INTO THE VIOLENT STORM: INTERVIEW WITH MICK CERVINO
If it’s true, as it is, that classical music and heavy metal can often point in the same direction, in a complementary manner too, Mick Cervino, Violent Storm’s bassist as well as a total musician, is further evidence of this. It is no coincidence that to my question about his own favourite bass players he have answered me «Bach».
So effectively, by listening to his sound and understanding his own choices with regard to groove and composition, we can explain the reason of that statement.
Considering his fantastic collaborations with big-time artists like Yngwie J. Malmsteen and Ritchie Blackmore in one of his Blackmore's Night line up (for both of them classical music option is present once again, it makes sense), apart from mentioning he was G3’s great bassist in the Denver date (you shouldn’t miss the DVD), it’s clear that Mick Cervino is able to achieve such honourable result to be a virtuoso without the risk of showing off. It’s a really rare commodity, as a matter of fact. The agility and the speed of his musical performances, (which are never at the expense of precision as he can make a metronomic and amazing use of guitar bass pick) are not headed in a generic leading bass sound. Mick runs his music where he has to lead it, he fills the sound and he identifies it, but he is not an invasive musician as he doesn’t risk upsetting the balances, he plays exactly how a bassist should do it, by acting as cornerstone with a sense of moderation and the ability to make all the shades stand out.
His band, Violent Storm, has two excellent classic metal full length under its belt (with K.K. Downing of Judas Priest and Yngwie himself as guest stars) and various singles. That’s all high-level stuff.
Mick and his Violent Storm are classic and characterized by distinctive ideas. His solo album, called “Ostinato”, which is so so far the only one, is indeed - for all intents - a record of classical music played on electric bass, intelligently and with taste.
I’m very glad to have encountered him and to have collected his views about music, bass, heavy metal and much more. Personally I’m waiting for his second solo album, anyway I’ve long had the certainty that the music of Mick Cervino is a guarantee in itself.
LDP: Mick, the first question I'd like to ask you concerns your sound. I consider you as a neo-classical hard bass player in the noble and Blackmore's definition of that concept, it's clear. How much classic hard rock in the Rainbow's style has influenced you?
MC: I suppose I've absorbed quite a bit of that style early on and made it part of my overall way of playing, however, other genres and factors also contributed forming me as a bass player. For example, about the sound itself, while living in England when I was 18, I spent about a year practicing without an amp, which forced me to hit the strings much harder than normal, using a pick to get some sort of volume and be able to hear myself over the noise coming from the pub below the room where I was staying. This definitely played a role in defining the way I play and the kind of sound I get out of the bass.
LDP: Your career has reached the most enviable summits: you have played with Yngwie Malmsteen, as well as Ritchie Blackmore in his Blackmore's Night, and with Judas Priest's K.K. Downing in your great Violent Storm. You have recorded a solo album titled Ostinato, which pays tribute to your depth as classic musician. Are there any new album or musical project in the near future? Can we expect a third Violent Storm? Do you plan any new partnerships?
MC: I was very lucky to work with some very amazing musicians throughout my career, the downside is that you get a bit spoiled being around players of such high caliber and then you tend to expect the same from everybody else, which makes it tough. Regarding "Ostinato" it was a self imposed challenge, I had heard "Switch On Bach" by Wendy Carlos, interpreting Bach's compositions using nothing but synthesizers, so I thought what would that sound like using nothing but bass guitars? It surely was one of the most fulfilling projects I've ever done. About Violent Storm, I've been releasing singles rather than full albums lately, like "Bow Down, Have It All", "Back Against The Wall", "Violent Storm/12 Bar Metal", although I did release digitally the original unedited Japanese version of the first self titled cd "Violent Storm". There are no plans for partnerships at the moment, it is just Mick Cervino's Violent Storm, which gives me total freedom to do whatever I want to do.
LDP: I'd like to know which bassists have influenced you at the start of your career and who are those ones whom you like today...
MC: I listened to and learnt from the likes of Roger Glover, Glenn Hughes, Chris Squire, Greg Lake, Paul McCartney and others, but J.S. Bach is and will always be my all time favorite bass player.
LDP: Hard rock and metal bass have experienced all that can be considered - from a technical point of view - its golden age, with the advent of Billy Sheehan from Talas onwards, as well as of Stu Hamm, Randy Coven, Tony Franklin, etc. Nowadays the scene seems to have changed, which means that all of that seems also to concentrate on a sort of “extreme” creativity - by making virtuoso bass a kind of trade mark for death metal and tech metal - besides focusing on a new use of fretless (Thesseling, DiGiorgio, Brewer, Joe Lester, etc). What's your opinion about it? Do you think that electric bass has been emancipated in the hard rock first and then it has penetrated more extreme musical trends?
