Arena have released their darkest album to date… after 6 years of absence from the scene. They have also a new singer, Paul Manzi, onboard and their previous bassist John Jowitt is back again. Grande Rock contacted the mastermind/songwriter/keyboardist of the band, Clive Nolan, so as to learn more about the new work of the band, the band’s line-up changes and many more things…
Arena band pic

Hi Clive… why did it take you so long to release a new album? Was it the line-up changes... or something else?

C: We have worked constantly on Arena for ten years and Mick and I particularly agreed it was time to take a break. All the guys in the band had other projects to pursue and this seemed like the right time to step back. `in truth, we never intended that break to be six years.


How hard was to choose Paul Manzi as the singer of the band? The change of a singer is always a hard thing to do... as the fans do not like such kind of changes. Why did you part ways with Rob Sowden, at the first place?

C: I was taking to Paul about his participation in the new musical that I’m writing and both Mick and myself were impressed with his voice. Shortly after this point Rob decided that he no longer wished to pursue the Arena path and so Paul became the obvious candidate.


And, of course, John Jowitt is back after 13 years... “Visitor” was the last album he took part in... Did this turn up after Ian’s departure or John was near the band all those years and it came about naturally?

C: This was a natural progression. Once we knew he was no longer involved in IQ it seemed like a good idea.


Why did you name the album “The Seventh Degree of Separation”? Has it got anything to do with the “Six Degrees of Separation”? I guess you are probably referring to some invisible steps that the soul takes when leaving the body... Am I correct?

C: Yes!


How is the artwork connected with the lyrical concept and the music of the album? It’s very gloomy... many fans were surprised by this dark atmosphere of the album...

C: Arena have always written dark albums and I guess none can be much darker than the subject of dying. Nevertheless, even with these concepts, there’s optimism. You just have to know where to look. The artwork itself represented very well these half-seen images of dreams and visions.


As I’ve figured out (and have written on the review) the thematology of the album has to do with: “the first thoughts/minutes of a man passing to the other side... his agony... his confusion... the way that he looks things”... what do you say? How did you come up with such a concept for an album?

C: Both Mick and I lost parents in the years between the last album and this one. To watch something like this at close hand inevitably gives pause for thought. In my mind the concept is simple – the last hour of life, the first hour of death and the journey that it represents.


Are you totally satisfied with this album? Are there any things you would change if you had the chance to do so?

C: Ye, I am very happy with this album. It developed far beyond my expectations. I’m very pleased with the songwriting and the structuring of the music. There are always improvements that could be made, but I can truly say there’s nothing on this album that bothers me.


I believe that this is the darkest and the most straightforward album you have released to date. Do you agree with me?

C: Yes, I think you’re right.


Some fans of the band are complaining that the new album is not featuring many long songs as in the past. Some believe that Arena may have lost its progressiveness... I do not think that progressive rock music is only long songs and that’s it... isn’t that kind of restricting for the meaning of the word “progressive” after all? Many bands are releasing long songs but that doesn’t necessarily make them progressive bands...

C: It’s not the length, it’s how you use it! I do not feel that I have to prove anything to anybody in a music that I’m involved in, particularly when it comes to the question of writing “long songs”. For the record, you’ll also struggle to find very much Mellotron or Moogs in the music and you’ll find no double necks or Hobbits at all. I know plenty of bands with plenty of long songs and my suggestion to them would be to learn to write short ones – simply sticking together random handful of music ideas will not necessarily guarantee to you a progressive epic of any true value. (i.n.: That’s very true – long songs does not necessarily make you a progressive band...)


I have written that «“TSDoS” is a contemporary album of the 10’s that can easily bring new fans on board» in my review... isn’t that a sort of challenge for any band... to exceed its fan base?

C: Yes, it certainly is. We are very conscious of trying to reach beyond the progressive rock bubble. However, we write what feels right to us, because there’s no point in pretending to be something we are not. What we are still remains to be seen.


Do you think that “TSDoS” marks a new musical era for the band now in the 10’s... or the songwriting has to do with the way you feel and the things that inspire you at a given time of your life?

