Renowned progressive rock band Oblivion Sun has experienced a surge in activity with the release of a new album titled The High Places and some live performances, including a recent appearance at ProgDay 2013.
Oblivion Sun was founded by former Happy the Man musicians Frank Wyatt (keyboards and saxophone) and Stanley Whitaker (guitars and lead vocals). They are joined by a formidable rhythm section: David Hughes (bass guitar and vocals) and Bill B. Brasso (drums and percussion), two gifted musicians who provide additional quality to the band.
Tell us a little about the origin of Oblivion Sun?
(Stan) Frank and I had submitted a bunch of songs to Happy the Man to consider for recording and we simply had a lot of material (including “The High Places”) that they weren’t interested in working up, so Frank and I decided to record them anyway and released a CD called “Pedal Giant Animals“. This led to some internal strife within Happy the Man and eventually caused the disbanding (along with some other details, but that’s a whole other interview :-)! This led to us forming a new group called Oblivion Sun in which we could be a little freer from the Happy the Man format.
What is the meaning of the band’s name, Oblivion Sun?
(Stan) Frank’s probably best to answer this one, but the name is the title from a book of poetry that Frank wrote.
(Frank) My strange poetry book was titled Oblivion Sun. It is the title of one of the poems, wherein a caveman sits staring at the moon obliviously, and then later does so with the sun. It was Chris Mack from the Pedal Giant Animals project who suggested the name, and we agreed to use it as a group.
Frank Wyatt and Stan Whitaker already worked together in the groundbreaking Happy the Man. How and when did Bill Brasso and Dave Hughes join the band?
(Bill) After seeing Oblivion Sun play Saturday evening at NearFest in 2009 from the balcony seats, I left my friends who I had come with (two of our most ardent supporters, Ralph Riggin and Kenny Harkins) the next morning – they remained for the remaining Sunday shows. I had to get home, and while driving I received a call from Ralph who said he had “just got me an audition to play drums for Oblivion Sun”. I had just seen Oblivion Sun with a drummer, but Ralph said he had spoken to the guitarist, Stanley, who said their drummer was going to be leaving the band. A month later, I passed the audition.
(Stan) I happened to run into Bill’s two friends on the Sunday following our performance and they both suggested if we ever needed a drummer we should contact their friend Bill Brasso as he was a big fan and knew our music. I told them to have him call me as we knew our current drummer, Eric Slick, was only temporary. Bill called, auditioned and got the gig. We believe he’ll be our first drummer to make it to two albums in a row, as we have had quite the Spinal Tap drummer curse (only one album per drummer since early Happy the Man days!).
(Dave) I joined the band in the late fall of 2009. At the time Keith MacSoud was the bassist, traveling all the way from New York City to Frank’s house in south central Pennsylvania. This constituted an 8-hour round trip for him, plus the rehearsal time, for each visit. Despite his talents the geography got the better of this relationship.
Bill had been in the group only for about two months. He and I had played together for years in a Top 40/classic rock band based in Baltimore and we were fast friends. When the bassist position in Oblivion Sun opened up he arranged an audition for me. The band was preparing a show as the opening act for an upcoming Steve Morse concert at the time, with the set list all composed. Bill had given me the 2007 Oblivion Sun CD to prepare for the audition, so I assumed I could call the tunes I was most familiar with and more or less dictate how the audition might flow. The appointed day arrived, and as soon as I set up my gear Stanley said, “Okay, let’s run the set list”, which commenced with Fanfare, one of the tunes I had spent the least amount of time with. Somehow I managed to impress them with the songs that followed, I guess – after the first ten minutes I thought it was all over and was ready to pack up my gear. Miraculously Stan called me the next day to invite me to join the band.
For the record, I’m a little embarrassed to admit I knew of Happy The Man by name only. I was totally immersed in prog rock in the 1970s, but somehow Happy the Man eluded me. When Stan called me to come aboard one of his questions was whether I knew the music of Happy the Man. I told him sheepishly I wasn’t – I had never even heard their iconic Service With A Smile. Maybe he thought someone from the uninitiated outside would bring a new, albeit admittedly naïve approach to Oblivion Sun. In retrospect he probably just considered me malleable. 😉
How would you describe the difference between the music of Happy the Man and Oblivion Sun?
(Stan) From my perspective, I think Oblivion Sun is a bit heavier/rockier than Happy the Man while still retaining the symphonic element. There’s a bit more featured guitar as a melody instrument as opposed to the mini-moog default key of Happy the Man and there are also more vocals. So, it is different from Happy the Man, but I think we still retain the core Happy the Man spirit in our songwriting.
