The Bardic Depths’ Dave Bandana: The Progarchy Interview

Full disclosure: I PLAY ON THE NEW BARDIC DEPTHS ALBUM!!!!!

Now that I’ve got that out of my system . . . oh, wait. You want details?

Having gotten to know Dave Bandana through this website and the Big Big Train group on Facebook, I was one of the folks who contributed spoken words (“This! Is! War!”) for The Bardic Depths’ 2020 debut. I had mentioned to Dave that, if he ever needed a church organ part for an album, he should get in touch. Which didn’t lessen my surprise when, in that strange summer of 2020, he did! And so, I wound playing not only church organ for Promises of Hope’s closing track “Imagine” (no, not that “Imagine”), but a Hammond organ solo on the opener “And She Appeared.” Being listed in the album booklet as a “special guest” has turned out to be more of a kick than I ever would have anticipated.

With all that as backstory, Dave agreed to join me for a chat about the new album, released worldwide on June 24th! We cover its genesis and the integral contributions of lyricist/conceptualizer Brad Birzer, producer Robin Armstrong, the new core band that plays on every track, and other collaborators. (And yeah, there are a few minutes devoted to a goofy volunteer keyboardist.) The video of our conversation is below, with a complete transcription following.

So, brand new Bardic Depths album!  I’ve been looking forward to it, for reasons we will probably get into – but I know a lot of people are as well!   But what was the initial impetus for returning to the world of The Bardic Depths?

The success of the first one, and the actual joy of recording the first one and bringing it all together.  Especially as, when we originally had done the first album, we didn’t know how it was gonna finish off.  It was just gonna be a little home studio thing with me and Brad [Birzer] and a few friends.  But then as more friends got involved in it, and then Peter Jones got involved and Robin [Armstrong] got involved, and the thing turned into a fully-fledged proper album.  And just the joy of doing that and seeing the fruition from that, we couldn’t not do a second album!

And to be honest, I was straight on writing even before the first one was released.  So that was the major impetus for wanting to do a second album.  And, hopefully the same thing’s gonna happen for a third one as well!

So, you were so excited that you already had material going for this?

I didn’t have material going.  I knew that I wanted to write again and started writing straight away from when that first one came out.  I can’t even remember how much of that initial burst of enthusiasm got used on Promises of Hope.  Probably a few snippets of it, but the writing certainly started as the first one was completed.

OK.  So, where did the concept that drives this album – the overall, the lyrical concept — emerge from?  I’m assuming Brad Birzer had a great deal to do with that.  But where did that come from?

Yeah, he had a lot to do with it!  Brad had sent me a little novelette thing that he’d written, a story.  I’d suggested to him a while back, “you’re a great writer.  Have you ever written a novel?”  He said, “well actually, I started on one, but I never got it finished.”  So, he sent that to me, and I said, “this would be a great idea for a concept album.”  So, he then carried on and took it — he didn’t actually complete the story; what he did was, he took it as far as he’d gone with it and elaborated around it a little bit more.  So, Brad was the guy that came up with the story for the second one.

And in the publicity, you mention that Virgil and C.S. Lewis are the two bards here.  And it seems to me that the Virgil, if I’m reading the story right, it’s the story of Dido and Aeneas from the Aeneid.

Yep!

Got that one right!  I can’t place the C.S. Lewis part of it, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out as time goes by.

Brad’s the person to speak to for this.  I think the actual C.S. Lewis part is actually in the booklet.  In the booklet Brad’s written a whole page, basically detailing what the story’s all about.  [Searching his memory] I can’t remember the complete title of the book. [A later message from Dave stated that the book is The Horse and His Boy from The Chronicles of Narnia.]  Anyway, Brad’s actually quoted from that book, so we’ll see it in there, so we’ll know which one it is.

I left the story to Brad; it’s a tricky sort of subject.  But I think it’s one that we dealt with in a not-complex way, in quite a simplistic way.  But it told the story that we wanted to tell; it didn’t go into too much detail, but it gives the listener something to think about.

Uh-huh.  So why Promises of Hope as the title?

