Interview with bass player, composer and arranger Franc O’Shea

Franc O’Shea is the mastermind of Alkimia, his latest project as a producer, on which he was the bass player, composer and arranger of all the material, and also the sound engineer. The result of this remarkable effort proved to be fabulous. The music of three cultures is fused with art and spirit in an unique, original concept. Franc O’Shea is also a fine intellectual aware of the challenges that artists face today, yet confident in his art and creative power.

JWQ: In ” The Power of Myth” Joseph Campbell said :” Myth must be kept alive. The people who can keep it alive are artists of one kind or another. The function of the artist is the mythologization of the environment and the world.” Do you share Campbell’s view? Can we still think about a certain mission of the artist in the actual world of show business?

Franc O’Shea: I do think that myth is important in the sense of it being a gateway to the spiritual. To me it goes beyond just pure myth and is a doorway to a reality that exists at a different vibrational frequency. The artist definitely has a mission to keep that doorway open whilst preventing themselves from being drowned in the quagmire of commerce. But for someone like me it isn’t a problem as the music I make has its eye on creativity as opposed to being strangled by commercial concerns. This is why I set up my own label so that I didn’t have some A&R guy with dollars signs in his eyes breathing down my neck. I look back over some of the albums that have actually been, in the long run, commercially successful but where the artists have maintained their integrity like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. What will really endure for centuries is the timeless beauty that is being channelled through the artist and not how many dollars were poured into the marketing campaign.

JWQ: What would be the message conveyed by the music of Alkimia?

Franc O’Shea: There is not direct message being conveyed by Alkimia, rather more I liken it to a finger pointing to other realms and dimensions that we don’t encounter in normal every day life. I do really enjoy works that have vocals and lyrics but I think instrumental music is very special too. It’s like giving a blank canvas for the listeners imagination to play with. As with all music, I’m sure that not everyone will enjoy Alkimia but for those who are sensitive to its charms it’s possible that Alkimia will be very inspiring and maybe even healing. Alkimia does display an interesting merging of music from different cultures and improvisational elements within those cultures. In this sense, the musical message is that it is unbelievable how well these sometimes supposedly disparate branches of music have roots more in common than we may at first realise. Sometimes to me it almost seems like there are traditions around the world that have crossed over but haven’t been recorded in the history books and it’s not until you mix them together that you realise how snugly many of them fit.

JWQ: From a conceptual perspective is Alkimia a step ahead in a direction you may want to pursuit? Can you see Alkimia as a musical and spiritual voyage that may have continuity and lead to similar fusion projects later on?

Franc O’Shea: For me Alkimia is an expression of my life and, as I continue to grow as a being, I’m sure that my music will do the same. With music I’m like a child in a sweet shop, there are so many flavours to explore but I can’t but help being dragged down the avenues that have spirit. These avenues are where time stops still and in this stillness I began to realise that time itself is an illusion. For me the best music is where the artists connect with that, either on a conscious or subconscious level. This is definitely a voyage for me. I am continuously immersing myself in music from other cultures on a deep level melodically, harmonically and rhythmically. Sometimes, it’s like encountering ghosts from the past, almost as if I had played this music in a previous life.

JWQ: What were challenges in combining Spanish, Irish and Eastern elements in one coherent, organic work?They have some “natural” commonalties that make them “fuse” better than other?

Franc O’Shea: There weren’t any challenges for me because everything came so naturally. It wasn’t like I was trying to fit square pegs into round holes. In fact, it was very simple because, as I said before, these different styles work together so well that I am sure they have a hidden history. As I gather influences, I don’t actually start writing straight away. These different elements mingle in my head for a while and the connections happen naturally. A melody comes from here and a rhythm comes from there, they mingle and then it’s similar to someone turning a light on and off I go….

JWQ: What chances are for Alkimia to go on tour as a live project?

Franc O’Shea: I am putting a band together at the moment and juggling the logistics of the whole thing as I want to include some of the musicians from Spain as well as guys in the UK. It’s been great playing with guys like Jorge Pardo, Rubem Dantas, Juan Manuel Cañizares, Nan Mercader, Chema Vilchez and Serguei Sapricheff. All of them brought such a warm presence to the record that I am indebted to be blessed with being the perpetrator of such a musical occasion. Some of this music was developed originally through my band that I had put together in England just before I moved to Spain. This was with Ollie Boorman on drums, Tom Phelan on keyboards, Philippe Barnes on flute and Benjamin Sarfas on violin. It was so good to be involved with these very talented young musicians who weren’t, at that time, being given the credit that they deserved and were so open to this new fusion. They came with such a hunger that it was a revelation compared to playing with old pros who thought they have been there, done it and seen it all. Tom, Ben and Philippe were involved in the recording, and captured the spirit of the album so well that I was and still am genuinely touched by their contributions. The live band will include of course myself on fretless bass, Ben on violin, Philippe on flute, percussion, palmas, flamenco guitar, and many other special guests. These should be very inspiring happenings.

July 3, 2006