Ladies and Gentlemen what is presented here is Part One of Three Part Special which involved talking to the musical maverick Rodrigo San Martin. Never one to take the easy path I also interviewed Craig Kerley (Not Otherwise Standing) and Jelena Perisic, both who have become an integral part of Rodrigo’s team. Fate played a part in me getting the opportunity to be able to review Rodrigo San Martin’s music, of which all three of his albums have been DPRP recommended. Rodrigo talks about his musical thoughts, steps us through each album and candidly discusses the music scene in his native country and how by chance was the first person to record in 5:1 in Argentina, which in all honesty my friends, makes for a seriously interesting and not to be missed read………..
Rodrigo: Hi John, thank you very much! Everything OK here, doing a lot of different things! Right now I’m about to start mixing the Vanished from Earth debut album (an Argentine prog super group which I’m happily part of), which will be quite special, I believe! Everything OK, there?
John: For those out there who don’t know you, would you like to introduce yourself?
Rodrigo: My name is Rodrigo San Martín and I’m a prog musician and producer from Argentina. I play guitar, keyboards and bass and love concept albums and really long pieces!
John: Well three albums in now, all of which have been DPRP recommended, which is quite an achievement, and working on a forth, how do you feel things are going?
Rodrigo: First of all I’d like to thank you for taking the time to listen to my music and supporting me through the years! It’s an honour, DPRP is one of the most important progressive rock sites out there and I consider it a really big achievement. I mean, you people listen to a hundreds of new albums per year, and being able to call your attention means a lot to me! Concerning the second part of the question: I feel I’m in my nirvana of creativity and I want to make the most of it, therefore I’m working in a lot of projects at the current time: my solo career, Souls Ignite, Vanished From Earth and, probably the most ambitious of all, The Astral Platypus. The last one being a “mock progressive rock band” in the vein of The Rutles or even Spinal Tap. I wrote the story of a fake progressive rock band and spent the whole of 2011 writing and recording it’s full discography (from the psychedelic late ’60s to the rise and decline in the ’70s and even some horrendous 80’s synth pop albums!) which comprised of 12 albums. Hopefully someday I’ll gather enough money to shoot a movie (or youtube episodes) and tell the whole story but for now I’ll be glad to release the 2012 comeback album of The Astral Platypus with it’s “original” line-up! So I’m really happy with how things are going in a purely musical aspect!
John: Let’s break the albums down individually, allowing you to put your thoughts and ideas across offering a window to the uninitiated.
1 is my debut as musician as well as producer. It was released in April 2010 and was the first album in Argentina mixed in 5.1 Surround as well as Stereo (as a matter of fact I’m the only music producer who works with surround sound in Argentina, but there have been surround mixes of movies). It’s comprised of a single 39 minute long track that tells the story of a critical person (in the “able to use his mind to discern truth from bullshit and good from bad” sense, not in the “important” one). The track is divided musically only around minute 20 (where the music stops and the sound of someone changing sides of a vinyl is heard) but lyrically divided in 8 phases.
Phase 1 deals with childhood and wanting to grow up to experience things in life.
Phase 2 is about denial, a pre adolescence trying to resist waking up and see the horrors of the world.
Phase 3 deals with being let down by those things but setting the goal for himself to change those things.
Phase 4 is an instrumental crescendo where the melody travels from mellotron, to marimba, up to electric guitar and a string quartet, representing growing up. It’s my favourite.
Phase 5 is about giving up on his dream after years of disillusions and may be one of the saddest things I have written in my life.
Phase 6 is about finding a new inspiration, seeing some beauty in the world.
Phase 7 deals with loss of a loved one and yearning that childhood where everything was perfect but wasn’t appreciated.
And finally Phase 8 is a rebirth of the aspirations of the main character, I guess the final line of the album reveals everything.
I played all instruments and recorded all vocals, mixed and mastered myself. It took me 3 full time months but managed to achieve a few personal dreams with this album.
There’s No Way Out is a concept album about someone trying to change the world: in the first track he/she “has an epiphany” and realizes he/she must be the one that “opens the eyes” of his fellow humans and set them free. Become their leader in the “revolution against oppression”. The idea is not to be specific about this, which kind of revolution or anything. So it can be ambiguous and interpreted in a social way, artistic or political or anything. It can be a either a political leader making a revolution or a musician trying to change mainstream music, for example. That’s what happens on the first track “4378th Day“.
