Interview with Craig Kerley
DPRP’s John O’Boyle
DPRP’s John O’Boyle brings you the Final Part of the Three Part Special which sees Multi Instrumentalist Craig Kerley (Not Otherwise Specified) talking about his debut release Judgment, his influences and working with Rodrigo San Martin.
Craig: Doing pretty well. Been pretty busy lately, but it beats the alternative in this economy. Hope things are going well for you too John.
John: Well two albums in with Rodrigo San Martin, both being DPRP recommended as was your own Not Otherwise Specified album Judgment. Not a bad start if I may say so.
John: The reviews I have read for Judgment were very positive, how do you feel the album was received personally?
Craig: Better than I had expected. Judgment started out as more of an experiment to see if my musical interest was still there. I never really expected to put the album out in public, but have been pleased by the response so far.
John: The whole album was created by yourself, from the songwriting through to playing all the instruments. Is this an approach you like to take or did this just happen naturally?
Craig: This approach was more out of necessity than design. At the time I really was not in touch with any other musicians, so writing with others was not really in the cards. However, I have found that I really like creating music alone. It allows me to approach writing and recording on my schedule in a borderline obsessive manner that would be very likely to piss off other musicians.
John: Being the one to make the final decision on a song, it must be hard to decide when you have THE version in the can?
Craig: I never really see any song as finished. I still think about ways to improve and change songs on Judgment. However, at some point you just need to give up and move on, accepting that it will never be perfect. Otherwise, you will drive yourself and others around you crazy.
John: How do you approach your songwriting?
Craig: Chaotically! I usually start off by just fooling around on guitar, bass, or keys. Eventually, I come up with a riff on guitar, or a chord progression on keys, or a bass line that I like. I know I have found something I can work with when I feel myself get excited by the riff. I then usually try to create a drum track to make it more interesting. After that, I generally lose control of the process and it is more likely to control me. I make mixes, listen to them incessantly, take notes, make revisions, repeat ad nausea, and somewhere along the way a song starts to appear. It often feels like a song was there before I wrote it, I just needed to chip away all of the garbage hiding it from me.
John: Do you see yourself as a bit of a control freak in the nicest sense of the words?
Craig: Without a doubt! It feels like my baby and I don’t want anyone messing with it. I am sure I will get over that some day with ongoing therapy!
John: The album is built on themes of personal discovery. Do you want to talk us through the album, giving us your thoughts and ideas?
Craig: I feel that no matter the personal process used to write lyrics and music, the real value in music lies in the listener’s interpretation. While these songs are based on my personal experiences and observations of others, I wouldn’t want to be too literal about the process as it may take away from the listening experience. Suffice it to say, however, these songs are a composite of life experience and my observations of personality types in both my personal and professional life.
John: The artwork is very intriguing. What was the thought process behind the visual?
Craig: I wish I could say there was a lot of planning put into the album artwork. Unfortunately, it is the result of a very limited budget. I searched through Creative Commons licensed images online until I found ones that I felt matched the mood of the album.
John: When is your next album due?
Craig: I was shooting for December 2012, but for many reasons that may be a bit ambitious. I recently had a bit of a setback when my house was hit by lightning. Everything in the studio was saved, but there was a lot of damage otherwise that has taken a great deal of my time to get repaired. The entire album is currently written and mostly recorded, but I still have a lot of work to do.
John: Can you offer up an exclusive for DPRP about what we are to expect?
Craig: Well, I can tell you it will be much more proggy than Judgment. I gave up on any attempts to write mainstream music and went with the flow. Most songs are long, including a 20 minute plus anthem, and you will find much more complexity in meter and chordal structure throughout. There will be many flavours of prog, including metal, straight ahead rock, and even a classical guitar piece. I really enjoy listening to the demos over and over again, which is really the only test I use to decide its merit.
John: You have done a very interesting version of Dance on a Volcano, what other pieces would you like to work with?
Craig: I have always been a huge Genesis fan, including all of its derivatives. I plan on covering a Peter Gabriel tune on the next album. After that, I may go to some of Mike Rutherford or Tony Banks solo work.
John: Why after 15 years did you decide to return to your musical roots?
Craig: About 5 years ago my sons, who were 6 and 8 at the time, wanted to take up musical instruments. One started with drums the other with guitar. Once we bought a guitar for my older son, I found myself playing it as much as he was. From there, I was hooked.
John: What happened during those wilderness years?
Craig: I grew up. I finished graduate school, started a career, met and married the love of my life and had two sons. I didn’t have time for music and, given the choice, it was easy to let music go. It was my sons that brought me back to music. They became interested in music at about the same time that my career allowed me to be more independent and have time for other interests. Seeing music through their eyes, like I saw it when I was young, lit a fire under me.
