Interview with Graham Bacher of Protean Collective

Protean Collective

Prog metal act Protean Collective is one of those bands for me whose name I’ve been seeing around the web but never gave them a proper listen, until few weeks ago. I was contacted by the group’s publicist, who was very ambitious about the four-piece’s most recent, third studio album “Collapse,” and who insisted that I should check the Boston-based group out.

And so I listened… With four releases under their belt (one of them being an EP) since 2010, it’s quite easy to notice that these three guys and a girl know their craft. It can be said that each of the ten songs on “Collapse” is a gem per se; the album was released last year but the group is still promoting it, with the release of a playthrough video which was launched a few weeks ago.

I talked with guitarist and singer Graham Bacher about this new album — which, by the way, was mixed and mastered at Fascination Street Studios by André Alvinzi and Jens Bogren, respectively.

Let’s start from your early music beginnings. How did your musical career begin? When did you start playing? Which groups have been your favorites as a young man? Please tell us something more about your early life.

Well, I first started playing violin when I was about 6, and played acoustic and electric violin through my teens, but as time went on, I got much more into the sounds and textures of the guitar. It felt like an instrument that I was more free to experiment with and really be creative.

I’d say the first bands that really got me excited about playing music were the 90’s bands like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, the Smashing Pumpkins — and then in high school I started discovering bands like Porcupine Tree, King Crimson, Rush, and Pain of Salvation who really turned music from a hobby to a kind of obsession. Those are all bands that have been huge influences on me as a musician. Of course, while we do have a lot of common musical interests, I think everyone in the band has a pretty wide array of influences.

Graham Bacher

How did you go about forming Protean Collective? Who was the most influential when the band started its musical journey?

Matt [Zappa, drums], Steph [Goyer, guitars], and I all became good friends in our first year of college but never really played together. Sometime late in our first year there, we all got in a room together to jam, and I think it was a kind of amazing moment, where we all realized that we had some really special musical chemistry together. I’m not really sure who was the most influential — I think it was just something we were all really excited about and we really worked together on it.

In the beginning, did you have some “fixed” tempo in composing songs or everything was a product of jamming, improvising?

We always have been this way, and probably always will be to some degree, but everything was very fluid in the beginning. Someone might come in with a riff or a beat or a melody and we’d just play off it until we were all excited about it. I think later on, on the last two albums, there are a few songs that we’ve gone into thinking that we were going to go for a particular feel or effect on the listener, but writing for us has always been a very collaborative process. In the beginning, I think the improvisational nature was very apparent, with more meandering song structures; over time, I think we’ve gotten more direct and concise with our writing, but the collaboration is always an integral part of what we do.

How would you describe Protean Collective’s music on your own?

First I would grimace because I’m absolutely terrible at answering that question. I don’t feel like I’m emotionally separated enough from the music to really have perspective on it, so I’d LOVE to hear how you’d describe it.

But ultimately, what we try to do is create powerful music that meshes the aggressive energy of metal with powerful melodies and a great deal of dynamic depth. When we use progressive elements in our music, it’s to create a certain effect on the listener. I hope that each song it’s it’s own journey.

Protean Collective - Collapse

Your most recent full-length album, “Collapse” (2017), is a follow-up to 2010’s debut full-length “Divided” and 2014’s “The Red and the Grey.” Have you felt any pressure while working on “Collapse” because of that in terms of coming up with something that’s sort of expected to be better than the first two efforts?

It absolutely was for me, because “The Red and the Grey” is an album I was very proud of. We put a lot of time, energy, and love into making that record be the best album we could put out, and I think it was the first musical project for me that, after the lengthy process of writing, tracking, mixing, and mastering, I was still excited to listen to. For me personally, it was written during a very challenging time mentally, so I think it felt especially meaningful.

At the same time, since we were self producing, that took some of the pressure off, just because we were free to make sure that we had something we were really proud of and happy with before releasing it into the world — and in the end, I have to say I absolutely couldn’t be happier with how “Collapse” turned out.

What has changed for Protean Collective when it comes to writing new music — “Collapse” in particular?

Well, as I alluded to earlier, the general process has really stayed the same, but I think with Collapse in particular, we were really leaning towards creating more focused, powerful songs than ever before. So I’m not sure the process itself has changed so much as I just think we’ve grown a lot as writers and maybe what we’re trying to accomplish with each song has changed. I think and hope that our writing will always continue to evolve as we continue to write.

