“Black Swallow” is the title of the new, fourth studio album by a New Hampshire based progressive rock project Telergy–a brainchild of the award winning, Emmy nominated, Billboard top ten charting composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Robert McClung. As is the case with previous efforts, this new offering is another concept album which, this time, tells the story of the first African-American pilot and hero Eugene Bullard.
McClung has once again gathered a team of guest musicians around himself, featuring members and collaborators for historical acts such Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Iced Earth, Styx, Kansas, Foreigner, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and many more. The album is available for pre-order via the ongoing crowdfunding campaign over at Indiegogo.
In a new interview for Progarchy, McClung discusses “Black Swallow,” but also lets us know about his favorite releases, and more.
You are about to launch a new full-length album with Telergy entitled “Black Swallow.” How do you feel about the release?
I’m delighted. The album has been five long years in the making. It was a massive endeavor with over sixty people involved. We were meticulous to take our time and get it right. It was too important of a story not to. I think we have absolutely made the best Telergy album so far.
How much of a challenge was to work on the album?
The musicians involved with Telergy are spread out all across the world, and some have very busy schedules. Working out all the logistics of getting them into studios to do their parts was quite an undertaking. From a musical perspective, the album had to incorporate elements of certain styles like blues, jazz, gospel and military themes to properly convey the story. Which for me as a composer was a huge challenge to weave into the progressive rock and metal format that Telergy is built upon. But those are the challenges that fuel my creativity with every Telergy album.
Tell me about how you set on making an album about the life of Eugene Bullard, the first African-American pilot in the history of the United States.
I stumbled upon Eugene’s story online shortly after the release of the last Telergy album, Hypatia. The more a dug into it, the more captivating and incredible it was. I was totally baffled that this great hero had existed, but was never mentioned in any American history books. It was a travesty, and I knew I had a chance to use my outlet with Telergy to bring his story out into the light for more people to discover.
What is your opinion about the current progressive rock scene?
There are so many wonderfully talented artists out there right now making some of the best music ever. Older, more established artists and younger, lesser known ones as well. It’s a delightful scene where everyone respects and supports each other like a big family. I only wish it were possible to bring prog back into the mainstream so those artists could get wider attention. The industry has changed so much, across all genres. It’s become nearly impossible for artists to make a living anymore. I hope in the future our society can see more value in the arts and find ways that musicians can support themselves with their music alone.
Can you tell me something about your influences?
My Grandfather was a country musician. He gave me my first guitar when I was around ten years old. I was first inspired by all the classic rock bands of the 70’s that my parents listened to. Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Aerosmith, Kansas, etc. In my teens I got into heavy metal bands like Metallica and Megadeth. In my teens I also started working in musical theater. Writing and arranging music for shows and performing in pit orchestras. I found that progressive rock blended these two opposing genres of music very well. Bands like Queensryche, Dream Theater, Savatage and Trans-Siberian Orchestra were doing amazing themed albums during that time and I was pulled right in. I feel so fortunate that I now get the chance to work side by side with many of the artists who inspired me when I was young.
What are you listening to these days?
The latest Kansas album is stunning!! They aren’t resting on the laurels of their past hits. They are making some of the best music of their career right now. I’m also totally entranced by Rachel Flowers, who I had the chance to work with on this album. Her talent is amazing, so original and fresh. You can detect her influences, but she blends them into something totally new. I also listen to allot of classical music and movie soundtracks these days. Hans Zimmer is a favorite.
Your five favorite records of all the time?
It’s hard to pick only five. But here goes…
- Pink Floyd – The Wall: Hearing the guitar solo on “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2” when I was ten years old was a huge turning point for me. I pointed to the record player and proclaimed “I want to do that when I grow up!”. The albums lyrical themes also connect deeply with my own personal life. I had issues with my parents, school, etc. In many ways I felt like Roger Waters was writing about me. The fact that it told a story was so impactful. It wasn’t just a hodge podge of songs about love, politics, partying or whatever. It all fit together in a bigger way and felt so much more emotional and meaningful by doing so. Animals is another Pink Floyd favorite. All their material really. My wife and I actually met on a Pink Floyd fan page.
- Kansas – Leftoverture: This was the band that inspired me to play violin. It was through them that I learned that rock music didn’t have to be stuck in a simplistic, repetitive, three chord, one rhythm format. It could twist and turn intricately, just like an orchestra, yet still be powerful and intense. I first met the band after a concert in my teens. They were so friendly and supportive. Their words of encouragement were key to me perusing my own dreams.
- Savatage – The Wake of Magellan: A heavy metal album telling the story of a sailor contemplating suicide, who finds new reason for living when he saves a drowning man in the ocean. The mixture of metal and classical music themes was just so powerful, and the story so captivating. I knew I wanted my own music to encompass these elements.
- Dream Theater – Metropolis Pt. 2, Scenes from a Memory: This album hit me like a truck!! I had enjoyed all of Dream Theater’s albums prior to this, but this one was a total mind bender. The virtuosity of the music, the depth of the story. It was all just so perfectly done. Total masterpiece!
- Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Beethoven’s Last Night: Beethoven tricks the Devil to save his soul and keep his last symphony. Brilliant! When Savatage morphed into Trans-Siberian Orchestra I enjoyed the spectacle of their live shows, but hoped they wouldn’t only do Christmas music. When this album came out, I got everything I wanted. The over the top metal/classical bombast that had drawn me to their music in the first place, and a creative, intense story with a cool twist at the end. Love it!
Notice a connection here? Almost all of these on my list are concept records that tell stories. Which has become the cornerstone of my work with Telergy.
Besides the release of the album, are there any other plans for the future?
I’m regularly asked if Telergy will ever perform live. As much as I would love to see that happen, the logistics and cost of getting that many people together are far beyond my capabilities. But if the right financial backers came along, who knows? I’m always open to the idea. As for the next album, I haven’t found the right story yet. Once I do, I’ll rev up the engines again and see where the ride takes me.
Any words for the potential new fans?
Thank you for giving Telergy some attention. We are delighted to have you onboard. Understand that Telergy is more than just a band. It’s a massive consortium of musicians from all over the world coming together to do something truly unique. We pour our hearts into everything we do, and I hope that passion comes through in the music. We hope we can inform and educate just as much as we entertain.
“Black Swallow” can be pre-ordered via Indiegogo here. Follow Telergy on Facebook.