(Sebastian Hardie, Windchase, & solo fame)
Interview with the former leader of Sebastian Hardie, Windchase, & solo fame:
VM: Dear Mario, thank you for your willingness to give an interview for ProgressoR. First please tell me of your relations with music from the very beginning. What were your favourite bands and performers at that time? And today?
MM: My father introduced me to the mandolin at age five and then guitar at eight. It wasn't long before I became a big fan of "The Shadows" and began transcribing their music and playing guitar along with their records. My dad was very proud and keen for me to perform, and around age nine I was doing what in Australian clubs is called "the floorshow", (a special showcase within the evening's entertainment).
In the mid sixties, along with the rest of the world, I became a lover of "The Beatles" especially John Lennon. I joined my first band at age twelve. The following years I got into Cream, Hendrix, Chicago, Yes, Mahavishnu, Focus and many, many more. I guess by the time I composed the "Four Moments" album, I had a broad range of influences, which also included orchestral music I was listening to at the time.
The late sixties, early seventies I feel, was one of the most innovative periods in Rock music, I'm so glad to have been part of it.
In the last twenty years or so I've been very active composing for film, it's been great, but the workload sometimes can be very intense and overwhelming, it doesn't leave much time to do anything else. When I do get a break I usually stay clear of music.
I still enjoy listening to The Beatles - Abbey Road etc - more their later stuff. I thought "Police" were fantastic when they were around, and so I always have time to listen to "Sting", an extremely talented man.
On the orchestral front, there are too many to name, but one of my favorites is Mahler. I also listen to lots of film scores. I think some of the best music written these days is the music composed for film.
VM: How have you been involved in the Progressive Rock movement and what were the bands that you've participated in before you became a member and one of the main masterminds of Sebastian Hardie? (Which, by the way, is still regarded as the best Progressive Rock band to come out of Australia.)
MM: Throughout my teenage years I was involved with various bands (The Menu, Clik, Fantasy) playing covers and some originals, but it was when Sebastian Hardie came along that things started happening in a major way. Your comments re Sebastian Hardie are very flattering, I am still very proud of the music we produced.
VM: Please tell me of the early years of Sebastian Hardie and the creation of the "Four Moments" and "Windchase" albums.
MM: Before I actually joined "Sebastian Hardie" in October 1973 we jammed many times at a place called "Stagecoach" which was a bit of a hang-out for music lovers - we loved playing on stage together and this flowed down to the audience, it was a great feeling all round. After I joined the band, we spent a year or so playing covers around Sydney and Melbourne. At the time the band had a recording contract with 'RCA' (BMG) and the record company were choosing the songs for us to record, however, we were able to decide the 'B' sides and that's when we introduced some of my original songs, 'Day After Day' and 'Since You Left Me'. These songs were much more indicitive of what the band was all about, and the direction we wanted to take. We were also performing our own 20 minute arrangement of Mike Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells', it was knocking people out everywhere we played, setting a high standard and a perfect warm up for our original material.
Four Moments - I began conceiving the various melodic phrases over a period of time and became excited by the idea of writing and ultimately performing an orchestral style piece. I knew I was on to something special and I wanted the world hear it. Sebastian Hardie was the perfect band for this.
At the time I was recording my ideas with a tape recorder that had the facility for bouncing tracks, hence I could psuedo multitrack the various parts. At rehearsals we then took the ideas and began to assemble them, it wasn't long before we were ready to perform what was to become the 'Four Moments' album.
"Glories Shall be Released" - part #1
The opening section and overture for the entire piece.
Lyrically the meaning can be taken a few different ways. I like to think of the positive aspects of them, although they were partly inspired about one of my boyhood friends who, as a result of taking drugs, became very confused about reality and what was reality in his mind. He was the drummer in my first band "The Menu". His sickness became worse, and years later he committed suicide.
"Dawn of our Sun" - part #2
The ethereal section, in contrast to the previous and following parts. A showcase for mellotron flute in A major, followed by vocal performance in A major, and then guitar feature in A minor.
"Journey through our dreams" - part #3
Developed by the band as we rehearsed and pieced together the other sections. The guitar and moog solos give a break to the rigid structure, it also bridges us to the final part.
"Everything is Real" - part #4
A reprise of the opening section and conclusion.
To my mind, "Rosanna" was the first serious piece I had written and it was the first time I heard the music clearly in my head. It was also a very emotional time in my life and I think that comes through in the piece. I named it after my older sister Rosanna, who I was very close to and was a great support to me in my growing years.
"Openings" evolved from the band jamming very soon after I joined.
VM: By the way, why did you name the band Sebastian Hardie?
MM: The original name, I believe was "The Sebastian Hardie Blues Band". A fictitious name just thought up by the original guitarist (Graham Ford) back in around 1967. The band's line-up was very different then and in 1971 they went their separate ways. Early 1973 they reformed with partly the same line-up, I replaced Graham Ford in October 1973 and Toivo Pilt replaced Steve Dunn (Keyboards) about a year later.
VM: Why did Sebastian Hardie disband after releasing two excellent albums? Was it because of you left the band to form Windchase?
MM: Looking back it's clear that apart from a few insignificent differences within the band, the main reason we broke up was money, or should I say the lack of it, and bad management. We never had luck with managers and the last one inadvertently drove a wedge between the front line (myself & Toivo) and the rhythm section (Peter & Alex). "Sebastian Hardie" ended way before it should have, we all feel it's a shame, I guess it was just fate.
VM: I've heard about the reunion of Sebastian Hardie in the middle of the 1990s. Also, as far as I know, the band was a part of the famous live show called ProgFest back in 1994. Please shed some light on all of these obscure yet significant, in my view, events. Was that reunion of Sebastian Hardie on the whole unsuccessful? If so, what are your thoughts on this matter?
