Just before the new Pendragon album, Believe, was released I had an interview with Pendragon's driving force Nick Barrett. It had taken quite some time to release a new album so of course that was discussed.
By coincidence another subject became a very prominent part of the interview: On the day of the interview I found out Nick had been replying on the DPRP forum because of a discussion on the Believe promo. So the first question in this interview was like handed to me, it had to be asked.
Dries: There was some fuzz on our forum over someone copying the promo of Believe. Once everything was sorted out it appeared it was just a joke amongst friends. You replied on the forum, what made you reply?
Nick: Having been away for 4 years things have changed, The (computer) culture is really different now, and I try to explain to people that putting albums together is very hard and it's expensive work and when you see people just kind of throwing it around: "yeah, I'll do you copy" It kind of takes the joy out of doing it, it's disrespectful to do that.
I want people to know this, the computer culture has become so strong now that people almost don't care, I think it is ok if people say: "we've copied it we've heard it we've downloaded it, we will buy the album", I have had e-mails like that. Well ok, but there are people out there who won't buy the album. And you have to look at records sales 10 years ago and record sales now. It's pitiful. You can ask any record label or band of this sort of ilk. Bands that have been managing to survive 25, 30 years now finding it, for the first time, harder than ever. They still have to put out a lot of money for the production of the album, artwork, engineers costs, production and studio costs and their probably getting a third of the sales and maybe even less in some cases. It means that bands like Pendragon, IQ, Arena are all getting a harder time selling records than they've had before. These are not kind of big bands with big major labels, they're small bands.
But I have always thought that progressive prog fans were more willing to pay for their albums than let say the average mainstream music lover. But still you see that you and other bands are getting less income?
Yeah unfortunately it's true, music has become cheapened because mainstream music has set a price that is trying to undercut everything else because of downloading. So they say: "If we have to compete with downloading the real item will have to be cheaper" Which is some cases is ok I have now problem with that but is also means that smaller bands have got to cut the costs, just look at the Camel web site, their CD's are very cheap for what they are. A lot of bands have got to really cut back on this. It's surprises me that people want the special version and then they want the special extra version and then they want the extra special version with the 2 CD's and the DVD and then they want the special special version with the 2 CD's, the DVD and the free leather jacket and the car. It's gone ridiculous, people forget about the album. We sort of did this, we gave the DVD's away free with the CD's, or at least the amount that we charge them is just for the production, of actually making the DVD. I sometimes feel that maybe it's gone too far, they've become more of a thing to collect than a piece of emotional music. I am noticing this, having been away for four years, I am noticing this quite a lot.
A lot has changed. For instance Don Henley states artists are no longer artists but something the record companies call content providers.
That's right. But, I hate to say this, I am even hearing it from some bands and musicians, they've almost become as robotic as the people that kind of sell this stuff or upload or download it. This whole culture has swept the world in such a severe way that people almost go like: "do I really need something with, dare I say: emotions". It's very scary because In some ways we are losing our humanness by having this kind of throw away thing with music, well it does not really matter about the music because next week there will be something else.
I just think people that like "our kind of music" are not like that, they want their music to mean something and they want it to not expire right away.
I really hope so: that's one of the last hopes for the musical scene. I know that people who have downloaded the stuff say they will buy the albums. I have yet to see how this is going to translate with our new album when it has been released. You know when you put your heart and soul into something and you wait for that day to be released that's not like how it is anymore. It's already available and people can't wait. This is the same thing with children. It's like with my son he wanted a motor cross bike but I made him wait before he had it, he did not just have it. This is the culture nowadays, the have everything on credit, they want it now now now and it's even gone as far as music. One thing I read on your site's forum was this one guy talking about an album he had downloaded and he did not like so he thought why should he buy it anyway. This is kind of a funny amazing way of thinking, if you buy an oil painting from an art gallery you can't take it back after a week because you changed your mind. It's a piece of art it's not a set of drinking glasses (laughs), "They don't go with my kitchen I want to take them back". Music is a bit of a risk anyway, anything artistic is a risk. if they want it to be a 100% safe they should not buy music, they should buy sets of knives and forks, you can take those back. It's a weird way of thinking I am not really in tune with. If I buy an album I want that album because of the music on it, I probably have heard it before I buy it.
