The Fierce And The Dead’s Matt Stevens Talks RoSFest

The legend that is Matt Stevens took time this Sunday morning to talk to me about The Fierce And The Dead’s appearance at the recent RoSFest, North America’s premier progressive rock festival.

Among other things, we talk about the tedious process of getting an artist visa, what it’s like playing in a different country, American prog fans and beer, strong beer!

(Featured image of Matt by Jose Ramon Caamano)

An Interview With Rikard Sjöblom – by Progradar

On the early May Bank Holiday Monday Rikard Sjöblom of Gungfly, Big Big Train and (formerly) Beardfish took the time to have a chat with me about the new Gungfly album ‘On Her Journey To The Sun’ and we also discussed ‘Grimspound’, the new Big Big Train release, the demise of Beardfish and lorry driving.

Listen to the full audiofile here:

You can also read Kevin Thompson’s excellent review of (and find a link to order) the new album here:

Review – Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly – On Her Journey To The Sun – by Kevin Thompson

 

 

Interview With Teddy-James Driscoll of Telepathy – Kevin Thompson

Recently I had the privilege of talking to TEDDY – JAMES DRISCOLL from TELEPATHY, a band who are generating a fair bit of interest from the Press, with new album Tempest’ (which I also had the opportunity to review for Progradar) and the single from it, Celebration of Decay.

Hi Ted.

Hi Kev, great to talk to you.

Things seem to be going quite well for the band at the moment with the new album garnering favourable reviews, the single release and with some upcoming tour dates to promote them you must be feeling quite pleased?

Yes absolutely, the band have had a good team behind them since before I joined in 2015 and we all have a lot more experience now. Various people do a great job of handling our press and promotions for UK & Europe, plus we are on a great label who are very responsive to what we need and want to do. We are pleased the album and single have had a good reception so far.

Reading the blogs you seem to thrive on touring, are you the sort of band that feeds off the audience rather than shoe gazing as you play?

Yes, we tour as much as possible, between day jobs. We obviously would like to do more gigs and it to be a full time thing. We like the immersive experience live, and have great crowds who always come to see us afterwards for a chat and it’s important to connect with them.

I notice that you have stayed over in some unusual places whilst touring, a converted meat freezer and an old bank/squat? It beats sleeping in the van but are these the most unusual places you have stayed and any odd incidents?

Last tour we did in Belgium, Pete, a tattoo artist, put us up in the squat, it was really nicely done up. It’s occupied by a left wing activist cooperative and they were really nice to us, although we have no political leanings and stay away from it with our music. We were in the vault and it was very cosy but a bit weird as it still had the huge vault door and we wouldn’t have wanted to get locked in. The next night we were put up in an old meat locker that has been re-purposed in Antwerp, with bunk beds and kitchen. You could still tell it was an abattoir but it had been cleared out and done up with a shower block upstairs.

Beats sleeping in our van that we tour in, nicknamed ‘Pumba’. The Turek brothers’ Dad usually does the driving for us, with Rich’s Girlfriend doing the Merch stand and my brother as roadie.  But it will be just the band on these upcoming dates, all the gear squeezed in ‘Pumba’ with us. We are precious about the sound but at the moment tend to use house PA systems whilst trying for the best sound possible and it’s usually pretty good. We understand with the complex sound we need it as clear as we can and would like own sound guy eventually.

How do you find the audiences here and abroad, is it a wide age range, are they more male than female?

It tends to vary in regions rather than countries, an audience in London for instance may tend to be more serious than one up North where they like to have a bit of fun.  In Europe, again it is different for various areas in each country as well. The audiences do tend to be predominantly male but we are starting to notice more females  watching with a range of ages.

What happens on tour stays on tour, but who’s the ladies man out of you all?

All of us have girlfriends except Peter, we call him Mr December as he’s our calendar model, He’s such a good looking guy so definitely him. He always stands out when we have a photo shoot, but he’s no lothario and always a gentleman.

There is plenty of information on line but it seems to neatly sidestep personal details about you, is this a conscious effort on your parts to keep it separate and do you feel a need to retain a certain amount of privacy?

I didn’t realise there wasn’t more information on our site, I will check it out. We don’t feel we are big enough, for the amount of interest in us at the moment to be to be an issue. We don’t really mind people knowing about us, I hadn’t really thought about it until now and myself I’m quite an open person. We don’t tend to get asked those sort of questions usually just the generic press ones.

Outside of the music do any of you find time for hobbies or interests?

We all have day jobs, I work in a call centre which I enjoy. I go to kick boxing and have quite a busy social scene that takes up my time. Rich focuses his attention on the band out of work whilst Albert and Peter love their motorbikes. We don’t rehearse every day but it tends to build up in intensity more, nearer gig dates. Before the CD was released we spent the whole six months prior on the band. We are all focused and know where we want to be with the band and the level we want to achieve.

In your busy lives do you get time to listen to any other music and do you have a guilty music pleasure?

Good shout, I saw two gigs by ‘Everytime I Die’ before Xmas and love ’em. In the gym or car I tend to play metalcore & deathcore, bands like Killswitch Engage. That sort of music was popular when I was at college and I grew up with that sort of thing. The lads like to rib me about it. Guilty pleasure? We have Cyndi Lauper’s greatest hits in the van and have a good sing-along as a bit of light relief when we’re touring.

So how did you get together with the band and why this style of music?

I had my own business, a cafe which didn’t work out, was off looking for a new job and saw Rich’s message on a Facebook group looking for a bassist. I’d played guitar and though ‘F*** it’ I’d give it a go. I didn’t own a bass at the time so borrowed gear off a friend, rehearsed a few times learnt the first album. I tried out  and it just clicked then we were straight into doing the new album. ‘Celebration’ was the only one already fully written when I joined so I had to learn it. The rest of the tracks were written as a band thing, all four in a room and we are all so opinionated. Peter is always writing riffs and I have a few riffs but the one in ‘Smoke From Distant Fires’ is my only one on this album.

We do it as a collaborative effort and all have our different ways, I tend to sit back and feed off the others. Having played guitar before, bass is a totally different discipline and I have had to teach myself, incorporating my own style into it. I like to emulate Geezer Butler he’s one of my main influences. I’m quite good at arranging so say my piece when we are doing this and that is probably where I am most involved, in the arrangements. There is more space on Tempest than on the previous album, which allows it to breathe and expand. It’s designed as a soundscape.

There has always been a need to categorise the style of music played, into genres and you describe yourselves as ‘furiously played progressive sludge, intricate soundscapes and a bucket-load of riffs’. Do you think labelling your style restricts you and the prospective audience as whilst I agree with most of the sentence, I wouldn’t call your sound ‘sludgey’?

Aw, thanks Kev. Thing is with us, I know it’s an old cliché but we don’t like labels. We get called post metal a lot among other titles and we definitely have that sort of influence, but try to put lots of different genres in, to me it’s ‘InstruMetal’ our own style.

On listening to the album I personally felt the absence of vocals (negating those briefly in the background of  Echo of Souls) added rather than detracted. It allowed me to focus on the complex melodies. Did you plan to be an instrumental group?

When the band first started they were going to get a vocalist but things evolved and they felt one wasn’t needed. I did vocals on Echoes, for an effect and we may use vocals in future if it serves a specific song. I’m open to it if it works but if not leave it out. When I first watched the band before joining I thought vocals would be good, but now I’m in the band it feels more and more like they’re not needed.

How did the concept of the album come about?

When I first came into the writing process a few names for songs had been kicking around.  We started writing and three or four songs in after demoing them we began to establish a theme in our minds and discuss what the music made us think of. Two themes in particular stood out water and earthquake ruins. We developed the story from that, with each new song bringing a new part of the story.

Peter played what became the intro to the album whilst we were working on tracks and we thought it would be a great start. As if someone woke on a beach to all of the devastation and go from there. You can get your own storyline from the music seeing it differently to the band. That’s the beauty of it being instrumental you can paint your own pictures.

You must all have dreams and ambitions but put on the spot where’s the one venue you would most like to play and why?

I have loads, but I would feel I’d made it if I could play Brixton Academy, headlining. We are happy for our progress to go up in small increments, start at small venues and sell them out, then build up hopefully.

I know you supported Raging Speedhorn and they are fans of yours, given the chance what other act would you like to play on the bill with and do you know of any other famous fans you have? 

If I could chose from any bands,  Mastadon, Gojira, or Tool. No famous fans that I know of other than Raging Speedhorn, their Bass player Dave wore a Telepathy t-shirt for one of their gigs we felt really honoured.

Are you technologically minded and gadget freaks or are you straight instrument and amps guys?

Pete and Rich have vast pedal boards with all kinds of effects, I wouldn’t even try to tell you what they do. I keep it simple with a tuner and distortion pedal, but I trigger samples between songs as well, as we don’t like to leave silence between tracks. The continuity is important to tie the tracks together. For the most part with the music sounds we generally use big distortion, wind and atmospheric noises, waves, birds etc.

Albert’s drumming makes it sound intense, without him we would sound totally different, he’s awesome. He doesn’t talk a big game but when you see us live everyone watches him, I know, I used to when I watched the band.

So what would you say has been your greatest extravagance to date?

Love to be able to tell you we’d trashed penthouse suites in hotels and partied all night, but we are just happy to get beers and food on our rider. We don’t have a lot of luxuries as a band  as it is still very grass roots. It’s the kindness of others that gives us the extravagances like when we were given an apartment in Germany for one gig, fully stocked, next to the venue just a few steps away. It was really nice having our own space, in Tilburg.

We went out and bought 30 beers after the gig and drank them outside and that’s about as extravagant as we get. The generosity of others keep us going. Everyone has been so nice and helpful at the moment including the press. Yours is the best review I’ve ever seen, it’s cool that you really got what we are trying to do with the album.

So, to the the most important question of the day before we wrap up our chat, yoghurt and fruit or full English breakfast?

Oh, full English 100%, given the choice, every time. Especially on tour, continental breakfast just doesn’t fill you, definitely full English.

Well it’s been great talking to you Ted, thanks for taking the time out to chat with me. I hope all goes well with the release party and touring the new album. Who knows, I could be interviewing you in ten years time, with multi-platinum album sales after selling out Brixton Academy.

That would be awesome and if we’re up North, you must hook up, come to see us live and catch up, thanks Kev.