MM: The Sebastian Hardie reunion for Progfest '94 was very successful and one of the most satisfying experiences I've had and I know the other guys in the band feel exactly the same way. We hadn't performed together for eighteen years, not since our final concert in Melbourne, Australia at (Dallas Brooks Hall -1976). We were contacted by promoters Greg Walker and David Overstreet to perform at Progfest and when we got together to rehearse, the magic was still there, we couldn't wait to perform to an audience again, especially to such an enthusiastic one and for the first time outside Australia.
The Progfest concert will always be a special moment in my career and we are all so glad it was recorded and immortalized on CD. After Progfest we thought about continuing to perform and perhaps produce another album, but the reality is, it's near impossible to do here in Australia with a band such as us. These days, there wouldn't even be 10% of the live music venues that were around in the seventies and that was difficult enough. I guess if we lived in the USA or Europe there would be much more scope, the band probably wouldn't have split.
VM: Now, please tell me of your creation 'within the precincts' of Windchase.
MM: The split of Sebastian Hardie seemed to reinforce Toivo's and my determination to continue. We had already begun writing before the split and it wasn't long before we recruited a rhythm section. We decided to call the band 'Windchase' as it linked us to 'Sebastian Hardie' and in the same breath it was a new and different band.
I think 'Symphinity' has a good balance of both mine and Toivo's writing.
VM: Why did Windchase, in its turn, also disappear from the map of Progressive Rock after releasing only one very good album, "Symphinity"?
MM: The honeymoon days of Windchase were fantastic and then the reality of trying to keep it together was another story. Basically the same reasons Sebastian Hardie came to end. It was very difficult to make a living in such a geographically large country with such a small population, and a genre of music that record companies worldwide were no longer supporting. It was too difficult financially to keep a consistent line-up and again, our management wasn't right.
VM: And after all, you have decided to start a solo career… The first album, which was released under your own name in 1979, was "Epic III". Please tell me a little of the creation of it. Also, why "III"? In fact, it was already the fourth official album, in the creation of which you've participated more than merely actively.
MM: I called it "Epic lll" because it was the third conceptual style, lengthy piece, a la 'Four Moments", "Windchase".
By the time I had enough new material for an album, my home studio had become equipped well enough to produce final product. Without the need of signing an artist deal with a record company I decided it was a good thing to do.
Conceptually "Epic lll" the title track was inspired by a dream. The inner jacket artwork sort of depicts this. Lyrically, it talks of place where music is born. It really is just a crazy fantasy.
VM: There is a gigantic black spot on the map of your creation between "Epic III" and "Ocean of the Mind" albums, the last of which was released only recently. Didn't you create any new music during the last two decades? Weren't you actively involved in any musical projects all these years, apart from the reunion of Sebastian Hardie? I'm sorry if I am mistaken. (Please ignore those questions that you find inappropriate)
MM: Between 1979 -1981, I toured with my band to promote Epic lll and then in 1981 using nearly the same band line-up toured Scandinavia, this time to promote "Against the Wind" - a soundtrack album which I co-wrote and produced with long time friend and one Australia's foremost male vocalist of the time "Jon English", who also played the lead role in the 13 hour mini series of the same name. By the way, Jon English was the lead vocalist in the original Sebastian Hardie.
In 1982 I recorded my second solo album "Human Games" which was released in 1983. I was to showcase this album live as support act for "Santana" who were about to tour Australia, but at the last minute we were cancelled from the tour. I don't know why this happened but consequently the album didn't get the exposure that was vitally needed, and which this tour would have provided.
As each year passed, from around 1977 on, it was becoming more and more difficult to pursue a direction in music other than main stream pop, this frustrated me incredibly, I could no longer afford to keep a band together as venues to perform in Sydney were rapidly diminishing. Around the same time I was receiving offers to compose music for film. This was a new direction which I welcomed, and threw myself into it full on. Since 1983 I've enjoyed a very successful award winning career composing filmscores.
Throughout the nineties I felt the need to resume my career as a performer again and tried a few different projects that never quite got off the ground. After performing at Progfest I felt in my heart I needed to create something as special as "Four Moments". As it turns out, due to film commitments, I couldn't effectively do anything properly until around 1999 which was when I began putting together the ideas for "Oceans of the Mind"
VM: It's time to ask you to explain your current musical activity. Please tell me of the process of creating your latest album "Ocean of the Mind".
MM: The best way I can describe anything to do with creating "Oceans of the Mind" is that it totally captured my passion again, something I hadn't felt for a long time. From the day I began writing and throwing around rough ideas, it felt right and I was achieving fulfilling results from day one. As it progressed to the final recording stage, it kept getting better and better. The excitement I was feeling had me totally captured day after day and I immersed myself in it. Not since "Four Moments" had I felt like this, I savoured every moment.
1999 to 2002 is quite a long time to produce and finally release "Oceans of the Mind", however, the reality is that I also composed and orchestrated the score for "Changi" a six hour television series which had me involved full on, from Dec. 2000 to Sep. 2001 and then I was commissioned by Columbia Tri-Star, to score a television movie of the week called "Heroes Mountain". Also the artwork took its course and time which added to the delay in releasing "Oceans", but it's all been worthwhile.
VM: Finally, what are your thoughts on the future of your musical activity? Will you continue to compose music and release albums?
MM: I've been composing music since I was twelve years, it's what I love doing and as long as I feel I'm writing/producing something of consequence I'll keep doing it. For now my thoughts are to present "Oceans of the Mind" in concert, hopefully "Oceans" will be successful enough to make this dream of mine happen.
VM: Thank you very much, Mario, for doing this interview. I wish you continue to carry on gladdening people with your music for many years to come.
MM: Thank you, it's my pleasure and I hope to able to continue writing and producing music that people enjoy.