Category Archives: Interviews

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HALF PAST FOUR: Not Another Female-Fronted Band

Half Past Four have been around long enough to become an intriguing subject. Having released two albums under their belt, this Russian-Canadian female-fronted combination breathes in “interesting” in progressive rock, while successfully escaping from any clichés. We conducted an interview with the band as a result of their recent participation on our latest Progstravaganza compilation.

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You were formed in 2005, but it took three years to release your debut album “Rabbit in the Vestibule”. Did you know since your beginnings what direction will you choose in your music? What did you want to achieve?

We were consciously making progressive music since the beginning. We all had different genres and influences that came together to make a more signature sound, but we knew the direction we were going in.

Three of the band members are coming from Eastern Europe. I am interested to hear how did you guys come up together? How did it go with forming the band? Why name Half Past Four?

Constantin and Dmitry met while playing in a cover band in the Russian Toronto scene and met Igor soon after and they began forming their sound. Kyree joined a year later and we have gone through many drummers over the years.

It wasn’t that much emphasized back in the golden era of progressive rock, but it seems that with entering the new millennium, more female singers decide to try their luck in progressive rock. Kyree, what is your look on that?

I think it’s great to evolve, especially, in this case, concerning women breaking into places where men tend to hold court for various reasons. It’s more fun with both chromosome combos involved in my opinion. I am not sure why there weren’t as many women in prog rock back in the 70’s but there were certainly important contributions from artists such as Kate Bush, Lindsay Cooper (Henry Cow), Sonja Kristina (Curved Air) and Annie Haslam (Renaissance) and many more. Today there are a notable amount of women playing in, and fronting progressive rock bands. At this point it’s more about what idea they project as a singer or genre that they sing in rather than if they exist at all. I’d like to see more women behind the instruments now!

Rabbit in the Vestibule was released in 2008. I have to admit it’s kind of a weird title for the album. Why did you choose to name it like that? What can you tell us about the story of this record?

The music on Rabbit is a stew of old and new ideas and represented by not only what we started out with musically, but also where we ended up composition-wise. We wanted very much to tie it all in together as a concept, and that is when the idea began to take shape of a vestibule, or anti-room that lead to many doors, the navigation is left to the listener but because the songs were varied and unusually matched, the character of a rabbit – a skittish and random creature hopping from room to room took shape. So, the Rabbit in the Vestibule leads you to each song experience and this is realized by the sound of doors opening and closing between songs.

Rabbit in the Vestibule

You put out three videos off the Rabbit in the Vestibule album. How much this visual segment is important to you?

Nowadays artists tend to use more than one form of expression to channel their art and because videos are a common extension for music we naturally wanted to use videos to further our storytelling and meaning behind our songs as well as give the listener an idea of how we looked playing and our sense of humour.

Could you explain a bit more about the Spinal Tap-like issue?

Since the beginning we have had a hard time keeping drummers around – one per year for a while – which is approximately the amount of time it takes to learn our music! We are happy to finally have Marcello. No sign of combustion as of yet. He’s hot but does not burn!

In early 2012, drummer Marcello Ciurleo joined the band and you were all set and ready to proceed with recording of your sophomore album Good Things, released this year. The album is adorned with more original ideas and instrumental perfectionism and it really shows a big step forward. How satisfied are you with the meal you served with this effort? How was it in kitchen?

The chefs are happy! The great reviews and opinions we have received since the release have been overwhelmingly positive and make us feel very proud of our hard work. We love making music and are very pleased that people enjoy the fruits of our musical kitchen!

Have you listened to any other songs off the Progstravaganza sampler? Anything that you like?

Yes! We are particular fans of or friends Wilton Said who we have played with several times here in Toronto. He is great! We also love Modest Midget!!!

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“Rise”, taken from your new album is the part of our Progstravaganza 13 compilation. It features a part reminiscent of the 60’s surf rock. What can you say about this song in particular?

The first intention behind Rise was to create something emotional and epic and exciting. Iggy wrote some passages that the band added to and it became very clear that it needed a meaningful lyric that matched its grandness and intensity, but also had a bit of tongue in cheek humour. The lyrics are meant to be a juxtaposition between baking a loaf of bread and being pregnant. I liked the idea of a song about baking bread being taken to such a height of dramatic complexity in the music, and I thought it should be interchangeable with a truly grand and complex idea.

What are your future plans?

Our plan is to play as much as possible and probably to spend the winter writing new music, as we tend to do. Our hope is that our music is enjoyed by many people all around the world, our fanbase continues to grow and flourish and that we get the opportunity to play in Europe one day.

MIDNIGHT MOODSWINGS & SEISWORK: Organic Syntheticism

Midnight Moodswings originated as an increment from the confusion that Radio for the Daydreamers have created previously. Embracing darker side, with emphasized melancholic element and syntheticism created by a Belgian DJ & producer Seiswork, Midnight Moodswings have forged an EP entitled „The Dopamine Recursive“ which serves as an ouverture to the project’s debut full-length release  „The Surrogate Piano“.

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The Dopamine Recursive EP is a collaborative project between Midnight Moodswings and Seiswork. How did you guys come up to work together?

Aki: I got introduced to Seiswork’s music through youtube and immediately contacted him for a collaboration or some remixes. That pretty much got us talking about art and music more and more and I realized that we have a similar approach to art, just different styles. Seiswork worked on a remix for “Wasted Faces” first and I immediately fell in love with that track. Since then, he has worked on a few remixes for RftD and Midnight Moodswings.

We were talking about writing a record together for a while but we wanted to set a story, or at least an outline of one, before we started writing music. That involved a lot of discussion and reading up on things but since we were both fine with that, we were a lot more confident about the writing. I would say that is why it was a very organic process to work with Seiswork, since we both like to take our time with the writing process.

Can you tell us something more about the creating process of the EP? How did it go?

Clem: The creation of this collaboration was all done over internet because we haven’t got the possibilities to meet in flesh and blood. We talked a lot on Facebook, shared sounds and our opinions on Soundcloud and it worked well. Gradually, we adopted work habits that organically evolved and we started to develop a good work rate. Specifically, Aki sent me stems of acoustic instruments, and after I add synthetic sounds like beats, I modify the instrumental sounds, and I add some soundscapes that fit well with the rest. The creation mainly involved exchanging of ideas, and we were always honest about what we felt concerning the work of the other.

The way I see this collaboration between MM and Seiswork is that Midnight Moodswings brought in everything what is organic and on the other side Seiswork’s goal was to bring some sort of syntheticity. Would you agree on this? Is that what you wanted to achieve?

Aki: In a broad sense, that is correct. Seiswork is responsible for the percussion throughout the record, which ended up being some of my personal favourite beats. But since we both understood the creative freedom we had, he added a whole “soundscape” section to the record that included field recordings, white noise, recording silence et cetera. That was something that Midnight Moodswings welcomed dearly, since it added a completely different aspect to the record. So in a way, we were both responsible for the organic side of the record because we would have never thought of something like that. Furthermore, Seiswork also had a huge influence on the artwork and the final master of the record. Even though we were responsible for the creation process, but the shaping and concluding of those ideas were through Seiswork. It was a collaborative project in every sense.

Aki, it’s said that Midnight Moodswings is an increment on all the confusion and seclusion you created with Radio for the Daydreamers. How would you compare these two projects? Do you see this increment as an upgrade of the RtfD sound or a totally new experiment?

Aki: The two projects are incredibly different not just with the approach towards the art, but also with little things like the storytelling style, instrumentation et cetera.

Radio for the Daydreamers is a place where we get to truly experiment with sounds and instruments. There is always an overlaying story for both the bands, but we have a lot more freedom with RftD. So with each record, there are a lot of genres that we go through. Sometimes Jazz describes a feeling that trip-hop cannot. Why not use all the faculties we have to express the chaos in our head?

Midnight Moodswings, on the other hand, is a lot more uniform. A lot of people have been misconstruing this uniformity with “maturing” or an “upgrade” but I am afraid Midnight Moodswings is just a different manifestation of our art.

RftD is our playground where we try things that we wouldn’t while scoring a film or writing a soundtrack. Both the bands have a cinematic approach to the art but Midnight Moodswings is more of a soundtrack while RftD is the score.

The visual components of the two bands are very different as well. With RftD we usually had 1 or 2 official music videos for each record, while Midnight Moodswings is completely different in that regard. There are a lot of video projects with Midnight Moodswings, that will be concluded in the coming weeks. While RftD is a lot more mysterious in that respect.

Furthermore, the music we make as RftD is a lot more live oriented. So when we play live, RftD songs are a lot more interesting and therefore fun to play. While Midnight Moodswings is a lot more cinematic and personal music. Records best enjoyed after everyone around you goes to sleep.

Midnight Moodswings & Seiswork - The Dopamine Recursive - 5. When You Cannot

Where do you draw your inspiration for Midnight Moodswings? The music is certainly deep and mysterious. How much of your personality reflects on the music?

Aki: There is really no direct inspiration for any of the art we make. It is always a synergy of little things we pick up here and there. I could name some bands that we were engrossed in while working on Midnight Moodswings, but that would be futile.

I would say a lot of our inspiration comes when we add limits like minimalism, piano-based melodies et cetera. That is not to say that other artists do not inspire us. There are some bands that have inspired our lives through and through and that might or might not show up in our art. But to be specific would be unfair to the artists I cannot remember at this time.

