Rock Impressions

by Giancarlo Bolther

So far are you happy about the recording process and the final mix of the album?
Mick: Yes, very much. Of course, there are always things that we notice later when we listen to the CD that we would like to have been different, but nothing that most listeners would ever notice. I think it's impossible to make a CD that you think is perfect! It did take us a very long time to record and mix - almost 18 months (and that was just the drums ?). If there's one thing I'd like to change next time it would be to do it faster! I think next time we may use a commercial studio to record the drums, or just replace Ted with a machine. :-) ?
Ted: That joke deserves a rim-shot, but Mick would enjoy no such spontaneous interaction with a machine. ? It did take a long time to complete the album, but much of that was down-time where no work was being done due to people’s schedules (we all have full-time day jobs and families). Yes, we are pretty happy with the final result, with slight reservations. We did it all ourselves, and it was a learning process. We learned from making our original demo CD in 2002, and felt that we could greatly improve upon it for the final recording. We definitely accomplished that, and it sounds pretty good, but of course it is still not as good as it would have been in a professional studio. But we weighed the pros and cons and convenience, control, and cost were big factors. We mixed by committee; passing mixes around until we felt we had it tweaked just right. Even after it’s final, there are always things you would like to go back and adjust, but you have to stop at some point. Some professionally recorded albums I hear sound like they’ve had all the life processed out of them. So, at the expense of not being pristine, I think the upside is that the album retains a character and feeling that is good.

How much tradition and how much modernity are there in this new record?
Mick: I think there are some of both, coming from the different writers. In particular, the two songs written by Patrick (original keyboardist). He was not a long-time "prog head" like the rest of us, so he brought some new angles, even though he was consciously trying to "write prog" (at least for Bird in Hand). I guess my own writing is probably the most "traditional prog" in the band, but we'll keep trying to avoid just producing "recycled prog" - which is a contradiction of course.
Ted: It’s difficult to answer this question, since there was no real conscious decision or discussion to include a certain amount of tradition, or a certain amount of modernity. We did not even start out by planning to be a prog band, but since that was our common love, it sort of went in that direction. I think we just did what came naturally, and wrote the sorts of things that we ourselves would like to hear.

How do you go about the composition process?
Mick: The majority of it comes from one individual having an idea, usually fairly well developed, and then it gets passed around. We like to try different approaches to composition - some individual ideas, some group ideas. We used to call Patrick "Iron Fist", since he had rather fixed ideas, but hearing the songs he wrote, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Ted: It can happen a number of different ways as Mick said. Some music is completed by one writer from beginning to end, and then the band learns it individually, then arranges it during rehearsal when it often undergoes some changes due to the group input and feedback, and lyrics added if need be (Bird In Hand for example). Some songs start as partial ideas or riffs, which we jam with and spontaneously add some new ideas, until something clicks, and we can then have more to work with and arrange it into something that sounds more like a song (Flying East came together in that way). Some songs start out as short ideas, then someone else in the band will pick up the thread and add something else to follow it (That’s how Late for Dinner was composed).

How are the responses going?
Mick: We are really pleased. When we started out, for myself at least, I was just interested in playing music - If one or two people got to hear it and it made a difference to them, that would be a bonus, so the way the CD has sold and all the great reviews have been very, very gratifying.
Ted: As Mick said, this very gratifying just to know that people like it. The CD sold pretty well right out of the box. I attribute that to the demo CD of 2002, which we passed out like candy to create awareness and get feedback. Some of the feedback to that demo CD came in the form of published reviews, so even if someone hadn’t heard the music on the demo (which was only available through us), they may have read a review, or just heard about us through word-of-mouth. This worked out nicely so when the official album came out, we were not a completely unknown entity, and so the album started selling immediately. Since then, we’ve had 4 or 5 voluntary listener postings (Amazon, Prog Archives, and Musea’s forum) in addition to about 10 or more official reviews so far from prog music sites and magazines, which we plan to list on our website soon. All of them have been positive, with a few having small reservations about one thing or another, and some have been extremely positive.

