Progarchy’s* Interview* with Jem* Godfrey* of Frost*. Seriously.*

On May 27th of this year, Frost* returned from an eight-year hiatus to release their latestFrost album, Falling Satellites (Progarchy review here). In conjunction with this release, Frost* … ‘s mastermind, Jem Godfrey, was willing to sit down with us for a chat (where do you put the apostrophe with the asterisk already there??). We discussed the new album, mused philosophically about life, talked more about his the formation of Frost* and his activities outside of the band … and asterisks. Those pesky asterisks.

 Progarchy: What would you say is different in a musical sense relative to the two previous Frost* albums?

JG:      We have a different bass player and drummer from the previous recorded album we did. I think that in and of itself adds a whole new sound to the band, because they are playing in a different sort of way than JJ [John Jowitt] and Andy [Edwards] did. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that John Mitchell was very keen on not doing classic John Mitchell on this, he was really up for taking his rule book and throwing it out the window, and that was brilliant. He was trying out new, different sort of effects and putting his guitar through all kinds of plug-ins and interesting sort of sounds, trying different guitars, so he was really up for experimenting. I think kind of also just that it’s eight years later that our sound palette is slightly different as technology has sort of moved on. So you know it’s the same band but it’s definitely sort of moved on, I think.

Progarchy: Now with John (Mitchell), you say he threw out his rule book, so how would he define his rule book?

JG: Well, he has got two settings, loud and quiet normally. He’s not normally one for heavily effecting his guitars, but he got some Valhalla plug-ins and stuff, and was running it through his laptop and doing all sorts of non-John things this time out, and it really worked.

Progarchy: So I guess his classic John Mitchell sound is what you hear more on Arena or Lonely Robot then?

JG: Yeah, I think so. There are a couple of bits where it’s obviously him doing that sound, because you have to have a bit of that in there, but he was very up for trying different things. There are a couple of bits in there that you wouldn’t know it’s guitar, but it’s actually guitar, he’s gone quite experimental in some places.

Progarchy: And what about you, how would you say your sound palette has changed?

JG: I’ve got sort of a lead sound I’ve developed over the years which has sort of become my signature sound, and which I didn’t really mean to do that back in the day. There are a couple of times I sort of “wheel it out.” I sort of liken it to how Tony Banks does his Pro Soloist … it’s quite nice to get a sound in there that you recognize. But again, I’m not wedded to any particular synth, I just use whatever is around at the time and put it through effects.

Progarchy: You also mentioned something about using a Chapman Railboard on this album, can you elaborate on that?

JG: It’s a kind of Chapman Stick, sort of a Tony Levin classic 10-string guitar thing. It’s basically one of those but it’s made out of solid aluminum, so it’s basically a single machined piece of metal. It looks like a Stick, but it’s a metal Stick. It’s got different tones, it’s quite tubular, it’s really nice. It’s really good for arpeggio stuff. You can hear it on Numbers and Closer to the Sun, there’s a lot of Railboard on those two tracks.

Progarchy: Can you delve into the concept behind this album a bit more?

Continue reading “Progarchy’s* Interview* with Jem* Godfrey* of Frost*. Seriously.*”

Bassworks: My Top 10 Chris Squire Bass Performances

Bass legend Chris Squire may be gone, but he is most definitely not forgotten. During the time we were lucky enough to have him in this life, Squire produced some of the most innovative and interesting bass work of any genre of music. Not content to simply keep time along with the drums, Squire put the bass guitar square in the center of the melodic discourse of Yes music, with a unique picked sound that was thick yet trebly.

Compiling a list like this is no easy task when you are dealing with the level of talent that Squire possessed. While there are a few in the list that I knew would be on here, paring it down to just ten was a difficult task. Of course, any list like this is going to be subjective and your mileage may vary. These, however, are my 10 favorite Squire performances.

Continue reading “Bassworks: My Top 10 Chris Squire Bass Performances”

Check Your [headspace]: Progarchy Talks to Damian Wilson and Adam Wakeman

We recently had the chance to talk to two of the principles of the band [headspace] – 1280x895Damian Wilson and Adam Wakeman. Their most recent album, All That You Fear Is Gone, has been released to rave reviews, including Brad’s review right here at Progarchy. Needless to say, we are fans. To throw in my own two cents, I find the album to be both musically adventurous and conceptually fascinating, and particularly the urging of standing as an individual against the pressures to conform to society at large.   Anyway, they can shed more light on their work than can I, so let’s get to it:

 Progarchy: Your current album is a second one of a trilogy. Could you go back, starting with your previous album, and walk us through the trilogy, including the third album?

Damian Wilson: The first album is based on an individual not coping with the group, the second is the group not coping with the individual. Both albums reflect on each other, they are tilted mirrors to be completed when the final album is placed on top. A trilogy infinitely reflecting inwardly upon itself, symbolic by form and purpose. To some 3 is one, to others just a number.

