How many musicians would fly halfway around the world to play a 30-minute support slot? However, when that support slot is with ProgMetal legends Dream Theater, it is a hard gig to turn down!
That long haul from Spain to Venezuela was just one of the obstacles to face progressive quartet RC2 in the creation of “Future Awaits”, their stunning second album.
Andy Read speaks to drummer Eduardo Benatar to discover everything he can about one of the most promising, modern progressive rock bands on the scene today.
ANDY: First off, tell me how RC2 came together? I believe you started out as a band called Radio Clip in Venezuela. Tell me a bit about Radio Clip.
EDUARDO: Yes Radio Clip vas a very popular band in Venezuela. They played pop music but got heavier later in their career. They opened for bands like INXS and REO Speedwagon. From the mid-eighties until the mid-nineties they had top five hits and released four albums. Sadly the line-up changes started, their record company folded and their future became unclear. When I entered the band, the only original members were Felix Duque (vocals) and Arturo Torres (bass). The band is actually back together in Miami with a new singer, you can check them out at www.myspace.com/radioclip.
Why did you decide to move more into a progressive rock style with RC2?
We initially recorded a demo of original songs as Radio Clip. When we’d finished, we had some time left. So we jammed a little in the recording studio. The jam was very prog-orientated, since all of us were fans of the genre. It was then we decided that if we were not going to make money out of music, we might as well play the music that we loved!
Demian Mejicano (our first guitar player) was already involved, but the keyboard player left. So I called Rafael, who was a childhood friend. We got together and on the first week of rehearsals we wrote more than half the songs on our first album… and a couple we used on the second.
Unfortunately Arturo decided to go to the States, so we lost both our bass player and the name of the band. We broke up for about a month, and then did one gig as a cover band. We used that money to record a three-song demo, and RC2 was officially born.
What led to getting signed by the Musea label to release that first album – it is a long way from Venezuela to France?
We gave a copy of the demo to Pedro Castillo, guitar player and singer for Tempano, a legendary Venezuelan prog band that was already with Musea, and they signed us before we’d even had an album or played a gig. We spent a year and a half writing more songs and recording the album. Our self-titled debut was released in September 2003.
I remember giving a very positive review of that album. Looking back at it now, are you pleased with what you achieved?
Of course we are. It was a perfect testimony to who we were at that moment; mixing our more melodic stuff with Demian’s heavier style, doing an album in Spanish, incorporating Venezuelan folk music and doing long, instrumental stuff. We still love our first album!
Many of the reviews of that album tended to put you guys in the Prog-Metal camp. Was that fair? Does it still apply now? If you had to, which category would you put the band in?
The genre? That is a very tricky thing. I know Demian’s guitar playing was very influenced by heavier stuff, and also we tend to play with a little more aggression than most Prog groups. However I never felt we were a ProgMetal band. Now more than ever, I’d say we are a progressive band with an edge and an obsession for melody. Marillion elements mixed with Deep Purple. ELP with classic rock elements. I hope you get the picture! But I rather have you listen to our songs.
The new album tells the story of the band’s move to Spain. What was the reason for that move? Tell me the story of what happened.
Our singer Felix moved even before we finished the first album. In fact, he recorded the vocals less than a week before he moved! After that, it became pretty evident that the political and economic situation in Venezuela was getting really bad, and the music business was almost disappearing. So we decided to move. Between that, there were break ups, marriages, and lots of other stuff. Together all of that ended up being the lyrical content of Future Awaits.
How did you go about recording an album in a new and strange country?
Not all Future Awaits was recorded in Spain. The album was written and the drums, bass and keyboards were recorded in Venezuela just before we moved in 2004. Once again, we did things the hard way, making an hour of new music without any idea of the vocals and guitar parts! All of that is on the liner notes of the album. It was too good a story not to be told. The vocals and guitars were recorded here in Barcelona.
How easy was it to settle in a new country? What do you miss most about Venezuela?