How did you get in touch with Musea and are you happy with what they are doing to promote the album?
Ted: In 2002 (the year we recorded the demo CD) we were handing out copies at Nearfest and I made sure that I gave Musea, as well as some other labels, a copy. In the spring of 2003, I followed up with a letter to Musea reminding them that we had given them a demo CD at Nearfest the prior year, and included another copy, along with some press clippings of reviews, which we had received for the demo CD up to that time. Then, in September 2003, we received an email from Musea with an offer to release it. We were excited about the offer, but we did not want to release the existing demo CD as the final official product since we felt that it was not good enough for mass distribution and sales. So, we told them that we had planned to re-record the songs with more attention to detail and sound quality, plus we had another 30 minutes of music we wanted to add. They were flexible and simply said that was fine, and to let them know when the new recording was complete. So that was very supportive of them to be so patient. Even though it took us another year and a half before we finally completed the recording and sent them the final mix for their review, they were still very enthusiastic about it, and true to their word, they released it. As far as promotion, Musea is a non-profit company, and not as high profile as some newer prog labels. But they have been doing this a long time and presumably know how to run their business. I can’t say exactly what they do behind the scenes, but they earmark 100 CD’s for promotional purposes. They don’t typically take out big advertisements, but we are not in a position at the moment to hit the road for a support tour either, and we all have other commitments (jobs, family), and do not expect that this is going to replace our day-jobs, so I think it’s a good match for us to be on Musea right now. So far we have done our own print advertising in a couple of the major progressive rock publications as well as in the programs printed for Nearfest and Prog Day. It is not a large expense, and it goes directly to the right audience, so it’s worthwhile. And so far, we have sent out about 25 or more promo CDs of the new album ourselves to festival organizers, prog websites, individual reviewers, and radio shows. We constantly receive requests for such promos, but we simply cannot afford to send one to everyone who asks, so we have to choose wisely.

How hard is to play prog music in Texas, which is the land of southern boogie rock and country as well?
Mick: It's not easy. We keep thinking that there are prog fans just waiting to come out of the woodwork, but it's nothing like as popular as in the Northeast U.S. We've had good responses when we've played here in Austin, and there are one or two other bands, but it does get overshadowed by blues and country music down here. It's sometimes surprising though, the types of people who really like the CD here locally, people you would never imagine, and they come up and say "I was into Yes in the '70s" and stuff like that. Still, in the interest of mega-stardom, our next album will include a 27-minute Country Blues concept piece, about man’s relationship with his pick-up truck. ?
Ted: To be fair, our town Austin is very different from the rest of Texas. Austin has a very eclectic music scene. Country style music here is not what you might hear elsewhere. I don’t even like the term “Country” or “Southern”, because I associate it with music that I loathe, but there is good music here that some people might call country, but it’s not the soul-less kind that comes out of Nashville that you hear on typical “country” radio. Anyway, blues based rock is more common in Austin (as epitomized by our town’s musical legend, Stevie Ray Vaughn), but there is also plenty of other music going on here – even electronic and avant-garde stuff. But there is no prog “scene” that is visible here. There are definitely prog fans here, but most traditional (older) fans are ignorant that there is a huge new prog scene that began to grow in the 90’s. Yes and Jethro Tull play here fairly regularly, and have good attendance. But most of the audience is probably unaware, and perhaps uninterested, in new bands exploring this territory. Then there are the young people who are becoming aware of prog (or related complex musical forms) only from being exposed to new young bands such as Mars Volta or Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (both of whom play here quite regularly). Those fans are not necessarily going to become fans of classic symphonic prog, but if they are truly into music, and favor more complex or longer thematic explorations, then they may find their way to those albums as well. But there are prog fans here. We do run across people who are amazed to learn there is a band in town that plays this music, and they are grateful… or they would be if we would actually play live! It was difficult getting the few gigs we have done so far, and lately it has been difficult just getting the members of the band together with any frequency to stay in practice or work on new material. So the real battle is not against a tide of country music or southern rock or blues, but rather just the fact that there’s no “scene” here that we fit into, and most people are sheep who follow a scene or trend so they can feel “hip”. Also, it’s difficult getting a gig in this so-called “live music capital of the world” because the competition for gigs is fierce, and we don’t have an identity that is easily understood. One place we played a few times categorized us as a “jam band” (!) only because that was the closed comparison they could relate us to.

