JEFF JOHNSON / PHIL KEAGGY
Cappadocia
(Ark Music)

 

For their third duo album together Jeff Johnson and Phil Keaggy return with Cappadocia. Although a sonic tribute to a haven in Turkey for Christians fleeing persecution, the all-instrumental Cappadocia is truly a masterpiece of modern day New Age and Celtic flavored contemporary instrumental sounds. Haunting melodic themes are fleshed out and brought to life via Jeff’s magisterial synth keyboards and Phil’s one-of-a-kind electric and acoustic guitar sound. Both musicians add in tasteful percussion backing and occasional vocals. Fans of both of these world-class musicians that were blessed enough to hear their earlier albums—Frio Suite (2009) and Watersky (2012) —will be amazed at the wealth of musical concepts on Cappadocia. Speaking about the depth and variety of music on Cappadocia, Jeff Johnson tells mwe3.com, "One of the biggest challenges that I’ve always faced with the music that I make is how exactly to categorize it. With the collaboration that I’ve had with Irish flutist, Brian Dunning, it’s a bit easier with using the label, “Contemporary Celtic.” Yet with the music that Phil and I make, there are so many different elements and genres represented here that I honestly don’t know what to call it other than “contemporary instrumental” which doesn’t begin to describe the details! I believe that this music has a fairly broad appeal. There really is no “targeted market” other than reaching the fans that have enjoyed our music on the past two recordings and expanding it to new listeners. Since it’s instrumental and contemporary, it’s going to get put in the “New Age” genre category which is fine. But because there’s an inspiration from the Christian heritage and spirituality of Cappadocia it might also be appreciated by those who enjoy Christian music. And, because there’s a sophisticated structure and thoughtfulness in both the compositions and the recording production, it might appeal to a “new classical” audience. And finally, since there’s that tinge of “progressive rock” here and there, it might also be something the prog rock folks enjoy when they want to chill a bit!" Although New Age and neoclassical in scope, the entire Cappadocia album also presents itself as a kind of modern day symphonic-sounding progressive rock masterpiece—albeit one that lulls you in with a very stately rock sound, complete with unforgettable, atmospheric musical vibes. Clearly one of the most influential and anticipated album releases of late 2018 and early 2019, Cappadocia is essential listening and an album not to be missed among fans of Jeff Johnson and Phil Keaggy. www.jeffjohnsonmusic.bandcamp.com / www.youtube.com / www.arkmusic.com / www.philkeaggy.com





mwe3.com presents an interview with
JEFF JOHNSON and PHIL KEAGGY



mwe3
: The new album Cappadocia is the best album yet by you. You traveled all the way to Turkey to visit friends of yours that ran a Christian retreat ministry. Were you apprehensive traveling to Turkey as it’s in quite a tumultuous place these days in the Middle East? You mentioned how impressed you were by the spirituality of the place. Did you only go to Cappadocia or did you travel in other places in Turkey and how does Cappadocia hold relevance for you today?

Jeff Johnson: As a tourist, Turkey is really not as tumultuous as portrayed in the news. The people are great and even in Istanbul, my wife and I felt perfectly safe. Having said that, it was somewhat overwhelming to see so many refugees from the Syrian conflict living in Istanbul and it really brought the news home seeing how this conflict had so deeply affected so many families.

Our friends live in Kas, a small village on the mediterranean just west of the larger city, Antalya. We spent some time exploring that area as well as Istanbul on our own. Yet, the bulk of our time was spent in the Cappadocia region. Cappadocia has a rich history and is a place where Eastern Christianity has deep roots. All that remains today of this are the countless stone carved churches and other buildings which are literally all over the region. There is hardly any Christian subculture, let alone churches, that exist there anymore. But if you put the experience of being in this place with the rich history that is associated with it together, you’ll begin to appreciate and be overwhelmed by what you’re seeing and experiencing there.

mwe3: How has the Cappadocia area of Turkey changed over the years? You mentioned references going back to the 4th century. How did they create churches underground 1500 years ago and what or who were the Christians fleeing from back then? There’s still Christians being persecuted there? Plus you said these underground churches are still in tact and there were in fact, hundreds of these churches at one time in ancient Turkey which is amazing.

Jeff Johnson: The answer to your first couple of questions here could take up an entire interview and preferably with someone other than me that has researched the rich and varied history of Cappadocia. We know that there were converts to Christianity from their mention in Acts with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem amongst what would have been Jews from the area. Paul of Tarsus mentions and probably visited young congregations of Christians on his missionary journeys there, too. Later, it would be a place that Christians would flee to escaping persecution from the Roman Empire. There are not church congregations there now, as far as I know, Turkey is a Muslim country.

mwe3: You noted that there are some mid-Eastern sounds on Cappadocia, yet the album sounds very much like you and your best music and is very classic New Age meets rock instrumental in nature. Would you say the album is almost futuristic sounding in nature and how does the percussion link the music? It’s not loud drumming but very effective percussion.