We aren’t trying to be deep or mysterious. We are just trying to emphasize the point that the art is a lot more important than the artist. So our personality is something that we do not actively consider or let influence our art. In the realms of being artists, the art has always shaped our personality and not the other way around. I feel like I am a new person for each record I work on. There are new things that I learn and implement not only in the art, but in life as well.

Did you guys work together on songs from The Dopamine Recursive or you sent tracks to Clem who did his part of the job? The cohesion in the EP’s flow is truly remarkable.

Aki: Thank you so much! I am glad you think that. I would say the cohesion depended a lot on the song. Some tracks were pretty straightforward to work on, while some took a lot longer (through trial, (t)error and adjustments) than anticipated. Usually, we shared ideas first and then talked about the instrumentation and what we were trying to achieve with the song. Which is exactly why we wanted to cover the story behind the record before we started writing. That way, every time we got stuck we knew exactly where to go.

It is always a great time working with artists that are as enthusiastic about creation as we are, if not a little more. Seiswork is one of those artists and that was pretty apparent right from the start. That would probably be why the flow of the whole process worked out well.

Aki, the artistic side of the project seems very important to you. And it seems that you are obsessed with the fractal art. What does it represent to you? Where do you see the connection between the music and this artistic segment of Midnight Moodswings?

Aki: Fractal art is something that has consistently helped my expression. I studied Chaos Theory in school and got introduced to, and eventually incredibly fascinated with fractals. I guess the fact that I had an option of bringing mathematics to my art, this was bound to happen.

There is a sense of distraction that these fractals provide because instead of an understanding, they provide abstraction. And over the years with RftD and now Midnight Moodswings, it has become a staple for us. Something that everyone approaches differently and takes away something different from. That is exactly what I aim to achieve with it. I think if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that means the “beautiful” should be everywhere. So it is not the “beautiful” we should be looking for, it’s the beholder, a way to see the “beautiful.”

With the fractal art, I am not trying to show what’s beautiful, I’m trying to listen to the stories of the beholder that finds this beautiful.

Sometimes it isn’t that apparent and other times it is. Instead of ascribing an overlaying idea to the art and letting that shape it as with our music or literature, fractal art is where I get to allow the art to tell the story. That is something incredibly powerful and beautiful and that is exactly where I see its connection with the music.

Let’s talk a bit about your work with Seiswork, Clem. How long have you been in this kind of „business“?

Clem: I started using music softwares in 2001, but I was young and I didn’t know if I wanted to involve myself professionally in music. At the end of my high school studies I decided to study experimental music in an art school. So I studied electroacoustic music in the Conservatory of Mons (near Brussels) until 2011. After that I started to make professional things for myself and I tried to do some serious collaborations with other musicians and artists (filmmakers, video makers, …). I shared my music for free until this year. Now, I am trying to find record labels that distribute music through platforms like ITunes, Juno Records, Spotify, … but this is pretty hard for starting without having a name in the electronic music scene. Aki was the first artist  with whom I worked towards making a record. Before that, I worked with two friends where we made music for fun and did DJ sets that included mixing Drum&Bass in underground places in the south of Belgium (2008-2012). The name of this group is DJZU or “Dites Jesus”, they still do stuff together. I also did collaborations with other people before 2012 but it did not give a lot of results.

Penses Ameres

You are about to release an EP called Penses Ameres on Hopskotch Records. Is this your first official release? I know that you’ve been involved with many projects. What else is in the pipeline?

Clem: Yes, this is my first official release. My music was already released in record labels but it was only on compilations. The four pieces of this EP were created from an experimental work, this is a sort of IDM with abstract hip hop beats and weird sounds. I have one project waiting: a new EP created like “Pensees ameres” (from an experimental work) but this time it is more drill&bass and drumstep oriented. I just have to propose it to record labels. This summer, I’m working with instrumental musicians (a pianist, a viola player and a guitarist) to create ambient works for making a physical EP. In addition, I’m planning to create a little movie about schizophrenia but this will be a big project and I’m only at the beginning.

Aki, there is a video for the song „Only You Can Heal“ taken from the Midnight Moodswings’ debut album „The Surrogate Piano“ which is to be released some time soon. Comparing with the work off the Dopamine Recursive and judging by this song, it’s obvious that you are pursuing a different direction. How come? What can we expect from the album?

Aki: Pretty much from the start, we decided that Midnight Moodswings would be more or less the antithesis of RftD. Especially when it came to structuring the records. Uniformity is certainly something that we want to approach each record of this project with, but in that we want to change things. Therefore “The Surrogate Piano”, while uniform in itself, is a lot different than “The Dopamine Recursive”. One of the things that makes the former different is the fact that it is very lyrically driven, unlike “The Dopamine Recursive”.

The uniformity, on the other hand, comes in the instrumentation of the records. They are a lot richer in sound than RftD. We are using a lot more acoustic instruments with Midnight Moodswings. Even though “The Dopamine Recursive” was mainly electronic, “The Surrogate Piano” stays away from that and includes a lot more acoustic and organic sounds.

Have you had any chances to check some other bands from our new Progstravaganza sampler? Anything you like?

Aki: I have only had the chance to listen to “Le Reverie” and “Lion Farm” so far. Both have put out some really interesting music. I aim to listen to the rest of the bands soon but as of now, those are the only 2 I am familiar with.

Do you think that you guys will be working on another collaborative project in the near future?

Aki: There is a lot on our plate right now. “The Surrogate Piano”, a little solo-project for me, and then the next RftD record. But I am sure we will be doing some collaborations in the near future.

Clem: I think we have the opportunity to have a good understanding of each other and good working methods when we do music together. So yes it is quite possible that a new collaboration will be put in place in the future.

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AXIAL LEAD: Following The Lead

Bucharest based progressive/avant-garde metallers Axial Lead are set to release their first full-length album entitled Of Infamous Credentials this October. Having them featured on Progstravaganza 13 brought us to conduct an interview with the band, talking about their vision, influences, progressive music in 2013 among other things. Take a look below for the full interview and follow the lead!

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You are coming from Bucharest in Romania and by your own words you create progressive/avant-garde metal. Let us know something more about your beginnigs.

Well, only two of us are from Bucharest and we’ve been friends since high school, but it was kind of an accident how Axial Lead began.

We’ve all attended either design or architecture universities, and it was there that we all came together without any auditions or plans for the future. We hung out for a while; doing anything but music, while time was getting shorter and shorter, as the end of our studies was nearing. You might think it’s not such a big deal, but one of us had come for his studies all the way from Ecuador, and losing him wasn’t an option, so we started working intensively on our music, hoping that our group will somehow survive. Many experiences brought us closer together, and come 2011 everything fell into place when we finally had a name and a sound.

Now the college days are over and we’re still here, calling ourselves progressive, not only because of our sound, but also because of the nature of our collaboration. Somebody said we’re avant-garde and we liked it, because we could have never expected things to happen this way, and we still have no idea of what will come, although we have  big plans for our music.

Which artists/bands have influenced your work? How much of that influences is reflected on your music?

Sometimes it’s just surprising how different our opinions on a certain matter can be, almost to the point of ass-kicking, but we consider this to be our best and strongest feature, and it is also valid when it comes to our influences.

Since we’ve met, we kind of grew up together, and we found there is never a single right answer or solution to any problem, so we learned to work as one. Because of this, even if our personal preferences range from Michel Camilo to Rainbow, Rick Wakeman, Sikth, Cynic, Spock’s Beard, Beastie Boys, Paco de Lucia and many others, it doesn’t really matter what one person likes or wants, because it will always be filtered through everyone else’s interpretation and in the end it will have only a slight taste of the initial idea, but a full Axial Lead sound.

We’ve been told that our songs have an evocative and visual, ambient-like nature, and we think this is because our visual-arts background is a very strong influence.

When you are in the studio, do you already have all the structures of songs or there is always some space for additional experimentation and tweaks?

We’ve spent a lot of time on the preproduction, and we’ve recorded some DIY demos for all the songs on the upcoming album. Most of them were 100% completed by the time we started recording, even if some of the older ones went through multiple structures that were all played live, and lived their own lives. When we took them to the studio, one of them, the oldest song, had nothing of the original but two, maybe three riffs. Even the name of the song had changed and it was barely recognizable.

While some of them went through severe changes, another one had little more to it when we started recording, than a general idea of what it was going to sound like, because we’ve never actually played it before. Many fragments of the song were done on the spot and the lyrics and vocals were completed long after the instruments were recorded.

Even some of the ones that were completed, are a little bit different in the album version because we can’t help meddling with them. Moreover, there are some parts that we never play the same way live, because we like a little bit of improv. Either that or the vocalist keeps forgetting his own lyrics.

It was a unanimous decision to record this album now, because we have new ideas, and if we didn’t get these songs out of the way first, we would have kept changing them indefinitely.

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Combining all these musical genres such jazz, djent, thrash, flamenco (holy grief!), power metal and funk into an entity is trully marvelous. How do you maintain to keep this hodge-podge tamed?

 It’s not so much that we want to put everything in there, as it is the fact that it just kind of happens due to the way we compose. The variation of genres is not that obvious, and there’s always a dominant, while the rest, if there are any in the same song or section, are filtered through  a common denominator, sort of speak, which is the metal. Sometimes the song just calls out for another texture of sound and we try to keep an opened mind towards what can and what can’t be integrated in that particular song. But hey, it’s just globalization in action ha ha!

