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22nd April 2015
METAL DISCOVERY: The new album’s subtitle, ‘The Music That Died Alone Volume Two’ is a titular reference to The Tangent’s first album, so is ‘A Spark in the Aether’ intended as a sequel, as such, to your debut?
ANDY: It happened on its own I need to say. I didn't start off by thinking "right, let's do a sequel". During the course of the writing I noticed the similarity in - not composition - but in spirit. It felt similar, it was joyous and mischievous and it made that link in my head... which meant that I followed that path, I guess. I'd have said "rebellious" as well although, to many folks, that word describing Prog would be some kind of oxymoron - but just playing this music as open heartedly as we do is, in my own vision of myself, an act of rebellion. Suffice to say that somewhere during the making of the album, the idea of it being a sequel kicked in.
(Andy Tillison on the titular significance of The Tangent's new album )
"As an atheist I don't have any deity to thank for my ideas - but never being able to satisfactorily explain how I get them, I just refer to them as my "sparks in the aether"."
Interview by Mark Holmes
Official The Tangent Website:
The Music That Died Alone (2003)
Originally conceived back in 2002 by Andy Tillison as an ephemeral prog rock project with the intention of releasing just one album, The Tangent's 2003 debut, 'The Music That Died Alone', has now been followed by seven further full-length studio offerings, with the latest, 'A Spark in the Aether - The Music That Died Alone Volume Two', recently released by Inside Out. Metal Discovery quizzed the band's founding member about this new progressive platter; its titular significance; the pros and cons of lineup (in)stability; precisely what constitutes progression in his music; and whether he believes progressive music to be as stigmatised as it once was...
The Tangent - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2015 Christine Lenk
Thanks to Freddy Palmer for arranging the interview.
MD: How should the main title, ‘A Spark in the Aether’, be interpreted? Is it intended as a more ambiguous, polysemic metaphor that’s open to interpretation, or does it refer to something very specific?
ANDY: Well, fortunately it refers to something very specific which means that I don't have to look "polysemic" up in the dictionary (although, of course, I just did). The "Aether", of course, is an abstract concept dating back to the Ancient Greeks and which is best explained by George Lucas with his "Force" in Star Wars. As an atheist I don't have any deity to thank for my ideas - but never being able to satisfactorily explain how I get them, I just refer to them as my "sparks in the aether".
MD: You have a self-reflective theme on the album of writing songs about the very style of music you’re playing; most emphatically on ‘Codpieces and Capes’. What prompted you to return to this theme now?
ANDY: Writers will often return to areas of their interest - in fact, some never leave those areas. Essentially, all James Bond stories are about espionage, they don't follow him on a self-purification pilgrimage to Tibet or on a particularly relaxing summer vacation in Bermuda where no-one gets shot. The author of those books, Ian Fleming, had something he wanted to write about a LOT. And sometimes he wrote about a flying car. My own life is filled with music. I love the f***ing stuff. I'm a fan - front row, waving my hands in the air and playing air guitar when the opportunity presents itself. So it follows that, from time to time, I will write about that which I love. And not everything one loves is always fair. I had a few things to say...
MD: I gather some stuff on the album’s been partly inspired by American prog rock and, in press materials, you’ve made a distinction between American and European prog. Can you elaborate on what, for you, differentiates the two?
ANDY: Everything I say here can only be acutely general. But if we were to take two American bands… Spock's Beard and Kansas, and two European bands… The Flower Kings and Yes - the difference would be that the Americans have a very straight forward pop/rock song at the heart of their music which is then fleshed out with fantastical embellishments - sort of "Progged Up". I really like that technique, and the way you can just "play" a lot of their songs on either a guitar or a piano and sing along. The European bands I mentioned, well the whole thing is the whole thing. It's like they went for the big picture straight away... in a more linear fashion. And I like that grandiosity too. As I say... generalisations, but that's how I remember first categorizing these differences as a young man.
MD: The album’s lengthiest piece, ‘The Celluloid Road’, is overtly American-themed through both lyrics and music. What, in particular, about the USA inspired the themes in this composition?
ANDY: Well... it's simple, the fact that we all know America to some degree because we've all seen so much of it on the TV! It was while watching a few series from the USA, ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘Fargo’ and ‘True Detective’ (all of which used unusual locations like New Mexico, The Louisiana plains, Dakota etc) that I realised that you could almost travel across the USA in your imagination inspired by your knowledge of the country gained from the TV. And that's what the song does. I am not an expert on the USA at all. I have spent 21 days of my 55 year long life in the USA. But I know a HELL of a lot more about it than I do about… Norway.
MD: There are some interesting jazz-rock fusion passages on the album, which partly brings to mind Mahavishnu Orchestra, so can it be presumed that John McLaughlin is one of your influences?
ANDY: "one of my influences" would be a bit over general... I'd say that, yes, on THIS album there are a couple of little bits that were inspired by the M O. Besides which, if you are talking about guitar parts, you're asking the wrong guy, Luke wrote the guitar parts for the album and he's the guy to ask. The main Jazz Rock influences that I feel I have are those I've filtered from Chick Corea, Earth Wind & Fire and of course Dave Stewart, be he playing with Egg, Hatfields or National Health. Crucially important guy.
MD: There are also other styles of music neatly blended on the album such as funk, pop, folk etc. I think it’s a common fallacy when people interpret fusion for progression, although it seems, with much of the music on the album, your emphasis has been on compositional precedence over trying to be progressive with the blend of styles. So is progression and innovation less important for you when trying to write a good song; perhaps more a corollary of the music you compose?
