When I heard that there is a new Balance album I was really curious to hear it. And then there was the chance to get some questions through to keyboarder Doug Katsaros, so thanks to Doug for answering my questions. Enjoy reading!
Going back in time, please tell us, how everything started! And why you chose the name Balance?
I met Peppy because the woman I was dating at the time was an old girlfriend of his! And we hit it off immediately. One day, he called me to go to a rehearsal studio to learn some of his tunes, and there was Bobby Kulick and a bass player and a drummer and another keyboard player (the great Bette Sussman, musical director for Whitney Houston and Bette Midler, etc.) and Peppy started teaching us some songs, like we were already a band! He had spent most of his life in bands, and it seemed a natural place for us to meet. Bette eventually left, so there were 5 of us, but it soon became clear that Bobby, Peppy and I were the driving force. Peppy and I handled the bulk of the writing, and Bobby handled a great bit of the rock arranging, and certainly co-wrote with us. Our styles were so different - Peppy's pop sensibilities, Bobby's rock roots with Meat Loaf and Alice Cooper, and my theatrical and classical background - a perfect balance of musical styles - therefore the name, Balance.
In my opinion In For The Count is a great album, but you haven't become one of the big names in AOR. The album was produced by Tony Bongiovi and you had Leber / Krebs as business partner, so it seemed logical to hit it off.... Was it a lack of label support? Promotion? What do you think?
You nailed it - there was very little touring - no real headline tour, and the album promotion was minimal. Odd, because we were poised to really hit it big, then, Columbia simply closed dozens of locations, the same week as our record was released, and that was simply deadly. And we were GREAT live when we did play - the musicianship was unparalleled. I actually thought the first record Should have broken us out, but the first single was very pop and dance-y, and there was little room after that to follow up with the real fine AOR tunes like American Dream, or Looking For The Magic, or my favorite No Getting Around My Love... very sad.
I remember that I heard On My Honor first in 1982 at BFBS 'Friday Rock Show' with Tommy Vance - and it hooked me up right away. So there was radio airplay, but in that days it was essential to tour. Did you ever play live with Balance?
We opened for the Rossington Collins Band for a few dates, but the match was awful - they were southern rock and we were... Northern rock, I suppose. We also played with Hall and Oates for a bit, but we were a VERY strong opener, and I think they wanted a less flashy band... And we were teamed up with The Knack, but the venues were small. When we did play, the response was fantastic - what a rush to see complete strangers in the audience singing along with songs you wrote! Fantastic!
After the release of In For The Count you kinda vanished, what happened?
There was a falling out of sorts, and the record died, and the management and record companies were focusing on their 'premier' acts, and we were just lost in the shuffle, and we all had to scramble to refocus our lives - a very difficult time.
Most will know what Bob did through the years and you were active too - even if many probably won't know -, but what was Peppy Castro doing? And have you been in touch through the years?
Peppy has always been able to make music - he wrote countless tunes in the advertising world, and still plays live with the Blues Magoos, Barnaby Bye and Wiggy Bits. As I said, there was a falling out of sorts, but at this time in our lives, Peppy and I are good friends, and keep in touch often.
Now you have a new album Equilibrium. First, why a new album after all these years? Did fans ask you to get back together?
Bobby is responsible for driving up the interest in the band to new producers, and finally Frontiers made us a lovely worldwide offer that seemed really to nice to pass up. Look - I'm doing interviews already! And because of that, I have just recently discovered that our fan base is dynamic and fearless and plentiful! And I have been contacted by many of them, and I love them all!
How was it to work together again?
We never actually worked together! I was in Los Angeles, and played many of the keyboard parts at Bobby's studio, and I travelled to northern New York to work with Peppy singing and writing at his studio, and I laid in some final keyboard work at my studio in New York. The three of us never were in the same room! The drums were played by Brett Chasson, Bobby's engineer, and Peppy Bobby and Bob's brother Bruce (from Kiss) also lent his talent on bass. So the vibe was always terrific when I was with the guys, and there was no vibe otherwise - a very interesting project to say the least!
Equilibrium means balance... Why this title?
Well, Balance means Equilibrium! Haha! Bob thought of the title, and I loved it immediately - it just sounds like an important record, which, perhaps, it will be.
And who had the idea for this cool cover artwork?
André came up with the concept after listening to some of our music, and astonishingly, used the same colors and nearly the same lettering as our first album cover! We sent many revision ideas, and in the end, he was a pleasure to work with - I love his stuff.
The album sounds really 80's and has the warm authentic sound of analog recordings. And even the songs sound like in the early 80's - and I love it. Please tell us about, how you wrote the songs - as band or did someone came up with a song. And how did you record it to get this authentic sound
Many of the songs were actually written in the 80s for a third album which never materialized, of course, so the songs ARE authentically both from the period, and Balance oriented. I did a great deal of the writing, along with Bobby, and when we put this new work together, Peppy retooled many of the lyrics to express himself better. Peppy had some newer tunes, and Bobby and I rearranged them to sound like the old band - a labor of love. And to get the authentic sound, there is nothing like using the actual original members of the band playing vintage instruments! Bobby has a signature guitar style that has done very well for him over the years. I used both old vintage keyboards and some new computer generated sounds through Apple Logic that FELT like the old days. And of course, I played stylistically as I had in the band. And Peppy's vocals are unmistakable. Finally, we always had beautiful background harmonies, and Peppy and I had such a great time filling in all of the songs vocally!
Which song(s) shows the new Balance best? And why?