And with that we ended our chat. Ted’s a lovely bloke and I wish he and the band all the best in the future. I will certainly make the effort to try and see them live as well as meeting the rest of the band. Who knows, in ten years time….. Mind you, by then I don’t know if my zimmer frame will fit back stage.

‘Tempest’ is released on March 31st and you can pre-order it from Golden Antenna here.

You can read Kevin’s great review of the album below:

Review – Telepathy – Tempest – by Kevin Thompson

 

Progradar’s Interview With Matt Page of Dream The Electric Sleep

Ahead of their first ever London show at The Black Heart in Camden on February 8th, I got together with Dream The Electric Sleep‘s Matt Page.

Vocalist and guitarist Matt formed the band with Joey Waters (drums), and Chris Tackett (bass) in Lexington in 2009.  After two self-produced, independent releases, “Lost and Gone Forever” (2011) and “Heretics”(2014), Dream the Electric Sleep’s third album, “Beneath the Dark Wide Sky,” marked a clear shift in the band’s songwriting style and sonic quality which Prog Magazine hailed as ‘monumental’.

  1. You formed in 2009, how did you guys get together initially?

Joey, our drummer, and I are cousins and have played together for over 20 years so DTES has been in the making for a while! We played in other projects and kept trying to figure out what we wanted to do with our sound, our direction and the sorts of songs we wanted to write. We heard Chris Tackett was moving to town and he was a in a band we loved (Chum) from many years earlier and he contacted us to see if we wanted to try and put something together. After the first rehearsal we knew it was the sound we had been looking for and DTES started 🙂

  1. Which bands were the early influences on your style of music?

We each have some similar influences but also some very different ones. I think all three of us would agree Pink Floyd and Zeppelin would be the core set that we as a band constantly look back to, but that is really just the tip of the iceberg. I grew up on Rush, Metallica, Tool, U2, Peter Gabriel, Elton John, Tori Amos, Joni Mitchel etc… that was where I came from. Chris was into Swans, The Beatles, Black Sabbath, Queen, and Neurosis and Joey loved all of the above plus Soundgarden, Pantera and Alice in Chains.

  1. And who do you listen to now?

Its all over the map! St. Vincent, Beach Boys, The Life and Times, Gorgoroth, Buried at Sea, Dragged Into Sunlight, Tom Petty, Janis Joplin… no continuity as you can see! We try to let all these things come in and find a place in what we do. It makes this project so much more interesting to see how sounds will collide!

  1. You released your third album “Beneath the Dark Wide Sky” last year, how would you say this record differed from your earlier releases “Lost and Gone Forever” and “Heretics”?

I would say it is more deliberate. It was the first time we worked with a producer, and that was a great experience for us. Nick Raskulinecz was another lens to see the music through and he helped us tighten up the vision we had for the album. The earlier releases are more experimental, which I like and I think we will return to, but this time we wanted more focus to see what that would do to us, our writing, and the final product.

  1. I believe “Beneath The Dark Wide Sky” is about a historical moment in the US called the Dust Bowl? What inspired you to write about this?

“Beneath the Dark Wide Sky” is inspired by photographs taken of the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s by American photographer Dorothea Lange. Lange worked for the United States Works Progress Admiration and hoped her photographs could be used to educate the masses (via photo essays in major news publications and magazines) to the poverty and desperate living conditions of thousands of farming families and migratory workers who lived and worked in the drought-struck American Great Plains. Lange believed photographs had the ability to shine an objective light on issues of social justice and environmental degradation and could be used to persuade and motivate social and political change.

Much of what motivated Lange motivates me as the lyricist of the band. How does art inform the way we understand the world we live in and can it motivate us to challenge and change our assumptions? I am not sure there is an easy correlation, but I am very interested in those who try to bridge the gap between art and life.

  1. Prog Magazine described the album as ‘monumental’, do you actually consider yourselves to be a prog band?

That is a good question. I think progressive music has MANY definitions and we fit some of them but not all of them. I never set out to be in a particular genre and because of that, many influences found their way in. This diversity of sound made it harder to define the band and that pushed us further into the progressive community. That particular community wants music that at its core is difficult to define but also music that is searching for something and I would say we fit that bill. We see ourselves as coming out of the spirit of bands like Floyd or Zeppelin or Peter Gabriel or Queen. Those bands are loved by the progressive community and outside it… that is the space I think we are trying to occupy.

  1. Do you think there has been a resurgence in progressive music over the last couple of years?

I do. I think people are craving substance again in music. They want to hear an artist struggle, a reaching for something beyond their grasp, for artists invested in asking questions, thinking about the world, searching and seeking. I think progressive artists are more likely to be engaged in these frameworks and that is where the resurgence is coming from.

  1. Your gig at the Black Heart is your first ever London gig, how much are you looking forward to it?

It is something we have looked forward to for a long time! Most US bands hope to go meet their supporters in other countries and most of the time it never happens. For us to be able to go to London and meet our supporters face-to-face and shake their hands is a big honor. These are the people that have supported us for years and I want to personally thank them! I just want it to be fun for everyone in the room. Live music is a celebration and that is what I am doing, celebrating that moment together, band and supporters united!

  1. Who are your favourite live artists and what is the best gig you’ve ever been to?

I will speak personally here. For me seeing Roger Waters perform the Wall was a big one as well as Peter Gabriel on the 25th anniversary tour of SO. I know Joey recently went to see Devin Townsend and loved it as well as Ghost.

  1. With the advent of the internet, streaming and illegal downloads is recorded music being devalued and are live performances now the best way of connecting with your fans?

Really our best way of connecting with fans has been the internet and releasing albums in that way. In the US the live market is just terrible. I won’t get into the details, but its tough over here. To be able to reach into other parts of the world so easily, it made it possible for us to build a niche of support within the prog community that is spread out all over the globe. Live performances have been way less effective in getting this project where it is. That being said, I am hopeful we can find a way to utilize live performances to reach more people and this current tour is a test of that. We will see if it yields positive momentum!

  1. Do you consider Dream The Electric Sleep to be mainly a live band or a recording band?

I think we have always wanted to be both but as I said in the last response, the US live market is really anemic and scattered right now, at least for us. Because of this we have spent most of our time writing and recording albums as this seems to have been the most productive thing we can do to move the project forward.

  1. What advice would you give to new up and coming artists?

I would tell any band getting started to see this is a long haul process. Finding ways of building a sustainable project should be high on the list. Progress is made inch by inch.

  1. What’s next for the band?

After the tour its time to write again! I hope to take a little bit of a break to reflect on this project and what it needs to be going forward. We have poured every ounce of extra energy we have into this project and over time, you learn more about what you want out of it.

See Dream The Electric Sleep live at The Black Heart on Wednesday 8th February – Free Admission.

You can buy ‘Beneath The Dark Wide Sky’ direct from the band here

 

Leo Trimming Interviews Adrian Jones of Nine Stones Close for Progradar

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Leo:  Hi Adrian – it’s been a few months since the release of ‘Leaves’ on Bad Elephant Music.

What has been the reaction so far in terms of critical reaction and interest from fans?

Adrian: It’s been interesting. Critically we have received mostly positive reviews across the board, there seems to be an appreciation of what we are doing musically, as in not standing still. It would have been easy to have followed up ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’ with a similar sounding and style of album, but that’s not very interesting, is it?

I don’t write to formula, or sit down to write something in a specific style, I just write what comes naturally to me at the time and ‘Leaves’ is a statement of where my mind was when the songs were written. I know for sure we have lost some fans with this album, and a few have openly said in public and to myself that they really don’t like the change of singer, but that was out of my hands. Obviously those line-up changes have driven some of that – Aio (Adrian O’Shaughnessy) is a very different singer to Marc (Atkinson) and he brings something new to the sound. His range is fantastic, as you can hear on the album. On the flip side I also had messages from people saying that they really love the new singer and album. Overall, I think we lost some fans but maybe gained a few new ones along the way. For me writing and recording is about progression, development of yourself as a writer and artist, exploring new territories. I do think ‘Leaves’ is a natural progression of Nine Stones Close.

Leo:  What is the origin of the band name?

Adrian: It’s named after an ancient stone circle in Derbyshire, England near where I grew up. I visited the place earlier this year with my brother and my son, a kind of pilgrimage. It took us bloody hours to locate it. Google maps is no help at all ! We found it in the middle of a farmers’ field on Harthill moor. It’s a beautiful spot, very peaceful.

Leo:  Can you describe the creative song writing process for you and the band?

For instance, do the music or the lyrics come first?

Adrian: I generally start just noodling around on whatever guitar I happen to pick up and then see what flows musically. I never really learned to play anyone else’s songs, only the odd riff, phrase etc, so I start just messing around rather than playing anything specific. Usually an idea flows fairly quickly. I never had any guitar or music lessons so I don’t really follow any musical rules, which probably helps me be more creative. Sometimes it can be a guitar effect that triggers and idea, or a drum loop or beat. I also bought a GR55 guitar synth unit a couple of years ago for the ‘Jet Black Sea’ project and that helps me create ideas in new ways too. Once I have the idea I can run with it and usually write the whole thing on the fly very quickly, afterwards properly shaping it can take some time. I like to layer guitars with harmonic chords and lines, sometimes quite a lot of them, much to the annoyance of our producer (laughs). The track ‘Spoils’ had about 95 tracks, I think, when we came to mix it. I pretty much always write the lyrics at the end – it’s the hardest part for me. I tend to make notes, write down the odd line that comes into my head and then start to expand on the idea. The music inspires the lyric in a way as well.

Recently I have been working more with Christiaan (Bruin) during the writing sessions and it’s been great to be able to bounce ideas back and forth interactively with someone, but more often than not I write alone.

Leo:  You can certainly hear the multi-layering on ‘Spoils’ – it sounds so intricate, intriguing and wonderful – a real ‘grower’.

What do you prefer? Writing or recording?

Adrian: Writing. Definitely. Recording is fun too, but the initial creation of the song, is where the excitement really is for me –  that creation of something from nothing. I do think I am lucky in that I seem to be able to write every time I pick up a guitar. The ideas just seem to flow. There is a joke in the band that if they are late arriving for a session in the studio I will have written at least one more song before they arrive (laughs). Actually, thinking back, the song ‘Complicated’ happened exactly like that.

