The latest album from that stalwart institution The Tangent, Songs from the Hard Shoulder, will be released — or perhaps I should say unleashed — on June 10th. Boasting three extended tracks (“The Changes,” “GPS Vultures” and “The Lady Tied to the Lamp Post”), the short, sharp retro-anthem “Wasted Soul” and a head-turning cover of UK’s “In the Dead of Night”, it’s a brilliant collection from a first-class band at the peak of its powers. And beyond the formidable talents of guitarist Luke Machin, woodwind specialist Theo Travis, bassist Jonas Reingold and drummer Steve Roberts, the group’s remarkable collaborative chemistry is firmly rooted in the eclectic musical appetite and deeply humane vision of its founder, keyboardist and singer Andy Tillison.
It was serious fun for me to spend an hour talking with Andy, going into detail about the album — including some of the real life experiences behind the songs — and heading down other delightful rabbit trails besides: why he goes out of his way to hear other groups at prog festivals, our respective experiences of radio in our formative days, his favorite band (which may surprise you), and much, much more! Throughout, Andy answered every question candidly and put up with my schoolboy goofs/fanatical excesses, exuding his wonderfully unique mixture of curiosity, passionate commitment and dry humor. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I did! The video is immediately below, with a complete transcript of the interview following (and continuing over the jump). But why were we both looking to our right??
Alright! Well, first of all, congratulations on the new Tangent album! I’ve heard it and I really enjoy it. I’ve been a fan since the Le Sacre [du Travail] album, and have very much enjoyed – I saw you live in 2017 actually, in Chicago.
Right, yeah! That was a great night; really enjoyed that one! Some good experiences that night for me; I’ll never forget that one.
And that was a great weekend overall.
It was, yes.
To put you on the spot right away, if you had to describe Songs from the Hard Shoulder to someone who had never heard The Tangent, what kind of a pitch would you make?
[Laughs] I would say it’s a difficult album, actually! We haven’t made this as an easy sort of pigeonhole-able album. Obviously, we do make albums where we try to put our case and make a beautifully constructed record. But on this one – we just did what we wanted to do. And we do that from time to time, you know? We don’t always try to write to fit the need; we sometimes write from the point of view of what we want to write! And we ended up with this slightly imbalanced record; it’s got three epic tracks and one short one! [Laughs] How many other albums are quite like that?
And of course, the fact that all the three main tracks are completely different from one another! I’ve been saying in other interviews that it’s almost like three different bands made three different tracks! [Both laugh]. The first one being very much like The Tangent, the second being a jazz-fusion band, the third one being dark and electronica influenced. And then a Tamla-Motown song!
I think it’s probably best to understand what the band have been doing before! This is not necessarily a first album to hear by a band; it’s one of a sequence.
It works better in context is what you’re saying.
I think it’s a contextual album. To be fair, if you’re looking at classic progressive bands of the past, most people who came into the world of Yes did not enter from the point of view of Tales from Topographic Oceans. They came in with Fragile or The Yes Album or maybe even Close to the Edge is where they came in. I say “maybe even Close to the Edge” cause that’s where I came in!
And the same with Genesis: most people who came in didn’t arrive with The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway; they came in at some other point. And the sort of deeper albums are the ones they go back to and help develop their relationship with a group.
OK! I think that what I heard in your pitch is that it’s very much “you guys” – the band that you are right now.
So, definitely not a snapshot, more like a short video at least! [Both laugh]
I think that being in a progressive rock band, if you’re serious about it, and this is more than just a commercial label you use to make things more convenient for markets – you have to be able to make the developments, to take the risks, to do the non-commercial things! Because that’s what the audience wants of us! Sure, everybody likes Asia, for example, but they always want something more meaty than that, if you get what I’m saying. They want something that’s a bit more out there, more adventurous.
So, the fact is that this great progressive arc can take in everything from pop songs, rock songs, pop-rock songs if you like, through to massive great big sinfonias! Everything from an acoustic guitar being bashed on the stage by Peter Hammill right through to massive symphony orchestras. There’s so much available to us in the power – every so often you have to use it! And this means on this occasion, we didn’t write much short-form material for this record.
So that kind of answers my next question, because as you mentioned, three of the four tracks on the main album plus the bonus track are all over 15 minutes; they’re definitely what you would call “of epic length.” Did you feel like, in terms of the songs with lyrics, that the subject matter demanded that? How do you develop these longer pieces?
I think that it’s just something that happened. To me, I grew up listening to rock music, but the first rock music I heard was long! [Laughs]
I was listening to Yes age 12, Van der Graaf Generator age 12, Genesis 14 perhaps. Picking up on Pink Floyd and finding that, because of my history in classical music, I tended to be more interested in the longer pieces. Because the classical upbringing I’d had – and I’m talking about classical listening, because there was so much music in my house when I was a boy. And so, I’d get to hear all this stuff!
Consequently, when I first heard things like the Beatles, I always used to be disappointed that the songs were over so quickly. I thought, “I was just getting into it, what’s happened?” [Both laugh] So it just seemed a natural way. In me it’s writing to how I always like listening to music! I like music that goes on for a bit.
[Laughs] As I’ve said, many times, “this music is not epic at all!” 20 minutes is not epic at all; it’s an episode of Friends!Continue reading “Andy Tillison: The Progarchy Interview”