For me, The Tangent's "The Music That Died Alone" was definitely the biggest surprise of the year 2003. So when I had the opportunity to interview the mastermind behind this project, I needed no time to think about taking this opportunity. The 45 minute conversation I had with Andy Tillison was a very pleasant one, however, the opening wasn't quite as I had expected it to be...
Bart: Hi Andy. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me about the album
Andy: No - thank you, the pleasure's all mine. I'm having a great time doing all these interviews this week.
So I'd like to talk with you about the new Tangent album...
Actually, can I ask you something first, have you heard it?
I have, I've been playing it for about a month now
I want to tell you about my secret fear.
Well, (laughs) all the time, I must confess to you that I'm always frightened of what the DPRP is going to say about what I do (laughs)
(laughs) Why's that?
Because, uhm, I, uhm, I, erm, I don't know, I haven't said this to anyone else,
so I'm not making this up, but I've always seen the DPRP as one of the most important progressive rock information sources anywhere. If I was gonna get information about progressive rock, I'm gonna look at either Progressive Magazine, or perhaps Mellotron, or the Dutch Progressive Rock Page. It's a very important page to a lot of people.
Wow, that's very good to hear - very flattering!
Well, you know, it is! Very much so. I think it's one of the first sites I found about progressive rock really, when I went on the Internet. So (laughs) I've always been worried about what kind of reviews I'd be getting on the DPRP, and I've been looking every day at your site, "have they done a review yet, have they done a review". I think it will be there soon.
(note: the album has been reviewed as a Roundtable Special - the review can be found here)
Crazy Little Thing Called Prog
I understand that it all started out as a solo project that got out of hand slightly...
Yeah, you know, It was a very peculiar thing. As, in many ways, it was actually a record that made itself. (laughs)
I sort of wrote songs, and a friend, who is Ian Oakley from the Flower Kings website in England, he sent all the stuff over to Roine Stolt. And quite a lot of the story is actually on the website and a lot of people already know about the story.
But suffice to say that more and more people got involved, and as they all got involved in it the music changed. Although the songs stayed the same, the actual way it was presented and the way the music came together just seemed right.
As a matter of fact if you think about it, you thought to yourself what would it be like if I wrote some songs and then sent them off to someone in Sweden, and they just added some bits and then
they added some more bits and its somebody else and he put his bits on and they send them back to you, and then somebody else puts his bits on, you'd think you were gonna get a rubbish record.
But the thing is when it actually happened... I can't think of any other record that has been made in quite the same way before. Each person got the thing and thought "what can I do to for this that makes it better?" And I think everybody worked really hard to to make something special out of the record.
And, you know, of course I was absolutely amazed it was all firing way way beyond how I wanted it.
One minute I was making a solo album, the next minute, you know, Roine Stolt was gonna
be on it, and then his friend the Flowers Kings were gonna be on it, and then David Jackson was gonna be on it and I was like WOW!
That's more than I could possibly have dreamed of. And you know, here I am, talking to somebody from the DPRP, because they want to know about something I've done. This just all amazes me.
Roine Stolt and Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy... they do this kind of thing every day, but for me it's really special and I'm having a great day talking about my music. You know, I'm here right at the beginning of something new with the Tangent.
Also I'm in the middle of something that's been going on for a long time with Parallel or 90 Degrees. But just very keen to be able to talk to as many people as I want, because I've got a lot of things to say about progressive music really, I suppose. So, you know, it's nice to be asked.
Yeah. Obviously you don't think Prog is dead, like so many say.
Of course it's not dead.
The title of the album which is obviously what you refer to in your question, "The music that died alone"... Music dying alone is actually really about the way the music is treated by the media, by radio and television and by the record company. Not about the music itself, I mean, I think a few people, most people have got the right idea. Some people sort of need to think that I was saying that all modern progressive rock music is rubbish - that's not what I'm saying at all. Not even hinting at that.
I just think that progressive rock is such an important part of musical culture full stop. I mean, you can't just ignore it and leave it as being something that you just call pretentious and rubbish and not worthy of mention when you make a documentary about the history of rock music. But it's something that needs to be played to people, so that people know that it happened.
