Ronnie Platts of Kansas talks about the band’s latest album ‘The Absence of Presence.’
Ronnie is the current lead vocalist for American rock legends Kansas and had the very difficult job of filling the role vacated by Steve Walsh when he decided to retire from the group where he had been a mainstay of for some 41 years. The band looked for a suitable replacement and they found it in fellow Midwesterner Ronnie, who had previously been in local bands that had opened shows in the Chicago Area for Kansas, after which he was involved with Shooting Star. When Kansas came calling Ronnie was ready to step up into the Big League. Here are his comments on the new album and on being part of the Kansas brand.
John Wenlock-Smith (JWS) – Good day Ronnie, it is a pleasure to talk with you, how are you doing?
Ronnie Platts (RP) – Hi John, I’m fine thank you, struggling like everyone else at this strange time (this conversation took place as both the UK and the USA are in lockdown battling the Covid 19 pandemic that has affected the world significantly).
JWS – We are supposed to be getting information this Sunday from the Prime Minister of how they intend to lift the lockdown, so we are all waiting on that announcement really.
RP – Things are starting to lighten up here as well, as things are starting to turn around a little.
JWS – I think they have finally started to get a handle on things, I mean it is all about keeping the rate of transmission down and keeping people away from each other
RP – Yes (laughs) but that is a hard thing for social animals!
JWS – Very much so, I mean we have been at home here for 6 weeks now and we have only been out once to the local town which is a couple of miles away.
RP – Oh my goodness.
JWS – Yes it has been quite hard going at times but, as the weather has been good, we have been able to do some work in the garden, which has been nice.
RP – That is exactly what I am doing as well, planting my garden.
JWS – Right let us talk about Kansas for a bit if I may, you have a new album out in July?
RP – Yes that is right, have you heard it yet?
JWS – Yes I have and I am thoroughly enjoying it too, tell me how much of this one did you write this time?
RP – I wrote two songs, Never, which is from a title from Phil Ehart, and Circus of Illusion, but we shared writing responsibilities with Tom Breslin and Phil came up with ideas for song titles for folks to write around. The first one being Throwing Mountains, which is pretty epic for Kansas don’t you think?
JWS – Yes, it is a great song and the video is great too.
RP – I think we wanted to give the fans an insight into the working behind the band and show that we are not so serious all the time. Actually, we spend lots of our time laughing and fooling around joking. In this business I think you have to really.
JWS – I am glad to hear that Phil is throwing out titles for songs.
RP – Well Phil is the boss, he’s the guy that has kept the ball rolling all these years and he is very excited by the recent success that we’ve been experiencing with this line up, we’ve been doing very well. I know from my time in the band that our audience has been growing and we’re seeing our fans bringing not only their children but also their grandchildren and the shows are getting bigger. The members might have changed but the title has not and neither has the intent or the quality of the music.
JWS – You’re obviously still hungry?
RP – Well I think you must credit Phil and Rich for that as they have been in the band for 47 years now. One of the things that surprised us was how much of (previous album) ‘The Prelude Implicit’ was sold on vinyl.
JWS – Well I think vinyl has had a resurgence as people like the artwork, the sleeves and the inserts.
RP – At my age you need a microscope to read the sleeve notes which is why vinyl is a great thing. You get so many bands that used to print the lyrics and all that stuff was especially important.
JWS – Are you looking forward to taking the album on the road?
RP – John, I cannot express enough just how excited I am to come to England and Europe and for folks to be able to see us play for them!
JWS – It’s been quite a journey for you really?
RP – Yes I’ve always been in bands when I wasn’t out driving my truck. All that paved the way for me to join Kansas, I’m nearly 60 now and it seems like days rather than 5 years. If we had been able to continue, I’d be nearing my 500th show now, in the first year we did 98 shows (2016) and the next we did 99! Way more than expected and a pretty full schedule. We’ve to Brazil and Chile so I’m really excited to be coming over to you.
JWS – So what did you carry on your truck?
RP – Corrugated packaging.
JWS – I used to work for Bentley and everything came in that sort of packaging, we had a lot of cardboard!
RP – Oh, Bentley the car manufacturer? Getting back to the album anything that stands out for you from what you have heard?
JWS – Throwing Mountains and The Absence of Presence both stand out but, really, I am still in the listening and absorbing stage.
RP – I might be biased because I’ve been so involved with this album as we’ve had more time to come together as a band and gel together but, I think that when people get to hear this for themselves, that they may be very impressed with all they hear from the band now.
JWS – I first heard Kansas on the Old Grew Whistle Test playing ‘Journey from Mariabronn’ and then I heard ‘Point of Know Return’ and I worked backwards from there.
RP – For me it was a similar experience except it was ‘Leftoverture’ then I worked backwards too, I guess we are of a similar age?
JWS – I am 60 now…
RP – You have a couple of years on me as I am 58 now.
JWS – Well Ronnie, sadly my time has gone so it remains for me to thank you for your time, stay safe and hopefully I will see you at the palladium in November once all this is over?
RP – Thanks to you too John, stay safe too and yes, hopefully I will see you there too. Thank You!
‘The Absence of Presence’ will be released on July 17th, 2020.
In the run up to the release of Haken’s sixth studio album, ‘Virus’, I got the chance to have a chat with guitarist Richard Henshall about the album’s creation and gestation, the band’s career to date and about how he is coping with the lockdown:
Progradar: It’s nice to put a voice to someone who I have followed on social media for quite a while, before we get onto the interview proper, how are you coping with the lockdown:
Richard: It’s a bit of a surreal situation to be in to be honest, we were on tour with Devin Townsend. It was right in the middle of the tour and we woke up to a message that the tour’s over, cancelled.
Donald Trump had done a speech the night before saying that all flights into the U.S. had been cancelled and there was a chance that all flights out would be too. We realised that we were going to have to do something about this, suddenly the tour is cancelled and we’re going to have to go home the next day. I’ve been at home ever since really…
Progradar: I have noticed that you have been doing guitar lessons online via Skype…?
Richard: Yes, as we’re not going to be touring for a long time by the looks of it, I’ve been doing a bunch of Skype lessons, I did one this morning actually and the signal was terrible which made it really awkward. Generally, though, they have been going really well.
I’ve just been trying to engage with the fans as much as possible, talking through Haken songs, playing through some compositional ideas and just discussing music, which has been fun.
We’ve also been doing some Twitch Q&A’s sessions which we’ve never done before. We saw that a lot of other bands had been doing this so we thought we ought to jump on the wagon and see what it’s all about. It’s a streaming platform, basically, that allows us just to chat to people.
We’ve been talking through the song Prosthetic and we actually had the guy who did the video, Vicente (Cordero) on there with us talking through how he made the video which was good fun.
Progradar: I’ve just had the promotional email come through about the new video for Canary Yellow.
Richard: Yes, we’ve been chipping away at the video for a while actually. it was done by Crystal Spotlight, they’re a Uk based company and they really went to town on the video. It’s an animation, which we have done before, and I think they spent countless hours on this and it really came across well.
Progradar: In the video that Ross (Jennings) has done in the run up to the release of ‘Virus’ he says that it is loosely connected to your previous album ‘Vector’, having listened to the album 3 or 4 times already, I feel the artwork is connected and there is more of a similarity between the two. You say ‘Virus’ is more eclectic, do you feel there are similarities between the two and they follow on?
Richard: Well they were always supposed to be a double album. In fact, when we were writing ‘Vector’, we knew we were going to be writing another album which was going to be connected. We had the name ‘Virus’, which is looking back in hindsight, a bit unfortunate.
The timing couldn’t have been worse, the only time we’ve ever had a pandemic in my lifetime is the same time as we are releasing an album called ‘Virus’. It’s bad timing but we had the title in mind and in place for the last two years.
I’d say the music on the album is more eclectic. There’s influences from the likes of Radiohead and Elbow on there but there’s also the heavier stuff we do on there which is Fear Factory-esque and there’s Dream Theater, a big influence over the years. So that’s all still in there but I feel like we’ve got a broader range on this album, maybe more so than ever before.
I think with ‘Vector’, the album was generally geared towards the heavier side of our soundand it kind of stuck with that for the most part. On every song there’s at least one or two heavy moments or some songs are just heavy throughout whereas on this album, ‘Virus’, there are some songs that are completely straying away from that.
Progradar: This isn’t a question I’d written down but I’d like to ask you if you thought ‘Vector’ had split your audience a bit? There’s a few people I know who were fans of albums like ‘Aquarius’ and ‘The Mountain’ who have said it was a bit heavy for them.
Richard: I reckon so, it’s always a bit of a risk when you try something new in a band , or anything that you do. There’s bound to be people who aren’t really engaging with the music or are into what you’re doing. Especially if they’re into the previous stuff which is sounding different to the stuff we’re working on now.
I guess it’s important for people to keep an open mind as much as possible, you can always listen back to our old stuff and, with the new stuff, you can hear how we’ve evolved and the similarities between the two different sounds.
Hopefully people can see that but, for me, when I’m writing stuff I actually prefer it if you get a love or hate reaction from it. I feel that that’s a good sign of something that’s got depth or value. If some people are going to hate it then, fair enough.
Progradar: I feel that Haken has progressed (in the proper sense of the word) quite a lot from ‘Aquarius’ right through to ‘Virus’, would you agree?
Richard: Yes, a lot of people always say to us, how do you categorise the music, what are you? Are you a metal band, are you a prog band? I always say that we are a progressive band. If you are progressive then your sound should evolve, you should be exploring new sounds and fully celebrating all all of your influences as much as possible.
I feel that, across the band, we have a whole bunch of inspirations and influences between us, now that we are all writing together the music is, as a result, very eclectic. There’s a bit of all all of us in there, all of our influences, I love stuff like TigranHamasyan and then also Elbow.
There’s a UK band called Everything, Everything, they’re like an indie-rock band but they also have these progressive influences but they like a pop/indie kind of sound. I like stuff like that as well as all the heavier stuff. Across the band, though, there is so much variety to what we listen to, it really does amount to the diverse sound that we’ve got.
Progradar: To my ears, you’re a very technical prog metal sounding band now whereas ‘Aquarius’ was very similar to early Dream Theater, it sounded a lot like ‘Images & Words’ did to me when it first came out. As you’ve carried on, your sound has got a lot more precise and technical, would you agree with that and is that down to influences or just a natural progression?
Richard: We weren’t really expecting the reaction we got to ‘Aquarius’, we sent out our demo (‘Enter the 5th Dimension’) and got a bunch of responses but no one was really up for signing us apart from Sensory Records. A guy called Ken Golden runs it and he was the first guy who showed any real interest in our sound and he offered us an advance to make an album.
At that point I decided to just go for it and dedicate all my time to writing an album so I locked myself away and didn’t leave the house for about eight months or so and we were all really happy with the result we got.
I don’t why people latched onto it, I guess there were a lot of contrasting influences on the album, a lot of quirky, almost circus-like, passages among some heavy riffage and there’s a lot of juxtaposition.
Maybe that’s what made it stand out to people but we’ve really developed, I feel, as writers over the years and I feel our sound is a lot more concise now than what it was back then. The writing process would’ve been more reckless and there’s arguably less logical thought into it maybe? It was just like throw the ideas in and see where this song ends up.There’s more logic to it now and it’s definitely more concise, I feel.
Progradar: I got the same buzz from ‘Aquarius’ that i got the first time I listened to ‘Images & Words’ and ‘Awake’ from Dream Theater, I had to listen to the album again straight away to register what I’d just heard, I thought it was amazing.
