The Ancients
The Ancients

This feature appeared in Huffington Post July 2015

"Joey Ramone had an infatuation with The Ancients, which took me by surprise! Why would a punk rock legend have any sort of affection for what we did? But getting to know Joey as I did, I think the best I could tell was that Joey always wanted to be a crooner. He admired the way I sang, my voice, my delivery. I guess that's what kind of drew him to the band. And I'm still very flattered by that. And he eventually became kind a crooner, especially on his later songs - which brought a smile to my face because I knew he had it in him!" Fred Schreck

Though we may have crossed paths as musicians on the same stages and studios sometime in New York City in the 1980s, my first official awareness of singer, songwriter, recording artist Fred Schreck was by way of John Ashton's Satellite Paradiso - whom I interviewed (February 2014) upon the release of their brilliant self-titled debut.

Fred's work with the former Psychedelic Furs guitarist is, in a word, extraordinary. If you dig heavy experimental rock with massive pop hooks and matchless musicianship- for lack of a better description - I highly advise that you seek out their first and only official release (as of this writing) which also features bassists Gail Ann Dorsey and Sara Lee, drummers Frank Coleman and Paul Garisto, saxophonists Mars Williams and Duncan Kilburn, cellists Jo Quail and Jane Scarpantoni, and guitarist Cheetah Chrome, among others.

As we communicate via social media, whenever Fred posts a missive I read it, listen to it, and/or share it. One morning Fred posted a track by his band The Ancients - an ensemble which I was unacquainted with.

When I heard the track, my immediate reaction was one of... joy! I revel when artists of a certain age make music that moves forward rather than replicates the past, as so many often do whether they are aware of it or not. Fred's post took me back to the moment I first heard David Bowie's Low album, which was co-produced by Tony Visconti, on the day it appeared in the Sam Goody bins in January 1977. When my friends and I dropped the needle on side one song one on that freezing winter day - we didn't know what we were hearing: new sounds, new grooves; a new way of arranging music as a collage that somehow coalesced into a single burst of energy. We loved it. And we tried our best to make music like it. In those days, we expected recording artists and their producers to blow our minds. The Ancients blew my mind. So, I congratulated Fred on his new music and asked for additional info so we could talk about it. Like Bowie and Satellite Paradiso, Fred was making music that matters in the present tense.

However akin to his Paradiso pals Ashton and Coleman, Mr. Schreck has a refreshingly dry sense of humor. When he responded that this "new" album entitled Mind- a collaboration with composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist Morgan Visconti - was actually recorded two decades ago, I shrugged it off as one of his customary jibes. I worked as a bass player in recording studios and bands in those days and earlier -and tracks such as "Circa 1977" did not sound like that circa 1993 with regard to the mix and the arrangement - just to being with. To my ears The Ancients would have knocked Trent Reznor down a notch or two or three had this record dropped in the alternative rock era when NIN was all the rage. When I received the official Ancients press release which proved fact to what I thought was fiction, I demanded answers from Messrs. Schreck and Visconti!

Testifies Schreck: "The Ancients were conceived as sort of a solo project for me. I was in a band that was pretty popular in the New York City music scene in the late 1980s called Shoot the Doctor. We'd gotten a certain amount of notoriety though we failed to get that 'big record deal' which was the goal of every band in those years. The frustration of not getting the prize made some cracks surface within the band. Along comes Rob Sacher -who at that time was the manager of a club called Mission which was a pretty popular hangout for people who liked Goth and industrial alternative rock. He approached me one time at a gig, invited me down to the club to talk, and I think he initially wanted to guide along and help my former band - in the end we decided it was best for me to break off and take some of the songs that I'd written and think of them in a new way. That's how the first Ancients album came about."

