Shari Black Velvet: Whisperwood is ‘progressive acoustic fantasy narrative’ music. What made you travel down a road to ‘progressive acoustic fantasy narrative’?
Eric Minella: Between the powerful influences of Roger Waters and J.R.R. Tolkien I had little choice but to end up on the road to progressive acoustic fantasy narrative. I’ve been writing concept albums since the mid/late 80s - it just seems to be the road that feels most comfortable underfoot.
SBV: Whisperwood is a concept album. What do you like about concept albums – and which concept albums by others do you admire?
EM: I see different degrees of concept albums. Some concept albums are a collection of songs that can be categorized under a common theme. Other concept albums have a more focused theme, such that the songs present a more complete perspective as an album than any one song does on its own. Such albums usually demand that the songs be played in a particular order. Finally, there are narrative albums, which tell a story. Pink Floyd has released all three types, and it can often be challenging to differentiate between them. I love concept albums because they are so immersive; I get so wrapped up in them. Rush and Pink Floyd have released some amazing concept albums; The Wall and Hemispheres are indescribably wonderful!
SBV: Whisperwood is the story of two brothers who become traveling minstrels. It shows brother Lokai’s redemption from vengeance to compassion. Do you think there are many people like Lokai in real life that go from vengeance to compassion?
EM: Unfortunately, I fear there are more people in fiction than real life who undergo such a transformation! Fiction allows for characters of greater extremes than we usually find in reality. Lokai transitions from one extreme to another. Nonetheless, there are people who have experiences that help them see that compassion is better for all, themselves included. My experience has shown me that many people, though certainly not all, mellow with age; aggression fades, cynicism becomes futile, bigotry passes, etc. I like to think that Lokai is representative of our culture as a whole. Our culture has an extremely negative relationship with the natural world, and i believe we are capable of remembering and restoring our balance with the natural world.
SBV: Do you think it’s possible for people to have both compassion AND vengeance at the same time? With some people in life being horrible, surely it’s only natural to possess a bit of both?
EM: We’re all saints and sinners! The most foul humans have something beautiful within them, just as the most compassionate humans have something foul within them. The goal is finding balance within and without.
SBV: On your website it says; ‘Harken back to the days when listeners reveled in an entire album in a single sitting. Delight in Whisperwood as a whole, rather than as individual tracks.’ Does it disappoint you when people listen to one song rather than listening to the full Whisperwood album – and that people don’t care so much about a full album experience, and just listen to individual tracks?
EM: Honestly, yes! I debated for a long time about offering Whisperwood for sale as individual tracks, but finally gave into the fact that most people live a fast paced, fast food, iPod kind of life. Few people actually sit down to listen to music anymore (or so I believe). But, oh the joy of turning off the lights, putting on headphones, and enjoying an entire album! Whisperwood is very demanding - clocking in at over two hours! People just don’t want to deal with that. So, I gave in and made it available for sale as individual songs, but I’m still conflicted about it. I hope to bring it to stage as a rock opera, which is the perfect setting for Whisperwood because then people will come to the theater in the right frame of mind; they will come prepared for a two hour narrative. Humans are funny - we can sit though three hour movies, but can’t handle two hour musical narratives.
SBV: Whisperwood is a two hour journey. Why did you make it last two hours in length?
EM: Well, that’s how long it took to tell the story. I wasn’t concerned with radio play or sales, I was only concerned with telling the story. I simply followed my inspiration and that’s how the project turned out. There was no conscious effort to lengthen or shorten anything.
SBV: You started Whisperwood in 1990. Why has it taken so long to create one CD?
EM: Because it’s a monster! No, just kidding. During the 1990s, the band was focused on other projects. Whisperwood was never quite on the back burner, but it never became the focus of my band either. My musical partner, Dave, and I continued to develop Whisperwood, always knowing that we would record it some day. That day finally came in November of 2004. It took four and half years to record because all the players had grown older, were raising families, and life had become more of a priority than being in a band. That long drawn out recording process was difficult at times, but I am thankful for it because it gave us time to reflect on every aspect of the project; many serendipitous wonders came out of that lengthy process.
SBV: Do you play many live shows?
EM: Currently, we don’t play any live shows. Only the drummer and I are musically active, and beginning another project. However, we are in the process of bringing Whisperwood to the theater as a rock opera.
SBV: You say ‘There is currently an effort to bring it to the stage as a theater piece’. When may we get to witness this? How much planning has happened so far and how near are you to making the theatre piece a reality?
EM: The process is just now moving from idea to reality. We have a director (though i will certainly be a co-director), the primary actor/singers lined up, and a basic outline of the production. My vision of the rock opera is that it will at times be actors singing their dialog (virtually every word of Whisperwood is dialog), at other times be a rock concert, and at other times be a blend of the two.
SBV: How do you hope the story makes people feel? Do you want people to become more compassionate after listening to the music – or watching the rock opera, when it becomes one?
EM: I want people to feel inspired and invigorated about life. I want people to feel more willing to tear down the walls between us. Most of all, I just want people to feel.
