RICCIO: I was in fourth grade! I either wanted to be a volcanologist, a herpetologist, or a film director – I don’t think being a musician ever crossed my mind. I’d started taking piano lessons by then at my mother’s urging, but I didn’t get serious about it until much later.
PROG: What was the first album you bought and how have your musical tastes evolved up until today?
RICCIO: The first albums I remember buying were the orchestral scores to Japanese Godzilla films. I was really into Godzilla as a child – I remember picking up the soundtrack to the American movie, as well, which introduced me to acts like Rage Against the Machine. I also listened to a number of albums from my mother’s collection, including Stravinsky’s early ballets, Mussorgsky’s ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ and ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, and Peter Gabriel’s ‘So’.
It wasn’t until college that my interest in classical music really blossomed. On that front, it’s the 20th century that holds the most interest for me – Messiaen, Crumb, Stravinsky, Bartòk, Dutilleux, Debussy, Ravel, Reich, Adams, etc. I expanded my interest in jazz in my college years – I started out with Coltrane, Miles, and Monk, and took particular interest in modal jazz, free jazz, and fusion. I also got to play in a Balinese Gamelan and see concerts in various styles – African music, Tuvan throat singing, Japanese taiko drumming, and more.
If I were to describe my musical trajectory, I would say that it’s been very restless. I’ve felt the need to constantly search for music which I find novel, stranger or more extreme, and that’s led me to all sorts of interesting places which have changed how I hear music.
PROG: How do you feel about your latest record, Interior City? How do you rank it against your previous projects you’ve been involved in?
RICCIO: Since Interior City is my first album and my most realized project to date, I like it best. I have some reservations about it, of course – I would have done some things a little differently if I could have, especially with the mixing and the editing processes – but I’m very proud of it on the whole. I’m completely happy with it on a writing level, and there’s nothing I would have changed about that. All of the players did a fantastic job – they were perfect for this project.
PROG: What was your primary songwriting influence, if any, for Interior City?
RICCIO: Early on in the process, it was Failure, a space rock band from the early ‘90s. I started listening to them right at the start of high school, and that did a lot for my engagement with music – I created piano versions of their songs by ear, and that led me to write my first piece for a real instrument – a solo piano work. Two songs on Interior City, Defense Highway and Inner Sanctum, were respectively the second and third pieces I wrote for piano, and they are both influenced very strongly by Failure. I arranged them into rock songs much later on, by which point I was incorporating many more influences into my writing.
Towards the end of the process, it was 20th century French composer Olivier Messiaen. My composition teacher at Swarthmore College, Gerald Levinson, was a student of Messiaen and Philadelphia composer George Crumb, so I learned quite a bit about both of these composers in school and immersed myself in their music. It was a hugely influential experience. The first song on Interior City, ‘Arrival in a Distant Land’, is an answer to the question ‘What if George Crumb were a singer-songwriter?’, and it also has a brief quotation of Messiaen’s transcription of the song of the nightingale. The second song, ‘Ranting Prophet’, quotes a motive which Messiaen used in all of his early works. There are many other spots on the album in which I pay tribute to Messiaen.
PROG: What contributes to the uniqueness of this project?
RICCIO: I’ve always had very unique perceptions of the world, and music is no exception to that. I want to hear truly original music, and that’s hard to find. That drive lead me to create a novel sound without really trying to do something weird or original, because I was just making the sort of music that I naturally wanted to hear.
I brought in a lot of experiences I’ve had which many people would consider strange, but which may be more universal than they appear. As a child, I saw another dimension superimposed onto this one, as if I lived in two worlds at once. Many would tell me that this was all a product of my imagination, as children frequently have imaginary friends and see things that aren’t there. I don’t know whether the things I saw were real or not, but it doesn’t matter to me – they felt real at the time. As I got older, I became more firmly rooted in this world and saw less and less of the other. Part of me wanted to regain the ability that I had lost, but part of me was afraid of it and never wanted to return.
I think it was these experiences which created my unique perceptions, and that uniqueness caused a lot of trouble for me. I had a very difficult time in school as a child, and none of the teachers quite knew what to do with me. I felt very alone and misunderstood. I’ve experienced depression at many points throughout my life, and have often felt a desire to leave this realm.