Richard: I had the same sort of reaction the first time i listened to ‘Awake’, Metallica were my favourite band at the time and Kirk Hammett was the best guitarist in the world but a friend asked me if I’d heard Dream Theater or John Petrucci, which I hadn’t (and I thought he couldn’t be better than Kirk Hammett!).
So the next day I went out and bought ‘Awake’, I was sitting down (I think I was actually with Ross at the time) and was like 15 or something and I put on the album and listened through it and I got to Erotomania, the guitar playing just melted my brain and opened me up to a whole new way of thinking when it came to playing guitar and writing music. They were a massive influence on us as a band, definitely.
Progradar: Has the continued success of the band surprised you or, when you first picked up a guitar and got together with Ross and the rest of the band, is this where you expected to be?
Richard: It’s always extremely humbling and surprising to get any recognition from anything. The more you do it, the more you take it for granted but I still do appreciate every kind word that we receive from people when they hear an album or a song, especially on this album that we’re about to release.
We’ve released two songs already and the feedback has been crazy, we’ve never had such a positive response from singles we’ve released. I think it’s important to never be complacent and take things for granted but I think the band started to gain a lot of momentum around the time we released ‘The Mountain’, our first album with InsideOutRecords.
They just pushed us into a whole bunch of new markets and I reckon that’s the album that most people heard first from us and it was like a special album for us and for a lot of our fans as well.
Progradar: I bought ‘Vector’ on vinyl and I’ve ordered ‘Virus’ and I even managed to find ‘Aquarius’ on Amazon the other day, I think most fans would say that it’s been an amazing journey following your from ‘Aquarius’ to where you are now.
Richard: Yes, it’s really exciting, I just love writing music and since ‘Affinity’ we’ve been writing together and we’re really honing that skill of writing as a band. I really enjoy it and it’s almost like an adventure, every album we write you discover more about yourself and your bandmates and there’s new colours and moods to get out there. The whole process is massively enjoyable for me so I’m looking forward to taking it further.
Progradar: Obviously, you can’t play live at the moment but, in an ideal world do you prefer creating music or getting out there, giving it life and playing it live?
Richard: I feel that my natural habitat is sat in front of a computer or with an instrument and writing music, that’s where I feel most relaxed and the most at home. I was quite young when I first started playing music, I was six or so when I was playing the piano but then I started guitar at the age of ten.
When I was first heavily into practising I was all focused around being proficient at my instrument but as I grew older I got more passionate about the compositional side of things. For me that’s the biggest passion in music and it’s stuck with me.
I do love playing live as well and they kind of go hand in hand really. We wouldn’t be able to continue writing music if we didn’t go out there and support the music in a live context. We do get a buzz out of playing live, seeing people come to our shows and sing along to the lyrics and do air guitar to our solos!
Progradar: What I love about your music, and you even get it on the last album and the new one, is you always get an excellent chorus that you can sing along to, there’s always something in your music that has that connection with whoever is listening to it. Whether you’re at a concert, in the car or listening to it at home, there’s always something there.
Richard: That’s always been our primary focus when it comes to writing, getting that big chorus. There needs to be a sense of balance in the song so the verses, for the most part, will generally be more stripped down and held back and the the chorus’s have this kind of explosive feeling.
The hooks and melody lines are always a strong part for us, we’re always spending the most part making sure we’ve got the best possible line for the chorus because that’s going to be the part that people sing along to and they latch on to.
When it came to‘Virus’we had the album pretty much mapped out in terms of the structures and the instrumentation, the rhythm and the guitar parts etc. but when it came to the Devin (Townsend) tour we went on in Europe, we had a whole month together.We were sitting in the bus for quite a long time each day because we were the support band and we had a lot of free time.
We used that time to map out all of the vocal parts and get lyrical ideas down. That was a really cool experience for us because we’re usually in different parts of the world working independently in our studios. For this whole month we were together, passing the microphone around, singing into the Logic Projects and just coming out with the some of the best lines that we wanted to at that point.I feel that it has really paid off on this album especially.
Progradar: Is that something that you would like to do for the next album, get together to write like that again?
Richard: I 100% think we should because it’s a perfect time to do it. A few of us live in London so we will meet up and jam through certain sections and ideas to see where that goes but we’ve never all really been together in a structured manner like every day for a month.
We were waking up on the bus and just working on it all day, playing a show and just going back there after and working until the early hours of the morning, literally every day. It was amazing, we actually made a makeshift studio in the bus and we were able to record demo ideas.
The whole process was very fluent, it was like a team bonding experience or something.
Progradar: It’s definitely not what everyone would think was the rock and roll lifestyle on tour!
Richard: We are far removed from what people would think of as a rock band, we’ll drink a cup of tea, read a book and go to bed usually after a show!
Progradar: Talking abut creating music, for the first couple of albums was it yourself who did the majority of the writing?
Richard: I used to do the lion’s share of it back in the day and I would map it out using midi and on ‘The Mountain’ I mapped it out using midi and some sample libraries and demos from stuff. We took the midi songs and we learned the parts, for the first two albums and ‘The Mountain’, for the most part, we took them to a rehearsal space.
Luckily Ray (Hearne) was studying at The Guildhall for those three of four years so he had a free rehearsal space that we could use. We just went there during the writing process and played through the songs and gave them a sense of life. We made it sound like a real band rather than a computer playing it.
During that process the arrangements were tweaked a bit, we moved a verse here, moved a chorus there. After a few months we would be happy with the arrangements and take it to the studio and take it from there.
I feel like the whole process over the years has definitely been refined a great deal. When we recorded ‘Aquarius’ we didn’t even demo any real instruments, we were just using these midi demos. We went to the studio and we were just playing along with Ray as he was recording the drums for the final album which is something we just wouldn’t do now.
We spend so much time making these structured demos, almost like the real thing to be honest. Ray will record to these demos which are practically exactly as they’re going to be on the finished album.
Progradar: Do the ideas for the songs come from everyone in the band?
Richard: Yes, that’s the beauty of it, we’re all working together and it’s really paid off. I feel that the music’s gone off in a new direction and it definitely feels fresher than it was maybe ten years ago. We have evolved so much and that’s because we are all throwing it in there and it’s like a unified vision which has been great fun.
The way we do it is by using an online file sharing space and we all use the same programs (logic audio). One person may come up with an idea which could be just two or three minutes or it could be a more structured, fleshed out idea. They will then upload the project to the file sharing space and someone may say they have some ideas that could work with it. They’ll download it and work on it and re-upload it.
We just go back and forth, sharing a bunch of ideas in tandem until we have a bunch of finished arrangements that we’re happy with.
Progradar: It sounds a really good way to do it and the way the band and the music has developed, it’s obviously working for you guys?
Richard: I feel it’s really working out for us, the key is being able to compromise and to be open and prepared to let go of stuff. I always found it so hard when I was working on an idea for a year or so and then presented it to the band they were not really interested in it.
I’d be like,“What?!, I just spent a whole year on this, we’ve got to use it!”, sometimes you’ve just got to be open and willing to compromise or even throw stuff in the bin. It’s got to please everyone in the band, we’re all going to play it live. We’ve all got to meet in the middle somewhere.
Sometimes, though, it’s important not to compromise, I guess. I know it’s a contradiction but you’ve get to let that one guy just go with a vision and see where it goes and not dilute it too much. For the most part it’s all about working together and finding a unified vision that works for everyone.
Progradar: I’m now going to put you on the spot with this question, what is your favourite Haken album? Or is that like asking which one is your favourite child?
Richard: That’s a tricky one! I think for me, as I mentioned earlier, ‘The Mountain’ is a really special album. The message in the album resonates with a lot of people, it’s generally about the struggles that we all go through in every aspect of life.
We used it as a way of expressing the struggles of being musicians. It’s not that easy to make a success of yourselves when it’s such a saturated market, especially if you’re a prog band, generally the market is a bit niche anyway.It’s also about the general struggles in life.I guess that’s why it resonated with people, because everyone has struggles and they can relate to that whole concept.
Musically it really hits the spot with me but that album also broke us through to a new market. We were with a new label, signing to InsideOut was always one of the things that we’d aimed to do, one of those boxes that we had to tick. It was a massive deal for us so it’s always been a special album.
I know this is a very typical thing to say but the ‘Virus’ album, I really do have a great feeling about it. There’s something about the album which feels very complete and well balanced, I feel that, right now, it’s my favourite album that we’ve done. I know that’s obviously what I have to say but I genuinely do believe it.
I feel that the songs have come a really long way. Some of the ideas that we had on the album were songs that we were going to work on for ‘Vector’. We’ve been working on them for a really long time and given them enough time and attention to really grow into something special, I can’t wait to get it out there!
Progradar: Just to go on a bit of a tangent, can we talk about your solo album (‘The Cocoon’)? How did it come about? To me it has its roots in Haken but has gone off in a much more chilled and laid back direction.
Richard: That came about about at around the time we came together as a band in Haken and decided to work and write together. It was around the time of the ‘Affinity’ album and the ‘Restoration’ EP, it naturally freed up a lot of time for me.
I decided to work on some other projects, I actually formed a band with Dan Briggs called the Nova Collective and that was a lot of fun. I had wanted to work on the solo album but that went on the back burner for a bit then revisited it after Nova Collective.
I was just chiselling away at these ideas over the course of three years or so. Obviously I was busy with Haken and that was always going to be my main focus so i was doing it in my spare time between tours and albums.
Because it was over three years, the result is a real mix of sounds, a lot of jazz influences from the likes of Avishai Cohen and TigranHamasyan, there’s weird polyrhythmic atonal stuff in there but then there’s post-rock, ambient moments like Sigur Rós.
I threw everything in there, I didn’t want to hold back or focus it towards one particular sound. I just wanted to express all of my influences and celebrate as much of the music I love as possible. I ended up writing two albums worth of material and decided to have ‘The Cocoon’ as the first album and then I’ve got a bunch of songs that I’m going to work on and release as a follow up.
Progradar: I was going to ask if you were going to do another solo album…
Richard: I was going to follow up ‘The Cocoon’ with another album but I’ve actually been working on some ideas for a few months, especially the last couple of months while I’ve been stuck indoors with all this free time. It’s got more like an electronic influence in there so I’m hoping to get that done this year and see where that takes me .
Maybe I’ll release a single every few months and then release the album after a few singles or something? After that I’ll release the follow up to ‘The Cocoon’.
Progradar: Regarding the artwork, did Sevcan (Richard’s wife) offer to do that or is it something you asked her to do?
Richard: This album that I’m talking about right now is a joint project so Sevcan had this art exhibition that she was going to host and it was called The Wood Wide Web. It’s a really cool idea, an idea in which trees can communicate with each other through this big network of roots and funghi under the ground. They feed each other nutrients and they’re all connected and we can’t see it.
They’ve used it as a parallel to the world wide web, they’ve used that as a metaphor and I thought it would be really cool to write some music to go with what she was working on. All the songs are based around these different ideas within this overarching concept.
Progradar: Is there an intention to do any of your solo material live?
Richard: To be honest, I would love to do it some day but the whole idea of it is very daunting. I feel comfortable and happy just hiding behind my guitar and not having to front anything. The idea of having to stand at the front of the stage and chat to people, and the idea of singing live, is just the worse thing!
If I made this next album and instrumental album, it would be a lot easier! I love the idea of it (playing the album live) but it’s the whole logistical side of touring as well, which is a massive ball-ache (sic). It requires a lot of attention to detail, time and investment.
