by Giancarlo Bolther
When and how is born the artistic collaboration between you?
Bryan: Our first gig was in 2011, when Marco and I had a gig planned with guitarist Greg Howe at the NAMM show in California, and something came up and Greg couldn't do it. So we asked Guthrie if he could play instead. The very first time we practiced in a room together, we could sense that we had something special together. And at that first show, the crowd seemed to agree! But we didn't have plans to be a band when we did that first show. It just happened naturally after that, and we decided to make an album together and see how it would all go. 8 years later, here we are.
Can you tell us about the songs from 'You Know What…?' And how do you go about the composing process?
Govan: Our compositional process for this album followed the same blueprint which we’ve used for all of our previous studio recordings: each of us wrote three songs individually, recorded relatively detailed demos for them and then sent the mp3s to our bandmates. We then did our best to “internalise” the material (occasionally emailing or Skype-ing if we had specific questions about the intent of any particular section) so that we would be able to dive straight into playing the songs as a band when we convened in the recording studio for the album sessions. We all live in different cities - I’m based eight whole time zones away from Marco and Bryan! - so we do our best to tackle the bulk of the “pre-production” work remotely: that way, we can then use the time we spend together in the studio to focus on more specific matters (getting the right sounds, fine-tuning arrangements etc) during the actual album recording process.
After all the records you have worked on, do you find it easier or more difficult to make a new album?
Govan: As you can imagine, we know each other much better now (both personally and musically) than we did when we made our first album way back in 2011. As a result, I think the process of writing music specifically for each other has become easier over the years - we now have a clearer idea of how we interact naturally as a trio - and I think we’ve also become better at managing our studio time.
On the other hand, we tend to regard each new album as an opportunity to explore fresh musical territory and surprise each other in the way we write for the band so, in a sense, we’re trying not to allow the process to become too easy! We really pushed ourselves with this new record, rather than merely trying to regurgitate the “formula” of the previous ones, and I think we’re all really happy with the results.
You did four studio albums, when you started did you ever think to reach this goal?
Marco: It just happened automatically. We’ve never sat down and thought or planned ahead in order to reach a studio album catalogue. It really manifested I believe after the second album succeeded and that we’ve seem to have caused some sort of stir in the music world, which led to gather a following. That sort us encouraged us to keep going and keep creating.
So short answer would be: Not really thought about reaching a goal, we’ve just tested the waters and here we are, sailing across the ponds.
The world of music is going through a great crisis, record sales are down, what do you think of this situation and why make a new album in this context?
Bryan: First of all, I think the best and only reason to make a record is because you have something to say as an artist and a musician. Thinking about the other stuff first is, in my view, not a great way to embark on the long and complex artistic journey of making a record. Make the art first, then move on to the other things. Now, about the business: I understand that the revenue side of the recording industry has changed with the advent of streaming services, but but I hesitate to call it a crisis. The instant accessibility of music to everyone on a moment's notice has good benefits as well. 30 years ago the listener was a "hostage" to the radio station programming. Now everyone can make their own radio stations, and with social media, instantly share music they like with their like-minded friends. That's a good thing. Also, it's not like we got paid for radio airplay back then - and with music like ours, it never got played on the radio anyway! And another point: The same digital technology that has changed the way we listen to music has also changed the way we record it. 30 years ago, records were so expensive to make that only a record company could afford to pay for it, and in exchange for that the artists would have to sacrifice a good deal of their profits. Now we can make the records we want at a fraction of the cost, and keep our masters. So, personally I always think it's worth looking at both sides of the "music technology" equation when it comes to the business aspects, but even before all of that, I believe we make new records because we need to make music.
What does it mean for you to play rock music in a period when younger people seem to be not very interested in rock?
Marco: As far as I’m experiencing the music world these days, younger people seem to be interested in rock. Especially in the muso world and music colleges, the art of rock is pretty much established. Otherwise we wouldn’t have the School Of Rock for example. Classic Rock radio is still going and younger bands like Greta Van Fleet are keeping Classic Rock alive and rock movies such as Motley Crue’s The Dirt or Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody are some of the most successful and Grammy award winning releases these days.
The Aristocrats are more of an instrumental rock/jazz/fusion trio and after all we attract mainly musicians,... and many young musicians may I add. This is something that makes me especially happy, because it shows that hand made music, played with passion will likely keep having a chance to reach and connect people around the world.
Guthrie and Marco, you have played with Steven Wilson, can you describe to us your meeting with Steven and how is to work with him? What kind of person he is as a man and as an artist?
Marco: Not sure what that has to do with The Aristocrats, but why not?! Here’s my version:
I didn’t really know of him or his music before he contacted me, but when we started working together it was very organic and the albums we’ve done were recorded fairly quickly and in a live band setting. Tours and recordings were fun.
Govan: Marco was already playing with SW band before I joined so that’s how Steven became aware of me… I guess he was looking for a new guitar player, Marco mentioned his fellow Aristocrat as a possible candidate and then Steven came to see one of our trio shows… He emailed me the following day to ask if I’d like to join the band and before too much longer I found myself in a studio in LA, contributing guitar tracks to the “Raven…” album!
Other than that, I can only echo what Marco said ;-)
Prog rock is a big world with a lot of contradictions... and many artists don’t want to be associated with the prog scene. What do you think about that?
Bryan: I can't speak for other artists, but personally I think prog is cool. A lot of my favorite bands growing up were progressive: Pink Floyd, Yes, etc. Classic Metallica employs progressive song forms, and they're not the only metal band to do so. Even Frank Zappa's more complex compositions can be seen as progressive in a way. Progressive metal is a huge modern genre, and I don't think those guys have a problem with that genre label. In its best sense, I think you can say that progressive music is a broad context for music that's not pure jazz or fusion, not pure pop, and not pure metal, but is more complex and instrumentally focused that straight rock music. It allows for compositional and arrangement experimentation, longer song forms, and more freedom. That all sounds pretty good to me!
When you listen to a guitar/bass/drum player, what is that you like and what do you dislike and in your opinion there is still the possibility to find some new ways to improve the playing style nowadays?
Marco: Personally I think there’s always room for improvement/development. It’s the story of the universe isn’t it...
I guess overall the definition of a good band is the chemistry. As a single player: Listen, be musically generous, leave space when needed, fill the gaps and deliver the fireworks at the right moments.
I wouldn’t give that a certain timeline.
Which is the greatest satisfaction happened to you in your musical career?
Bryan: I'm not sure I can pick just one, but a few times on our last tour, a very large audience would sing the melody to "Smuggler's Corridor" really loudly. I'm just some kid from New Jersey. The idea that I could one day hear a 1000-person crowd in Buenos Aires sing a melody to a song I wrote is still almost impossible to believe. And so, yeah, that feels pretty great.
Govan: Rather than trying to single out a specific moment, I’m going to go with something much more general and ongoing: simply having the life of a professional musician! I’ve somehow found myself with a career which allows me to do something for which I have a genuine passion… and I strongly suspect that the majority of the people in the world experience a greater degree of separation between the things they do for work and the things they truly care about the most. I feel continually fortunate that I’m able to get away with playing music for a living ;-)
Reviews (only in italian): You Know What...?; Freeze!