 The Progstravaganza 13 features “Your Greatness To”. Why do you think this song is the best representative of your work? Tell us more on the song.

 It’s not the best representative, we just happened to like how our demo version of it sounds, and we didn’t have any of the album versions yet, so we figured what the hell, and just went with it. We don’t think that only one song can be representative, because most of them have parts that are important to us for various reasons. Our songs are bits and pieces of experiences and this one is only a fragment from the story in the album.

The last verse says: “Midway beyond the grave, there’s a broken door made of silver and snow, with handles of mercury gold.” Imagine this portal and then imagine it is at the bottom of a dried up ocean that has crystallized in huge spirals of sulphur, 4722 years after the main character escaped from prison to seek this very portal. “your greatness to” is about crossing the wasteland.

So, what’s the situation with your first full-length? It’s said that you are planning of releasing it in the fall. What can be expected?

 We’ve finished all recordings for the album and we set a date for the release in October. At first it will be available as a free download but we do plan on making a limited edition, featuring the full illustrated story from the songs, sometime in the spring of 2014. We make our own artwork and we feel there is a very important visual component to our music. We’ve started work on two music-videos of which one is an animation, and will be released together with the limited edition. The other one we plan on finishing sooner if all goes as planned.

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Do you think that progressive music in 2013 is “open-minded” enough? There are bands that certainly sound more regressive than progressive. What’s your take on this?

Maybe “regressive” is the next big thing, ha ha! You never know where the greatest change may have its roots and inspiration. For instance, the Renaissance was built on classical foundations and there is a pattern of this happening throughout history. We do agree that some bands are riding the edge of the wave, while others never even got to the ocean, but it will all change someday anyway and the world is full of paradoxes. The most anyone can hope for is to be part of the this cultural heritage. In the mean time, we take pleasure in what we do because it gives us a purpose, no matter how close or far from the edge.

There is a saying: “Take a step back so you can take a big leap forward.”

Name five albums you listened to recently

Silent Machine – Twelve Foot Ninja

Pelagial – The Ocean

A Long Time Listening – Agent Fresco

Random Access Memories – Daft Punk

Scurrilous – Protest the Hero

You had experience playing live before. Is the feedback you are getting from audience inspiring you in terms of providing more energetic performances? How does it feel being on stage with Axial Lead?

A while back, before our first performance we were very nervous, but somebody told us we could change all that, if we think of it from another perspective, because it’s all just adrenaline and it can be very very good for you. It was true, but there’s also something wonderful about feeling nervous and then realizing you’re up there by your own choice, with your closest friends, in front of people who support you. To answer the question: YES! it does help when you see a little bit of injury in the crowd ha ha! We cherish every mosh pit and sore throat.

This Fall will bring us lots of new experiences and we can hardly wait!

Thank you for the opportunity  to present our work and our upcoming first album. We’re proud to be part of Progstravaganza 13!

Follow the Lead!

Modest - Panoramic Faces - Credit Thomas Heere

MODEST MIDGET: A Very Strange Mix of Polarities

With an interesting name as it is, Modest Midget led by Lionel Ziblat bring progressive in a real meaning in the progressive rock. With an album behind them and with another set to be released, the band is to explore further. We talked to Lionel about many interesting things concerning the band.

Modest - live in Neerkant - Cafe de Muzikant

So, would you be willing to elaborate how (for God’s sake) come that you are described as rough as Paul Simon, as commercial as Ingmar Bergman and as sophisticated as Britney Spears. Mentioning all these names in the same sentence feels really weird and contradictory?

I came up with this description because its impossible to describe my music.

On the other hand I do understand that people who don’t know it need to have something to be able to “grab on to”.

I found that this description, whatever it means, triggers curiosity from the right people. Statistically speaking if you are not triggered by it, probably the music wouldn’t say much to you either, and if it does make you curious, the chances are you’ll find something meaningfull in the music. From that moment Britney Spears or Paul Simon are not so relevant anymore.

How do you look at the eclecticism in your music? Mixing so many different music styles into an entity knows to be really hard. How are you dealing with that challenge?

I don’t approach it quite this way. I just make music that comes to my head. I don’t experience it as eclectic or whatever.

In my opinion, an artist who knows how to listen (even if the music is in your head, you still have to learn how to listen to it, grab it, and make it “happen” in reality), doesn’t need to to think in terms of “lets make something special, and lets mix some Irish elements with Macedonian folklore”. You just write what you feel and hear, and the technique, knowledge and craft are there only to support your idea’s. Nothing else.

Your music is not easy to line up in any music category. What is the way you maintain to do it? How do you call what you create in terms of music styles?

You got that damn right. Its impossible to categorize and I’m pretty proud of it. As a creator you don’t spend your time putting fences around yourself or your music, putting labels on it or anything of the sort. Right the contrary. You tend to break rules & frontiers. How people call it is absolutely irrelevant to me. Anyways, the moment a style gets a name, it immediately takes out the real exciting part, at least thats how it works for me.

The fact that I keep doing it is probably because I’m either more naive that I thought, persistent or just plain nuts. Pick your choice (you may also mix among them).

Modest - Panoramic Faces - Credit Thomas Heere

A Modest Midget listener has to be one who is open to many different genres, to be open for experimentation. Would you agree on this? Due to all these challenges you are facing with, what can you tell about the people who attend your gigs? What’s their reaction on what you serve?

I have no idea and never thought about what a Modest Midget listener’s atittude should be.

However, if I think about it, in my experience the fans consist both of people who really know and love music, as well as others who just fall into it naturaly without much effort.

Why certain people like certain pieces, bands or artists remains a big mystery to me. I doubt that anyone has a plausible answer.

What’s the message of the “Rocky Valleys of dawn” song? It comes with quite meaningful lyrics (Find the beauty in whatever grim confronts you from within Rocky as it is, still in the end this is your path my friend). Tell us something more about it.

Thank you for asking.

You can see it as a little welcoming anthem that a young dad to be sings for his yet to be born son.

Imagine a young dad waiting for his kid and who’s anxiously thinking of how to help him deal with this world, with life, and to make sure he both appreciates and enjoys the beautiful moments, as well as is capable to deal with his own weaknesses.

Inside the album (which I don’t know when will be out, but hopefully within the next months), the song is part of the cycle of life.

The album is called ‘Crysis’ and it deals with the aches and joys of a life span, or of any chapter in life. The beginning, the middle and the end, which is often a beginning of something new. This song is the third track, right after two tracks that metaphorically deal with the making of a baby and the belly afterwards.

The spectre of the Modest Midget influences is interesting, ranging from Gentle Giant to Queen to Steely Dan and further more to Bartok and Stravinsky. When writing new music, do you usually listen to such heterogenous music on purpose?

No. As I said before as far as my personal creation goes; the music I make as an artist, I don’t ever sit and plan what to listen to in order to “cook” a specific kind of music.

In my case – this is going to be an extensive answer so if you get bored fast, don’t read it –  I heard and learned every noto of the Beatles when I was between 7 to 12 years old. In the background at home there was a lot music too, South American (Chicoa Buarque, Jobim, Leguizamon & Piazzola) as well as Dixieland, Choral music, sympnies and piano concerto’s of the Classical guys (Talking about Haydn till Beethoven). I later discovered Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan etc. and was fascinated by a bunch of very notable groups which are now described as Progressive Rock, but which originaly had no category. Somebody gave me two albums by Emerson Lake & Palmer and I absolutely loved it. Then it was Yes, King Crimson, Genesis & Gentle Giant. Many Israeli artists were also very influential, like Matti Caspi and Kaveret (rings any bell?).

After discovering Frank Zappa I didn’t know where else to turn and I found the answer in the modern classical world; from Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky & Bartok to Schnitke and Mauricio Kagel.

Nowadays I hardly listen to any kind of Pop music unless there’s some special incentive. If I ever do any recreational listening its to artists for which I have big regard as composers or who are great “troubadours” like Chico Buarque.

 The Great Prophecy of a Small Man

Your first album named “The Great Prophecy of a Small Man” received very good reviews from the media. How satisfied you are with its reception in general? When you look at it now, is there anything you would love to change on the record?

As often is the case, I worked my ass off on the album and I like it the way it is. Nowadays I would have more experience with production, but I realy can’t complain.

The only thing I would have loved to be different is if I had the means to promote it more massively. I’m sure there are many more people out there who could enjoy it.

Your new album is called Crysis and it’s about to be released. Reading the press release, you say that it’s more eccentric than debut. Make parallel between these two records. What is it that makes Crysis more eccentric?

I don’t know exactly what it is but listening to it now that its ready (it only needs to be mastered and I want to think carefully how I want to publish it), its a very strange mix of polarities. A lot of fun but a lot of strain as well, a few very delicate tunes and a few which are extremely assertive, some very straightforward and catchy melodies as opposed to others that are quite wild.

There is no way under the sun to be able to compare the two albums. I think you hear that its still Modest Midget, but its completely different. In a good way I hope.

It’s said that you composed music for different orchestras and productions, working with Holland Symfonia and Wouter Hamel. Besides, one of the movies your wrote the soundtrack for called Footnote was nominated for the Oscar. What can you tell us about this side of your personality? Is Modest Midget in some way escape from that other Lionel Ziblat?

First let me correct something essential about your question. I DID NOT compose the music for Footnote. My very good friend and talented composer Amit Poznansky wrote that, and he did a marvelous job!

