DPRP's Menno von Brucken Fock speaks with Shadow Gallery's Gary Wehrkamp at ProgPower Europe 2010
The history of Shadow Gallery goes back to the eighties when Carl Cadden-James and singer Mike Baker started to work on original material. Since Baker tragically passed away in October 2008, Carl is the only remaining founding member, but when it came to recording the first demos, Brendt Allman was on board too, soon after followed by Chris Ingles. After Magellan, Shadow Gallery was the second progressive act on the famous Magna Carta label. The debut album, originally only released in Japan and Europe, was well received and there were plans to go on tour to Japan, so the band needed an extra musician on stage. Within a few weeks they found the perfect fit: Gary Wehrkamp, soon after a permanent member of the band from 1993 onwards. The tour fell through but the band including Wehrkamp started to work on the Carved In Stone album. Members of the band were involved in tribute albums like Supper's Ready, Tales From Yesterday, The Working Man, Leonardo/The Absolute Man and of course The Moon Revisited, while Carl, Brendt and Gary were also involved in the making of James Labrie's first and second Mulmuzzler albums. In the mean time Tyranny was released in 1998, but although Cadden-James traveled to Europe to promote the album, no live performances. The fourth album Legacy was released in April 2001 while Gary was working on contributions for the Explorers Club II album.
The long awaited (and DPRP recommended) fifth album Room V was released in 2005 on the very popular Inside Out label. In the meantime Gary also contributed to Arjen Lucassen's Star One album and even earlier on Ayreon's Universal Migrator. Wehrkamp is a member of the live acts The JR Trio and The Maybabies with whom he performs live very frequently and he contributed to many other projects among others Shadrane, Amaran's Plight and recently to Arjen Lucassen's Star One's second album Victims Of The Modern Age. At present the forty year old Wehrkamp, living in Stroudsburg (Pennsylvania, USA) can be considered to be the most important driving force of Shadow Gallery because he is guitarist, keyboard player, one of the composers and even drummer and bass player at times while he is also the producer of the band. Most of the PR is done by Wehrkamp too. The decision to honor their fallen bandmate Mike Baker by recording and releasing their latest album Digital Ghosts (2009, DPRP recommended) proved to be an excellent choice and what never happened in twenty years, happened in 2010: together with their new addition Brian Ashland (vocals, guitar) the band crossed the Atlantic to tour Europe and their first gig was on ProgPower Europe in Baarlo (Netherlands) on September 24th. Before this show I got the opportunity to have a chat with the sympathetic multi-instrumentalist of one of USA's finest bands in progressive rock: SHADOW GALLERY!
MENNO: Hi Gary, welcome to the Netherlands ! You guys are playing in Europe for the very first time; did you play any gigs before you embarked on this tour?
GARY: Well thank you Menno! Indeed it's the first time I've ever set foot on European soil. Before we came here, we only performed live once (smiling), about two weeks ago. At first we opted for a small venue, the last rehearsal just for family and friends but you know, word gets around and we realized there was much more interest than we anticipated, so we had to move to a bigger hall and we needed a bigger PA. It was hectic to get everything organized but also a challenge and in the end everybody had great fun.
MENNO: Why is it that you decided to tour now, after almost twenty years of Shadow Gallery?
GARY: Momentum. There a right time for everything . Each and every time we had an album finished we had meetings, including our wives, to discuss a forthcoming tour. We talked about the tiniest details but for some reason, over and over again, it never happened. After Room V we experienced a certain amount of disinterest. At some point I suggested to Carl and Brendt: let's try and compose one song each and we'll take it from there. The three of us started writing and the enthusiasm came back and all the rest sort of went by itself, just as the decision to perform live. Originally the intention was to do an acoustic show in Greece on New year's eve, that plan was abandoned; there was also a plan to do a performance on a cruise. That never happened either but the seed was sown and while discussing and booking it turned out that three weeks touring would be the max. The rest of the story you know, because here we are!
MENNO: Let's try in dig into your own history a bit Gary. What kind of education did you have, playing all these different instruments and how did you become an expert in recording techniques and producing?
GARY: If you refer to my education musically: none. In my senior year in High school I had an introduction to music class, learning things like time signatures, trouble cliff etcetera. Everything else including recording and producing I picked up along the way. I've learned a great deal by teaching. Because when you teach, you have to consider how you explain things; you have to make logical sense explaining all the things you know how to do instinctively. This is how I got know more about the theoretical aspects.
MENNO: As you compose, do you use the guitar, a keyboard or the computer?
