Pattern-Seeking Animals is a new project with current and former Spock’s Beard members Ted Leonard (Guitar and Vocals), Jimmy Keegan (Drums), Dave Meros (bass) and Spock’s long-time contributing songwriter John Boegehold (Keys and Producer). Their self-titled debut album is now available in CD, vinyl, and digital formats. I had the pleasure to speak with both Jimmy and John not only about their new music, but about the state of music today. Everything is covered here- from K-Pop to Prog, Imagine Dragons to The Beatles, and from Thai food to spaghetti.
Here’s an audio snippet of John and Jimmy discussing new vs. old technology in music-
How did Pattern-Seeking Animals come to be?
JOHN- It essentially started off as a recording project. I had a couple songs I’ve been working on. Originally I had programmed drums and I thought it would be cool to go into the studio and have Jimmy put down some drum tracks, just for something, because I get sick of programming drums sometimes. In the time between I scheduled the session and the session about 6 weeks later, I came up with a few more tunes. So I asked Jimmy to see if he wanted to work on a whole project and he was into it. I talked to Dave and Ted about it, and then it just snowballed pretty quickly into an actual group.
Did most of the songs come into the studio already written, or was a lot of the album created in the studio?
JOHN- The only thing we recorded in the studio were the drums, everyone else contributed from their home studios. Some of the material existed before all this- some were several years old that didn’t make it on a Spock’s record, a couple I didn’t submit to them. The rest were written for the album. Essentially they’re all new. At any given time I have a folder with, I don’t know, 60, 70, 80 different ideas- like 30 second of me strumming a guitar and bleating out a melody. “Oh maybe I’ll use that someday.” So when I start to write for a project, I’ll go back into the folder and listen to it- most of the time, I’m like “Oh this is crap, I don’t want to use this.” But every once and while, I’ll think “Oh this is kind cool! Maybe I’ll build a song around that.” I think the only one made from entirely from scratch was “Orphans of the Universe”.
So there were some tracks that were supposed to be part of a Spock’s Beard album?
JOHN- More or less some bits. For an example, “These are My Things”- There was a version of it a couple years ago that we tried in the studio and everyone was feeling it differently. So I said screw it and completely rewrote it. The only original thing that exists in the current version are the lyrics and I think the melody in the verse. The chorus, the bridge, and everything else is totally different. “No One Ever Died and Made me King” was a song Dave I wrote years ago and we tried to get it on a Spock’s record, but the guys didn’t want to do it for whatever reason. Again the melody and lyrics are the same, but a lot of the instrumentals are different on that one. I didn’t want to have it exactly the way it would have been as a Spock Beard song because obviously there are different players with a different approach.
JIMMY- I think subliminally part of the reason I’m even involved with this project is that every time John would submit 5 tunes to Spock’s thing, there would be 2 songs that were dripping with Spock’s. And there would always be 1 or 2 songs that would be quirky or left of center and those were the ones I would embrace. For whatever reason it was too removed from anything Spock’s had done. My attitude is that’s the direction we should be going, removing ourselves from wherever we have been or where they had been.
JOHN- Yeah, there always seemed to be a split within the group, and since I wasn’t in the group, I had no say as far as the direction and what kind of material should be done. And whether it’s Spock’s or anything else, I’m always in the camp of moving forward, try different things, different influences, don’t get too comfortable in your sound, because I just know as a listener, 2 or 3 albums of an artist or band doing essentially the same thing, it gets really tedious for me.
When I listened to your album, I was surprised at how it really wasn’t too Spock’s Beardy, if I may use that as an adjective. It has some little Spock’s flourishes here and there, but for the most part, I thought it sounded pretty fresh and original. Did you guys make an active effort to get away from that style? Did you find yourself in the studio saying “That sounds too Spocky, let’s tone that down”?
JOHN- From a writing stand point, absolutely . When I was writing for Spock’s, and it started sounding like Kansas or Genesis or Yes, I would tend to go with it, because Spock’s fans would like these influences. In this group, if things start to go in that direction, or sound like a Spock’s tune, I shy away from them. I have so many other influences and things I’d like try with this that I couldn’t with Spock’s or other groups because they have their narrow lane of things they’d like to do, for better or worse. There’s always that argument with groups that you don’t want to piss off the fans and do something totally different, but on the other hand you want to try to attract a new audience.
I heard that you guys are already working on a second album, is that right?
JOHN- Yes, the whole thing is written and we’ve recorded Jimmy over at Rich’s (Mouser) a couple months ago. Yeah, Dave and Tim have already been recording parts.
Wow! You guys waste no time! Is there going to be a different approach to this album, either in the style or how you’re recording it?
JOHN- Yeah, it’s a pretty different approach. There are somethings that are similar in terms of overall sound, but it’s got a different… well what do you think Jimmy?