It was very hard. Still is, in fact. But it had to be done, not just for the band but for us as individuals. Families and friends are what we miss the most, but we know it was a good decision.
I believe you have a different guitarist from the one who recorded the album. What happened?
Demian left the band just before we started writing the second album. He wanted to focus on his project which was more metal oriented. We started playing with a friend of his, Mauricio Barroeta, who happened to be his guitar tech on our first gigs. Mauricio played the live gigs but couldn’t commit to recording because of his work. So we got Eric Baule, a guitar player from Barcelona, and he did most of the album. Mauricio recorded too, on El Diablo Suelto, and Pedro Castillo from Tempano and Kalle Wallner from RPWL are also featured.
I see from your website and YouTube that RC2 landed a support gig with Dream Theater in Venezuela. Congratulations. How did that come together?
They did a contest for the opening slots on their South American tour. Mike Portnoy himself chose us to open for them in Venezuela! It was pretty cool, but we had to travel there, without a guitar player to do the gig. Remember, always the hard way! We found another gig in the Hard Rock Café in Caracas to pay for the tickets and Demian agreed to play guitar with us. We rehearsed with him for the first time in five years about three times and went on stage to open for Dream Theater!
We played in a really big venue. The crowd was about 7,000. We did 30 minutes and they went wild, even more when we featured the cuatro – a Venezuelan folk four-string instrument. They even asked for more when we finished! I was amazed.
There are some older songs on the new album which I think date back quite a few years. Why did you decide to use them and not use new material?
Yes, two of them are older songs: Autumn and Voice of the Storm (part II). But both of them have been rearranged.
Autumn was a song that we always liked. But we had enough slow and dark material for the first album, with songs like Nada and Soledad, so we left it out. When we started writing for Future Awaits, we came up with aggressive stuff, but the softer side of the band was not featured. So we rearranged Autumn and recorded it. We love it. Voice of the Storm was another one we really liked from those first sessions, but we only had the verse, choruses and the solo, it was not arranged. This time around we started messing with the chords and came up with Voice of the Storm (part I) which is the instrumental. So we decided to give the old song another go as we also wanted to show our Neo Prog side. The positive vibe of the ending convinced us even more. So it is there and closing both the journey and the album.
The new CD is quite different from the debut. It is sung in English and has less of the traditional influences from South America. Was that a deliberate decision to reach a wider audience?
The English singing was just that. The traditional influences… I don’t know. I even think that this album has more traditional elements. We cover a traditional song, something we didn’t do on the first one. I think that, in order to reach a wider audience, we will always have this element. It separates us from other bands.
One thing I really like about the new album is that you have included extensive song and liner notes in the album sleeve. Do you feel they help people engage with your music? Will you do it on future albums?
As you should know by now, I have always loved liner notes, and since so much stuff has happened since we started this long and difficult process of making an album, it was very easy to write about it. In fact, I was at home one night, and after listening to a working mix of the record, they came to me. I did them in half an hour. I really feel that they are an integral part of the record, since they explain the making of that little piece of plastic. I would love to be able to do it again, and I’m being encouraged by the rest of the band. I think they will become another trademark of RC2. You can’t download liner notes on mp3!
What sort of response has the new album received so far from reviewers and fans?
It’s going down surprisingly well, more than the first one and beyond our expectations. We are getting very good press and great emails. A guy told us that we sound the way Rush should sound these days. I don’t know what to do with a comment like that!!!
Now the album is out what are the plans for the band to promote it? Are there any gigs or tours or festival appearances being planned?
We are contacting festivals and booking gigs, and even thinking about promoting concerts ourselves with other bands. The first one is on November 15th, here in Barcelona.
How did you come to sign with ProgRock records instead of Musea? Have you signed a deal to release future albums with ProgRock?
We signed with Musea for one album only, and we decided to try a new approach this time. This deal is also for one album, so we’ll see what the future brings.
Finally, if someone has read this far and is thinking about buying the new RC2 album, how would you persuade them to give it a go?