Does the long jamming attitude of southern music influence your sound?
Mick: No! I've never really listened to much of that stuff, and I grew up with the Beatles and various British bands of the 70's, some of whom we'd all rather forget.
Ted: No. We do like to “jam” but mainly in a creative way, by taking turns playing spontaneous things to see how the others will follow, or react and see where it leads. Simply playing a groove or chord sequence endlessly without reason, or dramatic purpose, while people simply trade solos bores me.

In your opinion what kind of music are you creating? How can you describe your music?
Mick: For myself I hope that it is varied, unpredictable, melodic, powerful.
Ted: I hate putting labels on music. Even though we all love many bands known as progressive rock, and our music appeals to prog fans, we didn’t start out trying to fill that niche. But we’re grateful for the prog audience, because the true progressive rock school-of-thought allows such a variety of styles that you can sound completely unique, and be accepted, even lauded for it. I would agree with the goals Mick stated – we are trying to put across dynamics, with melody and emotion above all, while keeping the underlying mechanics interesting. But we aren’t consciously trying to please a certain audience, only ourselves, which I believe makes for the most honest, and best music.

You are great players, but your music is also very emotional and intense, in your opinion how much weight do you give to technical ability aspects and how much importance is technical ability?
Mick: I really don't think that the technical ability is particularly important, for me it's all about the power of the music. Sometimes the more simple parts of a song have the greatest impact.
Ted: I agree. I mean, you do have to have a degree of competency, but only to the extent that you are able to play what you want to hear. History has shown us that many of the most creative groundbreaking styles or techniques were born out of inabilities which were overcome by creatively doing it a different way. We know that there are plenty of musicians who can certainly play circles around us. But we are comfortable with our capabilities, and while we try to stretch them, we play to our strengths as they are, which can sometimes be technical but often involve other things such as arrangement decisions, tonality, dynamics, and creativity.

Your band’s name is very curious, what does it mean?
Mick: It's a reference to the Thirteen ways of enlightenment, as foretold by the prophet Ted.
Ted: Come forward brothers, so that I might whisper in your ear the 13 wisdoms … naahhh! … That would take too long. Suffice it to say, it was simply a compromise between two alternate ideas that we combined together. We liked the fact that it sounded amusing, yet also mysterious and ambiguous, and yet did not sound pretentious. So, it does not really have any meaning at all – but maybe that makes it even more profound?

What is it that characterizes your live exhibitions?
Mick: We like to make the live shows fun, and actually think about ways to draw people in to the stories behind the songs. Since we all play instruments and don't have a "lead singer" it's important to make the shows interesting. We try to think of way to involve the audience and make it fun, usually at Ted's expense (he IS an easy target)
Ted: Mick asks all the little children to come sit down in front, while he tells a story. Then in a sudden flash of light, the children’s eyebrows are singed off with pyrotechnics and the show begins. ? Actually, Mick is pretty good at chatting with the audience and seems comfortable with it. He even introduced some theatrics into a couple of songs, “Late for Dinner” in particular. I even don some headgear for part of Sleepdance. And we’ve been known to share a few spontaneous jibes back and forth for amusement – I don’t know why I’m often on the receiving end, but I think it’s just an expression of love.

