ARE YOU EXPERIENCED?
interview for DPRP by Jerry van Kooten
photos by Andy Read
October 7, 2003, at the Tivoli in Utrecht. Enchant have embarked on their first European tour in a long time. Or any other tour, for that matter. With line-up changes making touring very difficult, the band focused on writing and recording songs. But the latest two line-up changes were all for the better: a full-time Enchant drummer and later also a keyboard player get the band back in full touring strength, ready to support the latest studio album, Tug Of War. I interviewed the band during their 1997 tour for Background Magazine. It was about time I talked to the band again, still consisting of Doug Ott (DO), Ted Leonard (TL), and Ed Platt (EP), and newcomers Sean Flannegan (SF) and Bill Jenkins (BJ).
I wanted to talk about the tour, the new album, the new musicians, but also how we're doing. In the 25 minutes the schedule gave us, we covered most issues, but I hope to have another really long chat next time. I got to know them as a bunch of great guys trying to have a good time, and entertaining audiences in the process. I hope this transcript of the conversation gives you an idea of the people behind the band.
How does it feel to be on tour again?
DO: Wrong time to ask this question!
Why? What went wrong?
TL: We're definitely ready to have a good time. We're ready to do this thing. We had a bad soundcheck tonight, but we're all very happy to be on the road again. It's a good thing!
SF: For Bill and myself, it's our first time, obviously, with the band touring Europe or anywhere else. I played the NEARfest show in 2002, but this is Bill's first live gig with the band and my second. We're really excited that it's here in Holland.
DO: So they'd better not fuck up... ;-)
You're excited to be back in Europe?
EP: Yeah, I haven't been here since 1997, so for me it's a real thrill. I'm really glad to be back!
DO: We will always remember this. Every place we go, we're like "oh yeah, we drove through here" and "we played here"... We have lot of fun memories of touring.
How do you remember the audiences at the shows?
TL: I think we got a general vibe. It's always playing in different places in different countries. Holland is definitely a different audience than Germany. And Paris...
DO: I don't think there actually is an audience in Paris... Is there an audience in Paris?!
TL: There's people in Paris! I don't think they're as quite as...
TL: But we love everybody in Paris! As you know Americans and the French have a... wonderful relationship...
EP: Hey, I'm part French, you know!
TL: Yeah, which part?!
EP: Not that part!
TL: So... every country is something different. And that's always a cool thing. We're doing it night after night, you know, improving our stage skills.
Isn't this your longest tour in Europe?
EP: 1997 was longer. That was a month. We did the tour with Dream Theater.
DO: Same as 1998, we did that tour with Spock's Beard for two weeks and with Marillion for another two weeks. So this is actually kind of short. I wish it was longer!
TL: It's as crowded with many dates as the longer tours, though. We have two days off, but for the rest it's off and on. It's good though, because none of us want to jeapourdise our family or jobs. We're trying to fit as many dates in as few days as possible.
A few days off would be nice.
TL: I don't know, I'm here to play! I've seen Paris...
DO: Still, a few days off would be nice...
SF: You see so many cool things, so many new places. To actually be able to stop and explore a city that we go through could be a lot of fun. Obviously ,the priority is to put on a good show and play for the audience.
DO (to Bill and Sean): All I know is that all the times we've toured, it took us about four years to see a little bit of all the cities we've been to, so you two guys can't go anywhere for another four years and then you can do whatever you want!
But seriously, it's just taking a long time to see stuff while on tour. I remember the first time we went to Paris, the only thing I saw was the back of the building from the back of a bus. I didn't see anything.
EP: We didn't even see the Eiffel tower.
DO: We didn't see anything at all! We drove in, woke up, got out of bed, and realized "oh, we're in Paris!" It was "here's the gig, here's the bus"', and we couldn't see anything. We didn't have enough time to do anything at all.
TL: Last tour we actually had two days off!
DO: That was the first time we actually saw anything at all, and we've been there three times.
TL: Oh, the excitement of riding around Paris in a bus... it probably equates to bungee jumping as far as excitement goes...
Doug, I read somewhere you said you were glad you felt the band was complete again.
DO: Yeah, it's been a while, actually. Benignus left, somewhere between 1998 and 1999. Then Paul left. Ted and I started working together after Juggling 9 [Or Dropping 10]. We started to write the Blink [Of An Eye] stuff and it wasn't happening the way we were hoping it was. So we stopped there, and called Sean. Sean came up, Ed and I got back in touch with each other, and we started looking for a keyboard player. But we just couldn't find anybody! It took some time.
Before that, we were thinking "what we're going to do? We can't play any gigs, we might as well make a record." When we did Juggling 9, Paul and I did all the keyboards on it. I think Mike played one song, one solo on a song.
EP: He did the solo in [the song] Juggling 9.
DO: Yeah, so he played one little piece. When we did Blink, it was a similar type of thing. I did all the keyboards and have a friend of mine, Phil Bennet?!?!?!, come in and play solos. We went like "man, this sucks, we need to find somebody." Nobody seemed to the 'the guy', but luckily Ted had met Bill. We thought, maybe he is interested.
