Rock Impressions

by Giancarlo Bolther

Hi Erik, we have had our last interview three years ago, what is changed in your life and how much are you changed personnaly and artistically from then?
Three years is a long time in the music business, and I believe I have matured greatly as an artist. I had been working on the Music Machine concept since 2000 (immediately after 'Into the Sunset'), but it was on my 35th birthday last year that I decided to dive in and make this epic progressive rock opera a reality. I felt that I was at a point in my career where I needed to do something on a really epic scale. So I did!

How long did it take you to complete Music Machine? When have you got the idea to realize it?
I started writing the album in the summer 2000, just after completing 'Into the Sunset', but the actual recording did not start until October of 2002. I finished the 'Music Machine' album in March of 2003, so it took about three years to write it, and five months to record it.

Can you tell us the history of Johnny America?
Johnny America was a genetically engineered rock star created by an ambiguous mega-corporation in order to achieve greater sales and revenues than could be created by working with a mere mortal artist. The story is of course fictitious, but the motivation and the inspiration is real. When you think of all of these manufactured pop stars, especially the ones on these ridiculous talent shows that are now infesting both Europe and the USA, you can see how a Johnny America could become a reality.

What kind of message do you want to give with this story?
Well, 'Music Machine' is a work of fiction, of course, but like all writers, I have drawn from personal experience and the experiences of my friends and colleagues to create a very real and emotionally powerful story. The theme of the story is the simple message that the world of art and the world of business cannot ever really coexist. One world will always destroy the other in the end. The title works on two levels. First, there is this genetic construct named Johnny America. Johnny was engineered to be a music machine. But there's also the the greater corporate machine that creates Johnny. That's another music machine. So the music machine that is Johnny America is created by the music machine that is the sinister corporate megaconglomerate. Like in nature, the bigger machine feeds off of the smaller machine, and once that smaller machine has been exhausted, the bigger machine finds (or creates) another.

How are going the responses?
Very well! So far the reviews are excellent all around the world, and I have received nice emails from lots of fans. We just finished a tour of Northern Europe where we played quite a few songs from the album, and they went over well in the concerts. I hope I can play them in Italy soon!

In my opinion Music Machine is very different from your first two solo albums. What is your opinion about?
For my this, my third solo album, I wanted to fuse what I had done on my first album, 'Threshold', with what I had done on my second album, 'Into the Sunset'. When I started 'Music Machine', I intended it to be another prog metal album in the spirit of "Into the Sunset" -- that was the genesis of the "Music Machine" concept. But I also like to experiment with electronic pieces, particularly with my modular Moog synthesizer, and so I had also been working on a more electronic-oriented project in parallel. The electronic part was really a collection of improvisations and ideas, whereas the prog metal part was a clearly designed concept. But after listening to the whole pile of music I had demoed over the last few years, it became clear that they could all intermingle into one single project, and then that project would end up with more depth and contrast. I'm really happy that I made that decision -- I absolutely love the result! I don't think I'll ever do a purely "prog metal" album ever again. I love the blend with the electronic / atmospheric element. To me, that is progressive rock!

The cover is a bit obscure, can you tell us about it?
I think this beautiful painting really captures the essence of 'Music Machine'. You have this artistic figure with a carefree smile on his face playing away at the violin. But he is blindfolded, which to me is a metaphor for Johnny's blindness to the fate that he will endure. Also, the character has goat's ears, a good metaphor for someone that will be "sacrificed". Michael Parkes is such a brilliant painter. He is an American painter who lives in Spain. Michael also did the cover of the Lana Lane 'Secrets of Astrology' album.

What is doing Mark in this period, are you still in touch? When you will start to work on the next Rocket Scientists new album?
Yes, I talk to Mark quite often, and I say him just today. Lana and I are the godparents for Mark and his wife Tracy's new son, Alexander Donovan McCrite. We went to the christening ceremony just this morning. Mark and I are actually working on some new Rocket Scientists music -- we have written a lot of really great songs, and we will start recording a new album later this year. But very sadly, our Rocket Scientists drummer, Shaun Guerin, died last week. It was a tremendous loss to us both musically and personally. Mark and I will carry on, though, along with our Stick man, Don Schiff.

Sometimes i feel that the new prog bands of today are too much oriented in technical exhibitions and not enough in giving good emotions to the listeners, what's your opinion about?
I agree completely. The song must always come first. I think too many prog musicians focus on the "prog" so much that they forget about the listener. It becomes an exercise in indulgence. That's a big mistake. And so many truly brilliant musicians make this mistake. I believe in progressive music greatly, but to be progressive is always secondary to creating great music. If a song cannot hold together when just played on an acoustic guitar or piano alone, it is flawed. There must always be a great melody and great lyrics. That's the most important thing to me.

After all the records you have worked on, do you find it easier or more difficult to make a new album?
It's easier to make each album because I always learn something from the album before. I continue to grow and evolve as an artist, producer and engineer. But at the same time, I believe I've created some really incredible albums on my own, with Lana Lane and with Rocket Scientists. So it is of course a challenge to keep the quality on that high level. But it is a welcome challenge.