JIMMY- (Laughs) When I heard the first demo he posted, I almost jumped up and down in my chair, because this was nothing like the first album. I’ve been doing this for 40 years- I’d like to think that I have a voice. Ted has a voice in a literal sense and Dave is an unbelievably defined bass player, John writes the songs, and Rich does the sounds- When you throw all those things in a basket, you’re going to have similarities because of all of our voices but other that we’re making a left turn while everyone is probably expecting a right turn.
JOHN- Yeah, if everyone likes the first album, who knows, everyone might listen to the next one and go “This sucks, what are they doing!?” (laughs) But to me, it’s always more important to just write cool stuff and I figure if we like it, the fans will like it.
Is there a plan to do live shows or a tour?
JOHN- Yes, the plan is there, it’s just logistics.
JIMMY- Yeah, it’s managing the concept of a new project, managing the concept of a genre of music that has a limited fan base. When you have a new band, it’s just about fighting to get in, the time, the locations. It’s weird- most other genres of music, the band tours and then the album comes out. The tour is promotion for something that’s coming or something that just came out. Prog is the odd occasion where people want to know what it is first. Nothing’s announced yet, but we’re working on a couple of festivals and we hope to get that solidified shortly.
JOHN- Yeah, the album just came out, so people are still discovering us, but there is already some interest and we’ll just see where it goes.
You guys have worked with engineer/mixer Rich Mouser a multitude of times now. What elements did he bring to the album?
JIMMY- Rich, besides being a great engineer in the technical sense and having a studio with a great sound to it, he’s also a very creative guy, so his input and response to the things we’re doing always has an influence and his influence is strong, even when we’re just recording the drums. And the drums are the first to go down, then everyone has to respond to me. So it’s not only a technical conversation, but also an artistic conversation.
JOHN- I remember reading an interview with The Police, years ago, and they were asked why don’t they have a producer and essentially they said “We know what we want, so what we need is an enlightened engineer.” Which is basically what Rich is. He’s not just someone who can turn the knobs, but he has great ears. After all the parts are in there- I’m thinking this part is going to be more keyboard heavy, he might say, “You know what? This part has a really cool guitar part, it should be higher in the mix” and I usually go with him on that stuff, cause he’s more objective and has that kind of ear.
What’s your favorite track on the album?
JIMMY- “Ghosts Stories” because it’s the most unusual. I know the rest of the record has these elements that will attract prog fans. The songs on the record that I like are the ones that don’t. (laughs). Let’s sort of play the Peter Gabriel game. Everyone associates Peter Gabriel with Genesis so they qualify him as a prog artist. But he hasn’t made a prog record since his first solo album. Everything he makes are basically pop records, but with really intelligent lyrics and beautiful composed and produced. It’s also like Jellyfish, or David Bowie, other artists that prog fans embrace, not because they are prog rock but because they’re great. So I’m looking for THAT song. “Ghost Stories” tells an interesting story and you can visualize it as it’s passing through and we went different directions sonically and tried new things- for me it’s just the one that hits all my bells. This is an odd album for me, because I really enjoyed the whole record. With this album I was just more invested and I find myself wanting to listen to it as if someone gave me the record.
JOHN- I don’t know if I have a favorite. By the time it gets recorded, I don’t want to say I’m sick of everything, but I’m just worn out on it. Like right now, when I’m talking to you or talking to other interviewers, my head is 100% in the second album, and I even have a folder on my iTunes that is labeled Pattern-Seeking Animals 3 with a few ideas in that one. If I look back at it, for me it’s more about moments; things that came together. In “Fall Away”, Ted’s solo when he goes into the key change and he hits that high C or whatever he hits, that worked out so perfectly. I’m more of a songwriter/producer nerd, so when I hear things that impressed me that were pulled off, I’m more happy with that stuff than maybe a whole song.
Any song impress you the most, from the writing process to its completed recording?
JOHN- Probably “The Same Mistakes Again”, which was originally about a one-minute chunk out of “Stars Along the Way”, which was something else Dave and I started writing for Spock’s around when Nick was in the band. It was really different than what it is now. And I eventually kept adding to it and changing it, and I could never get it to work. There was a version of it that I submitted to Spock’s for the last record, but for various reasons, we won’t get into it, it didn’t happen. And I just tore this song down to its basics and wrote a whole new bunch of sections. So with “The Same Mistakes Again” I took the verse and part of the chorus which was just a chord progression with just one vocal line, I thought it would make it’s own really cool song, so I pulled it out of there. Ted said, but I really like it in “Stars Along the Way”, but I said “No, trust me, it’ll be its own cool song.” So I was really happy with how the whole thing turned out exactly as I hoped it would.
