Interview with Magenta's Rob Reed & Christina Booth by DPRP's Geoff Feakes
Around two weeks before we actually met I was contacted by Magenta main man Rob Reed to arrange a telephone interview. Technical gremlins at my end meant that the telephone interview didnít take place but fortunately we did get together at the Herringthorpe Leisure Centre, Rotherham, England. It was a Saturday evening and in less than an hour Rob would be on stage with the band for the first of several dates to promote the new album Metamorphosis. Magentaís latest received a mixed response in the roundtable review that dominated the DPRP pages that very same evening. Thatís not entirely surprising given that itís not as immediate as previous releases requiring more than a few courtesy spins to be fully appreciated. Heard live, the new material takes on a life of its own especially the title track. This was clearly demonstrated during the bands excellent performance which I was fortunate enough to witness later that evening.
Joining us for the latter part of the interview would be vocalist supreme Christina Booth. But to begin with, the new album unsurprisingly provided the focus of attention, prompting a very bold opening statement from Rob.
DPRP: The new Magenta album Metamorphosis is officially released on 21st April 2008, this coming Monday. How would you say it differs from your previous albums?
Rob: I think itís the first genuine Magenta album. Iíve always been accused of sounding like Yes and Genesis and Iíve never really shied away from that because thatís the kind of music I was brought up on and thatís the kind of music I love. Weíve never been scared to be called a prog band, a lot of bands shy away from all of that but we are a prog-rock band really. I think on this album I wanted to try something a little different. Itís so easy to keep on serving up the same stuff and people will buy it and youíre never getting anywhere. Youíve got to try something different to standout out from the crowd and I wanted to do something a bit darker with this album. The first three albums, especially the last album, the ĎHomeí album was very melodic. Again it was purposely done for it to be song based, to be very laid back with real atmosphere and stuff. But on this album I wanted to get something a bit harder really, a bit more edge to it, a bit more dynamic. Musically and lyrically and the cover, everything, I wanted to do something different and really try some different musical styles and hopefully thatís what weíve achieved.
DPRP: I would agree Rob, Iíve been listening to the album consistently for the past three weeks and it does have a harder edge. But it still has the intricate layers that people would expect from Magenta. An album with that kind of depth, how do you put it all together?
Rob: Well itís taken two years to finish the album and itís been just a lot of hard work. You can never tell where an albumís going musically and style wise until you get further into it. With this one the first thing I decided I would write it mainly on guitar because the first three albums were written on piano and keyboards. Again I think the piano leads you in a certain direction so I thought Iíd make it a little bit harder and write on guitar. All the original demos we did for the new album they were ideas from what Iíd played on the guitar. Iím not the best guitarist in the world which is good sometimes. Because I donít know what Iím really playing half the time on the guitar it can lead you into certain directions and styles that you wouldnít normally do on a keyboard. So I would demo more with guitars using my computer and also use the computer as a writing tool. With technology these days it allows you to manipulate sounds and you can copy and paste bits of instruments and put effects on them. So Iíd get some sort of loop going of guitar sounds and Iíd write over that and add layers to it until Iíd basically had these four bits of music which became the four tracks on the album. I developed them over time and played them in the car and see what worked and what didnít and right up until the end of recording, almost up to the week of release I was constantly changing the tracks. I can never leave them alone but it comes to a point where you have to say thatís it, I canít do anymore because it drives you mad towards the end. Always refining, taking bits out and thinking itís not strong enough, Iíll rewrite this bit and rewrite other bits and thatís all the layers really I think. Thereís a lot of work goes into it and I just want every bit, every musical part to be really warrant being in it, I donít want any filler bits. So itís quite a concise album and it takes a lot of listening to because thereís so much on it. Itís quite a short album, these days you can fill 80 minutes on a CD but the classic albums of the 70ís were all like 45 to 50 minutes long. And I think if you can get it right in that length then that is something I purposely wanted to do a shorter album with no waste on it. Everything was high quality and needed to be there.
DPRP: One thing I noticed in particular is that guitar and bass feature really strongly on this album. Was that a conscious decision right from the outset?
