Special thanks to writer/publisher Olivier Pelletant, along with Alain Succa and Christian Aupetit, for allowing the English translation of these articles to be re-printed here.  to visit the Big Bang Magazine's website.
He is a legend among legends. Peter Bardens, Camel’s unforgetable keyboardist during the seventies, passed away on January 22, 2002. At the time, I was in a state of shock after hearing the news. Guitarist Andy Latimer, his partner and former band mate, is still making music today and he proves it by lending his beautiful voice and sensitive, incomparable guitar to the new album by David Minasian. This is excellent news and comes as a surprise to those of us familiar with Latimer’s recent health problems. He is, of course, one of the most important, if not essential, musicians of progressive rock, and is someone who matters to us – like a close friend of the family.
Latimer’s return to recording had not been expected; and to learn that it takes place on an album by a virutal unknown (to us) does not fail to captivate. A quick surf of the internet reveals that David Minasian is a musician from California responsible for film music, a solo album from 1984 (the overlooked “Tales of Heros and Lovers”), and “It’s Not Too Late”, a second album released in 1996 as a duo with singer William Drews. Although a piano virtuoso during his adolescense, Minasian prefered a move towards cinema studies that would lead to a career as a director of documentary films. However, his passion for music was rekindled after hearing “Land of Make Believe” on the radio, a song written and performed by the guitarist of The Moody Blues, Justin Hayward. David Minasian thereafter purchased the album “Seventh Sojourn” (1972) which featured that track and began to write his own Hayward-influenced music. The album “Tales of Heros and Lovers” was the result.
Years later, Minasian was able to reconcile his two passions (cinema and music) by embarking on a fruitful collaboration with Camel as a producer and director of their concert DVD’s, from “Coming of Age” to “The Opening Farewell” (a total of seven in all), and becoming a friend of Andrew Latimer in the process. Indeed, it was Latimer who encouraged his Californian friend in 2009 to record a new album from material that had been accumulated in recent years. Multi-instrumentalist David Minasian (keyboards - including an intensive use of mellotron and harpsichord, guitars, bass, vocals, etc.) is accompanied by his 20 year old son Justin on guitar, and drummer Guy Pettet who appears on two titles (“Storming the Castle” and “Frozen In Time”) and who was previously featured on David’s 1984 album.
Glory and thanks must go to saint Latimer for convincing his friend to return to the path of record production, and for the guitarist’s generosity in solidifying the project with his divine touch. But the impressive “Masquerade” (12:32), the song on which the Camel guitarist participates, exhibits more than just his helping hand: It is the drving force behind the disc, almost the reason for its existence. As usual, the dark and deep voice of Latimer makes us shiver, and the stunning beauty of his guitar emits a mysterious blend of virtuosity and modest restraint that is typical of the English maestro.
As it turns out, I listened to “Masquerade” under the best possible conditions (you have to imagine my beautiful surroundings: The setting sun, and the feelings for the person next to me). Each note of Latimer’s guitar contributed a piece of aching beauty to the totality of a musical truth. It was as if the music had gained access to the sanctuary of my heart through its intrinsic beauty and the conditions under which I heard it.
“Masquerade” possesses a grace and purity which serves to announce the other beauties to come on the album. “Random Acts of Beauty” is certainly not an album title chosen at random, because the music evokes beauty in all of its forms whether it be bluesy, rock, symphonic, pop… all bathed in a kind of light rainfall with hints of keyboards and guitars that glide like a bird caught in an updraft; reminiscent of a forgotten Like Wendy (which is obvious on “Dark Waters”). While the quivering notes of the titanic “Masquerade” still reverberate, the rest of the disc continues to emit complex signals to our brains. At each instance, it touches the edge of a voluptuous world that promises more and more delights.
While listening to Random Acts of Beauty, there seems to be a persistent scent of another generation that enriches the entire disc (Gilmour’s Pink Floyd, Latimer’s Camel, the original Barclay James Harvest, Renaissance, the Alan Parsons Project…). There is also the spirit of the best of the Moody Blues. Moreover, it appears that Justin Hayward himself would have participated in the project if his schedule had not decided otherwise. One can imagine with a touch of regret what could have been had Hayward’s melancholic and misty voice graced this poignant music in place of Minasian’s. Could it be that the album became primarily instrumental due to this missed collaboration? Hayward could have also delivered one of his heartbreaking guitar solos. However, the other Justin (David’s son) manages to successfully take charge, and as Hayward himself has stated about the album, “the guitar solo sound is fabulous and it’s very Moody.”