Progarchy: Can you shed some light on the lyrics in the current album?  In particular, we’d love to hear your thoughts on “Secular Souls” and “Semaphore”, and other tracks on the album you’d like to discuss?

Damian Wilson: Secular soul simplified is the glorification of the individual. Semaphore is about choices and the responsibility of those choices.

I like to think that the songs speak for themselves once you have listened to them a dozen times, reflected and considered where they run within the trilogy. Then listened to again consecutively within the three albums and that perspective.

Progarchy: When can listeners expect the third album to be released?

Adam Wakeman: When it’s finished! it wont be for a couple of years realistically.

Progarchy: Can you shed some light on how [headspace] came together, and what your role in that was?

Adam Wakeman: I’d been on a lot of really long tours, and thought it would be great to have a band with my best pals in, who are also fantastic musicians. Ironically, we probably see less of each other now than we did before we had the band! I’ve worked with Damian a lot in the past and always thought he’s the best front man and vocalist. The rest just fell into place with Lee and Rich Brook (and now Adam Falkner) and Pete Rinaldi.

 Progarchy: How do you see [headspace] fitting into the current prog movement?

Adam Wakeman: I don’t really worry too much about where it fits in. We love the way we write music and how it all comes together – the fact that people like it is a real bonus and an honour for us. As soon as you start to write for a particular movement or genre, you’re taking away a % of it’s genuine-ness in my opinion. Taking away those boundaries gives a truer album in my opinion.

Progarchy: You obviously grew up in a musical household, but you seem to have taken a different path from your father and even your brother. How did that come about?

 Adam Wakeman: I didn’t really chose a particular path, I just made sure I didn’t turn down any experiences, even if they were out of my comfort zone. That way, you become more employable and able to earn a living 12 months a year, not just 4 months a year which can happen if you are just focused on one genre, or one band. I was also conscious about getting out of my dads shadow which was why I didn’t go down the YES route. It also stops me from getting bored!

Progarchy: So how did you end up touring with Black Sabbath?

Adam Wakeman: I met Sharon Osbourne at a show I was playing with Annie Lennox and 6 months later her office called and asked if I was available to tour with Ozzy. I was away with Travis touring at the time so was unable to do it, but they asked again the following year and it worked out with my schedule which was great. Then, they asked me to do Sabbath too when Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill got back together in 2004 I think it was.

Progarchy: Ok, one final question related to some family ties (and asked humorously, with tongue firmly in cheek) – does your dad ever give you the whole “back in my day” spiel about prog, music in general, and so forth?  If so, how do you respond to him?  🙂

Adam Wakeman: He never really says that sort of thing funnily enough, unless you press him with questions! He’s very much a ‘look forward not back’ kind of guy, and in this industry, if you don’t do that you’re already dead in the water.headspace all that you fear

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Progarchy would like to take this opportunity to thank Adam and Damian for their time in talking to us, and to wish them the best of luck on their upcoming tour.  Thanks, guys!

Progarchy Talks with Messenger’s Jaime Gomez Arellano

Recently, I had the good fortune of talking with Jaime Gomez Arellano, drummer and Threnodies coverproducer for the UK prog band Messenger. The band’s second album (first for Inside Out), Threnodies, is due out on April 22nd. Among the topics Gomez (as he likes to be called) and I discussed were the history of Messenger, their influences, and the many (metaphorical) hats he wears as the band’s drummer and producer as well as his role in producing for other bands.

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Progarchy: You guys are still relatively new on the scene.   Can you provide us with an introduction to your band and a short history?

JGA: Messenger started when our lead singer Kahled, he had some ideas for songs that he wanted to record. Since I’m a record producer and we knew each other through friends he came to my studio record some songs. The songs kind of developed as well as we worked together. Then we got Barnaby, the 2nd guitarist/singer involved and we came up with an album. By the time we mixed it I realized that we should do something with this, so I started sending it out to labels. Svart in Finland really liked it so they release our first album. And soon after that we realized we needed some other players, so we asked our friends James and Dan to join us on bass, guitar, and keyboards.  So that’s how it began, really.

Progarchy: How would you describe your music to those unfamiliar with your band?

JGA: I would say Messenger is a kind of a combination of rock and psychedelic rock.  Kind of heavily influenced by bands such as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath, as well as more modern bands like Radiohead and Jeff Buckley.  It’s always a really hard question to describe yourself.

Progarchy: This is your second album, you did another one previously. Can you briefly describe the first album and then how the music has progressed and changed on the second album?

JGA: Sure.  The first album was just us kind of getting together and working on some songs Kahled had and then writing some songs together in the studio.  So the first album I would say is a little bit more funky than the new one, kind of a bit more gentle.  I guess the difference with the second album is that we wrote the entire album together as a five piece band instead of as a three piece band.  There were no songs before that [i.e. prior to the second album] we just literally locked ourselves up in my studio in London for three months and wrote, recorded, mixed, and mastered the album in that time.  So that’s literally the result of all five of us working together.  I think it’s a lot more varied, it’s a bit like an evolution of the first album, it’s a bit more rocking, and it’s quite different from the first album in places but still sounds like Messenger.