Apart from the band, what else are you guys working on?
JOHN- This is my everything at the moment, at least for the next few years. Every once in a while a friend will go “Let’s go write a song”, a country song or whatever. Or if someone calls me up and asks me to score some low budget movie, great I’ll do it, because I have this company I work for occasionally where I can do it in a weekend and make some ok money. So stuff like that, but overall, this is it for me.
JIMMY- I’m slated to go out with Robert Berry and the gang and do the 3.2 tour in September and October. And I’m still working on my own record… it will happen. I keep dumping all this money into doing something for our house and I keep thinking, wait, I could’ve just put that 10 grand into this record and I’d be done. But when the 3.2 thing was thrown on the table, I was like, “Yes! I can!”
What have you been listening to lately, any new favorite artists or bands?
JOHN- I listen to… (JIMMY laughs in the back ground) Here’s the thing- I listen to so many different types of music. I listen to a ton of pop. I listen to K-pop, I listen to J-pop. I like poppy happy driving music you don’t have to think too much about.
JIMMY- (sings) Hey Hey We’re The Monkees!
JOHN- Yeah, I liked The Monkees more than The Beatles when I was a kid, but that’s me. Because I’m such a production nerd, I sit there with a lot of current pop stuff with my headphones on, and listen to all the production stuff for good ideas. A lot of EDM stuff. On the prog end of it, not too much. But when I started working on Pattern-Seeking Animals, I thought, “I wonder what’s out there in the prog world.” So I listened to some prog radio stations and there’s definitely interesting stuff out there. I love Big Big Train. Opeth has a new one coming out which I’m excited about. Anything Roine (Stolt) comes out with, Flower Kings or what not, I like; I just like the way his mind works, as a writer and producer and everything. A group I’m really into right now, is Manchester Orchestra.
How about you Jimmy? What have you been listening to?
JIMMY- St. Vincent. I went to see Paula Cole a little while ago and she blew me away. I’m similar to John in a sense where each button in the stereo of my car has nothing to do with the next one. The session I was doing right before Nick asked me to join Spock’s Beard, was with a guy named Rahsaan Patterson, a neo-soul artist- although he hates that title. I was doing those kind of records and finding myself counting in 7 and 11 and stuff like that. I’m trying to listening to anything that can spin my head as much as possible. I like…. um… what’s the band’s name?
JOHN- Twenty-One Pilots
JIMMY- Haha, yeah, I like what I’ve heard from them. A lot of the pop stuff I feel is getting a lot of play- I can give them all the same note. Stop trying so hard to get my attention! Let the SONG get my attention. I like it when people have interesting voices or when I hear a great musician play but when it sounds like your forcing it, then I say “Shhhhhh!” I want to hear the song! But your noodling thing, whether it’s a guitar thing, keyboard thing, or vocal thing, if it’s distracting me from what you’re saying, then you’re going to far. Stop trying to produce every note. So that’s pop music for me now. It’s too swimming in production. It feels like we’re in 1984, when MIDI hit, and the DX-7 took over. There was a lot of technical innovation but not a lot of music, as much as I love Trevor Horn. (laughs) Oh, Imagine Dragons was the band I was trying to think of.
Ah! I honestly cannot stand them.
JIMMY- I APPRECIATE them. There’s a weird trend in pop music that I’m having a tough time with. Bernie Taupin was giving an interview while they were touring around promoting the movie and he mentioned something that was fascinating. There were only three singles from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Back in that day, it really wasn’t expected to have more singles on an album. You’d have your lead single, and if it did well, you’d have a second single. And if THAT did well, you’d release a third. By the time you released the third, you’d already finish the next record. So even though they had this huge inspiration slam putting out this double record, by the time they released their third single, Caribou was done. So that’s three singles off one of the best albums of all time, if not my favorite album. So what I’m getting at, is that we’re not in album-based sales anymore; people are just putting out songs. I looked at the charts a couple months ago, and saw that Drake was at #1, #4, #6, he was #9- in the Top 40 he had like eight songs. One of these hip-hop artists, released the whole record- he said, these are the singles, and he released them all on the same day. So while I appreciate the innovation, I have a tough time keeping up with it- I’m like “Wait, WHAT am I supposed to listen to? It’s just a weird psycho market out there. And I love it and hate it all at the same time.
JOHN- I’ve just accepted it. I’ve given up. You still have people arguing that streaming is killing music. C’mon, grow-up! When we record over at Rich’s place, Rich says something like “We’re trying to get that Drama sound by Yes.” Haha, can we have a reference from this century please? I’ve joked with Jimmy, “Yeah that sounds great like Abacab!” I mean, I love all that great stuff, but things change. When I talk to people and they say they like pop music too, I know what they’re going to say next. “Oh yeah I like Crowded House, and Squeeze, and Supertramp.” Those are oldies at this point. If we’re talking about pop music, pop is what’s happening now. I think there is some great stuff out there, as good as stuff now as there ever has been. But I know, I’m an oddball for my age, trust me. I get teased by my friends all the time, because if you look at my iTunes, I could be a 17 year old Asian girl.