Along with the massive “Masquerade” and medieval “Storming the Castle” (5:29), one of the most significant titles from the album is the instrumental “Frozen In Time” (14:37) co-authored by father and son. It is a slightly more rough and rugged musical excursion reflecting a cold and ultimately lonely arctic world. In the end, we feel that “Random Acts of Beauty” includes more than just beautiful music. It contains a soul, in particular the very soul of symphonic prog; a soul scattered amongst its seven magical tracks.
Yet despite all its qualities, this music may never become popular. These tunes and words may one day disappear as if they’d never been sung. So it is up to us to remember them; to continue to write about them and what they inspire within us. Since there is no ‘present in nostalgia’, we must keep talking about the music so that it will always exist. For it is this type of music which makes the prog genre worthy to be remembered forever. Thank you to David Minasian for his willingness to let us discover his talent. And especially thank you to Andy Latimer for his genius. May his genius live on!
BB: We know you as a producer of Camel DVD’s, but we do not know much about your background as a musician. Can you tell us something about it?
DM: I actually began classical piano training when I was 5 and was asked to turn professional by the age of 15. However the thought of having to now practice 4 hours a day was just too overwhelming for a kid my age, what with school, sports, and friends, etc. And by this time, I was more interested in making films anyway and decided to quit piano lessons altogether, to the dismay of my piano teacher who had invested 10 years into me. Eventually I would make filmmaking my career but I still loved music, especially symphonic rock. I tried to get a record deal during the 1980’s but of course record companies during that period were not at all interested in progressive rock, so I stuck with films. Since then I have continued to record in my spare time, occasionally doing soundtracks or working with other artists, but it wasn’t until 2009 that I decided to record “Random Acts of Beauty”, my first real attempt at a full-on symphonic progressive rock album.
BB: Random Acts of Beauty is your second album, right?
DM: When I was unable to get a record deal with my prog demos back in the 1980’s, out of frustration I decided to record an album independently, which became my first solo album “Tales of Heroes and Lovers”. Not much really happened with the album although a self-directed video I had produced for one of the album’s tracks did get played on MTV. Soon thereafter, I did a project with talented Australian singer Chris Lloyds under the band name Plan B for Pasha/CBS Records, but that album was never released. During the 1990’s, I recorded another independent album with a new singer William Drews, and then composed the main theme for the Kris Kristofferson film “The Joyriders” which was released as a single from the movie’s soundtrack album by EMI. Finally by 2009, I was more than ready to record “Random Acts of Beauty”.
BB: The enigmatic title and album art (a cross between heroic fantasy and romanticism) illuminates the listener quite well as to the music within...
DM: The title comes from a phrase I heard one day… “We should all practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” When writing the album, I really tried to come up with the most beautiful melodies I could think of, using a shortened version of that phrase as inspiration. The amazing cover art was done by noted fantasy/science fiction artist Michael Leadingham. I asked him to incorporate an image of my good friend Ashley Danielle, who is a very beautiful and very much in-demand model here in Los Angeles, and what he came up with turned out to be incredibly dramatic and ties in with the album’s lyrics and themes perfectly.
BB: What were the different stages of the creation of the album?
DM: In January of 2009, I was speaking with Andy Latimer on the phone and during this call he encouraged me to record a new album. He knew I had been wanting to do it for years but had kept putting it off, so he told me to just get on with it. Finally by June, I had gotten my studio set up and we began. The recording process was a bit unorthodox in that for each song we recorded all the keyboards first, then the guitars, then the bass, then the vocals, and finally the drums. I did all the keyboards, bass and vocals myself, while my son Justin did the guitars, except for the track that Andy Latimer plays on. Since I still had my day gig, I was only able to record in my spare time. So it took an entire year to complete the project. The following month, I signed a deal with ProgRock Records and the album was released worldwide on October 5, 2010.
BB: Upon first listen, your music is clearly affiliated with the symphonic progressive rock genre. Do you take this observation as a compliment or as a shortcut journalists use in search of a category?
DM: I like to classify the music as melodic, melancholic, lushly orchestrated, classically-tinged symphonic progressive rock. I wanted to record the best symphonic rock album I could taking inspiration from bands such as The Moody Blues, Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, Renaissance, Barclay James Harvest, Strawbs, Kayak, Alan Parsons, and of course Camel. So if you’re a fan of these bands you may wish to check it out.
BB: More than the instrumental sophistication, melody and its many variations are obviously at the heart of your concerns ...