And even if the music was over, even if it was no longer the era of progressive rock music, you should still recognise that this thing happened and this great explosion in musical creativity, that far surpasses anything in the punk era. That took place in these magic years between 1968 and 1975. And even after its' golden era, great music has continued to be made from the original blueprint.
And the music was never exhausted, they just never managed to continue it because the record companies and the media turned against it and shut the operation down and said that there would be no more. And really I think that in the nineties people started to pick the pieces up again and say "let's go back, let's find out what there was left and let's make some new great records."
Though I don't think it's going back in time, I think it's "let's start again" you know. Not "let's go back and be nostalgic", but "let's start again and make records like that". And you know, Spock's Beard, Porcupine Tree, The Flower Kings
and of course, Discipline. Many of those who you review everyday. I'd like to buy all the records that you review, but I can't.
There's just too many of them.
But you've got a lot somewhere. And you know, this is going on now. And it really should be documented and the mainstream media should have time for progressive rock music and the shouldn't make fun of it, they shouldn't make people who want to listen to it feel like idiots for listening to it. They make fun of people who like progressive rock music, because they are just people who believe in a certain good thing which was progressive rock music.
That's pretty much my thoughts about it, actually.
So you have that too, people laughing at you just because of the music you listen to and the music you play?
Yes, it has happened to me on many occasions, yeah. It has happened to us all, its happened to you, I'm sure. But the thing is they don't really know what they are talking about.
It's not just music. When I'm talking about the music that died alone it's very similar to the line that I quoted on the Tangent album "What happened to the song we knew so well?" you know, Jon Anderson from Tales From Topographic Oceans. I mean, It's not just the music, the music itself is one thing, but back at the end of the 1960s and the early 1970s we had people going to the moon, we had people saying "we want peace in our time" we had campaigns for nuclear disarmament, the Vietnam war got protested against, we had the student uprisings, we had a great good hippy culture with good feeling and peace and love and you know, you mention those words now and people just laugh at you and go "hey man"
So it's not just music that died alone, but the whole music of our lives is beginning to gradually fade and being replaced by something that's artificial.
So am I right to assume The Music That Died Alone, as an album or a song was always meant to be some sort of ode to the prog genre, to that era?
Or did it become like that through the way the music evolved and all?
Yeah I was actually thinking about that today. I suppose that there's two actual songs on the album,
The Canterbury Sequence and The Music That Died Alone, that are actually about progressive rock music.
And I honestly thought about this today which is quite funny as I've been doing interviews all week. And I thought to myself, "has anybody ever written a song about progressive rock music before?"
And I kind of thought isn't that bizarre? Because I don't think anybody ever has. People have written songs about rock and roll, whether it's rock and roll is here to stay, or I love rock and roll, and songs about rock, and I'm gonna rock you all night, and there's songs about disco and there's songs about the twist you know, Chubby Checker - let's do the twist, that's a song about the twist. And each different kind of music has songs about how good the music is, except ours!
And I thought today, why not sing about how good the music is?
That's probably another thing with all the people being embarrassed about their own music. I mean, people like Steve Wilson were going on like "Well, my music is not prog..."
I didn't like when he did that. Because I really like his music, in fact he annoys me a lot, because Sam Blain and myself were very influenced by them when we first heard Porcupine Tree we were very very excited. And we formed our band, Parallel or 90 Degrees because we'd heard Porcupine Tree. And I really don't think there would have been a Parallel or 90 Degrees if it hadn't been for Porcupine Tree. And we knew that this was a progressive rock band, and there's no question about it. And then for Steven Wilson, having played at the Classic Rock Society in Rotherham and been taken all the interviews in magazines like Wondrous Stories...
And then to suddenly turn around and say "we're not progressive". He's basically shitting on the rest of us really and that's a bit unfair. Because he's taken so much from the same sources as we've taken. You know, from the Pink Floyd and from the Yes and from Gong and all the Ozriccy people, he's taken so much from them, just like we have.
But by saying "we're not progressive" he's not saying thank you, he's not acknowledging his sources in the way he should and I think this is wrong and we have never been ashamed to say we're a progressive rock band, never been ashamed at all, and we never will be.
I tell you what, if you ever see me saying in an interview "we're not a progressive rock band" you can laugh at me.
That's probably by the time you've released your country album...