What I did was give him a hand with orchestrating because I have a lot of experience doing that and because I studied it for many years. Orchestration, as opposed to composition, is the art of implementing the music into an orchestra. Knowing how to write for the different instruments, and how to make it mix properly. Its a technical as well as an artistic craft, but in this case it was more technical because Amit knew what he wanted to hear. I just happen to know how to take a brass section of 8 players and make them “kick ass”, in a way that still allows the strings and the woodwind sections to come out.

In relation to your question in general, Modest Midget is as much a retreat compared to writing for chamber ensembles, as composing for classical groups is a reatreat from Modest Midget. When you’re married, is your job a reatreat from your family or is your family a retreat from your job? I think that having two or more polars allows you to charge yourself with some extra energy and they indirectly feed and inspire each other. This is why my company is called Multi-Polar Music.

What the future holds and whats your favourite beer?

The last year has I was totaly consumed by producing the new album.

I’m actualy looking forward to do something different in the near future. Writing another piece for a chamber ensemble is definitely in the air, and as you mentioned above I do write more and more music for film, and thats a craft I’m still learning to master.

My favorite beer is actualy Port. I love a good wine with a good meal, but Port is my favourite drink.

I don’t like beer that much I’m sorry to say. Thanks for the interview and thank you all for reading!

CORVUS STONE: Funny Moments and Wrong Noises

With members divided by the Atlantic Ocean, multi-national project Corvus Stone still succeeded in making a record that would make many bands that have real studio chemistry ashamed. The self-titled album was released in 2012 and it received many positive reviews. We talked to Colin and Pasi about the debut, their new album and their look at the progressive rock scene among many other things.

Corvus Stone

Corvus Stone is a multinational collaborative group, but the core of the project is comprised of Pasi Koivu, Petri Lindstrom and you. How did you guys go about working on Corvus Stone?

Colin: Pasi and I were in contact for some time, due to connections with Black Widow. It started out as a little fun, when Pasi sent me a piece to add guitar to. I have never heard anyone come up with music like Pasi does. He is a rare talent and it was very challenging for me to get my head around what he does. The results are never like any other single band really. We both come at music from opposite ends of the prog spectrum. Petri heard what we did and said he would love to play bass on it. When he did that, we were blown away. He is really a virtuoso. So we have continued in the same way. After 3 tracks in the can, we said we need to do an album. We didn’t change how we do anything. Whoever “writes” the initial piece, knows it will change greatly by the time we have all added our own ingredients to the recipe. The unusual thing up till now is that nobody in the band has ever disliked even one section of all the music. We  are very open minded and enjoy what the others add, however crazy and unexpected it is.

We met Blake Carpenter (The Minstrel’s Ghost), very late in the process and he told us he would love to add some vocals to The Ice King and another track or two. What better way to gain a band member than someone who asks? He did an amazing job and when we recorded the Black Widow cover track as a bonus on the album, he was perfect. The main Black widow guys said he improved it from the original. It is not easy to sing on Corvus Stone but now he is in!

Pasi: It was a nice accidental thing, really. I had a badly recorded idea for a thing that became the song called “Iron Pillows”. I felt it sounded more guitar oriented than the music I had previously recorded myself. It had some challenges and tempo changes so it was natural to ask Colin to record some guitar on it as I saw he was back into making music! Thankfully Petri heard the basic version and suddenly he was in!

How hard it was during the creating process considering that other members were at different locations? Do you think that if all of you were together in the studio the album would take other direction? Who was in charge of the project?

Colin: Pasi is more “switch on and go” than I am. He plays in the moment, I believe. He composes and the variations of what he comes up with are staggering. Then I think he plays much of it live. He will often then play another keyboard jamming with the first. So he tends to achieve a very live sounding, impressive result. I am very different. I work very closely with what he has done. It can take me hours to hit on ideas that work. If we were in rehearsal rooms doing this, I would miss the mark every time. I tend to take an orchestral approach I think. So I tame it in a way and that is not going to happen if I play in the moment. People who listen to the album once, think we sound like we are jamming often. They are wrong. Spend time with it and you hear very specific melodies and hooks. None of it is an accident. Petri is also a composer and he has the ability to really think about a piece and add something that lifts it to a whole new level. He can also just go for it!

If we had worked on this first album in a studio, it would be different. Almost certainly, not as good. Now tho’, we have a drummer!

Our drummer, Robert Wolff (USA), only joined us towards the end of the recording. For him, it would be good to be in the same room arranging all this music. He is a great drummer with a lot of experience and near misses in the professional world. Steve Morse supported Robert’s band for example. Ha!

Nobody is in charge but I am doing the production, so I tend to shape the sound but nothing is final till we all like it. One thing I know. If any one of us was replaced, it would be a very different sounding band.

Pasi: I feel it was fun and very easy. It sounds like we are in a studio together – I don’t know why? It has to be chemistry. We are all in charge but I must admit Colin did a huge work by producing and mastering the entire album. He also handles most of our publicity. Another important member is Sonia Mota who created the artwork. Suddenly we also had Robert Wolff and Blake Carpenter with us and it was beginning to sound really great to my ears! Blake and Robert are virtuosos as well. We don’t have too many songs with vocals but when we have it sounds really great and Blake also creates amazing lyrics.

For me personally your self-titled debut album presents rather a sonic journey than just another music album. 24 songs in total, including three bonus tracks are really a massive collection knowing that the album was recorded the way you did it. How long did you work on it?

Colin: It actually didn’t take long. We didn’t decide to make an album till about march 2012 and it was all effectively done by September 2012. The mixing is always what takes the time and that was happening on the fly and then of course during October for the release. We all had other musical projects running at the same time.

The way the album sounds is kind of live, even tho it isn’t. The reason is because we all like to keep the funny moments and “wrong” noises, if they work. Listen to the track “Corvus Stone” and you will hear a cough. That was me. I had the mic on by accident. When I heard it, it sounded great, just where it landed. I panned it and kept it! There are moments where the guitar is too loud or the bass gets out of control. We don’t like to iron music to death. Keep the fun in there but still be precise with the main body of the music and deliver a professional and pleasing album. The fact is that if we had gone to anybody else to mix it, much of that would have been lost. I know this from experience.

We are not fans of compressing the hell out of music. We want the dynamics and the mid-range. So it has its own sound, or maybe a little retro.

Pasi: That’s nice to hear (now I’m really looking for our 2nd album to be completed and I already feel it’s an improvement). We worked few months with the music. I didn’t feel it was work for me – it was like a dream!

CD Cover Hi-res

Pasi has composed all the tracks on Corvus Stone except „Cinema“, which is on our new compilation. Tell us more on this piece.

Colin: I think Pasi has found that Corvus Stone was the band he always wanted and cannot stop writing. Nevertheless, it is important to say that if we told Pasi that Petri and I will compose all the tracks on album 2, he would not mind at all. Like us, he is enjoying the collaboration. Petri wrote the piece Cinema and thought it perfect for us. He sent us that demo. Pasi re-recorded the keys and even percussion, then sent  5 chunks of music to me, which was effectively a Pasified Cinema. The key melodies and ideas of Petri’s were all there. I then glued the pieces together (One of them became the short opening track of the CD). I added all the guitars and it became obvious to me that it was a very special piece. The version on Progstravaganza, is just the finale and happens to be my favourite 6 minutes on the album.

Pasi: Petri sent me this piece and I think he originally wanted me to just use the piano intro he had on his old demo. Then I thought I could use the whole thing and make an arrangement by using Petri’s chords and notes. It became a very guitar oriented track and I’m happy for that! Some extended soloing by Colin and even a bass solo by Petri!

Are you satisfied with the reception of Corvus Stone album?

Colin: I am amazed really. The reviews mostly are beyond anything we expected. There is a problem tho. Few take the time with anything that doesn’t sound like something they heard before. Many listen to half a track and think.. ok.. jazz funk and move on. Many say it is too long. No idea what that means! We don’t plan to sell less music for the same money, just because some reviews say we should. So far, nobody who heard the album a few times has anything but great comments. It is a grower. The reviews tell us we did good and that what we did should stand the test of time.

Pasi: Yes I am! You can’t please everyone. During the last few weeks we suddenly had many great reviews by the critics who didn’t know us at all. Of course there are some not so good reviews as well but many of those critics still find some good things on our music.

What is Corvus Stone’s relationship to the progressive rock genre and your opinion on its future?

Colin: I am the guy that loved Pink Floyd without needing drugs! I was raised on progressive music but it had no label. The electric guitar and most keyboards are very recent inventions, so much of what we heard on the radio way back in the 60s, was effectively progressive. The Beatles dragged everyone kicking and screaming in to prog. It was a lucky break for us all because they were so famous. The normal world allowed real art and totally new sounds to create the landscape of that era. It happened in the UK and doors were even opened for non UK musicians  ..Hendrix and Focus for example. There has never been a time like it since. From Deep Purple in rock to Dark side of the moon. All of it on mainstream radio and TV. It became possible to earn a living, with strange and wonderful music because people actually enjoy it. That was the key. We all need to earn money.

The internet has created thousands of Steve Vais. It became the new cool extreme sport. So prog and complex music is now cool to young people because they can get involved. It also showed that music is inside everyone and the skill and determination out there is fabulous to see.

The future of varied and amazing music is limitless. Can we earn any money doing it? Not so far! It was never easy for musicians but it feels better now than it has for over 30 years.

