John Piccari: Being Able to Embrace the Mystery that God Is

posted in: Articles, May 2011 | 0

I got an email one day from John Piccari; he was contacting me to see if I was interested in hearing his new CD titled Exorcising Ghosts. I was interested immediately simply because as an avid horror fan I loved the title. He sent me the links and I was impressed right away by the musicianship and the quality of the recording. It sounded professional, well produced, and the players were definitely talented. I wasn’t sure who John was at the time although his name sounded familiar. I figured he was just a Facebook friend and wasn’t really sure where I knew his name from. Since I immediately liked the music and the lyrical content, I told John we would review the disc for Down the Line. After listening to the disc a few more times I thought we should do an interview and try and get him as much exposure as we can.

After starting the interview I realized where I had heard John’s name. Brian Healy had told me about John a couple of years ago and I remembered that John played on Dead Artist Syndromes release of “Silent Night” a couple of Christmases back. Brian had many great things to say about John as an artist and a person.

Musically who are the influences?

That’s a broad spectrum, but here are a few: John Lennon, KISS, Marc Bolan, Daniel Amos, Billy Preston, The Choir, The Plimsouls, The 77’s, DAS, The Beatles, Prince, Generation X, The Alarm, Public Image Ltd., Hoagy Carmichael, Bob Dylan, Hubie Blake, Billy Idol, Ted Nugent, Jeff Lynne, Stevie Wonder, Cheap Trick, Andrae Crouch…..I could go on (and on, and on). 🙂

How long have you been playing, and is this the first release you have available?

I’ve been playing for about 33 years, but most of my time has been spent behind the scenes working with and helping other artists. For the past few years (10) it has mainly been with DAS and Theo Obrastoff, but I’ve done lots of other studio and some live stuff with others as well. I have a couple of older releases but they are long out of print, who knows, maybe Rob Watson and I will do a retrospective of some of those songs at some point. Right now it’s all about moving forward. I’ve got the next album demoed and am planning an ep with some friends as well.

Who are the other players on the album, and tell me who produced, engineered, etc.?

There are some great players on the album, some known and some unknown. Here’s the breakdown of who and what each played:

John Piccari: vocals, bass, guitars & electric piano on “Wonderful”
Rob Watson: keyboards
Tom Strahle: electric guitars, acoustic solo on “Supercede”
Richard Moran: electric guitars, slide guitars
Jared Summerell: drums, electric guitar on “Supercede”
Bill Dragoo: drums

Produced by Robert Watson
Recorded and engineered by John Piccari
Mixed and mastered by Ben Eggehorn

How do you classify it (what genre)?

I’d consider it a pop/rock album. It makes most sense when listening to it all the way through in a sitting, you know, like an LP. 🙂

I saw on your influences list that you cited John Lennon. I LOVE John Lennon, he was an amazing artist and person; it really is a tragic thing how mainstream Christianity treated him.

True, I’ll go one further… It’s really tragic how mainstream Christians treat most people most of the time. Back to John Lennon… he is a huge influence both as a musician and a humanitarian. Part of his charm (for me) was that he could talk and imagine and dream but maybe not have the tools to live it out the way he hoped. In that sense he reminds me of characters in the Bible, totally sincere and totally human all at once. I am still trying to track down some of the worship/praise songs he recorded at home after his conversion in the late 70’s. I guess the 700 club was good for something after all, who knew?

I just realized that Brian Healy and I have talked about you numerous times. Didn’t you play on his Silent Night rendition?

Yep, that’s me. Brian and I were talking about DAS doing some sort of Christmas release and things kept getting pushed back. One song we were thinking about was “Silent Night”. Then he said that Down the Line would make it available for download. It sounded like a fun idea to me so we got together at my studio one day and recorded it.

What other DAS stuff have you played on?

 Brian and I recorded a cover of the 77’s song “Caught in an Unguarded Moment” for a 77‘s/Mike Roe tribute cd (called “For Lyrics Send $2.00 and a S.A.S.E. to…”). Other than that I was recording and working on the new DAS stuff (with Ojo Taylor, Gym Nicholson, Riki Michele and Ric Alba) before Brian got ill last year. When Brian and I first got together we were focusing on playing live. I called a couple friends and a new and different incarnation of DAS played shows in Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange Counties, including a show with Mike Roe. It was a good time.

How did you hook up with Rob Watson?

I’m not sure but I can tell you that around 2002 Rob was producing a CD for a friend (Theo Obrastoff) and him and I got together then. I think initially we were talking about Carole’s mission work in Jamaica and Theo’s album. Then one day we started talking about working together. We just waited for the right time when we were both available at the same time.

How did Exorcising Ghosts come to fruition? Can you tell me about the journey and the inspiration behind the release?

