Interview date

April 2007


Yann G

Official Website


Hi Peter, thanks a lot for accepting this interview for the french metal webzine
You are at the head of the MAGNA CARTA label. Can you please present us this label?

Magna Carta has been in business since 1989. We actually started to release CD's throughout the world in 1991 because it took a while to get organized and get all of the details organized. Since then, we have been dedicated to releasing the highest quality music played by the best musicians we could find.

You created the label with the help of Mike Varney, who was very famous in the 80-90s to have signed a lot of guitar shredders. How did you know each-other?

I was an artist manager for a long time. I had quite a number of bands signed to major record deals from the late 1970's through the early 1990's. Mike was just starting Shrapnel Records in the early 1980's when he tracked me down and asked me if I would let one of my bands appear on his first album. I was able to work it out for him because I thought he had a great deal of enthusiasm for what he was doing. Our friendship grew out of that and I was always available to him for any questions he would have. Originally, I suggested the Magna Carta concept to him as something that he might want to do. He asked me why I didn't do it on my own. Honestly, I had never even thought about it as something for myself until that point. So, I actually went ahead with the idea. Then, shortly after I started, he asked me if I would consider him to be a partner in the business. So, that is how we started.

The name of Mike Varney was criticized, usually associated to the pure technical and guitar virtuosity and not to real talented players. What do you think of such a judgment by the press?

I think that Mike was a very important figure in terms of finding great guitar talent. He probably does not get the respect or recognition that he deserves. The press can be unfair to people at times and I think Mike may be a victim of this.

You seem to love all the progressive music. What are your favorite influences ?

Honestly, I have such wildly diverse and unusual influences that it wouldn't even make sense to name them. I just really like songs that are great and playing that is expressive. That is the simple answer.

Isn't it a little bit risky to invest money on bands and styles which today, unfortunately, are not much popular?

Risky probably isn't the right word. Insane would be closer to the truth. Things go in cycles. At times certain types of music are more popular than other times. You just have to hope that if what we are doing isn't so popular at a certain time that there are enough people out there that will support high quality musicianship. Then sometimes, you'll get a surprise and there might be more people that are interested in this style.

How do you manage the compromise between your faith in some bands and the commercial risks?

A lot of it depends on who the individuals are. If someone with a great deal of talent seems like they would work extremely hard and be open to suggestions on how to gain a greater audience, then that is the type of person we want to work with. It was that way with Anthropia. Hugo seemed very genuine in his determination to make great music and have a lot of people hear it. He and his manager, Barbara Lysiak, made a great team together and were excellent to work with. So, that is when it becomes easier to make a decision to take a chance.

The number and names of virtuosis signed by your label is amazing : John Petrucci, Steve Morse, Billy Sheehan, Jordan Rudess ... What are your criterias to select an artist ?

We have worked with the most amazing players on the planet. And, if we've missed someone, then I'd like him or her to call me because I really want to work with the best musicians. But the criteria for working with someone are pretty obvious. If they are great and are interested in being creative without being concerned about commercial aspects, then it's probably a good bet that we would want to make an album with them.

Usually, do you sign an artist when he's already famous or before? For example, did you select John Petrucci before or after his success inside Dream Theater? Same question for the other artists.

Well, I knew John Petrucci before they actually called the band Dream Theater. So, it's a thing where I knew him both before and after he became famous as well as the stages in between. People like Terry Bozzio and Billy Sheehan were already famous when we began to work with them. But, usually in the case of famous musicians, they get to do things with Magna Carta that they would normally not have a chance to do from a creative standpoint. And, of course, some of the people we work with get a lot better known as a result of the work they have done for us. And, in certain cases, like Steve Stevens he is able to gain a new group of fans even though he was quite famous before he worked with Magna Carta.

How do you get in touch with such famous guys?

Now that's a funny question because sometimes I have to ask myself that. It's not always easy. May times, because I have been in this business a long time, I have some type of "connection" that will provide an introduction. But, sometimes, I have to figure out a way to get in touch with them and then call them up and say, "Hi. You don't know me but...". It's not that hard if you really don't care if people hang up the phone on you after they call you a few names. After a while, nothing like that bothers you.

At the end of April, MAGNA CARTA will release a compilation "Guitar Greats" that is a kind of best-of of all the MAGNA CARTA projects focusing on the guitarists.

Yes, when I was going back through all of our CD's to find the tracks for this album, I was amazed at some of the people we have worked with over the years and how much great music we have released over the years.