GARY: All mentioned above. Having said that, I'd have to point out that "time" is the biggest factor. If there's time and you can add inspiration, the songs will write themselves. Without time or inspiration it's a lot harder. You can make it work but it's forced. Obviously when I'm playing the piano, you're thinking a little different tonally, because you have more twist, you can have more harmonies at once. As a producer I always hear the final parts in my head so when I'm playing guitar I can already picture in the back of my head what the keyboards will do, the string section or maybe a choir. When I'm inspired I work as quickly as possible and then I can write very fast: with a sequencer I do drums, thirty seconds later I'm working on the bass line and two minutes later the piano, but sometimes I play the guitar all the way through.
MENNO: What are your most important sources of inspiration?
GARY: Usually it's a general idea. Sometimes it's a single chord that resonates, it's hard to describe but it's a kind of emotion that gives you a starting point and then you try to match that emotions with more chord that come before and after. Some people read a newspaper and instantly want to write a song about something they just read: I think musically first and then the emotion of the music will direct the lyrical content.
MENNO: On your website it says your most important influences are: Pink Floyd, Rush, Yes, Kansas, Van Halen, and Queen, Yngwie Malsteen, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai and Chris Alia. I've tried to checkout Chris Alia out but for us in Europe it seems like a bit of a unfamiliar name between people like Malmsteen and Vai?
GARY: (grinning) Chris Alia is the definition of my early inspiration to play guitar. I was already playing drums and back then, aged 13, my only goal in was to be the best drummer in the world, that's all I cared about. Then my older brother brought a friend over, Chris Alia and he had a guitar. Now somebody gave me a guitar but it was terrible, impossible to play. I knew Chris could play guitar so I asked him if he wanted to check out my guitar. He grabbed my guitar and then he said to me; "hey I've got my guitar in my car, should I go get it" and I said "yes". So he grabbed his guitar and played for 45 minutes! I was so overwhelmed that anyone could play the guitar at such an immense level. I mean, at the time it didn't matter if the big stars were Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen or Randy Rhoads, because I thought Chris was way better! This event changed my life so drastically and to get back to your education question: the way I learned to play the guitar? Underneath my bed I had this little tape recorder. I used it for writing songs, drumming, singing, whatever. Some twenty minutes into Chris playing guitar I managed to push the record button so at the end of the day I had a cassette with Chris playing, improvising, noodling on his guitar. Every time I came home from school I listened to that cassette and bit by bit learned to play back whatever he had been doing. And even if I couldn't play whatever he had been playing I played something similar because I didn't know how to play chords (yet). It was hard, but I got there and I've used that tape for years. It's worn out a long time ago, I wish I had been able to make copies! So he really changed my life and for years I tried to find him just to thank him and never could until about 4 years ago. Somebody told him that I was looking for him because I mentioned his name in an interview I did for Shadow Gallery. So one day I got a call from his wife and how I got in touch with him. I met him once when he drove up to my place but he lives about a 1000 km's from where I live and I don't think he's in the music business anymore.
MENNO: You just mentioned playing the drums at the age of 13, who was/were your idol(s)?
GARY: Early on no one in particular, because I didn't know any drummer or didn't think about it. Drumming seemed to be so natural for me and at first I had my own idea of what they should do. Eventually my hero was Neil Peart from Rush. When I was 14, I was in a band and we tried to play some Rush-songs and when I was fifteen I realized I was playing them wrong. I decided to make a challenge for myself to pick a Rush album and learn the drums not for note, exactly to every tiny detail. I picked the album Moving Pictures. I brought the cassette with that album on it to Arizona where my mom was living at the time. In those 6 weeks, with that cassette in my Sony walkman I learned to play all the drums on my legs because I didn't have a drum kit. Then I went from there but at that time he was totally inspiring for me.
MENNO: What kind of music were you listening to in your teens?
GARY: Not much really; mostly Pink Floyd. I got the album The Wall when I was 11 years old. I became an addict Pink Floyd collector and that was one of my four passions: drums, Pink Floyd, soccer and girls, that was my life at the age of 12. And to be honest things didn't change that much....
MENNO: Apart from girls I suppose .... but soccer isn't that popular in the US is it?
GARY: (laughter) Oh yeah sure I found 'the' girl!! But yes, I was very much into soccer and it's not as popular as it is here in Europe, but it should be! When I was growing up I was in that one town in New Jersey that was going to start a soccer league. Now the coach of that very first team starting in that league happened to be my best friend's father. They had so few children playing, that they only had one league ages 6 to 14. I was 5 years old but they let me get in because I knew the coach. I played defense against those kids 12 years old, a lot bigger than me. Very, very scary that first year but I learned to be aggressive and I kept on playing until I was about 13. During that time I moved up the ranks, became captain, center forward and so on, great fun!