Progradar: Here’s a money saving idea for you then, the next time Haken go on tour as a headliner, you could just be the support act?
Richard: That would be cool, I’m totally open to that. Maybe one day because I’d love to take it to the stage, I feel that the songs would really take on another dimension and also it would be great to get Matt (Lynch, drums) to play as well.
Obviously Conner (Green, Haken bassist) is doing a lot of stuff with Haken but he plays a lot of shows but Matt doesn’t play as much as he should do. He’s one of the greatest drummers I’ve ever heard and he should be playing more live, it would great to get out there on stage with him and just play some music!
Progradar: Looking forward, ‘Virus’ is released on the 5th of June, have you been working behind the scenes and looking at, when lockdown ends, taking the album on the road and playing it live?
Richard: We had plans to do some touring this year but that’s all up in the air at the moment, unfortunately. I guess it’s the same for all bands, we just don’t know how it’s going to pan out. I feel that, even if governments allow it, I just don’t see that most people will be up for doing that, being thrown into a room with five hundred sweaty people. Maybe we could play bigger venues with fewer people in?
Progradar: I know ‘Virus’ hasn’t even been released yet but, have you already started out with any ideas for the next album?
Richard: We haven’t begun penning down anything for the next album yet. The reason that ‘Virus’ and ‘Vector’ were so closely released was because they were always supposed to be together. We want to give a bit of space for the album to breathe.
Its’ worrying because the first thing that you would always do is to go and tour an album. We’re going to release this and the realities are that we are going to be sitting on it for at least six or seven months until we actually get to play it live.
Progradar: Have you and the record company had any discussion about what you can do to promote the album without taking it live?
Richard: As I said, we’ve been doing this Q&A thing on Twitch so that’s a way of keeping in contact with the fans, engaging with people and letting them know we’re still alive, which is important. We can use that as a way of doing masterclasses or talk throughs of the songs, or even getting to the stage where we can play the songs and stream it.
We actually took the middle section of the song Architect from ‘Affinity’ and we turned it into like a free acoustic jazz song lasting three or four minutes and we’re all about doing stuff like that for the next three or four months as there’s no chance of playing live.
Although, having said that, I was speaking to the booking agent and he mentioned that there’s this new thing that’s possibly going to happen in Europe. It’s like a car cinema where there’s people roll up in their cars and then watch the show inside their car.I don’t know if it would take off but, if it did, we’re open to stuff like that.
Progradar; We briefly touched on this at the start, did you and the record company have any discussions about changing the album title in view of the current situation?
Richard: The worst timing to release an album, we had the title for the last two years and we’d been hinting at it in the lyrics of ‘Vector’ and in the booklet as well. By the time the pandemic actually hit we’d already got the artwork done and the masters were pretty much in place.
The video was done for the song, everything was already in place, it was just too late by that point to change things without causing a massive hiccup. We just went with it and we just hope that people understand that they are two entirely separate things, it’s the worst possible thing to think that people get the impression we’re trying to capitalise on things.
Progradar: I’m positive that the majority of people would realise that and would know that an album is years in the making, it’s not an overnight decision.
Progradar: And here’s a nice easy question for your final one, recommend me one album, it could just be the one you’ve listened to most recently, apart from ‘Virus’, obviously…
Richard: I’m going to try and link it into the recent tour we’ve done. We’ve just played with Devin Townsend in Europe and America, which is a massive deal for us, all being huge fans of his for years.
When I was a teenager, there was one album that really inspired me as a writer and as a guitar player as well. That was ‘Terria’, which was one of his earliest albums and the layers in that album are amazing, you can hear dogs howling in the background. The depths and the layers of his music have always hit the spot for me so I’ll go with that one!
Progradar: He’s an artists that always seems to be reinventing himself, he never stands still.
Richard: He’s amazing, when you listen to ‘Terria’ and then you listen to ‘Ziltoid’, which is very much a comical thrash metal album, they’re totally different. Then you’ve got his latest album which is just totally mind blowing, the fact that he’s still releasing stuff like that after so many years. He’s never complacent and is always exploring new ideas, which is very inspirational.
Progradar: All that is left is to thank you for your time and, hopefully, we can catch up at a live gig in the future.
Richard: Thank you and it definitely would be great to see you at one of our gigs!
‘Virus’ is released through InsideOut on 19th June 2020.
On the release of Ms Amy Birks debut solo release Progradar’sJohn Wenlock-Smith asked the velvet-voiced songstress a few questions…
JWS – I’ve listened to the album quite a lot and I notice the album falls into several different parts, all apart from ‘Jamaica Inn‘, the next few songs are divorce related, there is the song about the abuse you suffered and a couple of historical related tracks. We get the travelling song in Colombia and then ‘I Wish’ and the album closes with a song of hope.
AB – Yes, ‘Not Every Night‘ & ‘With All That I Am‘ both carry the pain and frustrations felt in divorce but both very different sounding – ‘Not Every Night‘ has a much more forgiving and delicate tone (I’m a big fan of the delicate right hand of Dubussy and Chopin so I took a bit of inspiration from them on this album) – And delicate perhaps because I wrote this song 2 years or so after my divorce.
‘With All That I Am‘ sounds much more raw and closer to the detail with lyrics like “Who is she? You owe me that at least”. I wanted the instrumentation in this track to echo the raw tone to the lyrics so both Caroline Lavelle’s cello and John Hackett’s flute both play their part in creating a splitting of directions and the classical sounding piano holding this piece together, with it’s more formal and rigid feel.
The track ‘More’ is written about my difficulty with siblings and I’m sure it will be a pain in my life that will be hard to separate myself from completely. That’s why you hear dark and brooding instrumentation with clashes and a big crescendo that sounds almost confrontational and aggressive in nature.
‘Say Something’ is written about two key things that have happened in my life – first being at the age of 14 when I was attacked by a fellow student in my music class – the boy well expelled and by coming forward to say something, 5 more girls from the same year said that he had done similar things to them. The second incident coming a few years later – I was a model and the photographer who was also managing the start of my music career took advantage of a 17 year old girl. I won’t go into detail but a lot was said during a 2 year period of my life that will stay with me forever.
JWS – This album is very different, several years after the events its kinder and more forgiving really
AB – Yes, with time I have allowed myself reflection and the ability to try and understand moments in my life and bring out the melodies in a more uplifting way. You see, although the lyrics take you somewhere with pretty dark undertones, the melodic feel is meant to uplift and take you past these painful meanings so you get a better balanced feel.
JWS – You obviously love history and are drawn to certain figures, the same with literature with Daphne du Maurier and Jamaica Inn.
AB – Absolutely. I’m a huge fan of the National Trust and English Heritage and have spent many a weekend visiting the great houses and gardens (I’m a keen gardener) throughout England. My parents also play their part, taking me to places such as the Bronte country and Howarth for holidays. The work of the Bronte’s will for sure feature on the next album but for this album I chose the work of Daphne De Murier, and the character of Mary Yellan; A strong but romantic character where I could position myself firmly within to create the video for ‘Jamaica Inn’. I’m a huge fan of South West England, again, holidaying there as a child so it was a perfect excuse to hire a few horses, carriage and to wake up at 5.30 in the morning to don the beach in a very Poldark-style dress, handmade by my seamstress mother, Sylvia.
JWS – Where is the album’s rear cover picture taken?
AB – At the back of St Andrew’s Church in Leysters – Herefordshire. My dear friend and photographer for the album artwork, Richard Shakespeare lives in nearby Leominster.
JWS – What would you say are your musical influences?
AB – Natalia Merchant, Suzanne Vega, Joni Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, Carol King, Tori Amos, Kate Bush, Fleetwood Mac, Dario Marianelli, Debussy, Chopin, JS Bach, The Beatles, Jeff Buckley, Jethro Tull… I could go on haha
JWS – I know album 2 is ready and will be released next year, what can we expect from this?
AB – Quite possibly a bit more guitar and drums, works of the Bronte sisters poetry but basically an extension to what you hear on ‘All That I Am & All That I Was’, with string orchestration because I love to write for cello and violin, a classical, progressive feel with ornate polyphony.
JWS – Where do you get your ideas from?
AB – Real life – I always think, write what you know, then your true feelings and character will come through without having to think, “how should this sound?”. You shouldn’t have to think if you write from your heart. I studied English Literature, Art, as well as Music so I draw inspiration from many things. I remember penning a song whilst stood in front of ‘The Kiss’ by Klimt, so that may turn up at some point. Books of course and music… I’m often listening to JS Bach & Erik Satie and feel inspired to jump on the piano to write. Places also inspire me. I’ve written in Colombia, France and Italy, where I’ve found local melodies and instrumentation push me to write and of course, sun, a glass of Chianti and a beautiful view seem to aid in putting pen to paper.
JWS – Who would you most like to work with?
AB – The violinist, Angele Dubeau, lead vocalist and writer for Pain of Salvation – Daniel Gildenlow, Composer – Dario Marianelli and Steven Wilson!
JWS – I really feel that this album is a very strong statement from you and I think it will be acclaimed by many but how do you feel about it?
AB – Thank you and I’m grateful to know that and I feel a real sense of achievement. I’ve been through a lot, especially over the past 4 or 5 years and I’m glad that I have been brave enough to write about it and to discover that I can produce, engineer and mix, so I’ve picked up many skills, equipping for the next album.
JWS – There was mention of a more guitar driven version, will that be available and, if so, how and when?
AB – Yes, plenty of material and ideas kicking around. It’s just trying to figure out which ideas to put forward first but I should imagine an acoustic version of these songs and possibly my version of the Beatrix Players’ ‘Magnified’ at some point in the next 18 or so months.
JWS – Have you any other plans for when lockdown ends?
AB – Yes, I’ll be heading to France for a dip in the river Vienne, a spot of painting in my French house as there’s lots of work still to do before I can use it as my writing studio, and a chance to catch up with my parents as they’re now full-time in France. I will also be scheduling many more gigs over the next 12 months, so watch this space.
JWS – Have you thought about what other historical figures could you write about?
AB – Well, there are still four more wives of Henry the 8th to write about and plenty of Bronte characters that really inspire me. I’m a big fan of Kate Mosse’s books, such as ‘The Burning Chambers & Sepulchre’ so who knows…
Thanks to Amy for talking to Progradar, look out for John’s review of the new album coming very soon and you can order the new album, released 3/4/2020, here:
After thoroughly enjoying Obscured By Clouds live release, ‘Thermospheric’, Jez Denton asked a few questions which William Weikart was kind enough to answer…
I really enjoyed finding out about your music when I was asked to review your live album, ‘Thermospheric’. In that review I made the comment that this could easily be the sort of music that Pink Floyd might have made had Syd Barrett been able to stay in the band. How important is early Floyd as an influence on your music?
Thank you Jez, we aim to absolutely inspire and reach further into the quantum perceptive transformative states we all seek in music, life and beyond. We are honored by your forum and clearly open minded focus to include our new music, new videos, and lyrical elements through the journey into musics’ vast continuum. We do crave the moments you may have in the first listen, having worked on these pieces so arduously over time as we reach the path and goal we set forth for ourselves. Each song is a lifetime unto itself for us.
We do love Floyd and Syd, David, Roger, Nick, Rick and company, so we won’t hide it. That is the only thing we won’t obscure. Though truly we all are an amalgam of so many bands, we started off to compel local Floyd fans to participate through our obvious namesake. Had we not heard from the Gilmour clan via phone and email we may have changed our name, but once we got the old pat on the back from Mr. Floyd we were off and running! And the name has taken on new meaning in a world where “the cloud” and clouds now represent a virtual Orwellian oversight.
