Ampersand, Volume 1

IZZ - Ampersand, Volume 1
IZZ

Ampersand, Volume 1 (Doone Records, 2004)

Ampersand, Volume 1 is the third album by the great American progressive rock band IZZ. The disc has two types of tracks. The first set, tracks 1-7, are studio tracks. The rest are live recordings with pieces from earlier albums.

IZZ goes acoustic on the first track, ‘Ancient Memory.’ The song begins in folk-rock style with acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies clearly influenced by early Crosby, Stills and Nash. Midway through the piece, keyboardist Tom Galgano treats the listener to one of his tasty, although brief synth solos. Tom Galgano is a skillful keyboardist and the sounds he extracts out of the synthesizers are engaging, not the old presets other bands use. I’m always expecting the solos to last a little longer.

The acoustic tone continues with the ballad ‘Afraid to Be Different.” Things turn electric with the dynamic ‘The Wait of It All’ which includes engaging male vocals and the outstanding female vocals of Annemarie Byrnes. Her voice is not only gorgeous, but her delivery is perfectly suited for progressive rock. I’d love to hear more of her in future recordings. She is undoubtedly one of the finest vocalists in the current progressive rock scene. ‘The Wait of It All’ also features another of Tom Galgano’s signature synth solos.

Ampersand features some short tracks where some of the band members showcase their talent. ‘One Slice to Go’ is one of these; a delightful acoustic guitar piece by Paul Bremner.

‘Confusion’ shows us an elegant pop piece with deep The Beatles influence. It could easily have been a radio hit if the radio gatekeepers wouldn’t keep the doors closed to independent music.

‘The Bar Song’ is another ballad. It’s followed by ‘My Best Defenses,’ a solo piece by IZZ’s other female vocalist, Laura Meade. She sings a beautiful song, accompanying herself on the piano. IZZ has managed to bring together three excellent vocalists. It’s striking, especially when you think that many of the modern bands have very weak vocalists.

The rest of the album is live cuts. ‘Molly’s Jig’ has a Celtic flavor. ‘Razor’ and ‘Another Door’ are well known pieces from earlier albums. The album closes with IZZ’s great progressive rock epic, ‘Star Evil Gnoma Su.’

The line-up for this recording included Tom Galgano on keyboards, vocals, acoustic guitar; Paul Bremner on guitars; Brian Coralian on electronic drums, acoustic drums, programming; Greg Dimicelli on acoustic drums; and John Galgano on bass, vocals, guitars, piano. They were joined by Annemarie Byrnes and Laura Meade on vocals.

Ampersand, Volume 1 shows IZZ incorporating outstanding female vocals, and still showing two tendencies: melodic pop-rock ballads and state of the art progressive rock.

Renowned Musicians Jon Anderson and Italian Composer Marco Sabiu Release New Single

Jon Anderson and Marco Sabiu - Limitless Lives
Famed Yes vocalist and songwriter Jon Anderson and Italian composer, conductor, international producer and arranger Marco Sabiu have a new single titled “Limitless Lives.” The recording was co-written and performed by Anderson and Sabiu, and is now available as a digital download. The song is also available on Marco Sabiu’s most recent album ‘Audio Ergo Sum‘, which was presented on February 18, 2012 on live TV before an audience of 12 million; the album has consequently reached iTunes Italy Top 10.

Progressive rock legend Jon Anderson, who has one of the most familiar voices in modern music, and is best known for his work with Yes, Vangelis and Kitaro, had this to say about his musical collaboration with Marco Sabiu: “A good friend of mine, musician Alessandro de Rosa put Marco Sabiu and I in touch with each other just last month. I was instantly connected to Marco’s music; he sent me the music track and within moments I had sang the song and lyric and sent back to him. Marco loved my singing, so we talked about releasing the song on his new album. I love his ‘Limitless’ theme for the song, as I wrote the lyric I realized we have so much to learn in this life, and we are truly Limitless human beings.”

The collaboration with Jon was born by chance, as most of the best things often do,” says Marco. “What I found in Jon is the ideal musical partner: I’ve never met anybody who has understood my music and bettered it so quickly and effectively as Jon did. I was always very passionate about prog-rock, and being able to work with a legend like Jon is an honor, and truly exciting.”