DM: There are certain combinations of sounds, chords, and melodies that have the potential to create goosebump moments in music that are just magical, such as you find on Genesis’ “Firth of Fifth” for example during the guitar solo when Steve Hackett bends up to that high note and the Mellotron and bass pedals swell in. My goal was to record an entire album featuring an endless series of goosebump moments. Before I began recording, I sat down and made a list of sounds that I wanted to use throughout the album such as piano, Mellotron, cello, oboe, 12 string acoustic guitar, and soaring lead guitar that I thought would help create such moments. Being a fan of baroque music, I also chose to heavily incorporate the harpsichord in order to give the album a medieval feel. My songwriting has always been very melodic, and the symphonic prog genre readily lends itself to being highly emotional, which I love.
BB: How did you manage to do this album with your son Justin? Is it easy to work with a member of one’s own family?
DM: Justin is an incredible guitarist who has studied all the great prog bands. He has an amazing style and is able to combine a sense of beauty and energy that is truly unique. He also has a great attitude and enthusiastic personality, so it was only natural that I would want to work with him. I really did put him on the spot though. Andy Latimer, who we all know is a guitar legend, appears on the album’s opening track and of course Andy ended up setting the bar incredibly high. And poor Justin, who’s only 20 years old, had to come up behind that and somehow try and keep things at the same level for the remainder of the album. But I think Justin did an amazing job. He seemed to know exactly what I wanted without me saying anything. And he’s a good writer too. He co-wrote the 14 minute epic “Frozen in Time” with me.
BB: Andy Latimer is one of your friends. Was it easy to convince him to lend you a hand?
DM: I met Andy in 1997 when I was asked to produce and direct the Camel concert DVD “Coming of Age”. Since then I have produced an additional 6 DVD’s for Camel Productions including the documentary “Curriculum Vitae” and their latest concert film “The Opening Farewell”. So I have worked closely with Andy and Susan Hoover for nearly 15 years. When production began on “Random Acts of Beauty”, the first track I recorded was “Masquerade”. I sent a rough copy to Andy to get his opinion and that is when he very, very kindly offered to play on it. And for that I will always be grateful. Hearing my keyboards, bass, and vocals combined with his soaring guitar leads and vocals for the first time was an experience I will never forget.
BB: Random Acts of Beauty has generally been very well received by fans of prog and also by critics. Did you expect such a consensus?
DM: I really had no idea how people were going to react to the music. There are lots of things I could have worried about while recording the album... Was I using too much Mellotron? Would people like my vocals? Are people even interested in symphonic prog? I tried not to think of these things and just record the album the way I wanted to hear it. I knew Camel fans would be thrilled hearing something new from Andy, but other than that, I really didn’t know if people would like it. I had set out to create the absolute best symphonic prog album I possibly could and then tried my best to achieve that goal. We really had a lot of fun recording the album and it was relatively easy to do. I’m truly happy and humbled that people do seem to be enjoying it. And although you can’t please everyone, I would hate to think that people had spent their hard earned money on something I had produced only to be disappointed with it. That is why I put audio clips from the album up on the website (www.davidminasian.com) so people could sample it beforehand. Chances are, if you like the clips, you’ll like the album.
BB: How do you feel about the prog of today? Are there any of the newer bands that you currently like?
DM: The 80’s were a difficult and frustrating time for lovers of progressive rock and I was so glad when prog began to make a comeback in the 90’s. Today, there are so many great bands around it’s hard to know where to start. For me, bands like Porcupine Tree, RPWL, Big Big Train, Karnataka, Mostly Autumn, Moon Safari, and countless others continue to put out some truly amazing material.
BB: What are your plans for the future?
DM: I’m currently working on a few film projects right now and hope to begin writing a new album in 2011. I’ve spoken with one of the true icons of progressive rock and he has indicated he’d be willing to work with me on the next album, but that’s a ways off so we’ll see if that pans out. I’m also looking into the possibility of doing some live performances, but there’s nothing definite yet. And if you’re a fan of Camel, their latest concert DVD “The Opening Farewell” which I produced and directed has just been released, so you may want to check that out.
BB: Is there a particular movie or album you’d recommend?
DM: One of my favorite movies is The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” while my favorite album of all time has to be “Blue Jays” by Justin Hayward and John Lodge. Both of these hold a special place in my heart.
BB: To complete the conversation on a more personal note, can you give us two events (one positive and one negative) that had a profound affect on you in recent years?
DM: On the bright side, for me personally, holding the completed CD for “Random Acts of Beauty” in my hands for the first time after it had been mastered and pressed was a wonderful event. It not only represented the culmination of a year’s worth of work, but the fulfillment of a dream I’d had for many, many years. On the down side, there have been a number of recent events which have occurred in our country such as the World Trade Tower attacks and the devastation resulting from hurricane Katrina that not only makes one’s heart go out to the victims, but puts life in its proper perspective as to what really is important.
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