We honor the name by staying in the genre, but beyond that I think what you are seeing/hearing in our music is our continuing narrative of society’s estrangement from the people/musicians/artists who vitally hold out for their dreams to bring change and new being to the world. We are holding the symbols and archetypes up to the light revealing the darkness of tyranny, oppression, faith, hope, happiness on the very edge of the cobalt blue abyss questioning the universe into the light that leads a way out of the indefinability of societal delusions.
The challenge of the Floydian narrative is to bring out such revelatory peaks of conceptual muses through the virtual abyss and experiential highest azimuths to bleed out or flesh out our musical and spiritual journey on the page of our lives in such a way that the revelation is not only freeing and transformative, but the denouement leaves one with redemptive revelations of the meaningfulness of life. And this is what Syd and the Floyd do. In quantum physics one theory now is that light travels through dark matter/energy to reach across the universe.
The darkness controls the light, but the light is also freed from the darkness. Floyd’s narrative of passion, abjection, suffering in the struggle, transcendence, in the penultimate unity of our struggle; it is symbolic of a vast battlefield upon which we must tame the beast-dragon of societies’ unconscious collective, and mend the blind spots of our own perceptive limitations and preconceptions. And this is what art does, it frees us in the moment from ourselves.
And psychedelia in general? I for sure heard aspects of Hawkwind and The Edgar Broughton Band…
Hawkwind was a great discovery for me in college, I needed more Britt-psych. Can you imagine? I learned a song or two on guitar. I would say there may have been a bit of a genre meld with synthesizers as Tangerine Dream ploddingly seems similar in some of the longer rhythmic pieces Hawkwind wrote and produced. I never saw Hawkwind live, just Nick Truner’s Hawkwind I did see live maybe twice. Not the same, but interesting.
Edgar Winter yes, Edgar Broughton Band not so much, but now watching “Freedom” performance it is pretty interesting stuff. I like the interpretive dance in the middle of the song. We are less bombastic perhaps, but just around the corner.
Obviously your music isn’t purely just a tribute to those bands who’ve influenced you. What directions did you feel you wanted to take the music in your work?
Music writing and recording are like sculpting, as you reveal the muse captured in the stone by removing the stone entrapping it within, in that moment it appears as something new. Did I free the muse in my mind, or was the muse always trapped in the stone waiting to come out?
Five hours into recording sessions you sweat, make your fingers bleed, jest-attack your band members with comedy, drink beer or wine, talk about life, and spend thousands of hours mixing and writing and thinking — it is a discovery of all the dimensions of life in the song and lyrics from top to bottom inside-outside and beyond. Vocalizations, lyrics, feedback as in instrumental divining melding antics all come out on the recording often like you never could imagine before. We delve especially into experimentation and improvisation to crossover the border into the uncharted advent-grade seas in our madness and pleasure.
I tend to write the song as it is recorded, the magic is in never knowing how the idea of musicality and symbology of the song, and the quantum randomness of unifying music with lyrics will manifest and haunt our psyches, and eventually transform the new songs into new sounds to transcend the original idea entirely dwarfing the original recorded version. Once the charts are navigated and the pieces come together I bring the band back in so the final takes have lived in their music for at least a few months.
Then the final takes are more solid and song-like. Some songs are written and recorded quickly, but I’ll still linger behind and return to add the cinematic undertow to tell the story through sounds and murmurings of the subconscious.
We have a new studio up in the mountains where the next album will be recorded, I will let you know what’s next through Alex Steininja our fabulously cool PR fellow at IMWT.
Weird ain’t good enough, the next album will be exponentially stranger. We can’t hide the cold comfort for change, irony is a double-edged sword cutting both as it goes in as much as when it is pulled out. We are here to make a sacrifice as a band, and that sacrifice will enlightened us further in our battle against an unconscious collective. It is a battle worthy of our artistic struggle in our creative significance and challenge to stand on our path to ward our clear goal to land the message of music.
‘Thermospheric’ is obviously a live album based on your studio album, ‘Psychelectic’. How important was it to you as an artiste for the studio album to transfer into the live arena?
I am not an artiste. We are not here to be entertainers. Anyone can go dance or rave or be a seer of visions anywhere, we don’t try to land the entertainer fish on our stage. I also don’t flail my arms much. If you watch the new “Thermospheric” (Live) videos you can see the band is connecting with each other on stage, we are inspired by hearing each other players knock out the sound together. There are great sound and lighting effects and even freak’n lasers at some shows.
All Music Guide and other reviewers have appointed our genre to include “Art-Rock”, “Arty Grunge” Classic Rock Magazine, and “Psych-Art-Rock” which we gladly accept as being the extent to which we delve through the dimensions of strangeness to our music; as our voice of univocal estrangement we aim to artistically dream-weave the mind bending perceptive wall splitting and perceptive door transforming ambitions that are obscured by clouds preconceptions. The clouds of unknowing obscurity reveal the clarity and obfuscation in our music.
We also tend to have expensive lights/lasers and other large stage video screens to add the psycheclectic aspects of cinematic storyline to our live show. The videos are projected onto the live stage footage integrating the music/lyrics with the actual cinematic revelations to each song, and it’s not random. Louder yet, we are so damn loud we plan on enveloping you with our sound and digging a hole to take you through the rabbit hole to forget the sun.
And through the course of thought and the onslaught of guitar improv and feedback — there rises the sun-ray of redemption and revelation to relieve the tensions we bare forth on the listeners spirit and being. It’s in those moments we can reveal our message. Call it art if you want, but it’s really the depth psychology/philosophy of our music, creativity, musicality, tonality, atonality, asymmetry, lyrics, cinematic spirit and continuity of our psycheclectic music genre blender. Psycheclectic Records as a label first, then an album, and the bands you know who are true to their music to stand for what they believe.
There are no breaks planned between songs as the conceptual performance flows like a cinematic undertow through the set list. We are reserved a bit up there on stage focusing on all the incremental layers ahead, and the other moving parts like HD effects behind the curtain.
Floyd’s cool sensibilities on stage were paramount as audiences could see the band was so determined and focused during their performances, and the music was so loud that the audiences were passengers completely immersed in the trip. Progressive Rock is participant theater, the audience participates even if only as a witness. The light/laser show is for the participants seeking inclusion for the trip. When I’ve seen Floyd live I was expecting mayhem, cometary explosions, diamond-light beings emanating from lasers — Roger Waters wasn’t going to walk through the audience to bring us flowers, or hold our hands to sing us a lullaby.
Instead it was like Orwell on bass screaming thy last scream with lasers!?!?! It was not an easy listen at all in their early works. Early Floyd’s music was built by deft indulgence and was disturbingly primal as necessary, still vaulting choruses of soothing melodious redemption would follow just before more chaos. Just the opposite really of the melodiousness we sink into in the modern Floyd charting, sound, and musicality. It was meant to be more jarring back then as less so now, and early Floyd was not an easy listen.
We attended Floyd shows because we knew they were going fuck shit up and you better like it or stay out of the way, right? It was art as the force over the commercialists; in that it challenged the commonality in our malaise of the ignorance of societal struggles, as vast symptoms of the universe were revealed, and then we understood a way forward to turn the tides of ignorance for the sake of wisdom.
Floyd songs are as much about the unveiling of anxiety as thoughtful revelation through music and lyrics subtly transforming our consciousness. Without the paradox, we could not be freed of the paradox. And maybe the paradox was never even there.
For a long time now Obscured By Clouds expected to stand in the shadow of mystery. We are challenging the status quo of the unconscious collective of the us and them to unify on all fronts. This type of challenge and conflict does not promote well in commercial settings. So be it. Our art as music includes the conflict we are trying to dispel through revealing our message.
When I reviewed the album I made note of the fact that the music is challenging, reminiscent of a journey into perhaps madness, for certain something that owes a lot to opening doors of perception. Was it your intention that the music could come over as some kind of cosmic head fuck?
Hmmmm, yes I think more so mind-bending or freeing the injustice of our systemic oppressors needs a good championing, why not. These common affronts to our peaceful or thoughtful existence are truly ridiculous. Societal apathy of the unconsciousness collective limits our actions, perceptions, future, and dreams of a more mindful-artful world we could otherwise have today. Why else would we need a soundtrack or music in our lives if it doesn’t produce the change we seek?
The cosmic joke is we’re all fucked if we don’t act, and we better find a way out through meaningfulness. Indulgently my music plans the escape through raw musings and improved guitar, vitriolic anthems, rants, and lyrics as far flung prose about faith, death, love, transcendence and beyond.
It is the irony of systemology that we strike against, not the mind of the individual. So I get the primal head disruption you may seek or find in the music, but that is the quantum charge in your universe of your perception; as we are really freeing the ideas from our midst not limiting the ideas. My origin of thought comes from a different place, a place that challenges being over the cosmic head fuck. I’d rather you feel what you want to feel rather than we make you feel what we want you to feel.
Floyd albums pre-Ummagumma and Animals, Meddle, Atom Heart Mother, Dark Side are concepts of humanity’s weight and society’s disillusion over the individual, and the transitions are with the revelation of the individuals struggle through the door and through the wall. My music supplants unworldly anxiety to dispel and dispatch the listener to walk through the doors of perception and tear the wall down.
The door opens and you see that being should never be held above beings themselves, there is no privilege we must serve under to exist in sovereignty. In our moment of life’s anxiety, anguish, or loss; we all can transform suffering into hope, faith or change. In this way we are all fucked if we don’t change. So let’s unfuck it up before it’s too late.
The music is I feel eccentric, and all the better for that. Do you see yourself as eccentric at all?
Our music must land a message often form left field as this psych-art-rock, so we better deliver, if we are too obvious and not subtle enough it won’t have that magic sneaker-wave affect you crave from your Floydian sensibilities. The abstract must come from an unknown place before it can be revealed. Breaking down archetypes and hypocrisy is eccentric and by definition asymmetrical. The music’s abstractions of feedback, musicality, lyrics, tonality/atonality, improvisational leads, and from screams to cinematic murmuring all are asymmetrical by design — as the asymmetric must be eccentric.
Syd and Floyd fell nursery rhymes as doors and walls of perception opening juxtaposed against societies’ unconscious collective where the challenges to our preconceptions and archetypes led our rally to tear down the wall. So for us to compel trippy contrasts we switch symmetry of chords-bridges and choruses in aspects of the music/lyrics to unify the redemptive feeling of being comfortably numb on our path as well. The guitar improvisational leads assemble asymmetrical eccentricities are part of the spell that divides and unites us.
So if we dare fall short on the estrangement spectrum or of essential weirdness we may step out of our genre demands and into some sort of commercial endeavor leaving the doors of perception half closed. Without eccentricity there is no Us & Them. The secret we see and remain focused upon is that “us” really wants to unite with “them.” We still are holding out for right reason in music, there is no division it is just perceived division and we are trying to dispel disunity.
Floyd is cinematic music, it is entwined with film and art ascribed in our perceptions of the murmuring dialog and haunting lyrics. Eccentricity is the magic carpet ride. Who doesn’t want eccentricity, who wants commonplace and predictable? Not me. I’ve heard it all and I want something different.
I love recording. It is a dream to create strange music, lyrics, sounds and effects to push the universe out and beyond for the cinematic murmurings you hear in our work. You can’t challenge the status quo without appearing eccentric as any challenge is always outside the scope of normality. And some would say Pink Floyd is an activist band trying to change the world with their music defining the struggles of modernity.