Progarchy: So how did that affect you then, bringing in two new guys to the writing process?

JGA: It was great actually, because they are both very talented guys who happen to be great friends. So Dan is an amazing bass player with lots of experience and good at putting songs together.  Dan, the keyboard/guitar player is good at coming up with riffs.  I’m the drummer in the band but I’m also the producer and I do most of the arrangements, and Dan is really easy to work with, because I can’t play guitar but I can sort of “soft play” something and he’ll just make it sound like a riff.  So for me having Dan in the band it’s great for me to convey ideas.  So that’s the main difference, it was literally the five of us in my studio every day, just writing and recording.  We actually wrote the album in about 3 weeks.  There was one demo that was kind of knocking around, but outside of that, we wrote everything at the studio.

Progarchy: Is there an unifying concept underlying the music of the new album?

I’d say there is a concept as well, more in terms of the lyrics.  The lyrics which Khaled mainly wrote, I personally think he’s very good with words.  We were all a little influenced by what happened in Paris at the Bataclan venue, and kind of the climate of the world at the moment, and therefore the album title Threnodies.  I think lyrically there was a main subject Khaled took on board, religion and spirituality and all these things.  Obviously were very saddened to hear about that.  Luckily we didn’t have any close friends that lost people at that show, but we have friends of friends that lost people, and it was pretty shocking to see something like that could happen in a city like Paris.

Progarchy: Reading about Messenger, it appears that the musical influences and backgrounds of the various musicians covers an extremely wide swath, from heavy metal, punk, progressive rock, and ambient music. Is that an advantage/disadvantage or both to the creative process in Messenger, and how so?

JGA: I really genuinely think it’s a positive thing, and I think that’s one of those things that makes a band have more of a sound.  The one thing we all do like in the band, we all love our prog basically, our 70’s prog.  I don’t like and super technical stuff, I really do not like that, and not many of us in the band like that kind of stuff.  I’ve been hugely into death and black metal in my entire life.  I also play in a kind of classic rock/heavy metal band called Mirror that is signed to metal blade.  And, I listen to a lot of death and black metal, but also listen to a lot of contemporary classical music, and I really love the 70’s stuff, the 70’s psychedelia.  Khaled,  the lead singer, he’s really into 70’s psychedelia.  Bands that we all really love are bands like Magma, we love Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, the classics, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple.  I really like Krautrock bands like Can, I’m a massive fan of Can.  Dan he’s really into hip-hop and 70’s R&B, kind of fusion stuff.  Barnaby is really into Americana and singer-songwriter kind of stuff.  So it’s a real mix of a lot of things really and I think that makes it special because we are not afraid of mixing things up.  If it feels right, we just go with it.  It’s a bit of a mess in a cool way.  I like to tell people, you know, like the saying “you are what you eat” so, we are obviously influenced by all these different things.  These days it’s hard to be 100% original because so much of the good music has already been done.  I guess what makes Messenger sound a little bit different is the mix of things.  We also use a lot of different guitar tunings, and that contributes to our sound as well.  I think we have about six or seven different guitar tunings on the songs that we have.

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Progarchy: You are not only the drummer for the band, but the producer as well. What do you bring to the creative process from that role (and can you describe the role of a producer in more general terms)?

 JGA: I think the role of the record producer has changed a little bit with time.  The classic kind of record producer is the guy who is there with the band, going through the songs, suggesting arrangements, suggesting different parts for the songs, melodies, and also recording and deciding how things should sound.  That’s kind of what I do, as well as obviously the first part.  I sit with the guys, I listen to any riffs or ideas they have, [e.g.] “I like that chord, but could you make it a little more minor?” or “I like this, but could be maybe change the time signature, instead of playing it in 4/4 could be play it in 6/8 and maybe play it a bit faster?”  I just kind of gel the songs together.  I also write a couple of the bits, actual riffs.  My other really big part of the job is the overall sound of the album, [e.g.] “which drum kit am I going to use for this song”? and “which guitar tone is going to work better for this part, should we use a Fender Strat or shall we use a Gibson Les Paul, should we use a Hiwatt amp or a Marshall amp?”, all these things, just kind of finding the right sound basically.  My day job is to do that with all the bands [that record in his studio].

Progarchy: You also have the role as the band’s general manager – can you describe for our readers what that entails?

JGA: I have to spend a lot of time on my email every day.  Obviously I negotiate the deals with the record labels.  Everyday kind of general maintenance of the band, talking to the label and see what’s going on with the PR department, organizing the artwork for the album and sending it to the label, the videos which actually Khaled the singer in our band does.  It’s just coordinating everything, getting tours for the band, shows, it’s a little bit everything?

