Interview with Cyrille Verdeaux
© By: Lee Henderson 2015
I did this interview with Cyrille Verdeaux over the months of February and March 2015. It was a pleasure to get such detailed and personal information from him with so many subjects concerning not only his multiple versions of Clearlight, but also about the music business both then and now. Having spent so many hours with the music involving Cyrille, I have always felt a close bond with the scene of the progressive rock 70’s which explored all these fantastic worlds. Cyrille was certainly a big part of that world for 40+ years, with his creation of Clearlight Symphony, Clearlight, and so many solos and the often forgotten Delired Cameleon Family album. Those were classics of the magical music he has produced.
LH= Lee Henderson (me)
CV= Cyrille Verdeaux (man of magical music)
LH: You’ve been in the music business a long time. Tell us what was the first record that you ever played on?
CV: Easy : the first record has been the Clearlight Symphony. It was also the 1st time I was going in a true recording studio. I loved it right away and learned fast what opportunity a multi-track mixing board was giving me. Everything in this album is improvised on the spot, having only the piano part more or less memorized when I walked in the studio. I have always been surprised by the success of this 1st album, full of little imperfections. Fortunately, Tim Blake as a sound producer of the 1st side was here to help me with his experience and advice !
LH: What age did you begin playing piano? Do you play other instruments as well?
CV: My mother put me a front of a piano with a teacher at 5. In fact, the piano was in our living room before my own birth, a Pleyel half grand…My fate was sealed right away because I began to hit the keys as soon as I could stand up.
LH: Clearly you have a classical foundation on keyboards. When did you take an interest in electronics and space music and who were influences on that?
CV: In the early 70’s came in France Pink Floyd and the German Cosmik rock with Klaus Schulze, Tangerin Dream, Ashra Temple, Kraftwerk, etc. and I liked a lot what happened in their concerts…Some magical experience…Later I went to India and studied a bit this music with a sitar…Some more magic, clearly…These music from other centuries and around the world are in my inner computer and I do my music with all these elements, like a french cook prepares his dish with all the aliments he has to his disposal, I guess…
LH: How did the group Clearlight Symphony come about and what about the name?
CV: It was few months after the end of my first band, Babylone, in 1973, led by Christian Boule (RIP). Most of the Babylone ‘s repertoire has been recorded few years later (1978) in good conditions in a recording studio and distributed first by Polydor and after the premature death of Christian Boule, by Musea. It is called Photo Musik and I sound produced and played the keyboards on it as I was doing in Babylone few years before. Releasd by Polydor in 1978 that also was distributing the same year my 3rd album, Clearlight Visions. Even now, these 2 album sound really good, with Gong and Hillage influences on Photomusik.
Back to 1974…I recorded what became later the Clearlight Symphony with a 4 tracks TEAC one night of full moon (in the sky with Lucy). I had only to my disposal my Pleyel half grand piano. This night I was all alone and spent most of the night playing and recording. It was a true “clear light” experience as it is described in Timothy Leary’s books. This is why the title of this music couldn’t be difficult to find. I had no idea that I would base all my future career on this very first recording though. I began to share this piano demo with some friends involved in musical reviews but they all said they couldn’t help me with this tape (2 pieces of 20 minutes each non stop, totally non commercial, compared to the requirement of 3 to 4 minutes songs that the show biz was imposing to musicians for radio broadcasts.) But one of these guys liked it and saw its potential, I guess, Jean Pierre Lentin (RIP) from the underground magazine Actuel ! Sometimes, one is enough and makes a great difference, because he is the one that suggested that I show it to Virgin. Why ? Because Tubular Bells, the first album released by Virgin, very new on the market, was beginning to become a big hit thanks to the great success of “The Exorcist” movie, were a few lines of Mike’s album were used. By coincidence, this album was also made of 2 parts of 20 minutes each, I guess this is why Jean Pierre suggested me to go to Virgin’s office. He gave me the address in London of the squat of Tim Blake, Gong’s synthesist (In London, a lot of artists were living in free squats in the 70’s). I had met already twice Tim when Babylone was playing in the same festivals than Gong.
So I took my precious tape under the arm, bought a boat ticket Paris-London and arrived in London with, as only tip, Tim Blake’s squat address, period.