Along with being a highly respected arranger (Take That, Kylie Minogue, Pavorotti, Morricone), Marco is currently a TV star and crossover chart artist in his native Italy, as well as orchestrator and conductor for major Italian rock stars, including the arena act Ligabue. Jon Anderson and Marco Sabiu are planning to record a full album together and a tour in 2013.

Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson to Perform Thick As A Brick 1 & 2 in Denver

Ian Anderson
AEG Live has announced that legendary prog rock singer and flutist Ian Anderson and his band will be performing live at Temple Buell Theatre in Denver (Colorado) on Tuesday, October 23, 2012.

In the early 1970s progressive rock bands like Yes, Genesis, ELP, Pink Floyd, Gentle Giant and King Crimson were pushing musical boundaries, creating some of the best music made in the decade. Jethro Tull was part of this exciting music scene.

Jethro Tull’s brief ‘prog rock’ era peaked with 1972’s Thick As A Brick, a 45-minute continuous piece of music charting the difficulties of a child growing up and confronting a frightening and unfair world. The album was encased in a spoof local newspaper The St Cleve Chronicle, with a headline story that a precocious schoolboy called Gerald Bostock had been disqualified from a poetry competition because of the inappropriate nature of his epic poem, which Tull then allegedly used as the album’s lyrics.

Ian explains that the idea stemmed from the critics’ descriptions of 1971’s Aqualung as a `concept album’, even though it was just a bunch of songs a few of which had common themes. “In the light of the Aqualung reviews I deliberately set out to do a concept album that would in essence be a bit of a parody of other people’s concept albums and grandiose progressive rock adventures. I thought let’s take this slightly arrogant and pompous way of writing and presenting music to an extreme, with the fiction of a then 10-year old boy having written the lyrics. Of course it’s preposterous and really quite silly, but it was the era of Monty Python, when that sort of surreal British humor was quite well embedded in the British psyche.”

The album was a world-wide success, including a No 1 place on the American Billboard chart, and excerpts from the piece have regularly featured in Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson live shows. But Ian had steadily resisted record company suggestions that he write a follow-up.

The arrival of punk rock cast a shadow over a style of music that pop critics interested in ephemeral fads never cared for. To these critics, progressive rock became somewhat derogatory. But, Ian explains, “To me, anything is progressive if you are trying to take things on into a slightly new dimension, and draw upon different influences and push them into something that fits your own sense of inventiveness and your own career progression. So `progressive rock’ is a fine title.”

It was not until a chance encounter in 2010 with old friend Derek Shulman of Gentle Giant, who nagged him to consider a 40th anniversary sequel, that Ian gave it some serious thought – and surprised himself by not dismissing it out of hand this time. He had noticed that in recent years his audiences had been changing. “It wasn’t just old codgers, it was kind of a mix between old codgers and young codgers. It really struck me that there was this new wave of interest from youngsters who want something that is an alternative and antidote to the X-Factor and the very repetitive rock music that does tend to be the stuff of today. So I began to feel that it was not quite as undignified as I had earlier supposed to be doing something that was more in that kind of progressive vein.”

In February 2011 Ian spent a couple of days sketching out some ideas. “It was predicated on the idea of what might have befallen Gerald Bostock, this precocious child, where would he have headed in life? And the more I started thinking about that the more I thought that there were so many pivotal moments in my own childhood where, often quite by chance, I might have gone in one direction or in some completely opposite direction. I could have been anything from a soldier or a sailor or an astronaut to a thespian or a silviculturist – although when I left school I actually tried first to join the police force and then to be a journalist on the local newspaper, before music took over while I was at art college.

“So I imagined Gerald Bostock as this 10-year old kid entering into puberty who, by the look of the young male model who was photographed in 1972 as the notional Gerald Bostock, was obviously a rather swottish schoolboy who probably wasn’t very popular at school and probably wasn’t very good at sports. What sort of opportunities would he have had, who would he have been, what would he have been led towards? I started to write a number of scenarios, including a piece looking at his possible early life immediately post-puberty, and then another piece later on for each of these characters that Gerald might have become, leading through to adulthood. Then in the latter part of the album I drew all these things back into a common kismet-karma kind of future where, in spite of all these chance interventions, there is maybe some element of fate and we all end up where we were going to end up anyway, in spite of the fact that we may have taken some radically different roads along the way.”

