“I realised a long time ago that instrumental music speaks a lot more clearly than English, Spanish, Yiddish, Swahili, any other language. Pure melody goes outside time.”
Here we are, 2017 and have to admit it’s been a long time since I last heard a new Prog instrumental album. You almost fell over them back in the 70’s. They were everywhere. You had the likes of Camel’s ‘Snow Goose‘ rubbing shoulders with Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells‘ selling over 16 million albums, thank you very much. In some ways this was rocking up Symphonic Music and then some. Tangerine Dream were up for it and put out many an acid tripping the keyboard fantastic LP, and of course Vangelis was no slouch with his unique blending of electronic sounds on such albums such as ‘Albedo 0.39′ and ‘Opéra sauvage’ which also included Jon Anderson on harp.
Fast-forward thirty-five years or so and a handful of artists and bands are recording and releasing the odd instrumental album or three. You only have to look at Pink Floyd’s mostly instrumental 2014 album, ‘Rattle That Lock‘ to see the interest is still there. Something Canadian multi-instrumentalist (keyboards/bass/guitar) , Art Griffin is well aware of as demonstrated by his new album recently released, ‘Visions From The Present.’ The band is known as Art Griffin’s Sound Chaser and includes some of Canada’s finest musicians such as the drummer from Saga, Steve Negus, with Victoria Yeh on electric violin (amazing performances on this album) only equaled by Kelly Kereliuk‘s guitar work. That’s not to say Art is far behind. Is he what? If his mind-blowing keyboard solos are anything to go by, he’s charging ahead encouraging the others to keep up!Having the likes of well respected Ken Baird throwing down the occasional keyboard solo makes it an extra bit special moment to listen to.
This is high energy Melodic Rock with all the Prog trappings you could want. Actually, it’s hard to throw this album under one genre. EM, Jazz, Rock, you name it. Something for everyone. Track One ‘Intransition 1‘ teased me into thinking was Art paying a kind of homage to Mike Oldfield, Jean Luc Ponty or even Jean-Michel Jarre? Not what you might call on-the-nose, but certainly I kind of had one of the those 70’s deja vu moments infused with 21st Century sensibilities.Well, you decide for yourself. Oh, and commissioning Roger Dean to provide an amazing piece of artwork for your album cover isn’t going to hurt either.
This Rock-oriented album showcases how well all of these fine performers work together to create a cohesive and solid selection of Prog pieces, and it’s now my pleasure to present an interview I did recently with Art around the release of his new album released USA online mail order distributor LaserCD.com or through Art Griffin’s Sound Chaser links (see below)
PAUL WATSON: The first question that comes to mind is – did Patrick Moraz play any part in you calling yourself ‘Art Griffin’s Sound Chaser?’
ART GRIFFIN: I guess the short answer to this question is no. Patrick Moraz didn’t play any part in me calling the band ‘Art Griffin’s Sound Chaser.’ Always love the words “Sound Chaser” – never mind the song, although I loved the song. The words were always something that intrigued me. The putting together of those two words, and the idea of chasing sound really set my mind going even since I was a mid-teen, I have thought about those words and that concept of being a sound chaser. Sorry, Patrick – love your playing on the album, but really had nothing to do with me wanting to call the band ‘Art Griffin Sound Chaser. ‘
PAUL WATSON: Did you start from scratch for this album or were these bits of music you had stored away over these years just waiting for this day?
ART GRIFFIN: Both. Being a musician who sort of spends most of his times as a composer and writer, so yes, I’ve always had a huge catalogue of bits and pieces of music. I was always the guy on the road who would sequester himself in his room and say, “I’m not coming out to party. I’ve got this idea…” and would set up my little four track at the time and pound away on stuff. So yes, I’ve got a huge library of recorded music – both songs with singing and songs without. So there are some things I had kicking around and was dying to use, and when the idea of recording instrumental music presented itself I realised that some of these bits and pieces were really more angled towards being instrumental music rather than being parts of songs.
That’s not to say though I didn’t compose new stuff for this album. I did. ‘To The Oceans’ is new just as ‘Supersuit,’ ‘Nomadic Traveller’ is new. ‘Banyan Tree’ is new. There are lots of new things but there are bits and pieces, certainly ‘Red Sky At Night,’ that’s been kicking around for a while waiting to be realised in its final version now. I think, going forward, there’s always going to be a combination of some new and some old mixed together, although we make the old sound new, because [laughs] we can.
PAUL WATSON: What inspired you to create ‘Visions Of The Present’?
