DATE OF INTERVIEW:
4th October 2011
With the release of 3's long awaited new album, 'The Ghost You Gave To Me', frontman Joey Eppard and his band of forward thinking, innovative musicians offer up their own interpretation of what it is to be progressive. That is to say, they've fully embraced progressive as an attitude through their songwriting mentality rather than progressive as a genre with established parameters. However, while their mindset has been that of making music from a genuine rather than generic prog standpoint, never at any point on the album have they sacrificed solid, accessible, and captivatingly melodic songwriting for any of the concomitant experimentation. Quite the contrary, 3 have struck a perfect balance between the two. A few days ahead of its UK release, Joey spent half an hour chatting to Metal Discovery about the creative process behind this masterpiece of an album...
METAL DISCOVERY: I have to say, straight off, the new album is absolutely amazing.
JOEY EPPARD: Ah, thank you.
(Joey Eppard on what it means, for him, to be progressive)
"In a certain way, we started to rebel against the stereotype of what it is to be progressive because, at one time, progressive was busting out of the three to four minute song format and then sort of almost becoming a parody of itself. But there are so many other ways, in my mind, to be progressive musically and that involves more of letting a song tell you where it wants to go..."
3 - uncredited promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
MD: Yeah, totally flawless. It’s one of the few albums I’ve awarded full marks to, ten out of ten, because it’s just that good. There are very few perfect albums, but that’s one of ‘em.
JOEY: Thank you so much man, it’s good to hear that.
MD: How pleased are you and the rest of the band with how it turned out?
JOEY: We’re all feeling really good. We all feel it’s, hands down, our best record. Our attitude was we were not going to finish this record until it was our best record. So we spent some time on it and the stars aligned, everything fell into place the right way and we were able to cut some drums at Applehead Studios where my father had actually designed the live room and built it up from scratch. The whole recording had a very special feeling because of that.
MD: It’s been two years since ‘Revisions’ came out and four years since you recorded any actual new material with ‘The End Is Begun’, but I gather you spent a long time writing music and lyrics for this one rather than having a concentrated period of writing?
JOEY: Yeah, I guess I really began writing around 2008 for this album and the first few ideas and riffs got documented then. And then we ended up on this whole rollercoaster of jumping between labels and stuff, and then we came back full circle to being with Metal Blade…we were so ready to get to work on this album by the time we actually could. But, in a way, it was good too because it gave us a long time to let the songs percolate and develop.
MD: So by giving the songs a longer gestation period, do you think they benefitted from having a longer time to develop and evolve?
JOEY: Well, I don’t know; it’s hard to say. I guess, yeah, they benefitted. They became something they wouldn’t have been otherwise and that I can say for sure because, by the time we were done with ‘Revisions’, the drama had sort of subsided; we were able to just dig in and do our thing with this record. Everything we went through to get to that point had a big effect on the writing. In other words, going through this whole experience of higher highs and lower lows, and getting signed to Roadrunner Records then getting dropped before we could make a record, going back to Metal Blade…just the ups and downs of it all can really start to drive you crazy. And then, on top of going through all that, as we started to work on this, I found out I was also gonna be a father. That had a huge impact on the making of this record and just what was going through my mind while I was writing lyrics. In a way, that kind of slowed down our process a little bit at times but it also transformed me creatively and I think that influenced the writing a lot.
MD: So the songs were influenced by life’s experiences!
JOEY: Yeah, most definitely!
MD: One of the things I find most appealing about the album is that there’s obviously a lot of prominent progressive elements in the music but the songs are still very accessible so all of the progression sounds very natural rather than forced. Is that a balance you worked hard to achieve or did that come more naturally through the songwriting?