Ian Anderson's Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick 2
From that loose concept emerged Thick As A Brick 2. Recorded in November 2011 with Florian Opahle (guitar), John O’Hara (keyboards), David Goodier (bass) and Scott Hammond (drums), musically Ian has very deliberately echoed the feel of the 1972 album by using many of the same instruments, including a lot of acoustic guitar and lashings of Hammond organ, and to a large extent recording it with the band all playing live together, with the minimum of overdubs and no use of limiters and noise gates and other tricks of the trade, leaving engineer Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree) to tweak things himself. And, while there are ID points to allow separate tracks to be downloaded from iTunes, it is a continuous 53-minute piece of music with recurring musical themes.

Also echoing the 1972 album, and the St Cleve Chronicle newspaper sleeve, the 2012 album is housed in a mock-up of a local news website www.StCleve.com, which Ian designed himself in a deliberately not-too-professional pastiche of community websites (and which will be accessible online, with an area where fans can add their own spoof local news stories). “It’s light-hearted most of the way through StCleve.com, with lots of fairly vulgar schoolboy smutty stuff, but there are also some serious bits and things that are quite observational of the parochial home counties way of life. There will be some familiar characters like Max Quad, and Angela de Groot who runs a fitness center now. And there will also be various people known to me and known to the world, although their names are slightly twisted around. But you’ll know who they are….” And the 18-month world tour, starting in the UK on April 14th, will also nod to 40 years ago and what Ian describes as the “amateur dramatics village hall” 1972 stage show with a new theatrical presentation involving videos and character actors.

“Unlike the original 1972 Thick As A Brick, the mood of the album is not really a spoof,” says Ian. “It’s not a funny thing; some of it is quite heart-aching and serious, and sometimes a bit intellectual, and sometimes a bit upbeat and amusing, but not in a spoof-fun way. It’s an altogether rather more serious work, and even when you think it’s being light-hearted and funny there’s a seriousness behind it.

It’s observational about stereotype characters. And one of the stereotypes I chose not to make Gerald, at least on the album, was a politician, as it seemed too obvious – although he does appear on the album sleeve as a recently unseated Labour MP who’s come to live in the St Cleve vicinity. He does however appear in other guises like a corrupt Christian evangelist, as an overpaid investment banker with huge bonuses and the kind of person we love to hate these days, and as a casualty of war as a repatriated serviceman helping those less fortunate than himself to acclimatize back into the real world with obviously a very bitter sense of the futility of war. Those are down moments and scary moments. But you need to take people through it. So you sometimes do it in a light-hearted way.

“Somebody may draw the parallel with Quadrophenia, but that’s completely wrong. This is not split personality, this is about totally different characters that we all might have become in our lives. If we’d walked on the other side of the road, or picked up the `phone, or read that article in the newspaper, things like that could have changed our lives. And that unmistakably is what happens to people in their lives, the friends they make, the relationships they enter into, perhaps in marriage or whatever else. This is all about – as it says in a couple of places – the what ifs, the maybes and might have beens moments in life.

“One of the pivotal moments on this album is the piece ‘A Change Of Horses,’ which fans will recognize from our stage shows over the last year or so. It’s about that point in your life where you say, if there’s ever going to be a change it’s got to be now. That happens to a lot of people perhaps in the forties or fifties, and I rather like the idea of this re-gearing, this re-evaluation, and there being a second part in your life where fate draws you to some conclusion. But it’s not just looking back, it’s also about looking forward. The what ifs and maybes were rich and exciting moments in my teenage years, filled with a mixture of promise and sheer terror, because it’s a scary world out there. So that’s what I’m exploring, and I think it works for people at both ends of the age spectrum, for the middle-aged Waitrose trolley-pushing shopper and the pubescent youngster who’s facing some decision-making.”

