The story of Aerosol, a Los Angeles based progressive rock act, has certainly been filled with ups and downs, as the lead singer, producer and composer John Hiler confirms in a new interview for Progarchy. The band was formed as somewhat a new venture of late Sean Reinert, and just as Aerosol were starting to work on their debut release, the news of Reinert‘s passing hit the music community.
The band decided to go on and finish the work on “Murmurations,” which sees guest appearances by drummers Dirk Verbeuren and Mike Heller.
In the interview below, Hiler talks us through the creative process of “Murmurations,” challenges, and more.
You have an album coming out with Aerosol entitled Murmurations. How do you feel about the release?
Excited, of course! It’s been a hero’s journey, full of ups and downs, but we’ve ended up with a record that has exceeded all of our expectations. We’re all proud of how it turned out. When Sean was alive, we discussed creating a platform to express ourselves as fully and freely as we desired. After he passed, our goal became to honor him in our work, and finish something he would be proud of, too. He has guided this project from start to finish, in life and afterwards, and it would be nowhere near as good without his constant presence and implicit direction.
What was it like working on the album? How much of a challenge was it to work on it, and actually bring it to completion after Sean passed away?
As you can imagine, working on the album went through many phases. At first, it was the joy of collaboration, with Sean, Matt, and myself jamming and improvising together. There’s a special magic in “harmonizing” with each other’s musical brains without the need for words. After Sean’s passing, we were devastated, of course. We had to reassess the entire project. We knew we wanted to see it through to fruition as a way to honor his memory and his contributions. In fact, it was at his memorial, surrounded by his loved ones, family, friends, and fellow drummers, that the path forward for Aerosol was revealed.
Speaking of challenges, have you set any in the early phase of what has become the final result?
Soon after the memorial, we had to stop everything and go into quarantine. This was another setback, of course, although we had previously collaborated remotely over FaceTime, so it wasn’t completely foreign to us. One upside of lockdown was that these amazing drummer friends of Sean’s, who were all scheduled to hit the road on tour, were suddenly now sequestered at home, with their tours postponed or cancelled. As difficult as that was for them, they were now free to contribute to this album by recording at home. In a way, the pandemic provided the opportunity to have their contributions on these tracks. And for sure we’re all better off for it!
How much creative input did Dirk Verbeuren and Mike Heller have during the creative process of Murmurations?
First of all, please allow me to say how great it has been to work with them. Dirk and Mike are both consummate professionals, and beautiful human beings. No wonder Sean was friends with them. Any friend of Sean’s is a friend of mine. You see, he brought us together at his memorial. If it wasn’t for Sean’s passing, we probably never would have even met. It was there that they offered to contribute to the record as a tribute to Sean.
There were existing demos of the songs, with guide tracks recorded, but that was only the jumping off point. Both Dirk and Mike took those guide tracks and ran with them, developed them, and made them their own. They made these songs better by a couple orders of magnitude. We provided the canvas and they painted their masterpieces upon it. And it was upon these solid foundations that we recorded the rest of the instrumentation, rebuilding each track from the ground up, stronger and more powerful than before. So, you could say that their performances and creative decisions influenced every other recorded part. No small feat. No small feet, indeed.
Tell me about the topics you explore on these seven songs.
While we did have specific themes we were exploring on each of these songs, I would be more interested to hear what you think they are about. Meaning is in the eye of the beholder, regardless of intent. Your interpretation of these songs is more important than any intended meaning. What they mean to you, the listener, is more important than our ideas.
This is one measure of success for any given song, and an example of the beauty of music in general – that the listener derives personal meaning and feeling from the music, giving it more life and depth than it would have had otherwise. You can play one song to a thousand people, but each person will hear a different song.
What is your opinion about the progressive rock/metal scene in 2021?
I’m sure it’s different for everyone. We could find success stories, and we could find stories of failure. My experience in the music business is across many genres, but there are many universal truths about the business in general in 2021 and moving forward that apply to the progressive rock and metal scenes as well.
For starters, I can say that it’s changing. Fast. What worked for the past 50 years doesn’t work anymore. Musicians are smarter and more informed than ever before. Information about how the music business operates is more widely available to everyone. At the same time, there’s more competition than ever before. 64,000 new tracks are uploaded to Spotify every day. This is no longer the wild 70’s of drug use, excessive budgets, and 3 album deals. To operate successfully in 2021 is to be a well-oiled machine – lean, productive, and professional.
Music is no longer the monolithic force it once was, when the major labels were the gatekeepers, and the arbiters of taste and popular opinion. Today’s audience is defibrillated, niche. Everyone listens in their own microcosm, their own bubble. Progressive rock and metal are lucky, in a way, because they have always existed in their own gated communities. They are preconditioned to survive this newer reality. That’s the good news. Also, touring will always be a major component of a successful career as a musical artist, and progressive rock and metal acts have a leg up in this department, as well, since its musicians are on the whole more accomplished and technically capable compared to most modern musical acts.