I saw the band at ProgDay and was very happy to hear a mix of new pieces and Happy the Man classics. This made progressive rock fans very happy. Will the band continue to perform Happy the Man material in the future?
(Stan) I believe we’ll absolutely keep adding some Happy the Man gems as it’s simply so much of Frank’s and my musical DNA, and we know the hardcore Happy the Man fans appreciate it, and they’re quite fun and challenging to play!
(Frank) I love performing the Happy the Man material. It is rather difficult for me to try to cover Kit Watkins’s and David Rosenthal’s parts however. I am trying to make them my own, while keeping as much of the original music in as I can.
(Bill) Yes. With bands such as Steve Hackett with Genesis Revisited, Carl Palmer’s Legacy, etc., I think playing the music that Stanley and Frank composed in Happy the Man, along with the new material, provides the audience with a fabulous opportunity, particularly if they missed Happy the Man when they were a force in progressive music.
I already asked this question to Frank Wyatt at ProgDay, but I’ll ask again on behalf of our readers. Is there any chance of a Happy the Man reunion?
(Bill) No, because Dave and I have lifetime contracts with Stan and Frank.
(Stan) As of this moment in time, I really see no chance of a Happy the Man reunion. We have such great chemistry with just the four of us, and Bill and Dave are a joy to work with, so if we can still pull off some Happy the Man magic live there’s really no reason to mess that up! The task from our end is getting people more familiar with Oblivion Sun to realize it really is just a continuation and evolution of what we were doing in Happy the Man, so thanks, Angel, for helping us get the word out! I think Happy the Man fans will definitely dig Oblivion Sun.
(Frank) I would never say never, but this looks pretty remote a possibility due to all the logistics involved.
Oblivion Sun remains faithful to state of the art symphonic progressive rock and the new album contains a wonderful suite titled The High Places. Will you continue to make music in this direction?
(Stan) Absolutely, it’s all we know how to do!
(Frank) Oh yeah.
Even though the group has been around for a few years, only two albums were made. Are there plans to release more new material, more frequently?
(Stan) Yes and yes. We have more than enough new material to fill a couple more albums, so we’re focusing on that as well as trying to play out to help promote the current record. The High Places is still relatively new for us and needs to get more exposure so thanks again for that, Angel!
(Bill) We purposefully left off the other half of the album’s title – The High Places ‘at Glacial Paces’!
(Dave) We tended to fuss over the details with The High Places, thus the 18-month recording trek. We’ll still fuss with the next recordings, but now that we know how to record with each other (there was a delightful male bonding learning curve there) projects should move more quickly. Bill and I have extensive although less celebrated recording careers, and everyone’s familiar with Frank and Stan’s legacy, of course – it was a just matter of meshing several styles and procedures in the studio and control room.
I knew Stanley Whitaker had experienced some serious health issues, but later found out that Frank Wyatt also suffered severe health problems. How is everybody doing now?
(Stan) Yeah, we’re doing much better, thank you. My main cancer is five years in remission, however I also have CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) a very common type of leukemia that I go in every 6 months and have a barrage of lab work done, and as long as my numbers stay where they are all is good with the world. Eventually, I’ll need treatment if my numbers elevate but they’re coming up with all kinds of new medicines and treatments that don’t involve chemotherapy or radiation so that’s a beautiful thing. Progressive rock is good medicine!
(Frank) My kidney cancer was fixed by surgery. I was just lucky they discovered it while looking at something else when I got a checkup. I can’t emphasize enough that everyone needs to get checkups regularly. If you are like me you put this off for years…DON’T. It may well save your life. Cancer sucks hard and we need to fight it every way possible. Donate. Educate. Eliminate it.
Do all band members live near each other?
(Dave) I live a little north of Baltimore so my drive to Frank’s house in southern Pennsylvania, which is where we rehearse and record, is 45 minutes. We usually get together three times a week. Bill is a little farther down the road in Columbia, MD, halfway between Baltimore and D.C. He and I meet up and carpool, solving all the problems of the world as we drive, and most importantly deciding where to pull off for a snack before arriving at Frank’s.
(Stan) Frank’s house/studio is about 25-30 minutes from my house.
March of the Mushroom Men:
Why do you think there is a higher percentage of musicians, music fans and even festivals involved in progressive rock in the Maryland, Washington DC, New Jersey, Philadelphia area?