Rob: It was. Because Iím a huge Chris Squire fan and I love the way that he uses bass guitar as a solo instrument I think itís wasted a lot in music. It usually underpins everything. But the way I recorded the album I did rough demos on a guitar then we had the drummer in and he played all the drum parts. Then I went back in and redid the bass and spent weeks doing the bass lines so they were really melodic. So that was the first thing to go on it and I think the drums and the bass lead the album, theyíre the most important things on it. We used a different drummer obviously on the album Tim Robinson and I think itís his best drumming. The drums were recorded in two days. I think itís the first time on a Magenta album the drums and bass have really sounded the way I wanted them to sound. On the early albums they were a little bit, not limp, but they took a back seat but on this album the bass is mixed really loud and I think thatís what carries it you know.
DPRP: I know that Tim has featured on and off your albums since the outset.
Rob: Yeah, the Magenta line-up is not your normal setup, itís a band and itís not really. Itís a strange setup you know. I do a lot of stuff on it, I obviously write all the music and my brother writes the words and I just want the albums to be the best they can possibly be. I like working with Tim, Iíve known Tim our studio drummer for like 15 years and weíve got such a rapport in the studio and its part of the writing process as well I think. He comes in with all the ideas and drums and I think writing the drum parts is as important as writing the bass parts, the melodies and the words. I just love his playing and they definitely lead the album the drums and bass. Iím really pleased with that.
DPRP: You mentioned there briefly the partnership with your brother Steve who has written the lyrics for the Magenta albums since the bands inception. What makes the partnership work so well do you think?
Rob: I donít know itís just weird. Itís strange because on this album Iíd done a lot of rough demos and I knew it was going to be a dark album and I had this concept, an idea of death being the theme of the album, the moment before death. We sit down and discuss the ideas and the themes and he comes up with some more ideas to expand them and ideas for each of the songs. He listens to the music, sees what will match the style of the music. But itís amazing how by the end of it how well the music and the lyrics match through the track even though theyíre written separately. When they come together the whole story and the flow of the music and the lyrics match so well really. We just get on and it works really. Itís not your normal setup heís almost like another member of the band. And itís the same with Tim as well, itís a collection of people that make this project called Magenta and it can change and it can be whatever you know. My only bottom line is that as long as the music in the end is great, as long as the live music is great and the studio great I donít care how we get there. Sometimes it upsets people and sometimes people leave the band because they donít like the way it works but in the end I canít compromise musically on anything and thatís the bottom line on anything. Whatever it takes to get the best album and the best live band, thatís what Iíll do.
DPRP: And speaking of people leaving the band, there are two new members, Colin Edwards and Kieran Bailey. I know its early days yet but how are they working out?
Rob: Amazing. Kieran in particular, the drums are so important in the band, if the drums donít work your struggling. Itís the backbone of the band especially live. And Kieran is only young, heís 21 and heís come in and like Tina heís got no background in prog-rock. He doesnít know about Genesis or Yes but he just plays amazingly. I give him the stuff to learn and he comes in and embellishes it. He shows no fear of playing the stuff and the drums on the new album are a tall order for any drummer to play. When we were recording Tim had the luxury to be able to stop every couple of minutes to do it. But playing the album live, Kieran plays the whole album from end to end and usually without any mistakes and itís just incredible. Heís brought a real new edge to the band and I think the current line-up is the best weíve had. Itís always sad to see people go from a personal point of view itís really tough when people leave but then itís always for the better. Every new person thatís come to the band has brought something new and weíve gone up a level. So I just hope it keeps going really but these days itís so hard for people to make a living out of music. Youíve got to have three or four bands going at the same time if you just want to do music. People have other things to do and gone are the glory days of a multi-million rock star playing prog. Itís very hard to do that so I think youíve got to supplement your income from something else and sometimes it clashes with what youíre doing. Itís hard to prioritise because of peopleís circumstances and families and things so there are always people coming and going within a band. The core is there obviously. Tina couldnít be replaced she is the sound of Magenta and Chris Fry on guitar. Thatís the core really in some ways but everyone brings stuff to the table and itís great you know.
DPRP: Iíve got to ask this question as is something I noticed just the other night. The new album artwork contains quite a strong image and my initial thought was that this was quite different for a Magenta cover. But when I looked at it next to your very first album cover I realised that the crucifixion posture is very similar. Was that an intentional cross reference?