I remember one night at a dinner after the namm show Rob and I were talking and I said something that (I think) started the project going. I was re-reading a couple of wonderful books “Messy Spirituality” and “Dangerous Wonder” by Mike Yaconelli. I must have been reflecting on what I had been reading and the road my life had traveled. Anyway, Rob and I were talking about the future and I said something like “I wanted to spend whatever time I had left making the most music possible with my friends, both behind the scenes and in front of the mic”. The words kind of hung there for a moment while I thought “what in the world did I just say?” Anyway, it wasn’t too long after that dinner that Rob and I started mapping it out. There were, initially, 5 or 6 six songs and “Exorcising Ghosts” was not among them. In fact I didn’t write that until after we started tracking. During tracking Rob asked if I had any other songs that might fit with the ones we were working on. So, I started thinking about a theme for the album. As I thought about the songs, the term “faith journey” kept coming back to me. Once that happened everything came together, song wise, very quickly. It was important to me that there was a theme to the album, and I think that if you listen to it from start to finish it will all make sense. It has a sort of heartbeat to it. It takes a journey that starts with exorcising the obstacles and works its way through the situations that can make up life. What I mean by that is that there are certain emotions, phrases, petitions, pleas, questions, anger and ultimately a sort of understanding of the balance and order that God has placed before us.

I know that you would classify this release as “pop-rock”, but I would also characterize it as a worship record lyrically. Is that a fair assumption?

Sure, I guess. I hesitate a bit because I am not fond of the labeling of music. Labeling can cause someone to think one way or another instead of listening. It used to be that the labels were so broad that you could hear different styles on the same radio station, but sadly that is not the case anymore. So…yes, I would agree that lyrically there are worshipful moments but there are also moments of doubt and confusion. I think that you cannot have one without the other if you are going to be honest. That’s why there is a song like “I Worship You” and a song like “Tell” or “Sotto Voce”. It’s all about relationship and being able to embrace the mystery that God is.

I don’t feel that “worship” music has to always specify God lyrically, because so much that we do or that we express is in and of itself an act of worship. Does that make sense, and do you agree or disagree?

Yes, yes…I totally agree! Think about the latest U2 release No Line on the Horizon. It is a brilliant album that is so very worshipful. Think about Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”, it’s like a love song from God to his creation. What about Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure”? I think of them all (and a great many others) as worship music. I just think that the church doesn’t always make the best worship music.

You’ve been playing for a long time, what are your thoughts and ideas about the digital age of music? Is there really a way for an artist to make a living by today’s industry standards?

It’s very exciting. Can an artist make a living in today’s industry? I believe so, but you have to be realistic about what you want and who your market is. This can lead to a very different discussion which would start with a smart alec statement from me about how “people used to make music because they loved it, not because they would be rich and famous”. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’d like to make some money, but I won’t sell my soul to some “company” that promises to put my music in Christian bookstores (are there even any left?) across the country for a fee. Now, there are good companies out there, but if someone promises you the world and all you have to do is pay them (to do what you can do yourself) beware. It has become a very popular thing in the Christian market, especially with the marketing of “worship” music. They will make their money even if you don’t. hmmmm… I guess I have some strong opinions about this. I’ll step down off my soapbox now.

Can you tell us anything about the next album that you have demoed, or the ep that is in the works…maybe who else plays on it, when it will be released and in what format, and will it be similar musically to Exorcising Ghosts?

Well I’d like the next album to be a bit more rock and roll. I’ve got quite a bit of it demoed and it’s just a matter of writing some more and putting a band together. I’d like to rehearse the album and record it live in the studio but we shall see. As far as who will play on it… I have some ideas but I don’t want to say anything until it’s all set.

As far as the ep goes, that’s going to be a fun record I am making with my good friend Rich Moran. Musically it’s going to be somewhere in the pop, rock & blues vein, at least that’s the way it is starting, it could end up psychedelic folk music by time we are done. Rich is an awesome guitarist and vocalist so we are going to have some fun. Who knows, it might become a full album, you never know. I am hoping to have both out this year but I tend to be a little ambitious. There should be at least one out before the end of the year.

Are you a reader, and do you write outside of lyrics?

I love to read. Give me a good book and I am happy. Right now I am juggling a couple of great books. One is a collection of philosophical poems called “The Desiderata of Happiness” by Max Ehrmann. Another is a re-read called “Lennon in America” which is based on his diaries. Good stuff… I’ve always got a stack of books just waiting to be read but there never seems to be enough time. As far as writing goes, I wish I had that gift. Lyrics or poetry are about the most my attention span can handle.

Where can people find your music to purchase?

All the usual places, but the best places are: cdbaby, iTunes, Amazon

Who is in your turntable/iPod/cd player right now?

It tends to be very varied. I might go from P.i.L. to Hoagy Carmichael to Billie Holiday to Metallica to who knows. What I like to do is make a playlist for the week. Think of it as a mixtape on steroids. So, here’s what I’ll do… I will send the first 100 songs on this week’s playlist to iTunes and call it “dtl playlist”. If anyone wants to see the list they can go to iTunes and check it out, sound good?

Anything else you would like to add that you want people to know?

Just a big thank you! Let’s do it again soon. Peace.

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