The Tangent are back with their latest effort, Proxy. This is the 10th release by the Andy Tillison led outfit, and is only a year removed from their last release. Now, I’m going to be up front. While I have heard of The Tangent, I have somehow never managed to give this group a listen. A mistake I will be correcting immediately.
Proxy was written and recorded while they were on the road as the backing band for bassist Jonas Reingold’s other band, Karmakanic. And you can tell it was written as a group functioning on all cylinders. This disc is tight. The band just absolutely feed off each other and easily weave together all their individual styles into an amazingly flowing patchwork of sound.
Is it obvious that Andy Tillison has influences based on 70’s era progressive rock? You betcha. But there is so much more here than that. So much more. There is a lot of jazz present throughout, and the band slips through styles and influences seamlessly.
The album starts off with the 16 minute title track, a wonderful mix of 70’s progressive rock complete with the sound of mellotrons. The lyrics are political, and leave no question as to where Mr. TIllison stands on the subject. The the focus is the music here. One would think a 16 minute song would at some point become tedious. I know for me, even the best of epic progressive tracks have a few spots where you wish they would “just get on with it.” But I have to tell you, I did not have that happen with the track. Here I was, sitting at my desk with my headphones on, tapping along, when I looked at the clock and realized the track was almost over. I could hardly believe my eyes (or ears for that matter).
Next up is the jazz-fusion instrumental, The Melting Andalusian Skies. Guitarist Luke Machin shines on this track. The title is dead-on in describing the music. There is a total Mediterranean feel on this track in its rhythms and styles. And it features flamenco style picking throughout. It’s a great instrumental piece that sees a band running at full stride.
The next track, A Case of Misplaced Optimism, is teeming with amazing bass grooves and riffs. It’s loaded with funk, and the band describe it as an ‘attempt to find the link between Porcupine Tree and Jamiroquai.” A bold goal, no doubt. Whether the band succeeded in that attempt is up to you, the listener, but it’s a fun ride none-the-less. The horns really set the mood here, blasting away behind a great, 70’s funk inspired track. Did I mention the bass groove?
The next song, another 16 minute epic entitled “The Adulthood Lie,” is a sprawling song where the music seems to sweep across the lifetime of the author, who seems to be pondering if maturing and adulthood is all it was supposed to be. Should he really be acting his age? The track features quick pace with a dance groove. It feels like it starts in the 70’s, but not progressive 70’s, but rather the dance feel of the era. You can feel the funk and wah-wah pedal feel of the 70’s full with the flute over the top. Only the keys seem to keep you in the present. As the song progresses, so does the music, transitioning to a more modern dance feel, yet keeping that same beat. After a quick bridge, it even gets into electronica, but with a subtle atmosphere just below the surface. Yet while in that realm, Machin rips off a little jazzy guitar solo. A real interesting meld, indeed. It finishes with a rollicking jam with an 80’s synth vibe.
The last track, “Supper’s Off” clocks in a hair under 10 minutes. Its got a nice pace, and the galloping bassline plays a major role in giving the track its early feel. Sometimes spoken, sometimes sung, the lyrics decry a world gone wrong. How simple it used to be, when things were free. How the generation that enjoyed Woodstock and wanted to change the world turned into the very people who have allowed the current world to become commercialized, changing music from a tool of change to a tool of profit. He laments how a Rolling Stones song could be used by a politician. The song breaks into a ripping guitar solo over that amazing Reingold bass. It rounds into a notable synth solo before reaching a crescendo that drops quickly yet effectively into the last two lines of lyric.
5 songs and 57 minutes later what do you have? A very good eclectic mix of music. The 70’s era English progressive base is there and out front, but The Tangent bring a lot more than that to the table. They play tight, and their jazz jams are amazing. Each song is different in its style and composition. Very different in many cases. This is a talented outfit for sure. I really need to check out their prolific back catalog (10 releases in 15 years!). I’ll give it a very solid 7/10.
The album was released November 16th, 2018 under InsideOut Music
NOTE: THIS REVIEW IT'S BASED ON ONLY 5 SONGS AS THOSE WERE THE ONES WE RECEIVED IN OUR PROMO COPY.
01. Proxy (16:07)
02. The Melting Andalusian Skies (8:51)
03. A Case of Misplaced Optimism (6:13)
04. The Adulthood Lie (16:05)
05. Supper’s Off (9:53)
06. Excerpt From “Excerpt From “Exo-Oceans” (10:25)
Andy Tillison – Vocals, Keyboards, Composer, Lyrics
Jonas Reingold – Bass Guitar
Theo Travis – Saxophone, Flute
Luke Machin – Guitar
Steve Roberts – Drums
Göran Edman – Vocals
“It’s surprising how prolific and how fast things were coming together in the writing of the new album” – Dream Theater’s James LaBrie discusses the writing of the new album “Distance Over Time”and more!
A new Dream Theater album is always an event met with much anticipation by the prog metal community. Upon the announcement of their 14th effort “Distance over Time”, the band promised a return to their roots. All five members retreated to a barn studio in the Catskills and worked unstoppably in the writing and recording, and thus a new chapter in the band’s lengthy career was written. With two very short samples having already been shown to the fans, along with the cover art, the first tour dates and a handful of track names, there is still an aura of mystery surrounding the new album. After an interview with Jordan Rudess last October, Rodrigo Altaf spoke with singer James LaBrie, and he revealed more details about the writing sessions, the touring plans, setlist choices and many other topics. Read it all in the transcript below, and please let us know your thoughts at the end of the article.
Lotsofmuzik: Thanks so much for agreeing to the interview. I imagine this is a very busy time for you with the upcoming release of the new Dream Theater album “Distance Over Time”, right?
JLB: Yeah, I mean everything is pretty much starting to gear up. We're at the point where the album is being mastered, there's a release date for February and then we're going to start the tour in March down in San Diego. I believe March 20th is the first date, so everything leading up to that. There's a lot of prep work, not only musically. We decided on a killer set list that most fans are going to really embrace. But there's also, you know, obviously all the promotion and all the interviews such as what you and I are doing here today. And everyone's in high gear, that's for sure.