Jeff Johnson: We didn’t want to use a lot of cliché "middle eastern” sounds in the music. Yet, Phil did borrow a Cumbus - a sort of Turkish “oud meets banjo” kind of instrument - for the title track which I thought was pretty neat. I utilized several middle eastern drum samples in what I did on some of the percussion treatments, as well, but the music still pretty much stays within the signature sounds that Phil and I have each brought to our collaboration together.

When I create the percussion tracks, I try to pick sounds and patterns that support the composition rather than take it over. Plus, these songs each feature a number and are made up of numerous musical movements so you can’t just pick a loop and have it go through the whole composition. There has to almost be an “orchestral” approach to the percussion as the music moves between the various sections that make up each piece.

You mentioned the rock element of some of the featured sections in this music. I loved the fact that Phil brought out the electric guitar more on “Cappadocia” than he’s done on the past two albums!

mwe3: Tell us something about how the two of you combined melodic ideas. Was it done where one would add a part or a mid section or add a melodic line to complete a musical idea? Can you give an example or a track or two where the two of your collaborated on a key musical idea on the Cappadocia CD? You are clearly getting better at it after three groundbreaking albums.

Jeff Johnson: Phil and I work and record in our own studios and send tracks back and forth to one another. One of us has an initial idea and sort of maps it out and then sends it off for the other person to add his bits. That process goes back and forth, on and on until I begin really arranging and mixing what we’ve been doing into a more coherent piece. Yet even though I’m doing the final mix of the piece in my studio, Phil is very involved with ideas and suggestions as I send him various versions of mixes.

mwe3: What about the gear on the album? I read Phil used a number of different guitar and fretboard instruments on Cappadocia. Also were new keyboards added or used in the making of Cappadocia compared to the Frio Suite and WaterSky albums? Can you tell us how you got such a great sound onto the disc and who helped you in attaining the
very high-techsound? What were some of the recording sessions like on this truly exemplary sounding album?

Jeff Johnson: On this project, I recorded my tracks using Logic X and an UA Apollo 8 interface using programs from Spectrasonics, Synthogy, Korg, Native Instruments, Celemony and United Audio. I mixed digitally via a T.C. Electronic Finalizer into an Alesis MasterLink using Yamaha NS10s and Stax Headphones for monitoring. My keyboard controller was a Yamaha P250.

Both Phil and I know how to get what we want in our recording set up and I we’re really comfortable with the process we have of sending tracks back and forth to one another. There’s a keen trust that we share and we’ve come to really understand and anticipate what the other person is trying to do when they send along their ideas. That’s something that’s been honed over the past ten years of making music with one another and it seems like it all really came together in the making of this new CD.

Phil Keaggy: On this project, I used guitars made by James Olson Acoustic Guitars, Del Langejans Classical Guitars, Lukas Brunner Baritone 12 string guitars, Kenny Marshall and Ken Hoover’s Zion Guitars

I also played a Gibson Les Paul, Fender Strat, Gibson G3 Bass, Yamaha Fretless Bass, Oceana Ukulele, Turkish Cumbus and a Loar Mandolin. I recorded through a Vox AC 30 and a Vox MV50, a LaChapell 992 Tube Preamplifier with Audix and Audio Technica Microphones all into my computer based Pro Tools 11.

mwe3: Even though Cappadocia is steeped in ancient Christian lore, it’s a very accessible album that sounds more like 21st century New Age progressive rock in scope. Do you feel it is also like a type of modern 21st century classical music and who is your targeted market, New Age, classical, Christian music, even progressive rock?

Jeff Johnson: One of the biggest challenges that I’ve always faced with the music that I make is how exactly to categorize it. With the collaboration that I’ve had with Irish flutist, Brian Dunning, it’s a bit easier with using the label, “Contemporary Celtic.” Yet with the music that Phil and I make, there are so many different elements and genres represented here that I honestly don’t know what to call it other than “contemporary instrumental” which doesn’t begin to describe the details!