Ian confirms that Thick As A Brick 2 is a concept album. “Yes, it is very much a concept album! It is a concept album that I think is fairly grown-up and mature, but I think it should ring bells for people of all ages. It’s an intellectual proposition. I’m not sure how many people are going to be ready for that kind of a thing, but I think there will be enough people for it to be a worthwhile record to make. But it’s unashamed in its asking you to think about it and listen to it. Some of the music is pretty straight-ahead which you can just kind of groove to, and some things work without your being too cerebral about it. But the overall concept and indeed lots of the lyrics and parts of the music you are going to have to make a bit of an effort with. I think that some of us like to do that. Combine that with all the detail that’s gone into the peripheral aspect of presenting the album with the artwork, the stcleve.com website and so on, it all wraps up into a big package that I think will give people a lot of fun.”

Tickets go on sale Friday, March 9 at 10:00 am

Tickets available online at ticketmaster.com, at all ticketmaster outlets. To charge tickets by phone, call (800) 745-3000 and visit www.ticketmaster.com/outlets for a list of ticketmaster outlets.

Reserved tickets are $79.50 – $39.75 plus applicable service charges. All ages are welcome.

Tomorrow Will Tell The Story

Echo Us - Tomorrow Will Tell The Story
Echo Us

Tomorrow Will Tell The Story (Absolute Probability Recordings, (2012)

Tomorrow Will Tell The Story is the latest release by the uncategorizable project called Echo Us. Tomorrow Will Tell The Story is a mysterious sonic journey composed of musical collages composed of songs, electronic and acoustic musical passages and sampled sounds. Ethan Matthews is the artist behind the surreal project. He is joined by several collaborators, including singer-songwriter Henta, harpist Raelyn Olson and hermeticist Rawn Clark who contributes meditation canticles.

‘I’ve always gotten the lot of my musical ideas from dreams and trance states- but this time was different..,” says Ethan. “Words and phrases came from completely outside of me into my mind very clear and vividly- and I’d never recalled them before. These were spiritual sayings and ideas that were quite alien to me. This became not only the inspiration for, but direct material lifted for The Archaeous of Water suite. This experience led me to discover Kabbalism and esoteric works such as The Seth Material along with other forms of spiritualism.”

Tomorrow Will Tell The Story is sometimes angelic, while other times it is dark and out of this world, creating variable moods and changeable atmospheres. It will appeal to music fans with a taste for the challenging and exploratory.

The CD album also includes two extra album tracks and one bonus track not originally slated for release.

Signed pre-orders for Tomorrow Will Tell The Story are on sale at www.echous.net.

All Rights Removed

Airbag - All Rights Removed
Airbag

All Rights Removed (Karisma Records, 2011)

Norwegian band Airbag has attracted the curiosity of Pink Floyd music fans with its attention-grabbing mix of progressive space rock and melodic rock. Imagine the offspring of Coldplay and Animals-era Pink Floyd and that will give you an idea of the group’s sound.

The Coldplay influence is larger in the vocal parts, which have a melancholic soft rock feel. Airbag‘s music really takes off when they venture into the instrumental sections with tasty keyboard atmospheres and guitar riffs and solos that would make David Gilmour proud.

Most of the pieces are pretty lengthy. The only short piece is a beautiful instrumental piece titled ‘Light them All up.’ The album ends with an excellent 17:21 suite titled ‘Homesick’ which is divided into 3 parts.

The band members featured in the recording are Anders Hovden on bass; Asle Torstrup on vocals, programming, keyboards; Bjørn Riis on guitars, vocals, keyboards; Henrik Fossum on drums; and Jørgen Hagen on keyboards, programming.

With its wonderful combination of elegant melodies and exquisite Floydian space rock, All Rights Removed is definitely an album you will want to have in your modern progressive rock collection.

Legendary Dutch Band Focus to Begin South American Tour

Dutch progressive rock band Focus will be touring Brazil and Argentina starting Friday, March 9th. The current version of the legendary band features founder Thijs van Leer on keyboards, flute and vocals and Pierre van der Linden on drums together with new members Menno Gootjes on guitar and Bobby Jacobs on bass.

The group’s latest recording is Focus 9 / New Skin, released on the Red Bullet label of Willem van Kooten. Focus will be playing the latest material as well their prog rock classics from the 1970s.