I managed to pull myself out of those mindsets by deciding that I was going to make a change. I tried RoHun therapy, an alternative form of therapy which may best be described as psychic surgery, in which you dismantle the beliefs and fears which are hurting you or others in some way. Regardless of whether you believe in the energy work aspects of the therapy, I believe it to have psychological validity, and it helped me greatly.
All of these experiences contributed directly to the story behind Interior City, and thus contributed to its uniqueness. ‘Arrival in a Distant Land’ was inspired by my childhood visions, while ‘Ranting Prophet’ is about the struggle to come to terms with being alive. ‘Fear of Humanity’ describes my depressed worldview while incorporating some of my thoughts on the negative effects of Westernization in an extreme, paranoid, self-parodying fashion. ‘My Alien Father’ was inspired by my father’s interest in alien conspiracy theories, but it also plays into the album’s larger themes of paranoia and escapism. Some of the album’s imagery is drawn from my dreams, and I actually first heard the song ‘Retreat Underground’ in a dream.
‘Curing Somatization’ draws heavily on the experience of RoHun therapy, providing the healing and resolution that occurs at the very end of the album. Musically, the album is cyclical, as the healing process is never truly finished – there will always be more to deal with. That doesn’t mean that confronting your demons is futile – by beginning the healing process and continuing it, we allow ourselves to move forwards and grow.
PROG: What’s your favorite track on Interior City and why?
RICCIO: The last track, ‘Curing Somatization.’ Paradoxically, it’s also the song I least want to listen to. It’s the most intense expression of feeling on the record – it was the hardest to create, and the most rewarding.
PROG: Is there any kind of concept or story that’s related to your record Interior City?
RICCIO: Interior City is a concept album following one individual’s struggle to come to terms with being alive, but it also extends to society as a whole. The main character is unable to come to terms with his own existence, and he descends into a world of negative thoughts, paranoia, and escapist drives – his Interior City. It is only through cutting himself off from the outside world completely that he is able to realize that the things he is running from are largely inside of himself – they are his beliefs, many of which originated from society, family, and the rest of the outside world. Others are much older – carried in from past lives or from the collective unconscious. Only by confronting these beliefs and fears directly and deliberately deprogramming himself is he able to overcome them and fully engage with the world.
PROG: Who’s the funniest member of The Gabriel Construct? (Please provide a ridiculous story if possible)
RICCIO: You can see video footage of a hilarious recording moment with Travis here. Sophia (violin) is quite funny, especially when she’s tired and starts talking in stream of consciousness absurdist poetry (which she also turns into art songs). Soren (saxophone) is also pretty funny – I’ve never met anyone who gets more excited over analyzing top 40 pop from a music theory perspective. As an example, there was one time that he got so excited about ‘3’ by Britney Spears that he literally listened to the song hundreds of times on repeat while studying. To show me why he was so fixated on the song, he pointed out the song’s use of triplets and the modal mixture alterations of scale degree 3, then told me that these devices acted as text painting and praised the producers for their ingenuity. It was both amusing and amazing, and it made me realize that a lot of cool things could be happening in seemingly vacuous music.
PROG: How did you get into progressive music in the first place?
RICCIO: I started listening to Tool in middle school. My piano teacher lent a few of their records to me, and I fell in love. My mother introduced me to Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis and ELP, since she had grown up listening to them. From there, I got into King Crimson, UK, Caravan and more. In early high school, I got into modern prog bands like The Mars Volta, Opeth, dredg and Porcupine Tree, in addition to bands like Meshuggah and ISIS who were pushing genre boundaries in a progressive way despite not being considered ‘prog’ in a traditional sense.
PROG: If you could put a band together of players from the 70’s from any prog group, combining them, mixing and matching them together, and have them play a concert in your backyard, what players would you bring together?
RICCIO: Assuming they would all get along, I’d get Bill Bruford on drums, Chris Squire on bass, Robert Fripp and Allan Holdsworth on guitar, Patrick Moraz on keys, and Peter Gabriel as the singer.