ANDY: FOLK??? What??? Tell me where?? I'll erase it..... No, seriously - you're using the "Progressive" as "Manifesto" definition there, the one that implies that progressive rock music should be this artistic movement that is constantly updating itself and heading into a future unknown. I do not, and never did subscribe to that definition. To me, it's always the SONG that progresses - within itself, how "And You And I" progresses from the acoustic opening through the big mellotron sections, the synth solos and so on, not the artist, not the movement/genre. Using different musical styles and influences from outside the cooking pot was how the first bands labelled "Progressive" created their sound. They moved from Jazz to TV theme tunes, to classical, to folk and to pop in a manner that made sense. They blended and fused these things together in a way which, musically can be referred to as Progressive. That's what we do. For good or bad. As for fusion, well in the beginning (said The Slits) there was rhythm. And then there was melody. And when they put those two things together, that was fusion. And it's been done for centuries. Everything is fusion.
MD: A wise Norwegian musician once told me, rather astutely, "progressive being a genre at all is a bit of a paradox because, as long as it’s progressive, you can’t term it properly." Obviously, there’s a distinction to be made between genuinely innovative music that is perhaps more accurately regarded as progressive, and a more imitative, regressive approach that’s better defined as generic prog. With some of your older, retro prog influences, combined with a more innovative twang, it seems The Tangent’s music sits somewhere between the genuine and generic camps. Is this something you’d agree with?
ANDY: Once again, this question does rely on a different definition of what we're talking about. However, what I think is implied in the question can be cut through pretty quickly & simply if I just say that – well, I don't see myself or the band's music as "innovative" - it's not what I tried to be when writing the music. I'm just a middle aged bloke writing some music that (if I was the listener) I'd probably like. The Tangent has a well researched and well thought out clutch of influences and I think our collage works well. But as to whether it's "innovative" or "progressive" (in your definition) - well, I'm not really worried! But I don't think I have pretentions of either.
MD: With an ever-changing lineup (I gather "the same lineup has never been used twice", to quote press blurb), would you say that keeps you on your progressive toes, so to speak, and helps bring an inherent freshness to each new album by playing with such a variety of musicians?
ANDY: There are bands who have always had the same lineup or a slowly changing one, and there are bands who have always had different folks. King Crimson & The Tangent fall into the latter camp. It's as simple as an advantages/disadvantages list. From my side, the advantages are: Fresh blood inevitably equals fresh ideas; the lineup becomes less of an issue with fans, you don't find people arguing about which lineup was best if you start changing from the off; the group does not have to cease existence because the drummer leaves. And the disadvantages: It spoils the opportunity of that Rock & Roll Family thing which fans do like to feel a part of; the band don't become as tight and truly organic - because they are not a living, breathing organism; I forget who is in the band sometimes.
MD: The contrary to that, without lineup stability, do you find that sometimes stalls progression by not working with the exact same musicians, which might otherwise engender a natural progression within the context of your combined musicianship?
ANDY: Yeah... and this is a disadvantage for sure. However, we've reached a point where we have "regulars" and I have really solid relationships, both personally and musically, with Jonas, Luke & Theo, all of whom are bona-fide members of the Tangent at ALL TIMES, even if they are not on such and such an album. So, in many ways, we have conquered that disadvantage.
MD: I gather the album was recorded remotely by the personnel involved, across two different countries and in four different locations. But did you convene to jam out all of the material as a band before embarking on the distance-based recording process?
ANDY: We toured as a band in 2014, the same year we recorded the album. On tour, we played the title track and were able to get to know each other’s playing even better. Morgan was the "new boy" but he fitted in perfectly and I sincerely hope I'll have the chance to ask him again. As for the "distance" recording process, we were just about first to do this - making our 2003 album using internet technology which was running 50 times slower than what we are used to now. Good musicians and good technology make that distance disappear... to me, it's like we made the album together, in one room. Because in a way, we did just that. This room, where I am writing this, is where it all came together.
MD: There seems to have been a kind of renaissance in the UK with genuinely progressive music during the last few years, a bit of a boom, that’s seen the likes of Porcupine Tree, Opeth, Steven Wilson, and now Devin Townsend, perform at prestigious venues such as the Royal Albert Hall. It seems that progressive music has become far less stigmatised than it once was with its newfound popularity. Is this true in your experience?
ANDY: It's great that this has happened and I am delighted and love the artists you have mentioned here. However, the stigma is still present in that most lumbering and narrow minded organisations, the BBC, who have still to televise ANYTHING from the new generation of Prog. As normal, they will let the whole phenomenon pass them by, based on their over-zealous love for John Peel's philosophies. They let one good man's view dictate their policy. Very, very stupid, but then, that's what I expect from them. I detest the BBC. Don't get me started...
MD: Will you be aiming to tour in support of the new album and, if you do, will it be likely that the recording personnel will feature in The Tangent’s live lineup?
ANDY: Aiming, yes. Hitting the target, not so sure...
MD: Finally, seeing as The Tangent is constituted by an ever-evolving group of personnel, what musicians, alive or dead, would you choose to be in your ideal, fantasy lineup for the band?
ANDY: I am going to be real corny and wish that the current line up were all members of the Tangent and we could go off and play together all over the world. I'd want Lalle Larsson and Goran Edman to come too. The last tour was the best ever and when all of us were together on stage in London I was a little tearful when Theo let rip. The Tangent is ALREADY my fantasy.
The World That We Drive Through (2004)
A Place in the Queue (2006)
Not as Good as the Book (2008)
Down and Out in Paris and London (2009)
COMM (2011)
Le Sacre Du Travail (2013)
A Spark In The Aether (2015)