Tour Dates:

March 9
Belo Horizonte MG – ESOPO
Brazil
esopo.com.br

March 10
Pouso Alegre MG – Teatro Municipal
Brazil
ticketbrasil.com.br/novos/

March 14
Rio De Janeiro Teatro Rival
Brazil
rivalpetrobras.com.br

March 15
Goiania Bolshoi
Brazil
bolshoipub.com.br/eventos/semana
March 16
Votorantim Pedreira do Icatu
Brazil

March 17
Sao Paulo Carioca Club
Brazil
www.cariocaclub.com.br/events

March 21
Buenos Aires Teatro Coliseo
Argentina

Deep Water Ambience

Dan Pound - Medusazoa
Dan Pound

Medusazoa (Pound Sounds PS11, 2011)

American synthesist Dan Pound takes you on a fascinating underwater immersion with his latest CD, Medusazoa. The album is dedicated to the graceful movement and vibrant bioluminescence of jellyfish flowing and drifting with the ocean currents. It contains a series of tranquil ambient pieces with distant hypnotic pulses, dreamy drones, and flowing atmospheres.

A few years ago, during a music conference, I had the opportunity to visit the National Aquarium in Baltimore (Maryland). At the time, they had a temporary jellyfish exhibit and I stood for minutes, mesmerized, watching the strangely beautiful bioluminescent creatures. Medusazoa captures that sensation and would make a great soundtrack companion to such an exhibit.

Dan Pound used analog modular synth drones, patches and effects to make Medusazoa with the intent of making ‘pure underwater dream zone music.’

Dan Pound was classically trained. He learned piano, guitar and double bass at an early age and started writing songs soon after. Pound joined the local honor orchestra and was soon writing pieces for the entire ensemble. In addition to performing and composing, Dan has earned degrees in recording engineering and electronic music technology.

Over several years, Dan Pound has pieced together a home studio where he does most of his work now, recording and producing his music independently. He specializes in music for film and multimedia. He also records and produces his own albums on his Pound Sounds label.

Medusazoa is a fine example of atmospheric electronic music by one of the current talents in the ambient music scene.

Steam Theory Releases Helios Rider

Steam Theory - Helios Rider
Steam Theory announced the release of its second album, Helios Rider. Steam Theory is a Baltimore (Maryland) based recording project and accompanying live band that performs original progressive rock around the Baltimore and Washington D.C. region.

Helios Rider is a follow up to 2010’s Enduring Delirium album. The new disc includes 9 original instrumentals that combine elements from progressive rock, Americana, Funk, and Fusion.

Jason Denkevitz is the musician behind the project. He is joined by Karras Johnson on drums; Sherif Shalaan on Keyboards and Ori Shokek on Keyboards.

The album is available now on CD from cdbaby.com/cd/steamtheory and is also available as a digital download from steamtheory.com and other digital stores.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP) to Reissue Expanded Re-mastered Editions of First Six Albums

Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Legendary progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP) and Razor & Tie have signed an exclusive new multi-year, multi-rights licensing deal for North America. Razor & Tie will re-issue ELP’s prog classics. The first release, The Best of Emerson Lake & Palmer: Come & See The Show is available now for purchase on digital stores and in traditional retail outlets. The best of, 14-track compilation includes some of the band’s most beloved compositions including “Lucky Man,” “From The Beginning,” “I Believe In Father Christmas,” and the full 9-minute version of the classic, “Fanfare For The Common Man.”

A full catalog re-issue campaign will begin later this year with the release of newly expanded, re-mastered, editions of the band’s first six albums: Emerson, Lake and Palmer (1970- Studio Album), Tarkus (1971- Studio Album), Pictures At An Art Exhibition (1971- Live Album), Trilogy (1972- Studio Album), Brain Salad Surgery (1973- Studio Album), and Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends (1974- Live Album).

As Emerson, Lake & Palmer remain unique in their categories, it’s only fitting that they are now with a record company with a unique name like ‘Razor & Tie,” explains keyboardist Keith Emerson. “Don’t question anything as the music speaks for itself and ‘Razor & Tie’ yells volumes on ELP’s behalf.”

The time was right to make this move,” says ELP drummer Carl Palmer. “It’s a great, enthusiastic music company.”

Greg Lake also enthuses, “We are looking forward to a long and productive relationship together.”