Yeah, and that will probably be released posthumously, I would have thought, over my dead body. (laughs)
But what I meant by this question, did you sit down behind your keyboard and say "let's write a song about prog?"
Or were you playing or jamming and then thought to yourself "well, this has to have lyrics about prog" How do you see that?
No, as a matter of fact I wrote the lyrics to this album after I wrote the music.
So the lyrics were a reaction to the music?
Well, if it's with Parallel or 90 Degrees, I tend to write the lyrics first. This album was supposed to be about music. And you know, it was about writing this musically and the ideas for the lyrics came second. And when I heard the music, I thought "well, what can I say with this song", you know, "what do I want to say?"
For two of them I just chose the music I've always loved, and why not? For the other two songs, well, the rock 'n roll song on the album, Uphill From Here was actually written some time ago and the lyrics were actually not meaning much at all. You know, quite the standard rock 'n roll lyrics. And the first song In Darkest Dreams is actually about a person very close to me who has very bad nightmares and he was very very alone in those nightmares. So I kind of wrote him a song to sort of like say "you aren't alone at all".
It's a very positive song in that respect.
But on this album, no, the lyrics came second. And that's why it's different, why it isn't a Parallel or 90 Degrees album because it's not quite as immediate in terms of what I'm trying to say. It isn't quite as focussed, or shouty-shouty as it is in Parallel or 90 Degrees.
I hope I'm making sense...
The Recording Process
Well, I have to say it a complete surprise to me. I received a promo from Inside Out and I played it and at first I thought, you know "oh, just another Roine Stolt project", but when I played it I thought "wow, this is good".
And at first I thought it was yet another 'supergroup' led by Roine Stolt, but as it turned out it's your project and you don't really see it as a supergroup, right?
No it's not a supergroup. Uhm...
Well is it more like a project, or a band?
(laughs) Well, I really don't know what it is, I mean, all I can say is that it's seven people in two countries making a record together. And it's got a name, it's called The Tangent. I mean, if it's a supergroup, you know, there's no doubt about it that in terms of progressive rock music Neal Morse plus Pete Trewavas plus Mike Portnoy plus Roine Stolt, now that's a supergroup. Because it's got four people who are very famous in their particular field, all coming together to make this one record. And each one of them has fans of their own, and each one of them has a complete history behind them. But when you oppose The Tangent, you're coming up again "yeah Roine Stolt - there he is" and you see David Jackson from Van Der Graaf Generator, but you're also seeing this completely unknown bloke called Andy Tillison, somebody nobody's ever heard of called Guy Manning, Sam Baine and we're not super...
Well, I'd heard of Parallel or 90 Degrees and Guy Manning. If that's any comfort...
Well, that's it, there are some people who know about this, but the level of our actual fame and fortune is not what this record is about and it was not made in that way at all because everybody approached the music on an equal footing. And, you know, I suppose everybody had as much say as another in the way the music came together. People thought of their own parts and ideas. There were no egos involved.
But with the recording you were all in fact separated from each other, right? No two musicians were ever in the same room?
Some of us were separated from each other, yes. Some of us were able to write together. David Jackson came to our house here and recorded his bits right here where I'm standing. We were able to record Sam here with me, obviously. I went over to Guy's house and we did quite a lot of acoustics over at his place, because he is well set-up for acoustic guitar. But other than those, nobody else met at all! Jonas and Zoltan worked separately in the south part of Sweden. Roine worked on his own in the north part of Sweden, and I did most of the keyboard here on my own. So that's the way it all came together.
But it's a very interesting way of making an album.
Yes it is an interesting way and you know, that's what it made so different. I still do
not actually know the answer to how did you make the record sound like it's seven people together in the same room, because it
just does, no doubt about it. When I put the record on it even fooled me and I know how it was done. But how we actually got that sound in the end, when we weren't together, still completely amazes me and there just isn't an answer I can give you to that one.
What button did you press? I have no idea. I think it's because of the fact that all the musicians were so good, they were able to think very carefully about what each song needed and they gave it a lot of time and effort and did the best job they could. And it just happened that that best job really was the best job and everything just fitted together like a jigsaw.
And did you give any instructions to the others? Like to Roine: "add bit of guitar here, or a big solo there"?