C: Each album we make is part of the natural evolution of Arena. It is based on the influences of the time combined with wherever we happen to be at that time.


What are the expectations from this album? What’s next for the band... Are you going to tour extensively during the New Year? Will you play at any Summer Festival?

C: There will be more touring for the band next year, but I’m not precisely sure of the dates. There will also be the release of the new DVD recorded on this most recent tour.


How do you see the future of progressive rock music? Many new or old bands are playing and releasing albums all the time... but do they have that quality like they used to have back in the 70s and the 80s... or even in the 90s?

C: Progressive rock has always had a colt following and I assume this will continue as always there will be good albums and bad albums and it’s only later that we can step back and discern which is which.


Is “downloading” the major problem in today’s music industry? Martin Orford from IQ told me some time ago: “I now completely 100% despise the Internet and the “free music culture”… The death of the music industry is not idle speculation on my part; it’s here now –IT’S ARRIVED!!... Although I’m sure that getting out of the music business is the right thing to do, unfortunately I just didn’t do it quickly enough. Very soon all that will be left in music will be the big stadium acts and the hobby musicians making demo albums in their bedrooms. There will be a huge gaping void in between where the best music used to be made…”. Hard words from a very good musician that was unfortunately forced to leave the music scene... Is the future of the music so dim in the very end?

C: I think Martin’s vision is pretty accurate, however, I also believe that something new will evolve from all of this. Nevertheless, I think it’s fair to say “people will get what they deserve”.

Arena band pic 2011

I believe that quality is what our music is missing on this time period. Everything is so similar and so easy-going that most of the fans are truly confused. Which is this “force” that will bring back things to what they used to be... to a time period that music was art?

C: As I said, “people get what they deserve”. When fans make more demands on the quality of the music and perhaps stop the free download attitude, then I have no doubt the artists will rise to the occasion. Let me ask you a question: what would make you as an artist want to tear out your soul and spend six sleepless months and 20 000 pounds fighting to put together your finest album yet, just so that you can put it online and give it away? (i.n.: Downloading is like stealing your beloved artist...)


How difficult is it to survive and succeed in a music world that is ruled by irrelevant people that promote shit-wannabe-good pop music all the time... without caring about music quality?

C: We survive by working hard and doing the best we can and hoping there are still people who are enthusiastic and faithful enough to invest in our music.


And some weird Questions now!!! Why did you name your band Arena (I wanted to ask that one for a very long time)… and which is the most evolutionary album of your band till now?

C: The name of the band just seemed to make sense from the subject matter we were using for our first album. Probably the album that really caught people’s attention was “The Visitor”, however, for a truly evolutionary step I would actually choose “TSDoS”.


What’s your advice to the new people and bands that are dealing with music in general? Is it worth to try or not?

C: Be prepared for a long journey.


What things can make you laugh and cry in your life?

C: Good films.


If you could go back in time... in any time-period... where would you go and why?

C: Victorian era has always been fascinating to me, so throw me into London in about 1870.


Do you prefer to get good scores from the press or please your fans with every new album?

C: I prefer both, but it’s more important that the fans like the album!


Which are the things that piss you off from today’s music industry?

C: When music becomes fashion-based I lose interest.


Do you believe in luck and in coincidences or you believe that the human mind and will can affect all things in life?

C: I believe that fate draws us a map, but it’s still up to us which paths we take.


Which is the most overrated band/musician today?

C: I would plead the fifth on this question smiley But there are plenty of examples of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.


What would you do if you were not afraid to fail?

C: I would put ‘SHE’ on in West End.


What is your favorite place in the world?

C: My keyboard room where I do all my writing.


Imagine that your girlfriend/wife is selling your whole album-collection just to buy an expensive ring for herself. How would you react? cheeky

C: If the girlfriend or wife knew me, they wouldn’t do it.


Thx for this very interesting interview Clive. Thx for the music... I wish you Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year!! Please leave a note to Grande Rock readers… Take care!

C: Happy New Year to everybody! See you on tour.