We are very excited and honored to distribute and represent the Emerson Lake and Palmer catalog,” added Razor & Tie co-owner Cliff Chenfeld. “ELP helped create prog rock and we will use this opportunity to bring ELP’s amazing body of work to an even broader audience and to finally understand what the Tarkus album cover means.”

Considered by many to be one of rock’s original first super-groups, Emerson Lake & Palmer was formed in England in 1970, consisting of Keith Emerson (keyboards), Greg Lake (bass guitar, vocals, guitar) and Carl Palmer (drums, percussion). The band created a brand new type of music, combining classical and symphonic rock fused with beautiful vocals. Their penchant for appropriating themes from classical music and the group’s more nuanced, textured approach to symphonic arrangements set ELP apart from their guitar-based contemporaries of the time.

Along with Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, and Gentle Giant, Emerson Lake and Palmer ushered in the progressive rock era and as one of the most commercially successful rock bands of the 1970’s having sold over 40 million albums. ELP’s dramatic flair, sincere passion, labyrinthine song structures, and symphony-worthy virtuosity proved that classical rockers could compete for arena-scale audiences as the band headlined stadium tours around the world.

The Best Of Emerson Lake & Palmer: Come & See The Show, Track List:

1. Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression – Part 2
2. Lucky Man
3. From The Beginning
4. Knife-Edge
5. Hoedown (Taken From Rodeo)
6. Jerusalem
7. C’est La Vie
8. Still…You Turn Me On
9. Tank
10. Fanfare For The Common Man
11. Toccata
12. Peter Gunn
13. Nutrocker
14. I Believe In Father Christmas

Interview with Multi-Instrumentalist and Composer Ben Craven

Ben Craven
Australian progressive rock phenom Ben Craven has attracted worldwide attention in the progressive rock community with his second album, Great & Terrible Potions. The superb concept album mixes conventional songs with orchestral soundtracks. The artwork was made by legendary illustrator Roger Dean, who made the famous covers for Yes, Uriah Heep, Greenslade and Asia.

Craven discusses his musical background and various projects with Progressive Rock Central.

When did you start playing music?

I was 6 when I took up the violin. Unfortunately I was never very good at it since I hated practicing and was only ever taught to play the notes on the page. Luckily I learned a bit about music theory along the way, which could then be applied to other instruments.

What kind of musical training do you have?

That was it! I picked up a guitar fairly late in the game when I was 17, and everything started to fall into place. By that time I was more interested in not taking lessons and not studying music, so as not to take away the magic, and I wanted to rely on my instincts instead.

I’m sure formal training could have brought my technical skills up to speed much faster. But then I would have missed out on the exploration and self-discovery and interesting mistakes that all go towards forming your own musical identity. As with everything perhaps the best approach is somewhere in between.

How many instruments do you play?

Ben Craven - Photo by Michelle Aziz
Enough to be dangerous. Early on when I started writing I decided that the best way for me to get ideas out of my head was to be able to play them myself. So I’ve picked up different instruments over the years as a means to an end, rather than with the intention of mastering any one of them in particular.

In the 1970s when Mike Oldfield was doing it, being a multi-instrumentalist was remarkable. Now not so much. I can play piano and drums well enough for my own needs, and if you can play guitar you can have a crack at most stringed instruments, which I like to do. There’s some mandolin on my first album, lap steels all over the place, and I recently bought a pedal steel that needs my attention.

Which is your favorite instrument?

Fairly obviously I lean towards guitar, electric mainly. More than any other instrument I think it responds the most to the personality of the player. And on top of that there’s so much sonic territory you can explore with the choice of guitar, amplifier, pickups and effects.

But having said that I can imagine I’d be fairly contented if fate placed me in the role of a lead bass player, or decreed I must play keyboards.

When did you discover progressive rock?

Apparently I was subjected endlessly to Dark Side Of The Moon in the womb. I can believe it. I remember when I was 3 or so being particularly keen on a tape of Days Of Future Passed by the Moody Blues. So these sorts of things were in my blood before I realized it, and certainly before I had any notion of musical genres, or the unfashionability of prog at the time.