LOM: For this album, you guys decided to convene in an isolated property and work together in the album. When I heard about that, I couldn't help but think about the old Led Zeppelin albums when they’d go together to Headley Grange and write and record the whole thing. Did anyone make that connection at the time?
JLB: I think first and foremost, John Petrucci, John Myung and I recalled the last time we did that as a band, when we were recording the “Images and Words” album. We were at BearTracks Studios in Upstate New York, and we actually all lived in this house. It was about 10 minutes from the studio in Tomkins Cove. That was the name of this town that we were in, and we were all living together in the house throughout the duration of the recording. So we were all talking and kind of reminiscing about those times and so it was kind of cool to come back to this- it was like a summer camp, but at the same time what you're doing is you're there to produce a new album, new material. And it was cool because I think what it allowed us to do is that it enabled us to come up with ideas together and slowly but surely we formed them into complete songs. Sometimes we’d just be chilling out, sitting around one another, and more often than not the conversation obviously comes back around to the music and where things are at and how we feel and the direction that it's going and maybe even focusing on that particular song at the moment that is being worked on. So it's kind of cool because it, it doesn't allow you many distractions, right? You're not getting away from it, but you're in that zone and you're there. Pretty much 24/7.
LOM: We have a couple of tracks whose names were already revealed: “Fall Into The Light”, “Paralyzed”, “At Wit's End” And “Barstool Warrior”. How have you contributed to those ones? And did you have any involvement in the music this time or just the lyrics?
JLB: Only the lyrics. I was there the whole time though, observing the music and if anything felt a little weird to me then I'd voice my opinion. But the amount of times that I would say that is not even worth mentioning. When it came time to write the melodies to the songs I got involved, and I wrote lyrics to three songs. And we had this discussion about me being involved and being a part of the process so that I could listen and kind of gauge where we're going and where we're at and what the end result is going to be. And so for me it's kind of cool because part of the whole process with any band that when they're writing is that you'll leave all your egos at the door and you're just basically candid with one another. What was surprising with this was just how quickly it was going on. I don't know if you were speaking to any of the other guys, but I believe you did an interview with Jordan and he might've mentioned to you that at the end of the day, the actual days of writing worked out to be something like 17 days! That's how prolific, how fast things were coming together. Like I said, I wrote the lyrics to three songs, one of the songs being the bonus track on the album. I think everything came out exactly as we had hoped and as we had been discussing leading up to the actual time in the studio to actually start writing.
LOM: That's good to hear! And it seems that you took the same approach as the self-titled album to a certain extent, in the sense that the songs are a bit more direct, right? Not necessarily shorter but more direct, more straight to the point.
JLB: Yeah, absolutely. Our last album was very conceptually based and very theatrical as well. So it was about getting back and about encompassing or encapsulating all of our roots, where we came from and our influences originally and what does that say to each and every guy in the band. And also chasing something that's a little more organic, and then ultimately creating something where we can say that each song is always going to be who and what we are. It always has to be identified as Dream Theater. But we felt that we were creating something a little more than what was previously done. I think when everyone hears the songs they're going to be going “wow!” I think each track is very, very exciting and very, very unique.
LOM: Very cool! At the same time it's already been announced that you'd be playing the album “Scenes From A Memory” in full. For me in particular, it's very special because I missed that tour. I was living in Brazil at the time and you guys didn't go there! But do you remember the last time you played the album in full?
JLB: Oh my God. I could be wrong, but I'm going to try…was it when we were in South America? It wasn't Buenos Aires, was it?
LOM: No, it was in Sao Paulo. I wasn't actually in Brazil at the time - I was living in Australia. I travelled from Perth to see that tour in Japan. But what I heard from that night in Sao Paulo is that you got the news of a family member passing away halfway through the show and you carried on!
JLB: Oh yeah, right. That was my father, man. He died while we were on that tour on December 11th and the guys were completely behind me. They said “if you have to go home, you have to go home”. And I said “well, no, I'm not going, you know, my family's going to wait for me to get home after the tour”. And it was tough, you know, I really had to kind of hold it together and I think what I did each night is, I just went on there and I kept saying “this is for you dad”. My dad was a huge influence to me musically. He loved to sing and he was in a barbershop quartet singing and he's also the one that really introduced me to people like John Coltrane and Miles Davis and really made me appreciate jazz and instruments and how they spoke, you know, how they each had a voice. I owe a lot to him because he was my biggest fan and it was just amazing, amazing who he was and what he was during life. So yeah, it was a little difficult, but I think the shows went on and they went down great.
LOM: So without revealing too much, are you planning to change any arrangements of the “Scenes From A Memory” songs?
JLB: At this point I'm going to say that that's always a possibility, but none of those conversations have taken place yet. From a personal standpoint, I think, that just due to the fact that it's the 20th anniversary, I think that aside from a few improvisational moments here and there, in order to really do the album justice and to really honor the album for what it is, it would be cool to just play it like was written. I think nothing beats it, just stick to what was there originally and I think that will even make it that much more magical. I think just the fact that we're going to be honoring that album and playing it from front to back, it’s just going to be a thrilling experience, not only for the fans but for the band too. It'll really be an inspirational moment for each and every one of us.
LOM: For me, it's a second chance to tick off a bucket list item! [laughs]. And having seen you guys in the “Images, Words and Beyond” tour here in Toronto last year, you guys seemed to enjoy that trip down memory lane. I have a question about that time when you joined the band and moved from Canada to the US. Was that a move you were already planning to make regardless of the invitation to join the band?