Luckily, I found also there my future manager, a French English teacher named Jacques Reland, that was sharing the squat with Tim and his girl friend Brigitte. My English was very bad at the time, so I was needing a guy assisting me to meet Virgin’s A&R, (named Simon Draper) and I proposed to Jacques to be the translator, to study for me the contract and this is how he eventually became my manager during the 4 next years. Simon Draper was Richard Branson’s right arm. In spite of the low quality level of this demo (nowadays, it would be totally utopic to hope to have the attention of any A&R for more than one minute with such a sound, but in this blessed time, everything was yet possible, especially at Virgin). Simon accepted and proposed a recording contract. Few weeks after, the contract was signed in Branson’s office. I was really happy. Tim Blake also signed the contract as artistic producer for this project. When I returned to France with the contract, I began to look for musicians. Virgin was a good name already and I could find easily the musicians needed. Tim helped me to convince Steve Hillage and Didier Malherbe in London and I took care of the French crew (Christian Boule and Gilbert Artman) in Paris…
LH: Did Clearlight have success playing live at any time? Any video of the band playing live?
CV: I did only one tour with Clearlight. It was in opening act of a Gong’s tour in the UK in 1974. That was it and at this time, the light video cameras didn’t exist, so nobody filmed us…I wish I could do more tours and more gigs, but it has been too difficult to organize. Virgin ended the contract after 2 years because I couldn’t move for England as Branson was strongly requesting (My wife was pregnant and didn’t want to leave Paris and I didn’t want to leave my pregnant wife, so this is how it ended with Virgin, stupidly…) and without Virgin’s money, impossible to put together something decent…Nobody in the french show biz could do that, this is how my stage career ended prematurely. I tried again to form a band in the US at the beginning of the century, but just before the beginning of the tour, the drummer Shaun Guerin killed himself for a stupid familial conflict and I dropped the idea to try again a band…Way too difficult without a powerful structure…
LH: What were some of your favorite albums in your youth and why? How about favorite records throughout your life?
CV: About my first influences, it has been very open from the start, I was hearing the music that my parents were listening (they love classical instrumental), the music that my big brother (7 years older than me) was listening (he loves essentially jazz and became later a good trumpet player and one of the pillars of the Jazz Hot club de France) and the music that I could get with my little transistor radio, basically the first hours of rockn’ roll, with Chubby Checker, Little Eva, Ray Charles, Bill Halley, Cochran, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and of course the franco-belgium local rock star glory, Johnny Hallyday. At 11 years old, (1960) I received as birthday gift a little teppaz turn table. I started to buy records on my own with my pocket money when my friends were buying candy bars. Then came Pink Floyd, Tangerin Dream, Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra (one of my all time fav is Apocalypse, with the London Symphonic and JL Ponty). I also appreciated a lot Genesis and then Gabriel alone, Gong, and in general all the music of the world played with the heart and a good virtuosity (for the energy)
LH: We’re well aware of the big changes in the music world. So many to talk about but what have you seen change that bothers you the most?
CV: People can download for free everything they want from their home. This is why my personal humble indie online record Cie, clearlight888music.com went almost bankrupted with a 90% drop on the sales (as many others) so this is obviously what bothers me the most ! And what should bother all true music lovers…Because this is the end of the independent creation and I don’t think it is good news…let’s wait and see if I am right or wrong…Right now, I have all my CDs and digital files available on www.cdbaby.com. This label is the ONLY ONE to pay me my royalties, so please, reader, go there to order if you want to know my music and nowhere else…That will help me to continue…
LH: I actually bought both the first and second Clearlight albums at the same time since it was the release of “Forever Blowing Bubbles” in which the store owner of my favorite record shop (and the only one in the area who carried most of the more eccentric import albums in those days) recommended them to me. I had bought all of the Gong albums up until then so seemed like a good bet I’d love these he said. He was right of course. Both albums had eye catching artwork and glossy album covers (as did many import records of that period). What can you tell me about the artist who did both covers? Did you choose those artworks after they had been created or did the artist do them specifically for the album?
CV: The artist Jean Claude Michel (RIP) was my friend prior to my first album’s recording. I was greatly appreciating his art and his way of transcending human bodies. He was very precise because he was working at this time as an illustrator for medical anatomic books. So he came with this idea of psychedelic head and everybody liked it right away, including Virgin, of course.
As the 1st album was a success, I naturelly asked him to draw also the 2nd album’s cover with the bubbles…He also made the 3rd one, ” Delired Cameleon family” . After that, I tried other friends as well, like Sergio Macedo (Clearlight 'Visions') Jean Sole ('Les Contes du singe fou'), etc.
Each time, I choose the topic of the cover and the friend-artist executes it with his own talent. I am also very happy with the cover of Impressionist Symphony executed by Thierry Moreau. As a vinyl format it would have been a killer cover !
LH: “Forever Blowing Bubbles” was even more broad in it’s scope of styles and with some shorter pieces than your debut. It felt like Clearlight had found it’s own style and put it into concrete. What was the thinking process on this second album?