Progarchy: So what’s next for the band after this album?

 JGA: Well, our new album will be out on April 22.  We are actually going on tour with the Von Hetzen Brothers.  Then I’m looking to book other dates in Europe for the summer.  WE’ve got a few festivals already lined up.  We signed a three album deal with Inside Out, so onward and upwards, just keep going!  This is our first album with Inside Out, so we’ll just keep going anyway.

Progarchy: So maybe I’ll get to interview you when the next album comes out?

JGA: That’d be cool!

Progarchy: Well, thank you for your time and best of luck with your new album and tour.

 JGA: Thank you very much.

The Sage: Keith Emerson, 1944-2016

You’ll excuse me if I’m mixing prog metaphors, but right now I feel like Fish (of Marillion keith-emerson-1fame) in the first line of Script for a Jester’s Tear: “So here I am once more … in the playground of the broken hearts.” It wasn’t that long ago I was here, writing about the tragic and untimely loss of Riverside’s Piotr Grudzinski. And now, here I am again, for one of the giants of the first wave of prog, Keith Emerson.

I really, really don’t want to get good at writing these things.

In the heyday of the 1970’s prog scene, the relative merits of Emerson and his Yes counterpart Rick Wakeman were the subject of numerous debates among prog fans. But Wakeman was the only one ever mentioned in the same breath with Emerson, as the duo stood head and shoulders above other keyboardists of the day (no disrespect to Tony Banks, Patrick Moraz, Eddie Jobson, et al.). And make no mistake about it, Emerson was a giant among keyboardists, one to be admired and emulated by all those who followed. His work, first with The Nice, and later with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer (or ELP as they are more affectionately known) made an indelible mark on the music world. He made being a keyboardist every bit as cool as being a guitarist.

Earlier today I saw where someone described Emerson as “the Hendrix of keyboardists.” And of the many suitable descriptions, this one certainly fits. Emerson did things with keyboards that nobody else had done. He almost single-handedly made the synthesizes of Robert Moog an indispensable instrument for any band that includes keyboards, prog and non-prog alike. He brought a multitude of keyboard styles into rock, from the jazzy piano interludes in ELP’s Take a Pebble, jazz organ, honky tonk, and, most notably, classical.

Nobody prior to Emerson, first with The Nice and late with ELP, did more for fusion of rock and classical music. Emerson took it even further, with ELP, taking classical pieces and making them into rock – first with Modest Mussorgsky’s Picture’s at an Exhibition. Later, ELP did their own versions of Aaron Copland’s Hoedown and Fanfare for the Common Man. And in one of ELP’s most unusual and spectacular interpretations, they did their own version of Alberto Ginestera’s Toccata on the Brain Salad Surgery album.

I’ve said before that symphonic prog was a gateway drug to classical music. If so, Emerson was the lead pusher. The reason I have Aaron Copland disks in my CD collection can be narrowed down to two words: Keith Emerson. The first time I heard so much as a note of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story was when I heard the version of America performed by The Nice – with Emerson’s keyboards playing the staring role.

Recently, on YouTube, I stumbled across a video of an orchestra doing a version of Tarkus (link here). I love the symmetry of that – an orchestra taking Emerson’s progressive rock, and making it into a full-blown classical piece. Beautiful … just beautiful.

The mind boggles at the band being assembled in Heaven right now … Emerson on keyboards … Chris Squire on bass … Piotr Grudzinski guitar … and perhaps, Emerson’s one-time band mate, Cozy Powell on drums. But to the, ahem, management up there putting this thing together, can we maybe keep this as an instrumental band for a while? Please?

Rest in Peace, Keith.

So Much Left Unsaid – Piotr Grudziński, 1975-2016

Losing your musical heroes is never easy.   In the past year, we’ve lost a number of them. Piotr GrudzinskiAt least two of them, Chris Squire of Yes and Glenn Frey of the Eagles, were the subject of Progarchy posts upon their passing. Today we mourn the passing of possibly the best guitarist of the current prog scene, Riverside’s Piotr Grudziński.

The passing of Squire and later of Frey were one thing. Both of them were 67 when they died, and while they were taken from us too soon, losing them was easier to process emotionally. Both had decades long, successful careers. Both of them had peaked and were able to let their full abilities play out. On the other hand, Grudziński was a mere 40 years old and had many creative and productive years still to come. Losing him now, coming off Riverside’s most recent (and stunningly good) album, is the equivalent of what would have been had Squire or Frey been lost in 1975. I’m just shaking my head in disbelief that this has happened …

So much potential has been lost. Don’t take this the wrong way – it’s not that he hadn’t lived up to it. No, he was living up to his potential, spectacularly so. He was in his prime, continually evolving as a guitarist, and we are now denied seeing where that evolution would have taken him.

