After decades behind the scenes, Robert Berry has unquestionably stepped into the spotlight. In the late 1980s Berry hit the big time alongside Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer as vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and co-producer of the progressive-pop trio 3. Afterwards, he parleyed his new-found visibility into decades of fine work in both mainstream rock (Ambrosia, Greg Kihn, Sammy Hagar, his album-oriented rock band Alliance) and the prog scene (numerous tribute albums for the Magna Carta label, discs and tours by the holiday-themed collective The December People). Though Keith Emerson’s suicide in 2016 thwarted a planned reunion, Berry honored Emerson’s legacy with his deeply felt, impressively realized 3.2 project, releasing the posthumous collaborations The Rules Have Changed (2018) and Third Impression (2021) and mounting a career-retrospective tour in 2019.
But the Robert Berry I spoke with last month is focused on the future, not the past — namely, his brand new, very different trio SiX by SiX. Collaborating on songs with Saga’s guitarist Ian Crichton and anchored by Saxon’s drummer Nigel Glockler, Berry sounds like he’s having the time of his life. The new band’s self-titled album, released by InsideOut/Sony on August 19th, doesn’t really fit into any prog or progressive metal pigeonholes — and it’s all the better for it. One minute SiX by SiX is making an almighty, rifftastic noise; the next comes a killer singalong chorus; the next you’re reveling in a lush, impressionistic soundscape. Wrapping up our interview, Berry said, “we want a wide audience of all kinds of people that just like good music,” and this album has both the ambition and the substance to hit that sweet spot. There’s plenty here for your head, your heart and your guts to grab onto!
When I interviewed Robert Berry at his California homebase Soundtek Studios, he managed to be supremely casual, pumped about his new music (as well as about a graphic novel based on the album by Chicago artist J. C. Baez) and genuinely interested in what I thought of SiX by SiX’s debut, all at the same time! I think both of us had fun; join us by watching the video below or reading the transcript that follows.
So, first of all, tell us about the way SiX by SiX, this new project of yours, came together.
It’s sort of magical, really. My manager Nick [Shilton] who’s in the UK – we were talking, he goes, “well, what are you gonna do next? You’ve said that there’s gonna be three 3 albums, right?” The original one [made in] ’88, and we had The Rules Have Changed and we had Third Impression. I said, “yeah, I feel that’s all we had from Keith, material-wise. I don’t wanna do that on my own; it needs to feed off him.”
“Well, what are you gonna do?” I said, “I’m either gonna hang it up and tour with the past, or I’d like to find a guitar player to work with that was like Keith Emerson, that made up these incredible parts. But except for Steve Howe, who’s very busy, what guitar player makes up parts? Orchestrates a song, doesn’t just play power chords and a smokin’, rippin’ lead?” He goes, “Let me think about it.”
He called me back the next day; he says, “what about Ian Crichton from Saga?” I said, “why didn’t I think of that?” Now I didn’t know Ian at the time. I said, “he plays parts and you could almost sing his solos; they’re so great!” So he tracked him down, got us on the phone. Ian was, like everybody, having some down time with the COVID, not touring. And we decided to start sending some things back and forth – and it couldn’t have been better for me, inspiration-wise! I mean, if I could have written down, really thought about “I’d really like this, I’d like this.” Also, all these parts kept coming! He’s so prolific, making up that great stuff that I only thought of in my head, like “what guy does this?”
And the songs started coming out; we committed to this band once we found the right drummer. Which of course, it was an old friend of mine. I felt anyway; didn’t know if he’d say yes, cause he’s in a big band too, Saxon. And Nigel said yes and bang! It was organic, actually; just happened just like that! But it took a whole year to get it to the point of that now.
OK! What I’m hearing you say, and from what I’ve listened to of the album, I agree with you on what Ian brings to the table. Two or three great riffs on just about every single tune, plus that unique solo voice that, as you say, is so melodic.
Can you talk a bit more about what Nigel Glockler brings to the party?
Nigel and I were in GTR together, back [in] 1987. And Steve [Howe] brought him in to replace the guy that had done the first album with them. And I had said to Steve Howe, “the drums are kinda muddy; don’t we need something a little more solid?” They brought Nigel in; I didn’t know Nigel at all. And he was just the greatest drummer and the nicest guy, that we stayed friends, stayed in contact.
When he came through town here – I’m in Silicon Valley, San Jose, close to eBay and Apple and all that – I went to see him and we just chatted a bit and I said, “Man, the guy, he’s still in good form, still playin’ solid and hard.” And so, he was a top of the list choice for me! And Ian didn’t know him, but they had bumped heads on tours a little bit maybe, and seen each other but not really got to know each other. So once Nigel said “I’m really interested in this,” and then we got his drums on a couple of songs. And it was like having John Bonham in the band, you know? [Laughs] Really heavy hitter, solid! It was a little to me like Cozy Powell in ELP; it just cinched it up!
That comparison just had occurred to me as well; that when Powell was with E[merson] and L[ake], there was this rock-solid bottom. I heard them live. He’s so completely different from Carl [Palmer], but what he brings to the table is amazing.
And it was a good album they did too! Not that we need to talk about that . . . [Laughs]
That’s true! And you can tell that Nigel isn’t just a pounder.
He’s a big prog rock fan, which is probably why Steve Howe brought him in originally. He and Phil, the bass player for GTR, were pretty good friends, and they’d done a few things together before. So, Phil knew about the intricacy of what Nigel could bring. He just doesn’t get to expand that in Saxon, of course. He hit the fine line between “let’s do a few things” and “let’s keep the thing really solid”. So again, Ian’s guitar can do what it does, and if the power chords [makes guitar noises with his voice] aren’t always there, something has to keep it solid. And Nigel just made it happen, really.
And again, hearing what I’ve heard from the album, there’s a lot of elements going into what you do. But there’s also space for all of those elements. It doesn’t feel cluttered or crowded; it feels like everything just locks together.
And it’s mainly the guitar! The keyboards on this, I use them very sparingly, and it’s really just a sort of glue, a little background in there sometimes when the guitar’s gotta do other things. Even onstage, my thing is to once in a while, during a solo or something, I’ll change to the keyboards and left-hand bass and cover the fullness and the bass on keyboards, then get back to the bass guitar when Ian comes back into playing the full chord and whatever he’s doing.
So, you’ve described the creative process. You and Ian are working together and the songs come up out of his ideas; obviously you add to that. What was the recording process like?Continue reading “SiX by SiX’s Robert Berry: The Progarchy Interview”