I also write the additional guitar parts on the fly and I am terrible at writing things down, so I often have no idea what I played afterwards. I am trying to get better at writing that stuff down as it does become a problem when you have to relearn something to play it again live or in rehearsal. Over 2 hours of material was written for ‘Leaves’, and at one point a double album was discussed. However,  what we put out was my vision of a cohesive album. A couple of songs were even dropped very late on after I decided that they didn’t fit, and I really don’t like long albums anyway. 40 odd minutes is still a good length for an album in my opinion, so we overstretched that yet again, probably because we had 4 years making it. My hard drive is full of unused ideas and almost finished recordings which may never see the light of day due to lack of time.

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Leo:  Is there an overarching theme to the album, and why is it called ‘Leaves’?

It seems clear you like to maintain some ambiguity in your lyrical ideas but a few clues as to the background of the songs may be interesting!

Adrian: It’s not a concept album, but there is definitely a theme.  It encompasses many things about modern life – what we are doing to the world we live in and to ourselves … and Lies of all kinds.

When I started writing the lyrics I was in quite a dark place, personally, for a number of reasons. I think we live in very dark times right now, but many people are totally oblivious, blinded by the mainstream bought and sold media, and so buried in iPhones, Netflix and other materialistic stuff that the world could be ending and they wouldn’t really notice. It’s a kind of enforced escapism, I guess.

In the end I decided to call the album ‘Leaves’ after the lyric I wrote for the title track. It’s a very ambiguous word and covers many of the themes that the album deals with.

You are right, I do like ambiguity, and I purposefully write lyrics in that way, I like the listener to be able to derive their own meaning from the songs. I remember in a review of the previous album someone mentioned that the song ‘The Distance’ was about the complete breakdown of a relationship … well, it is and isn’t, but you can certainly read it that way.

Leo:   I’ve been listening to this fascinating album again repeatedly recently and cannot help feeling how ‘dark’ much of it feels in tone, lyrical content and atmosphere.

Are the songs largely based on personal reflections of your personal experiences or feelings, or are they more detached manifestations of your imagination?

Adrian: A bit of both, I think. It’s definitely dark. As I mentioned, I was in a pretty dark place when writing much of this album. I am really happy with the overall atmosphere that we created musically. I think it has a very definite “feel”. Some of the lyrics were easier to write than others. ‘Complicated’, for instance, was very easy to write lyrically, it just flowed. It’s theme is the Lie we present to the outside world, and reflect back onto ourselves. If all of our thoughts were visible and openly accessible to everyone else, would we be able to cope with that?

Other songs, like ‘Spoils’, went through several lyric re-writes to try to avoid being too obvious, to create a mood without saying “This song is about blah blah blah”. See, I am not going to tell you what it is about even now (laughs).

Tone wise, the album is definitely heavier, more heavy guitar driven, than previous albums. That just happens to be how it turned out. There were some songs that we didn’t use which were too close to the feel we had on the ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’ album, and didn’t really fit where I wanted to go with ‘Leaves’.

Leo:  You really don’t want to give too much away about the lyrics, do you?!

Probably just as well – the listener can interpret and feel it in their own personal way – much more intriguing and engaging.

On this new album you ambiguously described epic song ‘Goldfish’ as:  about a new world sociopath and others might think it is about …. something else …’.

Any further clues as to what that actually may mean?!!

Adrian: No!!  One reviewer described it as being about “media brainwashing”, one said it was about the “short attention span of the internet generation”, another said it was about something completely different. Looks like my ambiguous lyric is working!

It was actually written from the perspective of a “new world sociopath” (whatever that is, I just made it up), but it does also have a deeper meaning.

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Leo: Antonio Seijas has done some wonderful artwork for Marillion and Gazpacho. How did you connect with him and why did you choose Antonio for the album artwork?

How does he come up with his artistic ideas in relation to your music – do you give him visual ideas upon which to work?

Adrian: I love working with Antonio, he did an amazing job for ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’ and the ‘Jet Black Sea’ project album. Antonio creates the art work based on the music and the lyrics and puts that into the concept. What he came up with for ‘Leaves’ is a perfect fit for the music and words –  it’s stunning. I connected with him initially via Frans Keylard, a good friend, when I was looking for artwork for ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’, obviously I was already aware of his artwork for other bands. I think he has a really unique style and he’s a lovely person too.

Leo:  That’s interesting, because it was through Frans Keylard that I first heard your music. He played your album ‘Traces’ on his old podcast ‘Rogues Gallery’ on the Dividing Line Broadcasting Network about 6 years ago, and I was immediately VERY interested in Nine Stones Close. ‘Traces’ is another wonderful album. I miss those podcasts from Frans, and he ALWAYS played at least one Marillion song on every show!

To bring things up to date, there have been some significant personnel changes in Nine Stones Close for this album. I expect fans will be particularly interested to know why former vocalist Marc Atkinson (of Riversea) is no longer involved, and why Brendan Eyre (also Riversea) is no longer on keyboards?

Adrian: Marc decided to leave the band after ‘One Eye On the Sunrise’ for his own personal reasons, there was nothing I could say to change his mind. Everything else is about commitments, timing, etc etc. Everything got a little twisted after ‘One Eye….’ I wanted to push on, get another album out within a year or so and I also started to line up potential live dates. That really didn’t fit with everyone else’s perspective and possible commitment, and it led to a fracture in the whole Nine Stones Close journey. I guess I can be blamed for being over ambitious and I also made a few mistakes there. Everyone else involved has other bands or projects as well, and families, jobs, etc etc, so it is difficult to align commitments to getting an album made, never mind a tour. I sincerely hope to create some new music with Brendan Eyre in the near future, time allowing, as I think we have a great mutual musical understanding. He has been working on some great stuff too with Tony Patterson, and there is another Riversea album in the pipeline. Everyone who worked on ‘Leaves’ will be involved in the next album.

Leo: Thanks for your openness. It really can’t be easy trying to pull these things together whilst everyone involved has other projects and ‘real lives’ in which to make a living and survive. I agree with you about Brendan Eyre’s work with Tony Patterson – their album ‘Northlands’ is genuinely outstanding. I am also greatly looking forward to the new Riversea album.

It’s good news that you’re working with the same line up that played on ‘Leaves’ for the new album as I’m fascinated where the Nine Stones Close journey will go next with such a talented band.

How did you find new band members and why did you choose them in particular?

Adrian: As I mentioned, it was a difficult time after ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’ came out. I was on a bit of a high  – I thought we had created a really great album and we had a chance to really take it to the next level, but it simply didn’t work out. Almost immediately after the release Marc left the band and I spent a long time looking for another singer, and that massively delayed the new album. We tried a couple of people, but it didn’t work. I wanted someone with a different voice, who could bring something unique and new to the band, to me there was no point playing safe and finding someone with a similar style to Marc. Aio came on board after being recommended to me and flying in for a session. We connected straight away and his voice brings a new edge to the sound and I think really fits the new songs perfectly. We recorded the vocal for ‘Complicated’ in the very first working session together. Christiaan I met through Pieter (van Hoorn), we had a rehearsal session in Arnhem and hit it off instantly. He is great to have around and is always full of enthusiasm and great ideas for music. Peter Groen came on board later when we were nearer the final recording stages of the album – he is also great to have around in the band.

Studio

Leo: The excellent new album ‘Leaves’ seems to be a very clear change in tone / direction after ‘One Eye…’.

Was that related to the personnel changes and the different sounds / styles they bring to the band, or was that a clear change from your perspective as band leader?

Adrian: Great to hear you are enjoying the album. I never stand still musically. The three previous albums are all very different from each other too. Aio is an element of that new sound but the material was written before he came on board so the change in sound was already progressing. I am always moving forward, musically, and can guarantee the next album will be different again. Of course, the new singer brings a change to the band’s sound, as does any change of singer. It’s so up front and obvious, of course. Christiaan and Peter both bring their own sounds and approach to the music, and that too changes the overall sound of the band.

Leo:    Are there any plans / aspirations for playing as a live band, either on tour or at Prog festival events like ‘Summers End’?

Adrian: We would love to, hopefully someone will invite us to play!

The problem is the logistics of where everyone lives, available time, family commitments, work commitments and finances. So far it’s just not worked out for a combination of all those reasons. Hopefully in the future it will work out. We are currently working on a possibility for 2017, I hope that we can make it happen this time.

Leo: I really hope Nine Stone Close can make it to the live stage at some point.

Many artists ‘self release’ these days. How did your working relationship with David Elliott of Bad Elephant Music develop, leading to the release this  album?

Adrian: I started out with self-release myself with the ‘Lie Big’ album then ‘St Lo’ and ‘Traces’. We are still best friends with the local post office staff in Leiden! I had known David informally for a while though The Dividing Line Network. I also met with Matt Stevens a few times for a beer and he was always telling me how Bad Elephant were doing a great job for his band, The Fierce and The Dead. The real introduction though was via my mate Brendan Eyre who linked me up with David and Martin (Hutchinson) for a discussion about finding a home for the release of ‘Leaves’. Fortunately, after hearing the album, they were still interested (laughs). It’s been great to work with such an open, realistic, and enthusiastic label, long may it continue.

Leo:   They are certainly an eclectic and supportive label who seem to genuinely have the interests of the artists and the music at the heart of what they are doing.

Whom is your favourite / most influential guitarist/ musician, and what are the main artists that you feel have influenced you as a musician and song writer?

Adrian: It’s almost impossible to choose just one. I listen to a LOT of music. I think Jimmy Page has to be up there. Not just as a guitarist, but as a producer, writer, performer, guitar orchestrator, he was a complete package. Those Zeppelin albums still stand up today. Obviously, as a guitarist, I have been influenced by many other great players : David Gilmour, Steve Rothery, Andy Latimer from the progressive world, but equally Jerry Cantrell was a huge influence. Then there are Kim Thayil, Ty Tabor, Alex Lifeson, Tony Iommi, Trevor Rabin, Zappa, Adrian Belew; way too many to mention. In terms of artists, Talk Talk were a phenomenal band in terms of their progression and output, Pink Floyd, obviously, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, King’s X, Kate Bush, …. I could go on for ages.

adrian-3

Leo: On ‘Leaves’ you skillfully used violinist, Annelise Rijk, and cello player, Ruben van Kruistrum on the great song ‘Lie’.