TL: At first he wasn't, but then we really strangled him... In fact, I hadn't even heard him play, but when I found out he was a keyboard player, I gave him an audition CD! I asked him who he listened to, and he named a couple of influences, and I said "OK, I'm going to give you a CD. You go home and practice!"
BJ: Actually, you told me to check out your website first. I was in two cover bands, and I had just left one. When Ted approached me, I didn't know, really, another band... I went to the website and I was really impressed. And then I didn't know if I could do this!
EP: Then he came and did it! And we were happy. Finally the puzzle was complete again.
DO: Bill showed up, and he really kicked ass on the songs he auditioned! It was the first time we had anybody come in, next to Ted, that just blew us away. We went "what the fuck, this guy knows what he's doing!"". It sounded like he played the songs for years already! He totally impressed me, and I am sure the other guys too. And it worked out very well: we did a new album. And I began thinking, and I'm sure Ted, Ed, and Sean are with me, we were becoming a band again. We can do stuff like go out and present our music again, which we haven't done in five years.
So to answer your original question: yes, we feel like a complete band again.
TL: Yeah, it's a good thing. It's been a long time...
TL: Especially Tug Of War, you know... The previous albums were kind of a peace-meal thing. We would be playing keyboards, someone else would be playing keyboards, Doug played bass on most of Juggling. And now, everyone did their own parts on this album! Just to have five guys doing their own thing, doing their own parts and being responsible for their own creative input, it's a great thing!
SF: It's hard to find somebody to join a band of people who have been friends. To just have somebody come in and not only fit in for the music but also for the personality, to jell well with everybody, is very hard to do. That's why there are so many changes in different bands. We feel really lucky to be able to find Bill, because personality-wise he fits right in as well. We're very excited about that.
Sean, did that go as smoothly as when you joined
DO: No, we had to beat him a lot with a stick!
SF: Well, I already knew Doug for some years. I was in a band in the San Francisco Bay Area called Chaos Theory, which later changed the name to Dali's Dilemma. They put out a record on Magna Carta. When I was in that band, I ran into Doug in a music store, and he became friends with the keyboardist in the band and myself. It was probably in 1996.
DO: Yes, we were writing and just doing the demos for Wounded.
SF: I met and became friends with Doug that way. When I left the band that became Dali's Dilemma, I stayed in touch with Doug. We had a lot of the same musical influences, we liked the same bands. Kind of outside of the progressive genre, like Jellyfish, Tears For Fears, Stone Temple Pilots, a lot of different bands. We always had the idea of working together somehow. It didn't turn out till later that when things didn't work out with Paul, that there was an opportunity. So it was in July 2001 or so when I was living in Los Angeles and Doug gave me a call. I was thinking of moving back to the Bay Area, and Doug's call actually prompted me to decide it was about time to do something musically that I was more into. And that was Enchant! Because we were friends for so long, we knew things would go very smoothly.
DO: Yeah, he knew how big an asshole I was, so...
SF: Yes, I was very prepared!
How do you feel about the in-between albums now?
TL: Juggling and Blink? The fact that there is a band, there's definitely a different vibe going on on Tug, and I love the fact that it sounds like five individuals. Not to say that other albums sounded mononous by that matter, but there's a certain pride knowing that there's a band on this new album. As far as the sound of it, it's the best sounding album we have.
Personally, I think these are the best vocal performances I've done. And lyrically, I think Doug and I stepped up a notch too. I am very proud of Tug. Song for song, it stands up to anything we've ever done. It's tough to say that I like it more than any other album, because every album is different. There's a different memory for each of them. The whole process of recording Blink was such an enjoyable one and some of my favourite songs come off that album. Like "Under Fire", which is probably my favourite Enchant song, period. But Tug Of War is, song for song, so strong. Every song has something to offer. There's a lot of variety, which represents our pop sensibilities as well as our heavier or metal sensibilities. There's a really strong keyboard, a lot of the prog stuff is still in there. It's really a good representation of our sound in general.
And if you compare Blink and Tug to the older albums, do you still see progression in your way of composing and playing? No pun intended...
TL: I think so, yes. Everything is a progression. We've been definitely going in a direction that we continued with this album. If you listen to Blink, how it differs from Juggling, Tug is that much more different in the same direction. I think in our veyr early days, we were a lot more focused on intricate instrumentals. Now it seems that over the course of time, things got more and more melodic. Even instrumental songs and sections are more about supporting the theme of the song and the emotion. We are more into the song selling the lyrics with the music and making things as emotive as possible. I think emotion is what sets us apart from possibly others in our genre. That's where we put our focus.
Emotion - that's why I like Enchant's music more than many others'. It's good to hear you saying it yourself!
TL: That's always been our focus. Whatever the emotion of the song is, we're pushing it to its upmost. Even lyrically, I'll say things a lot more dramatically than I would say them in conversation. I think that's important in any kind of art. That's why I think photography isn't as effective as art, as you can't over-dramatize the thing you want to take the picture of. We try to take that approach to our music and make each and every part of the picture over-dramatized.