JLB: Physically I never moved to the U.S., but I see what you're saying. Like, getting into that whole U.S. headspace. I was in a band called Winter Rose before Dream Theater, which everyone knows, or most fans of Dream Theater would know. And at the time, you know, I was already starting to deal with U.S. labels like Atlantic, who were very interested in signing Winter Rose. So I had already started to wrap my head around the fact that this was a completely different market. It just allows for so much more to be had, on a much larger scale just because the country's population is 10 times that of Canada. Ultimately what really mattered to me is, “am I going to be able to make something of this?” you know, if I get into Dream Theater? I believed right from the very beginning that we had all the potential and we had all the earmarks for a very unique and individual band to be able to say something and bring something that most bands weren't even entertaining in the slightest bit. So I knew that if we got our fair shake, it would really take off, and fortunately for us all it did. But the whole point to me, to be honest with you Rodrigo, I just wanted to make it, and survive off of music. And [at the time I thought] if there's any band that can do it, it's this band because we're so unique and so diverse and the virtuosity within the band was incredible even at that time. So to me it was, you know,”God willing, I hope that this can be something that's successful”.
LOM: Did you think from the get-go that you guys had created something unique? When we talk about prog metal, there were other bands doing something similar like Fates Warning and Queensryche, but they surely didn't have the same impact or influence that you guys had in the scene.
JLB: I was definitely aware of the other bands that were out there and that were, you know, kind of carrying the torch for that progressive element within music. But I just knew that what Dream Theater was doing musically was just standing on its own. It was its own language and I just thought “if we play our cards right and this album is captured, the magic is captured with these songs of ‘Images and Words’, and if the right people hear it and the right amount of people hear it, then it's a no-brainer that it's going to be a success”. And you know, also there was that little bit of trepidation because you have to remember that when the album came out in 1992, grunge was huge at that time. You had bands like Nirvana and even Soundgarden too to a certain extent. But Soundgarden to me was more like a true classic frigging rock metal band, you know, and I thought they were freaking amazing and I always did. But just going into that environment musically was great. I remember Derek Oliver, who got us signed to ATCO or Atlantic, telling us stories of when he was going to the label and saying “there was this band, Dream Theater, you know, we gotta sign them, they’re freaking amazing”, and most of the people at the label were like, “are you sure about this? Their music doesn't sound like anyone out there”. Thankfully, Derek was there and he was also a journalist and a big, big music fan, he thoroughly understood us, and thoroughly appreciated who we were musically. And he was our guy in the ring, he went in there and he got us signed when I think most people were very apprehensive to make that move. So thank God. But beyond it, um, you know, like in anything in this world, like in any business, you need key people of influence – you need the powers that be to be willing to believe in you. And that was our situation.
LOM: And what would the James of today have told the Jas of 91, 92 if he could?
JLB: Good question. I guess the only thing I could say to him is “holy shit, man, enjoy the ride because it goes fast”. I still can't believe that, it's already been 27 years, and it's just amazing, you know, we've had such a brilliant ride all along and, and not unlike anyone else. In the music industry any band that's been around that long or as long as we have, there are the highs and lows and the challenges and everything else that goes along with. But, you know, we were a strong unit and we were able to really just stay focused on the music and who we are. And let's face it, I don't know many other bands that tour harder than we do, going for a year and a half at a time. That last world tour was two years and we were all completely burned out, burned physically, mentally and all that. We went from “The Astonishing” right into the 25th anniversary for “Images and Words”. So it was very, very taxing, but at the same time, very thrilling as well.
LOM: And aside from Dream Theater, you also had a very prolific solo career: two Mullmuzzler albums, a couple of solo albums…some fans are wondering if and when you're going to release new solo material.
JLB: I think what it comes down to is Matt Guillory and I that we've kind of started this thing way back in 1998 and it did start, like you said, with the Mullmuzzler albums and then it morphed into my solo albums. But for all intents and purposes, it's just as much Matt Guillory’s thing as it is mine - he's an integral part of it. With that being said, the situation is this: I need to wait for Matt to find the time to really be able to sit down and put all these songs together and to put an album together. And I mean, there's many ideas. We have many ideas and that's not what's lacking. What's lacking is that he has a full time gig, and at this point I'm kind of at the mercy of Matt being able to find the time and us being able to put aside hours of each and every day to be able to put this together. So I think at this point we speak off and on, on a regular basis, and we're just kind of saying please be patient. I'm trying to make a window of opportunity available so that we can actually sit down and put all the songs together and get another album and we will eventually do another album. At first we thought we were going to have one out even a year ago and then things come up in people's lives and you have to be cognizant and considerate of that. As far as I'm concerned it'll happen. I just can't really give you a definite timeline.
LOM: A lot of people say that the material in your solo career favors your singing style more than Dream Theater’s material. Would you agree with that assumption?
JLB: That’s interesting, and I've heard it, and many times I've read it. I think maybe what it might be and my analogy of it is that when Matt and I write together, it's very, very “vocal, vocal, vocal” oriented. And that's not to say that there isn’t incredible musicianship going on because everyone in that band, you know, Ray Riendeau, Peter Wildoer, Marco Sfogli, Matt Gillory, they're all phenomenal musicians and there are many, many times in all those songs that they're able to show just how virtuosic they are there. They all are great, great players and there's a lot of moments in those songs where the instruments are really at the forefront. But I think overall, the predominant element that's been focused on is when Matt and I are working on these songs, we're thinking vocals, we're thinking melodies. And so it kind of lends itself to, the vocal really being the focus. And I think because of that, it tends to kind of show itself a little bit more. It's a little bit more naked and upfront and that's my observation. I think with Dream Theater we've always been known as this progressive metal giant. But at the same time, we've also been very highly recognized for the instrumentation in the band, so it's not, I just not necessarily one instrument more than the other. It's a bit of everything, you know, a keyboardist that is incredible, an amazing guitar player, bass player, drummer, you know, and singer! So, so you're trying to make all these five elements make sense at the end of the day. And I think that we've done a phenomenal and an admirable job keeping that in mind and keeping it for the most part very balanced. But it’s different, it's a different monster. It's a different beast, you know, because of the nature of Dream Theater and where we go musically, the direction that we go is quite different than where Matt and I tend to go musically and the direction that we tend to make.
