Artist Name: Catherine Asaro
Song Title: Ancient Ages
Release Date: August 31, 2018
Catherine Asaro – Ancient Ages
Catherine Asaro is a novelist and a vocalist. As a writer, she’s had more than twenty-five novels published and many shorter works in the genres of science fiction, thrillers, and fantasy. Among her many accolades, her novel The Quantum Rose and her novella “The Spacetime Pool” have both won the Nebula®, and she is a multiple Hugo nominee. Her most recent book is the novel The Bronze Skies (Baen/Simon & Schuster). Ancient Ages, the song featured for this interview, came out of a collaboration with songwriter Arlan Andrews. The song will be featured in an upcoming audiobook with novellas by both Catherine and Arlan. Catherine’s music came out of her writing. Her book Diamond Star is about a rock star in the future. She wrote songs for the books, which were performed by the band Point Valid on the Diamond Star CD. Since then, she has continued training and singing with jazz ensembles and pop/rock bands. As a musician, she has performed in the US and overseas. She also appears as a vocalist at clubs in the Baltimore area. She danced for years in ballet and jazz, and still sometimes performs in shows or musicals. She is presently working on a CD of her original works, including her single Ancient Ages. Catherine attended Harvard and UCLA. She has appeared as a speaker at many venues, including Harvard, Georgetown, the National Academy of Sciences, the University of Maryland, the US Naval Academy, and as a Guest of Honor at various science fiction conventions here in the States and abroad. Catherine is a member of SIGMA, a think tank of speculative writers and scientists who advise the government as to future trends affecting national security. She was also elected to two terms as president for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
Arlan Andrews, Sr., is a long-time science fiction writer who recently retired from a career in high-tech fields as an engineering manager and entrepreneur. In addition to advanced technology and futurism, his interests include folklore, the paranormal, and ancient civilizations. From his roots in rural Arkansas, where his grandfather often made up songs and his parents were always singing, he has enjoyed music of many kinds all his life.
Discuss the relevance of social networking to music.
It’s a great way to reach both established fans and new listeners. I already had a fairly large social media following due to my novels. I’ve always enjoyed interacting with fans online, mostly Facebook, Twitter, and Reverbnation, but other places as well. Many of my books involve music, to the point where my fans were curious if I was going to perform the songs. So I started working with musicians to do a soundtrack for one of the books, and I discovered I greatly enjoyed the process.
Go into detail on why you decided to choose music as a career.
I played piano for much of my youth. I started picking out tunes when I was very small after I heard my father playing. He had trained for years as a classical pianist before he decided to become a chemist instead. My parents listened to me fooling around on the piano and decided to send me to a teacher. I trained for years through high school, including entering competitions, and I trained off and on in college and grad school. I loved playing, but eventually, the other parts of my life took over, like the birth of my daughter, so I stopped playing the piano. My hiatus from music changed about nine years ago. I wrote a book called Diamond Star about a rock star in the future. Fairly soon into the book, I realized I wanted to write songs for the protagonist. It really made a difference to the story; I could put into the lyrics and music a lot about the character that I couldn’t show in the same way using the usual forms of narrative. When I started writing those songs, it brought the character even more alive for me. As I was working on the songs, and reading them to friends to get input, people started suggesting I find someone to perform the songs. I worked with a band called Point Valid. When they broke up to attend college, I continued on my own. I’d never sung before, so I worked every week with a vocal coach. I’ve done that for the past nine years, learning my craft. At first, I struggled, both with my lousy technique and with crippling stage fright. However, over the years the technique got better and my stage fright became manageable. I’ve continued training and singing with jazz ensembles and pop/ rock bands. I’m currently working on a CD of original works, including my single Ancient Ages and other songs that show the different styles I sing in, mainly pop/soft rock, jazz, and alternative. My coach, Rachel Sandler, is excellent. She’s a drill sergeant! She doesn’t let me get away with squat; she makes me work until I overcome whatever hurdles I’m facing. She’s teaching me classical techniques as well as popular vocals. It blows me away if I’m in my lesson singing a classical aria. Who would have ever thought it? I never sang as a kid, not even in the car or the shower. I listened intently to music because I choreographed stories or dances to it. Many scenes in my books are choreographed to specific playlists. Since I was concentrating on the creation of the story or the dance in my mind, I never sang to the music. That’s all changed now. I had a lot to learn to master my craft, and it could be pretty humiliating when I first started, but I’m always learning and improving. I hope to keep so all my life. I just wish I had more time to do it all.
Brief us the feedback you are getting from fans on your music.
