by Suzanne Rothberg
You might not have heard of the band Stratospheerius. It’s a rather unusual name for a rock ‘n’ roll band. But if you’reJoe Deninzon who has led an interesting life as the lead singer, a prominent electric violinist and jack of all trades, he defines the band’s name as their individual progressive rock sound and trademark.
NY Rock Music Examiner chatted by phone with lead singer, electric violinist and guitarist Joe Deninzon about the band’s new album, ‘The Next World’ and discussed this band on the rise to fame.
NY Rock Music Examiner: You will be appearing in New York City, What venues will you be at?
Joe Deninzon: I’m going to be playing at The Shrine located at 2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem for a CD release party on Thursday May 24.
Examiner: How did the band get its start and come up with the name?
JD: I moved to New York City in 1997 to pursue my Master’s Degree in Jazz and I recorded a jazz fusion CD (in Cleveland before I moved) My idea was I’m in New York with a CD ready to go—form a band and play some gigs. I was originally of the jazz-rock fame and was entering the freelance musician world with gigs and one of the gigs I was playing someone had a solo and someone said, “Oh, that’s up in the stratosphere, I should have brought mystratospheerius he was referencing the violin Stradivarius the Italian violin maker. The kind of music I was playing was more ‘bass rock’ up in the stratosphere. It was based off Stradivarius it’s not an easy name to remember but it really sums up what the band is all about.
Examiner: So you’ve been freelancing?
JD: Yes I’ve been a freelance violinist in New York, for 15 years now. I’ve played with various orchestras, well-known artists and I’ve done all kinds of interesting projects. Everything I’ve done it’s a wide-diversity of music—from middle eastern, Latin to classical to rock ‘n’ roll to bluegrass—everything I do seeps into the creative process what I write and write music for one of my bands. I continue to work as a freelance musician and I’m very happy being a musician is an amazing thing.
Examiner: You have very impressive credentials. The band was a winner in the John Lennon Songwriting Competition and you’ve also won the Online People’s Choice Awards in the Cornucopia Festival the band was named, ‘Best Jam Band’ in Musician’s Atlas Independent Awards. Must feel great to get all these accolades.
JD: It does feel great to be recognized—people that judge some of these awards I’ve had huge respect and admiration for—it’s especially humbling and complementary. One of the people that judged the Musician’s Atlas competition was Victor Whooten a great prominent jazz bass player (played with Bela Fleck) and one of my favorite musicians. That was a huge thing with many bands involved in that. This band was my brainchild I started it 10 years ago and it went through a lot of different line-ups. The music has developed into more of a song-oriented progressive rock project. I started singing more and I’ve always been interested in virtuosity of instrumental music as I have been in great songwriters and vocalists. So, reconciling all of the things I love with a long-term mission.
Examiner: You want to take the band to the next level? I know you played with many notables.
JD: We recently were signed to Steve Vai’s label, Digital Nation. I really respect Steve and he’s a really amazing rock guitar player. As a violinist, I was very much influenced by guitar players. I would say, Jimi Hendrix influenced me as much or more than Itzak Perlman. I consider myself a guitarist trapped in a violinist’s body! I grew up playing the guitar as well as the violin. The first instrument I improvised on was guitar before the violin. I was studying classical violin for many years. And then I studied jazz and rock guitar and at one point I learned to play rock ‘n’ roll on the violin and it’s just a matter of transferring the notes and the ‘musical’ language to the violin. I think that’s what set me on my path and inspired the way I play now.
Examiner: In January 2012, you published a book called, ‘Plugging In: A Guide to Gear and New Techniques for the 21st Century Violinist.
JD: Yes, this book I’ve been working on for three years—it’s basically the book I wish I had when I was 17. Half of the book talks about introduction to improvisation of blues, funk and rock ‘n’ roll and the other half is more technical gear oriented; talks about choosing electric violin working with an amplifier, working with effect pedals, things that a lot of street players are new at and it’s based on questions I’ve been asked repeatedly by intermediate and advanced students that I’ve had who were entering this world of music and it talks about all the techniques a street player has to learn in order to make a living. Unless you’re lucky enough to land an orchestra gig or a soloist, there are a lot of things that you need to do in order to be a full-time musician.
Examiner: One of your songs was in the soundtrack of the Will Ferrell produced movie, The Virginity Hit. It’s called, Scarlet’s Waltz. Is that the only soundtrack you’re on?