LOM: It's a shame that you don't get a chance to tour as much as well with your solo stuff. Actually, I spoke the other day with a drummer that toured with you John Macaluso , and he sent his regards to you!
JLB: He's phenomenal! He's, he's such a great guy, and an amazing drummer! He was out with us in 2005 when we went out and we had a great time. It was such a cool thing…we were only out for four weeks, we did five or six shows in the New York state area and then we took off and went over into Europe and all that. It was a great experience and the band sounded freaking amazing every night. I'm always hoping that that is a possibility, but, you know, I gotta be honest with you, Rodrigo, it's so time consuming with the Dream Theater thing and, and I tend to do things on the side. Actually, just today there was a video that I shot with a band called Last Union which was released. They’re from Italy, I sang four songs with them. And this one song that I did with them, “President Evil”, is out there now. It just was released worldwide. So I tend to do things on the side and work with other bands, other musicians, but at the same time, I'm really hoping that somehow some way a window of opportunity will avail itself so that we can rightfully and justifiably take out the solo band and do a tour in Europe through North America and wherever else we might deem possible, you know?
LOM: I have a question about your singing technique. I'm not a singer and I don't play any instruments, so I'm just an educated music listener, if I can call myself that. Sometimes when you go for high notes, you stick your tongue out a lot. What's your objective when you do that?
JLB: I think that just happens to me naturally. And I know some singers and even vocal coaches will say “that's not what I would do”. You're supposed to make it flat and behind your bottom teeth and stuff like that. I've always felt that when I stick my tongue out it helps open up my throat so it helps to make everything a little more open for me and helps to resonate in the mask area of my face. So to me, I could feel the notes a little more that go up into my, my chest tones or you know, my upper register and I can feel that into my passaggio or whatever. And so to me that's what works for me now. Technically speaking, yeah, you probably have a lot of vocal coaches that would say “you should maybe have his tongue flat and all that”, and that's fine, but what works for one or many doesn't necessarily work for everyone. So you have to find whatever you feel enables you to be comfortable when you're singing things from beginning to end and whatever that is or whatever enables you to do so, that's usually what a singer will adopt as something that works for them.
LOM: Speaking of your other endeavors, like you just mentioned, you sang with Rik Emmett in a track that also had Alex Lifeson of Rush. In a way that kind of summarized the whole contribution from Canada, to rock and prog: you have Rush, Triumph and you on the same track!
JLB: [laughs] I know, right? That was so crazy! We were in the studio on the same day, the three of us, and it was so cool. We kind of just sat around, talked and it was like we were at a bar having beers because we were hanging out and it was just about talking about life and families and boom boom boom. And it was surreal to me. Here I am looking at Rik Emmett, who's a phenomenal musician. I'm looking at Alex Lifeson who I think is one of the most incredible guitar players in the world all the music he wrote with Rush speaks for itself. He’s an incredible writer as well and it was just cool to see these two guys and then respect them myself, you know. And yeah, three Canadians going “hey, look what we did!”
LOM: I saw Geddy and Alex a month ago at an event, and to be honest, only now I stopped shaking…meeting them was a dream come true!
JLB: Where did you see them?
LOM: It was an event called Grapes Under Pressure. We went on a train to Niagara-on-the-Lake, did a wine tasting and they were there. It was more like a reception and we were able to catch up with them, take photos and whatnot. They're both really nice guys, very approachable, very cool with the fans.
JLB: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's the coolest thing about those guys, man, is that they're real.
LOM: Yeah, for sure. And speaking of encounters like this, one thing I was always curious about is the meet and greets. From memory, I think you guys started doing these in 2008, 2009. Is everyone in the band equally comfortable with them? Because it's the kind of situation where you have to be ready for intense adulation or some annoying criticism from never met before.
JLB: You know what, I think everyone's okay with it, but I think our biggest concern is that the fans spend money to get there and be with you and to hang out with you and that, but if we shook hands with everyone and we hugged and embraced everyone we'd be sick because you're meeting so many thousands of people or you're around so many people all the time when you're on tour and then to be doing the meet and greets where there's anywhere from 50 to a hundred, 100 plus people, that's a lot of people to be coming in contact with and it's something that I'm always very paranoid of because if I get a wicked cold, you know, then I'm fighting a beast, you know, out there on stage. At the same with the other guys, they don't want to get sick either, you know. So I think we're comfortable in meeting our fans and having conversations with them and doing pictures with them. And obviously you're talking about the music and we all love to talk about our music. So that's not a problem. I think the biggest concern is we just don't want this ending up making us ill are making us sick in some way. That's our biggest concern.
LOM: Understood. And I saw an interview where you said the most difficult song in the whole Dream Theater catalogue for you to sing is “Illumination Theory”. It’s hard to argue against that because it's a very difficult song. But do you think that long songs like that one or, “Octavarium”, “Count of Tuscany”, “In the Presence of Enemies” etc., could get back to the set list eventually?
JLB: Yeah, I think so, eventually! When I say something like that, it's just stating the fact that those are big numbers to sing. For any singer, they would be a very challenging thing. So you really have to make sure that you're in the best shape and you're in the best head space possible when you have songs like those that you just mentioned in the set list and each and every night. I hope that we always get around to songs in our catalog and not so far apart because they are a part of who and what we are and they are, songs that the fans want to hear. The problem is that when you have 14 albums though, it gets a little more difficult to try and say “okay, so how do you put that in a two-hour evening or how do you get enough in there to really satisfy each and every one of you?”. It's impossible. So you really have to pick up like where are we at, what is it that we're doing on this current tour, what is it that we're, we're trying to attain musically and is it going to be something that we feel good about. And at the same time be absolutely satisfying for our fans. So it's a lot to juggle. But yeah, I hope that we do definitely get back to those songs becoming a part of the set list for sure.
LOM: Well, Dream Theater is the kind of band that if you play all your albums back to back every night, there would still be complaints about the set list and how one of you guys played certain songs in a way certain fans didn’t enjoy, right?