I've got the impression that you and Lana have reduced a bit your engagements in the last year... Usually you work at more than one project a time, which are the projects you're working at in these days?
Actually, we have not slowed down at all! We completed a 'Covers Collection' album for Lana last year, and of course this year there is the 'Music Machine' double CD album, and then we just spent the month of June in Europe for a tour promoting those albums. Now we're working on a live CD and DVD project which will be a collection of material recorded over the last five years. So I've been going through concert after concert to narrow down the list of songs and particular performances. It is a huge job as you might imagine. I think I'm still juggling about 50 songs at this point!

Wakeman wrote a touching introduction to Music Machine, how have you met?
That was quite an honor -- I'm so proud to have had Rick write those notes for me. Rick and I met in Holland on our 2001 European tour. Actually, just before we played in Italy! We were both playing at this electronic music festival in Holland called Alfa Centauri. Each of us played solo sets. I played just before Rick. We had a really great time and got along great. We have stayed in touch since then.

A lot of young (in the rock history) keyboard players are doing solo albums in these years: Ryo Okumoto (Spock's Beard), Tomas Bodin (Flower Kings), Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Derek Sherinian (Planet X), Clive Nolan (Arena) and others. There is something that you like?
Unfortunately for me, I haven't heard any of those albums. But I am familiar with the playing of most of those guys -- they are really excellent players. I did record some tracks with Derek Sherinian a couple of years ago for various projects. Derek is a really great player, particularly his "guitar-like" soloing style. That's very impressive to me.

Which were the happiest years of your life? And the most difficult ones?
I have spent the last five years playing music as my sole profession. Those have been both the happiest and most difficult years of my life. I have had tremendous ups and downs during these years, but I would not trade them for anything. You can definitely get the impression of these feelings on the 'Music Machine' album.

11 September changed all the things in the world, what is your opinion about?
I was actually in Europe on September 9, 2001, and I traveled home to California on that day. Up to this point, I traveled to Europe 2-3 times per year, and it seemed so close and so familiar. The world seemed to be a friendly place, and the borders between countries seem to be fading. That was a happy time. The song "Lines in the Sand" on my 'Into the Sunset' album was an anthem for this hope -- no war, no borders, only the rich cultures of the world shared among all humanity. But September 11 changed all that. And I believe the US reaction to September 11 changed it even more. Of course the terrorist attacks were horrific and truly acts of evil. The initial world response was, in my opinion, correct. Even the "liberation" of Afghanistan was justifiable to me. But now this business in Iraq is a mistake. I believe the USA alienated much of the world with this action. When September 11 happened, the USA saw quickly how many friends it really had. And for me personally, on that very day I received emails from friends all over the world. Everyone felt that attack -- you didn't have to be an American to suffer from it. But now this Iraq business has really driven a wedge between the USA and its friends. I am really opposed to this American policy, and I am frankly quite ashamed of it. The USA is such a great country, such a great place. But unfortunately it is not in the hands of wise men at the moment. We have new presidential elections next year in 2004. I am hoping for a new government that can rebuild was this one has destroyed. Okay, enough politics!

I've heard that there is the possibility that you will return ti gig in Italy for the Fall, can you confirm that?
We wanted to do it, but I don't think it will be possible this Fall. We may be able to come in the Winter, though. Perhaps February or March of 2003. I would love that. Our visit to Italy in 2001 was one of my favorite touring moments of all time. I love your country, and I will return as soon as it becomes possible!

A salute to your italian fans?
A big "ciao" and "mille grazie" from your friend in California! I miss you and your beautiful country very much, and I hope to see you again soon! In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy the 'Erik Norlander - Music Machine' and 'Lana Lane - Covers Collection' albums!!!


Threshold (1997)
Into the Sunset (2000)
Music Machine (2003)

With Rocket Scientists:
Earthbound" (1993)
Brutal Architecture (1995)
Earth Below and Sky Above Live (1998)
Oblivion Days (1999)

With Lana Lane:
Love Is An Illusion (1995)
Curious Goods (1996)
Garden of the Moon (1998)
Echoes from the Garden (1998)
Live in Japan (1998)
Ballad Collection (1998)
Queen of the Ocean (1999)
Echoes from the Ocean (1999)
Secrets of Astrology (2000)

Main collaborations:
Joshua "Surrender" (1988)
Paul Sabu “Paul Sabu” (1994)
Neil Citron "Guitar Dreams" (1998)
Ayreon “The Universal Migrator part I/II” (2000)

Interviews: 2001

Reviews (in italian): Threshold s.e.; Music Machine; EEC Tour 2001; EEC Tour 2003
Stars Rain Down; Seas of Orion; Hommage Symphonique

Live Reportage (in italian)

Article (in italian)

Web Site

Related Artists: Rocket Scientists; Lana Lane


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