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2022-06-10 – Skylight Webzine (Interview)

  1. How did you approach musically the album “Monsters From The Id”?

“Monsters From The Id” is a bold musical statement. Over my last few albums I was gradually becoming more comfortable making longer pieces of music using a wider sonic palette of instrumentation. And for a very long time one of my musical ambitions had been to write a traditional “side-long” prog epic. So I finally took the plunge, and produced not one but two! I wanted a piece of music that could sit alongside, and not completely be diminished by, “Echoes”, “Tubular Bells” and “Close To The Edge”. Whether or not I succeeded is for other people to decide!

  1. Could you discuss the great artwork of your new album?

The painting is by Freyja Dean, the daughter of Roger Dean, and I think it’s absolutely incredible. Her work is somewhat reminiscent of her father’s, but she brings her own style and passion to the table and is completely recognisable in her own right. The extraordinary thing about that cover image is that it no longer exists. It was a fleeting photo of a work in progress before she went on to add luminous fungi, insects and a plethora of life. But I felt it was perfect for my album, matched the mood of the music and was an impressionistic representation of where all these “monsters from the id” could emerge. In the end I managed to persuade her to allow the unfinished painting out into the world, on the album cover. I think she was sceptical at first, but she agreed it looked amazing, so I am grateful!

  1. You have included a 5.1 surround mix on the DVD, do you think that there are still people that would like to live the audio experience differently?

There is a small but passionate group of people out there who are surround music enthusiasts and have dedicated listening rooms with multiple speaker setups and precise seating positions. I know, because I am one of them! But I also know the majority of listeners probably won’t notice the surround mix on the DVD, and it is unlikely to help sell more copies. I learnt this lesson very early on with my first album, “Two False Idols”, which included an audio 5.1 DTS CD. So the surround mix of “Monsters From The Id” was a passion project just for myself and a very niche audience!

One major justification for this surround mix was the dense instrumentation on the record. There’s so much going on, and the surround listening experience allows the individual parts to be heard more clearly. For instance, most of the time the symphony orchestra is mixed towards the back of the room, while the basic rock band is mixed in the front speakers, so it’s very immersive and revealing.

Another point of interest is that the DVD also includes a stereo mix of the album in 24-bit 96kHz, for audiophiles who prefer higher resolution. It’s amazing what you can still fit on a DVD when you try!

  1. Have you explored other audio technologies, such as Dolby Atmos?

I have looked into Atmos, but I haven’t yet produced an Atmos mix. This will sound silly, but it was all down to Dolby only supporting crucial Atmos software on Apple hardware. I don’t use a Mac, so there’s not much I can do about it yet! Atmos is different from traditional discrete channel mixes, in that the spatial information is encoded in the recording stream, and your receiver can process the output for any number of speakers, or even headphones.

The big push right now is to deliver Atmos over audio and video streaming services. I think I will wait for the dust to settle a bit. I still don’t see Atmos expanding the audience for multi-channel audio. It just gives the existing audience more speakers to buy! I hope I’m wrong, but I only see more and more people happily listening to horrible tiny speakers on their phones.

  1. There is a statement in your Press Release regarding the NFTs, which is your overall opinion about this trend?

Let me just say up-front that I am not qualified to give financial advice! Nobody should take any notice of anything I say. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I understand the basic concept that an NFT is essentially a personalised crypto-currency offering. What I don’t understand is why anyone in the world would want to buy one, unless they’re a rich financial speculator. I suspect the majority of artists who have offered NFTs don’t really understand themselves either, but were told by business people that it was a great way to make fast money! I would rather try to connect with people on an emotional level through the actual listening experience, or by giving them something tangible like a vinyl record.

  1. Which is the current scene of progressive rock in Australia?

There may be a progressive rock scene in Australia, but I’m not really aware of it. There are a number of Australian bands that have done extremely well, but they lean more towards metal than my particular style of symphonic prog. There are only a couple of community radio stations with shows that feature prog, programmed by some very passionate DJs in their spare time. Certainly nothing in the mainstream. People here tell me all the time that they’ve never even heard of “progressive rock”. The vast majority of my audience seems to be in Europe and the United States, so I tend to concentrate my promotional efforts there instead.

  1. How did you persuade Roger Dean (Yes, Asia, Steve Hackett) to design the artwork of your 2011 album, “Great & Terrible Potions” album?

By virtue of a mutual friend who was running a record label in Australia! This was around the time that Roger was working on the “Floating Islands” project. I’d sent my friend an early version of “Great & Terrible Potions” and he suggested to me that Roger Dean would be perfect for the album cover artwork. Of course I agreed, but it was something I had never even considered. What business did I have working with an all-time great like Roger Dean? Did I really want people to compare my music with Yes? Could the music even stand up to the expectations created by the artwork? Luckily I put all that insecurity aside, we contacted him, and – most importantly – I persisted! The album cover is just out of this world. Fortunately for me, a lot of people liked the music as well.

  1. How was the experience of having legendary Star Trek actor William Shatner providing spoken-word vocals for the track “Spy In The Sky”?

Let’s not mince words. It was one of the greatest thrills of my life! The actual recording session was arranged by Billy Sherwood. He popped over to Mr Shatner’s house with his mobile studio and my backing track, and recorded him then and there. I had expected Mr Shatner’s performance to have an exhausted world-weary quality to it, but the final take was much more enthusiastic, playful and over-the-top! In the context of the music, it was perfect. One of my next projects is creating a surround mix of the “Last Chance To Hear” album, and this will join all the separate parts of “Spy In The Sky” into an 18-minute epic.

  1. Are you fan of the sci-fi movies?

Absolutely. I love the original Star Wars and Star Trek series of movies and can pretty much recite every word. Plus of course the orchestral soundtracks complement them so perfectly. The incredible scores by John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner and others continue to inspire and challenge me to improve my own arranging skills and bring those elements into my music.

  1. What are your plans about the near future?

There is so much more music still to make! But as well as being the artist, I am also the record company, so I have to play business man for a while and keep getting the word out there about “Monsters From The Id”. Then, there is no shortage of material to jump headlong into making the next album, including another epic called “Altaira” that I held back to stop “Monsters” being too long!

I’m also planning on remixing my previous albums in surround and giving the back catalogue some love. As I mentioned earlier, I want to make some drastic changes to “Last Chance To Hear” in particular, and join up all the parts that are scattered across the album.

Also, over the last couple of years I’ve been writing, just for fun, with a great keyboard player named Tim Bennetts. We have a rare dynamic between us where bits of music just seem to fall out, without either of us trying too hard. I want to turn those pieces into an album. They’re sounding very David Gilmour and Richard Wright-esque!