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Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius and Nick Katona

Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius and Nick Katona

By: Lori Smerilson Carson

Forging great partnerships is essential for a successful career, and Violinist/Vocalist Joe Deninzon has done just that with record label owner Nick Katona. Deninzon founded his Stratospheerius band in New York City in the early 2000’s, releasing THE ADVENTURES OF STRATOSPHEERIUS album in 2002. This extraordinarily talented musician and his band continued making their mark in the music industry, and in 2017, Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius signed with Melodic Revolution Records based in Winter Springs, Florida and released GUILTY OF INNOCENCE. This is where their tremendous friendship began.

Catching up with Deninzon and Katona just prior to some shows that Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius were scheduled for in the northeast, they revealed some details about the band’s new music, their friendship, some bits about their past, and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: How did you guys meet up to collaborate? How did this all come about?
Nick Katona: Joe’s publicist contacted me back in 2011 and said that Joe had a new album out and wanted to know if I was interested in debuting it and interviewing Joe.

SFL Music: You do have a new album coming out right Joe? Imposter?
Joe Deninzon: Well, we just released our double live CD/DVD Blue Ray and we just finished releasing the last song on our new album. Working title is Imposter, but we might consider some other titles. Its gonna come out in the Spring. That’s our goal.

SFL Music: What inspired the album?
Deninzon: A lot of events in the last five years. We actually released it gradually. Four of the six songs were released as singles. We started releasing them in 2019 believe it or not. It’s inspired by world events both political and things we were going through during the pandemic, and there’s a song about cancer culture. There’s some political overtones. There’s some personal themes. So, we’re kind of tying it all together, and there was a big epic song that was kind of inspired by a lot of my friends and musicians. Kind of my mid-life crisis musician song (he laughed). There’s some personal stuff in there. It’s a wide range of topics actually. So, I have to figure out what is the thread, and that’s what I’m working on right now.

SFL Music: The box set with two CDs/DVDs from live performances at ProgStock BEHIND THE CURTAIN (Live at ProgStock). The live performances are from 2019 and 2021?
Deninzon: Yeah, 2019 and 2021.

SFL Music: Do some of those songs relate to the album or is this brand-new material on the new album?
Deninzon: Four of the songs we played live are on the new record and the other half, no one has heard before.

SFL Music: Nick, what is your outlook for your label that you want artists to know? What was intriguing for Joe to go there? What maybe differentiates you?
Katona: Melodic Revolution Records is kind of a place where we try to be the voice for hardworking musicians that have a voice, but could use a bigger audience. We’re not a massive label. We’re a small label. We’re a family-oriented label. Many of our artists work together on projects. That’s the kind of culture that we try to provide. I guess what makes us different than other labels is for us, it’s not about how many bands we sign to the label. It’s about the quality of the music. A lot of labels won’t even sign a band if you’re not a touring artist. That’s never stopped us from signing an artist. In fact, most of our artists are not touring musicians. They’re studio musicians, and Joe is one of the very few, a handful that tours, and he’s amazing. If anyone has a chance to go see this guy live, whether its solo, whether it’s one of his side projects or whether it’s with Stratospheerius or Kansas, they need to go out and see him and support him because he is nothing short of amazing.

SFL Music: I just saw him with Kansas at the Benedum Theater, actually. It was an amazing show! You are telling the truth Nick!
Deninzon: You saw my very first show with the band. That was swell. That was my very first ever show with them, yeah.

SFL Music: Wow! I wouldn’t have known. Speaking of working with other artists, you have worked with Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow, 50Cent. What would you say you took away from those experiences?
Deninzon: Every experience is different. There’s not one answer (he laughed). I got to see what people’s process is. You know, everyone is very different. Bruce Springsteen’s very spontaneous. He will add strings to a song two hours before going onstage in front of fifty thousand people. He’ll rehearse an album that the band hasn’t played in thirty-five years, the day of the show, before doing a four-hour show. Very hardworking and spontaneous. Like Kansas is very hardworking, but their sets are very planned because their music is so intricate. Once they find a set, they kind of keep it the whole tour. Sheryl Crow is very meticulous in the studio, very detailed. Amazing ears. Everybody really is unique and different. You learn from each experience and kind of choose how you like to create music based on that, but it’s very inspiring to see somebody. To see how the sausage is made, so to speak.