Well I gave out quite a few instructions. For example I sent over a CD to Jonas and Zoltan and I'd played the drums myself and I'd played the bass and I said "well, it should be something like this".
So I sent that CD over and they listened to that CD and I think that what they did then was they took the CD out of the CD-player and put it in the nearest dustbin. "Right, OK, that's what Andy thinks we should do, now here's what we're gonna do!"
And this is it, this is where the cascade process started and everybody sure did something to the album which somehow managed to shape it and even sometimes that might have been a little thing, it has a big enough effect. Basically when the album started it hadn't particularly... well, I knew it was gonna have some jazzy bits in it, but I never knew just how jazzy it was gonna get. And when I was in the Cantermemorabillia track I'd actually done a little piano solo on it and it wasn't a particularly good one. So I said to Sam, "do you want to do a piano solo?" And she said "right, ok, I'll do a piano solo there" and she did the piano solo and it was far far more something like traditionally jazzy and a bit more be-bop. While mine was sort of like more the kind of thing I would play on the organ, except on a piano.
And Sam had done this really jazzy thing, and of course the minute Jonas and Zoltan had heard that. You know, they're jazz freaks, so they thought immediately "oh great, jazz, here we go!". And they started playing jazz.
And that of course influenced Roine, he started thinking "Oh, right, they're playing a bit of jazz now so I get my nice Gibson guitar out and put a bit of nice clean jazzy stuff on top of it".
So when it comes back to me it's completely different. Every single person, it just affected what what was going to go on next, right down until Guy Manning came along at the end and gave it its acoustic room span. The fact was, it was a totally electric album until Guy came along.
Apart from the odd guitarsolo Roine Stolt doesn't really sound like his usual self, whereas TransAtlantic and Kaipa bore a lot more of the Flower Kings trademark guitarwork. Is this due to the fact that you put some kind of restrictions on what you wanted him to do?
No, I didn't do that. I think it's more because with most project that Roine's in he tends to be in the driving seat. And I think that's because he's there sitting behind the mixing desk, doing the work and making the album. It's not because he's a bossy person or something like that, but more because he's actually sat there, with the controls in his hand, making the record. In the case of The Tangent that wasn't happening, because the Tangent album was being made here, where I'm standing, in our house. That's where it was all been put together. And I think he was able to work and free him up, he was able to play on this album without having to worry about the production. He was able to play on this album his guitar without having to worry about the keyboard. He was just able to play, because it wasn't actually, you know, something that he had to finish off.
So I think it gave him a bit of freedom. Making a record and then leaving it to somebody else to get on with it and finish it. Because he is so involved in everything normally. He's a very very clever man, you know. He did get very involved with me on the telephone, while mixing it, because I was constantly sending him mixes over the Internet or via the post office so to say "how's it going" and he was sending me back his ideas. We were both communicating all the time, he didn't just leave it to me. But in the end, yes, my hands were on the knobs.
And having him sing some parts, but not the whole album, this was also because of that?
I really like his voice and I wanted him to sing some of the album. I think really Roine was mainly interested in playing guitar on the album, but he did agree to sing parts of In Darkest Dreams. And I was very happy he did. Because, uhm, shall we say that out of the music that I do, the thing I am least happy with is my vocal style. I actually think for those things that Roine's sung he sang a lot better than the original versions where it's me singing.
And I really like his voice, he sound a bit like John Wetton at times, and I really like that.
The cover art on the album is very nice too. I heard this was done by someone from the Belarus? How did you find him?
Well that came through the Flower Kings really. Ed Unitsky is a very big Flower Kings fan. He lives out there in Tjernobyl, in the republic of Belarus. And for years he has been sending bits of artwork to
the Flower Kings saying "use this, use this". And the Flower Kings haven't used any apart from one of their fanclub-only releases, they made a live bootleg or something and Ed Unitsky's cover was used for that.
Roine and I, we got on very well with the music as a matter of fact, we virtually agreed with each other on everything. He would make points and I would agree with them and I'd make a point and he'd agree with that. So we got on really, really well. But when it came to the cover... (laughs) I designed the first cover for The Tangent, he didn't like it. So he designed one and sent it to me, and I didn't like it. Then we did it again and he didn't like mine and
I didn't like his again. And then we decided, ok, we don't like each other's artwork, so let's find somebody famous. So we went and we found a famous progressive artist, we approached him and he said "alright, I'll do this then". And we looked at his pictures and basically I liked one of his pictures, but Roine didn't like it, and Roine liked one of his pictures, which I didn't like!