MENNO: Do you still play at any level?
GARY: Good God no! I'd be great playing soccer for about six minutes and then I'd be lying on the floor gasping (laughter), because I would be running full speed a 100% , that's why!
MENNO: Would you be able to mention a few of your favorite tracks/albums by other artist(s)?
GARY: Here's the terrible answer for you: I'm all about variety, so very little will I listen to a whole album. I would listen to two Rush-songs, then a couple of Yngwie Malmsteen songs, two Yes-songs, progressive rock stuff I guess. Most of the time however I listen to things I'm working on or have been working on. I never listen to Tyranny or other Shadow Gallery albums but if I'm producing somebody I listen to this material over and over again and it rarely happens that I grow tired of hearing it. Mostly I appreciate it more and more. Pink Floyd would be among the progressive rock I listen to, but you know, I'd never listen to Dark Side Of The Moon or Wish You Were Here again, because I've heard them too many times. I'd probably listen to Arjen (Lucassen)'s stuff rather than Pink Floyd because I consider him 'the modern Pink Floyd': Electric Castle or The Human Equation, brilliant albums, for me that's Pink Floyd with more dimension. People give me CD's, I get a lot of music via mail but I rarely listen to it immediately. Eventually I get around to do it, but it takes me a long time, sometimes up to two years. Then I usually scan the disc like listening to each song for about thirty seconds and decide what to do with it.
MENNO: Do you have a favorite instrument?
GARY: It changes, all the time, minute by minute. Usually it's whatever I'm most proficient at. I range from being terrible, no technique, feeling bad to feeling great. If I have a lot of gigs coming up where I have to play piano, probably that would be the instrument I'm most comfortable with. In Shadow Gallery I play guitars and keyboards equally. My guitar is an Ibanez GEM, 6-string ordinarily tuned, nothing special.
MENNO: I was talking to Arjen Lucassen recently and he mentioned the possibility to go touring with Star One and he was wandering if you were able to play a 7-string guitar because he wouldn't dare to ask you to play with Star One doing only four solos....
GARY: (hilarious laughter) I really wouldn't want to learn to play a 7-string guitar but for him I would make that one exception! It would be great fun to share the stage with Arjen, that's for sure!
MENNO: What role do amplifiers, MIDI, software, strings, accessories play in establishing your sound, appreciation of textures?
GARY: Very little. give me an amplifier, give me strings and I'll paly; I'm not picky at all. Although my preference would be Adario strings, I usually buy a couple of brands, whatever the best sale price I can get. As producer I use a Macintosh computer with software called 'Digital Performer'. It used to be 'Pro Tools' for audio and 'Performer' for the MIDI keyboards. But when performer added audio, I started working with that software and grew to like it more than Pro Tools.
MENNO: Do you actually try to define your own sound and how important is it to you that people would recognize it?
GARY: As a guitar player I'm not, with Shadow Gallery I am! One thing I've noticed listening to all these new progressive rock bands: they all sound amazing! I'm analyzing everything and I think 'wow, that snare sounds better than what we do, so I try to improve our sound. I think that Shadow Gallery, by doing it our own way and even if that would be the wrong way, have developed their own sound. Even if it may seem to sound less terrific than other artists, I like the sound we get and in that sense I think we have a stamp. For me personally I don't particularly work on my guitar sound and although Brendt and I do have an identity between our sounds, most of the time I play all the guitar parts on one song and double it or Brendt will on another. I focus more on the production than the individuality between our guitar sounds.
MENNO: How often do you perform live on average each year with SG, the Maybabies and the JR Trio?
GARY: Shadow Gallery is the exception now, but usually about a 100 gigs per year; with the JR Trio probably around 75-80 and with the Maybabies around 15-20. These gigs are year around although we play a bit more often in the summer than in the winter
MENNO: The last album Digital Ghosts: you were composer, guitarist, keyboardist and producer, but you also played bass & drums? Can you comment briefly on the making of this fine album?
GARY: For me it's over two years ago! Well I like it. It meant a step forward and that's the way it has to be. It's about art, maturing so if a new album is not a step forward, we haven't done our job! We don't want to repeat ourselves, but at the same time we don't want to abandon things we like. So with Digital Ghosts in my opinion we improved our sound, our writing and production style. I also believe we will do better on the next album and I'm looking forward to that!
MENNO: Are you or any other member of the band working on a new album at the moment?