SFL Music: What made you decide to become a musician originally?
Deninzon: I come from a family of classical musicians. My father was in The Cleveland Orchestra. Was a violinist for forty-four years. Just retired. My mother is a piano teacher and concert pianist. It was always in the house and I was really in love with music since I was born. It just seemed like the natural thing I would do. My parents knew it and I knew it. I think I briefly flirted with being a writer. I had a whole Stephen King phase. I still might revisit that. I always knew I wanted to play music. It was never a question in my mine for the most part. I also knew I didn’t want to be a classical musician like my parents. So, I wanted to kind of do my own thing.

SFL Music: Did they have you take formal lessons?
Deninzon: Yeah, I had the training and everything. I think I saw it as creatively constricting. When I discovered rock and roll and jazz, and learned about improvisation and songwriting, I saw the classical mentality. I love classical music, but the mentality in that world is kind of tunnel vision, and there was many sides of me that I would feel I would be cutting off if I really built into that entirely. I would feel very limited.

SFL Music: What would you recommend to an up-and-coming or new musician?
Deninzon: I would say, learn as many different things as you can, as many different styles of music. Learn more than one instrument. Open to new experiences because you’re gonna fall into a lot of situations that you may not have imagined you would fall into, and just kind of go with it. Have the mentality that you’re gonna learn from everybody you work with.
SFL Music: That’s very good advice. Nick, you started off with a record store. What made you decide to get into music and your radio station?
Katona: Well, how many years you got (he laughed)? To be really simple, I’ve been in the music business since the 70’s working retail. In 2004, my wife and I moved to upstate New York and I opened a record store. Two years in, I had people saying that they loved how I promoted their stuff and that I should start a label and they would love to be on it. I thought about it. So, I signed a couple artists. One of them is still with me to this day. So, seventeen years in, and that’s how it kind of got started. I had never planned on opening a record label, it just happened. I didn’t know nothing about the business per say. I didn’t know as much as one should know, and so for a couple years, I really didn’t do much because the albums, once they were out, the bands were no longer promoting it and I was still promoting it, but it was old news. I thought to myself, well if this is going to be a viable thing, then I’m going to have to add more people to our family of musicians. So, it slowly started out and that’s how that happened. The radio station that I started was because again, I thought that not only my musicians, but other musicians needed a voice. Another channel because basically, FM radio is pretty much dead. It’s not like it was in the seventies when you had Casey Kasem who promoted all this new talent, or even all the T.V. shows. So, that’s where that came about, and then I was a DJ on the air as well for some years. Again, for the same reasons, to promote not only my artists, but other artists to give them a voice.

SFL Music: Is there any advice you would give to someone looking to have a music career in that aspect?
Katona: Into being a record label or as a musician?

SFL Music: Both, from your experience.
Katona: I would say if you want to get signed, the first thing you have to do is be your own person. Become a brand and I don’t mean it in a type kind of way. I mean, reach out to your friends and fans and build a brand. Build yourself. Put out great music videos. Perform live, if you get in a band. If you don’t and you’re not a touring musician, it’s different. One suggestion I always have to musicians is on social media for example. Don’t just say I got a new album out, I got a new album out, I got a new album out, every single day. People don’t, you know, they’ll get tired of it. So, Instead I tell them to not only promote their product, but promote other bands that they like maybe or some interest that they like because what that does, it creates subliminal promotion. What I mean by that is, so I posted a photo of a flower today. Well, one of my friends happens to like flowers, so they’ll repost it and then their friends see that flower that aren’t friends of mine. Now, they’re gonna say, “wow, who’s this guy that likes flowers,” right? I just used that as an example. I don’t do flowers, but you get the point, right? So, if I’m posting that my favorite band is or I went and saw this concert, then again, it’s the same thing. So, you really want to build a fan base, and in order to do so, you can’t just go out there and say, hey I got a new song out or I got a new album out, every single day, all day long. As far as a musician goes, I would have to go to Joe. I think it’s really important to really work hard. Learn as much as you can. I’ve had a lot of musicians that I’ve interviewed over the years. I’ve asked them what made them a better musician and the one thing that most of them always said, they’ve always tried to perform or be part of musicians that are better than themselves because then you strive to be to the next level. If all you want to do is play with people who are not as good as you because you want to make yourself look good, it’s just you look good. You’re not gonna go anywhere.
Deninzon: Yeah.