Gradually I became a huge fan of Pink Floyd, and this led me to reach out to Yes, King Crimson, ELP and Genesis. I’ll never forget the first time I heard Heart Of The Sunrise or Close To The Edge.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

Ben Craven - Photo by Michelle Aziz
Pink Floyd, Yes and Mike Oldfield are fairly obvious influences I think. The Beach Boys perhaps less obvious. Brian Wilson is a rite of passage that a lot of writers seem to go through. One day Beach Boys songs are catchy little things with pleasant harmonies that you take for granted. The next day after delving a little deeper they’re right at the pinnacle of pop music and you can’t go back.

Film music composers like John Williams, John Barry, Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith are also incredibly influential. They can take the classical format and produce a 3-minute theme which is as good as anything I’ve heard. My favorite movies are the ones which are strong enough to withstand fantastic scores, and listening to the score on its own can be as good as watching the movie.

I was very upset when John Barry and Jerry Goldsmith passed away, and I’m incredibly grateful that John Williams seems to be just as strong as ever. It’s encouraging to take their lead and assume I still have 50 years of writing ahead of me!

How does the composition process work?

I’m sure it’s very different for different people. But for me there’s the inspiration and then the perspiration. The raw diamonds in the rough, the little nuggets of musical inspiration, can happen anywhere, anytime and be triggered by anything. Brian Wilson called them “feels”. It’s incredibly important to capture them at conception and let them develop as much as possible in those brief moments before the conscious mind takes control again, as it generally likes to do. Later on comes the completely different process of being a craftsman, choosing arrangements and song structures, and consciously making decisions about lyrics. That’s the hard work, but it makes all the difference between a finished song and an unfinished snippet.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Ben Craven - Photo by Kris Anderson
That’s a difficult question. Musically, mostly I have to inspire myself these days. Otherwise the bulk of my musical inspiration would come from looking back, which isn’t altogether healthy. Fortunately it’s very easy for me to get excited about the act of musical creation, the thrill of hearing a piece of music evolve, and all the creative possibilities I can play around with until it’s finished. It’s pretty much self-sustaining and I haven’t got tired of it yet.

On the bigger scale, I take most of my inspiration from people who have managed to make a living out of creative freedom. Whether it be in film, art, books, whatever. It somehow makes a piece of work much more interesting to me if I know it’s exactly the way the creator intended it, and it’s done with conviction.

Tell us about your first recordings.

I had a dual cassette recorder and a cheap children’s keyboard with miniature keys. I discovered there was a “mixing mic” input on the back of the cassette recorder, which let me record one live overdub as a tape copied. It was a crude way of making multi-track recordings, and by the time you were finished the first track was lost in tape hiss and had been completely detuned. Still, great fun.

When I was 16 a friend introduced me to MOD trackers on the PC, which was a 4-track system using samples, note information and awful sample rates. But suddenly I was able to get ideas out of my head into a band format. I moved onto basic MIDI and followed sequencers as they grew to include audio tracks, until desktop computers were powerful enough to handle multi-track audio. Then I started recording demos for my first album, Two False Idols. By the time audio plugins were within my reach, I knew that I could also be the studio.

Your most recent album has made a splash in the progressive rock community. Why did you decide to do it as a solo project?

Ben Craven - Great & Terrible Potions
I explored progressive rock in a social vacuum. It’s not something any of my friends were particularly interested in, so I spent a lot of time listening alone. Likewise, with a few exceptions, my songwriting has generally been a solitary activity, with nobody around to criticize, improve or dilute it, and I’ve become accustomed to working that way. So when it came to record Great & Terrible Potions, I was cursed with very definite ideas on how the different instruments should sound, and I wanted to see them to fruition. I ended up being my own band, and tried to give different musical personalities to the virtual band members.

I imagine that if I’d lived in London or LA [Los Angeles] I would have met enough like-minded musicians by now to have formed a band where everyone contributed creatively. That was my intention on my first album, Two False Idols, but it never worked out that way.

You used the legendary graphic artist Roger Dean for your album design. How did you connect with him?

After the album was recorded, I explored the idea of releasing it through a local record label. The head of the label loved it and suggested that a Roger Dean cover would go very well with the music. Well, duh! Pipe dream, I thought, so I disregarded it almost straight away. But it turned out he had a friendship with Roger. We made contact and eventually came to an agreement.