Are there any other particular artists with whom you would like to collaborate in future, possibly on your next album?

Adrian: Yes, they did a fantastic job on ‘Lie’. Christiaan also has to take the credit for the string arrangement on that part of the song. Katy Bell provided beautiful cello on the last album too, and Matt Stevens provided some crazy guitar work.

I think there are always other artists I would like to work and collaborate with. I am always open to offers to play on other artists’ material too. I love to do that – it’s a nice challenge which is very different to writing and performing on my own material. I recently provided some slide and lead guitar for the track “Kindest Eyes” on Tony Patterson’s latest album. That was a pleasure to do and it turned out great, I think. Hopefully there will be more  collaborations in the future. Anyone interested should feel free to contact me!

Leo:   Progressive or ‘Prog’ music fans can be remarkably conservative at times, which does sound contradictory to the concept of progression.

How would you describe Nine Stones Close as a band, and what is your view on how some fans may find it difficult dealing with changes in your band’s style and personnel over time?

Adrian: I have phrase I came up with recently, “progression has collateral damage, prog doesn’t”.

I do agree with you that some ‘Prog’ fans can be very conservative these days. For me ‘Prog’ is very different to ‘Progressive’ in meaning these days. ‘Prog’ is more of a style thing now, you know: “sounds like Genesis, Yes, King Crimson or Pink Floyd, must have widdly widdly bits, long songs and huge amounts of time changes”.

If you look at bands that have truly progressed, they have changed, lost fans, gained fans, always moved forward regardless of any fashion or commercial success. It’s fine for fans of our previous albums not to like what we are doing now. It’s perfectly natural. You see that music divides opinion like that. Some people for instance, refuse to listen to any post Peter Gabriel Genesis album, whereas I think they made their best albums after he left. Some people feel the same way with Marillion, for example. Music does polarise opinion. Personally, I want to move forward and not create the same thing over and over again just because some people might like it. There is no money to be made from doing this – it’s purely an artistic outlet, so what is there to lose? I might as well do whatever I want to do. I have no pressure to be an AC/DC type band, effectively churning out the same sounding album year after year. Where is the fun in that? If I am not enjoying making music and run out of ideas and things to say, then I will stop. Nine Stones Close music comes from my heart and soul, I pour everything into it, I hope that some of that comes across to the listener.

Leo:  A really interesting response – I particularly like the phrase “progression has collateral damage, prog doesn’t”I may nick that!

More seriously, it is very clear that you have poured your heart and soul in to the Nine Stones Close albums. They are not formulaic or repetitive, and certainly have engaged this listener.

I know you’ve only recently released ‘Leaves’ but are there any embryonic ideas to the direction of the next Nine Stones Close album, and possible timescales?

Adrian: Yes, actually, there is. I had some discussions with our producer about what I want to go for on the next album. It will be different again, especially in terms of overall sound and feel, I want to take it somewhere new again. It will be a challenge to do that, but hopefully what I have in my mind we can somehow get out onto a CD. Working with Paul van Zeeland (producer) is great, because he has such a deep understanding of sound and how to translate that into a recording and mix. I recently started writing and working on arrangement ideas with Christiaan and we have some great ideas on the go already. The plan is try to record the album somewhere in 2017, but that is all dependant the usual work, family, time commitments. It will definitely not take 4 years this time, if it does then it will never see the light of day! I can’t go through that again.

adrian-4

Leo: One last silly question.

We’ve recently had the Olympics and Paralympics. If there was an Olympics for Music which 3 albums would you give Gold, Silver and Bronze medals and why?

Adrian: Oh, that’s a very difficult question for a throwaway last question (laughs). Music is always a very personal thing for the listener as well as the musician trying to convey something. I grew up in a house where there was always new music available. My father used to work as a sales rep for various record labels over the years and there were promo copies of albums and singles coming through the door pretty much on a daily basis as I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. I used to  play almost everything that came into the house and quickly learned about different styles and genres and also what spoke to me. I have a huge music collection at home, so choosing a top 3 would be impossible. If I had to choose 3 off the top of my head, like now, hmm.

Here are 3 that grew my love of music and made me the writer I am today …

Bronze

Led Zeppelin – ‘The Soundtrack From The Film The Song Remains The Same’

This is the reason I picked up a guitar. I went to see a re-showing of the movie shortly before my 16th birthday with some school friends. Despite my love of music I had never really thought about actually playing an instrument myself, and there wasn’t a lot of opportunity back in those days, we were not well off as a family. I remember just being totally blown away watching Zeppelin perform, and immediately after I got home I asked my parents for a guitar for my birthday. They scraped together some money from somewhere and managed to get me a starter classical guitar, not exactly the Les Paul I had in mind, but it was still amazing to have a guitar and it set me on my own musical journey. The version of No Quarter on this is fabulous, Jimmy’s solo is sublime. I know everyone thinks it is not a great representation of how amazing they were live, but I love it.

Silver

Alice In Chains – ‘Dirt’

I still remember the day I bought this album. It’s left such a lasting impression on me. I was with a friend shopping for stuff in Bristol and went into one of my favourite record shops. It had just been released, and having heard the earlier stuff I was interested to see where they were going. To say it blew me away is an understatement. I remember getting home and cracking open some beers and putting it on the hifi.  About 8 hours later we were still listening on repeat and still drinking beer. The first listen was such a shock, we ended up sat in silence the whole album just taking it in. Jerry Cantrell is a massive influence for me, the way he plays, what he plays, how he writes, hugely underrated in my opinion. Layne had one of the best voices rock has ever known and his combination harmonies with Jerry were just sublime. If you listen to the album I made with my previous band Lie Big – “Severed”, you will hear how big an influence this band had on me. If you only try one track from ‘Dirt’ then listen to ‘Rain When I Die’. What an incredible and inventive song. Frankly there are no weak moments on the whole album, it’s a true classic and it still gets played regularly today.

Gold

Talk Talk‘Spirit Of Eden’

I was always a Talk Talk fan from day one. I remember having the promo of their first single from my dad and thinking the singer was fantastic and that there was more to them than the single. In this case no one really know how much more. I can’t think off-hand of another band who progressed as far as they did over just 5 albums. The Colour Of Spring was an incredible album, but nothing prepared me for this one. I remember first hearing it and just not getting it, I was thinking “Where are the songs? What are they doing?”.

Over time it grew and grew with repeated plays until I became totally obsessed with it for a while. The production is amazing and they absolutely captured the mood of those sessions. This is easily in my top albums of all time and certainly in my most played. 28 years later and this is still regularly on the hifi. If you haven’t heard it then you definitely need to.

Leo:  I don’t know Alice in Chains or ‘Dirt’ so I’ll have to track that one down as you recommend it so highly. I remember seeing that Led Zeppelin film at the cinema and loving it – just one of THE great bands. Love your choice of ‘Spirit of Eden’ and had similar reactions to you when it came out – it’s ageless. Fascinating and varied choices – a real insight into your development and influences.

Thank you Adrian for taking the time to do this interview with Progradar – it’s been really interesting for me and I am grateful for your openness and the thought you have given your answers.

I hope your current excellent album ‘Leaves’ continues to receive the attention it deserves, and I wish you all the best for the next project.

‘Leaves’ was released on 13th may 2016 and can be bought from the Bad Elephant Music bandcamp site:

Nine Stones Close – Leaves

Leo2

(Leo Trimming)

Interview with David Longdon – Pt1 from 6th March 2016 – by Progradar

Real World me David and Rikard

Before I get round to reviewing ‘Folklore’, here is my first interview with David Longdon, recorded on 6th March 2016.

Martin – Good morning David, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.

David – That’s fine Martin..

M – This actually came out of the blue, a friend of mine called Kevin Thompson, another one who has been into Big Big Train for a long time, had bought two copies of ‘Wild River’ by mistake (which I’m sure you won’t mind!) He advertised it on facebook and said “does anybody want it”. I’d had it in my mind about getting your solo album for quite a while, so I thought, if it’s there, I’ll definitely have it. I put it on and listened to it for the first time and I was really impressed with it. It reminded me of Lee Maddison, a north-east musician and I see it almost modern folk music?

D – That’s exactly what it is. It was musically aimed at the acoustic roots scene because I was searching for a genre that would allow me to make the music that I could hear in my imagination. I’d always liked acoustic music and experimental music so, ‘Wild River’ encompassed a little bit of both of those, there’s also some elements of prog in there too. Over the years, I’d been writing and recording with bands, working alongside a music publisher, band management, record companies and A&R people. I’d also gone through the Genesis saga too so, when it came to making ‘Wild River’, I wanted to make an album that I would like to hear. I was writing songs and getting into the whole recording process just to s see where it took me. I didn’t force a note which was possibly why Wild River took about seven years to make.

M – The title track, to me, I think it encompasses everything that you’ve just said. It’s got a bit of Prog, a bit of rock in it and it’s also got some of that modern folk in there as well, it’s just a really good song. You said it took seven years to make? You were obviously doing that among all the other bits and pieces then?

D – That was right, I’d gone though a divorce during that period and then I’d eventually rebuilt my life, met someone else and then became a parent. It’s interesting because all the people who are playing on ‘Wild River’ are old friends and people I knew from a specific point in my life. It’s a time capsule. It was also the time of moving from the 20th Century into the 21st, so the ‘Millennium blues’ were happening at that time too.

M- Were the songs written of actual experiences of yourself?

D – I was writing music and using different ways of writing. Some of the songs were based on events that had happened in my life. Falling Down was based on a conversation that I had with my father one day. Loving and Giving was autobiographical. Vertigo is about the disorientation that comes when a close relationship is coming to an end and it draws from several episodes that had happened to me. The song About Time was a stream of consciousness lyric – the lesson there was to leave the lyric rather than edit it into something more controlled. I have no idea who Turpentine is – but one day I’ll write a song about her. So the album is a mixture of influences and different subject matter.

I had spent lots of time in recording studios over the years but I’d always worked with an engineer. On ‘Wild River’ I was the engineer and I learnt how to do it as I went along. I recorded Wild River on a  Roland VS8-80. It enabled me to be able to record audio at home for the first time and I found it hugely liberating. For the first time, it wasn’t costing me money to record and I could record when i had the opportunity to be able to do so. I recorded the music on the VS8-80 and a friend of mine called Michael Brown digitally transferred it into E Magic/Logic.