Will it ever be allowed in the mainstream again? I thought Muse or even Porcupine tree could help cause it but so far it hasn’t happened.

Pasi: I never try to compose progressive rock. Maybe it’s because of our natural playing style people automatically think we are “prog”? Maybe we are? You must remember we have many influences on our music. We have weird things and the next song could have catchy melodies and hooks! The genre you mention has a great past and future, no doubt.

How did you start playing music, and what other experiences did you have prior starting Corvus Stone?

Colin: I was in the band “Odin of London” in the 80s. We gigged for 3 years. The climate for good music was at an all time low and we gave up. Three of us formed BunChakeze and recorded an album, totally independently. Unusual then but it failed to get the attention of any record company. I stopped playing for 25 years! Restarted in 2010 by releasing the BunChakeze album and later, Pasi forced me into this mad world of Corvus Stone!

Pasi: For me it was piano at the age of seven. I’m a guy who quit playing for many years. I had a fun project Metal Plankton with my friend (he now records extreme metal with his project Ofghost – he’s very good on what he is doing). I learned to use Internet and became friends with Clive Jones from the 1970′s UK band Black Widow and helped a bit to find their 1970 film and I also has a pleasure to be in touch with Tony Martin (ex-Black Sabbath) during the time Black Widow managed to have him to guest on their 2011 comeback album! I bought my current keyboard in 2009 and between 2010 and 2011 I released three limited edition solo Cd’s as Pasi Koivu ~ Psychedelic Eye.

What music do you usually listen to? Tell us something about your influences.

Colin: Progressive. Almost 100% of the time. I have seen almost all the greats at the right time. Alice Cooper(first london gig), The wall 1980 and 1981, Tales of Topographic oceans(opening week). Wakeman on ice!!! So I am influenced by all from Floyd and Yes to uriah Heep and Camel. I discovered Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater in the 90s. Since then, I have seen all the new greats many times. Pain of Salvation is a big fave! I discovered Al DiMeola in the 70s – OMG!!  Al, Vai and Zappa got me through the 80s.

Pasi: I wish to find more time to listen to music. My influences are everything I hear. It might be Black  Sabbath’s “Sabotage” or Jean Sibelius. If I’m going to compose something and it has to be good I have to listen to something like Quatermass first.

As a keyboardist I love what Keith Emerson did on the ELP album “Brain Salad Surgery” (1973). Our drummer Robert almost plays like Carl Palmer did on that album!

Have you ever thought of bringing the project on stage?

Colin: Yes we have. We all agree it could only be done if we would not lose money. It has to be right and we would love to do it. We need to focus on the albums first I think.

Pasi: Never say never. Our music is like a musical. We don’t have two songs that sound alike. A visual project would be nice as well?

Do you have anything new in the pipeline?

Colin: We seem to have enough for more than 2 albums already. Some of it almost complete and some waiting for the drummer to get studio time and much of it waiting for me (I am completing the Oceans 5 album right now). This time, we have a drummer fully in the band, so he is influencing the music in a very good way. He actually created two of the new tracks. We played to him. Now that is fun!

Pasi: Personally I have recorded twice for The Airwaves (the band from Sweden). The latest song was called “Paperpile” and I really loved the catchy hooks they created on that song. I hope the song will be released soon.

Corvus Stone has so many new songs at the moment. The stuff is so much more exciting than on the first album! This time we know what we are doing. I’ve written many songs but they don’t sound like the stuff on the debut album. Petri has given us great stuff! He just signed a deal with Melodic Revolution Records for his band Progeland and still he gave us at least six great songs! Colin gave us great acoustic stuff sand even Robert started two new songs!. I wish we had more time (I’m not a professional musician myself). Blake is as good as always as you can hear on “Purple Stone”. We have Andres Guazzelli guesting on that song and maybe we’ll have some more guest stars on the next album as that happened on the first album as well (we had Stef Flaming on “JussiPussi” – we also had Victor Tassone and John Culley on “You’re So Wrong”).

Karcius - Photo 3

KARCIUS: Creators of Evolution

Karcius emerged in early 2000’s and since its inception the band managed to keep a constant progress, keeping the indelible mark established with their debut Sphere. After ten years and four albums, these Montrealers are determined to change the face of progressive music in the new millennium. Where will that takes us all, let’s find in the interview with the band’s guitarist Simon L’Esperance.

Karcius - Chairs

Karcius was formed in 2003 and for ten years you released four albums. Can you clearly see the progress you managed to make between these records? If you compare your debut „Sphere“ with the latest record „The First Day“, how much did you change your approach when working on new music?

Yes in fact it’s a major evolution. We started as very young players and we evolved a lot as musicians and as human beings too. We created this project to follow the steps of bands like Liquid Tension Experiment and Bozio Levin Stevens, even Return to Forever, for 3 albums we were more focused on a fusion between any style we liked. It was a band with no boundary. In 2009 we hired Sylvain Auclair to replace Dominique Blouin on bass. We were looking for a change of direction at that time so Sly just got in and was also an incredible signer. Two for one ! He has a enormous background in prog, rock and metal so it so the fit was right on. We wanted something more fluid and less complex in a way so it turned out we were songwrtting more than we actually compose instrumentaly. I think it’s a great turn for us and for the purpose of our music.

Comparing „The First Day“ with previous album „Episodes“, I would say that art rock element is more emphasized on the new album. Did it come on purpose or as a natural shifting?

It was totally in purpose. We were looking for a sound alike Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel and even The Beatles. We wanted a music with more space and more ambiances. Something where the listenner can travel and can be moved in different moods and emotion. I am really influenced as a record producer by Daniel Lanois and he uses the term « sonic landscapes » I love the image. I think the shift in the music was in purpose but the changes are very natural and guided by our evolution as musicians too.

Though you try to make a balance within the instrumentation on „The First Day“, piano parts navigate the album course. How do you go about composing in general? Do you usually bring your own pieces and work together on them ?

This album is based on a 4 days jam we made in a beatiful place in the woods.We got together and created a lot of the ideas you hear on this album. We worked a lot more on this but the basic ideas were there. We usually work together some riffs or melodies someone bring, it’s really rare someone brings a final idea in this band. It’s always been a 4 pice band with 4 brains working together. This is the essence of Karcius :Friendship and creativity. We do not calculate the space of each other in the record we just go for the music.

Karcius First Day Cover

Let’s  talk about the influences everyone of you brings in the Karcius’ music. We can hear tons of classic 70’s progressive rock, hard rock, classic rock, metal, ambient, even funk.

Wow, you are opening the Pandora’s box ! We have influences from classical to jazz, rock to world beat 60’ to actual music …To make it simple we love music and we love to listen to music. Let’s say Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Sting, King Crimson, Return to Forever, Foo Fighters, lot’s  of African music for rythms, lot’s of soundtracks, Steven Wilson, The Beatles, Daniel Lanois, U2 and so on….

One of the quotes taken from your press kit says that you guys are helping to bridge the gap between prog rock and jazz fusion. I agree with that, but what is going on that bridge? You have a totally new world in between that has to be explored.

I think it is a way of saying that we dont’ stick to traditionnal song forms and we blend a lot of improvisation with written music.  It’s not a new concept at all in music but bringning a jazzy twist to a heavy rock song or having some big African drums in a Pink Floyd kind of song is what we try to say in this phrase. No limits with the fusion of genres.

When working on new music, do you often see it as a challenge?

This is the most challenging thing in life. It’s really hard to find a purpose for new music, a direction, a message, a story… then it’s harder to deliver this message properly This is intense and we love it, we live for it and we love challenging each other with new ideas.

Karcius - Photo 3

You are not for the first time on the Progstravaganza sampler. We featured you guys on the fourth edition of our compilation series with the song „Purple King“ taken from 2006’s „Episodes“. On the new sampler you are featured with „Water“ (The First Day). Both songs come with sort of a laid-back vibe, with organic sound. Can you make a parallel between these two tracks ?

The producing of both records I think. We recorded all our albums at Studio Victor in Montreal. It’s our home base in a certain way. The Hammond B3, the Piano, the room, the console, the mics, I think this is were we get this sound. Thomas and me worked a lot on the producing of these records and I think you can hear our producers sound in there. Any band who would like to be produced or mixed by us can contact us anytime, we love working with new bands.

Over the years you’ve been pretty active playing live. Share a story, something interesting that happened to you while being on the road.

Last tour we did in French Guyana was amazing and quite surprising. We did the trip to play The Crescendo Guyana festival. We knew the producer but we were way far of expecting this crazy country. Bugs, heavy heat, very roots conditions, the jungle and all thèse crazy conditions.…This was the trip of a life. We made the soundcheck at around 120 degress under the sun, my pedal board just stoped working, we were totally cooking there !! I think we lost 5 pounds each this day. The show was amazing and the crowd just crazy but this stage was in the deep jungle, we never taught there would be so much people there and we just gave everything we had ! Hello to all these guys, it was unbeleivable. This is one crazy place in the world trust me !

What are your future plans?

We are currently working on some new material and I beleive we will be recording next year, we are working on a project with videos and filming. We’ll see where it’s going !

Thanks a lot for having time to answer my questions and thank you very much for being the part of Progstravaganza 13.