We need that irony and eccentricity we feel from such bands’ directives that can subtly challenge society’s blind spots or recondition such delusional preconceptions that limit us when exposed to the light. Our band must be eccentric otherwise we would just be speaking herd. I do not speak herd. So that dance-along sing-along may be best discovered in a different genre. We are not interested in performing for popularity.
Really, what people perceive as eccentric today often is merely the fear of the idea standing against the crowd. And we are so damn loud live that the out-crowd yields to unite us and them in the fog of feedback. You never saw Gilmour complaining about feedback, or apologizing for playing the live Echoes solos searingly loud like an asteroid strike or a rocket crash. You can trust us to never give in to conformity.
What’s next for Obscured by Clouds?
Well you can watch all our live recordings in Seattle, Washington in HD @Youtube Red or a few teaser released videos on Psycheclectic Records @ obscuredbyclouds.comBlu-ray release date to be announced.
We built a new secret studio at around 1600 feet elevation under the shadow of the mountains we begin the next record, off grid, off world, and off to see the wizard! We have a sky-deck stage for the band to play outside this summer on some acreage, the recording studio is inside where the amps are in the sound rooms. With our head phones the band can dial in our mix and improvise our guts out to our hearts content on the deck outside. The summer days sessions will transition into night as we work on vaulting our musical dimensions to ward the heart of the sunrise. Stay tuned.
I would like to thank Kevin Cozad, Matt Bradley, Merrill Hale, Ian, Bob Raymond, Kentucky Overload, Sandin Wilson, Nick Moon, Reinhardt Melz, Alex Steininger (IMWT) and many other people for all their great work and passion they produced you can hear in the music and see in the videos.
Please check out Jez’s review of ‘Thermospheric’ below:
MARKING THE 10th ANNIVERSARY OF THE SOLO PROJECT FROM RIVERSIDE’S CREATIVE FORCE
Lunatic Soul is Mariusz Duda, the talented creator, singer and multi-instrumentalist behind some of the finest and most captivating progressive music coming from Europe, including his output on UK label Kscope and with Poland’s shooting stars Riverside. Duda is now releasing his sixth studio album, the companion to 2017’s ‘Fractured’ and the pinnacle of the first decade of Lunatic Soul.
Following on from last year’s material, which covered content about grieving, hope and a fractured society, ‘Under the Fragmented Sky’ rebuilds Lunatic Soul as we know it, with dark and haunting atmospheres coming to the forefront, taking its name from the lyrics of the 12-minute epic “A Thousand Shards of Heaven” from Fractured. Duda explains “Fractured is not a full picture of the latest Lunatic Soul recordings. These more classical pieces have been waiting for their own time which has now come. “Under the Fragmented Sky” will be both a supplement to “Fractured” and an artistically independent release with its own character and identity.”
“It’s a very unexpected and spontaneous release” – says Mariusz Duda – “Initially, I was thinking about a maxi single “A Thousand Shards of Heaven” with a couple of other tracks but the material had evolved so beautifully in the studio that I ended up with 36 minutes of brand new music. It’s a truly enchanting album.
“UTFS” is a music journey with very subtle electronics and vocal experiments, it’s incredibly coherent and much closer to the mood of the earlier Lunatic Soul albums. Thanks to “Under the Fragmented Sky”, the last red album will gain a fuller meaning and the whole Lunatic Soul discography will be enriched with another shade of my music fascinations, which have been suspended somewhere between life and death from the very beginning.”
The album was recorded during the Fractured sessions at Serakos Studio, Warsaw from June 16-17, and finalised December 2017 and February 2018. The final track “Untamed” sees a guest appearance on drums for Wawrzyniec Dramowicz (aka Vaaver). The album was designed and illustrated by Polish artist Jarek Kubick.
Following the release of their new album, the first in over 40 years I spent some time chatting with the charming Bernardo Lanzetti, vocalist and song writer with Acqua Fragile, about his musical career, reforming the band and the brand new album ‘A New Chant’.
I started by asking Bernardo how did you go about reforming and what spurred the reunion?
In May 2013, I did celebrate my 40 years in music with a unique event called “VOX 40”. Welcomed by an exhibition of my artwork, the audience attended a concert where up to twenty seven musicians gathered to play tracks off the different bands I had done vocals for, over the years.
On that occasion, all five original members of Acqua Fragile happened to meet after a long while and Piero Canavera on drums plus Franz Dondi on bass, even got a chance to play a couple of tracks off “Acqua Fragile” and “Mass Media Stars” along with Tango Spleen, a smart modern classical ensemble.
The idea of working on a new album took form quite naturally even though Gino Campanini (guitar and vocals) and Maurizio Mori (keyboards) confessed they could not join in. Quite nice though, Alessandro Mori, Maurizio’s son – a talented young drummer previously with Glenn Hughes and Bobby Kimball – right after that show, suggested he could be guest on one of the brand new tracks.
The start off was not that easy. The band wanted to keep A F vocal harmonies but we were missing one voice and we had no key man! A few characters, hanging around the band, enthusiastically, were giving suggestions and advice resulting in slowing down the whole project.
A few keyboardists and guitarists showed up and quit but we had a bit more of luck with Alessandro Giallombardo on guitar, backing vocals and keys too. Even though he wouldn’t join the band, Piero, Franz and Bernardo could find energy enough to carry on the project. Ok! We had no dedicated hands on keyboards but we could have strings, piano and intriguing bandoneon from Tango Spleen! Some minor health issue would, temporarily, keep Piero away from his kit? Well, Alessandro Mori could drum along!
Alessandro Sgobbio, formerly with “Acqua Fragile Project” (an experiment carried on by Franz Dondi where young musicians would live perform A F music, around 2004 ) and now jazz pianist and composer for “Charm”, “Pericopes +1” e “Debra’s Dream”, popped up at Elfo Studio to do a flashy synth solo. Michelangelo Ferilli, also from “A F P ”, left some acoustic guitar arpeggios!
I had been quite busy in the last two years so I thought I could get some help with lyrics. As special guest, we were lucky to have US drummer Jonathan Mover (Joe Satriani, GTR) on the trickiest piece of the album succeeding in making a quite complicated composition sound simple. Though some additional actions were taken in centre Italy and Costa del Sol in Spain, main recordings took place at Elfo Studio in Tavernago (PC) Italy where sound man Alberto Callegari was sharp and patient enough to produce it.
I wondered what difference in recording and working together did you find after reforming?
From 72 up to 74, the band would gather at least four times a week. We had no recording facilities so we would memorize all we were playing, I mean dozens of changes in every session. We wouldn’t even take notes or write score on paper as most of us were just self-taught in music.
Actually, every now and then, somebody, may be an older chap, would show up with a reel to reel or, let’s say, some freak with a cassette recorder would promise to do magic but distortion was all we could get down on tape. We knew very little about recording studios but we were blessed getting Claudio Fabi to produce our albums with Gaetano Ria as sound engineer – I mean – top guys in recording studios in Milan.
After that, please, do know that Piero and Franz kept away for many years from the recording world so, when we got back together, everybody around us – I mean fans, fellow artists, guys who wanted to be producers etc. – they were all saying we should go back and start on the old way, rehearsing every day to “capture back the old flair”.
I would just keep scrolling my head – you know, after all in a band there’s got to be some form of democracy – ‘till I got the other guys on my side and started to work in a most proper way. Somehow, I would provide the music and the lyrics, recording a home demo good enough to start with. Drums and bass would then get together to work out modifying the existing patterns and lines of the chosen piece.
Electric guitars and most keybords came out from the work of Alex Giallombardo who we were lucky to have over three quarters of the album even though he wouldn’t join the band. Tango Spleen is a terrific small unit which I define smart & classic. I remember them recording “My Forte” at first take.
Lately, I’ve been moving around a lot so my lead vocals were recorded in different places around Italy and Andalusia. Vocal harmonies were recorded mostly at Elfo Studios or in Milan. In the final rush I played a few synth lines and played acoustic guitar that was missing.
So how do you see A New Chant fitting into your canon?
OK: We got the vocals with the three part harmony, we got friendly odd tempo signatures, we got acoustic guitars, we got synthesizers, we got original riffs, we got nice arpeggios and, yeah, we got good lead vocals too. On the lyrics side we are missing some social issues and science fiction stories.
On the other end, also thanks to Pete Sinfield and Nick Clabburn, we did get more poetry. The music still holds drama in it as well as humour, epics, rock, folk and classical flare.
How did the collaborations on the album come about?
The Orchestra 6 piece specialize in tango, I met them as guests when I did my vox 40 concert, they did a great job, I thought it would be good to have them guest, they did a terrific job, they got the 1st song as a 1st take, and it was the fist time they had drums in their cans. Jon Mover, track in 11/8 he doubled that into 22, then subdivided to 7/6/5/4 meaning each bar has a different beats per minute and from the previous and the following, this is prog definatley, Mariano the pioano player needed more information, he looked at the score and then they both did it. One to be guests, Mover, he’s American, he loves progressive music, he played for Marillion, after that he got involved in GTR, he booked a studio and invited them down to hear me play, he then got hired. I found out I’m his favourite singer, so I got in touch and we’re working on my new album. We had guests for lyrics, I found this website where Pete Sinfield has his lyrics/poems/haikus, there was a poem I liked so much that I put some music to it, but how do I contact him? I had the song but no permission to release it. I had been doing gigs with David Jackson, he was in my house, and when he was staying he talked about moving. I asked David when we next spoke if he had moved and he’d moved to a small town, turns out it’s the same village that Pete Sinfield lives, so David’s son is a famous engineer, and his daughter Dorie is a singer, and she sometimes helps Mr Sinfield, so we had a connection, Dorie got a CD from me and once they went to supermarket she put the CD on for Pete, he said I love it and that’s how it worked out. I got a mail confirming I could use the poem as lyrics. Also Nick Clabburn wrote the lyrics for me, I knew Nick from when Steve Hackett came to Italy, he came to visit me in Umbria, he took inspiration from the lake I lived at, and he got the lyrics I’m drowning.
Alesso Lombardo, we did a few gigs and asked he could join in, he was contributing and we were lucky. Where your Car Proudly, the only one we wrote in the 70’s, we had no recordings, the drummer remembered the lines to play, but I didn’t remember the words, only the title, and asked a friend to write the lyrics, the song is quite interesting, if you play it when driving you get carried away. Allessandro Scorpio on keys, was in a band Aqcua Fragile project, didn’t quite work out, and he became a jazz player. When I played Vox 40 all original members but the guitarist and keyboard player didn’t play, but the keyboard players son is a drummer who joined.
I wondered what inspired Bernando as a writer?
Conscious and subconscious pull up bubbles from education and personality. Lyrics are one topic. Music is another one. I keep written notes around with phrases and words with a sound and may be more than just one meaning. I store them for future use..
As for music, I used to write singing on top of my guitar playing but, in the last ten years or so, I developed other techniques the most interesting being the one that I think about a melody, memorize it and study in my head but may be I’m floating on a swimming pool or riding shotgun (better not driving when doing this) so I’m totally free of instrumentation and kind of draw diagrams in my head. Of course, later on, I try to get sounds off instruments, mainly starting with the ol’ guitar.
Talk me through the album A New Chant.