What would you say is the most important segment for the structures of your songs?

To me, it’s got to be the choruses. There are a lot of structures and moving pieces that go through our songs, but the choruses are where I feel like it all comes together into a unified message that connects all the pieces together into a coherent construct.

How do you see the modern progressive metal scene?

I think this is an absolutely amazing time to be a musician. I think now, with the ability nearly anyone can have to record professional sounding music, there are an unprecedented number of people who are free to create music in a way that wouldn’t have been possible 15 years ago. There are so many amazing musicians out there creating so much amazing music that it’s absolutely inspiring to see. There’s so much variety of music out there that really, I’m not sure if there’s any one real sound I could even nail down as defining a modern progressive metal sound, but I think there’s a tremendous amount of people out there who are trying to do something new and make music that is their own, and I love it.

Do you guys consider yourselves a part of any specific cultural movement, however peripheral?

I don’t think so in particular. We’re about making music we feel strongly about, and that’s the focus.

Are you also involved in any other projects or bands beside Protean Collective?

I’m not, personally. Matt also plays in an amazing band called Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys.

What comes next for Protean Collective?

More shows! We’re hoping to get out there and share what we have with as much of the world as possible. Right now we’re very much in the mode of getting “Collapse” out there to as many listeners as we can. This is an album that I’m really passionate about, and I really just want to get to share it with as many people as we possibly can.

Thank you for the time and for listening!

 

Visit Protean Collective on Bandcamp, and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Protean Collective is:

Graham Bacher – vocals, guitars
Dan Ehramjian – bass
Steph Goyer – guitars
Matt Zappa – drums, percussion

Interview with KILLER CORTEZ

Killer Cortez

Back in January, Boston-based prog duo Killer Cortez released their full-length debut “Maquiladora,” a record which is a pleasant surprise. The two-piece plays a show in Cambridge, MA this July 28th; if anyone is nearby on that date I would truly recommend to stop by and visit the Middle East Upstairs.

Composer and multi-instrumentalist Socrates Cruz spoke for Progarchy about the band’s first album, other genres, and more.

Alright, first thing is first. Before we dive into all the music stuff, how’s life?

Life is treating us alright, thanks. There are times when we can get caught up with what’s not going well in our daily lives, but it’s also important to step away and understand that overall we’re pretty privileged to be able to make music surrounded by people that support us. That said, the past few months have been a fascinating mix of joy, regret, uncertainty, and excitement. This does lead to a heightened sense of creativity though!

Speaking of music, you have an album. What can people expect from “Maquiladora”?

It’s dark; but melancholy rather than angry. The album is kind of a collection of mini-documentaries that shed light on stories we thought were worth sharing. You could say the album is a little unnerving in that each of these stories is tragic; no matter how detached we are from the characters the plot is meant to feel familiar. Then, you have all these swirling instruments and textures and sounds that make the whole thing feel sweeping and cinematic. If you are looking for music with meaning then this is for you.

Maquiladora

What was it like working on the album?

SLOW. Also exhilarating. We’re really proud of the outcome.

Are there any bigger touring plans in support to “Maquiladora”?

It’s in our DNA to want to tour endlessly but we’re coming at this cycle through a different angle. We’re about to officially “release” the album at our show at the Middle East in Cambridge, MA on 7/28 and are close to announcing a series of dates for late Fall. Details are forthcoming, but most of the shows centered in New England, with a few scattered through NY, PA, and MD.

While we are on the subject of touring, what countries would you love to tour?

Though not exactly countries, we seem to be getting attention in the UK and Eastern Europe. It would be great to tour there soon and maybe cap it all off playing a massive castle somewhere in the middle of Czechoslovakia. One can dream, right?

Who and what inspires you the most?

Any song, moment, story, or person who causes us to reflect on our human condition. We’re both a little addicted to some kind of never-ending search for meaning, which really can rise up anywhere at any time as long as you’re paying attention.

What other genres of music do you listen to? Have any of the other genres you listen to had any impact on your playing?

We’re both really open minded – in the van we’re blasting anything from electronica and progressive metal to power ballads and orchestral film scores. With Maquiladora, some of this variety is reflected in the digital atmosphere of songs like Bracero or Villa Grimaldi, and also in the odd time signatures of a song like Pine Ridge Peltier.