The original title was gonna be Hope, Not Victory.  But as an album title, that was possibly a little bit more difficult to explain away.  And I liked Promises of Hope; it appears a lot in the lyrics – “with promises of hope, but never of victory” is a line that comes up quite a lot.  And I think to have a promise of hope is something to look forward to, rather than the other way around.  So, I changed it to make it a little more joyous, for want of a better word, yeah?

Got it!  So, as you were recording this, how did the core band that you wound up with at the end of this album take shape as you were making this album?

Continue reading “The Bardic Depths’ Dave Bandana: The Progarchy Interview”

Bryan’s Best of 2020

Looking back at 2020, it’s hard to believe that we lost Neil Peart at the beginning of the year. That loss hit me pretty hard, since Rush’s music has been central to my life from an early age. I talk more about that in my tribute to Peart: https://progarchy.com/2020/01/12/neil-peart-a-misfits-hero/. I start off my year-end review list with a reminder of the loss of Neil because it seems like a fitting way to remember 2020. Peart’s loss represents what so many people have lost this year, whether it be family members and friends due to the virus or jobs lost due to draconian forced business closures that haven’t actually accomplished anything in slowing the viral spread. Not to mention the emotional distress that physical separation is causing many people.

Another thing we lost this year was live music from our favorite bands. Big Big Train had their first North American tour planned for late spring this year. Canceled. Devin Townsend was in the middle of a glorious North American tour with Haken when everything blew up. Canceled. Obviously this list could be expanded to every band that tours. Losing live music makes it even more difficult for bands in a niche genre to spread their music to more people.

But enough lamenting. We still got a lot of great music this year. The following list is in no particular order apart from my number one album at the end. I include both new albums and live records.

Haken – Virus
I was a little surprised that I was the only person over at the Dutch Progressive Rock Page to include this one in my top ten list for their annual list. Maybe people were really sensitive about the name of the album, but it was clear that the album was written and completed before the novel coronavirus was a known entity. The music is fantastic. It’s probably their heaviest album to date, but it still has some of their calmer moments. It’s Haken through-and-through, and it makes a wonderful companion to 2018’s Vector. We also get to hear some more about our old nemesis, the cockroach king. It’s pretty cool how they worked in some of those themes. Fantastic album that should’ve received more attention than it did. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2020/07/23/haken-goes-viral-virus-album-review-haken_official/

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Brad Birzer and Dave Bandana Talk The Bardic Depths… With Each Other

The wonderful Brad Birzer just interviewed his bandmate Dave Bandana to discuss Dave’s background and their new album, The Bardic Depths. The interview doubles as their first time talking to each other “face-to-face” via video chat. This is their third collaboration, and they’ve only interacted by email before this. What an amazing era in which we live… minus the plague of course.

The Bardic Depths is a brilliant album – one you need to listen to. Check out my review and Rick Krueger’s review.

The Bardic Depths – A Prescient Album

The Bardic DepthsThe Bardic Depths, The Bardic Depths, 2020 (Gravity Dream)

Tracks: The Trenches (8:36), Biting Coals (7:50), Depths of Time (12:35), Depths of Imagination (5:01), Depths of Soul (6:40), The End (7:38), Legacies (9:28)

Longtime readers of Progarchy are well aware that just about everything written by Dr. Bradley J. Birzer is brilliant. The previous two album collaborations between Brad and Dave Bandana, 2017’s Becoming One and 2018’s Of Course It Must Be, were both great. I noticed strong strides forward in the second album, and I hear a huge leap forward in this third collaboration in the form of a more formal band called The Bardic Depths.

Birzer still handles the lyrical output and Bandana acts as the musical director, but Dave Bandana and Brad Birzerthe cast of characters has broadened greatly. Cosmograf maestro Robin Armstrong realized the brilliance in the demos and decided to both mix the album and make it the first release on his new record label, Gravity Dream. Along the way Bandana began asking people here and there to contribute to the album, and before he knew it a more refined sound had emerged. The Big Big Train facebook group became a means of connection for Bandana and the extraordinary Peter Jones (Tiger Moth Tales, Red Bazar, Camel). Jones contributed a couple soulful and beautiful saxophone solos. Gareth Cole and Robin Armstrong contribute some blistering guitar solos, and a host of other talented people contribute their musicianship and vocal talents (including spoken word). Sir Brad himself makes multiple appearances with the spoken word. Having had the fortune of taking one of his courses when I was in college, I can tell you he was blessed with a fantastic speaking voice, second to only Dr. Tom Conner in the Hillsdale College History Department.