“No” at first sight appears to be unrelated. Kind of like The Hare Who Lost It’s Spectacles in A Passion Play. It can be interpreted either as a totally random song (about a relationship, for example) or as the main character screaming the words to the world “you’re totally wrong, I’m tired of giving myself up and living by your rules: this is the last time I surrender to you”
The last song “War, act 2” continues the story of our “leader” of the first track, but a lot of events later (I’m planning to release an EP sometime in the future consisting of the track “War, Act 1“, revealing all these events). This person has succeeded in “taking control” but everything in not perfect as he/she hoped. He/she is depressed because now that he has accomplished his goal he/she doesn’t have a purpose anymore. This, along other things not specified, turns this person into someone corrupt who “sells out”. Trying to “impose his way” he/she becomes another “oppressor” like the one he put all his life into fighting. He/she realizes this and quits. His absence provokes a new “war” because the people he led couldn’t go on without their leader because mostly people follow charismatic leaders because “it’s a trend” (or to feel a part of something), but do not understand their ideas.
The album ends in a “post apocalyptic way”, the end of the “people following charisma, not ideas” giving birth to a “new age” where nobody follows anybody, only ideas that they share. Meaning that people finally become Individuals with minds of their own, not sheep following the one in front. I don’t mean individualists and selfish in a negative but in a positive way. People with a mind of their own who take their own decisions, in a relationship of equals.
If we apply the story to the artist it’s like this: once he rose to fame he realizes that he is just “a fashion” and that he hasn’t woken up anybody. He quits. Everything that he crated (artistic movement?) collapses because of lame imitations of him who don’t really understand what his art was about. Eventually (hopefully!) people (in kind of a utopic future) stop following trends and start thinking by themselves.
Released in February 2012 after 5 years of work. Eyes is my first album with a full backing band which I think really makes a difference! It’s a concept album situated in a dystopic future where “free thinking” is being suppressed in people, being diagnosed as a mental disease and treated with “medication”. Our main character is a divided person, someone who is on one side what the System expects from him (mainly an idiot who does as his told and doesn’t complain or change anything), and on the other side, the complete opposite. A very curious and active person, trying to emerge and take control of this body.
John: Let’s start with One. This was an album that was in the true sense of the word, a solo project, where you took control over everything. Do you like to work in this way or was that just constraints that you had to work with due to financial reasons?
Rodrigo: I absolutely LOVE to work this way! I’m a helpless control freak, you know? But this album wasn’t actually planned at first, it was technology that allowed me to do it , really. I had been playing a couple of years with De Rien and always faced the same problem: It’s really hard to find reliable and hard working musicians,specially around the age I was back then (18 to 20) , so there was a lot of member changing and finding a steady line up was hell. But I was working with the same people for around a year and half when we decided to part ways since we wanted different things with music, but I didn’t want to throw away so much hard work I put in the band so we decided I could keep the name and carry on with my vision. So I was in a hiatus auditioning people and I had started to record some demos in my newly built home studio. And I got really into writing/recording and suddenly I had 3 albums ready for a band that didn’t actually exist (I had found a fantastic bassist in Sergio López and we were auditioning people for drummer, keyboardist and singer). Eventually my demos became more elaborated and I fell in love with the idea of only depending on myself (and my schedule, not anyone else’s, we have a saying here “Music it’s not the art of combining sound, it’s the art of combining schedules!”), so I made the album.
John: It would appear that you love to work within the field of concept on your albums. Do you feel that it is easier to write in this manner as opposed to offering up an album full of individual songs?
Rodrigo: I’m a fan of the “album” concept, meaning that I really love to listen to full albums instead of individual songs. I grew up listening to bands like Pink Floyd, where albums and their respective running order is specifically crafted to create certain experience. The whole is bigger than it’s separate components and that completely fascinates me!
John: How do you approach your songwriting process?