Liar has a fantastic hook! Old Friends is a classic anti war song - and what a soaring guitar solo! Crazy Little Suzie is Peppy at his wildest! And my work in Winner Takes All with the strings and that wacky 80s synth piccolo trumpet in the middle makes me smile! And everything else is pretty great too!
You always been active - and I want to talk about that a bit later - and so you know how much the business and the music scene changed. Is it more difficult these days compared to the early 80's? Or do you think it's more easy with the new technologies?
The business is no longer the same, that is for sure! And it is MUCH better for young artists trying to get seen and heard - the internet connects people to music they would never have had the opportunity to experience from all over the globe. Wonderful! And the record industry is no longer ruled by 4 or 5 egomaniacal record label executives! Of course one still needs both talent and follow through, but that will always be true. And of course, with the new computers and keyboards and workstations, making a beautiful record is so much more accessible now. My teenage daughters are making music I had to wait until I was 30 to do! Haha!
Can we expect more from Balance in future?
Time will tell, if we do more stuff together, I imagine as individuals, we will all work until we drop!
Doug, you worked with many artists through the years... Everything from Kiss and Bon Jovi to Frank Sinatra and B.B. King - to name only a few. How important is it for you to work with different artists? And who impressed you most?
My work is so crazy - I am a terrific keyboard player, yes, but I am not a member of bands that I play for - so very often, I am in a session where the 'artist' is not present - Frank Sinatra, Gloria Estefan, Cher, many times, I am brought in to fix someone else's bad playing, or to come up with a creative overdub on a virtually finished track, and of course, my classical background has come in handy over the years - I work with symphonies and orchestras, and do a lot of orchestral arranging - strings for Aerosmith or Live, Orchestra work for Darlene Love or Rod Stewart or Donny Osmond, even vocal arrangements for Gloria Estefan or Frank Sinatra! And piano work for Elton John, or Peter Paul and Mary - I am extremely respectful of the artists I have worked both with and for - for the most part, they deserve their stature, and have worked extremely hard at it for many years. I even feel that way about both Peppy and Bob - it is an honor playing with them, and my goal is to have them feel mutually about me, so I always give them my best, as I do everyone.
Which musicians influenced you to start playing?
I started when I was 3 years old, so I can't really say an artist influenced me to start. But the great jazzers - Billy Taylor, Oscar Peterson, and the wonderful conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein, were great influences. Keith Emerson was also an idol - taking the classics of Bartok and rocking them out as he did! And I was born on Tschaikovsky's birthday, and always felt a musical kinship with him. And it has always been great to actually play with artists I loved as a child - Judy Collins, Peter Paul and Mary, Peter Frampton, Richie Havens, etc. They are all influential, since they all require different styles from me.
You also did some movie scores, musicals and Broadway productions. And you even got a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Orchestrations for Altar Boyz! How do you got involved in these genres? And did the nomination surprised you?
I love live theatre. I work on Broadway because the element of theatre is part of my make up - and because I can read and write and orchestrate actual music, I am perfectly at home. Film and TV scoring comes naturally to me because I spend so much of my time as a composer, and the theatrical part of me enjoys setting a mood with music. The composer of Altar Boyz called me in on the project - he had worked for me some years before as a conductor for an opera I had written - what goes around comes around! The only thing that surprises me is that I don't get nominated more often! Haha! I have been nominated for several Emmys, Clios, and theatre awards, and with Marlo Thomas, actually won a Grammy!
Many rock fans and most metal heads know Dee Snider and you were working with him at Van Helsing's Curse. What exactly have you done?
Dee still rocks the house! Van Helsing's Curse is a huge live rockestra that performs on Hallowe'en, playing the world's repertoire of frightening classical music, put to a thrash metal beat, and interwoven with narration and singing by Dee - go to the website and look it up - it is awesome! I play the piano, harpsichord, horn and synth parts, all while dressed in full Vampire drag!
As a composer, orchestrator, conductor, writer, etc... What do you think about Trans-Siberian Orchestra? Its one of the biggest tour productions these days, as far as I know...
Mark Wood is as fine and inventive musician as I have known, and we have known each other on and off for many many years. His work with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra continues to be dynamic and inspiring, and twisted!
Is there still an artists you would like to work with? Or another music related dream which haven't come true?
Artists i would like to work with? ALL OF THEM! What fun would it be to learn so much from so many different artists, and to be able to share my talents with them in return? That would be how I would love to spend my days. As far as a musical dream - I have done so many things - conducted symphonic orchestras in London, Buenos Aires and Boston, played live in front of 30,000 fans, made music with some of the world's most beloved artists, toured to Cairo and Central America and Japan, written Broadways shows, and of course was a member of Balance! And even in Germany, it is a little known fact that I am the man who wrote the McDonald's song that Robin Beck sang for so many years - Einfach Gut! So, I guess the best dream would have to be that this new CD becomes as popular as the first two should have, and that somehow we realize the success of Balance on a more global scale. Oh yeah, and world peace.
What's on your schedule for 2009?
I am opening a musical I wrote called Orphan Train in upstate New York on February 1st, then I am touring with the brilliant Latino pianist Raul Di Blasio around Central and South America, I am scheduled to conduct some more orchestras in a concert I arranged featuring Judy Garland singing on film while the music is played live, and perhaps I will come over to you and say hi and do some promotion for Equilibrium! And thank you so much for your interest, and I want to thank the fans who read this - I love getting letters and emails, and I am always supportive of the musical efforts of my distant friends around the world!
Thanks to Doug for answering my questions! He shows that you can be a down-to-Earth guy, even with a Grammy - and all the other awards - and that he and his mates can still rock. And I hope Balance won't disappear again!