JLB: [laughs] Oh yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean it doesn't matter. You're always gonna have someone that's going to say “I can't believe it, man, this is their set list?” [laughs] So it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. Even if we did, let's just say that every 14 nights we were playing each and every album from beginning to end. Then the complaint would be “Yeah, but they're not playing MY album when they were in MY city”. So you just got to really think what is best for Dream Theater as far as who and what we are and what it is that we think is supposed to be us at this particular point in time.
LOM: At some point in 2010 when Mike Portnoy left, there was talk of you taking over the YtseJam special releases, but that's still dormant at the moment.
JLB: How have I done so far? [laughs] You know what? I don't know how the hell that started. I really don't. I remember having those conversations about there being a lot to do, and you know, Mike handled those duties admirably, there's no doubt about it. I think really what happened was that we were just creating a whole new chapter in our career, and focusing on the album that we were releasing at any given time - “A Dramatic Turn of Events”, the self-titled album etc. In between that, and then each guy was doing his thing in between that. We've recorded every single flipping show since the beginning of “A Dramatic Turn of Events” tour, so it's not like we're lacking in material to put something together and maybe there will be one day that we can sit down as a band and we can say “okay, why don't we take from this album these nights and from this album these nights” and just put it out there for the fans. That would still be a huge, huge release because for us to do any of what we’ve done since 2011 up to the present and moving on forward, you're talking about a lot, even to find those nights that were so magical and special for the band where we go “oh my God, did you listen back to that recording? I mean, everyone was on fire, everyone sounded fricking amazing”. So even to get all of those and then decide amongst them on each world tour which ones we want to use, that's a mammoth undertaking.
LOM: Yeah, for sure! And let's talk about your preparations for a minute. Do you have a period where you go through the songs by yourself before meeting the band for rehearsals or do you wait until everyone's together to go through the material?
JLB: I think everyone starts to go through the songs individually at home. You start to rehearse them and I start to sing through them when I'm at home. So everyone does their homework - we can't just show up and then “boom, okay, let's go for it”. The band usually gets together two or three, even maybe four days before I show up, so by the time I get there they already feel really tight. They feel very sure with all the sections, all the segways, and what we've created as the set list. Then I'll come in and I'll do two or three days with them depending on what it is that we're doing. If I was to guess right now - because nothing's set in stone - let's just say, since we're starting the tour March 20th, more than likely those guys would be together, from around the 12th or 13th of March rehearsing. I would come in around maybe let's just say the 16th or 17th and rehearse a couple of days and then there's a day before the show where everything's kind of like down and we're not doing anything, and then you kick off the tour. For other tours, it depends on what it is that we're doing. Sometimes we will rehearse for 10 days somewhere in New York and then we all fly to Europe and we start the tour a week later in Europe. But we had that initial block of rehearsals. By the time we get to Europe and we're ready to do the first show, we have one long soundcheck that day and then boom, the tour starts.
LOM: I’ve seen shows you did with Jordan only and you had an acoustic number on the “A Dramatic Turn of Events” tour where it would be just you and John Petrucci on stage. Would you consider doing something low-key, like a mini tour doing only acoustic stuff?
JLB: Yeah, we keep talking about that. That has definitely come up. Actually we were talking about that as far back as the self-titled tour started. It'd be really cool to do maybe one little leg within a world tour where that leg is just strictly an acoustic leg and we just go out and we do a bunch of songs that we feel are best suited for an acoustic environment and just bring it to the fans that way and just make it a very intimate and very emotional night musically. I think that definitely is something that we discussed and it will hopefully come to fruition one day. Because I think 1998 was the last time we did anything like that, right?
LOM: Yeah, you did a few acoustic shows in Europe on that tour. But taking a sidetrack here, tell us about your son’s musical endeavors. It seems that his band Falset is taking off, right?
JLB: Yeah! Falset are doing amazing! They were playing me some of their new music just the other day. My son was here and we went for a drive. We like to go out in the vehicle and then crank it up. He played me a new song that they had just worked on, and it sounded freaking amazing - I'm blown away. I think these guys are contenders, and are right up there with anything that is new coming out, anything in their demographic. I mean, they're all like, what, 19 to 24 years old. So, you know, they're young, they're extremely talented. And the one thing that really gets me about them is they have great songs. It comes right down to the songs. Great melodies, very, very melodically influenced and I really think they have a shot at making something happen. They just came back from doing something like 10 dates, and were doing a mini tour in clubs, and right now they're focusing on getting into a studio and recording their new batch of songs, getting them released and then seeing where that goes - making the right people hear it. I think that they really do have a shot at making some huge waves
LOM: Well, maybe I'll be interviewing Chance LaBrie one day, who knows?
JLB: Right on, let me know man! He can sit down and talk to you! I'm proud of them, they're doing well.
LOM: Two half-joking questions from the fans: what kind of drink is in your bottle on stage and what do you do backstage when the long instrumental sections kick in?
JLB: You guys are obviously talking about my thermoses, right? That's just a little “warmer than warm”, a little hotter than warm water, and then it's a little splash of honey in it and that's what I keep sipping on. And as far as backstage when those guys were doing the long instrumental thing, I'm usually smoking cigars [laughs]. No, if I'm not sitting in my tent stretching I can go right backstage and jump around just to keep the blood flowing, and humming here and there. But I'm just waiting to get back out there and get back on with the show.
LOM: Coming back to the tour plans, you have already the dates scheduled for North America, but that's a bit unusual for you guys because you usually start in Europe, right? Is there any particular reason for that?
JLB: I think part of that is that we plan on doing the big festivals in Europe, so it wouldn't have made sense for us to start in Europe and then go back again to do the festivals. It only made sense that we started in North America this time. Then we’ll go do the big festivals throughout the summer and then I'm not sure where we go from there, either down into the Pacific Rim, Australia and all that, or going into South America. I'm not sure after the summer leg at this point, after the summer festival tour, what will be happening, but I'll probably know within a month or two.