Well, we wanted an Italian song, we’re the only Italian prog band with no Italian song, the Tu per Lei song is about music, saying if you work hard for music, then it’s done. Taking the line from Jamie Muir, he once told Bill Bruford, ‘when you approach you don’t have to think about what music can do for you, you have to ask what can I do for music’ then the acoustic one, How come, I wanted Lombardo to be more involved, I pushed, so he said I’ll write something acoustic and you sing, then we had an argument, so he said I’ll take the music but you keep the lyrics, which were my words, so I ended up having to write a new melody to the lyrics. A new way of composing. All rise– when you write songs for an album you don’t think about the concert, then you have to rejig the order for the power, so I thought why don’t I write a song for the first encore, using the courtroom line, the drummer did a great job,
A New Chant, I can do many things with my vocals, but I can do something that resembles opera, but I never learnt to push without a microphone, they can push up to 50 metres, I never learnt to do that, so that’s what I wanted to, which is crossing prog with opera. Artwork from 1973, it’s guy carrying round chairs as an invitation to a concert, the bassist had it and kept it, and it seemed ideal to use.
Will you be playing live?
We are working on two options. We could call other musicians to fill the gaps or be surrounded by an orchestra.
How did you get the deal with Esoteric?
Ernesto De Pascale, journalist and producer got them in touch with me when they needed the original art work for the re-release of Acqua Fragile’s very first album.
Where next for Acqua Fragile?
Perhaps a live album or…..
What influenced you as a musician when you started out?
When I was a kid I wanted to become a mad scientist. Somehow I kept that attitude working with music. I am not such a good player, not fast fingers or feet, no strength in my hands or arms but I can do total vocals. I can do harmonies and my range spans over three octaves.
I always admired rock and blues, suspended chords, things hidden or not totally outspoken. Progressive rock gave me all the other topics I was missing.
How different is the music scene now compared to when you started out?
The people behind the music scene have taken over. They don’t need musicians or artist ‘cause they actually control all platforms that distributes music or what they push to become “music”.
Tell me about your time in PFM?
When I joined PFM I thought I was called in to complete the delivery potential of the band. Only one of the original member is still in the band, actually becoming its leader, but, along with the ones that left ,when being interviewed they all say they were forced to get a lead singer. I recall them knowing nothing about singing except, perhaps, the key man Flavio Premoli. They didn’t even know the words to their songs!
On stage, nobody wanted my vocals in their monitors and, when having only three lines, I would end up singing along with drums and fretless bass! We were recording in LA, the studio time expired so we moved to Scorpio sound and we flew economy on a students ticket, we arrived at midnight in Luton, got the bus to the centre of London, at 2am we were still on the bus. Franco said ‘this is the new day’ so instead of heading to the hotel so we took two cabs to the studio, we wanted to start recording. We knocked on the studio door at 3 in the morning and said ‘We’ve got the studio booked’ and the people running the studio said we’ve got no engineers in yet. Franco said, ’You got a microphone?’ OK Bernado, sing! And we started. After a long flight and journey how can a guy sing after that?
After a career spanning many years what’s your favourite musical memories?
I have a lot, we started opening for bands like Soft Machine & Gentle Giant they were our heroes and we hoped we did our best and we even played before Alexis Korner, Tempest as well, We were exposed to terrific players. With PFM my first concert was in Tokyo, and we played the Royal Albert Hall and the Queen Mother wanted to meet us, so there’s a photo of us with the Queen Mother, so when I left they erased me, I then did my own and I erased them, so there’s three copies of this photo, one with all of us, one with them and not me, and then one with me on my own!
Following on from his review of Thumpermonkey’s E.P. ‘Electricity’, James R Turner posted a few questions to the band…
1) The last full length release was back in 2012, so what have you guys been up in the interim?
Working very, very slowly on a new album, though it is pretty much complete now. Additionally, a lot of the last year has been spent concentrating on making sure that we have a good strategy for its release. Sel Balamir of Amplifier is going to be putting out the album on his new ‘Rockosmos’ label, so we’re all super excited to finally share it. Rockosmos has also just put out a 4 track EP called ‘Electricity’.
2) Where did the inspiration for ‘Electricity’ come from?
We’d played the new songs to Sel that we wanted to release as an album, and while he was really into the vibe, he felt that he’d like us to produce an EP quickly to help consolidate the identity of the label and ease new fans into what we do. So the initial ‘inspiration’ was basically Sel saying ‘write a load of new songs!’ This was a totally different approach to how we’d written the upcoming album – it’s the fastest we’ve ever written new material.
A lot of inspiration came after we settled on the EP’s front cover image – I’d been trawling through the British Library archives looking for ideas, and the image of a pith-helmeted englishman getting blown up by his experiments, (in this instance, trying to use electricity to ‘transform babylon’), stood out. We already had the shells of songs by this point, but the image suggested new themes to me – ancient civilisations, colonial arrogance, religion – that kind of stuff. These ideas seemed to naturally worm their way into the lyrics.
3) How do you write and compose your songs? And are there any specific influences on your writing style?
It’s a very democratic process. What normally happens is that everyone produces scores and scores of demos that eventually get whittled down to a shortlist that everyone is happy to experiment further with. There’s very little jamming, really. One of us will end up taking a demo, mutating it into something else, and then if everybody is into it, we’ll start trying to learn it and refine it in a rehearsal space.
We’re big fans of the Immersion Composition Technique – also known as the ‘20 song game’, where everyone in the band is forced to write 20 songs in one day, and then meet to see if there are any bits worth keeping. You can check out www.ics-hub.org for more information about this way of writing.
4) Since your last release the industry has moved apace, are you fans of streaming or do you prefer the physical release?
I think it’s not worth getting too attached to a particular delivery method – I think bands just need to canvas the opinion of their fan-base and see what they are into. What we have learned, (and I don’t know if this is specific to the genre of music we’re making), is that there’s certainly a desire for physical product not to disappear completely. We get a lot of requests to reprint old albums and EPs that have been only available digitally for the last few years, so we promise we’ll try and get round to that!
5) Is there a new album due soon?
Yes indeed – now that the EP is out of the way, the next few months are going to be about getting an album release date set – the album is called ‘Make Me Young, Etc’, and will be released in 2018.
6) In the digital age how important do you see the role of social media in promotion?
I know many bands are frustrated by having to engage in advertising on social media platforms, and it’s easy to focus on the negative, but it really is critical I think. While you are fighting against a certain amount of white noise due to the sheer volume of people competing for attention, it’s worth stopping and reflecting on how these platforms offer you the opportunity to connect with people who otherwise never would have heard your music.
7) any further live dates planned?
We’re playing at the ‘8 Years of Chaos’ all dayer on Feb 3rd at The Brewhouse, London – Chaos Theory is our favorite promoter, and it will be great to play alongside all the other excellent bands that Kunal has picked from nearly a decade of bonkers shows. We’re also looking at dates outside of London as well.
8) Who are your favourite artists/bands?
We don’t all agree on the same influences, but generally speaking we’ve got a lot of time for Shudder to Think, Magma, King Crimson, Deerhoof, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and Scott Walker’s recent output.
9) Can you recommend any up and coming bands to us?
Most recently I’ve been really getting into Charlie Cawood’s lush instrumental solo album ‘The Divine Abstract’, (Charlie is the bass player for old label-mates Knifeworld, as well as being a multi instrumentalist in about 20 other bands). Here’s hoping he figures out how to perform it live!
I’ve also been enjoying recent releases by Yowie (“Synchromysticism”), and Strobes (“Brokespeak”).
10) What question would you like to be asked in an interview that you never have been? (& what would be your answer).
I’d like somebody to ask me about my constant inclusion of references to Aztec theology in Thumpermonkey song lyrics. My answer would be very long.
11) Vinyl. Yes or No & why!
Sure – why not! Our upcoming album is hopefully going to have a vinyl release. I’m not one to spend too much time engaging in discussions about the perceived positive or negative aspects of a specific format – a substantial amount of our fans have asked for vinyl version, and all I’m concerned about it that this sounds like a lot of fun. I’m personally looking forward to seeing the artwork in a larger format as well. If enough people demanded our album on a 90 min cassette, I’d be happy to consider it. Maybe not minidisc though. Or wax cylinder.
A chat across the Decades with Nicholas Pegg and David Palfreyman.
Further to James’ review of ‘Decades’ he sat down with Nicholas and David to talk about the album and quite a lot of other things:
How did you two meet & where did the idea for ‘Decades’ come from?
Nicholas Pegg: David and I have known each other since dinosaurs roamed the earth. Or possibly longer. We can never quite remember exactly when we first met, but we know that it was something to do with a certain TV show that we both loved as kids.
David Palfreyman: Yes, Nick and I met through our mutual admiration for Doctor Who, back in the grainy, 16-millimetre days of the mid-1980s. I was running a Doctor Who fan group at the time, and I think that Nick may have come along to one of the meetings.
Nicholas Pegg: Or else we met at a Doctor Who convention somewhere, queuing up for Jon Pertwee’s autograph. Wherever it was, we’d have been about 16 or 17 at the time. Just two teenage Doctor Who fans, our memories now lost in the vortex.
David Palfreyman: It remains a mystery, waiting to be uncovered in a long-lost compartment of the mind. Actually, that’s a great idea for a concept album!
Nicholas Pegg: Ha! But getting back to your question, the idea for ‘Decades’ came initially from David. He’s the songwriter on the album, and he came to me one day with a pile of demos, and he asked me if I’d like to write a story to link the songs together. And three years later, here we are. Essentially, Dave wrote the songs and I wrote the story, but that’s a bit of a simplification. It was a very organic process from start to finish – we both creatively interfered with each other’s work in the most positive way, so the end result is a true collaboration between the two of us.
You have a fantastic cast of musicians, singers and actors involved, were the parts written specifically for the actors, or did you have the story in mind before you approached the individuals?
David Palfreyman: The basis of the story was already there before any of the actors and the majority of the musicians came on board. The whole thing then blossomed, grew and branched off in all directions, achieving different bursts of energy and sunlight as it went along on its journey.
Nicholas Pegg: That’s a lovely way of putting it! Yes, the initial ideas were in place before we started thinking about specific artists, but by the time I was actually writing the script, I certainly had some of the actors already in mind. When I’m writing dialogue, I often find it helpful to imagine a particular actor playing the role, just in my head – it helps to create a consistency of tone in the character you’re creating, even if you later end up casting a completely different actor. But on this occasion, we were lucky enough to attract the actual people I’d imagined, which was a fantastic bonus. I wrote the main part of Kelver Leash very much with David Warner’s voice in my head, so I was thrilled when he said he’d like to do it. The same goes for Jacqueline Pearce. I absolutely wrote that part for her, so again it was a magical moment when she said yes. I knew I was writing for Richard Coyle and Edward Holtom as well. The other actors were simply a case of getting the casting right, and fitting the right people to the right parts. Exactly the same principle with the musicians – fitting the right singers to the right songs.
What inspired Kelver’s story?
Nicholas Pegg: I suppose there are countless inspirations. We came up with a lot of detail that you don’t hear on the album, because the scenes themselves are deliberately impressionistic. It was always our intention to create something quite nebulous and elusive, which we hope will resonate with the listeners’ imaginations. Dave and I know the full story – or rather, we know our version of it, but we’re very happy for people to bring their own interpretations to ‘Decades’. It’s not as if it’s a crossword puzzle with a single correct solution. What’s that line from Douglas Adams? ‘What we demand is rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!’ I love that. As for the story itself – well, I wrote the script, but right from the beginning Dave already had the basic notion that he wanted a story about a man looking back on his life.