Among Schreck's associates for that first album was Morgan Visconti. Recalls Fred "Morgan was about eighteen years old, fresh from England and living in the city for the first time. He was being a bit of a bad boy, hanging out in clubs such as Mission. Rob plied him with drinks and asked him to take a shot and produce one of my songs." The track "Release Me" emerged as the most recognizable cut on the record. As such Schreck and Visconti struck up a friendship, with Morgan joining The Ancients live line-up. "I knew that Morgan was destined for other things. I knew that eventually he was going to make a name for himself..."

Sessions for Mind commenced in the summer of 1993 at Morgan's Manhattan studio. Visconti notes "We worked fast and furious during available hours, mostly nights and weekends as I was writing and recording music for television during regular office hours. Our inspirations although not very specific, included King Crimson, Killing Joke, Bowie, even Peter Gabriel and Genesis at some points - that combined with what we were absorbing at the time - Soundgarden , Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails. We didn't want to emulate a 1990's sound but we couldn't help putting a bit of grunge on here and there." Among the players who contributed to Mind included Schreck's former Crush bandmate Paul Ferguson (Killing Joke), his former Shoot the Doctor mates and guitarists Albert Zampino and Dave Tsien; drummer John Socha; guitarist Chris Sokolewicz; and singers Diva Gray and Robin Clark who had also backed David Bowie on "Young Americans."

With regard to the striking relevance of Mind in the year 2015, Visconti theorizes. "It's harder and harder to sound 'this year' as things change so quickly. But music is also cyclical, 'the 1980's strikes back' may have just expired and maybe now is the time for the return of the 1990s! I think that because our influences were outside the box of the 90s, it never really congealed as a 90s record. We didn't want to be those Seattle bands, I guess we existed in our own bubble."

Schreck agrees. "The other explanation could be that at least lyrically, I tend to stay away from topical subjects. I think on one song I sing 'turn the dial' - which even then was antiquated. Morgan did such a great job producing. In the end what sounds good will always sound good!"

Among The Ancients' admirers was Morgan's dad, the aforementioned legendary producer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist whose list of Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame worthy credits include timeless recordings by David Bowie, Thin Lizzy, T. Rex, Sparks, and Morrissey to cite a very select few.

"I remember Tony being a proud dad when I played him my mixes" states Morgan. "But being a stubborn twenty- something, I was too cool to ask for further advice or help both musical and industry wise, which is something I regret now looking back. I was wary of nepotism. I wanted to blaze my own trail and all that. He's always a very honest, no-bullshit critic of mine but I sensed that he thought I was doing all the right things in the studio. I remember he came to several of our shows and enjoyed them too."

Consequently Mind was never released in its time. Schreck and Visconti's personal and professional lives went in decidedly different directions. However they remained comrades, and Mind had always been on their minds.

Schreck: "Five years later, we'd talk and say 'this stuff is great, we gotta do something with it ...ten years later, fifteen years later....same conversation!"

Morgan: "For some reason, now in 2015 it was clear. We've just gotta do it."

The Ancients Mind on the Human imprint is currently available on iTunes and Amazon.


Mike Visceglia This feature appeared in Huffington Post June 2015

"You ask the average person what a bass is, or what a bass sounds like, and most of the time, they don't know. But remove the bass from any piece of music and suddenly it becomes the largest missing piece in the world! Whoa, fifty percent of the music just went away with one instrument! It is an instrument that is much more conspicuous by its absence than by its presence..."

A few weeks ago I interviewed Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer Dennis Dunaway upon the release of his memoire Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group - and among the many profound statements he imparted to me was "rock 'n' roll ...if it doesn't kill ya, it will keep you forever young."

Which brings me directly to Michael Visceglia, an ageless cat who has plied his oft anonymous yet essential craft on recorded works and concert performances with such artists as Suzanne Vega, John Cale, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, Phoebe Snow, and Christopher Cross, to reference a very few.

Shortly following his latest performance from the orchestra pit of Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein's Tony Award Winning Broadway musical Kinky Boots on a warm spring evening, Mr. Visceglia is sitting across the table from me in one of those Italian restaurants that Billy Joel once portrayed in song to discuss his new book, which, as the most mesmeric works often are, is borne of "a labor of was a completely non- commercial idea at first!"