CV: In fact, I always had the tendency to never do twice the same thing in life…It concerns also the music, this is why I don’t write music on paper. I improvise, record it and after only I work on the piece to give it a final shape with a logical beginning, a middle and an unexpected end when it is possible. So the 1st album was 2 endless pieces of 20 minutes each. A nightmare for radio programmers…This time, the pieces were shorter and were developing several styles, including strings arrangements with real strings, not a mellotron, for instance, and a middle age kind of song, Narcisse and Goldmund. …But the Clearlight Symphony remains my most popular album even after 40 years ! Some magic here probably.
LH: I spent many a euphoric hours listening with headphone to those first two albums, letting myself just float around with the music, wherever it took me. The music was perfect with headphones and I was wondering if thought was given to how things were arranged and/or mixed in the final engineering?
CV: Of course, the stereo mixage of all the tracks was purposely executed. I had appreciated the wonderful stereo work on the Beatles albums few years before and I wanted to give the same pleasure to the listeners of my music, so I thought of many little details to make the music more enjoyable, especially with headphones. It is still the case in my recent albums, such as Infinite Symphony (2005) and Impressionist Symphony (2014). In fact, the mixage of 24 tracks, sometimes more, into 2 stereo tracks is the last but also the more important stage of the whole creative process.
LH: This may be a hard question but which of all your albums is your favorite and why?
CV: Not that hard to answer…My favorite is my last one, Impressionist Symphony,no doubts about…Not a single little mistake anywhere, thanks to the Protool master, Don Falcone, my sound producer for this album, great musicians such as Hillage, Blake, Malherbe, Sears, Fry, Kovacks, etc. play on it, plus some strong compositions inspired by the impressionist painters (double cultural opus, then) so I am glad to end my career with this one…
I am not glad to end my career, but at least I end these 40 years of recording with my best opus.
LH: Do you think a musician would stand a chance of getting their music recorded and published then making a living at it in the present day if they stuck to the progressive rock style or avant-garde of any mix of styles?
CV: My answer is clearly ” no”. Of course you’ll always find exceptions that confirm the rules. The main problem with these styles of music, is the reduced number of supporters attracted by it. Let’s face it, the prog rock and talented “avant garde” doesn’t attract the crowd that will massively go to Lady Gaga or David Guetta’s concerts. Multimedias and video clips are only interested in the Lady Gaga-David Guetta group… Huge handicap for the prog rock-avant garde group. No fairness and meritocracy in this business.
LH: What will be the future of a musician’s life as you see it? With the near death of the CD, and the revival of the vinyl album to some extent (which I cannot figure out), but downloads everywhere and anyone at any time being able to put out a record?
CV: With these free digital download platforms that ruin worldwide all the small labels of independent music and even the big ones, I don’t see how this system could give opportunities to independent musicians to make a living with music. It can be a hobby, a passion, but certainly not a way to get rich and to finance a family. To go into the therapeutic cannabis business is certainly more rewarding ! After 40 years of activities and 20 albums released, I am personally at the level of a beginner to find a way to continue to record, but I don’t have anymore the energy I used to have to climb mountains, so I let it be.
LH: Do you feel you have some more recordings left in you? What things do you still have in mind, that you’d like to put out there? Any projects that you can tell us about in process?
CV: As I said just before, since I can’t sell properly my back catalogue albums and Gonzo multimedia, (the label that releases my last album Impressionist Symphony in vain so far), can’t count on my music to be a good money maker for them, I frankly don’t see how I could possibly finance a next album at the same level of quality that my latest. Only God and myself know how many hundred of hours it took to go to the end of the process for Impressionist Symphony’s existence, not to mention several plane tickets Brazil-California for the recordings and final mix. It also included scores of writing for the musicians. Most of them record their tracks on their home studios and send it by mail to Don Falcone that was gathering them on his Pro Tool system until everything was recorded…Countless hours of highly specialized work, and all that for not a single cent to share for anybody at the end ? As a result, I have no more money to invest, no manager, no group, no musical equipment, not a real support from the “fan club” so nothing happens next, even if I wish to continue to record one concept album per year, to sell it and go to the next, sell it, etc. But it is not what happens at all…Yet, any producer interested can contact me. Any band manager interested to finance a band Clearlight with my powerful repertoire to play on stage can contact me. I never said no to any honest proposal (even to play for free for a good cause). To contact me is easy, my e-mail is in my website www.clearlight888music.com.
So far, nothing…for years…
LH: I have had a chance to listen multiple times to your latest Clearlight recording “Impressionist Symphony” and will be adding a link to it from this interview… It’s a wonderful release and it gets better with each track. There seems to be a maturity about it that makes sense, as you have grown and gained more wisdom over the years.