David Palfreyman: My initial idea behind ‘Decades’ was actually an idea for a short film I had been kicking around for a few years. A guy who has everything, a great life full of beauty, vibrant colour and conversation. However, cracks begin to appear, and the ‘reveal’ at the end is that he is sitting slumped in a stupor surrounded by empty wine bottles and takeaway wrappers. A damning juxtaposition to the glorious life he had been daydreaming about. Now of course, ‘Decades‘ has not ended up quite like that, and it has far more depth in storytelling since Nick came on board, but that was the spark that lit the flame. I’m not really sure what inspired that, but maybe I was writing about myself.
Nicholas Pegg: I was certainly writing about myself in places. Not in a direct autobiographical sense – ‘Decades’ is certainly not the story of my life, that’s for sure – but in terms of certain philosophical ideas that interest me, and certain preoccupations, and things that trouble me, and things that amuse me too. Some of what unfolds on ‘Decades’ is quite close to home, so it’s been lovely when people have come up and said that a particular line or a particular scene strikes a chord with them. Gosh, I’m making it sound terribly po-faced. Some of the subject matter ‘Decades’ is pretty grim, but I think it’s actually quite a funny album as well. You’re allowed to laugh!
Are you pleased with the reaction the album has received?
David Palfreyman: We have had some amazing reviews, quotes and accolades from all over the world. Websites, online magazines, Record Collector, people posting on the album’s Facebook page, and even the Irish Sun newspaper! Long may it continue. Absolutely wonderful stuff. Yes, we are chuffed to pieces.
Nicholas Pegg: Yes, people have been very kind. A lot of love has gone into ‘Decades’, so we’re thrilled that it’s getting such a positive reaction.
Nicholas – as an actor/writer, is moving into working in music something you always wanted to do?
Nicholas Pegg: All my life I’ve been dipping my toes into the music world in one-way or another. I’ve written song lyrics for theatre shows, and I play a couple of instruments, not with any great virtuosity, and I’m a pretty decent singer. I’ve sung on stage professionally on many an occasion and, as far as I know, nobody ever asked for their money back! I’ve also been heavily involved in writing about popular music for a long time – among other things, I’m the author of a great big book about David Bowie. So music has always played a big part in my professional life. But you’re right, in terms of actually co-writing and co-producing a rock album; this is new territory for me. I’ve loved every minute of it. Another great treat has been directing the videos for ‘Decades’ on location and in the studio – what a joy. I’ve directed plenty of other stuff before, but never a music video. The first day on location with Sarah Jane Morris and the crew for ‘We All Fall Down’, I was like a little boy with a new train set. Pure delight!
David, did you have the musical ideas before Nicholas got involved, or did the songs come together as part of the story?
David Palfreyman: When Nick first started to work on the drama segments, I think I initially sent him around 15 songs or so. And as Nick kept working on the script, I kept on sending new songs. I can’t remember how many tunes we eventually had in the ‘pool’, maybe 30 or 40, but I thought it best for Nick to choose which ones would fit within the story, as otherwise I would have used everything. It would have been a triple album! Giving Nick the final choice of track listing worked really well, as the songs fit in with his script seamlessly.
Any thoughts of performing ‘Decades’ live?
David Palfreyman: We are about to perform two songs from the album with Jessica Lee Morgan, one of our vocalists, in a live session for the Vintage TV channel. We’re recording that in November. As for performing ‘Decades’ as a whole – oh yes, I would love to do a stage version of it. In my mind, that’s always been the plan. Followed by a film. We managed to get the album done, which has been a huge undertaking. Anything else should be a piece of cake!
Any plans for a sequel?
David Palfreyman: I already have around 100 songs to sift through for the sequel. I’m ready. Nick? Niiiick?
Nicholas Pegg: This man can’t stop writing songs, you know. They pour out of him. Do you know the amazing statistic about Turner, that he left something like 400 oil paintings and 30,000 watercolours, which means that he must have averaged about two paintings per day? Well, Dave is like that with songs. Okay, Dave, here’s the deal. Just give me a couple of weeks’ holiday. And then we’ll get going…
This year legendary British prog-metal stalwarts Threshold released their 11th album ‘Legends Of The Shires’ on the 8th September.
I interviewed founding member, songwriter and guitarist Karl Groom about the new release and a few other interesting questions came about…
Progradar – I think ‘Legends of the Shires’ is your best album yet but, as you wrote it, what are your thoughts?
Karl – All musicians think that their latest album is their greatest but, for me, it does have a real completeness in terms of both music and lyrics. It’s a concept album, not just lyrically (which is often the case) but musically and we tied the whole thing together. For me, that’s very satisfying, when you can listen from the first track on the album, The Shire 1, and got through to the last, Swallowed, and feel the music has the right dynamics to follow from one song to the other.
You just feel that there’s a completeness to that arrangement, and that, for me, is very satisfying. The only other album that came close to that was ‘Subsurface’. I can always find a good song or two that I really think are stand out songs on most albums but I want the whole thing to seem like a complete album, and that’s what stands out on this one.
P – I agree definitely. I’m 50 this year, ready for the pipe and slippers and it’s time to be a grumpy old man. What I think is a problem with a lot of the mainstream music nowadays is that it’s based around singles, they’re just picking one song. I want the album to be a journey.
K – Exactly, that’s the thing, it’s come back a little bit like it was back in the 80’s. Bands would front-load their album and say which are the best songs and just put them in that order. By the time you’re getting to the end of the album you’re thinking ‘oh my god!’ Even if they are all good songs, it sounds a bit jumbled and uncoordinated, you need that coordination and the album needs to be as important as the individual songs on it.
P – When you first started out, young and wide-eyed, in 1988 did you envisage releasing your 11th album over 20 years later?
K – We didn’t even set out to get signed to be honest. My wife was listening to some of the demos we made before we got signed and she wondered how the hell we managed to get signed! It was absolute tosh, it was dreadful. We were a covers band when we made those, learning to play guitar and so on, sort of bumming our way through a few Van Halen songs and Ratt and Whitesnake, whoever was in at the time. We made our way playing those and didn’t think about it at all, we just wrote a few songs, I think it was three, which were sort of within what we would call Threshold now.
Basically, because two of us loved metal and one love prog music, we accommodated everyone with that. A king of prog-metal as a meeting of the two musical styles rather than what you’d see as Prog-Metal now, which is a genre in its own right. We just mixed what our influences were and started writing songs. The guy from SI Music in Holland heard them and thought they were really good, he put one out on his compilation album through the magazine that he published at the time and said he was going to sign us the following year and we’d release an album. In the meantime, someone else heard it, which was Thomas Waber from InsideOut, he had another label in the UK called GEP and said we’ll sign you to that label.
So we signed to Giant Electric Pea and they didn’t expect us to sell any more than 500-1000 albums, so even at that stage we weren’t thinking about whether we’d made it or not. Within a month or so that first album had sold 15,000 so I think it was, at that stage, that we realised that things had taken off a bit more than we thought. We started thinking maybe we are a serious band and we’d better sort ourselves out and learn how to play live. We never, ever chased a deal, we naturally moved to InsideOut from GEP and when that contract came to an end Nuclear Blast approached us and said they’d like to offer us something. To be honest, we’re happy to stay there now and have signed the new contract to stay at Nuclear Blast for another three albums.
P – What do you put your longevity down to? Is it just luck or…
K – We were interested in playing music but we’re typical Brits who are very self-critical and don’t really think of ourselves too seriously. We just wanted to make music and hadn’t thought that someone else would want to hear it. Once that did come true we were thinking it was great, we can write albums and people will actually listen to them and we can release them, it was a gradual realisation. It gradually grew and now, I suppose, it feels normal. My greatest privilege is just to be able to communicate with people through the medium of music, it’s something that I always wanted, you know? If someone can take something from one of our albums or if it means something then it’s a real privilege to be able to do that.
P – The new album is described as ‘A colossal double concept album’, is there a quick way of telling us what the concept behind the album is?
K – It’s about how we find our place in the world, on a political or personal level, and how we relate to each other. To that end it’s really a dual concept album which is what gave us such inspiration to write the lyrics, or Richard anyway. As a political side you could take it as a country or a nation finding its way in the world and all the difficulties that come with that. England’s place in Europe was vaguely an inspiration, I suppose, from all that happened last year.
On a personal level, it’s much the same sort of thing but looking at your thoughts of things you wish you hadn’t done, just a journey through life, someone finding their way in the world. That was able to give us a lot of scope all the way through the album, in terms of finding the concept. You see that demonstrated in the Small Dark Lines video which we’ve done and which partly illustrates what the album’s about, painting the lines on the people with black paint which represented their regrets in this case.
The small dark lines in the song also represent the borders between countries and how those are a little bit blurred these days. Those are many subjects we can touch on and it was really great to be able to demonstrate that in the video and find a way of doing it, to which end we put out an appeal to fans who wanted to be in the video. We got people travelling from as far away as Sweden, it was really successful, there must have been at least nine people in the video.
The only thing I will say is that, originally, we didn’t plan on torturing them, it wasn’t the idea to give them cold showers but there was only cold water available! It was in a warehouse near Manchester, it was freezing cold and raining on that day and their faces tell the story when they get hit by the water!
P – To me, and to other people I’ve spoken to who’ve heard the album, there seems to be more focus on the songs. Was that your intention when you originally got together to write the album?
K – As I’ve mentioned before, ‘Subsurface’ was my favourite album until now and that was because of that complete nature of the composition from beginning to end. Richard and I got together and on the last albums we’d had contributions from other band members, we wanted that, everyone was always welcome to write. For this one, they didn’t really come forward with anything, apart from Steve who wrote On the Edge, so it was a lot easier to control the whole dynamic of the album, the sound of it.
We got together when we were both ready to start writing, we were inspired, and we got to about an hour’s worth of music. I make complete demos of music and send them to Richard who then adds melodies and lyrics. We got to this stage where we’d finished that, around sixty minutes and I’d said that I’ve still got plenty of ideas, I don’t feel like I’m finished. Richard said that was good because he was building this really interesting concept and needed more music for that.
We just let it go naturally until we had about an hour and eighteen minutes. We didn’t have The Shire Part 1 or 3 at the time and developed those later. We ended up with an hour and twenty-three minutes of music which came as a natural situation at which point Richard mentioned that the label had said that if we were going to make an album they wanted to split it onto four sides of vinyl. I said we could probably just do but I’d want the songs to be in the correct order because we’re thinking about a concept.
I don’t want to take what would be okay on a CD and jumble it up to make it fit on four sides of the vinyl because you can only do twenty two minutes per side. Luckily it fitted in the correct order and that was it for us, there was one other thing that happened at the end when we were doing the lyrics that really convinced us that this was 100% right. We discovered that each song begins with L, O, T or S which is an acronym of Legends Of The Shires and we were amazed by that, it’s just a confirmation that this album is falling into place.
I love it when an album is musically, as well as lyrically, a concept, it may be a bit old fashioned and people may have forgotten about concept albums since the 70’s but I really love it when there’s a whole story and your drawn into it and you can turn the lights out and listen to the music late at night. I still do that with my wife sometimes, like teenagers, with some wine or beer out and just concentrating on music instead of having it as this background effect.
That’s the most important thing, there are a couple of Mike Oldfield albums we listen through from beginning to end and think ‘wow, that feels great’ and I wanted that experience. You’re drawn completely into the music, you forget where you are and what you’re doing, it’s all about the music. You’re drawn into the story and the atmosphere, you feel one thing is happening after another and that’s what special about this kind of album for me.