Continue reading “So Much Left Unsaid – Piotr Grudziński, 1975-2016”

On a Roll – 2015 Prog In Review

So you’re watching a baseball game. The pitcher for one of the teams has yet to give up a hit. In fact, he’s retired every batter that he’s faced, giving up not so much as a walk. And even as the game stretches into the latter innings, he’s not getting tired. He’s struck out six batters in a row and is just completely shutting down the opposition in a manner reminiscent of the way noted Rush fan Randy Johnson used to do. You look at that guy and think “man, he’s on a roll.”

Maybe it’s a team that has won a number of games in a row. Maybe it’s a business leader who has led his company into the stratosphere with one popular product offering after another.

Or maybe you are a fan of prog rock. In fact, you probably are just that if you’re reading this. You look back a few years ago, at 2012, and realize it was a good year, producing a number of excellent albums, including Echolyn’s “Windowpane” album, Glass Hammer’s incredible Perilous, and Gazpacho’s March of Ghosts (highly underrated if you ask me). Then 2013 comes along, and you think, “what an amazing year,” as your album collection grows with releases such as Ayreon’s The Theory if Everything, The Tangent’s magnum opus Le Sacre Du Travail, and Haken’s outstanding The Mountain. There is no letup at all in 2014, more new releases, many of them are “must haves”, such as IQ’s The Road of Bones and Cosmograf’s Capacitor among them. And now, here we are in 2015, and you’ve been deluged with more incredible music in what has been yet another great year in prog. And you think, “man, prog on a roll!”

Indeed it is.

Each December for the last several years, we at Progarchy have gushed about the abundance of great prog music coming out and the health of the current prog scene. We are getting to be like a broken record. But can you blame us? And would you rather it be different, like the early 90’s or so when the prog light was a dimly flickering candle?

What else can I say? Well, I can start talking about the albums.

Album of the Year:

In a year of stellar releases, my hands down album of the year with a bullet is Riverside’s utterly brilliant Love, Fear, and The Time Machine. I simply cannot overstate how much I love this album, or how good it is. Riverside has tamed much of their heavy metal side, moving in more melodic direction – while still retaining the dynamism and overall sound Riverside-coverthat is unmistakably Riverside. While the album still has some of their trademark moodiness, the darkness has been replaced with a mature, tempered, and realistic optimism that grows throughout. This album was quite a leap for Riverside in terms of direction, and yet they pulled it off flawlessly.

Other Notables:

Most others have put Steven Wilson’s Hand Cannot Erase at the top of their album of the year charts. I can’t do that, and I’m probably not quite asSteven_Wilson_Hand_Cannot_Erase_cover

much of a Wilson fan as most of the hardcore proggers are today. That being said, this was a pretty good album for me, if a bit depressing in subject matter. But musically, Wilson and his band are firing on all cylinders. Home Invasion/Regret #9 stands out as my favorite track on the album, although you really have to listen to the whole thing to get the gist.

One of my new discoveries this year was Nad Sylvan, and his excellent solo album Courting the Widow. Sylvan’s album builds on the album_coverclassic/symphronic prog sound of an earlier era, and yet sounds fresh and modern. It works especially well since Sylvan’s natural singing voice seems to be a perfect mix of Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, making it no mystery as to why Steve Hackett selected him as a touring vocalist. Standout tracks on this album include the title track, Echoes of Ekwabet, and the excellent epic, To Turn The Other Side.

Gazpacho didn’t wait long after their release of Demon in 2014, coming back this year with an equally strange album Molok. Like its predecessor,

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this album is very strange – but don’t mistake that for a lack of quality. All the Gazpacho trademarks are there, the meticulous subtlety, the unusual structures that take time to reveal themselves, and the thin veneer of simple riffs on top with a staggering complexity underneath. Conceptually, this album is not easy to explain, and it’s best to read the band’s explanation put up on their Facebook page. It’s hard to pick out a favorite track since the album has to be taken as a whole … although Molok Rising provides a strong and satisfying end to the album.

Everything Arjen Anthony Luccassen touches turns to awesome, and The Diary by his project with Anneke van Giersbergen, The Gentle Storm. This Gentle Stormwas really two albums in one, a heavy version (Storm) with all the songs “metaled up” by Arjen, and a lighter version (Gentle) which relied more heavily on acoustic instruments and folky sounds. Both are excellent and it’s tough to pick on. Shores of India seems to work best in the Gentle form, while The Storm, appropriately, seems to work best in the Storm version.

I’m going to go slightly off script here into the realms of heavy metal, because my list would not be complete without a mention of Iron Maiden’s stunning album, The Book of Souls. Why am I only slightly off script? book of soulsBecause this album is the proggiest thing Iron Maiden has ever done, even though it retains their previous heavy metal elements. While this album is excellent from start to finish, the boys of Maiden are at their strongest here when they are on their proggiest – the 10 minutes plus title, track, the 13 minutes plus The Red and the Black, and the closing, 18 minute epic, Empire of the Clouds. For the shorter, more familiar Maiden, Speed of Light is a particularly strong track. I’ve always defended the members and the music of Iron Maiden as being more intelligent and thoughtful than that of their heavy metal peers, and this album is the best evidence yet of that. This is truly a crowning achievement on an amazing career.