I’m getting a lot of good feedback for Ancient Ages. I had a lovely surprise after the song came out. Years ago, I opened a Reverbnation account and then forgot about it because I didn’t have songs to promote. When I came back this year to set up the account for Ancient Ages, I discovered a fan had written to me several years ago on Reverbnation saying he had heard me sing a cover of the song Smooth Operator and that he loved what he heard. It really made my day.
Tell us the story behind the song.
I first heard Ancient Ages when Arlan Andrews and I were in the Riyadh airport in Saudi Arabia. We had both been invited speakers at the Global Competitiveness Forum in 2012, which took place in Riyadh. We were part of a panel designed for young entrepreneurs from all over the world to hear about developments in technology as it affects global markets. Afterward, Arlan and I were sitting in the airport waiting for our flight back to the states. Arlan said, “I heard that you sing.” I said yes, and he told me that he had written a song. Then he told me the words to Ancient Ages. I loved the words the moment I heard them. After the forum—after days of talking about artificial intelligence, digital advances, engineering, how that affected entrepreneurship and so many other tech-intensive subjects—that song was the last thing I expected. I asked if he had music, and when he got home he emailed me the theme. I loved that as well. I cut a demo of the song in 2013 with me singing too fast. He liked it anyway and gave the go-ahead to proceed. I had so many other projects in the pipeline; it took a while to get back to the song. Eventually, I and some musicians went to Invisible Sound Studios in Baltimore and put down the instrumental tracks. The musicians are Greg Adams on keys, Keith Adams on guitar, Robert Holthaus on bass, and Roger Stewart on drums. Later I was fortunate to find Nataly Merezhuk to do violin. We recorded instruments and vocals separately. We had some back and forth in the studio figuring out what we wanted, but we’d already played the song enough in concert to have a good idea. I was fortunate to work with Dave Nachodsky at Invisible Sound as a recording producer, and with Bob Novak at Red Bridge Studios who did the final master.
The song “Ancient Ages” literally came to me in a flash: In 1976 I was driving my little Spitfire convertible through a violent thunderstorm in North Carolina, lightning striking nearby, when suddenly I had the overwhelming vision of a large bonfire with a near-naked shaman dancing about it, dressed in only a deer head and a breechcloth, waving a spear or staff. I heard eerie music being played on pipes and drums. Turning my attention to keeping my car on the road while the storm continued, I sang the music out loud so as not to forget it. Upon arriving home I made some simple music notations in order to remember the melody. Almost at once, the lyrics came to me, almost like automatic writing. In 2012 I discussed the incident with Catherine Asaro as we were waiting for an outbound flight from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, back to the USA. Catherine can tell you the rest.
State your musical skills.
I played classical piano for many years as a child and then off and on in college and grad school. I’ve been training for the past eight to nine years as a vocalist, both classical and popular techniques. My current coach, Rachel Sandler, is the most demanding vocal teacher I’ve worked with and I love it, especially that she doesn’t let me get away with believing I can’t do something. She tells me sternly that I’m perfectly capable of doing far more than I believe that it’s all technique and practice. I feel like I still have a long way to go, but I’m enjoying the journey. I didn’t sing until relatively late in my career. I didn’t know I had the ability. Years ago, a vocal teacher told me that my voice was an incredible instrument but that I had no idea what to do with it. She told me no matter how much natural talent you have, you won’t sound good unless you put in the time to master the technique, just like a dancer. As much as I wanted to learn to sing well, it took me a while to find the time and the right place in my life to get serious about it. Now that I have, I hope I never stop learning.
I hear music in my brain and try to re-create it for others to hear. This is difficult at times because I sing poorly, do not write music, and do not play an instrument.
Arlan’s ideas are amazing. I’m glad I can help make what he envisions come alive.
Tell us how long it takes to complete a song from the start.
It varies a lot. For the songs I wrote for Diamond Star, I had a book deadline, so I had to complete the songwriting within a matter of weeks to meet my deadline. It takes me longer to record a song. I’ve been learning along the way, and it takes time to try things and figure out what I need to do. The actual recording takes a few weeks to a few months, depending on how many songs we’re doing. My vocals take the longest. I’m hoping that as I learn and develop as an artist, it won’t take as long.
Go into detail on how you develop your lyrics and melody.
It’s hard to say how the lyrics come. I sit down with a general idea and play with it until I get something I like. I do the same with the music. I use the garage band for the music. I couldn’t compose when I tried to do it on the piano, I think because I feel constrained without a digital program that can play anything regardless of whether or not I still have enough technique to play it myself.