JOEY: You know, that’s something we strive for. Sometimes it comes easy and sometimes you have to work to create that. In a certain way, we started to rebel against the stereotype of what it is to be progressive because, at one time, progressive was busting out of the three to four minute song format and then sort of almost becoming a parody of itself. But there are so many other ways, in my mind, to be progressive musically and that involves more of letting a song tell you where it wants to go as opposed to forcing or stacking up a million parts, one after another. To me, that’s shallow and soulless. We’re always trying to let the song dictate where it wants to go. If it’s like, “oh, it wants to take a left-hand turn here”, then, “okay, we’ll go there”. It it’s more potent, it’s more to the point, if that’s what the song wants, then that’s what we want to do. We’re not trying to overplay it, it’s really that we’re trying to achieve this balance and this blend that has the strength of melody to connect with somebody that maybe doesn’t necessarily listen to progressive music, or even a kid or a four year old, or anybody, they’ve got that melody. But, then, beneath that there are a lot of layers to explore.
MD: Yeah, and that’s a great, great thing because you’re not sacrificing the songwriting for the progression which so few bands seem to do within the progressive genre. And there shouldn’t be a genre of progressive music anyway because that’s a paradox…
JOEY: Yeah, it really is…[laughs].
MD: It says in the press blurb that the songs are more cinematic in nature. In what way would you say they have a cinematic vibe? I thought maybe in the sense that it kind of feels like the music’s telling a story as well as the actual words. Is that what’s meant by that?
JOEY: Yeah, definitely. I experience things musically, visually a lot. When you have a song, I look at the changes as scene changes. Like you have an action sequence, and then a reflective moment, and then a story is unfolding. It’s more abstract than a movie you would go and see but it’s sort of like the human brain being an organiser of information. It’s going to take the experience of listening to this album and almost generate its own movie in a sense. That’s all part of the concept and the art of doing it.
MD: I would have to say that ‘Afterglow’ is the track on the album, for me, that’s most closely related to material on ‘Revisions’. Would you say that by going through the process during ‘Revisions’ of revisiting older material in more straightforward song structures has informed a little bit of the songwriting for the new album?
JOEY: Yeah. I think, in one sense, it made us extra free to explore compositions that were a little bit less standard so we kind of felt like there were no rules we had to follow or anything. But going through the making of ‘Revisions’ was, for me, a huge step vocally and it turned out not being as easy as we thought to take old songs and reinvent ‘em. It turned out to be probably harder than writing new material! We thought it would be like, “oh yeah, we’ll be done in two weeks, it’ll be great”, and then I was kind of like, “no, I’ve got to work on this for a year”! [laughs] You know, it’s because I had to rewrite every part, like “no, I’m not gonna do it like I used to do it…I’m gonna rewrite it and make it hard for myself”, which is what I love to do! That process, though, I did start to touch on some moments on that record where I kind of broke out of my shell vocally…because I’m wearing five different hats in the studio, like I’m the producer, I’m the engineer, I’m the artist, I’m the runner who goes and gets coffee, I’m everybody! I’m trying to do the best job I can at every individual little job there, and it really came down to, “no”, when I hit that record button I have to just be the artist and I have to not only just be the artist, but I have to take what I do live and make that happen in the studio. And I think there’s a moment on ‘The Emerald Undertow’ on ‘Revisions’ on the final chorus where I just sort of shed the melody from the previous two choruses and try to go for as strong and as raw as I might do on a given night in a live performance. It was a great way to grow and it really helped me with these vocals. I wouldn’t have been able to approach this record vocally without having gone through that on ‘Revisions’.
MD: The vocals are amazing as usual on this latest one but how much time did you spend on them in the studio and did any new vocal melodies come about during the recording process that you hadn’t previously conceived when writing the songs?
JOEY: Yeah, of course, and that happens all the time. There were a lot of songs finished musically before there were any vocals and, so, it was my task to immerse myself in the music and find a thread that weaves it all together melodically, and conceptually, and lyrically. So that can really take some time to do it right because I can’t sign off on it until I feel like I have found the melody that wants to be there, you know, that really enhances everything else that’s going on. We do it both ways – sometimes it’s like that and sometimes it starts with the melody. It’s like the music is trying to be everything that the melody wants. We just try to get out of our own way, so to speak, and let the writing process happen however the writing process wants to happen because there really are no rules.
MD: Ah yeah, that’s a proper progressive band talking!
JOEY: Yeah! [laughs]
MD: Genuinely progressive rather than generically progressive…
JOEY: Thank you.