Moving back into prog-proper territory, Andy Tillison and his band The Tangent followed up 2013’s outstanding Le Sacre Du Travail with an equallytangent1 excellent release, A Spark in the Aether. One of the things that really comes through on this album (and makes it so excellent) is that is sounds like Tillison was having tongs of fun in making it. The joy really shines through on one of my favorite tracks, Codpieces and Capes, a celebration of prog’s glorious past. Even better is The Celluloid Road, Andy’s insightful look at America through the lens provided in film, i.e. movies that is. It’s the highlight of an album full of highlights. Oh, and speaking of America …

Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue:

This year was an exceptional year for prog from this side of the Atlantic, Echolyn Coverbetter than I can remember in some time. For one, Echolyn returned with I Heard You Listening, which more or less picks up where they left off in 2012. There were no bad tracks on the album, but Messenger of All’s Right, Different Days, and All This Time We’re Given were especially strong.

District 97 returned with their eclectic and somewhat heavy brand of prog, bringing us In Vaults. The early part of this release starts out sounding similar to their previous release, Trouble With Machines, but gradually District-97-In-Vaults-e1433201699982evolves into new territory. I absolutely love the leadoff track, Snow Country, and am also partial to A Lottery and On Paper. The playing is top notch throughout. But what I like best about this album is the outstanding vocal performance of Leslie Hunt, who continues to make a strong case for the title of First Lady of Prog. Whether it’s her breathy jazz phrasing, her power vocals, or something in between, she hits it perfect every time.

Our favorite boys from Joisey, 3rd Degree, came out Ones and Zeros: Vol. 1. 3rdegreeI’m hoping that the Vol. 1 part of the title is an implicit stating that there will be a Vol. 2, because I definitely want more of this. A concept album that explores our relationship to technology (the digital world in particular), the lyrics are both clever and insightful. This one will be interesting to come back to five or ten years hence to examine the lyrics/concept in the context of how times will change.

The Ted Leonard era of Spock’s Beard continued apace with The Oblivion Spocksbeard_theoblivionparticle_coverParticle. I won’t mince words here – I think Leonard is the best vocalist Spock’s Beard has ever had, and I love where they are going with him at the mike. Bennett Built a Time Machine is an excellent track, and I love Minion as well (would have liked the move Minions to have worked a little prog into their soundtrack with this one …). They musicianship is as stellar as ever, and combined with Leonard’s voice, the Beard sounds as good as ever to these ears.

One final entry here is Dave Kerzner’s New World. Now technically, this david-kerzner-new-world-deluxealbum was initially released in 2014, but after many had already compiled their year-end best-of lists. It didn’t seem fair to me that such a fine album wouldn’t make the cut simply because of the timing of its release. So I’m going to include it here as a 2015 release and put it on my list – and on the merits it most definitely belongs.

And no, I haven’t forgot about Glass Hammer’s highly acclaimed Breaking of the World. But I must confess I haven’t gotten around to listening to this one yet. So much prog, so little time.

So another great year is almost in the books. What will 2016 bring? Well, if current trends continue, it’s going to be a pretty good year. For one, we will probably get the DVD of The Theater Equation, and I’m very much looking forward to that. Let’s just hope things stay where they’re at – on a roll.

Interview with The Vampirate – Progarchy Talks to Nad Sylvan

Shortly after the release of his album, Courting the Widow, I had the good photo_5fortune of interviewing Nad Sylvan. Sylvan has become well known in the prog community as of late based on his singing with Steve Hackett’s touring band. Now he’s come out with his own solo album that is a fine piece of progressive rock, with a great character carrying a great storyline throughout. And not only that, but it has an outstanding epic smack in the middle of the album, and you know how us proggers love our epics. Nad and I also talked about his career jump, his album and the persona behind it, and a number of other topics. Hopefully you’ll enjoy this read as much as I enjoyed my conversation. And hopefully you’ll give his album a listen – you won’t be sorry.

Nad Sylvan: More liberating than scary. Of course, it’s a bit scary, but I didn’t expect this to happen with Steve Hackett. I thought I was doomed to being one of those guys you might hear about sometime. I was fine with that. The job, I couldn’t endure heavy traffic, and I was working night shifts and evenings, I was on my own and it was boring. It was a good income for what it was, as I was able to buy and maintain a house. They granted me leave for two years (four tours).  But when this tour with Steve came up again, they questioned me with “what do you really want to do, because we want give you anymore leave?”  And I said “that’s it, I’m leaving.”  And to make that jump is very liberating. A bit scary, because I’m on my own now, I have to make sure I do everything right, by the book, so I don’t get in trouble with the tax company. So I’m very busy these days, but I don’t regret it at all.