I believe that this music has a fairly broad appeal. There really is no “targeted market” other than reaching the fans that have enjoyed our music on the past two recordings and expanding it to new listeners. Since it’s instrumental and contemporary, it’s going to get put in the New Age genre category which is fine. But because there’s an inspiration from the Christian heritage and spirituality of Cappadocia it might also be appreciated by those who enjoy Christian music. And, because there’s a sophisticated structure and thoughtfulness in both the compositions and the recording production, it might appeal to a “new classical” audience. And finally, since there’s that tinge of “progressive rock” here and there, it might also be something the prog rock folks enjoy when they want to chill a bit! Finally, Phil and I both have fairly broad musical tastes and I think the music we make together sort of reflects that.

mwe3: You have said that Cappadocia is a concept album. If you could explain the album concept to someone looking to hear it, how would you explain it? You grew up with progressive rock in your ears and so it’s fitting that Cappadocia has a strong connection to prog, one that retains its grandeur even at lower decibels! Although this is not “unplugged” music by any stretch of the imagination.

Jeff Johnson: This music is “conceptual” both compositionally and thematically. Compositionally in that an idea is begun and then explored, taken apart, left behind and then returned to in each piece. Thematically, because Phil and I explore several aspects of the rich culture and historical tapestry that comes out of Cappadocia throughout the album.

It’s also conceptual as an entire piece... we recorded it and put it together designed as a complete listening experience. That’s just like how both Phil and I grew up listening to music where you came home with the latest LP and sat down and listened to it in its entirety. That’s what we were going for with Cappadocia. Both Phil and I love to “take people places” with our music. And even if one only listens to one song on the album, that song is sort of a mini version of a concept album in that it’s made up of several varying movements and musical ideas.

mwe3: I want to ask about some of tracks on Cappadocia. What can you telll us about the title track “Cappadocia”?

Jeff: Once Phil and I got into this one, it soon became the main theme for the whole CD project thanks to some of the “eastern” sounds that I incorporated with Phil’s Turkish Cumbus lines. One of my favorite sections on the whole album is when Phil sings the melody in the middle of this and then comes back to it at the end of the song. I also love the transition to the electric guitar solo and how it modulates back to the main theme with all of the parts coming together.

Phil: Jeff had the initial idea and theme for this song and I enjoyed adding my various guitars and fretless bass, including the Zion electric guitar solo, which recalls my “March Of The Clouds” from 1985. I take over with my own musical thoughts around the 3:00 mark before returning to the beginning theme at the end.

mwe3: How about track four, “Parousia (A Presence)”?

Phil
: This is a composition that I initiated. Jeff’s contribution of piano work is understated but extremely beautiful! The classical guitar references “Deep Calls Unto Deep” (Master and The Musician). I also played the chumbus on this one as well. It’s a simple, recurring theme that builds quite nicely enhanced by the relationship between the bass and Jeff’s percussion work.

Jeff: I remember hearing the rough for the first time and just feeling overwhelmed by the beauty of the piece. “Parousia” can mean “a second coming” or simply “a presence.” I hear a beautiful “presence” in the music of this song. So much of this piece was already worked out by Phil, so I have to find my “spaces” and lines in that. I approach the process as a ‘puzzle to be solved.’ This piece has a lovely eastern-sounding element to it as well along with some wonderful transitions between sections, which never loose site of Phil’s original guitar melody.

mwe3: Also the track ”That Which Is Hidden” is another highlight.

Jeff
: The very first piece we recorded for the project, I came up with what I thought was a lovely chord progression with the synth pad and wanted to just play it for ever! The title suggests something a friend of mine once told me, “We know God better because he has hidden himself.” There is a point that the opening chords stop and a simple guitar line transitions into the same chord progression that’s taken over by the piano and Phil’s counter guitar lines. The way forward compositionally was to discover ‘that which was hidden’ in that opening progression! After several diverse sections of this piece, Phil comes back to the chords at the very end of the song.

Phil: I love how this piece builds. It’s an example of how a composition can slowly develop and eventually open up vistas of imagery that can be breathtaking. As with Jeff’s other pieces he initially sent me, he allowed me to create the back half and then takes my musical ideas to a new sonic level. Instruments used: Brunner Bari 12 string and Langejans classical guitars throughout. The electric guitars give a slight reference to music from the 1960s.

mwe3: A favorite track from Cappadocia, “Chapel of Stone” sounds very jazzy and progressive in the best sense of the word. What were some of your most lasting impressions of being inside a church carved out of rock?

Jeff Johnson: When I was in Cappadocia, my friend who lives in Turkey took me to this incredible carved out church completely hidden from the outside. This was no cave but a small cathedral with columns and a vaulted ceiling. The acoustic in this place was otherworldly! The music here sort of explores this space with its main sanctuary and connecting rooms including a large dovecot on the second floor. The vocals that Phil and I add at the end sort of represent the echoes from voices past that would have sung chant in this place.

Phil Keaggy: This is a composition that I initiated and, like many of the other songs on the album, develops and takes the listener to places they wouldn’t initially expect! I explored Spanish, bluegrass, old-time and even added some subtle mandolin on this.

mwe3: The final track “Trinity”… does it refer to the 3 albums you and Phil have made thus far and also, can you tell us its connection to the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit? It’s truly a remarkable track. It almost has a country rock kind of vibe to it. Phil’s guitar solo is wonderful too.