I really appreciate you giving us your time today. Is there anything else you would like to tell us and the fans before we wrap things up?

We’re excited to share our album with whoever is willing to listen. We tried to create a work that celebrates the struggles of the disenfranchised, the dispossessed, the exploited, and the forgotten. We feel that the shared human experience is one of constant struggle and of overcoming those challenges. Music can help us escape but it can also help us look inward.

“Maquiladora” is out now and is available from BandcampBandcamp. Stay in touch with Killer Cortez via Facebook.

Long Live Rock: Boston Brightens the World with Life, Love, and Hope

In a nice coincidence, during the same time that Brad was writing and has posted his Progarchy Editorial on “The End of Rock,” I have been listening to and enjoying the new Boston CD released back in December, “Life, Love, & Hope.”

Boston has a great sound that can best be described with the adjective “soaring” — as in: soaring guitar riffs, soaring lead lines, soaring organ solos, and incredibly rich layers of soaring vocal harmonies. No wonder their signature album cover look has always been one that depicts guitars as spaceships.

I am happy to report that the new Boston album is a work of excellence. Tom Scholz has always been a perfectionist and he is very famous for his protracted battles with record companies. After he was pressured to use a non-basement studio to re-record the demo tracks for the original Boston album (1976), and after he was pressured to release the second Boston album without being fully happy with it (Don’t Look Back — 1978), Boston albums have ever since only come out at the rate of about one per decade: Third Stage (1986), Walk On (1994), Corporate America (2002), and now Life, Love, & Hope (2013).

Scholz prefers to be a loner in the studio, in order to best pursue excellence through perfectionism. There has always been something wonderfully “prog” about Scholz’s insanely detailed musical devotion. There are abundant examples of musical virtuosity on Boston records, but just take “Foreplay/Long Time” from Boston (1976) if you would dispute placing Boston in the prog pantheon. And Scholz can achieve stratospheric musical heights in just a two minute instrumental — for example, take either “Last Day of School” or “O Canada” from the new album — thus demonstrating how he can soar even higher than what the average prog band can attain in even ten minutes.

It was interesting to read Brad’s editorial and at the same time try to imagine an album like Boston (1976) being released today and achieving similar mass acclaim with sales figures of over 17 million. What a cultural loss that we cannot hear any tracks from the new Boston album being played across all radio stations everywhere! The youth of today are suffering a great deprivation.

For my part, I am thankful that I encountered Boston at the age I did. For me, Boston in effect was “starter prog,” as the excellence that they conveyed in “More Than a Feeling” opened me up to the transcendent possibilities available through music. “More Than a Feeling” was a true revelation, and my love of that song has never changed. It sounds as magical to me now as when I first heard it.

It’s a genuine thrill that Scholz is still devoted to his uncompromising art and that this new album has caught me off guard by being so darn good. Every track is wonderful and I will have to post further at Progarchy about it.

For now, in the spirit of Brad’s excellent editorial, I just wanted to share with you what Scholz writes in the liner notes. His note shows that the heart of rock and roll is still beating, and that the spirit of prog is what animates that beating heart. Now, you may perhaps know that spirit by one of its more well-known names — “The Spirit of Radio” — but for me, because of what I learned early on from Scholz, I have always known that that spirit is a spirit that is indeed “More Than a Feeling”:

When I started recording this album over ten years ago, who’d have thought I’d still be working on it in 2013? OK, don’t answer that. These are all songs from the heart, each of them taking many months of effort to write, arrange, perform and record, always up to the demands of BOSTON’s harshest critic, me. They have all been meticulously recorded to analogue tape on the same machines and equipment used for BOSTON’s hits for the past 35 years.

After the internet and digital file sharing knocked the foundation out from under the music business, it no longer became possible to record a full production analogue album like this one, unless you were willing to do it purely for the art. I found out that I was. But as the years wore on, struggling with obstinate pieces, over-stressed gear, and my own uncertainty, I sometimes wondered if these songs would ever see the light of day. Now, listening to the album, I feel like I have burst from a dark tunnel of seemingly endless solitary work and self-doubt into a bright new world. If any of these songs can brighten your day for a few minutes, it was worth it.

— Tom Scholz