Andy Tillison: The Progarchy Interview

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.

Yeah!

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] 

OK!

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”

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/

Continue reading “Bryan’s Best of 2020”

Andy Tillison

Thinking of England: A Conversation with Andy Tillison of The Tangent

The Tangent Auto Reconnaissance Album CoverThe Tangent, Auto Reconnaissance, Inside Out Muisc, Release date: August 21, 2020

Tracks: Life On Hold (5:31), Jinxed In Jersey (15:57), Under Your Spell (5:45), The Tower Of Babel (4:36), Lie Back & Think Of England (28:16), The Midas Touch (5:55), Proxima (Bonus Track) (12:27)

The Band: Andy Tillison (vocals, keys), Jonas Reingold (bass), Luke Machin (guitar), Theo Travis (saxophone, flute), Steve Roberts (drums), and artwork by Ed Unitsky

Last Saturday (August 15, 2020) I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with the brilliant Andy Tillison about his latest album from The Tangent: Auto Reconnaissance. A truly outstanding album, it is my favorite Tangent album since 2015’s A Spark in the Aether (which was my album of the year that year). Lyrically and musically this albums stuns.

I won’t bog you down with a long review here, but you’ll be hooked from the very first notes. Tillison’s combination of storytelling is at its prime on “Jinxed in Jersey,” and his cultural critique is in fine form on “Lie Back and Think of England.” The passion in his voice is palpable – a direct consequence of the unique writing style he adopted beginning with 2013’s masterpiece Le Sacre du Travail. Andy and I talked about that very thing at length in the latter half of the interview. As he says below, this album is much more philosophical than the last two. That is expertly displayed on “Tower of Babel,” where Tillison takes the technocracy head on.

The music is diverse, with a heavy jazz theme throughout. The classic prog sound that the band has curated over the years is everywhere – Auto Reconnaissance sounds like a Tangent album. The saxophone and flute from Theo Travis add to that seventies Tull vibe, but Luke Machin’s crunching guitars bring the rock. He also brings the soul when he needs to. I can’t recommend this album enough. It’s absolutely breathtaking.


After a few pleasantries (which I didn’t include in the transcript but left in the audio), we dug right into the album. The interview is pretty wide ranging covering the recording process, the overall concept, a deep dive on a couple tracks (“Jinxed in Jersey” and “Tower of Babel”), some philosophical musings on America, Britain, technology, television, etc., and a detailed look at Tillison’s writing process. We also talked a bit about the overall history of the band and Tillison’s own background with music and why he originally wanted to create The Tangent.

Bryan: So tell me a little bit about Auto Reconnaissance and the background of the album and where the ideas for it grew out of.

Andy: Well the background of – this album was recorded before the word coronavirus entered my life. When I say recorded – it was written before that. We were just hearing the news coming out of China at the beginning of the year. We were recording parts of it when we were together, so I was able to record the drums here with Steve, and Theo came here, which basically means that all the keyboards, all the vocals, the drums, and all the saxophones and flutes were recorded actually in this room on the microphone I’m talking to you with for the most part. That was kind of nice to be able to do, and just after that we started picking up the fact that there may be lockdowns and things. But in any case, Jonas Reingold was going to play all his bass parts in Austria anyway because he was about to set off on the Steve Hackett world tour. Luke was going to do his parts at his house anyways because he’s got his own studio there, all his guitar amps are there. It would seem pointless dragging them all the way up to Yorkshire. We recorded it in our normal way, in fact slightly more together this time than any time in the past. It would be us, you know – the lockdown comes along and everybody has to find new ways to work and we find a way of actually doing it together, which was a bit bizarre.

The background to the actual record – it was made in a fractious time in England. The end of the final debates on Brexit as three years of arguing came to a close. Very depressing times when England was busy shouting at itself. Signs of a bad debate, much in the same way as I guess there’s a big fight between the Republicans and the Democrats over on your side of the water. You know, I wanted something that reflected that, but I didn’t want something to be miserable, so I wanted to make an album that – I think it was about really looking at the problems that we were in but having a bright light visible at the end of the tunnel that we were in at the time. I think that’s what I was trying to do with this record. That’s why the title is Auto Reconnaissance, which means looking at yourself. That involves everybody looking at themselves – whole countries looking at themselves and working out our place in the world really. I think that’s what the focus of the album was, yeah.

Continue reading “Thinking of England: A Conversation with Andy Tillison of The Tangent”

Coming from Inside Out Music …

Hardly breaking stride, Inside Out Music ramps up their summer schedule with a fistful of new releases (some of which had to be rescheduled due to manufacturing delays).  Unless otherwise noted, links go to CD versions of these upcoming albums available at Burning Shed; LP and download editions will also be available.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

July

August

September

 

— Rick Krueger

Bandcamp Does It Again!

Back on March 20, Bandcamp waived its share of all sales, in order to support artists whose livelihoods were effected by the COVID-19 pandemic (especially because of cancelled live shows and tours).  The results were astonishing: $4,300,000 in sales of downloads, CDs, LPs and merch, 15 times a normal Friday’s take.