Which are your favourite bands actually and what are your inspirations from the past?
Mick: Certainly Genesis, Yes and all the other classic prog bands from the 70's. More recently Spock's Beard, Marillion. But I also like some more obscure, less proggy people.
Ted: I could go on and on… so I will… okay, just a little. Me personally: Inspirations/favorites from the past: From the early-mid 70’s: Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Bowie, Roxy Music, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, U.K. Happy the Man. From the late 70’s/early 80’s: Bowie again, Bill Nelson, Ultravox, Magazine, Japan, Thomas Dolby, XTC. My favorites from the 90’s were Catherine Wheel, Curve, House of Love, and Dada. Thad and Joe aren’t here to answer, but I know that Thad typically mentions ELP, Dream Theater, and both prog & jazz genres in general, and Joe typically mentions Genesis, XTC and The Beatles (and The Beatles are tops for me as well).

What do you think about the actual symphonic and progressive metal scene?
Mick: Most of it passes me by!
Ted: I assume you meant symphonic metal and progressive metal? I’ve of course heard progressive metal, but didn’t know there was a splinter genre of symphonic metal. Personally, I am wary of anything with the term “metal”. I used to love the original Black Sabbath back in their day, and today I often listen to Killing Joke when I want a loud cathartic experience, so I do appreciate the heavy guitar sound in certain situations. But I find that most music that is tagged with the word “metal” (even prog metal) to be too clichéd and bombastic for my tastes.

In your country there wasn’t a specific prog scene, some great bands like Happy the Man or the Muffins, but we know very few about, can you tell us more about the American prog bands from the past?
Mick: I grew up in England, so my past included all those great British prog bands, many of whom I saw several times. One interesting kind of aberration though, is the popularity of Gentle Giant here in the US - they were never that prominent in the UK, even though they are Brits.
Ted: I grew up right in the middle of the U.S. in the state of Oklahoma, which was pretty conservative overall. But I was drawn to the more exotic music from overseas, namely the British invasion from the Beatles to Jethro Tull (my first two favorite bands). Probably the most well known U.S. band that is considered “prog” is Kansas. Oddly enough, though their home state was next door to mine, I never heard of them until they started to hit it big just before “Carry On Wayward Son” became a hit in the states. I really got into them at that point for a while. I remember noticing that a certain phrase in “Song for America” was basically a re-write of a phrase from Genesis’ “Firth of Fifth”, so I knew they were 2nd tier. But still I enjoyed them, and they certainly put their own stamp of Americana in their music. Though there are still several of their songs I would enjoy today, a lot of their stuff hasn’t aged as well for me. I haven’t listened to them in a long while. During that time I also explored Styx (some would not consider them prog, but they had their moments on earlier albums), but I found them lacking in depth (which was typical of most US so-called prog bands in my opinion). It wasn’t until 1978 that another musician friend I played with gave me a cassette of an album he said featured a guitarist he used to go to school with – I didn’t expect much, but that album was Happy the Man’s “Crafty Hands” and it blew me away. Now that band (and particularly that album) are still one of my all time favorites today. They are the best and most unique US prog band in my opinion. It was only a few months after the formative beginnings of Thirteen of Everything that the Happy the Man reunion drew me to Nearfest for the first time in 2000. There were some more obscure US prog bands from the past that were uncovered and re-issued on CD later, but none stand out for me, or I may just be unaware of some of them because the British and European bands were so much better!

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?
Mick: I think there's a mix, it's difficult to generalize. Certainly for myself the emotional impact is everything, and technical exhibitions are not interesting. I can remember like it was yesterday, when I was 14 years old, lying on the floor at home with the speakers from the stereo on the ground about 6 inches either side of my head, lights out, and Steve Hackett's guitar line that is so subtle, yet so perfect on The Carpet Crawl on Second's Out. I felt like I could just float away on that sound and never come down. So that's the kind of impact I like to hear in music. I think we all get a little jaded as we get older and it becomes more difficult to find new music that really affects us that way, but it can happen. And it's REALLY cool when that music happens to come from a band that you're in!
Ted: I would agree. The melodic themes and the arrangement and development of those themes should come first. As far as musicianship - from both a listening and playing standpoint - rather than exhibitions of virtuosity, I personally prefer ensemble arrangements with syncopated polyrhythmic elements, where all the elements work together as one, and occasionally allow one instrument to shine through at the right moment. This in itself can be technically challenging to pull off, but should not be a self-serving exhibition, but more in service of making the music exciting or interesting. And I find it more enjoyable to work together toward that cohesion of elements, rather than to have solo exhibitions, and personally I find it more interesting to listen to such arrangements as well. But, you should never lose sight of the melodic content, emotion and thematic development. So we hope that we’ve accomplished a good balance.