M – It seems to be quite an intricate, devil’s art being an engineer…

D – It takes time and experience to learn the craft. There are lots of errors on the album. On Joely,  and I was recording Beth Noble the violinist and we were layering her violin and viola parts to make it sound like a string section. My inexperience as a sound engineer meant that I bounced some of the violin parts with the reverb, which means that the reverb is now entirely committed to the track. I can’t take it off. But it was a learning process.

There are many things like that, which you learn by doing them. I wanted the album to take the listener on a journey. I recorded the material and arranged the album to flow from track to track. The album revealed itself over time.

With Niall Hayden Kings Place Rehearsal Simon Hogg

(Picture copyright Simon Hogg Photography)

M- Touching on the ‘no-no’ subject of ‘Bard’ in the BBT forum and the re-mastering of that album, would you go back and redo ‘Wild River’ or, are you happy with it as it is?

D- That’s interesting because we have spoken about, possibly, reissuing it as a Big Big Train back pages thing, both ‘Bard’ and ‘Wild River’. With ‘Wild River’, its initial pressing is now gone, that’s it, the original run has sold out. The temptation is to go – ‘I want to rerecord everything’ but I don’t want to do that with Wild River. I have some good live recordings and demos taken from that time which may be of interest. I may record some acoustic versions as additional tracks to accompany the re-issue. But Wild River is what it is and I am happy to leave it at that.

We (BBT)are going to revisit at least one track from ‘Bard’ on ‘Station Masters’.

Before I met Big Big Train, I sent a copy of Wild River to Greg (Spawton) and Andy (Poole), they listened to and liked it because it showcased the acoustic side to what I do. They also liked my songwriting. We did think, at one point, of re-recording the title track with Big Big Train. That’s another option.

M- I think that would be awesome because, going back to the track, it’s even got bits of blues and soul in it as well…

D- I nailed my colours to the mast with that track! It is about the death of my father. My Dad died of leukaemia and I have felt very bitter about it over the years. I feel that he  was taken too soon. He missed too much. The chorus line, “Life is a wild river, not a long, calm stream..”  acknowledges that there are circumstances in life that will rip you up. My emotions are very raw on this track. As I have become older, I think it is how we come through these challenges that life throws at us, that makes us who we are.

M- To me, doing the Wild River track with Big Big Train would be really good…

D- That was just an idea and may or may not happen.

M –You’ve probably got enough stuff to keep you going for the next decade without thinking about anything else!

D – Yes, we’ve got some interesting stuff coming up. We are looking at least four recording projects deep into the future now. That’s a good amount of work. It’s a steady process.

M – So, getting onto ‘Folklore’ and ‘Wassail’, was it a conscious decision to go down that, shall we say,’folk inspired’ route. Everyone calls you ‘Pastoral Progressive Rock’ so, would you say it is a bit of a move away from that, to a certain extent? Or was it just the way the songwriting took you?

D- I am fascinated with the themes within folk music, not so much folk music itself. I like the ideas and structures. If you listen to folk music, it has all manner of odd time signatures within it, much like progressive rock does.

It had been a while since BBT had released a studio album because we had been focussing on Stone and Steel and also the live shows which were both expensive project and also time consuming.  I had started writing  Wassail which I played to Greg down the phone and he liked it. We had a conversation about what we’d been writing individually and eventually a direction emerged. We decided on the title Folklore because it pulled all these musical ideas together as a whole.

Folklore the track, is a song about how folklore came about, how it has been passed on through our human existence. Word of mouth, then words evolving and the written word. Evolving straight through to the digital realm and the internet and social media. We are still making our folklore.

Acoustic Quartet Simon Hogg

(Picture copyright Simon Hogg Photography)

M – You said you were surprised a bit by the success of Big Big Train recently, would you say that’s down to the digital age and things like facebook etc.?

D – Yes, it’s a fantastic Facebook group that we’ve got. People gather there because of a shared musical interest in the band but there’s much more to it than we could ever have designed. It’s a true community of BBT fans who call themselves Passengers. Big Big Train fans are a loyal bunch, they are demanding in the sense that they expect great things from us. They expect excellence and we fully aim to deliver.

M – I’m a member of quite a few facebook groups and there isn’t one that’s the same as Big Big Train. One question that everyone asks, new members that come to it say, it’s the most active facebook groups that they’ve ever been in and it hardly ever talks about the band it was set up to support!

D – When we’ve got something to say, we say it, when we haven’t we will still chip in now and again. People ask about  stuff and we answer it and it’s great. I love the fact that there’s no longer the wall between artists and fans. One of the best things about the Kings Place shows was being able to meet with the fans after the concerts. We are more than happy to do it and we want to talk with the fans. Those shows were our time with them and their time with us. It is a two way thing and that’s important because we value the people that buy our albums and support the band. We couldn’t have done the gigs without our fans wanting to see us play our music live. We can’t make that sort of stuff up and it is a genuinely amazing thing really.

M – Getting back to ‘Wild River’, have you thought about the possibility of a follow up, another solo album?

D – Yes, I have thought about a follow up. I have certain songs that I’ve written that I would like to see the light of day at some point. Uncle Jack was a solo song that I offered to BBT when they asked me if I would like to submit something for the band. Not your typical BBT song but that is part of my role within the band. I am a singer and songwriter, I have my own style and way of doing things which is quite rightly different from Greg’s. The contrast seems to have worked for us as a band and we think that it broadens our appeal.

Make Some Noise, which sometimes gets some stick from some fans because it was unlike anything the band had done before or since. We were finishing off recording some of the ‘English Electric’ drum tracking sessions and we had some down time in the studio. So Greg said to me have you got a solo thing you fancy bringing in to work on? I brought Make Some Noise in. Nick D’Virgilio had recorded the drums put the drums down on it, and as we worked on it Rob Aubrey was in the control room, talking with Greg and Andy, said that it is a single.

I’ve made it very clear about the origins of Make Some Noise, It was originally a solo track and the music is supposed to sound like a young band who are just kicking off and getting really excited by the power of the music that they’re playing with their mates when they were teenagers. Actually it is not as simple as it first seems.The music reflects those bands that I listened to as a teenager.

At that time, we’d been thinking about doing a video because we had been a studio based band and the video would give a sense of what we might look like as a live band. The notion of making a video for something as long as  Victorian Brickwork would be a costly thing to do. Make Some Noise is short and to the point and, rightly or wrongly, it got absorbed into Big Big Train and it became a single and a video for us.

We were not trying to have a hit single in any sense as some have suggested. That would be a preposterous notion because it is far too retro in it’s sound. Some kindly soul mentioned that we were selling out but who exactly were we selling out to? There is no big money machine hyping BBT. We are independent and we do it ourselves. So the prospect of Make Some Noise storming the charts was so off radar that it was never even considered.

M – It’s not Big Big Train but it is?

D – Yes, it is not typically Big Big Train but it is. It nods it’s head to bands like Queen, Pilot, Be Bop Deluxe, those classic rock singles. Big Big Train is a broad church, so it seems, I’m not saying we can do anything, don’t go expecting a rampant disco album anytime soon. If it suits the song subject matter and it works, we do it. We serve the music and go where it takes us.

But what would a David Longdon solo album be like?  I really don’t know.

M –  It needs to be something that’s more signature to you…

D- Exactly. So do I stockpile material for a solo album? If I don’t do another solo album for five years or so, will I still be interested in the material I had written five years ago? So, the answer is yes, I will probably do another solo album at some point. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. For the time being Big Big Train is all encompassing. There are only twenty four hours in a day. if you want to hear  David Longdon you’re going to find me with Big Big Train.

Real World -Glassart

(Picture copyright Glassart Photography)

M – How did you get involved with the Martin Orford album?

D – Martin was bowing out from IQ and his progressive rock career. He was very cut up about the way that the internet had impacted on sales. He was also getting nasty emails from people when he approached those that had uploaded his music and he just couldn’t see a future in continuing. That’s what his song Endgame is about.

Martin was recording his swan song and about to hang up his cape. I was reading an article about Martin and he has  a very sharp sense of humour and he’s a very interesting guy. I called Giant Electric Pea one afternoon and left a message, telling them who I was and a little bit about what I’d done. I mentioned the Genesis story and at that point he picked up the phone. We started speaking. At the end of the call he said “I’ll tell you what,  if you want to do it, there are a couple of tracks that I’d like you to have a go at singing. If you can sing them better than him, they’re going on the album!”.

I drove down to Southampton one morning to Aubitt studios and Rob Aubrey was the engineer. That’s how we all met. After I’d gone, Rob was on the phone to Greg saying that I think I’ve got a singer that could be right up your street. That was the beginning of my involvement with Rob, Greg and Andy.

M –And also thanks to you for having the gonads to pick the phone up and leave a message..

D – At that time I was teaching music technology and I was in that cycle of being a parent, getting up at 5 a.m. nappy changing and I thought right, if I’m going to do this music thing, I need to do it on a bigger scale than I have done it previously. I had released ‘Wild River’ to mass indifference.  To be honest, it was dead in the water. Joining BBT was a game changer for everyone involved with it.

M – You hinted on the Genesis thing, would you mind expanding on that a bit more? Was that an audition set up because they wanted a new singer and they advertised or was that through connections?

D – I have a friend called Gary Bromham, who, at that time, was in a band called The Big Blue and they were signed to EMI. We’d met when I was signed to Rondor Music Publishing and we shared the same management company. Gary was working at The Farm, where Genesis record, in Surrey. He was also working with Nick Davis who was Genesis’ producer at that time. Nick told Gary that now Phil had said he was off, they had decided to look for another singer. Gary, bless him, thought about me and said to Nick that he had a recording of someone who he thought would be good for that.

Gary called me and said “Dave, I hope you don’t mind but, I think I might have got you an audition with Genesis!” I thought he was winding me up because he has a great sense of humour but, he told me what had happened and how Nick had taken my tape to Tony Banks who liked it. There was a song on there of mine called Hieroglyphics of Love, it’s been a very lucky song for me, it got me a publishing deal and the audition with Genesis. Tony waited for Mike (Rutherford) to get back from touring with The Mechanics so he could play it to him. Mike got back off tour and liked it so the next thing is to get me down for an audition and that got the ball rolling.