LOM: Let's finish off with a message to the fans who can’t wait to see you guys on tour.
JLB: We’re looking forward to seeing everyone out there, it’s gonna be a phenomenal tour! We're really excited about the new album “Distance Over Time”, and we can't wait for you to hear it. It's going to smack each and every one of you upside the head - in a good way, not in an aggressive way [laughs]! Honestly, we're looking forward to doing “Scenes From A Memory” each and every night, along with the songs from various other albums. It's just going to be an amazing evening of music and a lot of fun, a lot of fun. Great production. Everything is going to be there!
LOM: James, thank you so much for your time! I'll definitely catch up with you guys on April 04th when you play here in Toronto, so I'm looking forward to that!
JLB: Thanks Rodrigo, take care!
Distance Over Time will be released under InsideOut Music February 22, 2019
More detail of the album, traclist, preorder links and more soon!
Dream Theater's upcoming release, "Distance Over Time", comes out in February, 2019. To announce the details of the band's most recent offering, Dream Theater has enlisted the help of fans to spread the word about the release and even to break the news of the record release date, cover artwork, and to share the first taste of never before heard music. With this album, a return to the band's roots, Dream Theater hoped to create a fan engagement experience unlike any previously undertaken.
To lead into the initial release of material, an Alternate Reality Game was launched. This game encompassed a "treasure hunt" whereby fans were able to search for clues hidden in various photos, video, social media posts, and more. Cooperation to host the Alternate Reality Game focused on various fan communities. The band's fan club, forum members and Reddit each brought in technical expertise to create puzzles for the participants. Each and every week, a new puzzle would be released, often in the form of a candid photo or video from the studio where Dream Theater recorded their latest album. This would contain a piece of the puzzle - a clue to be used in the process of solving that week's mystery. The puzzles were usually based on some encryption scheme or hiding information in the files, such as hiding a zipped file with text in an image file, or hiding text within the spectrogram of an audio file. One puzzle had the fans decoding Morse Code on a light diode of recording equipment, while another had the fans decoding a touch tone number from a phone call. Fans had to solve a sonogram, sudoku puzzle, reverse engineer an encryption scheme to find a key that would decrypt a specific text. They had to solve crosswords and trivia games. Fans were eager to participate, and often worked together to collectively solve the puzzles within hours of their release.
Ultimately, there would be one person - one fan who would be the first to solve the final clue. As their prize, this fan would be the first person to possess previously unreleased Dream Theater content. The very first person outside the band to have possession of any new music, new artwork, new album title. It would be the fans who would solve the puzzle, complete the game and break the news of the release, disseminating this brand new Dream Theater news to the world from their personal online presence.
It is the hope of Dream Theater to have created a fun and engaging fan experience. A unique manner to amp up the excitement for the new release, and to involve the band's fanbase in a new and interesting way. On behalf of Dream Theater - congratulations to the winner, and thank you to everyone who participated.
Freddy Jacobi was: James LaBrie, Jordan Rudess, John Petrucci, John Myung, Mike Mangini, Maddi Schieferstein, James T. Meslin, Jake Solomon, Kim Arthur Sakariassen, Victoria Montenegro Martinez, Jessica Lausen, Sean Arnold, Freddy Palmer, Roie Avin, mods of r/dreamtheater, dreamtheaterforums.org and Dream Theater World
“I’m happy with the music I made in the past, and looking forward to the next 25 years of my career” – Anneke van Giersbergen releases “Symphonized”, an orchestral summary of her musical output
In May 2018, Anneke van Giersbergen (VUUR, Devin Townsend Project, The Gathering) performed two career-spanning concerts with orchestral arrangements together with Residentie Orkest The Hague. Fans came from all over the world to see and hear this crossover collaboration, but soon everyone will be able to experience these concerts, as Anneke and the orchestra are set to release a live album. ‘Symphonized’ features 11 tracks and will be released on InsideOut Music on November 16, 2018.
Dutch vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen is easily one of the hardest working people in music, and an artist that defies being pigeonholed by genre. She will forever be known as the vocalist for melancholic metallers The Gathering, but since striking out on her own in 2007, she has solidified a solo career, recorded and performed multiple times with Canadian metal genius Devin Townsend, and lent her honey-sweet, yet powerful voice to the likes of Anathema, Icelandic folk group Árstíðir, Within Temptation, Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen, Moonspell, John Wetton and Napalm Death.
Lotsofmuzik collaborator Rodrigo Altaf spoke with Anneke about her new album, how she reflects on 25 years of career, her future plans and much more.
Lotsofmuzik: Hi Anneke, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today, and congratulations on the new release, “Symphonized”!
Anneke van Giersbergen: Thank you!
LOM: The new album was recorded in two different nights earlier this year, and has 11 tracks. I’m assuming you played more than 11 tracks, right? Will there be an expanded version of this album as well?
AvG: We did play more than that, it was 13 tracks in total, but there won’t be a special release of this album. One of the songs that didn’t make it to the album is a number I recently recorded with the Icelandic folk group Árstíðir, and another one doesn’t have vocals – it’s a classical instrumental piece. I think that sometimes making a good setlist for a live show is a little bit different than making a good tracklist for an album, so we decided to skip two songs for the release.
LOM: I see. And one of the songs that caught my attention Is “Two Souls”, which was originally recorded with a band called Lorrainville. What can you tell us about that band, and what did they think of the version on “Symphonized”?
AvG: I made two albums with Lorrainville, and it’s a really cool project. Initially the idea was to get some of the most prominent musicians from Holland and release one album, but it became really successful, so we ended up making another one. It was a really nice collaboration, and I wanted to include a song from one of those albums. The guy who wrote this song came to see one of the shows, and he was really happy about it, he loved to hear his song done in a completely different way!
LOM: One song in particular that turned out completely changed in this release, compared to the original version, is ironically entitled “You Will Never Change”. I thought the original had a Foo Fighters vibe, and the one on “Symphonized” was a complete departure from that. Who did the arrangement for the songs, and how much were you involved in the process?