ART GRIFFIN: It wasn’t exactly a light bulb moment. It was more of a realisation that things I had been working on, like I said previously, were not going to be suitable for singing on songs. They were really meant to be just pieces of instrumental music and as such when the light bulb went on in my own head, when I realised, you know, all along you love instrumental music, why aren’t you working on your own sets of pieces of music that are instrumentals? Once I understood that this was a good idea, and got encouragement from others that this was my little niche of composing for the moment, so really, full step ahead. So it wasn’t necessarily that one thing that inspired me; it was more of a realisation that this was a good direction for me to take.
PAUL WATSON: How long have you worked on this album?
ART GRIFFIN: That is a funny question, Paul, because people would be shocked to know that in some cases if you were to track back to when the first pieces for ‘Red Sky At Night‘ were being put together, that would constitute decades ago. So you could honestly say 30 years in the making. However I tend to say six or seven. I remember a “milestone birthday party” where I played to some people a couple of these new things I was working on — and four of those things are now on the album, and that was six years ago. So for arguments sake let’s say… six years and… (dramatic cough) not talk about those other timelines.
“The character of instrumental music… lets the emotions radiate and shine in their own character without presuming to display them as real or imaginary representations.”
PAUL WATSON: As far as recordings went, were any played live or did each member of line up record their own pieces to be mixed in later?
ART GRIFFIN: The process basically goes in a manner where I’ve composed the track at my home studio and I’ve laid down keyboard parts and rhythm guitars, and bass guitar and some rudimentary drum things. And then the others get their say and their hand in after that. Particularly starting with the rhythm section and Steve gets to listen to what I’ve done and puts forth his ideas and changes things around if need be, at which point, of course then, if I’ve already recorded the bass line he decides it’s going to be some other rhythmic thing on drums, then I will re-record the bass to fit his new and improved ideas so to speak. And in some cases things that I had in mind were kept in that didn’t have to happen, and at that point Kelly and Victoria get to come in and hear what I’ve got, and I show them where the solo sections are going to be.
In some cases I have melody lines that I want them to play or ideas for phrasings to start and end solos. In some cases they do this and then have a free hand to do what they want. So they sort of give me what I want, and then they give me the carte blanch versions where they do exactly what they want to do. Then things are gone over and the best bits and best ideas and performances are used. So in this age of modern recording the answer to your question on whether we were in a room altogether playing live—um, no we weren’t. In some cases Kelly and Victoria were recording at my home studio, but they were also recording at their own personal home studios, and of course Steve was recording at the Blue Room, which is his studio.
Once everybody was happy with how things were, meaning me, then the mixing process could start. And that’s basically it in a nutshell. It takes longer that way – we are separated by distance, and everybody is busy, and so things stretch out time-wise because not everybody is available in a great big block of recording just to pound things out day after day after day. Unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of doing things that way, so we piece it together as best we can. That composer guy takes his time composing things, so that’s how that it all comes together.
PAUL WATSON: What were some of the challenges you hadn’t foreseen recording ‘Visions From The Present?’
ART GRIFFIN: The simplest unforeseen challenge is something I was referring to in the recording part, and that is the challenge of the timeline; the challenge of wanting to get things done at a certain pace or quickly, and just not being able to physically do that. Because of everybody’s busy schedules and distances involved of getting together, that would be, I would say the only challenge. I was never in a rush to complete this. I was only in a rush to have things to my satisfaction. I wasn’t beholding to a record company to have the album dropped at a certain point, time-wise, because it had been promised, or anything like that. It was always a matter of getting things right to my satisfaction and then going on to the next things. So, you know, in essence the only real frustration was it couldn’t be completed quicker because as the project moved along I was getting sort of more excited and then even more excited, and telling people about it, and yet it always seemed to be further away from completion than I wanted.
PAUL WATSON: Do you feel that in some cases it’s difficult to write and record an instrumental album than to include lyrics?
ART GRIFFIN: The quick answer to that is no. There is no difficulty as far as I’m concerned, because I don’t have to worry about coming up with lyrical content or worrying about a singer. Is he having a good day vocally to record with or is he even comfortable with what I would want to say, lyrically? And as the head cook and bottle washer I’ve always been the writer in any projects I’ve been in. Even in those songs “I was the writer of the lyrics,” and so now it is a different ball game as far as writing instrumental music. I hear a ton of music in my head, and as I mentioned, I have a library of lots of musical bits. So I find it much easier as a matter of fact to put things together that are hopefully interesting and exciting without lyrics and still use the voices of other instruments to be doing the melodies, and to be coming back to you on choruses and provide things that are sort of memorable if not hooky in some cases.
So I’m very happy I don’t have to worry about what subject matter I’m going to write about next. In Prog I think a lot of that has already been done, and done beautifully to the Nth degree – thank you Jon Anderson for paving the way and spoiling it for everybody else, because I often think there’s some pretty great music out there and bands that I’m interested in hearing, and yet when the singer starts to sing I’m quite often disappointed. The music is fantastic and yet the lyrical content or the actual sound of the singer’s voice isn’t doing it for me. So I’m a happy camper. I don’t have worry about any of that at the moment, and I can just carry on and have my ideas and not have to worry about that kind of stuff.