When I was a teenager listening to music, you would always go to prog, a new Genesis or a new Yes album, to hear all the new cool technology, latest synth sounds, the latest production ideas. Prog was always at the forefront of all that stuff and somewhere along the way, that changed completely. Now all the new stuff is in EDM, dance, and pop stuff, and that’s where I go for all the cutting edge synth sounds and production ideas. There’s nothing wrong with using the old B3, Mellotron, or whatever, but there’s so much great stuff that has come out since then. Listen to Zedd, an EDM artist- stick on some headphones sometime and put on the album True Colors. Some of the synth work on there is phenomenal. And some of that new pop stuff and K-pop- it’s all cutting edge synth work and I wish that more prog acts would embrace it, because there is such a bigger pallet of colors out there when it comes to sounds of synths, keyboards, and guitars.
JIMMY- I think that Steven Wilson is at the forefront of a lot of things, he’s not just surviving off of the prog crowd. Young people like him because he’s embracing everything that’s contemporary and he’s writing lyrics that are relevant to people today. His fans include teenagers and girls. How novel!
JOHN- What a concept! (laughs)
What are some of your pet peeves?
JIMMMY- Oh my, I have lots of them. (laughs)
JOHN- It looks like you opened up a can of worms there!
JIMMY- That’s a big-ass can!
JOHN- I’ll start! I’ll keep it to music. It goes back to what we were talking about. My pet peeve is musicians who automatically dismiss anything which is happening by younger players. Anyone that says, “Oh they’re just kids, they don’t know what they’re doing, no one writes good music these days, there’s no good songs out there.” I just don’t like that attitude. It drives me crazy.
OK, Jimmy, how about just one or two things- it doesn’t have to be about music.
JIMMY- My pet peeve is people with a lack of empathy. Musically, I’m not too far off from what John was saying. I hate recycled music. I hate that everyone wants to keep doing the same thing over and over again. The Beatles were all in their 20’s, like 21, 22 when they kicked into gear. When the Beatles ended, they were still in their 20s. And this is one of the most defining bands in history. So if you look at age and judge anything by age, you’re completely dismissing the greatest music that ever happened.
JOHN- Yeah, and when I was teenager, Genesis and Yes were only a few years older than me and they were putting out some of the most fantastic music ever. A lot of players might keep on coming out with great music, but as far as actually progressing and turning out new things, a lot of musicians just get locked in to what they’ve always done.
Is there a musician you haven’t got a chance to work with, but would like to?
JIMMY- Yeah, Peter Gabriel! I can retire after that! I would love to work with Sting. My old buddy [Josh Freese] is working with him instead. Whatever! I’m not jealous! Also St. Vincent- I would love to do something with her. I would love to collaborate with some of these EDM synth artists- ya know working on some of the instrumental stuff and see what happens. A lot of these DJs will put drummers on stage, but it’s really more just for color. I would love to get deeper in the whole game with some of these synth guys, and incorporate acoustic, electric, new, old, any kind of instrumentation and do an album that has no rules.
How about you John, any artist you’d like to either produce, or write for, or play with?
JOHN- No. I mean there are a ton of people I respect, but I don’t know how I would interact with other artists. I’m more of producer and writer and I just prefer to do my own stuff. I don’t have bucket list, let’s put it like that, because a lot of times I think what sounds like a good idea on paper, I’m not sure how it would actually work out. For an example, let’s say Kerry Livgren, who I have ultimate respect for, if something were to put us together to write something, I’d be like “Well, why would he need ME to write something?” I suppose I could come up with something. (laughs)
What’s your favorite food?
JIMMY- That’s right! I’m a musician. I’ll just say spaghetti, that’s what I had for dinner last night. And that’s spaghetti with meat sauce.
JOHN- Thai food
JIMMY- I like Thai food too- but John actually GOES to Thailand.
JOHN- Before I learned the language and had friends over there, I would eat only Pad Thai. But once I started hanging out over there, I learned there’s so much other great food there. A lot of Vietnamese food is really good too.
Did you feel the earthquakes?
JOHN- The first one happened when I was recording the acoustic guitar part for one of the new songs. And when the second one happened, I was recording acoustic guitar on the exact same song. Coincidence? I think not.
Anything else about the album you’d like to say to the Progarchy readers?
JOHN- I hope you like it!
Get a hold of their album and find out more about Pattern-Seeking Animals at http://psanimals1.com/