Of course I’d previously met Roger and got his autograph in Sydney when Yes toured Australia in 2003, but I was just another Yes fanboy and I’m fairly sure he didn’t remember!

I’m incredibly pleased with how it all turned out. I think the painting is beautiful and it matches the dark and sinister atmosphere of most of the music very well. And it’s still hard to believe I’ve worked with one of the greatest cover artists in the world.

How important are the other art components, aside from music?

The music is most important, but I have a hard time separating some of the great classic rock albums from their iconic covers. And I’ve always been a stickler for poring over the artwork or packaging, whether it was a gatefold vinyl cover when I was a kid, or a CD booklet. It doesn’t hurt to titillate the other senses at the same time.

Now that digital downloading is taking over, I think it’s more important than ever to give people a reason to buy a physical copy. The artwork and the packaging, even the medium, can help with that. I’ve been hassled by a few people demanding to see Great & Terrible Potions on vinyl. I’m delighted to say it’s on its way in a few weeks, with a Roger Dean gatefold sleeve!

Will you be continuing to work as a solo artist or do you plan to form a band?

I can’t imagine not working as a solo artist for a while. It was a long and considered decision to put my name on the front of Great & Terrible Potions, rather than use an imaginary band name. Potions is an independent release, so with my limited funding I’ve been promoting and hoping to build up the “Ben Craven” name.

However that leads to a few problems playing live. I’ve actually just started rehearsing with a 3-piece band, reinterpreting the songs in a band context for live performance. Somehow we’ve managed to distill the symphony orchestra and soundscapes on the 11-minute ‘No Specific Harm’ down to just us!

Do you have any tours planned?

Not at this stage but I’m hoping we can do some small tours once the show is polished.

Have you been approached by any progressive rock artists inside or outside of Australia?

Not really. I don’t think Australia has a very strong progressive rock community, and I’m still fairly unknown to boot. Having said that, I’m incredibly easy to contact and open to considering all sorts of collaborations!

How’s the progressive rock scene in Australia now?

I think Australian progressive rock is doing much better overseas than in Australia. A few bands like Unitopia and Anubis have done very well, and Sebastian Hardie has a new one out too. But there’s very limited local radio support and the population is just too small for sustained live work. Most of the prog rock market appears to be overseas. In fact my biggest sales have been in Europe.

Making a living from music is not easy, are you a full time musician?

I’m afraid not. I’m the musician, the studio and the label, which means I fund the lot and need a day job! The advantage of that situation is I have complete creative control and don’t have to worry too much about compromising my work to meet a particular deadline.

If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with whom would that be?

I’d be thrilled to work with any of my musical heroes from any aforementioned bands. I’d equally be as thrilled just to have a drink with them. I think Billy Sherwood has the right idea, producing tribute albums and collaborating with everyone he wants to! Bill Bruford or Nick Mason please give me a call to discuss your session fee for playing drums on my next album.

What was the first big lesson you learned about the music business?

That nobody really cares. The music “business”, like any business, is there primarily to make money. These people need to make a living. If you as an artist can help the business make money, the business will be friends with you. But mainly because of your potential for making income, rather than your artistry. Artistry and commerce working hand in hand is a precarious position fraught with danger.

Ben Craven - Two False Idols
But once you choose not to take any of this stuff personally, it’s up to you whether or not you want to work within those confines. Great & Terrible Potions was made outside of the business. I can’t see how I could have done it any other way.

Are you working on new projects?

I’ve just finished working on the vinyl version of Great & Terrible Potions, and the LPs should be arriving at my doorstep any day now. I’ve also completely remixed and remastered my previous album, Two False Idols, which is available on Bandcamp shortly.

I’m halfway through a concept album about a turn-of-the-century Oklahoma outlaw who just happened to be called Ben Cravens. It’s a strange combination of country and prog. But I’m itching to start working on the natural follow-up to Potions. The demos have been completed for a while and I’m really looking forward to finishing them off. It will probably have more symphonic elements and teeter on the edge between film soundtrack and rock album.

Progressive rock, jazz-rock fusion, ambient electronic music and beyond