Thanks to you! Prog on!

traffic-experiment-group-photo

TRAFFIC EXPERIMENT: Writing Music and Lyrics as a Soundtrack

Named after a road sign in Guildford, England – Traffic Experience broke into the progressive world choosing probably best possible ways. Recording in a studio where Fairport Convention used to write their music, with Andy Jackson as a mastering engineer (who produced Pink Floyd’s „The Final Cut“ album), the band led by guitarist/vocalist Stuart Chalmers released an album that presents a sonic journey with emphasized visual character.

traffic-experiment-group-photo

What made you name your band after a road sign in Guildford? Were you in lack of names back then? I have to say that Traffic Experiment sounds really good.

I saw it written on a temporary road sign and it stuck in my head as a potential future band name. I was putting the band together years later and it had come back to me when writing one of the lines in Once More (with feeling) and I still liked it. It’s now also taken on a bit of a secondary meaning for us as we are continually trying different ways of passing our own music around, getting people to discover it.

Tell us something more about your beginnings with the band.

I’d demoed the first album at home in 2005 and was looking to put a band together to record it. After a couple of false starts I met Tom (Vincent, drums) and Simon (James White, bass), both of whom were phenomenal studio and live musicians and they were really up for doing the album. We really hit it off musically and on a personal level and Traffic Experiment was effectively born.

Your first album ”Blue Suburbia“ was recorded in (formerly) the private studio of Fairport Convention. Did you have any particular feelings knowing that this renowned band used to record their songs there?

It’s always inspiring working in a studio that you know extremely well-respected musicians have recorded in (and owned at one point). Woodworm was one of those fantastically atmospheric studios with a great history (I think Radiohead even recorded some very, very early stuff there) but it actually ended up feeling like a home from home (on and off) for a few years. Sadly, it had to close its doors a couple of years back.

“Blue Suburbia“ was recorded in 2006, but it took you four years to release it. Were you looking for a label to release it? According from what can be heard on the album, it’s pretty strong collection of tracks.

It actually took us those 4 years to finish it! The time taken was mainly down to financing it (and a lack of deadlines). We didn’t even bother trying to approach any labels and always intended to finance and release it ourselves. I’d never produced an album before so there was a lot of learning along the way. It was a fairly complex, layered record so we had to be quite efficient in the way we funded it. We recorded all the vocals, guitars, synths and effects at home (in a pretty basic studio in the back of my parents’ garage) to reduce how much we spent out on studio time. We recorded all the drums, bass, grand piano, acoustic guitars, Hammond and Rhodes in the live room at Woodworm, overdubbed the various other parts at home and then headed back to Woodworm to mix it – as and when we could afford it. We sometimes went months with nothing happening. Once mastered, we had no money left for a designer so I then spent a further nine months doing all the album artwork in my spare time before we finally released it.

traffic-experiment-blue-suburbia-album-cover

What is the story of ”Blue Suburbia“? There is definitely a lot to be heard within those 11 tracks. It’s interesting that the album creates a strong visual vibe. How did you manage to do it?

Blue Suburbia is really just about that undercurrent of suburban life that looks all fine on the outside but can be totally falling apart under the surface. It was all based on my hopes, fears and frustration of being a 20-something trying to make my way in the world for the first time as a “grown-up”.

Although it didn’t really start out as a concept album, I started to tie some of the themes (conceptually and musically) together and there did end up being a chronology to the tracks, in that they ended up being in the order that the events that inspired them took place.

I think I’m actually a bit of a frustrated film-maker and always approach making music as if producing a film, writing music and lyrics as a soundtrack to the visuals in my head. As a kid I used to listen to whole albums from beginning to end on my parents’ CD player, lying on the floor with massive headphones on and eyes shut, being totally absorbed by the music. I think when I’m writing and producing I’m always trying to recreate that.

Andy Jackson, who worked with Pink Floyd, mastered the album. How did you get in touch with him? Anything special that you heard about his involvement with Floyds?

I was looking around for a mastering engineer and noticed that Andy was now doing that commercially and, given the type of album we’d just done, he seemed the perfect choice. He had recorded Pink Floyd’s ‘The Final Cut’, still one of my favourites and (unusually) the first album that got me into the Floyd. I asked him a bit about it while I was there (knowing just about every millisecond of it) and he told me he hasn’t actually listened to it since!

Who came with the idea of covering and recording the Doctor Who theme? You named it Vashta Nerada, after a flesh-eating shadow from the TV series. Are you fans of the show? Speaking of it, how do you comment on Peter Capaldi’s getting the role of Doctor Who?

I’ve always adored the Doctor Who theme and hearing it takes me straight back to being 6 years old and watching it (I was terrified of Cybermen!). I was on the lookout for a track that we could completely rework into our own style and was watching the show and thinking how little I liked the latest incarnations of the theme. I found a clip of Peter Howell showing how he created his version for the BBC radiophonic workshop in the 80s and it set a spark off. I could suddenly hear all these Floydy type guitars, synths and vocals.

In terms of the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi is a superb actor and an inspired choice. I think he’ll be absolutely brilliant in the role.

On December 21st 2012, when everybody was in a fear of the world’s end, you guys entered the studio to record and film session of tracks from the “Blue Suburbia“ album. What was going on in your minds during the recording/filming process?

Mainly playing the songs well! It was entirely coincidental that it took place on the 21st. We picked it as the shortest day so that we could do an earlier shoot (the studio looks really atmospheric when lit up at night) – but it tied in quite nicely and provided the End of the World theme for the film.

It was quite an intense session and unlike anything we’d done before. We’d already funded the making of it through a PledgeMusic campaign and suddenly you realise people have already paid for the recording you are about to make and you really can’t afford to screw it up! It was a great experience being able to record it in Steve Winwood’s studio though.

Are you working on any new songs? When can we expect a brand new release from Traffic Experiment?

Yes. We’re busy writing the next Traffic Experiment album at the moment and hope to release that sometime in 2014. With this new album I’ve started with the whole theme first, then sketched out the song titles/chapters and have started fleshing it out from there. I think it will end up sounding much more of a single work than than the first one and am also considering that we may make a full film to go along with it.

“Once More (With Feeling)“ taken from “Blue Suburbia“ is on Progstravaganza 13. What can you say about the song? What’s the meaning behind its title?

Once More (with feeling) was a song I wrote in my first job working for a large corporation. I felt I’d been on an upward trajectory right through school and University and, now that I was in the ‘real’ world, my life had ground to a standstill. Every day had become completely unfulfilling and exactly like the day before – and all to pay the bills and just exist. I felt I had to put on an act because it was expected of me, trying harder every day to look like I enjoyed it and meant it – hence the title of the song (a reference to the old musical expression of saying: do it again but this time try and look like you mean it).

How do you see progressive rock in 2013?

There’s lots of fantastic new and interesting stuff out there at the moment and it’s great to see websites such as yours really helping promote it. Even though very little touches the mainstream radar there seems to be a massive community across all the various social media that really embrace progressive music and that can only be a good thing because it’s a genre where I think some of the most interesting and lasting music can still be made.

Traffic Experiment on the web:

http://www.trafficexperiment.net/

https://www.facebook.com/TrafficExperiment

http://www.youtube.com/user/TrafficExperiment

https://twitter.com/TraffExMusic

HellHaven

HELLHAVEN: In the Volcano of Great Prog Rock

What is art metal? Maybe the best answer on this question is checking the Polish band HellHaven, who are the part of our latest Progstravaganza sampler. We talked with the band’s guitarists and keyboard player Jakub Węgrzyn. Check the interview below.

HellHaven

How did the HellHaven story begin?

HellHaven came into existence in Myślenice in order to bring to life original and unorthodox music.

At the beginning HellHaven was inspired by bands in heavy metal or hard rock genres. This period, for us, was a quest to find our own sound, an idea for future music and creation of a strong and solid group backbone. After 12 months of writing our own original material in 2010, using our own financial expenses, we’ve created mini-album “Art for Art’s Sake”. The record was a concept album which music could be described as a combination of progressive metal and heavy metal music styles. The debut record was positively received both by critics and by fans. Thanks to the members’ commitment in the band’s activity, HellHaven music was often presented on polish radio stations.

The new sound, presented on our debut record, lead to the band’s many successes. With the start of 2011 we’ve decided to start to work on a more complex music material for the second long play record. During that time we’ve signed a contract with German record label “Legacy-Records” which allowed us more creative and technical possibilities. In 2012, after 12 months of creating new material, HellHaven registered more than 50 minutes of music dubbed progressive rock/art rock, and we’ve named it “Beyond The Frontier”. From this point we are trying to show HellHaven’s music to the whole world. As much as possible.

You describe your music as art metal. What do you mean by that? Is it art rock with metal edge or totally something new that’s known only in your terminology?

Our starting point was to put ourselves into waves of unpredictable, creative, crazy and remarkable music with no borders. We knew that this would be very hard task for us. After making new material, we’ve realized that we’ve created some kind of mixture of prog, art rock with a touch of prog metal, but not as “vintage” as people were used to known. When we were playing our first shows, some people from music magazines and radio stations couldn’t find the proper name for our music style. In fact, they describe our music as “art metal with heavy art rock influences, with a touch of post rock and native music”.  The truth is, that in our style people can find influences of heavy metal, art rock, post rock, prog rock, even polish national music and so on. Crazy mixture, that makes us quite original in this hard days (when thousands of bands plays exactly the same music). What we are proud of, is “art” in our music style. It means, that music is not just a few notes, which go through your brain, but it is also some kind of a theatrical performance that touches deeply your sensitivity.

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When I heard the „Beyond the Frontier“ album for the first time, the song Beyond the Frontier (Part 2) made a biggest impression on me. What is your favourite song off the album?