Rob: No it wasnít, not at all (Laughs). It was very strange because again with the album cover I really wanted to do something different, I was fed up with the same old covers everybody was doing. I wanted something to represent what we were doing musically, something shocking. We came across this guy in Germany who does these covers and I sent him the lyrics and the ideas of the songs and he came back with that. And I remember the day it came through on my computer and I pressed open and it filled my screen and I was just stunned by it. I couldnít believe it, and I thought oh my god we canít use that itís shocking we canít do that. But then I thought yeah, it matches the music. He hadnít seen the first album but yeah it is a bit of a theme. With some of the concepts and lyrics and things, we do get accused of being a religious band which is not really the case. But it is similar, and itís bizarre so well spotted.
DPRP: Just going back to the first album (2001ís ĎRevolutionsí) I think itís fair to say that it was generally regarded as a studio project of yours. Then you brought the guitarists in and Tina was obviously an important part of it. At what point after that album did you think to yourself, hang on a minute, weíve actually got a real band here?
Rob: When I made that album it was a sort of backlash. Me and Tina had been doing pop stuff as well and we got so fed up of record companies telling us you couldnít do this, you couldnít do that and all that bad side of the business. So I decided I wanted to make a prog album. I was also fed up of all the prog bands saying weíre not really a prog band weíre just a rock band and I thought Iíve listened to your album, you sound like Genesis, you sound like Yes you know, stop messing about. So I wanted to make an album that was prog with a capital ĎPí. I wanted an album full of moogs, full of mellotrons, I wanted a double album, a concept album, full 30 minute songs or whatever, everything that people were scared to do. And we did it and people liked it. You can never tell how it was going to go but people liked the album, bought into it and I thought this is great, a good reaction to this, we have to do it live. And I thought how the hell are we going to play this live because it was only me and a couple of session guys? So I got all my mates together, people who lived locally and I thought weíll do it as a fun thing to start off and it took shape really. Then we got offered to play in Baja, Mexico out of the blue and that was one of our first gigs really and we went over there and people loved it and weíve never looked back since. It became a band, or a band/studio project whatever it is, whatever Magenta is. So the live side of it is important and we got to where we are now.
DPRP: Iím going to sidestep here if I may and mention the ĎChimpan Aí album you were involved with, which for me was one of the highlights of 2006. It was a complete outsider that took many people by surprise. Do have any future plans for that project?
Rob: Well itís such a tricky one. I love that album, I think its one of the best things Iíve been involved with and I just wish everyone else thought the same. Everyone thatís heard it really loves it but for it to be mainstream itís such a hard sell. To be like a Moby or a BjŲrk or whatever it just needs so much money and weíve been to some record companies but it takes such a lot of money to launch it. But itís got such a huge cult following and Iím really proud of it I think its one of the best things Iíve ever done. Weíve got another half an album written but itís so hard to get all the people involved with it, thereís so many different players and theyíve all got their own things. But I think one day weíve got to play it live at some point. I know Steve Balsamo the singer he definitely wants to do it but we called upon so many favours to do that album with Sam Brown and things, it was a real one-off achievement really. Letís hope that one day somebody picks up on it and we can get it on adverts or films. Thatís how you can break an album like that. But I just hope it takes-off one day because Iím really proud of that album.
DPRP: Also that same year you did the ĎHomeí and ĎNew York Suiteí project which obviously had a lot of work put into it and to be doing that at the same time as the ĎChimpan Aí album was quite an achievement.
Rob: Yeah, I donít know how we managed to do it (Laughs). It was a lot of work doing a double album. The ĎHomeí thing was basically a double album. But yeah itís nice sometimes to have a break, to go from one to the other and sometimes it can be a real help to rest your ears from prog and go and do something else. And sometimes you find, oh I like a bit of that from electronic. The Chimpan A album is quite electronic and I liked bringing some of that into the ĎHomeí stuff and into Magenta. I think the latest Magenta album especially thereís so many styles there that I get away with and I thought people would say Oh you canít do that. Thereís a lot of indie guitar work and stuff. I just get away with all these different styles and things and it seems to work.
At this point we were joined by Magenta vocalist Christina Booth.
Rob: Hi, come and say a few words.
DPRP: I know that youíve already done a launch show for this new album and youíll be walking out onto the CRS (Classic Rock Society) stage in less than an hourÖ
Rob: Half an hour!
Christina: Itíll take me longer than that to do my makeup (Laughs).