Continue reading “The Bardic Depths – A Prescient Album”

Sounding the Bardic Depths

Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’ … It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision – it is then that Friendship is born.

— C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

The Bardic Depths is a rare creation; the method of its making embodies what it portrays.  It’s a distinctive take on the concept album, sparked from ongoing collaboration by two devoted lovers of progressive rock, with stellar contributions from some of the music’s current leading lights.   (Oh, and fleeting spoken-word cameos from others, including yours truly — so yeah, objectivity is out the window here.)

Lyricist Brad Birzer and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Dave Bandana have been self-releasing enjoyable albums for a few years now,  launching impressionist volleys of lyrical prose (usually in a dystopian sci-fi framework) via arching, chantlike melodies, poised atop appealingly thick ambient pads and amiably chugging pop grooves.  When Birzer pitched the life, times and friendship of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as an album concept, Bandana loved it — but as the music took shape, he realized that contributors who could kick things up a level were needed for the album to take wing.

Enter the Passengers — that astonishingly amiable Facebook group of fans brought together by their love of Big Big Train.  Having seen BBT live (and made numerous musical friends in the process), Bandana modestly reached out for help.  And, as the video below reveals, one thing led to another:

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Robin Armstrong’s New Label Signs New Duo The Bardic Depths – Featuring Some Familiar Names

Progarchy wishes a huge congratulations to its former editor and co-founder Brad Birzer and Progarchist Dave Bandana who have formed a new band, The Bardic Depths, and become the first signing to Robin Armstrong’s (Cosmograf) new label Gravity Dream. Brad and Dave have made two albums under the name Birzer Bandana, with Birzer handling lyrics and Bandana handling most of the instrumentation and vocals. This new album, entitled The Bardic Depths, will feature a similar setup but with additional players and singers. Lyrics will focus on the literary friendship between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Less (two of my favorite authors!). It promises to be a great album.

The following fine people have contributed to the album:

Brad Birzer – Lyrics and concept, spoken word
Kevin McCormick – Guitars
Paolo Limoli – Keyboards, Piano
Tim Gerht – Drums
Gareth Cole – Guitars
Peter Jones – Saxophone, vocals,spoken word
John William Francis – Marimba, spoken word
Glenn Codere – Backing Vocals
Mike Warren- Cello
Robin Armstrong – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards
Dave Bandana – Vocals, Keyboards, Guitars, Bass, Flute, Harmonica,
With –
Richard Krueger, Henri Strik, Scotty Scott, Andreas Mowinckel, Tony Bridgeman,
Martin Holmes, Phil Ball – Spoken Word

Congratulations again to both Brad and Dave!

 

https://www.loudersound.com/news/cosmograf-mans-new-label-announce-first-signing-the-bardic-depths

A View

There may possibly be some readers who still don’t know that, as well as being editor and chief contributor to Progarchy, Dr. Brad Birzer has also written lyrics and created concepts for two progressive rock albums. This is a track from the latest  album Of Course It Must Be. You can explore more of Brad’s work at http://www.birzerbandana.bandcamp.com

Rick’s Quick Takes: Birzer Bandana, Of Course It Must Be

Accessible, but not mainstream.  Simple, though hardly simplistic.  Unfolding methodically but organically, without feeling confined to strict verse/chorus/bridge templates.  Ambient, but by no means aural wallpaper.  And definitely prog — but prog that can’t be pinned down with an easy label.

These dichotomies come to mind listening to Of Course It Must Be, the second album by this pair of Progarchists (including Our Beloved Founder).   It’s a gentle, subtly delightful listen: without ever getting in your face, it builds, minute by minute, from a spacey drone that kicks off “Adrift” to pumping acoustic guitar riffs on “Calm,”  paralleling a lyrical journey from desperation to acceptance.