Hard to say – every song has it’s own beauty. But from my personal point of view I will choose “About Reading and Writing”. This song is quite romantic, very diverse, with beauty guitar solo, and soft, fragile vocal parts. Also it has great spatial synths. This song says “they can make something that floats above ground, flies thorough clouds” I think.

„About Reading and Writing“ off the album is also on our latest Progstravaganza compilation. Why did you pick this song for the sampler? Tell us something more about its structure and your view on it.

 Well, I think that I’ve already answered it in last question, but let me try to say something more about the purpose of choosing this song to be a sampler. This song gives you HellHaven in a nutshell. It has everything, that we’re proud of – art, prog rock elements, heavy riff, nice final solo, great vocal parts, a lot of synths… If you would like to show HellHaven in one song, I think “About Reading and Writing” would be the best choice. Of course, that is just my opinion. I know, that many people say, that Perikarion is the best mixture of what we are able to create. Also Paper Swan shows our respect to what we’ve learned after many years in the band.

On a studio report video taken from the album session, there is a moment when Marcin (bass player) „uses his head to play“. So, is it always that funny for you guys during the recording process? Anything interesting to share from the recording sessions?

Oh, a lot of funny things happened. That’s why we are still making music ! Music has to give you a lot of joy, fun and should makes your dreams come truth. During recording sessions a lot of little problems appeared. Like when we had problems with electrical current on Marcin’s bass guitar. We had to connect his head and toe by the wire to the strings, to make it ground. Funny story, but saved our… day J What is more interesting, Perikarion was played during recording session for the first time ever ! We’ve never practiced it before. But we are very proud of what we’ve done that day (well, with the support of many beers).

In the same studio report, Marcin uses to compare the song “Hesitation” with “Spanish inquisition”. Would you elaborate on that more?

I had to call Marcin directly, to make this answer as closes to the truth as can be. Marcin says, that in Hesitation, riffs are unpredictable. We could say about them, that “nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition” like nobody expects which riff suddenly appears in this song. I have to say, that sometimes we are crazy like Monty Python.

Your songs exude energy. How much of your daily life influence the music? Is the music the way of manifesting the energy you carry in yourselves?

The biggest influences were from our childhood, and what we were listening to at those times. We were growing up in hard times, just after Poland regained its independence from the rule of communist Russia. Life has taught us that in order to achieve something, you have to work very hard for it. I think that this gray reality of post-communist Poland made in us a urge to creating something, that will manifest our fresh, shiny energy, in-mind power, our new way of living, of understanding. We wanted to make something that will show to whole world that guys from Poland can do something valuable, and we are not worse than rest of the world. Nowadays we are proud to say, that Poland has one of the brightest prog and art rock bands in the world.

HellHaven

How would you describe your music in one word?

Peculiar.

Have you thought about employing any traditional instruments in your songs? I am asking this because „Beyond the Frontier“ is quite eclectic release? Any space for some classical elements in your music? Maybe soprano singing?

We wanted to do it, but our friend, Ryszard Kramarski (leader of polish art rock band Millenium), who watched over technical aspect of our recording session, said very wise words, that this album will be the better, the less people not from the band will be involved. In another words, we’ve decided to make it almost with just our own, HellHaven’s knowledge of making music. Just us, and two violinists to show people what THE BAND can really do. But in the future… yes, we will definitely ask more friends to join us with this great musical adventure.

Are you working on any new songs?

Yes, yes, yes… it is unstoppable process, that makes our life very pleasant. For now, we have two new songs that we are working on. They expand what we’ve done on “Beyond The Frontier” for sure. Those, who are familiar with our unpredictable style, will be glad. People, who like simple, short tracks, will be disappointed. New album will be another “impassable frontier” that we will cross through with a great success, I hope!

How do you see the progressive rock scene in post-2000’s?

Because I live in Poland, I will say something about our scene – from year to year polish prog rock scene is growing massively up. Month after month appears new great bands that really can create beauty music. More and more music editors from all around the world say that Poland is a volcano of great prog rock. We are so proud of that, and proud, that our music is a part of it.

At the end I would like to thank you, that you gave us possibility to present our music, to say a little bit about us, and polish rock. I hope, you will enjoy our newest album. For us the greatest reward is the listener’s smile and shivers on his/her back.

Thank you, stay prog !

Follow us on FB and say hello : https://www.facebook.com/hellhavenband

Ysma

YSMA: Forward-Going Tone Of Progressive Rock

Since I introduced myself to the Munster, Germany based instrumental progressive act Ysma 2 months ago, my enthusiasm for this band kept advancing precipitously. Their debut „Vagrant“ has been on my playlist for quite a while now and having them on Progstravaganza 13 initiated this interview with the band’s guitarist Daniel Kluger.

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Introduce yourselves!

Of course! We are four guys between 24 and 34 from Münster and Götingen (Germany) forming Ysma, an instrumental prog band: Fabian and Daniel are playing electric and acoustic guitars, there is Torge on bass and Jens on drums. We have been playing together for four years now and just released our debut record called “Vagrant“ in April.

Outside of the band, we are finishing our psychology studies (Torge, Daniel) or working as a healthcare support worker (Jens) and addiction counselor (Fabian), respectively.

And how would you describe your sound?

The sound on “Vagrant“ is a blend of different styles and genres. We equally like the aggressive, forward-going tone of progressive rock and -metal as well as the more quiet, ambience-focussed moments with a lot of room for each note. Listening to the record, you will find purely acoustic pieces next to loud, dynamic prog songs or the occasional jazz reference. Overall it is not necessarily a modern sound, as our drummer has a jazz background, for example. We also did the whole process of recording, mixing and mastering on our own. Taken together, we combine our ideas of instrumental songwriting with frequently changing dynamics throughout the songs, making sure that progressive elements will not be forced into the tracks at the expense of the atmosphere or the vibe we try to transport.

Where did your name come from? I tried googling it, but all I found was this band from Munster in Germany.

I’ll take that as a good sign ;) The name in fact has no meaning – in accordance with our instrumental approach, we wanted our band name to be a blank projection screen which would not nail us down on a certain theme. Thus, quite pragmatically, we were looking for something distinctive and decided to make up a word whose sound we liked, keeping in mind that it should be fitting to make a nice-looking logo out of it. That is how we came up with the name “Ysma“. However, there seems to be a cartoon character with a slightly different spelling that has no connection to the band at all.

You employ many different genres in your sound, how do you usually label what you do?

We usually go by “(instrumental) progressive rock“. Outside the prog community, even this label is hard to explain to someone listening to our music for the first time, so any further distinction would just make it more difficult.
The different genres that you mention show the various facets of prog or prog-related music that continue to inspire us and that we like a lot, so we kind of instinctively integrate these influences into our own music, as well. That is how there might be jazz-ish elements side by side with hints of progressive metal or fuzzy rock parts. Labelling all of this “progressive rock“ is a good way of being able to do whatever we have in mind without stepping on the toes of people who care about labels a lot more than we do ourselves.

Any bands that influenced you in particular? Is King Crimson one of them?

As in any other band, I guess, there certainly are artists or bands whose styles we particularly like. We have different musical backgrounds, but we all share our admiration for Opeth’s songwriting, for example. Tool, Porcupine Tree, Riverside and Pain of Salvation are other bands that have influenced us in our musical approach, just to name a few. When it comes to the early, classic prog bands, King Crimson would indeed be one the most influential ones to name. I’m pretty sure that if you go back one step and see who has been an example or an influence on the bands that you look up to nowadays, you might come across King Crimson on a regular basis. The fact that their music is still up to date shows you how much there is to extract from the ideas that the early prog bands brought up thirty, forty years ago.

Vagrant

„Vagrant“ is in an instrumental album and I am afraid to ask you what is its story, because the stories are usually told. But anyway, due to many dynamic changes and experimentation, it’s clearly that you want and do say a lot. So, what is that? What are you trying to show with the album?

It is true that stories are usually transported and expressed through the lyrics. In our music, the titles of the songs themselves are thought to suggest a direction of associations or imagery that we think fits in with the atmospheric nature of the respective song. The album does not have one specific concept or theme that is followed throughout, you would much rather find several different ideas expressed from song to song.

For example, the thought behind “Primetime Dreaming“, the shortest track on the record, is the futuristic idea of certain images being implemented in your dreams, so that dreaming becomes tailor-made to the extent that it is fully controllable, hereby losing its very fascination (to us, at least). Accordingly, the atmosphere of the song is dreamful and open in a way, but with a cold undertone. So the titles are not meant to explain everything, but to give you a basic idea of what was behind the music for us. What happens in your imagination while listening to the music is up to you and should not be predetermined by anyone, that’s the beauty of it.

One other thing we especially care about is to leave space within the music. Of course, there are faster and more densely packed tracks, but the dynamic changes – both within and between songs – are an important means of coming to rest, of “breathing“ in some musical manner.

Do you agree that being an instrumental band leaves a more freedom for you to explore, create your own ideas and feelings to the music?

Undoubtedly so. Not only does it free things up for the musicians, but for the listeners, as well. That is exactly what I meant moments ago: without the lyrics, the only thing you have is the music and the title of the track. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation and association, which is great! It enables you (as the listener) to make up your mind about what you personally take from the music.