AvG: You’re right about “You Will Never Change”, it does have a Foo Fighters vibe! And when the Residentie Orkest asked me to participate in this special evening we talked extensively about what to do. Obviously I wanted to work with them, they’re a wonderful orchestra, and they like to make connections with artists from the pop scene, hip hop and jazz. In this case, they wanted to work with me because I’m part of the rock and heavy metal scene. When we discussed what to do, I thought “well, next year I’ll be completing 25 years as a professional musician, so let’s celebrate that and pick songs from this whole period!”
I had many different kinds of songs to draw from – heavier stuff, the grungier tracks like you said, the Lorrainville songs – so arranging for such a wide variety of styles is a tough job. Sometimes they would let me hear bits and pieces of what they were doing with the songs, and would show me these crappy MIDI files, and even with those I could already see where the songs were going, and it got me really enthusiastic about the project. It was mind blowing how beautiful the songs became with these new arrangements. It’s a big job for a symphonic orchestra to play these songs!
LOM: The other thing I noticed from following your career is that many songs in your repertoire almost beg to be played with an orchestra. One of them in particular is “Shores of India”. So it must have been difficult to pick a setlist and leave so many good songs behind, right?
AvG: That’s true, we had almost a thousand songs to pick from! [laughs]. With The Gathering alone, I made eight or nine studio albums! What I did was a long list on Spotify with all my favourite songs from the last 25 years, and I let the main artistic director of the orchestra choose the tracks from that list. I had a couple of songs that I really wanted to play, like ‘Travel” of The Gathering, and “Shores of India” from Gentle Storm. So I told him “you have a fresh pair of ears, so pick the ones that you think will be a good fit for an orchestra”, and luckily he picked those. So we kinda did that together.
LOM: And there’s also a new song on the album called “Zo Lief”, which means “so sweet” in Dutch. Did you write it specifically for this project?
AvG: No, that was a song I wrote eight or nine years ago, and never used it, because it’s a very soft song, I was always making an album where it wouldn’t fit. I was always doing a rock album, or heavier albums, and singing in English. This song is in Dutch, and it’s very dear to my heart because it’s about being a mother, about my son, and about letting go. Every time I showed the crappy demo I made of this song to someone they would always be touched, because ultimately it talks about life, and everybody can relate to the subject. Every time I came back to that song I thought “it’s such a pity that I can’t use it!”. So this project came along, and I thought of including an original song to make this release a bit more special, and what better way to record this track than with an orchestra.
LOM: That was one of my favourites in this release. And I also must ask you about the song “Freedom-Rio”, from VUUR, which also has a new arrangement on “Symphonized”. I am from Rio, so I’m curious as to why you chose that city in particular.
AvG: Rio is one of my favourite places in the world. The nature is beautiful, people are beautiful, your culture, your music, your art…everything is so wonderful! When we visited the city we were there for short periods of time and we enjoyed it a lot. But when you live there, of course you’re faced with a different reality. It’s difficult to make a living because you have economical problems, political problems, and I know from people who live there how harsh the environment is.
LOM: Of course, and that’s why I left! I’ve been living in Toronto, Canada, for almost two years now.
AvG: Wow, that’s a massive change!
LOM: Of course! Temperature-wise, culture-wise…but here we are! [laughs]
AvG: I totally understand because we can make a romantic idea about Rio, but for you who lived there, and for a lot of people we spoke with at our shows there, what we noticed is that people try to make the best of it, they’re always very positive. People there are very vibrant. I live in Holland, where there are always issues to be addressed, but people here complain a lot, considering how much we have. We are blessed to be in a country like Holland – if we go to Belgium and France, we can definitely see the change and how more difficult things are. So, I tried to write about the vibrant nature of the city, and how you embrace your difficulties, and I thought that spirit should be celebrated in a song.
LOM: Thank you for that! [laughs]. Coming back to ‘Symphonized”, how long did it take you to prepare for these shows and how much did you rehearse with the orchestra?
AvG: Surprisingly enough, we did only two rehearsals! [laughs]. Most of the work goes into arranging the songs. The orchestra has sheet music, and they rehearse on their own. I also rehearsed on my own at home with the MIDI files. When we were both ready, we came together and rehearsed for two days, did an extended soundcheck before the shows and went for it! But still, it was a lengthy process, because it took a whole year from meeting for the first time until the actual shows. And yet, there was a lot of room for spontaneity, I think we had a good balance and did not over-rehearse to make every detail right. I think the audience also captured that, because many times during the shows I looked at the orchestra and at the conductor, and I felt like we had this great connection, and instead of driving perfection, there was always an uncertainty about what we would do next, and we shared a few smiles on stage. And it’s intimidating sometimes to work with such a big orchestra, but on the other hand, if you relax and get used to it, it’s good fun!
LOM: And you’re involved with so many bands at the same time – Gentle Storm, VUUR, your solo work, the albums with Devin Townsend – how do you decide where to focus your time and energy?
AvG: I try to plan ahead, because when you make an album, you need time to write, record and release it properly. Usually I go with my gut feeling. In the case of VUUR, we took two years to form a band, to write and record the album and to tour to promote it. I also write many solo acoustic things like “Zo Lief” which we just discussed. Sometimes my mind really goes into this mode. In the last couple of months I’ve been writing a huge amount of lyrics. Sometimes I want to focus on VUUR but my mind goes into a different direction and all that comes to me are soft acoustic songs. In general, what I try to do is alternate between making an album with a band on the heavier side, and then switch to a solo acoustic record and tour with that for a while. And then I have the urge to write the heavier stuff again. But what usually ends up happening is that both sides interweave with each other. Next year, for example, I will be touring more with VUUR, but I’ll probably make a solo acoustic album at the same time.