PAUL WATSON: It’s very much a contemporary instrumental album with strong Prog elements to it as well as a touch of Jazz within it, especially on such tracks like ‘Happy Place (Parts I-IV)’where Victoria Yeh on violin lets rip with a blistering solo to compliment the ripping guitar solo. Just wondering if this actually started off as a jamming piece?
ART GRIFFIN: It started out life as a seven minute piece and ends up as a 10 and a half minute piece. It’s not due to the “jamming nature.” I’m a pretty structured kind of guy and I like things to be laid out, not just be about, ‘here’s a long section where everybody is doing what they want.’ In Happy Place Part One which is the first four minutes of that track, there are lots of licks and noodling, especially by Kelly, but there are cut-and-dried melody lines that you keep coming back to, which is great. And then in the solo section for Victoria, yes she had free reign to do what she wanted, but still with a parameter of a certain number of bars, and not an unlimited space to play with. After the breakdown part where there are some harmonics and it sort of kicks back in, that is a bit more of a stretch out section, where the two guitar players are having a go at it. Kelly gets a longer go at it. It wasn’t necessarily just a, “here’s 32 bars or whatever it turns out to be for you to play with.” We had some ideas and we ran through some things to sort of go completely off-the-cuff.
In Part Two where Kelly takes on the soloing there, it is totally off-the-cuff and truth be told, that’s the first take. It was amazing which includes what I call “The Run,” shortly followed by “The other run.” And it is mind boggling stuff. Then towards the end of that part where Part Three kicks in there are again some lines that we came up with that formed the part, and at the end of the track where it gets all mystical, that’s Part Four – we had the recording longer that we wanted to, and I had this vision of Victoria playing some ethereal things over the instruments that became quite atmospheric, then they drop out or fade out, whatever you want to call it, one by one and that became it’s own part. Before that it was going to be a total fade out ending with the band playing everything and faded out as one.
Then we had a little bit of an inspiration and added a couple of minutes to the track. And because we had the luxury of time, again as I’ve referenced before, we could do that, and Part Four is one of my favourite moments on the album actually. So there you go, it’s not really jamming per se, but within the framework, as I like to construct things, it is the most liberal of the pieces.
PAUL WATSON: I see Ken Baird also is part of your lineup. That’s a name I came across back in the early 90’s as part of an independent artist co-operative looking to promote their own music locally and internationallyIs that important to you? Working with local musicians in this age of telephoning music down the wire?
ART GRIFFIN: No, not really. Ken Baird had been recommended to me actually from Kelly I believe because I was looking for somebody more dexterous than myself on keyboards to drop a couple of solos in, and Ken was up for the challenge, and did a fantastic synth solo on ‘Fast Track,’ and that super tasty Rhodes solo on ‘Red Sky At Night.’ So the answer to the question is, no it’s not important. He just happened to live in the Hamilton area in Dundas, Ontario. He could have lived in Victoria, British Columbia or Berlin, or he could have been in London England.
As far as I’m concerned whether or not you’re a local musician is not a criteria for me to want to work with you. I want to work with you if you’re the best qualified for what I’m looking for as far as an additional musician goes. And due to the wonders of technology it no longer matters that you need to assemble your casting crew from within your own neighbourhood. The world is our neighbourhood now, and people can compose and record, and play with people around the world, which is utterly fantastic.
PAUL WATSON: Have you played any of these songs live in concert, or intending to?
ART GRIFFIN: No we haven’t played any of the songs live yet. I do have full intentions at some point playing these tracks live in concert form. Hopefully the main players in involved in the recording process will be available to play these songs at some point. But the time will present itself when it’s right for that. For the foreseeable near future it’s not on the table just yet, but I’m sure that it is coming.
PAUL WATSON: And can I say, “Wow! Roger Dean!!!!” Talk about starting at the top! When you had this crazy idea that you would approach him and ask for him to whip up a painting, did you think it could really happen? How did this all come to pass?
ART GRIFFIN: When the crazy idea to approach Roger Dean was raised did I think it was going to happen? Well, no. My Project manager J C Smith just asked one day out of the blue, in my perfect world who would I choose to do the album art work, and before I could really answer he was like, “I sort of know who that’s going to be, and that would be Roger Dean.” And then before I knew what was else was happening he had reached out to Roger’s people and talks had started. Crazily enough it ends up that he’s commissioned to do the album cover for ‘Visions Of The Present.’ It totally blows my mind to THIS day when I look at it – “that’s a Roger Dean on my album,” and I’m so excited, even though it took a fair amount of hoops to jump through to make it happen. In hindsight it was well worth it, and I wouldn’t trade any of the year plus long process between negotiating and then talking with Roger about ideas for the album cover and then waiting for it to actually be finished. I mean, I wouldn’t trade that for the world at this point, because as they say, “It’s a Roger Dean!”