I went down and did the audition, they had these mixes called ‘Top Of The Pops’ mixes because there was a musicians union rule that states that the music had to be performed live so, for example, if you had a track like No Son Of Mine, you’d have the track from the album and the producers would prepare these mixes by taking the lead vocalists voice off. Then, If they did it on Top Of The Pops, Phil could add a live vocal and that would satisfy the Union’s live element of the performance. They had a few Top Of The Pops mixes of their hits and I sang Mama, No Son of Mine, Land Of Confusion, Tonight, Tonight, Tonight, Throwing It All Away, I Can’t Dance and I did a live version of Turn It On Again, they didn’t have a Top Of The Pops track for that. They asked me if there was anything I wanted to sing and I said I’d like to do In The Cage from ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’.

Tony and Mike were very friendly and spent a lot of time just talking to me because, unlike Ray Wilson who had put records and video’s out with Stiltskin, they knew very little about me. They had to get that information out of me. The next time I was down they asked me to come and jam with them. They were playing excerpts of material that would end up on ‘Calling All Stations’ and I just had to jam along to it. Then they gave me a few songs to work on and write with them. I gave them a few ideas back. I also had to perform a live set with my band so they could see me perform in a live situation.

I never met Ray Wilson at all through the entire process. We’ve never corresponded with each other either. It was rumoured that they may go with a two singer approach, like Mike And The Mechanics but the fact that they had not introduced Ray and I to each other got my spider-senses tingling.  As we know, they eventually decided to go with Ray and why not? It’s a long time ago now and I’ve been a bit busy since then (said with a chuckle). As I’ve said before, Big Big Train is the Mothership and my musical home.

wassail mask neil palfreyman

(Picture copyright Neil Palfreyman)

M – Just one final question, where do you see the future for you and the band. Cast your eye over a crystal ball, where do you think you will be in ten years time?

D – There’s lots of variables that can happen between now and then. I’m 50 now so I’ll be 60 in ten years time, I hope I’ll be in good health and be able to sing in the way that I do at the moment, I hope my voice and my health stands the test of time. Big Big Train is its own muse, it is its own thing. It’s strange, when a new album starts coming together, we are write songs and build tracks and you wonder where it is all going. Greg will add something, Danny will send something in and Dave Gregory will provide a guitar part and suddenly, bang!, you go, yes, it’s Big Big Train! The good thing about the band is we are not frightened to throw in some unusual elements.

M- More live performances?

D- Definitely, we loved the live shows, they were amazing events. It was such a fantastic experience for all of us. We want to keep the shows special, we want them to be cherished as moments that people will look back on and think yes, that was something special!

M – I think I speak for the majority, if not all of, the people when I say it wasn’t just a gig. It was part of a whole weekend, people took time out to not just go and see the band live, they were coming from all over the world, it was the build up to it and the gig was just the highlight. It was more of a complete experience than just a show.

D – On the Saturday afternoon I was down in the foyer talking to the guys on the merch table. There was one man and his son who came down the escalator and saw me.  They came over to talk to me and they’d come from Bolivia! He said they’d walked, they’d been on a bus and a train. They’d also been on a plane to get to these shows in London and I’m so pleased that I met them. It was just the three of us talking in the foyer and I was thinking that to come all this way from Bolivia, it’s just incredible.

Folklore Launch

(Picture copyright Simon Hogg Photography)

M – I don’t think I can top that anecdote!  It was quite an experience, speaking for myself, I joined the ‘Train’ just after ‘The Underfall Yard’ and it didn’t resonate with me when I first heard it. I hate to say it but I did walk away from Big Big Train but, when I heard the ‘English Electric’ albums I thought they were absolutely stunning and went back to ‘The Underfall Yard’ and then it made sense!

D – I suppose, in many ways, people say that Greg tends to write the big, more progressive tracks and I tend to write the shorter songs. We don’t contrive the way we write, we just write what we write and then what we’ve got is what we’ve got.  We then talk about it and we come with the next direction of where we are going. We go with what’s right at the time,

Big Big Train has been an amazing experience for all of us involved and it’s given us a lot of pleasure. It is a fantastic vehicle to be working within. I like the fact that you say you came back to ‘The Underfall Yard’ having discovered something later. I guess, when we put Folklore out there may be someone like your good self who heard Hedgerow and thought it was insane, something may hit them and they may go back and discover Hedgerow again and even ‘The Underfall Yard’. You’ve got people listening to the early albums as well, you have ‘Gathering Speed’ or ‘The Difference Machine’, which is great. It’s all good.

M – For me, the song that nailed my colours to Big Big Train’s mast was Curator of Butterflies. Mike Morton of The Gift and I came to the Saturday performance and were on the front row. It’s been a song that we both find quite emotional and we just turned to each other and were in tears at the beauty of it all. The same with Victorian Brickwork, the thing that gets me about that track now is the brass at the end, I can’t understand now why I didn’t like it at first. The brass at the end just makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

D – We’ve been listening to 5.1 mixes from ‘Stone & Steel and we’ve got Victorian Brickwork on there from the London shows. In Blu-Ray high definition with the band kicking and the brass going, it hits home hard. It’s a massive noise and it can be quite overwhelming.

When I first started with Big Big Train I received these lyrics which in addition to poetic moments, consisted of technical, almost industrial, language. I wondered how I was going to approach singing them. I decided to split the lyrics into lead vocal lines and backing vocal parts. Because if I split them up, it would give me more time to deliver and they could overlap each other. I would deliver the lead vocal lines over the gorgeous music beneath and that was the key to it. I also sing them like my life depends on it – like it is the most important thing in the world. It’s not only the words, it is very much the emotional delivery of them.

M  –  I think you’re right, what a lot of people picked up from the Kings Place performances was that you were not just singing the words, you were almost living them.

D – Yes, I am completely in the moment. It’s been an amazing journey.

I’d like to thank David for taking the time to talk to me.

Coming next will be my review of Big Big train’s ‘Folklore’ album and then my second interview with David which we conducted after the release of ‘Folkore’ and the release part at Real World Studios.

 

Interview with Discipline’s Matthew Parmenter (reproduced with kind permission of Jeff Milo)

Matthew - Sam Holt

This is a complete transcript of an article featured in The Ferndale Friends, reproduced with the kind permission of the author, Jeff Milo.

All photos are by Graham Stead and Sam Holt.

Words by Jeff Milo

There is a distinct relationship between artist and audience, bands and listeners. There is an opportunity to instill inspiration, to offer escape, to alter preconceptions. That power and that connection are the biggest reasons local singer/keyboardist/producer Matthew Parmenter has contnued to write, record and publish music for almost 30 years, now, as both a solo artist and, notably, as the frontman for the symphonic-prog band Discipline.

“Any musical offering is an act of faith”, said Parmenter. “It is always rewarding to hear fellow humans say they found something palliative or profound in the work.”

Discipline - Graham Stead

(Discipline 2015)

Back before the World Wide Web dominated the distribution, consumption and business mode of recorded musical art, Discipline formed in 1987 in a Royal Oak high school. The band features Jon Preston Bouda on guitar, Matthew Kennedy on bass, Paul Dzendzel on drums and Parmenter on vocals and keyboards.

“We dabbled a bit with Punk while in high school,” recalls Parmenter, “but it didn’t take.” They excavated treasures from Sam’s Jams (formerly where Rosie’s now operates) and Flipside (up in Clawson), including seminal prog-rock records that the late 80’s mainstream radio stations were ignoring, like Genesis, Gentle Giant, King Crimson and more.

“Doing ‘art-rock’ in Detroit made us feel a bit like a lone-wolf around town,” recalls Parmenter. But they kept at it, developing a mailing list, with actual snail-mail and allying with comparable prog-stylists in the region like Hope Orchestra and Granfalloon. In fact, it was another local goup, Tiles, who showed Discipline a lot of support over the years. Tiles’ guitarist Chris Herin eventually took the spot of Jon Preston Bouda on guitar.

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Discipline have evolved over the decades, through several records released through their own label Strung Out Records, a beautiful blend of operatic-pop, post-punk theatre and a baroque-tinged electronic ambience, primarily experimenting with a genre known as progressive-rock (or prog-rock). Some of their compositions spanned 15 minutes or longer, particularly on their dazzling 1997 odyssey ‘Unfolded Like Staircase’.

“As a songwriter,” Parmenter said, “I have become less inclined to embark on epics. I rarely write songs running more than 15 minutes any more, and 25 minutes is right out. I am still drawn to create a narrative space that exposes some particular observed tension and which, ideally, reaches an emotional summit.”

Matthew 2 - Sam Holt

On stage, Discipline embody this captivating, Morpheus-ian grace in blending psychedelic performance art with elements of classical, jazz and Brit-pop. Parmenter points to The Beatles, David Bowie and Peter Gabriel as influences for the more rock and pop sides of Discipline, while also including jazz and classical icons like Miles DavisThelonius MonkIgor Stravisnky and Béla Bartok. The experimental rock of Van der Graaf Generator was a notable influential touchstone.

“In live performance, we have learned to allow, and even to foster, a sort of intentional imperfection,” said Parmenter, “Not to say that we ever played perfectly. Rather, in the early days accuracy and being precise seemed more important. Later on, rough edges and spontaneity came to matter more. Then the performances started to breathe, get human, have soul. Too much polish…can become boring.”

Go online and you’ll find various zines, blogs and sites devoted to ‘prog’ music sending substantial love towards Detroit’s Discipline. There is truly a galaxy full of bands edging their own nuanced composites of this genre, with acknowledged pioneers such as Yes, King Crimson and Genesis.

“If progressive rock were an iceberg, most people would recognise it only by the tip they can see sticking out of the water,” Parmenter observes.

Discipline are finishing up a new album while Parmenter celebrates the release of his third solo album ‘All Our Yesterdays’ (through Bad Elephant Music) on March 11th.

US and Canada Pre-orders of ‘All Our Yesterdays’

UK and Europe Pre-order of ‘All Our Yesterdays’

All Our Yesterdays cover

 

Interview – Fedor Kivokurtsev of Echoes and Signals

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I like a bit of instrumental progressive rock and it was my pleasure to review Russian trio Echoes and Signals November 2014 release ‘V’ earlier this year.

Further to this excellent album the band have announced that they will be opening for their heroes Pain of Salvation on the two Russian dates that they are playing.