In the same message on our forum mentioned above you write a sentence: "
I have longed and dreamt of getting the band back together properly for the last 9 years" Could you please explain what you mean by that?
When we did the Masquerade we were touring regularly and we were really doing some things we wanted to do for the whole of our life: playing tours in countries we never imagined we would go to, we were playing in South America, we were playing in Chili, Argentina, it is incredible, releasing albums, build up a good following. After that because of the problems with my marriage the whole lot just fell apart and it was impossible to keep it together but even then the band has always been there and we managed to get Not Of This world released. Same kind of problems: the problems that people don't really realise like find the money to put albums out, every band is different a lot of bands have good jobs they don't do music for all times so they can afford to use their own money to making albums. There is a lot of variations but we were not in that position. I don't want to put out something for the sake of putting it out, I want it to be as good as it can be. So after Not Of This World there was another lay-off for four years with all kinds of problems. I tried to sell my house, financial problems, personal problems and it just took a long time. So I feel the last nine years were not spend doing music they were spend trying to just hold things together. And I really wanted to get back and make albums regularly, go on tour regularly again and get back to doing what it was we do.
I spoke to Andy Latimer (Camel) about this. A long time ago there was a period of time after Stationary Traveler they didn't make an album for 7 years. Not one album. And if you say to him why not. He would say "I don't know the problems with setting up the production company, move to America, take over your life". You need to be ready to do it and I think Pendragon are - We're ready. I am more settled now and have time to do music.
So your main occupation is still music?
yeah, it's a bit like the Camel thing you question yourself so much you need to kind of be reborn, it is like a death, you are reborn in a different way. With this album we are reborn in a different way. It's always been like that with Pendragon years and years we were just not been able to hold it together in the way would have liked, but never got away from the music and then we come back and everything has come together and people are enthusiastic to the music and the whole kind of image of the band has come back with something something new to say in the music. You come to a point you realise music is the most important thing in your life.
I have been doing other things in the time we were away. Not business more hobby things I enjoyed to do. But music is my real job it is were my passion is.
Clive Nolan is very prolific. At a certain point it was almost like if Clive Nolan is not on it, it is not progressive rock (at the time of Strangers On A Train etc.) Is there a reason you only stick to Pendragon?
There's many different reasons. It comes back to differences in life style. Clive when he started doing music he really had a hard time to get somebody to release one of his albums with his music. It wasn't until Willibrod from SI magazine released the Strangers On A Train album that things really started to happen with Clive. So you got to bear in mind that he had years and years of music ready. I knew Clive when he was in a band called Sleepwalker, I reckon personally that Sleepwalker was one of the best progressive rock bands around with really good songs and only a few people have heard of them. This was early in the 1980's all the way through 91, 92 so when he finally got and find an outlet for what he was doing suddenly he realised he couldn't stop (laughs) he had so many albums inside him it was like turning a tab on it just flooded out. Suddenly he had an outlet and a record company and someone to release albums.
Is it hard for you to have him "stay put" in Pendragon?
Oh no, it is really easy. We came to a understanding, well it somehow came to be that with all the projects, Pendragon was as much of a part of him. So he made time to do it. I think he kind of enjoys Pendragon because there is a bit less responsibilities for him. You know in Arena he writes the music it is very much his sort of thing together with Mick (Pointer). Because of that he feels of course more pressured. We have known each other for so long, when he comes to Pendragon it is perhaps more of a relaxed atmosphere. All he has to do is play the music and he does not have to worry about what is going to happen. So, that's the trade off, it works out quite well.
On the web site their are some notes on Believe and it appears the content matter of this album are the result of a lot of thinking. There is something about alien intervention. There is something on how you 'live and learn', the song Learning Curve. Was it started because of the problems in your marriage? Did you reach some sort of conclusion?