JD: There was also a movie soundtrack for an independent film I did called, ‘What’s up, Scarlet?’ That soundtrack I wrote with my songwriting partner, John LaBarbera. It came out in 2006 but it was a non-exclusive use of the music so Will Ferrell went out and produced The Virginity Hit and thought it would be cool to use in his movie. That movie was a fiction reality show it was about a high school kid trying to get laid. It’s like an ‘American Pie’ type of movie. There’s a song on the new album (The Next World) called Road Rage; which I hope will appear on a video game. We’ve been approached about using our music on the video game, ‘Rock Band.’ That’s something I’m going to be putting together over the next few months. They don’t have a ‘violin’ controller for Rock Band I don’t know what they’re going to do with that! (laughs).
Examiner: You’ve performed with Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow, Everclear, Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple, Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Mathis, Les Paul, Phoebe Snow, Jane Monheit, and Robert Bonfiglio etc. Did they specifically ask you to work with them?
JD: Well, every situation was different. We did a recording with Robert Bonfiglio he’s a classical harmonica player. And we wrote a bunch of tracks with Phoebe Snow. And Bruce Springsteen he was performing at Madison Square Garden playing his 1973 sophomore album in its entirety E Street Shuffle and they had a small string section that they put together and I played with for one song which he hadn’t performed in 35 years called, New York City Serenade. I’m a huge Springsteen fan and playing with him I was on ‘cloud 9!’ With Ritchie Blackmore, I played on two songs from his album, ‘Ghost of a Rose’ that was an individual collaboration.
Examiner: You also appeared as a soloist with the New York City Ballet!
JD: That was a piece called, ‘Red Angel’ written by Richard Einhorn. I was the second musician to ever play it the first was Mary Rowell. She was a friend of mine who recommended me to that engagement. It was a solo electric violin and dance recital. It was one of my great experiences.
Examiner: You played for former President Clinton, performed on MTV and at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Your music has been featured on CMT, VH1, ABC, Comedy Central, The Travel Channel, History Channel, Food Network and National Geographic Channel. You also taught at Mark O’Connor’s renowned String Camp and Mark Wood’s Rock Orchestra Camp.
JD: Yes, I’ll be returning to Mark Wood’s camp this year. I’m very passionate about education, which is why I wrote my book. There are new opportunities for street players and I love sharing the information that I have. Every person I teach at those camps, they’re very much individual artists. It’s fun to see those kids faces ‘light up’ when I teach them how to play the blues or when I work with a pedal it’s very inspiring!
Examiner: How long have you played the electric violin?
JD: I bought my first electric violin in 1995. It was a six-string solid body electric violin made by a man named Eric Jensen. In 2003, I bought a Mark Wood violin. He makes these incredible instruments that strap on to your back unlike the traditional violin. I still play my acoustic violin at least 50 percent of the time.
Examiner: Your latest CD, ‘The Next World’ is out now. It sounds like ‘progressive rock’ is that your primary musical influence. Who were your musical influences and was it progressive rock?
JD: I think my biggest influence was progressive rock. I liked Frank Zappa, Radiohead, and Dream Theater. It was the music that is in my heart and those were the people I was drawn to. I love Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). I haven’t seen any bands that are fronted by the electric violin and sing that do this kind of music. I’m a child of the 70s I think I was born 10 years too late! (he joked!)
Examiner: Sadly, the bassist Bob Bowen, died tragically in a bicycle accident in Manhattan in 2010. How did that affect the band and what was he like as a person and how would he best be remembered?
JD: Bob was an incredibly talented very inspired human being. He had a childlike love of life and music and enthusiasm and he encouraged everyone to have positive energy. He was also a great artist he did the artwork for the new album The Next World. I knew him for almost 13 years—we went to school together that’s where I met him. He played on one song on the new album and also on my 2010 jazz trio album. He was an avid biker and he was crossing a bridge into town and an on-coming truck ran a red light and hit him. He lost a lot of blood and was unconscious in the hospital for a week and then he died. The cover is his and it’s our way of honoring him.
Examiner: What’s next for the band?
JD: We’re already writing new music, I don’t know how soon we’ll record a new album but we’re writing and try to tour as much as possible. We want to play bigger venues and do some double bills with one national act are our immediate goal. We want to book more festivals we’re currently booking things for the summer and beyond. We’re launching a huge radio campaign for The Next World album.