I caught up with guitarist Fedor Kivokurtsev to find out more about himself and the band…..

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Progradar: Fedor, how long have you been a musician, what started you on that path and who influenced in your early days as a musician?

Fedor: Well, it’s been a million years since my first attempt to play a guitar but, if we are to talk about something music-like, first band etc. it all started when I was 15. Now I’m 26, so…                  

To talk about main influences – it was a weird combination of some metal bands, sci-fi & fantasy books and, a bit later, another ton of classical books. Reading is still one of my favourite things to do on this planet.

Progradar: How did Echoes and Signals get together in the first place?

Fedor: I got together with my friend Alex, our bass player, and our first drummer Vladimir just to play some music. We decided that we wouldn’t have any plans, any style boundaries and would play anything we felt like at that moment. We were all going through period of certain changes in our lives and it was the starting point.

Progradar: Echoes and Signals are an instrumental rock band, why just instrumental and do you think you will ever write any songs with lyrics?

Fedor: It was not intentional but, suddenly, we found that, in 95% of cases, the instrumental form was perfect for what we wanted to express. This means that we will have some songs with lyrics in the future, but not so much. It should go naturally, sometimes words are useless, but sometimes they mean a lot. 

Progradar: Do you think it is easier writing tracks with no lyrics and how do you go about writing your songs, what inspires you guys as a band?

Fedor: No, it’s definitely not about “easier or harder”, it’s about the right feeling. All our songs are inspired by personal experience, particular situations and feelings. So, life itself is the main source of inspiration, but other forms of art – great music, books and films are always near.

Band Shot

Progradar: Does being a musician in Russia differ from more recognised countries like the UK and USA? Do you have a big following in your home country?

Fedor: Well, one thing that is very different is distances, it’s okay to drive 10 hours from city to city when you tour Russia. By “okay” I don’t mean that it feels great though 🙂  

In all other aspects I guess we all face the same problems as musicians. I never thought that location can solve the problems of a man.  All our problems and difficulties live inside our heads. 

About the audience? – it’s not so big, but very dedicated.

Progradar: How do you feel about illegal downloading of your music?

Fedor: All our music is free (or pay what you want) at the moment, so it feels ok. I mean we cannot avoid downloading and everyone who uses torrents knows that.

There are some pros and some cons but I prefer to think about the good side. It’s good promotion at least.

Progradar: Do you think that, eventually, all music will be cloud based and even digital music files stored on a computer will become a thing of the past?

Fedor: This is where it is, subscription based streaming services etc. it’s not only about digital music, but also about any digital content, software etc. However the transition will not be that fast.

The bad thing here is that the value of each piece of art is decreasing. You don’t have to go to another town to buy CD in an exclusive shop or ask a friend who has a collection of rare music… all you have to do now is just type the relevant keywords in a search bar, with all the relevant consequences. 

Progradar: You have recently announced that you will be opening for Pain of Salvation on the two Russian dates of their tour, how did that come about?

Fedor: Seriously, we just wrote a big and touching letter to the concert agents who booked PoS in Russia. They then sent our videos and music to the headliner and we’ve been confirmed. 

It was a very impulsive act since I really love PoS as a band, I love their music, energy and message. I feel some kind of a resonance. Well, every fan feels the same, don’t they? 🙂

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Progradar: Knowing that you guys are big fans of the band, how do you feel about it?

Fedor: We feel awesome. No, haha. Words are just words, it’s hard to describe this emotional lift that we feel. I wish I had a chance to say all I think about this in person!.. After all, one of my dreams came true. That’s it! I wrote a big post on our facebook page trying to catch my thoughts.

Progradar: Do you prefer playing live to recording and why?

Fedor: Both, there was a moment in my life when I decided to be a studio nerd, because it’s perfect for composing, this isolated atmosphere… but, after some very important gigs, after this storm of emotions that I felt, I changed my mind.

So, both things are awesome, it’s all about the balance. Sometimes you have to spend some time alone, trying to understand what you want to express. But we should not forget that the most important thing in our life is to give something to someone. Gigs are perfect for this.

Progradar: Who inspires you musically and generally in this day and age?

Fedor: Oh, the hardest question for me!.. Right now I’m really into 70s singer-songwriter stuff, Joni Mitchell, Linda Perhacs etc. 

In general any good music inspires me!, any genre, any style. Talking about modern bands, I really love Icelandic and Japanese music, Agent Fresco and Mono for example.

Progradar: Where would you like to play live most of all in the world?

Fedor: It will be a long list! Everywhere 🙂 Portugal, France, UK, Iceland, Argentina, Japan. Why?.. Just a random selection. The world is so big and beautiful!!!

Blurred band

Progradar: If you could give up the ‘day’ job and be a full time musician, would you?

Fedor: Well, a short answer will be ‘yes’ but, if we will dig and see what ‘full time musician’ means and how many sacrifices people who can call themselves so make, it can lead to a new thread of discussions. In this life we need to try, we need to make mistakes and we need to make the right decisions.

Progradar: What is next for Echoes and Signals and where do you see yourself and the band in five years time?

Fedor: The next big steps that we need to do are two tours. Russia first, as a complete tour and then Europe. We will work hard to make it happen. Also at the moment we are writing a lot of new music, a lot of ideas flying in the air… So it will definitely lead to the new release.

In five years I wish that we will still be together, strong, writing great music and touring. Life is about the simple things, right?

Progradar: Name 3 albums that you own that you think everybody else should have?

Fedor: 

Pink Floyd – Dark Side of The Moon

Pain of Salvation – Be

Paul McCartney & Wings – Band on the Run

Progradar: Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Fedor: Thanks everyone reading this!!!!!! And thanks Martin for the questions.

Don’t forget – if you like the music, support the artists. By support I don’t mean money, I mean sharing with friends, good words, friendly messages, facebook status updates, all these things are a perfect reward!

An excellent up and coming band, catch Echoes and Signals live and download the album here : Echoes and Signals – V

 

 

 

 

 

The Man Behind the Moniker – An Interview with jh

jhpress

One lucky bonus of being the PR man for Bad Elephant Music is getting to delve further into people behind the music and getting to know who they really are. In the first of an occasional series, I have been speaking to Jon Hunt, the man behind the musical persona of jh.

We released the jh anthology ‘Morning Sun’ earlier this year and it has been well received by critics and listeners alike (see above). In a bid to get into the mind of the man behind the music, I interviewed Jon about many topics, please read on to hear what he had to say…..

First a little history……

jh guitar

jh is the nom de guerre of Jon Hunt, he writes, arranges, performs and mixes all his material himself, with the exception of some of the drums.

It is impossible to describe jh’s music in a nutshell, as the only ethos he has is to make exactly the music he wants with no regard to commercial thought. This makes him extremely difficult to market, but more importantly his integrity remains intact. His albums hearken back to the spirit of the ‘album’ as being an artform in itself, jh’s music is eclectic, honest, and quintessentially English. His recordings are startlingly honest pieces of work that reveal more and more on each listen.

There have been three previous albums, all of which have been self-released, 2008’s ‘Truth and Bullshit’, 2011’s ‘Wanderlust’ and 2013’s ‘So Much Promise’.

2015 has seen jh link up with the eclectic record label Bad Elephant Music to release a fourteen track compilation of his most iconic tracks to date.

jh

Now onto the interview itself…..

Progradar – Jon, what started you on your musical journey, who or what made you want to be a musician?

jh – My dad is a piano player, so I suppose it was in my blood, I grew up around music. I suppose I always had a good ‘ear’, there was always some sort of a keyboard around the house.

Progradar – What were your earliest musical memories and influences?

jh – One of my earliest memories was spending hours at a piano at my parent’s friends’ house and just coming up with stuff and feeling like I was being taken away into a different world. I also remember listening to my parents’ vinyl collection, and losing myself in that, too.

Quite lot of classical music actually, along with easy listening. Neil Sedaka’s ‘Greatest Hits’ was played a lot. Everyone thinks of him as the guy who did ‘Oh Carol’ and ‘Amarillo’, but his more mature stuff in the seventies was actually amazing song-writing, the arrangements and melodies. I’d go so far to say some of that stuff was an influence (not that’d you’d be able to tell!).

The first records I bought were ‘So Lonely’ by The Police, and ‘The Eton Rifles’ by The Jam on 7″ vinyl. Then my next door neighbour taped me ‘Tubular Bells’ and it all went downhill from there haha! (JOKE!)

Progradar – Your first solo albums were all written, recorded and produced pretty much as a one man project, what helps and hindrances did that cause?

jh – The good thing is, if you have a strong and/or ambitious idea of what you want, you don’t have to argue with anyone to get ‘permission’! However the downside for me is that the majority of work creating an album isn’t particularly creative. Just to record and mix the thing involves so much messing about with software, levels, labelling, saving each tiny setting and programs crashing that can be infuriating.

The bits of making a record I really enjoy are when I start layering instrumentation – For instance adding bass, guitar, or harmonies to the original idea, and you hear the song come alive – that’s a real buzz. And of course having the finished product. But apart from that, it can do your head in having to cut stuff up, crossfade, add compression or reverb, if using a drummer then getting all that right and then sorting out mixing the kit, etc.

And I’m a luddite – I like to try and keep things as simple as possible, not polish them too much, I’d rather have a dodgy take with emotion in rather than a perfect clinical performance, so it’s not that I use a ridiculous amount of needless gear and effects – the complete opposite. It’s just all the boring fiddly stuff you HAVE to do, which has nothing to do with why you made the song, what you love about the song.

Progradar – As a solo artist do you like the freedom that writing and recording your own music gives you?

jh – Yes I really, really do.

jh the sky

Progradar – You have been described as a lyrical wordsmith, where do you get the inspiration for your songs and do you sit down and physically make yourself write them or do you carry a notebook around in which you can put idea as they come to mind and flesh them out later?

jh – I usually start with the lyrics. Or at least lyrics with a melody. I have to be in the right mood but when they are flowing they come very naturally. It can sometimes take months, though. I think lyrics (in music that has them) are extremely important and I take them very seriously.

Through talking to people, I honestly think the majority of music listeners aren’t THAT bothered. But I am! On some more recent songs I have just put long streams of thought down on a laptop, then come back to them and viciously edited and moulded them to something that sounds good, but still has its meaning. I suppose it’s like poetry really. 