GARY: Me? No, not at all (laughs). As far as I know Carl and Brendt are not writing either. Usually we will not start working together but individually. Now we're on tour we might change. It could be nice to bounce ideas off each other and maybe this will be the seed of a new writing procedure. Usually it's Brendt programming drums, he's very good at that, he's got a great drumming sense. Then he will do guitars, a bass line and keys and I would do the same. When we're together we often decide to combine ideas and that's why you get those twists and turns. For example the song Strong on the last album: he had that whole first part, when it goes faster, that's the part I wrote. Carl's involved in almost all vocal parts. The three of us work on all songs through emailing files, much easier and quicker because Carl lives about an hour driving from where I live, Brendt about an hour and a half.
MENNO: The music on Digital Ghost is a bit more aggressive than on Room V. On the special edition there was this lovely tribute/medley of Pink Floyd music. Do you consider to do something like that ever again?
GARY: Oh yeah, the bonus disc: I just love medleys. It's totally my personality; it defines detail and diversity and then changing and moving around, that's who I am. That's the way I would love to listen to Pink Floyd again: I don't have 5 minutes for one song, I'd rather listen to 20 minutes with 30 ideas in it. So yes, I would to do that again, but I don't know when.... time!!
MENNO: With the JR Trio and the Maybabies you play other styles as well, because with those two bands you don't play progressive rock?
GARY: No as far away from progressive rock as you can get! The Maybabies' music is simple but very appealing live. Great energy when we play live and the styles really range. There are songs I didn't even hear the original version of, I just follow along. What I enjoy about that is the diversity of it. The JR Trio is mostly a cover band although Jim Roberti (that's what JR stands for) writes original songs too. It's rock and jazz and everything. I started out as his producer in the studio, that how I got to know him. This is more on a financial level. We do corporate parties, events. It's a three piece and I play bass with my left hand, keyboards with my right.
MENNO: How do you think you can move/touch the hearts of listeners?
GARY: Well I've learned over the years that if I listen back to something I did and I'm compassionate about it and I like it, that many other people will also. I know I'm not going to please everyone! So if I write something and I like it, I know others will too and frankly I don't care how many that will be.
MENNO: Do you have any other special interests like movies, hiking or surfing?
GARY: I wish I had more time! Music is all consuming these last years but I wish I would have more time to play golf and go fine dining with my wife. If I have any spare time at all, I want to spend every second of it with my son Gabriel, who just turned 5. I would put music here (points at his waist) and my son here (points well over his head) and I would give up anything music related in a second if I had to. It's the most important goal in life at the moment, to be the best father I can be for him. If I have 16 hour days, I would take two breaks of half an hour just to see him. Luckily I've built a teaching facility and studio right next to my house so I am eleven steps away from seeing him. I really am very undisciplined; if I'm not with a client and I miss him, I'll stop with whatever I'm doing and I go see him.
MENNO: is there a number two coming up?
GARY: I wish, but no. He's my number one and that's all I need!
MENNO: What's the status of Amaran's Plight: is it a project or a 'band' and are there any plans for a successor?
GARY: I wouldn't commit to either of those words. I'll just say it was a great long album to make and one I really like the results of. And it's something I'd like to continue but it's a hundred things down on my priority list now.
MENNO: You contributed to Explorers Club, Ayreon, Star One, Mullmuzzler, Roswell Six, Doug Rausch and Shadrane. Please name a few artists you'd love to work with in the future and why?
GARY: (thinking hard) I haven't really thought about that. I set goals for myself all the time but this is not a goal I've set for myself so far to work with for example Rush, because it doesn't sound realistic to me you know. I'm happy with the list so far and if new opportunities arise, I will know almost instantly if it's something I should do or not. I'm interested in all opportunities, however I wouldn't want the readers to send me hundreds of emails now, because I do get a lot of requests already, but if it makes sense and I really love what they're doing, then I will try to be a part of it.
MENNO: Any additional comments to the previous collaborations?
GARY: (smiling) Well all of my collaborations were successes and almost disasters at the same time. But there's one story I got to tell. I was finishing my last guitar solos for Arjen's new Star One album, and I really wanted to do it but there was so little time: like I would work three hours on them and then it would take me eighteen days to be able to work on them again, because you can't say "just pick an hour and knock it off". You'd have to tune your guitar and get the set up to record ready and that's an hour right there! Well anyway I did my last solo and it was 1 in the morning and I was filming it and I was listening back and all of a sudden it stopped and I thought "that last note sounds terrible, why does it sound so terrible?". Then I had this really, really sharp pain in my stomach and I almost fell to the floor. Eventually I sat down on the couch in my studio and I couldn't move. It took me ten minutes to crawl back to the computer and 'google' food poisoning, because that's what I thought it would be. To cut a long story short: it turned to be a problem in my gall bladder and I had to be rushed to the hospital for an emergency surgery. As soon as I was able I emailed Arjen from my I-phone which I had next to my bed in the hospital to tell him I was in the hospital and that I would send the file the next day. Later I watched that video of the last solo and I remember when the pains hit me, that I shut it off. So one of the solos on that album, I was in extreme pain for the last two measures!