P – I think Legends is much more progressive than your recent releases, harking back to Dead Reackoning, was it a conscious decision when you were writing it to get that more progressive sound & feel, especially as it was going to be a concept album?
K – I think there’s a natural leaning with Threshold, I don’t know if it’s exact, that seems to be that we do a more straight ahead album followed by a more progressive album, it seems to alternate. ‘Dead Reckoning’ was a little more straighter after ‘Subsurface’ and then ‘March of Progress’ was quite involved. The last one (‘Fro The Journey’) was a bit more stark sounding and now ‘Legends’ is very much warm and progressive.
I don’t know if it was intentional but we always just let songs go and build themselves, we don’t say that we need a ten minute song. In fact I think that Richard would tell you that The Man Who Saw Through Time was nowhere near ten minutes when we started with the first idea. It just developed as it went on and that’s always been the case, I do like the progressive elements. It was Nick and I who liked the metal side of music and Jon Jeary (the original bass player) that liked progressive.
He’s the one that got us into that music but, after I found out about it, I really did get to enjoy Genesis albums and, through that, the freedom to express myself in the way of arrangement so you’re not locked into verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, chorus or whatever. They kind of go where the song needs to go and they don’t sit and worry about the details, they let the song lead itself. You don’t think and worry about the arrangement, it happens and if it happens to be a three minute song, that’s fair enough if it works that way and if it’s longer, it’s longer.
I suppose you get used to writing longer songs so you know what it takes but we do like to mix that up and, particularly once we’d got to 60 minutes and we were still writing, there was a feeling from Richard and I that we wanted this to be a more progressive album as we wanted it to be a concept. We did lean towards that, in some ways, without thinking about it too much. We already had The Man Who Saw Through Time and Lost In Translation at that stage, those songs were already there. If you’ve got 22 minutes on two songs then you’re already on your way to something progressive, aren’t you? You can’t avoid it.
P – You’ve still got some shorter, harder rocking tracks like Small Dark Lines on there, you get a really good mix between them all, it all seems to flow really nicely.
K – I think Snowblind is one of my favourites as well, it’s got harder moments and it’s almost like a microcosm of Threshold on this album. It involves the hard, the heavy, the delicate and the emotional sides of the music, all combined into one song and compressed into 7 minutes. It was really interesting to create that sort of thing all into one track, it just sort of came together in the right way. I’m really looking forward to trying to play that one live!
P –Who influenced your career at the start and who’s music would you spend your own money on now?
K – Before we were together, my wife really liked My Dying Bride and I’ve really got into them because of her. I’d never considered listening to it because doom metal’s kind of alright when it’s Candlemass or whatever but it just wasn’t my thing. When I heard them I completely got it the first time I listened to it, I just understood the atmosphere and the music and when I found out where they came from I thought you could feel it in the music. You can envisage the moors and the cold, dank nights and the misery and I loved the way that they painted the picture through their music and the way the sound sort of envelops you.
That’s been something I’ve really been into more recently and love Mike Oldfield because of the electronic side of the music and the way he’s able to build layers. I know it’s a different style of music to Threshold completely but it taught me how you could make music interesting instead of just coming back to a verse again. Why not have something different, maybe an extra layer or something, it’s the way he builds the songs so carefully. It sounds simple but there’s a huge amount involved in it and I learned from that electronic music what was so important about layering music and making it interesting in the arrangement.
From the beginning it was just metal, particularly Testament from the album ‘Low’ and beyond. I suppose if I listened to guitarists it was melodic guitarists, Dave Gilmour and Steve Lukather. I never liked those bands in the 80’s who would write a song where you’d be listening to it and then you’d fall off the edge of the song into a bunch of scales and the solo would have nothing to do with the song. You’d think why did he do that? I know people want to play fast but what’s the point? When I listen to ‘Toto IV’, even though it’s not a favourite Toto album of mine, I noticed that the guitar solos were so melodically driven, so brilliantly worked out and I thought that that’s what I want to do, I want to make a solo that’s got a relation to the song.
To that end I started writing guitar solos by putting the guitar down and taking the music out into the park on headphones and singing it onto a Dictaphone for either a keyboard or a guitar solo, whatever we want. I just start humming it or singing it and that would create the basis for the solo and you wouldn’t fall into the normal pattern where you start playing your guitar and you have certain patterns under your fingers that you always gravitate to, you can’t help it and that means all your solos ended up sounding the same. I now just ignore that and come back and add any technical bits later.
It’s about getting the basics right so someone who’s not a musician can enjoy your work as well. My little girl is only three and she listens to some of these albums we have on and when it comes to the solo she’ll go “advert! advert!” like the song has finished for her, she thinks it’s an advertisement in the middle of the song and then she’s waiting for the chorus to come back. I don’t want to be that, I want to be in a band where bits of the solo relate to the melody in the verses or the chorus and it’s a melody in its own right which keeps people interested, not some excuse for someone to go a bit crazy and play their fastest scales. That’s where that developed from, to keep that as a coherent part of the song and then you don’t feel like you’ve wasted maybe 10% of the album.
P – Just touching on progressive rock again, Steven Wilson has come out and said that being labelled ‘Prog’ has probably held his career back, do you think the ‘Prog-Metal’ label has affected Threshold in a negative way?
K – I don’t think that were so big that we could be held back by anything! How many times do you hear people talking about the revival of prog? Sometimes it’s a positive, sometimes it’s a negative. There are so many people willing to put down the prog fans and categorise them as anoraks that are in their 50’s or 60’s and have no interest in life. Why would you do that? I think they’re an incredibly loyal fanbase that are well-educated, which means you can actually write lyrics that mean something and they will understand them!
It’s a real bonus in my book to find those people and they tend to be there all the way through your career. You can have a pop band that will be gone in a year or two, I love having a fanbase that we can go to and they’re waiting to hear your next album. It’s a privilege, it shouldn’t be something you put down at all and I don’t think it’s held us back in any way.
P – That’s probably why you are onto your 11th album…
K – Threshold are good at what we do, if we tried to become commercial or try and follow some trend, we’re not going to as good as the other bands that do it. You’ve got to forge your own way, be creative and have your own sound, not somebody else’s. I think it’s great if someone hears the track Small Dark Lines on the radio and knows it’s Threshold, to me that’s a good thing. It’s like when I hear a Pink Floyd song and I know it’s them, it should be your own identifying stamp. I think it’s a brilliant thing and that’s what happens within prog.
P – Glynn Morgan has returned and replaced Damian Wilson on vocals, any particular reason why?
K – I can tell you what happened, we never wanted to make a statement because we’re not in the business of trying to put Damian down or anything, he’s a really valued member of the band and he did a fantastically good job. However, in October, after we’d played Prog Power Europe I was giving him a lift home to Oxford and he said to me “what sort of singer do you think would replace me?”, I didn’t really pay much attention and he gave me a few names and we left it at that and I said good night.
A couple of weeks later he turned up when I was working on something in the studio and said that he’d decided to leave the band and it was then that I realised that I’d missed that, I’d missed him telling me that he was leaving the band completely! He gave me names of these people that he thought might replace him and I never want to be in the position of chasing people to be in the band. As I’ve said, I feel privileged to be able to play music to the people who want to listen to it and I wouldn’t want to put him in a position where we’re chasing him.
Threshold is something that’s special to me and if he’d come to the point where he felt he’d got other things to do or you don’t want to be in the band then that’s great, he’s done a brilliant job and we’ll move on. When I spoke to Richard later, I said to him that Damian had decided he was moving on and I don’t really want to take on one of these people he’s suggested, what do you think if we ask Glynn again?
I know he wanted to rejoin the last time Damian had come back. He’d found out afterwards that Mac had left and he was interested but it was too late then. In 2008/2009 we did some work with him on our ‘Paradox’ singles boxset on a couple of the tracks and it was great. I’d always loved Glynn’s voice and the three singers we’ve had are the singers I’ve wanted so if Damian leaves and, unfortunately, Mac is no longer available, it would be brilliant if Glynn came back.
Richard had been in contact with him not long before that and when we spoke to him he was over the moon and, as he said in his statement, he really wanted to get involved again. I thought that his enthusiasm was something you just can’t turn down. As the story goes, Damian changed his mind a few weeks later and wanted to come back to the band. I never really got a satisfactory answer as to why he wanted to leave or come back, he rang Richard this time and said he wanted to come back.
He actually did come back to start recording the new album but he didn’t finish it and we didn’t have any dates from him to come back. We did a show in Switzerland and the atmosphere in the band was just different, we knew he’d wanted to go and then he sort of came back but didn’t want to do certain dates that we’d tried to book to finish the album, he wasn’t available for those. It just seemed like we were in competition with something else and I said to Richard we would have to find someone who wanted to do what the four of us wanted to do, the rest of the band.
We want to do things, we don’t want to be inactive, we’re not that young that we can be sitting around for years doing nothing. We told Damian we’d have to move on and I don’t know if he wanted to leave or not or whether he didn’t like the idea of looking bad on social media. I’m not sure whether he really wanted to come back or not, I don’t know what it was but it wasn’t really a good fit once he’d decided he wanted to leave and we just thought that, even though we don’t want to fall out with Damian we need to move on.
He still wants to meet up and chat again, we’re not on bad terms. I don’t know if he was expecting it or not but we said, in the light of what had happened, we’re going to move on and we’re going to find someone who wants to be in the band all the time and it worked out, it fits Glynn perfectly, with the extra power he has, on this new album and it works well.
P – Talking about people coming back, Jon (Jeary) makes an appearance on The Shire (Part 3), how did that come about?
K – I’m still in contact with Jon often, we meet as families, with his children and mine, and we’re still great friends. I know he loves Threshold because he bought some of the albums until he told me and I started giving him some, he still likes the music. He didn’t want to be involved in touring back then and I always wondered if I could drag him back in.
We’d demoed every other song on the album with female vocals, we got Richard’s wife to do it as she’s a really good singer and that stops us getting boxed in with any particular vocalist when we’re writing. When we did The Shire (Part 3)she wasn’t available to do the vocals so Richard did it himself and I thought it sounded a bit like Jon. I wondered if I could convince him to sing on it and Richard said good luck with that one so I contacted him and asked him if he’d consider doing this vocal for us and sing it how he feet.
I Think he was flattered as he was the original singer for Threshold when we were a pub band and coming back as a singer was very different to coming back as the bassist. He really enjoyed it, he came after work one night, put the vocals down and it went brilliantly, it was really good to be connected back with Jon. He was such an important formative part of Threshold, he wrote the majority of the lyrics for the first six albums, titled the albums and even came up with the band name.
Even though he didn’t like the touring and what that entailed, he always loved the music. The next step is, if we ever get to playing that track live, to maybe drag him up to London to sing on it, let’s see what he thinks about that one!
P – I really appreciate you talking to me Karl, the last question, what’s next for Threshold and yourself? Are you already thinking of the next album?
K – When I get back from the back of beyond (Serbia) I’ll be getting ready for our tour , planning things for Glynn such as what bits of guitar he might play on the tour in November and December. We’ve started arranging festivals for next year and then we’ll see what comes.
Richard and I have always left writing the music for a new album to the point when we’re actually ready to do it, rather than setting a date for it. It’s hard enough to make an album which works, you never feel fully in control of what’s happening, even with the best of intentions and being fully inspired, it might not go exactly as you want it to.
I always feel you have to be completely 100% ready and you’ve got to put everything into it to make it special otherwise why would you bother? We always wait until it’s a natural process, by the time we’ve finished the touring process for an album we’re ready to start thinking about a new one and you get inspired again.