I did that with the title track ‘So Much Promise’ which basically is all about the mental illness that alcohol can cause some people. The problem I have now is that I’ve covered all the topics that I’m obsessed with/bothered by, sometimes more than once. I need to find some new bugbears!

Progradar – Is it easier to write the more pop inspired tunes than the more complex progressive feeling tracks?

jh – To be honest I’d say they are the same. If anything, more progressive stuff can be easier, as you can just come up with something, and build and build, it’s a great experience. Some of my best stuff has been written that way, such as ‘Making Tea Is Freedom’, and parts of the ‘London Road’ suite.

Progradar – Where did ‘Making Tea is Freedom’ come from, it seems so different to a lot of the other music that you write and record?

jh – I think it’s different to some of my stuff, but not all of it. I’ve always loved progressive rock, well, at least progressive rock that has soul and emotion. I just wanted to have a song which was like a journey, you know. As I say, quite a bit of it was sort of made up on-the-spot, and some of my best stuff comes like that, I think.

When you have something immediately and get it down, it’s obviously more true to the original emotion. That song was also kind of a statement of intent – on the first album. I remember at the time a friend said to me “Why don’t you just do a CD of your songs, and a separate CD of all your Prog sh*t”!!

That was completely missing the point – most of my favourite albums are highly varied in styles, and I pay a lot of attention to the sequencing of tracks, so the actual album is a sort of journey in itself – including the ‘Morning Sun’ compilation.

Progradar – Do you bounce your ideas off anyone before you actually finish writing an album?

jh – No, I never do. Only when mixes are nearly finished I’ll ask a couple of people that I respect for an opinion but this would only be in terms of ‘do you think the mix is alright?’ or ‘Are the vocals too quiet/loud?’, something like that.

Jon Hunt

Progradar – If someone doesn’t like your music do you take it to heart or just accept that different people have differing opinions and move on?

jh – No, I don’t take it to heart. I’m quite funny in the respect that I can put on one of my  favourite albums, and if I’m with someone who I know dislikes the band , I can completely understand WHY they hate it as it’s playing! We all have different tastes.

I can completely understand why some people could find my music highly annoying, for example! (Of course, it goes without saying I completely understand why people would really love it, too haha). It’s all horses for courses, really. I’m overwhelmed and proud that ‘Morning Sun’ has had such good reviews, though.

Progradar – I believe you have known David Elliott at BEM for quite a long time, how did the tie up with Bad Elephant come about and how  much of a culture shock was working with a label on ‘Morning Sun’ compared to your previous releases?

jh – I’ve known David since I released ‘Truth & Bullshit’ – he loved it and was a huge supporter. David and I talked before my second album ‘Wanderlust’ came out. This may even have been just before the first B.E.M. release, I’m not sure. But I was almost ready to release it, and had gigs, videos, promos planned etc.

‘So Much Promise’ I was in a bit of a dark place at the time, and actually recorded and released it really quickly, without really notifying anyone. Always a good way to market an album! Anyway, I wanted to make a compilation to round off those albums – I see them like a trilogy, really. I mentioned it to David one day over a murghi masala, and he said he’d be delighted to release it.

The real culture shock was having someone with a business head promoting jh material for the first time. I’ve never had a ‘business head’. People actually hearing (and hopefully enjoying) my music has been a revelation really. And of course folk like your good self who obviously ‘get’ the music spreading the word (before you were officially made PR man) – it’s a really nice feeling.

Progradar – Who inspires you musically and generally in this day and age?

jh – Anyone who doesn’t compromise when they make music, a lot of which I probably haven’t heard. This certainly applies to most of my label-mates, I think. Artists who love music so much they ‘have’ to make it, really. I don’t listen to as much new music as I’d like to to be honest.

I have to mention Steven Wilson – I’ve been listening to his music and seeing him play for over twenty years now. The fact that his latest album is to my mind the most complete album he’s done is amazing really, the quality of his work over the years, he seems to be getting even better. Now he’s having the success he deserves I keep waiting for the material to become pedestrian or ‘sell out’ or something but it never does – it’s actually getting better!

I think it’s amazing that an album as conceptually ambitious and stylistically varied as ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase.’ made the top 15 British charts or whatever it was. Hopefully it will give people confidence to make more ambitious albums, and introduce that kind of thing to people who may not have heard it.

What inspires me generally? I suppose the same things as always, hope, anticipation – the unknown in life, what can be out there if we bother to look for it, travel, opportunities, love… sorry I’m sounding like a hippy now!

Progradar – Do you think it is harder starting out as a musician in the digital age compared to the days of vinyl and single releases? What advice would you give to a fledgling musician that you would have appreciated hearing when you first started out?

jh – When I was making ‘Truth & Bullshit’ I actually had a Wilson quote pinned on the wall saying something like “Thinking about things like how to get signed, genres and what people want are irrelevant. If you want to start a band with 3 bassists go for it, you want to make a twenty-minute song? Go for it. You have a lot more chance of being successful if you do what you genuinely love.” I can’t really add to that.

I’ve known some artists who copy styles, or second guess what the next thing in fashion is, or are obsessed with the fashion/looks end of the ‘industry’. It’s bullshit. If you make the most honest record you possibly can then you can’t lose. If you’re putting loads of thought into what people will want/what people will say then you’re either not that good, or you’re making music for the wrong reasons. It’s dishonest, people will see through it and it won’t have any kind of longevity.

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Progradar – Do you think that the charts are relevant in today’s world of mp3’s and file sharing and do you actually take any notice? What are your thoughts on file sharing, illegal or otherwise?  I couldn’t honestly tell you if the charts are relevant or not.

jh – I couldn’t honestly tell you if the charts are relevant or notHmm – I’ve just contradicted what I said previously! Generally I really don’t know anything about them anymore. I have a feeling they’re mostly full of ‘product’ rather than music. File sharing is a hard one. Personally I want as many people to hear my music as possible. I’d like to think that if they got it for free and liked it then they’d buy a physical copy.

I put quite a bit of thought in to the artwork and concepts etc, and I consider all that PART of the album to a certain extent. No matter how talented an artist is, unless they have a huge major record deal, then you really don’t make a living from this. All the musicians I’ve known (some signed to quite well-known labels) have to do other things to pay the bills.

Progradar – You describe yourself as ‘quintessentially English’ what exactly does that mean?

jh – Firstly, I’m one of the minority of people who sings in an English accent (the default is American). Secondly, I do like the atmospheric ‘pedal-tone’ chords (which is keeping the bass the same and moving the chords over it) which can be very emotional and atmospheric. Tony Banks ofGenesis and Pete Townshend use this style a lot, so I think that’s associated with English bands. I also think my lyrics are steeped in Englishness, whether it be mentioning our Cities, describing our overcast weather or banging on about our fucked-up ‘very English’ human condition haha! 

Progradar – Do you prefer recording music or playing it live?

jh – Or playing with friends. Ask me to play covers for two hours in a pub for money and I’ll be as confident and as slick you like… it’s a job. Albeit a job that I wouldn’t describe as ‘being a musician’, but that’s a topic for another time. Playing my own stuff in front of people, well, I have a lot emotionally invested in it, and I WANT it to be good, I do panic sometimes when things go wrong.

I’m getting better, though. If the gig is right, then yes, it’s a lot of fun and rewarding. Otherwise, I hate all the waiting around (though some musicians love this aspect of it). I hate the bullshit fawning with other bands/artists. I hate promoters who think it’s fine to charge your fans £5 each to watch you play 25 minutes on a crammed bill, make a fortune on the bar take, and not give you a token drink let alone any money.

The few gigs I do, I refuse to play those venues anymore. The best thing you can do is put on your own evening, at a venue you like, with a sound-man you trust, do your own publicity. If you make it into an ‘event’ with like-minded support acts etc, then people don’t mind paying/buying a ticket for the evening. At the Wanderlust launch, I did two sets, had projections, showed the videos in the break, and everyone got a raffle ticket and before the last song I picked 3 and they got the new album.

That’s a nice thing to do, more of an event/an evening. I would love to do a few more gigs, but as I am (and have never been) a ‘hustler’ or ‘business head’, then I’ll just do things now and again, if they seem right, and if it’s likely that people can enjoy themselves and the performance can be good.

jh live

Progradar – Name 3 albums that you think everyone should own (not including your own)?

jh – Oh blimey! The first is a complete cliché, but I’m sorry – The BlueBeatles ‘1967-1970′ album for obvious reasons. So much has been said, obviously, but to me that’s where popular music starts, and also where progressive rock starts actually thinking about side 2 of ‘Abbey Road’.

Secondly I’m going to go for ‘The Last Broadcast’ by Doves. This came out in 2002, and is such an immense record – Great song-writing, varied styles, they actually describe themselves as ‘Modern Prog’ which I would agree with. Basically all the songs have interesting instrumentation, twists and turns, deep and honest lyrics and some beautiful, moving moments – it’s the complete package as far as I’m concerned. The fact that this emotional indie album actually got to Number 1 and the guys in the band look like they’ve just turned up at your door to fix your plumbing – restored my faith in good music at the time.

Thirdly I’m going to have to say everyone should own ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ by Genesis even if they hate it. Simply because whenever I mention the ‘G’ word, most people think of Phil Collins doing that walk on the video of that cheesy song. It’s not their fault – they went huge during their really commercial era, it’s just a shame that people connect the name of the band simply to that and don’t realise there’s a vault of amazing music, especially from the seventies. The Lamb is my favourite by them and one of my all-time favourite albums. I could easily have chosen three others, by the way.

Progradar – What does the future hold for jh, is there a new album in the offing, where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

jh – There will definitely be a new jh album by the end of 2016, hopefully a lot, lot sooner. Over half of it is written albeit in skeletal form and with places to improvise. I have a lot of ‘life’ stuff going on this year that I need to sort, but I always come back to writing and recording songs… it’s like my therapy. 5 years time is a scary question. I’ve always been obsessed with the passing of time, it keeps speeding up – I’ll just TRY and focus on the present, I think…

Progradar – And, finally, is there anything else you’d like to add?

jh – This is my first ever interview! So many thanks for interviewing me, and for all your support, Martin. 

A really in depth interview with an interesting man, all of jh’s back catalogue will be available soon with extra goodies from the Bad Elephant Music sales site.

The official jh website

jh on facebook