Who and how did you select the tracks ?

I picked the tracks and I just wanted to make sure that I chose guys that gave us their best efforts with the performances that they did for us. I also tried to make sure that the selection covered the whole historical time frame of the label and I wanted to make certain that the songs complemented each other. I also had to be aware of the amount of music that I could squeeze onto a CD.

Do you think that this kind of compilation will convince people to buy all the MAGNA CARTA projects ?

Well, if this CD can introduce some new listeners to other Magna Carta titles, that would be great.

Which kind of audience do you think such a compilation can reach ?

Compilations are tough to sell. No one is ever really sure what they are. But I think this one can appeal to all musicians, fans of hard rock, metal, classic rock. All types of music fans, really.

Your label releases mainly progressive and instrumental rock/metal styles. Would you be opened to release a band in a drastically different style ?

Well, we probably couldn't do a good job with something if we really did not understand the music. But we do have an offshoot label called "Magnatude" which releases music that is not quite as heavy a s mot of the Magna Carta releases. It has a more organic feel to the music with more roots and jazz elements. We have artists like Alex Skolnick, Oz Noy and southern rock jam band, Tishamingo.

One of your latest release is a French progressive metal band called "ANTHROPIA". Why did you bet on them ?

Well, as I mentioned earlier, I was impressed with their talent and the strength of Hugo's commitment to his music as well as the business organization of the band's manager.

Could you please tell us more about your next projects : the next LPs you plan to release ?

OK, I'll just mention a few things quickly. There is a Jordan Rudess solo album in which he will pay homage to a lot of classic prog music with his own unique interpretations. He'll also have a few fine guests on the album with him. Steve Stevens, the great guitar player, will also do a solo album for us. Both of these albums should be ready for September of 2007. We have a great new progressive metal band out of Italy called Derdian. They will be releasing a very cool concept album in the late summer. On our Magnatude label, we will have a special project with great jazz players T Lavitz, Dave Weckl, John Patitucci (not Petrucci) and Frank Gambale. This will be some crazy stuff. And there is other interesting stuff such as compilations of great music from our releases by Shadow Gallery and James LaBrie.

If it isn't confidential, what is the average number of worldwide sales of one MAGNA CARTA CD ? For example, the number of sales of "Working Man", the fantastic Tribute To Rush?

I'm not able to give you the exact numbers on that particular album but it was one of the better selling albums that we have ever had. That particular album had an incredible story that went along with it. But, again, we'll keep it simple and just say that the fans actually had the power in their hands and they wanted to see the album in the sores. And because the fans really wanted it, it happened.

What do you think of the musical industry today that mainly concentrates on commercial bullshits ?

I don't know what to say about the "music industry" because I gave up trying to play that game a long time ago. It is the reason why I started Magna Carta.

Your opinion on MTV ?

In the USA, MTV plays almost no music. So, there isn't much for me to say about it. But when it first came on TV in the early 1980's, I probably watched it for 4 or 5 years without interruption. They helped metal at various times with their specialty shows. But, for the most part, those days are gone.

Do you think that the european market is more opened to the progressive metal style ?

Well, that's an interesting question. It's hard to make broad statements about the European market as a whole because the individual territories have such different tastes.

How would you compare the european and the american audiences ?

Again, it's tough to make a general statement but one thing I think might hold true is that concert audiences in America have a different type of bond with the artists than they do in Europe. It's just a different way of relating to the performers. It might be a cultural difference or a language difference but in the USA it seems that they audiences treat the performers like good friends. In Europe, in some cases, I get the impression that the audiences seem to "idolize" the performers a bit more. But I hate to make generalizations like that.

What do you think of Peer-To-Peer and illegal MP3 downloading?

In general, the whole downloading thing has killed the music business as we once knew it. It is completely different now and no one is quite sure how to handle it at this point. If you have the answers, please contact me.

Which are their consequences for your label ?

It makes it very difficult to plan for the future in the same manner as we used to do. It also makes it very hard to spend much money on albums because the return on the investment is so much smaller. This will become a bigger and bigger problems for all labels in the future.

The Internet helps also a lot for the promotion. What do you think of independent webzines?

Independent webzines seem to be what drives this business these days. I used to have artists who used to be insulted if our publicists would arrange an interview with a webzine. Now, 95% of all the press generated comes from webzines. At least in the world of Magna Carta, that's the way it is.

Thanks a lot for this interview Peter.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk to your and your readers.