Well I don't know people are looking for some kind of Neal Morse awakening through religion. That's not really the case, I think sometimes you have to go away from what you are doing and experience almost the opposite of what you were doing sometimes. Obviously some of the material of Not Of This World was based on the problems with my marriage. After that I have been doing a lot of thinking and soul seeking and did some physical things, I started surfing again which I used to love when I was 12 year old and I started to get back into dirt bike riding as well. That's on the physical side. I started to become more and more interested in spirituality, well I was already interested, and my mum suggested to me a guy called David Icke, who's written these books about the structure of this world, and because of what my mum has told me over the many years, that she believes in aliens, she's always telling me, this stuff, spiritual things. There is this spiritual church in England that you can go to, I have been there a couple of times with her and I really enjoys this kind of area, there's a great passion about spiritual things and ghosts and positive and negative energy and this kind of thing. I started to read this David Icke's books and thought "crikey, this guy is really mad," well he does sound that. But when you start to think about it a lot more you think, "well, he might have a point." You know a lot of things we take for granted might actually be set up. Or a lot of thing like the conspiracy theories, well this all was kind of new to me, one end of this is a very spiritual side a positive and a negative energy invading or day to day life, which I am really convinced it does. And on the other side of the coin are this very conspiracy based ideas that the government had done certain things to people, history has done things I never knew, because of the way we were taught. It's like the beginning of our new album, the first lyric is "and do you believe Darwin's theory of evolution". That line is there because I did hear, or I read it in the David Icke's book. Darwin, towards the end of his life did not believe his own theories. And these are things you were never taught at school, we just took it for granted, the theory of evolution. Maybe there is another answer, there might be another point of view. And that's were the whole idea came from.
You spoke of Neal Morse and his sudden change of life, I see that Peter Gee also did some work on gospel albums, is it something you discuss? We had a big discussion on our forum on Neal Morse. Most of it was about if you should or should not write lyrics like that or if you should or should not comment on them.
I find it really strange, I can't understand people who say "you shouldn't do this, you shouldn't do that." It is kind of musical nazism, fascism, really I think you should be able to sing pretty much of everything. Music has a very strong spiritual kind of aspect to it, I think. So if someone wants to sing about their Christian believes: let em! I don't see the problem, if people don't like it, don't buy it.
Strange thing is that we don't have arguments about lyrics in death metal.
Personally I think we have some kind of responsibility to bring some kind of light into this world. I have no problem with Neal Morse doing that, on a personal matter. But even if I didn't: does it matter if someone is singing about going shopping or when their singing about their christian believes. That's part of music isn't it? If you want to have a chairman ruled country, where you can say this or can't write about that go on and live in China.
You were on ProgAID sometime ago. And it got good attention inside prog circles but next to that nothing really happened, it did not get picked up on radio or tv. Doesn't that annoy you?
Well, I don't know. It is very difficult for a radio station to sit there and say: "we have got another tsunami record" but I don't know. It doesn't really bother me. It is of course nice if it does well but it is important that people do some kind of effort towards contributing to it. It is obviously better if everyone went there with a spade and a shovel and literally build some houses. But you know people are thinking: "what can we do?". Well we can raise some money and then it does not really matter if it's 200 quid or 2 million quid, 200 quid at least you have done something. 2 million quid is made up of lot's of 200 quids. And it is a long way to go to get that, I don't know what they made on prog aid, but if they made say a few 1000 pounds that's virtually a house. If you turn around to all the people involved was it worth all the effort to do this, you have to turn around and say:"yes". We made some money that helped and if it's part of what helped then it has been worth it.
What I mean: if Britney Spears says something about it, it might become world news.
I hear what you're saying, but it is impossible to answer, I can't judge if someone that's really famous should or shouldn't do it. Of course it has impact if someone like that gets involved. Everyone does the bit he or she can do. I wasn't really disappointed it did not become a hit single, I never thought it would be. I just thought if it will do something it is fantastic. If we raise a couple of thousands quit: brilliant. It is more than I could raise on my own for it. And I know some of the other guys felt the same.
I was at an IQ concert during their 20th anniversary tour. During this concert Peter Nicholls asked: "who of you will be in a place called Hardenberg tomorrow?" Hardenberg is a small town in the northeast of the Netherlands, so I thought: "they have been doing music for 20 years and still they go to Hardenberg to perform for no more than 500 people. How can you keep doing that?"