CV: thanks for your appreciation. Coming from a music specialist and reviewer, it is even more precious ! I don’t know if my “wisdom” has grown over the years (I hope so, though…) but surely my instrumental technique has and so the instruments and numeric tools such as Pro Tool or Cubase that make recordings and mixes a lot faster and easier than before, when everything was analogue and done in expansive recording studios. Here, everything has been done in humble home studios of different friends because I have nothing left in terms of recording machines, having no more gains with CD sales, my main activity to make a living with my music…
LH: Can you tell us if the project was planned and composed in the order that the songs appear or was it more random?
CV: Yes, the impressionist music project was planned for years but it has been long before I could meet the peoples interested to help me to record and mix it ! Facebook has been very useful on this matter, I have to say. About the order, it has been decided after the recording, to make sure that each piece is at the right place in the project. For the listeners, the 2 first pieces are important and the last one too. So its important not to make strategic mistakes…The CD business is already difficult enough like that !
LH: How did you feel working with the Pro Tools and with some musicians over the internet verses in person? Did this change he experience or the way you made the music ?
CV: As I said before, without Pro Tool and internet, this album would just not exist at all except in my head. So I am very grateful to all these scientists that made it possible. Concerning the recording itself, it didn’t change much the way I record music. I usually record first the piano and then I add the other musician’s tracks one per one. This time, I sent them the piano file with precise time indications about where to play, where to stop, what style I wanted to hear, sometimes I did send music scores when I wanted special melody lines…
When I could meet them in person and guide their recording sessions, I did. It has been the case for Paul Sears, Craig Fry, Vincent Thomas-Penny, Didier Malherbe, Remy Tran, Don Falcone, so it has only been Hillage, Cushma, Kovacs and Blake that I couldn’t meet in person for geographic reasons.
LH: If the chance presented itself, would you consider doing yet another Clearlight project with other musicians in the future?
CV: I certainly wish I could but CD sales don’t seem to be high enough to let me hope such a future project, in spite of a honorable number of good critics like yours, a superb 12 pages booklet, etc.. I really don’t know how to explain this situation. In fact, I know, I can only see the extensive use of free download platforms to explain this new commercial failure. What can be done legally to stop them, I have no idea. It seems the scary FBI warnings are useless on the matter ! Right now, not only I didn’t make a single cent on this album after one year, but I owe money to the label that released it…! 50% of the cost of the making, mastering, cover, PR promotion and so forth are on me by contract and sales are too weak to get me even to the price break point of zero. Besides, not a single proposal of soundtrack music has been issued. Nothing..Nada… So who could seriously think of insisting to give away hundred of hours and spend money just to have the right to work for free after 40 years of professional activity ??? I guess I am too old now to continue to experience such an unfair and now unbearable treatment.
LH: If this is your final Clearlight album, it sure is a fine statement and lovingly done work. Perhaps you’ll do more work solo or with other bands?
CV: I don’t think so…Who would now continue to help such a serial looser as myself, frankly ? This is it…Nothing will happen next unless a miracle occurs…
I have done more than 20 timeless albums, as soloist, with bands…People interested can begin by discovering and purchasing them. Most of them are available at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/cyrilleverdeaux I also have a page soundcloud with over 3 hours of free mp3.
LH: You’ve been gracious with your time and energy answering these question. I want to thank you so much for the experience and I am certain both fans and newcomers will find your thoughts of interest.
CV: My pleasure. I am sorry to have ended with these sad comments but I won’t lie to your readers : the global situation for indies is bad, not only for the musicians but also for the listeners ! At least, they can count on the music of the 70’s, that has some timeless magic in it. For instance, “Apocalypse” from Mahavishnu Orchestra , that I consider as the best fusion music album of the XXth century. Also the great Ancients : Bach, Tchaikowsky, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Ravel…To listen to this music increases the intelligence and positive emotions. This is how I consider what true music is and this is with all that in mind that I compose it. AUMMMM (the root of all sounds)
LH: I sure look forward to anything you participate in or decide to do musically.
CV: thanks for your questions. I will let you know if the miracle in question happens, but it is difficult to believe in miracles with what is going on here below…scary climate changes, senseless religious wars, endemic corruption of the politicians in all Countries, crazy capitalist system, the entire World needs a series of miracles to give a chance to our children to have a decent life, and I see it happening nowhere…as if we were alone to deal with all the problems we are creating with our destructive selfishness. I know it doesn't sound very “optimystic” , but wisdom is also useful to see reality as it is and how vain it is to put artificial colours where there are only boring nuances of grey…
God bless you all…