PAUL WATSON: Was there ever a time where you had second thoughts on having Roger do your painting? “Great idea, getting the world’s most popular Progressive Rock album cover illustrator, but would it overshadow the music inside at all?”
ART GRIFFIN: Of course, as any artist, I have second thoughts about everything. So yes, at several points in time I was wondering had I done the right thing initiating this whole process of getting Roger involved and doing the cover. And did I think it would overshadow the music at all? I probably had some of those fears on a few nights of sleeplessness, but as things progressed towards the end of the project, it was all coming together from my perspective so well, and things were sounding so good that those fears were allayed and set aside. I was proud of both elements of the packages as far as music and artwork, and I didn’t think that in anyway I’d be letting Roger down as far as my music not being “good enough” to be on an album that his artwork was on the cover of, and vice versa, too. I think it has worked out to be a good combination and one of which I am quite proud of.
PAUL WATSON: How did you get involved in playing and recording music? Prog in particular?
ART GRIFFIN: I guess you would have to lay the blame at my parent’s feet who demanded their little Arthur at age eight learn an instrument. “We don’t mind what you learn as long as you learn something.” It could have been drums, it could have been piano. In my case it was guitar, and I started taking lessons which quickly morphed into classical guitar for quite a few years and then at that point by high school I became involved in playing in bands of course, you know, for obvious reasons. It was good to intrigue the opposite sex with something you are doing. Playing an instrument in a band that makes you cool.
For me the passion then quickly evolved into… I really, really love recording music and writing music, I guess not necessarily in that order, right? To wit, even in high school I was doing three or four original compositions to every six cover tunes we were learning, and trying to impress upon the guys that it was only okay ‘Best Friend’s Girl’ by The Cars for example, why can’t we work on something I have in mind? As far as Prog goes, it’s always intrigued as music of…. what’s the right way to put this because, you know, there are a million Proggers out there who are going to take umbrage with whatever I say. Music of more substance. Music of more, um, interesting lyrical content certainly when done right. Music of greater length and expansion of ideas which attracted me more symphonically, as it were.
Do I like other kinds of music, well of course. I love all sorts, and maybe you can hear little bits and pieces on the music that I write. But when it’s done right it’s my chosen genre, and when I do listen to music, and it’s rarer these days, because I’m more involved with the writing and recording of my own music and I don’t like to get sidetracked with other people’s music. I’ll give it a quick listen but I don’t devote as much time as a younger guy listening to albums and albums worth of music. When I do it’s Prog that I go to or the offshoots of that like Fusion.
PAUL WATSON: What were your influences if any (other than SAGA and Yes)?
ART GRIFFIN: Obviously there are bands that I really like and you know my love of Yes is paramount. I do love Saga, I mean I worked with what I consider the only drummer Saga ever should have had in Steve Negus. It can not go unsaid as far as influences in my musical life go without mentioning The Beatles. Only the greatest rock band and collection of composers in one place at one time. It can never be duplicated. That is the Perfect Storm of charisma, talent, you name it. My God, The Beatles! So of course, I have been listening to them since I was a very young guy, and their influence can not be measured. They’re everywhere. They’re so good, that to this day, you still hear Beatles’ tracks, oh, how many times an hour?
Other things that have influenced me though, musically, I love Alan Parson Project – I love Jean Luc Ponty. He’s like my favourite artist’s artist. I love things along those lines. Dixie Dregs. Brand X. Give me more of that kind of stuff. I totally love that kind of stuff. So that’s where my influences come from, but I’m not adverse to saying I’ll take some Cheap Trick or I’ll take some ELO any day as well. I think when you’re younger you have to listen to as much as you can.
PAUL WATSON: How can others listen and purchase your album, as well as contact you, Art?
ART GRIFFIN: It’s spreading. We’ve been getting some really words of praise on the House Of Prog. I’m very appreciative and pleased on how it is all going so far. You can purchase Art Griffin’s Sound Chaser tee shirts and merchandise and CDs, of course from my Art Griffin’s Sound chaser Facebook page or you can contact us and we can ship stuff out to you. Also The Lasers Edge at http://www.laserCD.com where you can also order from them. You can listen on Spotify and it’s available on iTunes, under surprisingly enough Art Griffin’s Sound Chaser, so there you go. Consume it as will and I hope you will enjoy it.
Thanks, Art. The new album by Art Griffin’s Sound Chaser can ve found through these sites
OFFICIAL FACEBOOK PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/ArtGriffinSoundChaser/
USA online mail order distributor: https://www.lasercd.com/