So, to their credit, Bandcamp is doing it again.  And again.  And again.

On May 1, June 5, and July 3 (the first Friday of each month), we’re waiving our revenue share for all sales on Bandcamp, from midnight to midnight PDT on each day.

(Over 150 artists and labels are offering discounts, exclusive items, merch bundles, and more this Friday.)

It may sound simple, but the best way to help artists is with your direct financial support, and we hope you’ll join us through the coming months as we work to support artists in this challenging time.

And, in case you’re wondering, there’s tons of recorded goodness available at Bandcamp from these Progarchy-favored artists:

If your budget allows it, and you need a prog fix, why not do your shopping at Bandcamp this Friday?

 

— Rick Krueger

Progressive Music in a Time of Pandemic

In the era of Napoleon, the Prussian diplomat Klemens Wenzel Furst von Metternich coined the phrase, “When France sneezes, the whole of Europe catches a cold.”  Like all good clichés, it’s been re-purposed endlessly since the 1800s.  Which leads to today’s question: when the music industry of 2020 catches COVID-19, what does the progressive music scene come down with?

In the last few weeks, the toll of the current pandemic has been steadily mounting, with the postponement or cancellation of tours by Yes, Steve Hackett, Tool and Big Big Train (plus this year’s Cruise to the Edge) at the tip of the iceberg. 

The tale of Leonardo Pavkovic, impresario of MoonJune Records and MoonJune Music (Bookings and Management) is all too grimly typical; since the outbreak of coronavirus, eight MoonJune-booked tours have been cancelled at a loss of about $250,000 to the artists, with many more tours now in jeopardy.  MoonJune artists Stick Men lost 8 of 9 concerts in Asia, plus their US spring tour; touch guitarist Markus Reuter resorted to GoFundMe in order to make up for the loss of six months’ income.

So where’s the good news?

For one thing, the plight of progressive musicians has resonated strongly with their fans. Reuter’s GoFundMe goal was met in just over a day; Pavkovic has had a newly positive response to MoonJune’s digital subscription program and discount offers. (Full disclosure: I’m a digital subscriber and I love it!)  And now Bandcamp is getting into the act:

To raise even more awareness around the pandemic’s impact on musicians everywhere, we’re waiving our revenue share on sales this Friday, March 20 (from midnight to midnight Pacific Time), and rallying the Bandcamp community to put much needed money directly into artists’ pockets.

So (if your situation allows it), who can you support via downloads, CDs, LPs and merch bought on Bandcamp this Friday?  Well, you could start with four fine new albums I’ve reviewed this year:

Then move on to other artists well loved on this blog:

Best of all, the music keeps on giving.  Leonardo Pavkovic is already sharing details about his next MoonJune albums: a live set from Stick Men’s only uncancelled Asian concert, plus an album of improvisational duets by Markus Reuter and pianist Gary Husband recorded during down time in Tokyo.  And jazz-rock master John McLaughlin has made his most recent album (Is That So with vocalist Shankar Mahadevan and tabla player Zakir Hussain) available as a free download.

Whither the music industry in time of pandemic?  As with everything else, it’s way too soon to tell.  But, if all of the above is any indication, progressive music — due to the indefatigable, awe-inspiring musicians who make it — will survive.

— Rick Krueger

kruekutt’s 2018 Favorites: New Albums

Here are the albums of new music from 2018 that grabbed me on first or second listen, then compelled repeated plays. I’m not gonna rank them except for those that achieved Top Favorite status, which I’ll save for the very end. The others are listed alphabetically by artist. (Old school style, that is — last names first where necessary!) Links to the ones I’ve previously reviewed are embedded in the album titles.  But first, a graphic tease …

Continue reading “kruekutt’s 2018 Favorites: New Albums”

The Big Fall Prog Preview!

What new music, live albums, and reissues (deluxe and otherwise) are heading our way between now and Black Friday?  Check out the exhaustive (and possibly exhausting) sampling of promised progressive goodies — along with a few other personal priorities — below.  Pre-order links are for CDs or combo packages; vinyl editions are frequently available from the same website.