Phil: This was another nod to the early days of my musical journey. I remember playing my Les Paul on the ending solo of “Take Me Closer” from Love Broke Through (1976). My longtime friend, Buck Herring produced that album and the solo I did then felt inspired. Now, on this piece, we hear the very same guitar as back then, and I believe it recaptured that musical moment in time.

Jeff: One of the things I enjoy doing is creating the percussion/drum tracks for these projects. This particular album features a greater variety of grooves and dynamics than Phil and I have done in the past. I love the groove of this piece and then how it goes into the pulsing synth section in the middle to sort of hearken back to some of the pulsing sections that I do in a couple of the earlier songs. The writings of Cappodocian Fathers – Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa – featured the mystical union of the Christian idea of the Trinity Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They emphasized that love is at the heart of this union. And it’s this love, with all of its beauty and cause for wonder, that what’s behind the music Phil and I create.

mwe3: Cappadocia will do quite well in the Christian Music sector. What has been the reaction from the Christian music community? Did your earlier releases Frio Suite and WaterSky win awards in the Christian music market and what about a possible Grammy award for Cappadocia?

Jeff Johnson: I hope you’re right that folks in the “Christian Music sector” will dig this music and support. I honestly don’t know, myself! Phil has an established reputation in that genre and I do too, to a smaller degree. Yet, I wouldn’t think that most folks who hear this music would think of it as “contemporary Christian music” or even “praise and worship.” In some sense, it’s both because Phil and I very much work from our Christian faith perspective. But at the end of the day, we want to be known for making “good” music and that’s really our bottom line.

Both Frio Suite and WaterSky were well received by the music critics. Yet, we haven’t won any major music awards and I rather doubt that Cappadocia will, too. Awards like the Grammys generally only reflect and concern themselves with the pop music of a very limited scope of music genres. That’s fine with me. At the end of the day, I’m more satisfied by someone who writes me and tells me how much the music inspired and moved them. That’s a good enough award for me.

mwe3: A lot of albums are created on the internet these days with artists from the whole world playing on the same track. What are the latest cutting edge technologies for you online? Is the power of the internet a great boon to your music but do you feel artists can support themselves and make enough income from online activities? I see so many banner ad ads for other companies on a youtube page and countless other web pages featuring the artist’s music. I was thinking is that fair?

Jeff Johnson: As I already mentioned in the conversation about how Phil and I actually work, we’re a totally internet based operation. Yet I think you’re referring to how music gets distributed and supported through the internet. That’s just the reality. Physical product still plays a role in radio and concert merchandise. Yet most people listen to their music on the internet. And those ads that you mentioned popping up as the music gets played is how musicians actually make some money from this new way of listening. People have gotten so used to not paying for the music they hear but their totally willing to see and hear an occasional advertisement and some of the proceeds from the purchase of those ads goes to supporting the musician who wrote and recorded the piece of music you’re hearing.

Is all of this fair? You tell me! Most musicians make their real money from performing concerts. Since Phil and I don’t tour, we’re in a more precarious situation when it comes to trying to make some money off of the music we’re making. As there is a record company (ArkMusic) for these projects, I’m doing the best I can with the resources I have available to me to try to make that process work to the best of our advantage. So much of the success of one’s music has always been dependent on “word of mouth” promotion. There are a lot of folks out there who love what Phil and I are doing and we’re banking on them telling their friends!

mwe3: So now you’ve got these three great albums that you made. What is the likelihood of a concert performance featuring the best of the three albums on a DVD and/or what about other plans for the year of 2019?

Jeff Johnson: As I said above, Phil and I have no plans to tour this. We tried that a few years back with the WinterSky tour and, while the music was great to play - we were helped with flutist, Brian Dunning and violinist, Wendy Goodwin - it was a LOT of work.

To really do this music justice, we would need several other musicians and some substantial technical and tour support and I just don’t think that’s going to happen at this stage of our lives. Phil’s quite content to do his solo dates and I love leading retreats, pilgrimages and contemplative Selah services along with the occasional Celtic Christmas tour with Brian.

I think that’s one of the things that’s contributed to the integrity and quality of what Phil and I have created with these three albums. There’s never been any pressure on us to make an album and then tour it. Ten years ago, it began as a musical “discussion” over the internet with no time line and no overarching scheme other than to try to make something that both of us liked. I wouldn’t trade the experience of making these albums with Phil for anything. They’ve been some of the most enjoyable and, in the end, best things I’ve ever been artistically involved with.



 

 
   
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