Rodrigo: Well, most musicians would say that they start with a riff and develop everything from there, and I was like that a few years ago, but nowadays I first need to have a concept to follow (not in the concept album kind of way, just an idea, mostly about the structure of a piece of music) and that does the trick for me, once I have this “guideline” (that can be simple words like for example “soundtracky intro that leads into a theme – vocal part (enter rock band)– development of the theme transforming it from “soundtracky” to rock guitar solo – etc) I just fill the blanks. So usually I think of the type of piece I want to write and the riffs come from there. Once I have recorded the whole instrumental skeleton I write the vocals and lyrics (usually at the same time, trying to get the right words for the melody). In my case songwriting and recording go hand in hand, and the more I write the more I want to write!
John: What has become very evident over your three albums is the lyrical context. It is always powerful, challenging and offers the participant a listening experience which to be honest is just as important as the music. Is this your objective when writing?
Rodrigo: Thank you very much! I appreciate this compliment a lot because lyrics don’t come easy to me. One of my favorite things since I was a child was to make up and write stories and that’s what I try to do with my albums.
John: Another thing that is striking about your work is the attention to detail with the artwork; Cristina San Martin providing the artwork for No Way Out and Jelena Perisic on Eyes?
Rodrigo: Oh yeah, both Cristina (who is my aunt) and Jelena are fantastic. They have created beautiful things, on which I’m proud to say I had no input at all. I’m very bad with graphics but it’s great to have found people who I can rely on making stunning work.
John: How do you personally feel your albums have been received?
Rodrigo: My music hasn’t reached a lot of people, but the ones I have like it a lot actually! I have never received a bad review, which is really odd.
John: What interests me somewhat is that you offer up your recordings free on your website, which I guess makes the statement that you are all about the music, but you do have to eat?
Rodrigo: I’m a guitar teacher and producer (currently doing the sound design and post production of two movies), and this is how I make a living. Technology has changed the whole music business and we have to evolve or perish.
John: How is the world of Prog in Argentina?
Rodrigo: I think that we are in a (if not THE) musical highlight. There are tons of fantastic and super creative bands and artists in the underground prog scene, but sadly none have reached the mainstream, which is full of crap. Being an underground band in Argentina is really hard: I live in a very corrupt country where, for example, bands don’t get paid to play in bars. In fact bars and pubs CHARGE bands for the spot to play. So bands have to sell an X number of tickets not to lose money (and forget about EARNING money), this way bars earn money independently of ticket sales (so there’s no possible loss) and sell drinks to the crowd the band had to gather not to lose money. This leads to bar people not worrying about the quality of the music the bands that play have, because it doesn’t make a monetary difference. There are no thematic bars or anything, there are no bars with reputation of “good bands”: the one who pays plays. And the ones that lose here are the musicians.
So getting a “Residence” is absolutely out of the question.
If you make a more detailed analysis bar managers are not necessarily the ones to blame, It’s ten times harder to be a business owner here due to a number of things: high taxes, insane requirements to open a space where you can have music and mostly Corrupt government inspectors and Policemen (who require their respective bribe, even if your place is by the book), the system is perversely thought to be practically impossible to follow all rules, that way this inspectors can get away with their business and always have you by the balls (when they got tired of you or you refused to pay the bribe they close your business).
So bar people, to be able to keep doing their job screw musicians…
To cut this very long story short: the prog scene is doing wonderfully on an artistic level but in terms of popularity and economy we are quite screwed. My way to fight this is to do the Close to the Edge Prog Fest: create myself the space for our kind of music (something they are also doing quite brilliantly in the cities of La Plata and Rosario)
John: South America has offered the world some stunning music which is diverse, which is one thing that I do love about the music from this geographical location. I also love the fact that the musicians aren’t afraid to incorporate different musical genres without losing the art of melody. What are your thoughts on this?
Rodrigo: I think we’re at a very high point in creativity at the time. Maybe this hostile artistic environment we’re in makes that only people that REALLY love what they do to continue making music and don’t even look at the mainstream, which ends up producing quality music. Melody and, specially, lyrics are very important to most musicians here in Latin America.
John: What is the music scene like?
Rodrigo: As I said before, there are a lot of great bands but not a lot of gigs. The absence of a established label supporting this bands, and a very little attendance to said gigs cause a lot of bands to dissolve or to move into more commercial sounding material.