  • September 21:
    • Marillion, Happiness is Cologne and Popular Music.  Limited edition live reissues from Racket Records and earMusic.  Pre-order at Amazon or other online retailers.
    • Nosound, Allow Yourself.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • September 28:
    • Blackfield, Open Mind (The Best of Blackfield).  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin, Star Clocks.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • October 5:
    • Steve Hackett, Broken Skies – Outspread Wings (1984-2006).  Esoteric Recordings reissue box set (6 CDs + 2 DVDs).  Pre-order autographed copies from Hackettsongs.
    • King Crimson, Meltdown: Live in Mexico.  3 CDs + 1 BluRay.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • October 12:
    • Glass Hammer, Chronomonaut.  Pre-order autographed copies or the deluxe bundle from Glass Hammer’s webstore.  Pre-order deadline: October 11.
    • Sanguine Hum, Now We Have Power.  Pre-order from Bandcamp.
  • October 19:
    • Greta Van Fleet, Anthem of the Peaceful Army.  The first full-length album from Frankenmuth, Michigan’s young Zepheads.  Pre-order at GvF’s webstore.
    • iamthemorning, Ocean Sounds.  Live in the studio; audio/video bundle.  Pre-order at Burning Shed.
    • In Continuum, Acceleration Theory.  With Dave Kerzner and an all-star line-up.  Pre-order bundles from Bandcamp. Pre-order deadline for special bundles: September 30.
    • Frank Sinatra, Only the Lonely: 60th Anniversary Edition.  Yes, really.  The greatest concept album of the pre-rock era, with Sinatra and arranger Nelson Riddle at their most gorgeous and devastating.  “Make it one for my baby … and one more for the road.” More info at Super Deluxe Edition.
  • October 26:
    • Anathema, Internal Landscapes.  The best of the band’s Kscope albums.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Haken, Vector.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Procol Harum, Live In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.  Esoteric Recordings reissue with bonus tracks.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • November 2:
    • Opeth, Garden of the Titans: Live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.  Various audio & video formats/bundles available.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Steven Wilson, Home Invasion: In Concert at the Royal Albert Hall.  Various audio & video formats/bundles available.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • November 9:
    • Jethro Tull, This Was — The 50th Anniversary Edition. Steven Wilson remix included, on 3 CDs + DVD.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, Friendship.  Pre-order from Rikard’s webstore.
  • November 16:
    • Marillion, Brave Live and Live in Glasgow.  Limited edition live reissues from Racket Records and earMusic.  Pre-order at Amazon or other online retailers.
    • The Tangent, Proxy.  Pre-order special bundles from The Tangent webstore.
  • November 23:
    • Marillion, Clutching at Straws Special Edition.  4 CDs + 1 BluRay.  Pre-order autographed copies from Marillion or Fish.
  • TBA:
    • The Beatles, White Album 50th Anniversary Edition?
    • Big Big Train, Merchants of Light Blu-Ray
    • King Crimson, The ReConstruKction of Light (40th Anniversary reissue) and Heaven and Earth (Crimson ProjeKcts box set)

— Rick Krueger

More Soon From The Tangent

Proxy_by_the_Tangent

Pre-orders are open for the new album from The Tangent!

Recorded “quietly and carefully” over Spring and Summer of this year, Proxy is scheduled for release by the esteemed Inside Out Music on 16 November and will be available as a CD digipak, vinyl LP and digital download.

Soon after placing my order, I was delighted to receive a long and chatty email from Andy Tillison, delving deeply into the influences and musical styles of the new album, and the approach used to make it. Absolutely fascinating.

According to Andy, it is a “very organic feeling piece”, featuring a real drummer this time (Steve Roberts). Naturally, we should expect Prog – “not just Prog, but lots of it… often focused on the Hammond and Electric Piano”, with “less in the way of orchestrations – more focus on the core instruments”. Apparently, we’ll “spot influences from Chris Squire, Keith Emerson, Pip Pyle, Pierre Moerlen, Tony Iommi, Chick Corea, Fatboy Slim, Sophie Ellis Bextor and Peter Hammill”. Now that’s an eclectic bunch!

Because Doctor Livingstone from Slow Rust was so well received, we’ll be getting another instrumental on Proxy, along with a 17-minute epic that, intriguingly, has all the hallmarks of Prog and yet is “not made out of Prog… Imagine the Eiffel Tower made in mahogany”. I am very curious to find out what this actually means…

And what of the lyrics? Let me quote Andy in full here:

No overall concept this time. Yes, there will be politically motivated bits – there will be introspect – there will be reckless optimism and ever more reckless pessimism. Some of the songs are tinged with the regrets arising from missed opportunities earlier in life, some are angry and cynical. But the overall conclusion of the album is that there is “still time”.

Bring it on!

The Mischievous Red-Headed One is Back (Tillison’s KALMAN FILTER)

kalman filter
Arrived yesterday: The Kalman Filter (Andy Tillison and Matt Stevens).

The term “Kalman Filter” refers to a process of observing and measuring something over long periods of time, rather than simply making a single observation of a single moment at a specific time.  The process never claims to be perfect, but it does claim to be a more accurate of understanding over the long term.

Why Andy Tillison chose to name his new band and new project Kalman Filter is beyond my knowledge. Whether he just liked the name or whether he has some intent in comparing his approach to the music to the Kalman Filter process is, again, unknown to me.  Still, if it’s the latter, it seems to fit.  The music does seem to me to be a way of thinking about a process, seen over moments of great lengths of time, reaching toward perfection.

To complicate matters, Tillison has written an extremely detailed if rather psychedelic story about his encounters with some black-op security forces here: https://www.thetangent.org/index.php/read/the-kalman-filter

Tillison is best known—especially to Americans—as the fountainhead and touchstone of all thing The Tangent related.  But, he’s responsible for a number of other groups and projects as well: including, most recently, Tangekanic, as well as Parallel or 90 Degrees and a number of solo albums (Fog, Murk, Electric Sinfonia, and Durch).

Continue reading “The Mischievous Red-Headed One is Back (Tillison’s KALMAN FILTER)”