John: How did it come to pass working with Rodrigo?
Craig: I believe I had put some demo songs up on ReverbNation and somehow we found each other there. I really was not looking at music as being anything more than a hobby at that point. I heard and liked his music. When he asked me to sing on a song, I jumped at the opportunity!
John: What does it feel like to know that Rodrigo wrote songs on There’s No Way Out with yours and Jelena’s voices in mind?
Craig: I was quite flattered. I had not focused on my voice in a very long time. I felt it was very weak. Knowing that Rodrigo did not agree with my appraisal helped a great deal with my confidence!
John: That must have been quite a buzz and compliment at the same time seeing that it was the first album you guys worked on?
John: Have you any plans to work with Jelena in the future?
Craig: Not as of this moment, but I generally don’t make plans when it comes to music. If something comes up, I would love to work with her again.
John: Rodrigo is quoted as saying and I’m not too sure as to whether you are aware of this, “I clicked “prog” and this INCREDIBLE piece started. It was Craig Kerley’s Judgment. After listening to that, I though “Alright, I’m not getting near a microphone ever again!” Now there’s a gracious comment if I ever heard one. That has got to be humbling?
Craig: I was not aware of that. I think I’m blushing.
John: Tell us about the infectious song Destroy the Signal off Eyes, a song where you came up with the harmonies. How would you rate it against the alternate take Destruye la Señal sung in Spanish by Tamara Szych?
Craig: My Spanish is more than a little rusty, but I liked it very much.
John: What is interesting is that Rodrigo, Jelena and your good self are all adept musicians but yet putting that to one side, egos never seem to come part of the creative process, which is something that I love about you all. Are you hoping to work together in the not too distant future?
Craig: I am. Being involved in Rodrigo’s albums really lit a fire under me musically. It was the kick start I needed to get going with music again. I will always look forward to working with him.
John: A question I ask everyone, what songs would we hear if we pressed the play button on your I Pod, assuming you possess one?
Craig: I have one of those old 80gb iPods and it has about 13,000 songs on it. The selection appears very chaotic. Currently, I am listening to Smallcreeps Day by Mike Rutherford, A Curious Feeling by Tony Banks, Milliontown by Frost*, and everything by Dream Theater. Other favourites include Nine Inch Nails, Tool, He is Legend, Shinedown, Slipknot, Korn, Alice in Chains, and Jane’s Addiction.
John: Who would you say are your biggest influences musically?
Craig: Without a doubt, Peter Gabriel. I have loved and admired his songwriting since I was about 14. More recently I have been influenced by modern proggers such as Trent Gardner (Magellan), Neal Morse, and Jem Godfrey (Frost*).
John: What are your five favourite albums?
Craig: Only five? OK, if you’re going to put me on the spot: Animals by Pink Floyd, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis, Leftoverture by Kansas, Metropolis: Scenes from a Memory by Dream Theater, and Bridge Across Forever by Transatlantic.
John: Given the opportunity, who would you like to collaborate with?
Craig: Other than the people I have already had the opportunity to collaborate with, I would love to work with Jem Godfrey of Frost*. I love the nearly manic nature of his music and production. Also, he just seems like a fun guy!
John: What’s the music scene in Atlanta Georgia like these days, a city that has pedigree and such a historical musical past?
Craig: My responsibilities at home and in my day job don’t leave me much time to see live music these days. I understand the scene is quite vibrant, but I haven’t had much of a chance to participate in it lately.
John: How do you perceive the music industry in general and more specific in the U.S.A?
Craig: In a wonderful state of flux. One of the main reasons I got out of music when I was younger was due to the system at that time which limited access to listeners and made self production economically unattainable. After my break I found the music industry was becoming everything I had hoped it would be when I was younger. The classic big record labels have largely become dinosaurs and the individual artist has an opportunity to reach a very specific worldwide target market with relative ease. This, combined with the affordability of recording equipment, is opening the door for a significant increase in the variety in music. I believe that the demise of the old system is resulting in a creative renaissance in modern music.
John: Who would you recommend as bands / artists to watch out for in the future?
Craig: I used to be pretty good at coming up with recommendations. I have to admit, however, that I have spent a lot of time listening to the classics lately and probably not enough checking out what is new.
John: Are there any final words you would like to say to the readers of DPRP?
Craig: It is so exciting to see the resurgence in prog music. As readers of DPRP you are on the forefront of this movement. Thank you for your support of our genre! It will help ensure that great prog will be around for many years to come!