Progarchy:  You have a fairly extensive history in music. How did you come to prog?

Nad Sylvan: Before I even started to do prog, the songs I was writing when I was young – this is when I was very young, 13, 14, 15 – I was influenced by guys like Gilbert O’Sullivan, Elton John. I was a guy who would write ballads by the piano and sing them, very young. Then after I quit school when I was 16, I was working at a record shop. This guy who was working there pulled out ‘The Lamb [Lies Down on Broadway]’ and said “this is what you should be listening to, this is great music.”  And I was instantly floored, this has to be the most exciting music I’d ever heard. This was in 1975.  In 1976, I just happened to meet some guys of my age that just happened to need a keyboard player, because I played the keyboards. So I just started to play with them, and their emphasis was Genesis, Yes, all that kind of stuff. So when I was 17, we kicked off playing progressive rock, and after a year I had an organ, a minimoog, a mellotron, and all that kind of stuff. So that’s where I started and I did prog for a couple of years until the late 70’s and then the band split up. Then I was in transition mode and listened to Gino Vanelli, Al Jarreau, and all that kind of stuff. It sounded fresh to me so I wandered in that direction.  Then I did some 80’s pop. Prog, I just accidentally drifted back into it when I saw The Musical Box.  By that time I had done my 3rd solo album, and it was really good, soulful rock album, but it didn’t do anything so I thought “what the [heck .., :)] it didn’t do anything, so I might as well do prog because that’s what’s in my heart. So I did, and you know what happened.

Progarchy: Can you explain the storyline that runs through many of the songs on “Courting the Widow”?

Nad Sylvan: As you know, progressive rock, as typical progressive rock album is multi-dimensional in a way. It always leaves the listener free to interpret the songs the way they want, the lyrical content and everything. For me I have this stage persona called The Vampirate. Someone used to tell me “you look like a vampire” and “you look like a pirate.”  I know, a vampirate! I just laughed at it and thought “what a great gimmick.”  So I developed that. Of course, a pirate, the vampirate must have his own ship, which the vampirate certainly has. In the first song you hear the moored boat, the people walk on board, and you hear the vampirate’s wings, he’s sort of coming from nowhere before the synth kicks in, you hear him soaring through the sky and land on the yardarm and stuff like that. When you get the physical album, you see that a couple of songs have a log attachment, log I, log II, log III.  So that’s when you hear the ocean roaring in the background.

It’s also where my musical journey from where I kicked off.  In 2008, I did an album called Unifaun with a guy called Bonamici.  That’s sort of a Genesis pastiche if you like. Our own music, but it sounds like the missing album_coverGenesis album, just for fun. Nothing serious, but it was taken seriously and we got a record deal with that. And that was a springboard for where I am today, both Roie and Steve love it. The music on this album is a journey from where I left off from Unifaun, and gradually moving into present day, with Where The Martyr Carved His Name and Long Slow Crash Landing, they were written this year.  That’s why it doesn’t stay exactly the same way.  It’s like a journey, it goes from place to place.  Also, of course, if you listen to the lyrics, it’s all about death or dying, the afterlife, or the before life. It has a lot of questions. That also, I was thinking The Widow herself become a symbol of death and she symbolizes the whole album, she is the star of the whole album.  I’m just the interpreter. That sort of the way I’m thinking of this album in conceptual terms.

Progarchy: Can you explain more about The Vampirate, who he is?

Nad Sylvan: The vampirate was born in about the 16th century, late 16th century, but his active life was in the 17th century. If you look what I’m wearing on stage, you’re probably thinking I’m from that era. That even started with Unifaun.  It’s just something I feel confident with doing, I think it’s unique and nobody else is doing it and I enjoy elaborating on it. During the course of working with these past years with Steve [Hackett], I grew into this character.  And I thought when I went to do a solo album, why not just get him out of his coffin and let him do his thing. So that’s what it is, that’s my persona.

Progarchy: Is he going to make an appearance in future projects?

Nad Sylvan: Well, I’ve always been fond of a trilogy. I think I should do The Vampirate for at least three albums. Then I might do something completely different. As long as it works. Or, I may just stay faithful to this character, I don’t know, it’s too early to tell. Let’s just see where this album is going at first. I’d like to tour for this album, but I don’t know how that’s going to be executed.

I must say I’m absolutely stunned at all the critics, so many good reviews, I didn’t expect that to happen. One or two bad apples, but in general the album has been very, very well received, and I didn’t expect that. I’m extremely grateful for that.

Progarchy: And about your epic, To Turn The Other Side?

Nad Sylvan: I just went for it, I know I’m into prog now, Steve will want to play on it, everyone will want to play on it. And I thought ‘why not just do this extended peice?’ that prog-heads actually yearn for. It’s almost as if they crave something like that on a prog album. I’m not sure it’s the best prog piece ever, but I’m content with it. You’ll probably know in a couple of years how good it is, if you want to go back to it. I’m sure Genesis was clueless in 1972 when they did Supper’s Read. I think they were even doubtful that they were going to keep their record contract. They didn’t have any history with that song, but now they do. I’d like to see what happens one or two years from now.