Another aspect is that instrumental music is such a niche that the people who decide to listen to it usually have a mindset that supports this kind of listening, being susceptible to mental images and connotations. We do like to explore our musical horizons and the feelings that go along with that, which is why it is great to talk to somebody who then tells you that he has been interpreting the theme of a song totally different from your own way of thinking. There is no right or wrong, and this freedom comes from letting the music speak for itself.

Are you working on the Vagrant’s follow-up already? Do you have a clear vision on the next album’s direction or your joker is improvisation?

Yes, we are working on the second record right now, even though it is still in its early stages. There were songs that originally belonged on the first album, but just did not fit due to the length of the record. Additionally, there is a lot of new, unheard material we finished and we are excited to start recording and arranging again.

I would not say we have a clear vision for the sophomore record other than further exploring our style of playing and coming up with new ideas, some of which we have been planning on realising for quite a while now. What has changed in my opinion is that while in the past we used to write separate songs for, say, a heavy and an acoustic or purely melodic idea, we now challenge ourselves to integrate these pieces into a more coherent piece of music that – as a result – is an interplay of different atmospheric ideas. We started this approach a while back, ending up with longer songs that in the end left us much more content from the songwriting perspective. A good example might be “Alan Smithee’s Suicide Note“ featuring a diverse atmospheric spectrum from very laid-back to metal-edged breakouts to melodic soloing.

Ysma

On Progstravaganza 13 you are with the song „The Wanderer“. It’s fuzzy, heavy and melodic in the same time. What can you say about the song?

“The Wanderer“ is the opener and somewhat the title track of our debut record. The artwork shows a man wandering around (“vagrant“) having all kinds of bizarre encounters, e.g. with giant flying jellyfish. “The Wanderer“ can be seen as depicting episodes of his journey, which is why the song lacks a leitmotif (to use a German word): at times this journey may be weird or troubling, another time it may as well be calm, opening up many possible ways to go for us musically. In a sense, this song gives you an idea of what is following up on the album as “The Wanderer“ contains many of the elements that constitute our music: as you say, it is heavy, it is jazzy, it is melodic and somehow comes to an odd conclusion that hopefully makes the listener curious as to what else there is to be heard afterwards.

What’s next for Ysma?

We are currently preparing for our first ever unplugged concert, which is going to take place in an Irani greengrocery’s shop in our home town. Arranging the songs for this occasion gives us the chance to look at the music from a completely different angle, trying new things and just having fun with some of the tunes. Those who already know the songs hopefully will enjoy some of the newer versions we would like to try for the acoustic gig. Changing the instrumentation and bringing in guest musicians is going to highlight new aspects of the material we are very much looking forward to discovering.

The acoustic gig will be in late October. Around the end of the year, we are going to play some concerts promoting “Vagrant“ a little farther from home in front of an audience listening to the music live for the very first time, which will be exciting. Other than that, our focus lies on finishing the songwriting process for album #2 as well as rehearsing, recording and mixing the new pieces – we cannot wait to play the new material on stage for the first time.

Thank you so much for having us on Progstravaganza 13!

Ysma on the web:

http://ysma.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/YsmaBand

Gekko Projekt

GEKKO PROJEKT: From the City of Orange to the Prog Universe

Coming from the city of Orange, California, Gekko Projekt brings progressive rock spiced with the Californian desert flair. Their soulful, often laid-back sound shows that progressive rock is not only about virtuosity, although the members of the band are real connoisseurs of the genre. With experience on their side, Gekko Projekt is determined in giving prog a different meaning.

Gekko Projekt

All of you guys are experienced in music and all of you have worked in different projects prior forming Gekko Projekt. What made you come together and pursue a career in progressive rock?

Vance: All of us were, well, bordering on being rabid prog fans as teenagers, and all of us played prog back then.  For all of us, prog was our musical first love.  The situation was a little different in Britain, where Peter grew up, in that there was actually a prog scene still happening there with Marillion, Quasar and other bands, so people have actually heard of his early bands, Janysium and Mach One.  America, where the rest of us were, had moved on from prog to punk and metal, so there was less opportunity for prog bands.  The instrumental State of Siege on the first Gekko Projekt album was originally performed and recorded by Pax, a band I was in in Los Angeles in the 1980s.  We used to play clubs around LA like the Troubadour, but the audiences at the time were looking for something more along the lines of the Clash or Black Flag.

Tell us more about your beginnings with Gekko Projekt.

Vance: Rick Meadows should be credited as the founder of Gekko Projekt.  Rick and I played in a blues-rock band at the time, and sometimes at rehearsal we would start playing a bit of a prog tune together.  The rest of the guys were not as prog-oriented, so it didn’t really go anywhere.  We also would go to jam sessions, and Peter came to some of those.  The three of us found common ground and wanted to get together, but Peter was committed to Evolve at the time.  Finally, Rick said to me, “Let’s just do it,” and he and I and Alan began playing together, auditioning guitarists.  I didn’t know Alan at the time, but he and Rick had played together since their early teens.  We were playing some material off of King Crimson’s Red and the first UK album, just to get the band started.  A few months later the demands of Evolve tapered off, and Peter was able to join the band.

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So far, you released one full-length album called Electric Forest released in 2012. How would you describe it to someone who didn’t hear it?

Vance: Some have been calling it melodic prog, and I like that.  Most of the songs are instrumental, and we try to create an atmosphere, an audio world in each song.  We don’t have the rapid-fire unison lines that you find on some prog albums—which there’s nothing wrong with—but we wanted to do something a little different.  We put energy into creating interesting and evocative harmonic structures, but, at least on our first outing, we’ve kept many of the song structures simpler.  Our goal was to create music that people could listen to over and over and still find it takes them on a journey.

I find your sound calming and soulful, it’s indeed relaxing. Is it the way of reflecting your personalities on music? Or is it just made on purpose?  

 Vance: We are not aggressive personalities, so there may be something in what you say.  But I think the sound is mainly a reflection of the kinds of music we enjoy listening to and playing.  We figure that if we like it, there’s probably someone out there who will also like it!

The song „Avatar Jones“ is on Progstravaganza, it’s personally one of my favorites off the sampler and off the album. It pretty much summarizes what I meant by telling of your soulful sound. Is there any special meaning of this particular song? Anything that separates it from other songs off Electric Forest?

Vance: Avatar Jones incorporates a lot of what I think makes a satisfying—for me, anyway—prog song.  It fuses lots of styles.  It starts with jazz piano, goes into a mildly hip-hop feel, then aggressive rock, and that’s just the first 30 seconds.  But it has a story and a theme that welds it all together.  The story is about a would-be messiah who finds that the real wisdom is to walk away from being “the wise one”.

The structure of the song is more linear (a sequence of sections) rather than having repeated verses and choruses.  Some of the other songs on the album are more verse-chorus.  I go back and forth on the question of structure.  This kind of structure is often more satisfying to hard-core prog fans, but it can make it hard for others to find their way into the music.

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I heard about the song that Rick and you started together called Escape from the Mines of Titan. Was it originally assigned for the second GP album?

Vance: We are in the process of recording it at the moment, provisionally for the second album.  We wrote this one a bit differently from some of the other tunes.  It started with Rick recording some bass sections, and I rearranged them a bit and put together a demo with drum machine, keyboards and a scratch guitar added, and presented that to the band.  There will be other songs on the second album that are also related to Titan (the moon of Saturn).

Rick and you were together in a progressive blues rock bands WZMG and the Coot? I have to admit that it sounds pretty interesting „on paper“. Can you tell something more about these bands? How much of that heritage you applied to the Gekko Projekt music?

Vance: It was a fun band to be in, and I enjoyed recording the album Blues Transmission, released in 1999.  There was lots of skill in that band.  Damien Meadows (Rick’s son) is a great rock/funk drummer.  Greg Watmore is a stellar blues guitarist.  Ted Zahn is a great singer and songwriter, and he sings on Peter’s solo album.  They always did a great job with my songs, and we got to do a greater variety of styles than the “blues rock” label would make you think of.  But I think both Rick and I longed to play music that was more challenging musically.

You were active playing live in the US. Any chance to see you in Europe?

Vance: I would LOVE to do a European tour, and so would Peter, but it’s a big and expensive undertaking.  Spock’s Beard had a very successful Kickstarter project for their latest CD, and that allowed them to fund a European tour.  I would love for us to do something similar, but being realistic, a European tour will not happen until next year at the earliest.

What do you guys listen to when you all come up together for a recording session? Do you have time to listen to any other music or are you striclty focused on working?

Vance: I’ve known Alan Morse for many years, and I’ve always been knocked out by what he does with Spock’s Beard.  I’m also a big fan of The Tangent, and all of us in the band continue to enjoy classic prog music.  But in getting ready to create something for Gekko Projekt, I try to listen to music that has not been incorporated into prog often, if at all.  That seems like more fertile ground for contributing something new to prog.  I’ve recently been thinking of adding a bit of my Tibetan throat singing to a song the next album.

What are your future plans?

Vance: We are currently in the middle of recording the second Gekko Projekt album.  We have basic tracks down for more than half the album, and we’re working on recording overdubs for them.  At the moment, I’m spending a lot of time getting everything dialed in.  This album will have more vocals, and we believe it will show an evolution musically.  We are looking forward to getting it out!

Gekko Projekt is:

Peter Matuchniak – guitars
Vance Gloster – keyboards, vocals
Rick Meadows – bass
Alan Smith – drums, vocals

Links:

http://www.gekkoprojekt.com/

https://www.facebook.com/GekkoProjekt