Argentine crowds are often mentioned as one of “the best crowds in the world” but it’s only that way with international bands, neglecting local bands. I mean, Roger Waters, Rush, Peter Gabriel, Yes, all come and fill stadiums but local bands can’t even stay together for more than a few years (at best) because there’s no support from the audience at live shows (let’s not even speak about record sales). There are no big successful exponents of the prog genre in Argentina for this reason.
John: Are there many opportunities to play live and do you have you any plans to tour?
Rodrigo: I’m going to do a national tour with Vanished from Earth to promote our debut album, starting this September. We have already been confirmed in the La Plata Prog Fest 2012 (biggest prog festival in Latin America), and we would really love to tour in Europe, so if any promoters are interested, please contact me! I always dream of touring as a solo musician as well. I have a lot of friends in the prog scene that are happy to go out and play my music, it’s just a matter of getting the right gigs, I guess. Maybe for my fourth album.
John: Was it your intentions for ONE to be a solo album in the true sense of the word?
Rodrigo: Yes, though I regret that decision now. It’s my favorite way of work, to depend only on myself, I find that I’m much more productive this way. I’m planning to re-release 1 and There’s No Way Out with my friend Mike Buenaventura Lima re-recording the drums.
John: As you moved onto There’s No Way Out, you introduced us to more individuals and obviously a more dynamic sound. What was the logistics of working with Craig Kerley (USA) and Jelena Perisic (Serbia) like?
Rodrigo: For “There’s No Way Out” I had recorded the whole album with my vocals in it, it was finished, but I started talking with these two individuals, heard their work and was amazed! They were interested in working with me so I emailed them the album with my vocals in it, as well as without. They recorded their parts and sent them back, I mixed and released. For Eyes I specifically wrote with their voices in my mind. We work via email with Jelena, and via Dropbox with Craig.
John: Which then begs the question, how did you hook up with these two individuals?
Rodrigo: I met Jelena on Myspace, I think through the Lasse Hoile page. I added her, she liked my music and I had the idea of doing some international collaboration. She sent me a demo track of her singing (Piano Man my Billy Joel and Good morning Sunshine off Hair) and I was completely blown away! We’re good friends, we exchange a lot of emails. She’s a wonderful person!
A few weeks later I was starting to promote my music on this new site called ReverbNation, which had this feature of a “radio by genre”. I clicked “prog” and this INCREDIBLE piece started. It was Craig Kerley‘s Judgement. After listening to that I though “Alright, I’m not getting near a microphone ever again!”. He was very kind to me when I sent him a message and was happy to collaborate with me. Luckily both these wonderful singers like my music and are very easy to work with (even If there’s a big distance), I hope to make many more collaborations with them!
John: Where Craig and Jelena given a free reign on the album or were their pieces already set out?
Rodrigo: I always send them the melody to sing, but give them the freedom to change anything if they come up with something better. Sometimes I’m not so sure about certain parts I wrote, for example the verse of 4378th day. For that part I asked Jelena “why don’t you come up with some backing vocals to enhance the part?” She did great as always.
Another example of their input is on Destroy the Signal, where Craig came up with this fantastic harmony vocals. He wasn’t sure about them himself but I was blown away! (you’ll see how the track was originally if you listen to the alternate take Destruye la Señal, which is the same track but with Spanish lyrics, sung by Tamara Szych without this Craig invented-vocals)
John: Are there any plans to add anything more to the concept of There’s No Way Out?
Rodrigo: Actually yes, I want to release an EP with War, Act 1. This part would narrate the rise and corruption of the main character in There’s No Way Out. The problem is that I haven’t wrote the piece yet!
John: Eyes was supposed to be De Rien’s debut album and started out in 2007. So how did it end up being released as a Rodrigo San Martin album five years later, although I believe all of De Rien played on the album?
Rodrigo: Yes, the whole band appears on the album. At least the last line up. The reason of the album becoming a RSM album is that the band cease to exist. We were tired of the line up changes, the impossibility of finding THE SINGER (we had something like 10 singers in 3 years…) eventually destroyed our spirits. When I say “our” I mean the stable line up, Ludmila Clemente on drums and Sergio López on bass. There were many time since 2007 that we felt that this album had the Chinese Democracy curse.
John: How much has the album changed from its conception to what we hear today?
