DATE OF INTERVIEW:
1st October 2010
METAL DISCOVERY: Would you say the progressive nature of the music emerges quite naturally through the songwriting process and when you jam as a band rather than being more contrived and feeling the need to be progressive?
GARY WEHRKAMP: I don’t know because progressive to me means having the licence to do what you want. If your aim is not to fit into the commercial market of “how do we sell records?” – you know, if you try to sell records you say “well, how do other people sell records?”; “what kind of songs do people wanna buy?”; “what does the consumer want?”. We don’t care about that at all. I mean, we do, we’d like to sell some CDs but when we write songs we don’t think anything other than is this a good song and do we like it? That’s it. If it passes that test then it’s good enough for us.
(Gary Wehrkamp on considering vocalist options after original frontman Mike Baker passed away in 2008)
"...after Mike died, we were thinking about a couple of different paths: we could use guest singers and sing more ourselves, or have one lead singer."
Gary Wehrkamp in the Kasteel de Berckt, Baarlo, Netherlands, 1st October 2010
Photograph copyright © 2010 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
Shadow Gallery Official Website:
Shadow Gallery Official MySpace:
SHADOW GALLERY DISCOGRAPHY
Shadow Gallery (1992)
Thanks to Jill Kirtland for arranging the interview.
Carved in Stone (1992)
Room V (2005)
Prime Cuts (2007)
Digital Ghosts (2009)
MD: So progressive to you means having the licence to do what you want away from commercial, corporate record labels…
GW: Yeah, whatever you want. No chorus…fine. You want to make the solo section eight hundred measures…fine. It doesn’t matter as long as the song is good.
MD: That’s probably the most laidback answer I’ve heard to the question “what does progressive mean to you?” Some people answer that quite pretentiously and talk about forcing different time signatures, and…
GW: Well, it is, it’s all that rolled up into one. It just means that you don’t have any rules. No rules or formula and if you like it and you’re going in a direction…Really, it comes down to inspiration. For me, I get bored very, very quickly…in that want to keep it exciting so if I’m writing a riff, I don’t want to keep repeating it, I want to write a follow up riff, so you just start writing something and it writes itself. If you end up with a hundred parts…well, if it works, it works. If you write commercial music then that certainly does not work.
MD: When I asked Rick Wakeman that question recently he said that back in the day of Yes progressive was a matter of knowing what the rules of commercial music are and then breaking those rules. So I guess similar to having no rules. But he was adamant that you have to know the rules in the first place so you can break ‘em. I guess because prog was a rebellious kind of movement originally.
GW: Yeah, that’s interesting. To that end, we don’t really try to break the rules. I mean, we have songs that have verse/chours, verse/chorus and are four minutes long. If they end up that way, we don’t say – “oh, it’s too commercial”. If a song works, it works. We don’t add extra parts just to be progressive.
MD: Of course, yeah, that’s the best way to be. You have a handful of guest musicians on the album as well including Ralf Scheepers from Primal Fear – how did that collaboration come about, out of interest?
GW: I had him on a contact list for recording ‘Room V’; I asked him to do guest vocals on that album. I don’t remember what happened but we ended up doing something else and, when we were looking for a few guest singers after Mike died, we were thinking about a couple of different paths: we could use guest singers and sing more ourselves, or have one lead singer. So, at one point, we were looking at the guest singer role and he was somebody we brought up and remembered for a good aggressive voice and Carl particular, Carl and Mike were big fans of Gamma Ray…was he in Gamma Ray?
MD Before he joined Primal Fear, I think.
GW: So they knew his work very well and respected what he had done and it just seemed like the right choice. He was available and, ironically, he ended up singing a song that almost ended up being about himself. It was about a friend of the band’s who’d died and about how Carl and his friend used to go camping and stuff, and sing Gamma Ray songs, and how that would get them all full of energy or whatever.
MD: Interesting! You’re touring with a session musician in your lineup, Eric Deigert, who’s playing guitar and keyboards…
MD: I’ve read you wanted to replicate your studio sound on the stage as authentically as possible…
GW: At times, but not for the whole show. But yeah, there are certain songs we certainly wanna…I mean, without having ever done it before we don’t wanna just totally deviate all the time. We wanna show people, yeah, these are our songs and we can play them.
MD: So were backing tracks never a consideration?
GW: We talked about it but, almost immediately, we said “no, let’s get another live musician up there with us”. If people say “who’s the extra guy?”, we’ll say well, he is who he is and why he’s here.
MD: “He’s our backing track”!
MD: You helped form the charity group, ‘The Wishmakers’, in 2008…
MD: What was the aim of that charity, out of interest, and what was your involvement in that?
GW: A student of mine wanted to do a song, a Christmas song, to raise money for something, and asked me if I would consider co-writing it and co-producing it, so I got involved and complicated it by crazy…[laughs]…I said “let’s just not try to make a give it to your friends, let’s try to make it the best we can make it and get the press involved”. So it was a really fun project.
MD: Has that project ended now?
GW: It’s an ongoing thing. We were going to do a follow up in February but then the whole Shadow Gallery tour thing came up, so we’ll get back to that after we’re done.
MD: It states in your bio that you’ve been part of over a hundred records in one way or another – what’s been the most memorable and rewarding experiences from all of those?
GW: Oh jeez…
MD: Outside of Shadow Gallery perhaps…
GW: The Wishmakers was nice because it was purely to raise money for kids in need of money and the success of that was worth the time put in, so that was a special one. Any of the stuff I’ve done with Arjen because he’s just the greatest guy in the world. I like working with…[laughs]…you see, I’m gonna end up listing all of ‘em! [laughs] Every single one of ‘em, in some way, is a very special time and I don’t regret a minute of any of it.
MD: That’s a very cheesy answer!
GW: [laughs] Yeah, that’s a terrible answer! Terrible! They were all fun to do. Amaran’s Plight though, I enjoyed doing that one. You know that disc?
MD: I don’t actually. You recommend checking it out?
MD: As you probably do with everything you’re on otherwise that’d be counterproductive for yourself!
MD: Finally, what do you predict the future holds for Shadow Gallery and will you aim to tour again…within the next two decades perhaps?!
GW: [laughs] Well, I think we’ll know more about that after we finish this tour. I’m thinking about it already, yeah. I’m thinking of keeping this going; keeping it going another year. It’s kind of been a thought process for a while of how long we can keep this going because we have a momentum. So I don’t know. Possibly! [laughs]
MD: Have you heard what pre-sales are like for the venues around Europe?
GW: A few but I’m not up to date on it. I knew about this being sold out here. I heard Greece is fairly excited. But I don’t know about all of them.
MD: It’ll be interesting to see how many people turn up in the UK. I don’t know how big your fanbase is there actually.
GW: I don’t know because our earlier albums weren’t released there.
MD: No, and Shadow Gallery have never really been a big name in the UK scene at all, to be honest.
GW: I don’t think any of our Magna Carta discs were released there so it’s only been the last two records. So I’ve never really considered the UK, I’m sorry to say.
MD: There’s a good prog scene for people who are into that kind of thing, so hopefully there’ll be hundreds at the gig!
GW: Yeah, we’ll see. I think it was the last show we added to the tour so we had very little time to promote it heavily. But I’m actually really excited about getting there.
MD: Right, thank you very much for your time.
GW: Yeah, thanks, absolutely.