The nameless protagonist of Brad Birzer’s “lyrical prose” drifts into the picture disoriented, grasping for connection (“Adrift”), vaguely remembering a moment of crisis (“The Void”).  Though there are tantalizing hints, we’re not really sure what’s happened.  And you could argue that nothing further really “happens” as the album continues.  The hero’s vision gradually comes into focus (“A View”), observing the good and the bad of a world turning below  (“There” and “There Again”), accepting “the beautiful and hideous … messed up, glorious” (“Yes”).  Whatever fate awaits him, he’s convinced that “humanity will continue/A beautiful mess/Made complete by love.”  And as “Calm” winds down, the narrator’s meditations simply fade out … like a still, small voice.  Can you hear me, Major Tom?

Another cool thing: you could conceivably follow this storyline even if the lyrics weren’t sung.  Dave Bandana’s music is understated, yet cinematic throughout.  Using a restrained, gradually brightening palette of tone colors, he deftly unfolds Birzer’s scenario with a precise balance of riffs, grooves and tunes, while leaving plenty of space for the music to breathe.  His singing is always committed and solid, and his work on guitar, keys and drums is consistently tasty (with occasional, appreciated echoes of Rick Wright in the synth solos).  Guests Kenny Miller on acoustic guitar and Olga Kent on violin light up the tracks they play on with gracious, melodic work.   There’s a cumulatively powerful growth to the music as a whole; on the last three tracks, the busier, somewhat poppier soundscapes are somehow the perfect complement to the hero’s breakthrough.  Musically and lyrically there’s contentment and quiet joy, even while looking darkness in the face.

Of Course It Must Be — what??  Something like you’ve never heard before?  Probably not.  A genre-defining breakthrough?  Not really.  A well-crafted, classy, worthwhile album that deserves an hour out of your life to hear it, as well as some of your hard-earned cash?  Yep, that’s the ticket.

You can listen to (and buy) Of Course It Must Be at Birzer Bandana’s Bandcamp page, along with their 2017 album, Becoming One.

— Rick Krueger

Birzer Bandana’s First Album Reviewed

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Mark Naida of Hillsdale College has written a beautiful review of Birzer Bandana’s first album, BECOMING ONE.  Thank you,  Mark!

Theology, intellectual rock, and the liberal arts — these are three main elements of the debut album by Birzer Bandana, a collaboration between progressive rock musician Dave Smith and Hillsdale College Professor of History Bradley Birzer.

Birzer provided the concept and lyrics, and Smith wrote the music for the seven-song progressive rock album “Becoming One,” which was released on Spotify, Bandcamp, and iTunes March 18.

Progressive rock seeks to combine the formal elements of classical music while also embracing the eclectic side of rock and roll music, according to music critic Lucas Biela of progarchives.com.

“Rock bands like the Rolling Stones wanted to show pure emotion in their music. Prog is a more intellectual genre that shares ideas,” Birzer said.

To read the full review, please go here: http://hillsdalecollegian.com/2017/04/birzer-bandana-ties-together-science-fiction-apocalyptic-poetry-british-prog-rock/

Birzer Bandana: Becoming One

There’s a new band on the prog block: Birzer Bandana, which is Progarchy’s own Brad Birzer (lyrics) and Salander’s Dave Bandana (music and performance). According to Brad’s liner notes, his lyrics were jumpstarted by the science fiction classic A Canticle For Leibowitz, and the opening track, “Awash”, definitely conjures up images of a post-nuclear wasteland.

Awash in light, bathed and comforted
Head… deadly, deadly, deadly heat
Burns the skin and the retinas
Irradiated skies baptize the earth.

Bandana’s music is appropriately somber and evocative of someone trudging through desert sands. Olga Kent’s beautiful violin lends an exotic air.

Things pick up a bit in the second song, “Dance”. I love Bandana’s double-tracked vocals here, and the combination of acoustic guitar,  hand percussion (tabla?), Kent’s bewitching violin, and some classic-era prog organ make for a terrific track. Imagine late-period Beatles collaborating with Pink Floyd, and you get an idea of how this one sounds.

Continue reading “Birzer Bandana: Becoming One”