MENNO: But you recovered fully?
GARY: (laughing) Oh yeah and it was like a mini holiday those two days in the hospital, just laying in bed and watch TV! Should have done that sooner!
MENNO: What does New Horizon Music mean for you emotionally and professionally?
GARY: To have the studio right next to my house is the key-thing. I wouldn't trade that for anything, because I can see my family whenever I want. Financially though it's a different world because I spend so much time with Shadow Gallery. However it's great to be able to be in charge and run the business the way I want and have the freedom to put that on the backburner when I need to make other things my priority. Usually I have recording clients or ones that I produce but I had to work them down till one day a week. So for the last four years I have one client on Tuesday and one on Friday. Unfortunately this way, it takes forever to finish their albums but that's what I can give and they're happy to come to the studio. On the other days I teach or I have other teachers coming in when I'm not there to teach, so it's 5-6 days per week I guess. Anytime in between I'm managing Shadow Gallery from my office there.
MENNO: Composing too I presume and what about rehearsing ?
GARY: Composing is fun and it's high on the enjoyable priority list, although it's not high on my actual priority list right now. rehearsing with the band? No never. We probably did 75 show with the Trio before we said to each other: maybe we should rehearse (laughing) and that was the draw for me. Because at the time I was finishing the Carved In Stone album and we were rehearsing for a tour then and everything was very regimented. It has to be exactly this way: guitar here, keyboard there, no chance for improvisation, no chance for variation. So after rehearsing so much with Shadow Gallery I was drawn to the fact that I would get up on stage with Jim and have no idea what we were going to do! I'm most comfortable listening and responding, so I said to the guys, play whatever you want, I will follow you. That is fun, turning a mistake into a good note and vice versa. I thoroughly enjoy not knowing what's coming next and it's very different from Shadow Gallery.
MENNO: What's the status of Chris (Ingles) at the moment? Will he contribute to Shadow Gallery in the future?
GARY: I have absolutely no idea. I've not heard from him in two years and nobody has. I don't even know where he is and if I will ever see him... I hope I will because I know he is an amazing musician, very talented and I love him as a friend.
MENNO: You had plans for a symphonic solo album once. Being a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and producer it seems to me it shouldn't be too hard to come up with a stunning solo-album?
GARY: (laughing) Time! Every minute has to be listed 'priority now'; some things I have to do today, some others have to be done by tomorrow and some by tonight. A solo album is really something I would like to do but it's always pushed down and down on that priority list. Last year I've tried to simplify my life. Everything up to last year I tried to be busier and busier and I love the challenge: how many things can I do in one day. As a father you change your priorities so I teach less, less work in the studio.... less everything! Just family and Shadow Gallery live as priorities and it's happening: I'm doing less of everything else! Strangely it happened naturally: students started cancelling, people started cancelling sessions so it's bad financially but this is what I wanted so I have no complaints.
MENNO: How is the collaboration with Inside Out so far? Any repercussions you are aware of, of the financial problems of the 'mother' company?
GARY: (frowning) We were right in the middle of that situation when it mattered the most to us! It was a tumultuous time for everybody because no one knew what was going to happen and how all the bills would be paid. Something inside me felt that it was just going to work out fine. I talked to the president of the label and he was very candid with me and I felt reassured by him saying they would work things out and that we should go on with the planning as agreed and things would be happening if needed. As it turned out, everything went fine and at the moment there's no need to have contacts with the label.
MENNO: Any plans for a future SG or will it be a live CD or DVD and how do you feel about the whole music industry at the moment?
GARY: Probably a live DVD. We will be filming some of the shows in the next three weeks, so hopefully we will see things we like. I could probably complain about the industry for half an hour but really what it boils down to is evolution: everything requires change and usually change leads to better things. But fact is, it's a terrible time for musicians right now or moviemakers or for any one where you can get stuff on the internet for free; ultimately it will help our entire culture evolve into something better we don't even know about yet... For me personally I have to make ends meet, because it has an impact financially. On the other hand I've asked myself the question: would I make another album even if I wouldn't get a penny out of it and would I spend as much time as before? The answer is yes! I hope no record company will hear me say this(laughter), but I would do it all if I had to. My personality demands me to be everywhere and as long as I'm not worrying, everything seems to be fine. The only times I got in trouble, were the times I started worrying so I have tried to erase "worry" from my mind which is not always easy to do!