So then Roine said he knew someone, which was Ed Unitsky, and Ed sent us lots of artwork. And I looked at it and said "that's it, that's the one" and Roine liked that one too. So finally we had found something which we both liked and everybody else in the band immediately liked the Unitsky work, so we used a whole load of it. And as a matter of fact, Ed is now doing the next Parallel or 90 Degrees album sleeve by the looks of it, he's been sending me stuff all week, which is excellent.
And he must have sent me over 100 pictures for the Tangent album. 100 at least.
And did he just send you the pictures, or did he hear the music first and is that reflected in his artwork?
I sent him a copy of the music, so that he could listen to it and see what he thought of it. He really does like the music, he's a very big fan of
the Flower Kings obviously, and I was very keen to make sure he's heard Parallel or 90 Degrees as well. So he certainly likes that, too. So he's a good friend now, and I'm doing a website for him at the moment, which is not finished yet, because I'm too busy talking to people.
Plans for the future
Are there any plans for a next album?
Yes there are plans for a next album.
With the same crew?
Well, that's obviously to be decided. You know, I've got a lot of songs in the can and they are in the same stage as that The Music That Died Alone was before I started sending it off around the world. And since the time we made the album I've made very good friends with Jonas Reingold and because of course Parallel or 90 Degrees recorded in his studio this Easter, because we recorded an album there. I know that Jonas certainly wants to be involved.
But obviously I can't comment for the others, because they are an exceedingly busy band,
the Flower Kings. They're busy playing off around the world, making albums. Roine Stolt has at least 10 albums to make today. So you know, it is difficult to fit it all in.
I think in the end that most people who were on the album would like to do another. I know that I would, Sam is nodding at me now saying that she would, and I know Guy would because Guy loved being on it. So David Jackson just sent me an e-mail saying how much he liked the finished product, so I'm very pleased about that. And Roine says he's happy with it too, so you know, there's a good chance that we'll make The Tangent 2, but you know it's in the future and we don't quite know where to go. We're just thinking about this one for the moment. It took two years to make.
Well, I can't wait for the next one, that's for sure.
If there's one complaint I have then it's the running time. I mean an ode to the seventies is fine, but to have it on conventional vinyl length... It's only 45 minutes long!
So you like that, or you don't?
Well, if it was up to me, it could have been twice that length
Yeah I know, but that's the point. We decidedly...... Close To The Edge is shorter than that!
As a matter of fact, I told Roine how much I'd learned from this album. I said to him 'listen, I've learned a lot from working with you, Roine'
and Roine said 'well, I've learned one thing from working with you'
and I said 'what's that?'
'well, I've learned that not all albums have to be 70 minutes long'
..coming from someone whose last album lasted some 150 minutes...
Yeah, though Unfold The Future is still one of my favourite albums of all time. You know, I consider that the most important progressive rock music album since Tales From Topographic Oceans. I just swooned, it's a fantastic piece of music through and through. And I'm going to see them in just over three weeks and I can't wait, because I hear they're gonna play The Devil's Playground, which is a very good track.
But the length of our album is basically what I felt I needed to say on this record and I decided not to put any extra tracks on it and spoil it.
Was it also deliberate that you started with a 20-minute epic first, and then three shorter songs which would have been on the flipside of the album, had this been on vinyl?
I suppose if it had been a vinyl album, that's what it would have been.
Like most of the classic prog albums were in the seventies.
Yeah, with Van Der Graaf Generator it was Pawn Hearts, with A Plague Of Lighthousekeepers, and with Yes it was of course with Close To The Edge and Relayer was the same.
So yeah, it was a nice formula. It is supposed to be a well-formatted piece, you know, that fitted with that particular era of rock music. But like I say, you know, it's more of a case of pick-up where people left-off, revisit rather than go back.
We're living through a very retro age at this moment. Retro is a very interesting thing, I mean, basically they found out that the best-selling motor bikes in the world were Harley Davidson, because they looked like old ones. And The Darkness are selling huge amounts of records because they sound like old-fashioned rock bands. And so are The Kings Of Leon, and so are The White Stripes and so are The Stereophonics, they all sound like old-fashioned bands.