Progarchy: How do you think working with Steve Hackett affected you? Did it affect the direction of the music on this album?

Nad Sylvan: Not really. I’m being very honest now, I’ve been a songwriter for four decades, and I started working on three of these songs from 2009 and 2011. So I was starting work on these song before I met Steve for the first tour. In 2012 I started working on the epic piece. But I could here where he could play. There is a song on the album I actually wrote for Steve to play, it’s third song on the album, Echoes of Ekwabet. There’s a guitar solo on the album I wrote for him, and I’m the one who’s playing it, but it was intended for Steve. And when he heard it, it said “You know, I don’t think you should change this, just let it be like it is.” With his blessing I thought, ok, ok. I’m not a very skilled guitarist, but I do well in the studio.

Progarchy: Well, if Steve Hackett likes it, that’s a good feather to have in your cap!

Nad Sylvan: I think so. In the end it’s about good music, if you like the songs or not, not who plays them.

Progarchy: Could you elaborate on the back story of Echoes of Ekwabet?

Nad Sylvan: We did a show in St. Charles, just outside of Chicago, about two years ago. If you walk along the Fox River, there’s a big statue of an Indian Chief. The statue itself is called Ekwabet, which means in Potawatomi “watching over.” That statue commemorates the removal of photo_3the Indians back in the 19th century. I remember reading lots of things about it and I was intrigued by it. I liked the sound of Ekwabet, I think it sounds like a male Elizabeth. And it’s rhythmic and melodic and I thought “Echoes of Ekwabet” because the lyric echoes what happens. I had already started writing the music, a year before, I wasn’t finished with the song and went back and finished it, bits and stuff. So I had a story, and I thought it really matched the vibe with this song. I arranged some of the instruments to sort of image the lyrical content, to reflect it, mirror it. To me, personally, it’s one of the outstanding tracks on the album, I just love that track.

Progarchy: Other influences, what other influences have affected you?

Nad Sylvan: Well, I’m 56 years old now, so I’ve listened to a lot of music in my life. Basically my interests are what they are. For instance, the epic piece, everything I’ve listened to is in there, everything from Yes, Genesis, to Motown, 80’s pop, everything is in there, but combined in a way that I think works. I’ve listened to so much stuff. There’s very little hard rock, I’m a huge fan of hard rock, not metal, but stuff like Deep Purple from the 70’s. But I just wanted to make a solid prog album, and I hope that happens.

Progarchy: The Motown sounds are an interesting twist even by prog standards. What brought that into the album?

Nad Sylvan: It’s not like Motwon per se, it’s not like I’m trying to do another, what’s his name, Marvin Gaye. It’s the attitude and the voice, it’s soulful, it’s bluesy at some points.   Some of the bits from To Turn The Other Side, I think it’s the Dreaming of Afar section, many of the vocals kicking in. To me, that’s not something Genesis would do, that’s more towards Motown. I think it’s good to bring in a bit of soul music into prog, because that’s what it needs, there’s more sex, and lust, and romance (laughing). Not always about eclipse and stars and such. It can be anything, but as long as it’s emotional.

Progarchy: Anything else you’d like to tell us about your album?

Nad Sylvan: I can say like anything else I do, it’s a very honest album, and I don’t put on anything, I don’t try to sound like someone else. If I do occasionally, it’s still very honest, it’s just what I hear in my head. I’ve heard numerous times that I sound like Collins or Gabriel when I sing Genesis stuff, and I come back with “I sing the songs the way I’ve heard them.” I hear the original voices in my head and I emulate that and that’s what comes out. I’m just being honest with what I do, I don’t think you should change. Of course I will always put my stamp on it, but I sing them the way I’ve heard them, and so far people seem to appreciated that.

Progarchy: Well, you are given the voice that you’re given …

Nad Sylvan: Exactly, I couldn’t go on singing Yes music, it wouldn’t sound right. I don’t have that voice. But I’m a chameleon, I can change, but right now I’m into prog rock, so I go with that.

Progarchy: Thank you very much for your time. It’s been a very enjoyable conversation.

Nad Sylvan: You’re welcome, thank you very much.

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BTW, Nad, the same offer I made to Mariusz Duda of Riverside stands for you as well – play a gig here in Austin, and I’ll buy dinner 😉

Metal Mondays – Montrose

Technically, I don’t know if this really qualifies at metal.  It’s more just standard fare mid-70’s American hard rock, simple and straightforward.  And very good for headbanging and air guitar.  You can probably skip over  50 seconds to avoid the unnecessary intro, which I refer to as the “sick pterodactyl” section of the song.  But once it gets past that, it puts the pedal to the metal (pardon the pun) and does not let up until the end.