for them?
JM:Congratulations...you have just committed to a life of poverty and despair!
But really, think of it this way....all the giants of the progressive movement were at one time pop music...or popular to the masses...you have to be to sell millions of albums...and it takes lots of money and investment to tour with huge stage shows with heavenly lighting and effects...and unless you inherit millions or hit the lottery or megabucks you will need the help of the industry ....and the industry is not helping at the moment....so you have to take on a different way of thinking...there really are great rewards for being a true artist internally and the thrill of cutting new ground and the potential to be a pioneer still exists today..maybe more than ever...what would people be doing if the goal was to be discovered 500 years after we are all dead and gone...what would you do to impress a civilization 1000 or more years from now? Van Bough only sold two paintings while he was alive one to his brother and the other for chicken feed....yet who wouldn’t want to go down in history as one of the greats of his time and of time to come as well. To be an artist is kind of a luxury...not a privilege as some might think...If you are really doing some great work you have an obligation to get it out there in some way or another...and it is well worth the effort not just for yourself but for the genre as well....in the underground everyone is just so vital and important.
AF: And are there labels that will give and artist that kind of chance?
JM: Not any major ones....but there are always indies that will help out ....but the great thing about now is that you can get some decent recording equipment for very cheap and at least get the process started....you can pick up a used ADAT for $300 bucks a small board and a few mics for well under $1000 bucks and just start going crazy..you can do a lot on just 8 tracks...you can always get your 64 channel analog studio later!
AF: So what is up next for you?
JM: Well... we will be releasing Tell a Vision and then we have a DVD of the LA shows in the works and a pending movie deal with Heavens Cafe (the cafe that won’t go away!)And we are starting to write a new record ...so we are busy...
Nolan has a solo album of rock arranged classical music...and a Mantra Sunrise record that is half done and has been put on hold..
AF: what is the big difference between gigging and doing a theater show?
JM: Well for one thing ...in the theater the band is not the center of attention..it is the actors and that is how it should be...But being a part of the whole thing is just amazing because of that...most bands connect with themselves and then the audience ...but with theater there are actors and vocalists and dancers and a choreographer and director and all the behind the scenes people ...makeup artists ...set designers and lighting designers...and it’s not just standard rock fair with blinking lights and all that...everything has a purpose for a higher cause. It’s all more thought out and we could do this interview and talk just about any one
of those things..just the lighting for example..is just so important..
AF: The kind of music you do seems to work well for theater..
JM: Yeah.. I suppose so...if you experiment a lot... things can start sounding very theatrical.. and I like to experiment..
AF:What are your long term goals as far as music?
JM: to be prolific and constantly developing artistically as a musician, artist, songcrafter, producer and engineer. That should keep me pretty busy don’t you think?
AF: Makes sense.
AF: Would you call your music progressive rock?
JM: Well first you have to define progressive rock...and to me it is simple..the fusion of Classical music and rock..and of course a million and one spin-offs but that is what it basically is..now as a guitarist I am into two things mostly...alternate tunings and odd meters.. and not that this has not been done but..there is a lot of uncharted waters there..and as an artist that is the vast ocean I choose to swin in.. I’m sure you will here lots of things in my playing and classical is certainly there as well. .but I know I don’t fit nicely into some category and even in the progressive rock thing ...that is where everyone likes to put me ...I don’t always relate to gymnastic soloing and whirling keyboards...but I do love odd meters and poly rhythmic structures and long pieces and concept works so here I am..but as in classical...the big picture is much more important than any of the pieces and probably why I love the theater and classical..so in that sense I am progressive rock..
AF: Interesting, now you are an actor as well and a movie career ahead?
JM: No no no! Oh the Oceans 11 thing? well, that was fun ...but really .. I was just hanging out in this middle eastern hooka bar late at night with my friend Oliver and the casting director was in there and grabbed us and said we need you two in this movie, with all these big stars and all ...so what the hell I said..I’m in the 2nd flashback scene 15:30 into the movie...! The scene is called Lunch with Ruben on the DVD.
AF: And the Dr Phil show?
JM: yes ..they did this theme on struggling artists.. and Karen Wallo who worked on Tell a Vision called me and needed a song and a guitarist for the show ..so again ..there I am! They brought out their crew and we did Shadows of Style from “Passage to Clear” So that is out to 10 million people ...but all these goofy little things really help albums sales..
AF: Speaking of sales how has it been going?
JM: Well Heavens Cafe Live has been a real winner for the Label..and Mantra Sunrise probably next...I don’t really know but probably around 10 or 15 thousand..we are pretty small but comfortable and privately funded so it is a fairly secure place to be..
AF: Do you think about the money?
JM: Well yes...I do ..but I know that I can only do what I do..and as long as the funding is there to do another record then I always have that good feeling about doing more music.. I suppose I could try to make a pop record but I would rather the pop world come to me than the other way around..I mean you never really know what might become popular..I have never made music for anyone other than myself...so I don’t really have much if any experience on how to do that.
AF: Thanks for your time John and keep up the good work!
JM: A pleasure.
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