There's just an interest and to me of the music's time, when it was made means nothing as long it's a great piece of music I don't care when it was done. It could be done yesterday, it could be done tomorrow, it could be in the 17th century. As long as it's good music it lasts forever.
Well, in any case, it doesn't feel like a short album. I played the album twice this morning in the car to my work, and twice on the way back - so I've heard it four times today!
You obviously liked it! Is there anyone in DPRP who hates it? Am I in for a nasty review in the Roundtable?
I haven't read the other two reviews, but I hear they are quite positive, so no, don't worry
Well that's good. We've had very few negative comments although we have had some negative comments
And these were probably that it's too retro...
Yeah, we've had a few of those. There were a few which said: this is very nicely done, very beautifully done, well put together, but why did they do it? What's the point?
Well, why not?
Exactly! They actually said "what's the point" and I just thought to myself, "well, the other 20 reviews, that's the point!".
And then we had just one person who wrote to me, who really did launch in to me and say "what is the point, this is very old-fashioned, this is boring, it is full of nothing but cliches, you've used David Jackson but wasted his talent" and all that kind of stuff. And I was actually sufficiently moved to write back to the person and have since made friends with him.
You know, this is always what happens to me, someone I argue with on the Internet becomes my best friend the next week.
I mean, there he's going on about how awful The Tangent is and then he mentions the fact that one of his favourite albums is a band called Refugee, which is one of my favourite records of all time. So instead of writing back to say how upset I am about the review he's written for us, I write back saying "yeah, Refugee, they're great" (laughs)
You know I think that being positive is a big thing when it's progressive rock music, you've got to remain positive. I think the Flower Kings are a good example of always being positive
Well, now you mention it, I got a lot of grief about my review of the last Flower Kings album, from people saying I wasn't positive enough. I 'only' rated it an 8 out of 10.
Well, 8 out of 10 is a great score!
But it might actually happen with your album, that the reviews aren't positive enough for some.
That doesn't matter. I mean like scores are unimportant. I'm just obviously keen
to make sure as many people get to hear it as possible. Positive reviews are very helpful in getting people to listen to things. In the end it's the reviewer's opinion. If the reviewer doesn't like it and has good reasons to not like it it's still his opinion If you write a review and say why you don't like it but let somebody else know that they might like it because of what you said that's the best kind of review, because you help the person to make the decision about whether that's the music for them or not and I think that's what all journalists should be looking for and that's what you are. Because DPRP has always had a good high standard of journalism I thought, always written well. And I've always thought that the reviews of Parallel or 90 Degrees on there have always been the ones that have frightened me the most because they're the ones that do get the most critical. They do poke the finger into the music a little more, they expose the weaknesses of what I've written.
I was waiting for the review of The Tangent on DPRP and I was looking at the Po90 ones that are on there and of course they're saying "yes, this is good, BUT... this is good, BUT... and this is good, BUT...". And they've all got very valid points to make and it helps me write. Obviously to get a good review out of the DPRP means something to me, so there you go. (laughs)
Ok, well, it'd better be good then now...
As I said, I haven't read the other reviews yet, but I know my colleagues liked the album, and I'm sure they'll be positive.
I am actually out of questions by now, so is there anything else you'd like to share with the world?
Anything else I'd like to share with the world? uhm...
Go buy the album!
Yeah, go buy the album and, well, I don't know, probably one of those Miss World things, that you're left on the stage with a message to give to everybody. I think that any message I have is in the music and that has nothing to do with my personality or anything. You can find out most of what I think by buying Parallel or 90 Degrees records.
All I can say is that I remain totally and absolutely devoted and supportive of the cause of Progressive Rock Music and anything that I can do to make people understand the great music that we've created together. That is obviously something I will do straight away. I won't be one of the Steve Wilson's saying "you know, we're not really a progressive rock band..." That'll never happen!
OK, well we'd best leave it by that then. Thank you very much for your time and the best of luck with The Tangent and Po90!
No thank you! I look forward to reading the reviews.
All artwork by Ed Unitsky © The Tangent
Also visit www.edunitsky.com