A lot of old school prog fans hate Dream Theater and the new prog, but would there be young people listening to old Genesis and King Crimson again without the Dream Theater’s popularity?
Mick: I actually like a lot of Dream Theatre's music, and compared to most of what's out there, I'm not about to slag them off! More power to them. They're also great players to watch - I particularly enjoy watching Mike Portnoy, he has that effortless power and precision that characterizes great drummers.
Ted: I know Thad likes Dream Theater, but what I’ve heard leaves me cold. It doesn’t matter to me that they are great players if the music doesn’t do anything for me. However, if they draw in metal fans, who then discover that they can enjoy more complex themes, and even (gasp!) tolerate keyboards, and if that in turn opens them up to more subtle and melodic music such as Genesis, King Crimson, etc. then that’s a good thing. But I don’t dislike “new prog” in general. There is much to like. I’m always checking out CDs by new bands and have many favorites from recent years.

The same people who likes seventies prog artists says that today prog music must be called "regressive" music, because there is nothing really new…
Mick: Yes, this can be true, although one visit to Nearfest should set you straight. I think it's something that we should be aware of - it's too easy to recycle previous bands material. I think in the future we'll find ways, at least within this band, to bring new, fresh angles.
Ted: Yes, a lot of it is derivative of what has gone before – some of which I can’t help but enjoy as a guilty pleasure on occasion, and some of which makes me cringe because it is so blatantly derivative. I suppose some might level that criticism at our music, but we’ve tried to stay away from overt comparisons other than a passing unintentional reference to certain styles. And we will probably move a bit further away from that in the future.

Have you listened to some of the new bands and are there some that you like?
Mick: Yeah, we get to Nearfest every year and there are always some good surprises. They're not young and new but Kenso blew everyone away last year. White Willow seem to produce some consistently good CDs, but there's so much out there! I found a "random CD" I really liked last year from our Musea pals – an album called Skymind by a French band called Taal.
Ted: As far as the resurgence of later “prog” bands, my favorites are Thinking Plague, Deus Ex Machina, Echolyn, Miriodor, Landberk, Anekdoten, Anglagard, Univers Zero, … I tend to like the dark symphonic angular stuff. Thad isn’t here, but he likes the jazz style of Medeski, Martin & Wood, and while attending the last few Nearfests, I recall Thad being impressed with the Japanese bands, Gerard and Kenso. And if Joe were here, he would no doubt express his enthusiasm for Porcupine Tree (which we also like very much), and he was quite impressed by Miriodor’s Nearfest performance.

In your opinion, is music a way to escape from reality or is it a way to think about what is happening in the world?

Mick: Well both of course, but probably mainly an escape, or an exploration of some unchanging aspect life. There are a few good songs that are "political" or are about current issues, but they sometimes don't hold up over time.
Ted: Agree – It can be one or the other, or both at once. Now that I think about it, I would say that music is the escape, and lyrics are the opportunity to examine the human condition or make reference to events.

What are your future projects and what direction will your next album have?
Mick: It'll be a country/blues concept album about living in Texas, drinking Tequila and being left by "my girl". Or not.
Ted: I vote for “not”! Mick has actually already written a couple of new opuses, and Thad, Joe and I are tinkering around on various ideas that have yet to fully take shape. It will be a while yet before we know what sort of direction it will lead, or what new sound may develop. But we do plan to record another album eventually, and hopefully will be more active playing live in the future.


Reviews (in italian): Welcome Humans
Reviews (in english): Our Own Sad Fate

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