MC: Historically bass players have contributed more and more as the decades progressed, the likes of Paul McCartney have offered some incredibly tasteful bass lines, followed by numerous others whose technique and ability earned bass players the respect they deserve. Having said that, I'm not really into bass acrobatics, for me it's all about the music and what the song needs. The bass has a function, usually a limited one, as support and part of the rhythm section, creating a solid and unifying bottom end while still offering melody, harmony and punch that inspires the soloists to do their thing. Depending on the kind of music and who you are playing with, you do what the song wants you to do (or what your boss allows you to do!). In Violent Storm the bass has a very prominent role, more so than in most bands I've played with, but it does not take over, what the bass does is exactly what the song requires it to do, in my humble opinion. I don't follow death or tech metal, so I don't have an opinion on what they do.
LDP: Besides your natural virtuosity, you are also acclaimed for your exact timing and for an absolutely agile sound. You are used to play especially with pick. How can you balance precision, dynamism and power in such an authentic manner as you are able to do?
MC: I attribute those qualities to being metronome trained, which does wonders for every musician of any instrument. It allows you to "swing" with the beat and inspires you come up with creative runs and fills. Playing with a pick, especially when doing very fast runs, helps each note to be heard more distinctly, among other things. It adds more attack and makes the rhythm section solid and decisive. I do play with my fingers when the song requires it, but unlike many in the bass world (especially the "jazz" world), I don't view using the pick in a negative way, quite the contrary.
LDP: I'm very interested to know if you like slap and how is your relationship with fretless. Moreover, I'd like to ask your opinion about the ever increasing attention to seven, eight and nine strings bass guitars, also shown by musical instrument makers and luthiers. How much of that is really important for the texture of sound and how much, instead, can be only considered simply a fashion in your opinion?
MC: I am not usually hired to play or record songs that require much or any slapping, I have used and taught slap techniques when I had to, but I am not that much into it. I did use a fretless at times and a 5 string bass when I recorded "Ostinato", but I haven't had a need to use them ever since. I had a student once that was really curious to know why I only played 4 string basses, she was under the impression that the better you were the more strings you were supposed to use.... I imagine that in certain experimental, or gloom and doom type of metal, where you tune down until the strings rattle and everything sounds like a big bowl of deep crap, then there may be a need for a 6, 8, or 77 string bass, if the music (if you can call it that) requires it. I personally don't see myself using even a 5 string bass anymore, as long as I have my hip shots on my 4 string basses.
LDP: What do you think about the stagnation occurring within the market of the major records companies? If it's true that metal audience is absolutely the most faithful public, anyway do you believe that things are also changed in the hard music area? What's your opinion about (legal) downloading versus cds or vinyl? Don't you think that - because of the prevalence of digital music - we could risk losing in terms of romanticism and passion?
MC: Things have changed in an irreversible way, like so many other things in life have. In a way it is good not to be at the mercy of the labels, but on the other hand you depend exclusively on the support of the fans to be able to finance recordings and tours, which brings me to your other question... at least in the United States, where I live, I am sorry to say that Country and even Rap fans tend to support their artists waaaay more than Metal fans do. There was a time when Rock/Metal fans where very loyal, but unfortunately between illegal downloads, youtube, a bad economy, etc. many fan don't think of minor details like supporting the artist. These days, as an artist, you have to assume that you will lose money in order to entertain audiences, it is kindda backwards, but that's the world we live in. As if all of this wasn't enough, then you have the crappy digital sounds to deal with, so yes, the romanticism, passion and incentive to do music is at an all time low, as far as I'm concern.
LDP: Would you tell us all about your gear?
MC: I use Spector basses, the Euro 4 with hip-shots; Spector guitars; GHS Infinity Steel or Dean Markley's Blue strings; 1001RB Gallien-Krueger amps and cabinets; Digi-Tech's Whammy pedal; Rockton tuner; Levys straps.
LDP: A long time ago I was talking with a friend, who's a jazz lover, and we confronted each other. I tried to make him understand, him a skeptic, that the best hard rock and metal musicians MUST have a considerable technical background to play like they are able to do. You have proven to be one of them and like you there are many other virtuous artists who can play everything with the same expertise and creativity. Even if it's been so many years, do you think is still there a sort of snobbery towards metal shown by common people and musicians who prefer other genres of music?
MC: First of all, you have to realize that "jazz" is a four letter word, so I wouldn't waste any time listening to what a "jazzer" has to say! If the critique came from a classically trained musician, or an educated listener, then I would pay some attention, but even then, what really matters is what is being expressed musically and how it touches your audience, some things will appeal to some and not to others, but you can't really generalize and assume that because you play or have an acquired taste for a certain type of music that you are therefore somehow qualified to put down other genres (especially if you are a "jazzer").
LDP: I'd like to conclude this interview by asking you to tell something personal about yourself to italian audience. Music aside, what's your favorite thing or what do you like to do when you don't get absorbed in your music. About you we only know that you're a real bassist and you're Argentinian....
MC: I like to hang out with the best singer in the world, whose name is Caruso (my canary). I enjoy having a beer with him in the backyard every Sunday afternoon, we discuss what other birds and bugs in the neighbourhood are up to. Interacting with animals and nature definitely makes life worth living.
LDP: We hope to see you here in Italy very soon! Meanwhile, thank you again.
MC: Thank you Luca! It's been a pleasure.