As happens when I write short stories and poems, the lyrics and melodies come to me from someplace in the back of my brain, and I do my best just to capture them. Often the lyrics come first and the melody follows naturally.
State your five favorite genres of music.
Pop/rock/alternative: I like songs like Titanium, Adele’s songs, Maroon Five, the song Hallelujah, Grace’s version of You Don’t Own Me featuring G-Eazy, Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game, Coldplay’s stuff, Apia’s version of Suicide is Painless, Avantasia, Epica, Alessia Cara’s Scars to Your Beautiful. I could go for a long time about my favorite music: I have tons of playlists. Classic rock: The best songs survive for years, even decades, the Who, the Stones, the Doors, Queen, Jefferson Airplane/Starship and so many, many others. The Who’s Love Reign Over Me is one of the best rock songs ever written.
Jazz: Jazz is one of my favorite styles to perform. I also work with a lot of jazz musicians.
Classical: I love many classical works. I also like modern takes on the classics, like Sarah Brightman’s haunting version of the Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th (Figlio Perduto), and another version of the Allegretto called Sacris Solemnis by Libera. I love Pachelbel’s Canon in D, all the versions, including both the rock version by Trans Siberian Orchestra and their softer version with the children singing.
Movie/theatrical music: Sometimes while I’m watching a movie or television show, I’ll hear a song I love, like The Skye Boat Song from Outlander or the love theme from Last of the Mohicans. Olivia Holt’s version of Come Sail Away from Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger is gorgeous. As to why I like the various songs, musicality is the biggest draw for me. As an author, I also find good lyrics big draw. For rap, it’s especially the lyrics. As a musician, I’m listening for the beauty, power, or energy of the music. As an author, I listen to what the songwriter does with words.
Describe the chemistry between you and your fans during a live performance.
I’d describe it as great.
State your artist’s name and elaborate on it.
Catherine Asaro is my name. I work with Arlan Andrews as a songwriter. Greg Adams plays on keys for many gigs. I also work with a band called Chasing Mellow, mostly recent graduates from the Peabody School of Music in Baltimore. They’re a four-piece alternative pop group with both classical and jazz inspirations. Their members are Rachel Sandler (voice/keys) Diego Retana (guitar/voice), Basil Mironenko (bass/electric viola), and Nathan Royer (drums/ percussion/ euphonium). They do primarily their own original work and also play gigs with me.
Discuss your rehearsal.
I meet with Greg once a week to practice. If we have a gig, we may meet twice before the gig. I meet with my vocal coach, Rachel Sandler, usually once a week. Rachel is the head of Chasing Mellow, so when we have a gig, we usually get together a few extra times to rehearse.
State your favorite musical instruments.
Piano, then guitar, bass, and drums, then sax and violin, then the rest of an orchestra. Not that I have an orchestra at gigs (!). I just love the music of all those instruments together.
List your musical work.
My first CD was Diamond Star, performed by the band Point Valid. I wrote most of the lyrics and a good portion of the music. Point Valid did the rest of the music. They also did a few of their original songs on the album, and I put those in the book, as well as a mention of Point Valid, so there was a reason for those songs to be on the soundtrack. I also produced the CD. Although I did sing a bit, it was only a small amount, since that was before I’d started training as a vocalist. I’ve done a few covers over the years, but Ancient Ages is my first solo professional-level release. I’m currently working on an EP with some of my originals and a few covers.
Although I have written dozens of songs over the years, and a few have been performed and/or recorded by friends for non-commercial venues, “Ancient Ages” is my first professionally-produced musical work.
Share your memorable experiences with us.
The first standing ovation I received as a musician was in New Zealand. I was the Guest of Honor at Context, the 2011 New Zealand National Science Fiction Convention. It was a wonderful experience. They flew me and my keys accompanist to New Zealand and put us up in the home of one of the organizers for a couple of weeks. As part of my activities as GoH, we put on a concert with some musicians there, mostly originals from Diamond Star and other songs I was working on, and also a few covers. When the concert finished, the audience stood up and applauded. It was the first time I ever received a standing ovation, and it felt wonderful. I also had the opportunity to go to Copenhagen as the Guest of Honor for Fantasticon, the 2010 Danish National Science Fiction convention. Such an amazing experience!
In the United States, I’ve played concerts across the country at science fiction conventions. Most recently, as the Guest of Honor at Balticon in Baltimore, Maryland, I did a concert with Greg Adams and Chasing Mellow. Earlier in the year, I did a concert at the Boskone when I was their Hal Clement Science Speaker. In honor of that appearance being part of a science gig, they projected a live stream of the actual waveforms of our music on a screen as we played. It was cool.