Progressive rock band Perfect_Beings has released the self titled Perfect_Beings album one of the most notable recordings of the year. Progressive Rock Central’s Angel Romero interviewed band leader Johannes Luley to find out more about this promising new band.
You’ve been involved in several progressive rock projects such as Moth Vellum and your own solo recordings. Why did you decide to form Perfect_Beings?
My former band Moth Vellum had broken up in 2010 and I started gathering ideas for my first solo album “Tales From Sheepfather’s Grove” shortly thereafter. During production I met Ryan Hurtgen and considered him as a lead singer for the project. Even though I ended up doing the vocals myself, I was still very intrigued by Ryan’s talent and so I asked him to start a new group. At that point I had gotten over Moth Vellum and I was really itching to be in a band again.
How did you connect with the other members of the band? What’s their background?
I met Ryan as a client. He came to record a song at my studio My Sonic Temple, here in Los Angeles. He impressed me with his songwriting skill, his sense of melody, his voice and also with his gentle personality. He had just moved here from Nashville, where he had been in an indie band named Rene Breton.
Dicki Fliszar and I are both German expatriates. We had first met through a mutual friend who had told me about “this amazing drummer” that I had to meet. Although Dicki has more of a hard rock background (he used to play drums in Bruce Dickinson’s band), Ryan and I felt like he would be a great match. He also brings songwriting and vocal skills to the plate. Plus, his personality is so “zen”. In fact, come to think of it, the whole band has kind of a mellow zen vibe. I am probably the most high strung of all members, and that says something, because I am pretty mellow myself.
So, the three of us started writing and arranging some of Ryan’s song sketches and developed them into full blown demos. Dicki then brought his former band mate Jesse Nason in to join us on the keyboards. Him and I share a love for Brian Eno’s work and he is very talented with soundscapes in his own right. The last guy to join was our bassist Chris Tristram. I found him on Craigslist (I am not kidding), and that lead to the discovery of a bunch of videos in which Chris was covering Yes tunes. Our jaws dropped when we saw those and we had to convince him to join us. That’s when we became “Perfect Beings”.
What’s the concept behind the album Perfect_Beings?
The record is based on a futuristic Sci-Fi novel titled “TJ and Tosc” by Suhail Rafidi. The songs follow the protagonist Raymond as he escapes from a government controlled city to an Appalachian settlement of freedom fighters. In the process, he gets his implanted chip removed and slowly rediscovers his true personality, while having to overcome depression and amnesia.
Why does the band name have an underscore?
That was really just an artistic design choice on my part. People comment on it all the time, so I think it was the right choice.
Why do you think great progressive rock instrumentalists don’t collaborate much with each other like jazz musicians do?
Improvisation is at the core of every jazz musician. They live for that spontaneous exchange of musical language. I don’t view progressive rock as very spontaneous. To me it’s much more about arrangements and orchestration. Personally, I am not much of a jam guy, even though I do have a jazz background. All that said, I do like to collaborate with other musicians. In fact, I am planning to have several guest musicians on my next solo album.
If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with whom would that be?
John Marshall of Soft Machine fame. He is one of my favorite drummers, if not thee favorite. He is still active, as far as I know. There is a local organist, Rachel Flowers, who I would love to work with. She’s amazing.
Tell us about your musical background.
I started playing guitar at age 7. Since my teens I’ve always been in bands. Local rock bands, back in Germany. At age 13 I joined Eddy Maron’s “Jazz Schule” and studied jazz for a bunch of years. In my early 20’s I started working as a session guitarist in Frankfurt, Köln and Karlsruhe. Believe it or not, I played on a lot of techno records back then. It was funny because they asked me to put a guitar on a very synth heavy track, only so they could process the guitar to sound like yet another synth. It wasn’t the most musically gratifying phase of my career, but I was supporting myself and that instilled a great sense of pride and confidence in my abilities.
In the early 90’s I moved to California, first San Francisco and then later to Los Angeles. In 1998, after touring with Elton John protegé Ryan Downe, I started my own production company My Sonic Temple and started producing and engineering other artist.
In 2002 I founded Moth Vellum with a few friends. This marked my re-entry into the prog world. A return to my roots. From early age on I had listened to all the Supergroups of the 70’s on my dad’s Hi-Fi. He had a really cool set of headphones, and I would get lost for hours at a time, imagining worlds to the sound of Yes and ELP.
What guitar types and models do you use? How many do you have?
I have about fifteen or so. The main guitar I used on Perfect Beings debut album is a ’58 Les Paul Junior, along with the Fender Esquire thee ultimate guitar. Both only have one pickup and two knobs. I love that simplicity. The rest is up to the player.
Generally, I really like vintage guitars. I also own a ’68 Telecaster and a ’64 Gibson ES175. My latest addition is a Japanese Stratocaster built in 2013. It’s a reissue of the 1968 maple cap Strat, a superbly crafted instrument. Franky, I don’t understand why people buy new American Fender guitars. The Japanese ones are far superior in craftsmanship. Oops, there goes my Fender endorsement.
Speaking of Japanese guitars, I also have three 70’s Ibanez guitars in my collection. A CN250, a 12-string “Artist” and a George Benson GB-10. My go to acoustic guitar is a ’78 Guild D-40.
On the piece titled ‘Fiction’ you perform a series of epic lap steel guitar solos. When did you start playing the steel guitar?
I started about 3 years ago when I had a chance to pick up an old Fender lap steel at the local music store. Of course I had played slide on the regular electric before, but the lap steel is new and challenging, because it is tuned completely different. It was a pretty steep learning curve for me.
Who are your favorite guitar players?
Oh, there are many of them. I like guitar players whose style is raw and explosive. Intense bursts of energy are what make a guitar solo interesting. Zappa is a good example, McLaughlin and of course Steve Howe. I like people who are slightly sloppy, and I mean that in the best possible way. Not too clinical. For example, I loved it when Gilmour went for an almost punkish vibe on “Animals“, or Howe on “Relayer“. It seemed like they were giving up some control to a higher voodoo power that made them do crazy things. When I record a solo, I try to forget what I know and let the music carry me away. First takes are usually the best in that regard. If I don’t know the chordal structure (which unfortunately happens very rarely) I play better. You are searching and you have to trust yourself and be on your toes.
How’s the progressive rock music scene in southern California?
It’s not that great to be honest. I can only think of a handful bands in Los Angeles. But I honestly don’t go out very much to discover new artist, because I have two little kids and I am usually fried by 10pm.
What music are you currently listening to?
I am currently rediscovering ELP, one of my early favorites. Also Debussy, Soft Machine, Weather Report, Fripp’s latest record, Bowie’s latest and Shakti in the morning. What a great way to start the day!
The Perfect_Beings debut album is quite impressive. Are you thinking about a follow-up any time soon?
Thank you, and yes.
What new projects are you working on?
I just connected with a young Italian drummer who will be playing on my next solo record. This is currently in the writing stages and I am super excited about it. As I mentioned before, I will invite several guest musicians for this record. The style will be quite different from “Tales From Sheepfather’s Grove” which mainly focused on acoustic instruments. This record will also have some acoustic guitar pieces, but for the most part I will play the electric guitar.
The concept for the whole record will actually be based on the guitar. Kind of a love letter to my instrument, if you will. Accordingly, there will be more focus on guitar based, rather than vocal based compositions. Of course there will be some vocal tracks too. We’ll have to see how the project develops. If you want to stay in the loop about it, you can follow and “like” me here.
Thank you Angel, for a very enjoyable interview. And thanks for reading!