SFL Music: That’s wonderful advice. “Frame By Frame”, I saw the video, it’s great! What inspired you to do that song (originally by King Crimson)?
Deninzon: We like to do some covers once in a while. That song just spoke to me. My voice is in the same range as Adrian Belew, so it’s easy to sing, comes very natural. The ostinato part that Robert Fripp played on guitar works really well on the violin. It’s a crowd pleasure. Prog fans love it and it’s fun to play. We have a studio version, but I actually preferred the live version that we did at ProgStock. It just came out really well. Video came out well, so I wanted to share it as another teaser for people to get the full box set.

SFL Music: Are there going to be any new videos coming up?
Deninzon: I know the song we want to release as the next single, and I have to figure out how we’re going to do the video. I’m really bad at making up my mind (he laughed) which direction we want to go, so we have to start brain storming that, but there will definitely be a video for that. Probably early next year or maybe in March or something.

SFL Music: Nick, what do you want people to know about Joe’s new album?
Katona: Oh my God! What’s not to say about the new album? There are those live albums that you look at throughout history that were great albums, right? This I think really falls in the line. I mean, if you look back at like Jimmy Buffett’s first album or the Eagles Live or Kiss ALIVE! or Kansas, their first live album TWO FOR THE SHOW, Styx Caught In The Act. This album, it doesn’t sound like those albums, but what it does is, it captures that same kind of environment. The feel and emotion that those albums capture, and I think fans and people listening to it or watching it, can relate to that. It draws you in, and there’s a lot of live concert videos out there that I’ve watched and I’m going, this is boring. It’s just four guys standing up there in plaid shirts looking like zombies, but not this video. I mean, Joe’s all over the place. The band is animated. They have fun together and they really draw you in. The only thing that’s missing is the smell, and when I mean smell, I mean that smell of a live audience. You know, when you’re there, there’s a smell. The perfumes and the colognes and the beer and the popcorn.
Deninzon: And the weed.
Katona: Yeah, there you go. So, there’s that one thing that’s missing. I even actually own a couple of the DVDs where I saw the actual tour and have the DVD, and the DVD is boring. I’ve seen Joe live. In fact, I saw him on these two tours and the DVD is not boring, and I’m not saying that because he’s here in the chat room with us.
Deninzon: The bribe worked!
Katona: Thank you. The Rolls-Royce is really nice!
Deninzon: It’s the least I can do.

SFL Music: Is there anything else new coming up that you want fans to know?
Deninzon: One of the things I made a decision to do for this live video, ‘cause I kind of edited it myself. It’s something I learned during the pandemic when I had a little more time on my hands. I learned how to edit video, and we created background footage for our show and I have the raw footage. So, I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to kind of integrate it into video so people that have seen the show get more of an enhanced experience if they have a souvenir of it? I try to balance it with just raw live footage, but I think personally it enhances the video, the experience. You see some of the images behind us jumping in your face a little bit, emerging with the band. I try not to overdo it, but that’s something I thought would be fun. Yeah, outside from this new album that’s gonna come out, my priority is Kansas, but we have shows coming up more regional. So, we’re gonna have shows coming up scattered every few weeks or every few months, whenever I’m not touring, but it’s gonna be an event because we don’t play live that much, so people should come out and see the band.

SFL Music: Was there anything else you want to add?
Deninzon: I want to thank Nick because just being on his label has been amazing. I’ve met a lot of great musicians. Nick is all heart, just passionately loves music. He’s a great friend to all the artists on his label and supports them, and I’m just very grateful to be in his orbit and to call him a friend.
Katona: I would have to say ditto on that. I mean Joe, I actually get live performances for free when he comes to stay with us which is really kind of cool. A little fringe benefit there. So, we signed Joe in 2017 for his GUILTY OF INNOCENCE and it’s been nothing but a joy since. I can’t even imagine not working with this gentleman. I mean, he’s not only talented, but just a really nice guy and again, thank you for the Royce (he laughed).
Deninzon: Anytime!
Katona: But seriously, what I would suggest is that people go out and check out Joe. He’s all over. He’s on Instagram, he’s on Facebook, he’s on Bandcamp where you can buy his stuff. He’s on Spotify if you’re a streamer. He’s on Amazon and Apple. Just google Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius.
Deninzon: I think the best thing to do because when I say it on the radio or an interview is, go to joedviolin.com. Mush easier to spell than my actual last name. joedviolin.com or Stratosband.com and those are like the central hubs from which you can link to YouTube, Spotify, Bandcamp. All the things that Nick just mentioned.

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