That's an incredibly interesting question, very relevant. most of the bands that do this have, over the 20 years, developed a reason for doing it. You kind of do after 20 years (laughs). You ask yourself why, and if you don't come up with a good answer chances are you might pack it in. My take on it is that there are a few different reasons, when you look at the alternatives of what kind of lifestyle is out there and then you look at the opportunity to play music to people, who will know your music and love it and it will mean something to them, deeply mean something to them, not just kind of go along and think yeah, good band. If you have 200 people doing that about something you've created, when you are actually playing there, it doesn't matter if it's 200 or (we're back to the progaid argument, aren't we) 2 million. Performing a concert is pretty much the same. Obviously if you're playing to a lot of people you feel like: we really made it big, this is fantastic, huge and everything. But the bigger, large more prestigious concerts we've done have not been the more enjoyable ones, because there's more at stake. Like when we played the music center, Vredenburg on the Window Of Life tour it was an extremely stressed out day. It is a big challenge, it's nice to have a bit of a challenge but it doesn't have the feeling like you walk on stage you pick up your instruments and you play your hearts out. There is a slight lack of stress because of that, that is actually what I find enjoyable about doing music: walking on stage and playing something that your into, is an incredible feeling whether it is 200 people or 20.000 people, it is still good. The bigger it is, though, I have historically found it is less enjoyable, but I don't know I have never played Wembley stadium. So maybe if they stick me in Wembley stadium I would say: this is good, you can't tell. You also could think like: I could have been a plumber nobody will then turn to you and say ooh, I really like your work. You get that side of things as well. Being a musician is an interesting life, it has it's ups and downs but as Rod Stewart said:"never a dull moment".
I just realised that The Jewel was released 20 years ago, so shouldn't you be doing a anniversary tour?
We have actually been looking into that, talking about it on our web site. I nearly chopped my finger off (on the braking disc of a motor cycle) so we had to delay that for a while plus I tried to get all the original members of Pendragon back together for a great big show, not sure what we will do. We were gonna play in a small local place and have a little party, or maybe do it at London or go to Poland and shoot a DVD. Because it is pretty historical, these guys like Nigel Harris and Rick Carter will not be there all the time to do a concert. It would be a great thing if we would do that and play some of the old material. Whether it is this year, probably not because we have so much to do with this new album, so we'll have to make it a 21st anniversary. I hope we will get away with it.
Hopefully you like the album. It is always absolutely terrifying, you are not really sure how it is going to end up. I am surprised because the first review I read of it was on prog archives and this guy just hated it. Some of my friends were like: "yeah it is good but they did not really say anything else so I thought crikey we have baked a real turkey". And then other people really, really liked it, it is a little bit different, well I didn't realise it was this different I didn't think it was this different. But some people say it is.
Mostly that is a good thing.
Yeah. It is like our distributor in Canada said: it is like different levels. There is a level that is completely new but I can still hear Pendragon.
Fish wrote a song about that, waiting for your album to be released: Pipeline.
One of the songs on our next album is called Feeding Frenzy, like chunks of blooded water and fish heads. these sharks just go mad at it and chew it to bits.
Is there anything we did not cover and you would like tell to our readers?
I would like to say to people: Please respect our wishes about downloading or burning the album because if this culture continues in such a run-a-way fashion, you will be seeing a lot less of the bands that you like. It has already become quite difficult for quite a lot of bands. I suppose in some way, as bands, we have got to try and work with this way of going. We are very fortunate that in the progressive rock area people are at least passionate about the music they like and that's it. We could be in some other awful area of music that you grow out of in 2 years. But with this, it is kind of a passion. I really do hope that people who like prog maintain that passion and keep it and don't let it get cheapened by downloading and not really caring . There is a lot of effort that has gone into these album. I kind of say the fans and the audience have got to make some effort as well. We're all in this together. Playing a gig is about the band and the audience. We're all there, we're all doing it. So it is in everyone's interest to try and make sure it carries on. Otherwise all the progressive rock bands will become Dinosaurs (laughs) and we will all be extinct as the British press so loves calling us.
Pendragon Official Website
DPRP Duo Review of Pendragon - Believe
DPRP review of ProgAID