(Stan) Good question, I’m really not sure. Happy the Man was one of the first progressive rock bands in the Washington, D.C., northern Virginia area in 1972 through 1979, so we may have had a little to do with it. Frank Zappa was from Baltimore so that probably helped. I think it’s something in the water:-)
(Dave) And our friends Crack The Sky are from this mid-Atlantic region, too.
Tell us about the musical instruments you use. Are Frank Wyatt and Stan Whitaker still using some of their earlier (vintage) guitars and keyboards?
(Stan) Now I’m using two private stock PRS guitars that Paul built me in 1999 (the same two you saw me play at Progday) in trade for my old original handmade double-neck guitar that Paul built me in 1976 and was featured on both Happy the Man albums. Paul wanted it back for his archives and I really wasn’t playing it much as it weighed a ton and I had a couple of other PRS guitars that I played more. My amp is a Mesa-Boogie Mark V combo which I think is the greatest, most versatile amp on the planet! My pedal board has three Eventide effects boxes (Modulation, Delay & Harmonizer), a Fulltone Clyde wah pedal and an Ernie Ball volume pedal.
(Dave) Yeah, Stan’s pedal board is really groovy. I watch all the LEDs and get distracted during shows. I play a Pedulla 5-string bass, which has been modified by Kevin Brubaker with the addition of a second Bartolini pickup and an on-board Mike Pope active preamp. I use a 4×10 GK speaker cabinet powered by either a Peavey or Crate amp head.
(Frank) I play a Kurzweil K2600 fully loaded. Everything else keyboards-wise is in a computer controlled by a CME UF80. Saxes are still the L.A. Sax models.
(Bill) I play mostly Tama drums, but still use a Premier 2000 snare. (Maybe if I get an endorsement, I’ll play Tama exclusively.) Same with my cymbals: mostly Zildjian.
If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with whom would that be?
(Bill) I am a Steve Hackett fan and love the band and music he is playing with his Genesis Revisited tour. Peter Gabriel would also be nice, but I’ll let Stanley embellish on that selection.
(Stan) Wow, that’s a great question. Maybe Guthrie Govan or Alan Holdsworth. If they were still alive, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and Delius.
(Frank) Kit Watkins, Mike Beck, Cliff Fortney, Dan Owens, Rick Kennel, Ron Riddle, Dave Rosenthal.
(Dave) Those with sinful amounts of money to throw at us.
Tell us about the artist who designed the cover of your new album The High Places. How important are other art components, aside from music?
(Stan) Michael Phipps is an extraordinary artist Frank found. I’ll let Frank elucidate more on Michael. We deeply regret his name being omitted on the CD’s liner notes. It’s on the LP cover and will be on the next CD pressings, but boy, we all missed that one!
(Frank) I honestly can’t remember how I hooked up with Michael Phipps! It may have been from the Progressive Ears website. I pretty much turned him loose with just a wordy description of the Pedal Giant Animals cover idea along with the lyrics. I love that cover design…too bad it was after we had pressed the CD! I hope to use his art for any re-press of the PGA project. For The High Places I sent him a little sketch of what I thought it should look like along with lyrics and he did an amazing job. It is beautiful art in and of itself and is perfect for the title track visually.
(Bill) Michael is based in Utah. Frank hooked up with Michael for the Pedal Giant Animal artwork, and he said that he would love to continue working with Frank on his next project. The artwork is completely original, painted specifically for this album based on the lyrics to The High Places, provided by Frank. Michael spent about a year on the project, and we couldn’t be happier with it!
(Dave) Wow, Stan… elucidate. What a great word.
Can you reveal details about new recordings or other projects?
(Stan) We’re in the process of picking the songs for the next CD which at the moment seem to be mostly instrumental. We’re still juggling trying to play out to promote The High Places (not many places for us proggers to play unfortunately) and start prepping new material for the next record.
Oblivion Sun discography:
Pedal Giant Animals discography:
- Pedal Giant Animals (Crafty Hands Music 83710127816, 2006)
Happy the Man discography:
- Happy the Man (Arista 4120, 1977)
- Crafty Hands (Arista 4191, 1978)
- 3rd – Better Late… (Azymuth Records 1003, 1983), recorded in 1979
- Retrospective, compilation (East Side Digital ESD 80292, 1989)
- Beginnings (Cuneiform Records 55001, 1990), unreleased early material
- Happy the Man Live (Cuneiform Records 55014, 1997)
- Death’s Crown (Cuneiform Records 55015 , 1999), unreleased material 1974-1976
- The Muse Awakens (Inside Out Music, 2004)
Buy The High Places in North America
Buy The High Places in Europe