SBV: Have you watched many rock operas yourself and do you know exactly what you’re aiming for and what you need to make a successful rock opera?
EM: I haven’t seen many rock operas. I’m not concerned with financial success, only with artistic success and staying true to my vision. The director and theater troop that I’m working with produced a “successful” version the Who’s Tommy. The actor who played Tommy will perform the role of either Elric of Lokai. So, I feel confident that if I maintain my artistic integrity that the director and theater troop and will create something that audiences can enjoy.
SBV: Whisperwood features instruments such as the mandolin, violin and flute as well as usual guitars, bass, drums etc. What do these different instruments bring to Whisperwood?
EM: They bring diversity and an atypical ambiance for rock music. Mandolin, octave mandolin, violin, and flute help create a sense of fantasy. i was extremely conscious about instrumentation in Whisperwood.
SBV: You hail from Massachusetts but have ended up on the West Coast. It seems like a few people go from living one side of the US to the other. Why is that? Why did you choose to live in San Diego and what do you like about living there?
EM: Have you noticed where the red and blue colors end up on the U.S. map during a presidential election? Lots of blue on the coasts and lots of red in the middle. Seriously though, People in California and Massachusetts have similar perspectives and lifestyles. They are two of the most ‘socially progressive’ states in the U.S. You’d be amazed at how many people from MA move to CA. Interestingly, the weather is primary reason why people from MA move to CA, but is also a primary reason why they move back home to MA; they ‘miss the change of seasons’. You might say that the most significant difference between the two states is the weather! I moved to Tucson, Arizona with my band in 1989, and we continued west to San Diego in 1991 - partly for the weather! To be honest with you, my girlfriend and I talk often about getting out of San Diego because neither of us like the big city. We want a quieter, simpler life, but haven’t been inspired to go anywhere specific yet. When our road leads away from San Diego we’ll take it without hesitation, but will both be thankful for the years we’ve spent here.
SBV: You’ve been vegetarian for 20 years, and vegan the last ten of those. What was it that inspired you to become vegetarian and then go vegan?
EM: It’s a little silly, but it goes like this: I had never known a vegetarian nor had there ever been any direct influence upon me. I grew up eating meat, but disliking the taste of most of it. One day I was flipping through the dictionary (yeah, I was fond of reading the dictionary) and came across the word pig or pork accompanied by a small sketch of pig with dotted lines all over it showing which pork products are made from the various sections of a pig. In that moment it just hit me, I could not eat animals any longer. From that point on I began researching and found many other compelling reasons for being vegetarian. Eventually, my reasons developed well beyond animal compassion. Ten years later and after considerably more research I realized that I, like most people, had gotten it backwards—most people become vegetarian and then become vegan, but if you’re going to give up anything it should be dairy products first—it makes more sense ethically, environmentally, and for your health. I’ll quote a T-shirt I recently saw as a reason why I chose to become vegan, ‘I think therefore I am VEGAN.” However, I try to avoid the word vegan. People have their own definitions for the word vegan, and many common definitions describe an veganism as an entire lifestyle. Avoiding animal products completely is virtually impossible (think about all the animal products that are used just to get this interview from me to you and posted on the internet!). Therefore, I usually just say that i eat a plant-based diet instead of saying I’m vegan.
SBV: You also do design work and have designed flyers for vegan products/companies. Is there anyone you won’t design flyers for – for example meat companies or something like that?
EM: Interesting! As a matter of personal integrity, I will not do work for a company to which I’m ethically opposed. However, I’m a cultural and historic interpreter… I create historic programs for park visitors - everything from signs to portraying historic characters - very cool job… for a company that operates inside an historic park. The company I work for, among other things, operates three restaurants inside an historic park. All three restaurants sell meat, meat, and more meat, and alcohol, too. I do design work for the company, for the restaurants, and have even done alcohol specific designs. I haven’t consumed alcohol in 25 years and have been drug free for 15 years. I am at times conflicted about it, but ultimately, my plant-based diet is not about purity, it’s just a choice that I make and hope that I may have an influence on others. I can’t hope to stop a restaurant from selling meat, but I can influence individuals to consider their choices more thoughtfully.
SBV: You have a song on Whisperwood called ‘We Believe’. What do you most believe in and how do you believe your future will be?
EM: I believe the most significant issue the culture of civilization (which comprises almost every human on earth) faces is its own belief in its destiny to rule and control the natural world. I believe that the culture of civilization has suffered from a self-imposed illusion of dominion over all things for millennia. I believe that all other issues stem from this incorrect presumption of supremacy. I believe that individuals can break out of this illusion, nurture their relationship with the natural world, and further the process of transitioning the culture of civilization into the world’s first sustainable and balanced civilization. I believe civilization is a 10,000 year old infant. I believe we can grow up. I believe we must grow up quickly. I believe in creating opportunities for people to explore, discover, and fathom meaningful personal connection with the natural world. I believe that when individuals develop a personal sense of place they subsequently embrace the world entire, thereby making the world a better place.
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