So, I guess you could say it’s the best of times, worst of times for progressive rock and metal. There are new, greater difficulties of logistics and competition to overcome, it’s harder than ever to break through all the noise, but it is also through these difficult times that newer, greater leaders are born. Iron is strong but brittle, but steel is stronger than iron because it is flexible. How do you turn iron into steel? You light it on fire and beat the shit out of it.
What we hope to do with Aerosol is push the boundaries of what rock, progressive rock, metal, and modern pop mean in 2021 and beyond. Genres merge, bleed into each other, influence each other. There needs to be a new generation, a new variation, a mutation, that rekindles much of what those genres stood for in the past – questioning authority, rethinking what it means to be human, fighting injustice, praising beauty in all forms, and maybe even describing the kind of world we’d like to see someday. Combine that with a love of craft, hard work, and real musicianship, forged into the shapes of pop songs and modern soundscapes, all with the intention of evolving it into the next iteration. It needs to be truthful to these roots, yet also reinvent itself for the next generation. What’s old will be made new again. Reminiscent yet fresh. Familiar yet new and different.
Let me know about your influences—the artists that in a way shaped Murmurations.
How does one summarize a lifetime of influences? Could you do it? Add to that a group of people, each with their own influences, that all contributed necessary parts to the whole, in order to see the whole picture of what shaped Murmurations.
For starters, I was classically trained in composition at conservatory. I am a 4th generation classical pianist. In that world, I have an affinity for late Romanticism, and the French Impressionists like Debussy and Ravel, but also the early purity of Gothic and Renaissance music, and healthy appreciation for 20th century post-modern avant garde composers like Stravinksy, Stockhausen, Cage, and Glass. But by high school I broke out. I discovered jazz fusion and progressive rock artists like Jean-Luc Ponty, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Pat Metheny, Dixie Dregs, Yes, King Crimson, ELP, and Rush, who provided the bridge between the high standards of technique that classical music demands, and the modern instrumentation, song structures, and production values of popular music. Also, my sister was into way cooler music than I was, and it was mostly through her that I learned to appreciate English New Wave bands like The Cure, Depeche Mode, and New Order. The idea that musical emotion could be conveyed successfully without the need of a degree from Juilliard was an epiphany. Back in conservatory, I was also exposed to the life-changing music of Talk Talk, Radiohead, and others who pushed the boundaries of Rock, Pop, Art, and the Avant Garde. After conservatory, my early studio work with Slayer and Danzig introduced me to the world of metal and the power it can wield, and my later work in pop music with Rihanna and Madonna increased my appreciation of the perfectly concocted pop song confection.
What are your top 5 records of all time?
Wow. That’s a great question. Could you answer it? There is so much great music, and every few years my tastes evolve, but if I had to choose, off the top of my head, I’d say Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden, Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication, Rush’s Permanent Waves, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, and Isao Tomita’s recording of Holtz’s The Planets.
Besides the release of the album, are there any other plans for the future?
Yes! We are planning a live show, merchandise, vinyl and deluxe packages with hi-res stems and alternative mixes, plus we are continuously working on new material, with an eye on releasing a follow-up single by end of January. We’re in it for the long haul, and it’s only going to get better.
Any words for the potential new fans?
First of all, I would like to say thank you so much for listening. We know how valuable your time is, and how many excellent options there are for music these days. We are humbly grateful to be included.
Secondly, when we set out to make this record, we knew we had to make a record for ourselves, and nobody else. That is what we talked about with Sean. Our key word for this work is “authenticity”. It has to be authentic or the audience will sniff it out in a second. We set out to be as authentic as possible, given our diverse influences and myriad possible stylistic choices. We made a record that we would be proud of, regardless of any external validation. That is the only path to authenticity, and if that comes across in any way, then we have done our job.
If you like our music, then you probably have a refined, sophisticated ear. This is not music for the masses. We’re speaking to people with greater vocabularies. Aerosol requires a learned palate to recognize all the flavors we cooked into this stew. It is not fast food. And while it might be too difficult for the average punter to digest, for those who can, there is the reward of a complexity and layers of flavor rarely experienced in music nowadays. Hopefully it will satisfy even the most discerning gourmands like yourselves for years to come.
Oh, and I would also like to mention that, in Sean’s memory, we are donating a portion of all profits to The Trevor Project, a 24/7 hotline for at-risk LGBTQ youth. For more information on the excellent but discreet services they provide to troubled teens and young adults, please visit https://www.thetrevorproject.org.
Thank you, again, Progarchy, for having us on, and thank you to any new listeners who made it all the way through the questions! Enough about us. We’d love to hear from you! Reach out to us anytime on the platform of your choice. Links available here: https://linktr.ee/aerosol