DPRP: ÖSo what can we expect from you this evening?
Christina: Professionalism as usual (Laughs).
Rob: We havenít decided yet have we (Laughs). Weíre terrible with our sets.
Christina: You mean your terrible (Laughs).
Rob: I am terrible. This morning we decided to change the set completely.
Christina: Itís always a surprise, letís put it that way.
Rob: Itís hard to tell what people want and sometimes we think are we doing too much? But prog bands seem to love that, the more the merrier really. And tonight is the first time weíre playing with the two new members for the full set so thatís going to be interesting. Weíll be doing all of the new album which is a bit daunting and lots of ĎHomeí.
Christina: The lads Kieran and Colin have got a mammoth task on their hands to be honest with you. Itís always the same for anyone that joins a band thatís been going for a while because you learn the new stuff and you have to learn the back catalogue. And theyíve done an awesome job really havenít they?
Rob: They have, yes.
Christina: Itís totally changed the dynamics of the band I think and this is no disrespect to the different line-ups that weíve had previously but itís just become, I donít know, itís a different beast at the moment Magenta. Thereís a lot more energy, a lot more power live and Kieranís playing especially definitely suits the new album in particular.
DPRP: So youíll be playing the new album all the way through?
Rob: All the way through yeah. Weíre breaking it up a little in the middle. Weíre playing the first two tracks then playing some older stuff and then weíre coming back to finish off with the last two tracks of the album. Itís a lot to take in as we said from a listening point of view. With this album you need to listen to it four or five times and for people who are not familiar with it, itís quite on onslaught I think musically.
Christina: In truth it took me a couple of listens to learn it initially before we recorded it and there is a lot to take in, but yeah it definitely grows on you.
DPRP: I think lyrically itís quite intense and I was speaking to Steve (Reed) earlier about the opening song ĎThe Ballad of Samuel Layneí. One moment he is saying goodbye to his sweetheart and suddenly itís íWelcome to hellí.
Christina: Yes itís quite a jump and this may sound a bit corny but mentally when youíre singing it Iím constantly trying to remember what Iím singing about, how to get that emotion into it and how that personís feeling at the time. So yeah itís a bit of a rollercoaster emotionally when youíre actually performing it.
DPRP: Which is the best kind of music I think having that kind of depth and diversity in a single song.
Christina: Definitely yes.
DPRP: And I hear thereís talk of a solo album later this year Tina, is that right?
Christina: Itís when the boss here can fit me in (Laughs).The stuffís demoed in its rough form and weíve laid down, I say weíve, Robís laid down the drums with our previous drummer from when we did the Trippa thing. So thatís there ready as a backbone for it and hopefully weíll meet up with him in the next couple of weeks and start getting it together then.
Rob: Weíve always written and youíve got to have an outlet for the writing outside of the band. And itís good to do different styles and things as well I think.
Christina: You never know whatís going to come out.
DPRP: Other than Tinaís album, what else is on the horizons for Magenta?
Rob: Well the next thing Iíve got to finish off is a show we did before Christmas and weíre doing a new DVD, a two hour show of that. I donít want to commit myself but itís coming out around July/August time. And thatís with the other line-up playing a lot of the older stuff we havenít had on DVD so weíre finishing that off first I think. Thatís got to be done and then weíre playing some shows with ĎMetamorphosisí. It would be nice to do a real good performance of the album with strings and stuff. Weíve always toyed with that idea and I think it would be nice to actually do that I think, possibly next year as a one off.
DPRP: So would that also be a DVD?
Rob: With that yeah. If weíre going to do anything, it needs to be something special really rather than just a straight performance. The new album is full of strings and stuff that we used on the recording so it would be good to add that live.
Christina: At the Albert Hall?
Rob: I donít know about that, busking outside the Albert Hall possibly (Laughs). But no, it would be great to do it with strings and stuff as it lends itself to that I think. Itís something we both want to do as well.
Christina: Yes definitely.
DPRP: Youíre absolutely right, it does lend itself and I agree that the new album is quite something. And itís nice to see that some of those old influences are still in there, it wouldnít be Magenta album otherwise I guess.
Rob: Weíll yeah theyíre not lost in it. Itís the feel of it I think and the way you package it all up. Itís something a bit more modern I think thatís the main thing.
DPRP: Thank you both very much and have a good gig.