LOM: You must receive a ton of requests to record songs in different albums. The last one I recall was “Amongst Stars”, which you did with Amorphis on their album “Queen of Time” – I love that track, by the way. Is there any collaboration you wish to do which hasn’t happened yet?
AvG: First of all, I also love the Amorphis track, and I love the band, so I’m really happy to have done it! I feel really blessed to have worked with Devin [Townsend] and Arjen [Lucassen], and one collaboration I wish to do, if the stars align, is with Michael Akerfeldt. It would be either with Opeth or with Michael himself – I talked to him a couple of times, and threw it out there that I would literally KILL to collaborate with him [laughs]. But I know he doesn’t collaborate too much with other artists, so I guess I should just keep praying [laughs].
LOM: I better start praying NOW! [laughs]
AvG: Thank you, I hope it happens one day!
LOM: One thing I noticed is that you seem to cherish your time on the road a lot. I just saw pictures of you at ProgPower USA for example, and you seem to enjoy this lifestyle. How do you balance that with your family life?
AvG: I absolutely love travelling, playing life and being in front of an audience – to me that’s one of the best things in the world. But I also enjoy family time too, you know? I try to combine the two as much as I can. So when I’m touring in Holland and play a show in the weekend, a lot of times I take my son Finn with me and my husband Robert as well. When Finn was a bit younger it was easier for him to come with us, we had these big sleeper buses in Europe for example. We could go for two or three weeks at a time and my family could come with us. In that case I wasn’t even homesick, I could tour for the rest of my life if I could combine these two sides of my life. But it’s also nice sometimes when I go out on tour with VUUR without my family and come back with all kinds of different stories, and when I get home they have other stories to tell as well. So it’s a constant search for balance.
LOM: I actually have a question about Finn. Has he realized what you do, your importance to the fans, and what your career represents?
AvG: [laughs] He has, and he thinks it’s quite cool. He’s thirteen years old now, and has been going to shows with us since forever! So he’s seen the fans, the production, the backstage, the bands. He’s good friends with the guys from VUUR, so he enjoys it. Sometimes when I’m on TV and the next day he goes to school, he hears kids saying they saw me and it’s a bit awkward. Also because from his perspective, what I do is a bit old-fashioned. If his mother was someone like Katy Perry or Taylor Swift it would have been just a little bit cooler for him [laughs]. But he realizes what I do for a living is my passion, and he understands it and sees that it makes me happy, so that’s cool.
LOM: And what were your main influences when you started, and when and how did you discover metal?
AvG: I’ve been into music since forever. Since I was little, I was always singing and dancing. I picked up ghitar when I was 13. Then when I was 14 or 15 I discovered through my friends I discovered Metallica, Slayer, Faith No More…and I was also into Queen a lot. I would look at Iron Maiden and Faith No More and see these fantastic singers with heavy music which I loved. From that moment on, I found my way in music!
LOM: Going back to Symphonized, the album seems like a good retrospective of your career. Do you often stop and reflect on how much you have accomplished so far?
AvG: Not enough, I think [laughs]. I almost never look back, because I’m always in the here and now, I’m always with my head in today and in the future. However, when something like this comes along – a 25 year celebration - you look back at the music and you also look at the pictures of that time too, because you have to draw from that repertoire. So you’re always forced to go back in time. I’m always happy with the music I made in the past, so in that sense, that makes me happy. Sometimes you look back and reflect on a decision or two that were wrong at the time, either in business or with the fans. So much has happened in those years! But in general, I can say I’m happy, and I’m looking forward to the next 25 years!
LOM: Are you tired of questions about what it’s like to be a woman and play metal? I asked the same question to Doro a while back, and it seems to be a subject that we interviewers refer to a lot, right?
AvG: Well, Doro must get that all the time! [laughs]. I don’t mind, really, it’s something we cannot deny. It used to be a very special thing to be a female and being in metal, and nowadays it’s a bit more normal, but we’re still in a male dominant scene. Which I like, by the way. I like the balance being as it is. I think that metal should be male dominant, it’s an energy that fits the male energy. If there’s too many females, I think that balance is lost. I’m happy to be where I am and to be one of the first in this area. We also have some awesome newer female-fronted bands like Within Temptation and Epica for example, and I’m happy to be one of them.
LOM: I think I see where you’re coming from, if you see it like you provide a break from such a male predominant scene, but if it gets “too much of a break”, it loses character a little bit, right?
AvG: I think so, yeah! And it has nothing to do with being feminist or sexist, or anything like that. I like females bringing a little bit of color to the dark world, or a bit of light to the darkness, but it needs to be melancholic, it needs to be heavy and aggressive for the most part, you know?
LOM: Definitely. So what’s next for you in your career? I noticed you have a few solo dates early next year, but what’s the next step after that?
AvG: I’m doing a theater tour also to celebrate the 25 years – this will be a solo acoustic show. And I think I’ll write and record a solo acoustic album, because I have so many songs already written! I will tour with VUUR some more and do a few more shows with another orchestra. The cool thing is that when you work with an orchestra, other orchestras say “hey, that’s cool, come play with us!” [laughs]. So I have a few jobs here and there and some other creative endeavours, so I’ll fill my year up with that.
LOM: Thank you so much for your time Anneke, it was a pleasure talking to you!
AvG: Same here. Take care!
ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN – “Symphonized” Will be released under InsideOut Music November 16th, 2018
1. Feel Alive (03:34)
2. Amity (originally released by Lorrainville) (06:48)
3. Your Glorious Light Will Shine – Helsinki (originally released by VUUR) (05:22)
4. Two Souls (originally released by The Gathering) (03:01)
5. When I Am laid In Earth (aria by Henry Purcell) (03:47)
6. Travel (originally released by The Gathering) (10:46)
7. Zo Lief (unreleased song in Dutch) (04:05)
8. You Will Never Change (04:18)
9. Freedom – Rio (originally released by VUUR) (06:13)
10. Forgotten (originally released by The Gathering)
11. Shores Of India (originally released by The Gentle Storm) (07:20)
Anneke Van Giesbergen online:
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