As for the play, which was cited for Best Musical and Best Original Score, Mike's grooves are worth the price of admission alone - but go see the production anyway. "For a Tuesday night" he enthuses, "this was a fantastic gig...the audience was really into it...everything clicked."

In short, Visceglia's terrific tome A View From the Side, negotiates many themes which may appear disparate at first, but they all resolve in the end - much like an effective bass-line that grabs an audience - even if they cannot fathom the source of the rhythm, harmony, and rumble by no fault of their own. His chronicles of tours with Suzanne Vega, Velvet Underground icon John Cale, the story of the mysterious Miss M as exposed in "The Fan," and his paean to a friend and mentor entitled "The Many Lives of Jan Arnet," are the stuff of Hitchcock films. And that's just the first few chapters.

"The idea came from my experiences on the road..." exclaims Michael, "hey if this happened to me, there's got to be a lot of other musicians who have really interesting things to say...but I kept it in the bass world, because I'm a bass player." True that, but few scribes can capture the range of emotions that a bass player experiences given the tangible power of the instrument and the role these dedicated yet mostly unknown practitioners play in the music that touches the lives of millions.

"But, you don't have to be a muso or a bass player to appreciate it..." emphasizes the bassist. "I want it to be for anybody who has an interest in the music business and beyond. There is value in these human interest stories. I stayed away from the usual topics of what amplifier or what instrument someone used on a record or a tour. I delved into the thought process, the creative process, how these players keep going in this ever changing business. How do they traverse all the different styles? It's something everyone can relate to."

Aside from the sometimes torrid yet always touching tales of his personal experiences, Michael's candid conversations with bassists Will Lee (Late Show with David Letterman), Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, John Lennon), Marcus Miller, Colin Moulding (XTC), and the late studio legend Duck Dunn, among others, makes known much about the character of a bass player which will enlighten fans and aspiring musicians alike.

Visceglia's in-depth exchange with James Taylor bassist Leland Sklar, another studio giant, emerges as a pop music history lesson hitherto untold- warts and all. "My goal was to get players from different parts of the country, from different genres...with Lee Sklar, you get a look through the window of how you can be with someone for such a long time and build a career for a star, and you think you are creating an everlasting bond with someone...but you're really not. And I've found that out a few times myself."

Visceglia also shares his expertise on the currently unhinged state of the music business, offering insightful analysis on the death of the record industry; the American Idol-ization of the pop music spectrum, along with practical advice on how to forge a career as a working musician regardless of the seismic shifts in how music is delivered, consumed, and valued by the masses. However unlike many veteran players who have seen it all and continue to pine for days past, Michael waxes wise and most positive.

"One thing that an audience always relates to, more than anything else in the world, is authenticity. Of course, there are a lot of fabricated stars out there...that's fine. And it's nothing new. But that doesn't mean that every artist out there is defined by that. To experience the connection that happens between musicians, a song, a voice, an instrument, and an audience...all the people who are in it for the right reasons, and are committed to the art - we will always find an outlet for it. The other stuff, well, that's just white noise in the background..."

With a Fender bass fawning forward by former teacher Gordon Sumner, better known by his stage name Sting - and moving tributes to his late father, without whom Michael would have never picked up a bass to embark on his incredible life journey, A View From the Side is among the most realistic, accurate and useful collection of essays for bass players, musicians, and fans that I've come across in many years. I'm not at all surprised that it was written by a bass player.

"The nature of the bass is supportive. It's the only instrument that exists in three worlds - the rhythmic, the harmonic, and melodic worlds. In order to have longevity in this business, from my own experiences and from everybody I talked with, you have to be highly committed, highly flexible - you cannot have a rigid outlook on your life and the way you think things are supposed to be...because the script isn't written that way!"

Michael Visceglia's A View From the Side, published by Wizdom Media LLC and distributed by Alfred Music is out now.