MD: It also says on the press sheet that the biggest challenge for you was writing lyrics for the new songs because you wanted “the words and melody to be as creative and original as the music”. Do you think you lived up to that aim and did you have to dig emotionally deeper this time around to achieve that?
JOEY: Yeah, I’m very, very happy with where I ended up lyrically on this. You know, like I said, I just wouldn’t give it up until I was happy and I felt I had achieved that. The rest of my band mates were kind of banging down my door going - “What the hell are you doing?! What’s taking you so long here?!” And I was like, “listen to this bridge, you know, do you know how hard it is to come up with a vocal that is really gonna work with this?” So for a song like ‘It’s Alive’, I might’ve spent the better part of a month just working on the lyrics and vocals, recording ‘em for that song, because sometimes I go line by line and perform it, sing it, and write it, and that has some interesting twists and turns in it and I had to make the most of that. You know, it takes time. And then the opposite side of the coin is, by the time we got to the end of the record, I’d taken so much time on all the other songs, we had two songs left that we knew had to be on the record and they were done instrumentally, they were great but they needed vocals…so I just had to force myself to do it in a day. Not really my style as I like to work for a long time but I had a day to write what turned out to be the title track, ‘The Ghost You Gave To Me’. I just kind of locked myself in a room, had a stream of conscious, found a thread and put it all together.
MD: Yeah, I was going to ask about that as it says on the press sheet about this that you spent a more or less twelve hour period with a stream of consciousness, wrote down whatever came into your head and then you woke up the following day, turned on the TV, and saw the Japanese tsunami disaster which reflected what you’d written…
JOEY: Yeah, it was a pretty wild experience. I’d finished the song and I was working upstairs, and I came downstairs and flipped on the TV, just to take a break and have a bite to eat, and I felt like I’d done my part and got it all done so I was trying to relax and popped the TV on. Then I saw that and it just immediately freaked me out because it was just what I’d been singing all day, over and over, these lines about an “emanating epicenter” and “brutal waves” and “tidal controls warping the poles”…one line after another I was just, wow…
JOEY: Spooky, yeah! Then, the next day, I heard about the earthquake actually shifting the axis of the Earth a few degrees and it did the same thing to me again. I was like, wow, maybe I’d better post these lyrics. I posted the lyrics that day just in case there was anything else in there!
MD: Looking back now, do you regard that as sheer coincidence in writing those or do you think there was something more inexplicable at play like some sort of weird abstract vision?
JOEY: I’m gonna go out there for a minute but I think that, I don’t know, I live my life in such a way that I don’t even really believe in coincidence anymore. Too many things happen. I’m a musician and, yet, somehow every month I pay all my bills and I don’t even know how it happens, but it’s like a miracle every month. I kind of feel like…I guess philosophically I feel like, on some level, we all exist outside of space and time. Maybe in the best moments, musically and creatively, we transcend that and I think maybe in some of my best moments in my life I’ve gotten to that place. It’s happened a few times in songs that I’ve written that I’ve predicted…never a world event like that but personal events in my own life. There’s definitely something to it, you know.
MD: Yeah, and it was quite blatant in your lyrics on that occasion; it wasn’t even metaphorical or needed a degree of interpretation. It was sort of all there, really.
JOEY: Yeah, it was quite clear and it scared me so I had to say something about it right after that.
MD: Did any of the music for the songs evolve through the lyric writing process, like when you’d written certain words did you think you’d have to make a certain passage heavier, or more mellow, or less or more progressive perhaps to reflect what you’d written, or was all the music composed and then that inspired the lyrics you wrote?
JOEY: It gets done both ways. Probably, for the most part, the lyrics were reacting to what had gone down musically but, ironically, on the song ‘React’, that’s not the case. That was more an experience of me just getting inspired and hearing a melody in my head and then being like, “oh my god, where’s my guitar, I’ve gotta figure out what the chords are for this.” I always feel like the songs that happen that way tend to be the more melodic because I guess they grow out of a melody as opposed to a melody growing out of a chord progression. You know, we like to do it both ways.