Over the course of the albums, do you think you've learned to be more able to express yourself in music?
DO: I think so, yeah.
On the Enchant forum you said you were surprised some people liked Blueprint more than the other albums.
DO: Sometimes, yeah. Our first album was five years of writing and working on the songs over and over again, three nights a week. They got a lot more time than most of our other stuff. To me, the music was really great, but Ted came in and sang all the melodies that were pre-written. He didn't get a chance to do much. Ed didn't really get a chance to do much - he ended up playing bass lines from our old bass player, or that I had written. The recording process wasn't done that well, the album didn't sound that great. In fact, we joked by calling the album "drums, vocals, and a bunch of noise"! I thought the guitars, keyboards, and bass really took a back seat to the drum sound. Paul obviously was a great drummer, but that seemed to be more the focus. Even more than Ted, really.
It never was right for me, I never liked the way that it came out. I do understand why people like it, but to me the band of the past couple of years, especially the past year, is more focused and the songs have more continuity. That first album was four different people writing in four different ways. Now it's more kind of set on the method of writing. I'm doing most of the music, Ted and I are really working hard on the lyrics, trying to focus right there in the studio, especially on that emotion aspect.
To me, there was a lot of emotion missing on that first album. It was there, but it wasn't as strong as some of the performances of the past. On songs like Pure or What To Say, Ted really sold the emotion. I didn't hear that as much on the first album. Even Acquaintance, which is one of my favourite songs, didn't have the kind of power and emotion that Ted's been able to do years later. So it does surprise me when somebody says his favourite album is the first one.
In the same time, it's kind of the first movie in many sequals. Like "oh yeah, the first Star Wars was best!" or "I really liked the first Die Hard better than Die Hard III!". It's hard to be as good every time, obviously. I like to think we're getting better, though.
After the first album you say you learned to express yourself better, emotionally. Don't you think that because the first album doesn't have as much of that, it appeals more the the average progressive rock fan?
DO: Probably. It was more of a progressive album, I think. It was more about time changes, poly-rhythms, and arpeggiated parts. We talked all the time, and I remember these conversations very well. When we were doing the music we were talkig like "OK, let's change it, it's not progressive enough". And we don't think that way anymore. I never think "I want to do this because it's progressive". If it's progressive, cool. But back then it was all like "oh, we have to do this, we have to do that". We actually played stuff and thought, "hm, wrong time signature, let's try 7 now!. Oh that's pretty cool, but what if we do it in 9?"
TL: What did it sound like in 17 and a half?!
DO: Yeah... So we changed a lot like that. And there were a lot of song, East Of Eden is a good example, where we played around with the time signatures, to the point where we got something that we wanted, that we liked, and said "OK, that's good". We weren't doing it because that was the original emotion, we were doing it because we were experimenting with music. Now it's less experimenting and more creativity, expression of what we're feeling.
You feel you've found your way to express yourself?
DO: I think so.
TL: It still varies with certain days, when we listen to something. Sometimes we listen to our old music, and get influenced by that as well. There's certainly things that harken back to our first album. Like Sinking Sand, I think the vibe of it isn't overly progressive, but it has definitely got the feel, in sections, of our first couple of albums. We obviously still like to explore that side of our expression, but we don't do it for the sake of being progressive anymore. We do it because that's the mood we're in that day. I don't think it sounds as forced as it used to. I think it's more mature.
Do you think you're gaining more fans than you lose this way?
DO: It's not really a thought process, to be honest. It's just sitting down and create and see what happens. If we like it and it seems to fit, then we go. Sometimes I write a song and it inspired me to write lyrics and sometimes it won't and I give it to Ted and it will inspire him. We don't go like "hm, what shall we do, let's write a song that goes like this...". We just go and do it. In our early days we did say "let's write a song like this", and we tried to write a song like that. I think that's a big difference between Blueprint and Tug. I like to think that I have learned how to write songs better than I used to. Ted has learned how to write lyrics and melodies better than he used to. It's gone further and further. And the further it goes, the better it seems to get, to me.
And also, we don't listen to just progessive music. Ted and I thought, "let's try to take things from all these different types of music, all these different styles of music, and try to make it into something cool." I love the pop sensibility of a hook, and a lot of progressive music is a musical exploration. It doesn't have anything to do with the vocal melodies being some sort of hook. Ted and I really try to work hard to get that to be a hook. I want people to listen to a progressive rock song from us, and walk away with that melody in their head. Like they would, listening to the radio. A lot of people say to me, "I can't get that melody out of my head!". I then I think: yeah! Then I feel successful, we did a good job then, because somebody likes it so much that they can listen to it once, go to work, and find themselves humming it or whistling it without even realizing it. That, to me, is a success story. It's a great thing.
You feel you are an experienced band now?
DO: Yes, we are experienced...
The tour went great, as the band told me after the last Dutch gig on the tour (Tilburg). They had lots of fun, and even a good audience in Paris. Going home with mixed emotions, but eager to return to Europe next year. Another experience... Can't wait!
In the meantime, visit the official Enchant website, The Oasis, and the Enchant Forum