Rodrigo: Everything changed, mainly the musicians playing it. There were A LOT of songs recorded for Eyes that didn’t make the final cut. The name changed as well, it was supposed to be called Con los Ojos Abiertos.
John: So has De Rien been put on hold for the moment or are there plans afoot for the band?
Rodrigo: The band dissolved. I don’t believe we’ll play under that name again. But I’m still friends with Ludmila and Sergio (in fact, I’m producing his band’s EP right now) and it wouldn’t surprise me if we played together under a different name sometime.
John: Tell us something about Souls Ignite another band you are involved in.
Rodrigo: Souls Ignite is a duet formed by my friend Juan Manuel Torres and me. Think Ayreon with musicians from the prog scene in Argentina (plus Craig and Jelena). We wrote a very sick Prog Opera together. Each singer has a character, I think it’s my best work so far! This album is 85% recorded, if everything goes well I hope to release it somewhere in 2012 or early 2013.
John: You are noted as being the first guy to have released a 5:1 album in Argentina. How did this come about?
Rodrigo: I love 5.1 sound, was introduced to it by Steven Wilson‘s work with Porcupine Tree and the Genesis remasters. I started experimenting this technique with my own work and got confident enough to mix the album this way too. About to release it I started searching for other Argentine musicians who have done the same and found none, so it was circumstantial to be the first one to do it, not a silly record I tried to break or anything . It’s commercial suicide here to attempt anything outside the norm, but since I never cared about selling albums I tried it anyway.
John: Through your music you can hear influences such as Porcupine Tree, Rush, Neal Morse and Uriah Heep. Who do you consider are your major influences?
Rodrigo: Thank you! I grew up listening to the big names in the genre: Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, ELP, Rush, etc.
My parents listen to a lot of music, and so the indirect soundtrack of my childhood were albums like Seconds Out, Close to the Edge and The Wall. I vividly remember that one day, when I was 13 and was starting playing the guitar (I was into Nirvana), my father called me and played Shine on you Crazy Diamond. I was mesmerized and remember thinking “this guy cheated on the talent giveaway!”I became a Gilmour nut since then, I think he’s my main influence as a guitar player. Another landmark was The Yes Album, which I got from a guy at school that was selling cd’s. Relayer was second, this music was insane! And Howe blew my mind too, inspired me to go to Music School to get some of his classical technique. Other mind-expanding moments include a friend of my dad’s showing me the Tubular Bells DVD. A couple of years later I found Genesis and Gabriel’s solo work, ELP, Crimson and Tull.
During 2008 I was a little depressed that “prog had died” but a friend recommended Porcupine Tree and opened my eyes to this new scene of prog, which I’m still exploring right now. Steven Wilson is my latest hero, but I’m also into Transatlantic, Agents of Mercy, Guy Manning, and a lot of bands from Argentina.
John: Given the opportunity who would you like to work with?
Rodrigo: I have a very long and utopic list actually. Steven Wilson, Keith Emerson, Peter Gabriel, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Ian Anderson, Gavin Harrison, Steve Howe, Greg Lake, Robert Fripp, Tony Levin, Steve Hackett, Rick Wakeman, Adrian Belew, Bill Bruford, Chris Squire, Jon Anderson, Phil Collins, Anneke Van Giersbergen, Tarja Turunen, Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt, Guy Manning, Tuomas Holopainen, Nad Svlvan, Mikael Akerfeldt, Paul McCartney, Brian May, Neil Peart, etc…. I mean, doing something with any of these idols of mine would mean the world to me!
John: Musically who would you recommend for people to investigate?
Rodrigo: My favourites are Mothership (Rush meets Dream Theater meets Guns N’ Roses), Osvaldo Mellace (who I jokingly call The Argentine Greg Lake, with whom I just recorded of ELP’s The Sage), Fernando Refay (in my opinion one of the very best keyboardists in the world), William Gray (fantastic band that plays very good prog metal mixed with Tango or Argentine folk music, using native instruments and such), La Finca de Laurento (just released a new album called Fuerza that is great, very melodic prog with some hip hop elements, weird but I like it), Laplace (just released an album too, a mix between early Crimson and Argentine icon Luis Alberto Spinetta) and Fughu (prog metal with a fantastic live show, in the vein of 70’s Genesis but with modern technology)