It’s not strange that many bands on today’s progressive rock scene try to recreate the golden era of the genre by conscious applying it to their sound. Dublin based prog rock quartet, M-Opus, are about to launch their debut album titled “1975 Triptych,” and as its name suggests, it represents the band’s effort to put out a record that is 40 years old in spirit.
In this interview, singer and keyboardist Jonathan Casey talks about the album and how it came into existence. He is a professional musician who previously worked with David Cross (ex-King Crimson).
Tell me about the musical concept behind M-Opus and your upcoming full-length release “1975 Triptych.”
We’ve got quite a fun concept – M-Opus albums will be ‘from’ different years in the past, as if these are old albums that are only being released now. Our debut album pays respect to 1975, the year I was born! So the album is meant to sound like it’s from that time.
“1975 Triptych” seems to be quite a challenging work. Lead me through the creative process that informed the album.
It really started out with me writing without any practical aim, in a 70s style, loving the process. Then my muso buddies Colin (guitars) and Aran (drums) said they’d love to get involved, so we started demoing parts of it. I kept writing and the concept began to take shape. We all agreed, it should sound vintage and not super punchy and modern.
Speaking of challenges, is there a creative challenge to deal with in that the band members occupy similar sonic spectrums?
Yes that’s a real producer’s issue, standing back from it all and making sure individual parts are working together. Colin and I always edge towards an equal sound, there’s a lot of unison playing between keys and guitars. I’ve composed for orchestras and you soon get over the idea that you should avoid tutti passages in that world.
It’s obvious where your influences lie. Was it your idea since the beginning to create an album that recalls the golden era of the progressive rock genre?
Definitely, 100%. I feel that the vintage sound is part of the experience, part of the love we have for it. Classic prog rock with a big, modern production cuts across me. Think of ‘Moonlight Serenade’, I don’t want that sounding massive and maximised – that style has got a charm in its evocative, wartime-ballroom sonority. In traditional music, jazz, blues, it’s not unusual to treat the music in that time-stamped way. I’m after the same thing with prog, a sound that suits the music.
What have you been listening during the songwriting process of “1975 Triptych”, and in which measure it shaped the album’s final structure?
I listened to a lot of what was going around that year and leading up to it, to keep my writing reasonably contemporaneous. Then for fun, I really love listening to a lot of different music; one car journey could include John Adams, James Brown, Joni Mitchell, Queens of the Stone Age and Mahavishnu!
The album structure was more influenced by my background in art history. In that world, it’s all about the inspiring presentation of the concept. A Triptych is a 3-panelled work, 1 small, 1 large, 1 small, each panel relating to the same subject, just like our record.
As its name suggests, “1975 Triptych” is comprised of three songs, including centerpiece “Different Skies” clocking at over 33 minutes. Describe the creative process behind this song, in particular.
It was a little like when a sculptor releases the figure from within the slab, knowing the form already in the marble, just having to reveal it. I’d write and arrange some of it, stop and listen and I would hear the music that wasn’t there yet, maybe earlier or later in the piece. So off I’d go and realise that hidden music. Eventually, I knew it was complete!
I understand that M-Opus is for you some sort of fresh start or creative renewal for you. Elaborate on it.
I’m fortunate in that I get paid for writing music on TV and film. After some years, I realised that I like this process, regardless of the style I was asked to work in. In my teens, I thought modern songwriting was the ‘real’ me, it was my true voice. But I discovered I’m as happy doing cartoon scores, horror stings, melancholic string pieces as anything else. So I had to ask myself, if that’s the case, what truly is the music you’d most like to write? And it turned out to be M-Opus!
Before M-Opus, you’ve been a part of the David Cross (ex-King Crimson) Band, with whom you toured and recorded two albums. How did this collaboration help you to define yourself through M-Opus?
It was so wonderful. I suppose it convinced me that working in this area of music is a reality, not just a dream. It encouraged me to make my own path out there.
I read that the next M-Opus release will be from 1978. How come? Tell me more about it.
It’s going to tell a story. A lot of narrative concept albums have somewhat elusive, spiritual stories – I wanted to try a clear, plot-driven sci-fi thriller and hopefully visualise it as a graphic novel. I have the story mapped out and about 30 minutes of music so far. I’m making it 1978 as it seems the right time for an album that is influenced by the success of Star Wars the previous year.
From the same source I found out that you will be recording an album dating back in 1982. 80’s in particular are not much loved period by progressive rock fans, mostly because of New Wave. How will this reflect on the music?
It will be a little challenging for sure. I want it to be authentic, but as you say, many prog bands released albums that are deemed their worst in this period! So there will be some very catchy songs on there but a healthy, exploratory aspect to it too. Peter Gabriel managed that very well on 3 and 4, of course.
You performed live with M-Opus. What is the reaction of audiences on your music? Are you satisfied with responses you receive?
Although this outfit have played live before, this will be our first time as M-Opus playing this stuff. Previously, we’ve done free-form stuff, heavy-ish things; audience members were often bemused or horrified! This new stuff is quite structured and lively, so I hope it’s going to be a great show.
What comes next for M-Opus?
Next up is live dates and working on ‘1978’. If anyone out there knows a thing or two about graphic novels/comic books, give us a call! It’s time to collaborate!
Visit M-Opus online: