Mystery a band from Canada that have been around since the late 80’s, released seven albums and run by Michel St-Pere. It has now been 2 years since their last release ‘One Amongst the Living’ which they now follow up with a fantastic new release called ‘The World is a Game’. Mystery are a band who came to be much better known when their singer Benoit David was asked to join YES in 2009, replacing Jon Anderson. Obviously there are lots of comparisons but Mystery are a band that stand out on their own with music that is perfect to grace any Prog fans (new or old) Hi-Fi, Car Stereo or MP3 player. We talk to Michel St Pere and discuss Mystery’s background, their connections to YES, various band members, Tour plans and their music past and present, amongst other things.
PC: Hi Michel…. Lets kick off with something easy and simple… tell me who Mystery are and what you are about. Just so we can let those that may not know you who you are and what you are about.
MSP: Well Mystery was actually formed way back in 1987 by myself as a studio project. Released our first mini album in 1992 which didn’t really sell well or was not widely known (this was just before the internet). The next album released was Theatre of the Mind in 1996 which became our first exposure in Europe. At that time our singer was Gary Savoie, who sounded very similar to Benoit David, who recorded the first mini album, Theater of the Mind and, the later album, Destiny as our singer. Destiny is the album where we really started to gain more exposure and interest but Gary was not so happy with the direction of the band being more and more Progressive rock so he left the band. At this point I put Mystery on hold to concentrate on my record label Unicorn Records…
PC… That explains the 9 year break between albums….
MSP: Yes exactly… In fact I had been recording demo’s for the next album since 2000, when I first met Benoit, which eventually become Beneath the Veil of Winters Face released in 2007. This was of course Benoit’s first album with us and it was our best received album so far at that time.
Of course Benoit joined YES in 2009 (replacing Jon Anderson) which gave the Beneath the Veil.. album another boost. On that basis we decided to record another album sooner which was released in 2010 called One Among the Living which again did really really well for us. That brings us upto date. Benoit is no longer with YES and we have just released our latest album called The World is a Game. This album is selling better that anything we have released to date.
PC: I must admit having listened to The World is a Game several times I can say that it is a wonderful album (Note: the writers Prog album of the year so far).
MSP: Thank you… I’m so glad you enjoyed it.
PC: As you have touched on the Benoit David joining YES story… Was that a bit of a double edge sword for you… losing your singer to YES but at the same time gaining greater recognition for Mystery.
MSP: Well we got publicity that we would never have had before which was great and did expand our popularity. We just had to put the band on hold or base anything we done around YES’s schedule (usually when Steve Howe was playing with ASIA) as that’s when we knew Benoit would be available. Although its fair to say it was more valuable for Mystery to have Benoit on the road with YES than it was to have him on the road with Mystery.
PC: Its almost like him joining YES started a huge free marketing bandwagon for Mystery
MSP: At the beginning I thought… that’s it I’m going to have to find another singer as Benoit was a full time part of YES. Of course he was playing in far bigger venues, on a lot bigger budget so there was no comparison really. I just thought the day would come when he said ‘sorry I’m staying with YES’
PC: Which, of course, you could never blame him for that.
MSP: Oh no I would have never blamed him if he had wanted to do that. Anyone would take an opportunity like that if handed to them.
PC: How did you actually find out about him being asked to join YES?
MSP: Well we had not spoken in a while and I came home one day to find a voice-mail from him asking me to call him back. I called him the next day and that’s when he told me he had been approached by YES. At that stage he had only received an initial phone call proposal but was waiting a return call to confirm things. He was of course very excited by the prospect.
PC: Of course… fully understandable… who wouldn’t be. No more than you would be if you had been asked to join YES had Steve Home left the band (laughs)
MSP: Definitely (laughing)
PC: Did you ever get along to watch Benoit in YES?
MSP: Oh Yes… I saw them when they played in Montreal and I really enjoyed the show. They were an amazing band
PC: I must admit I have never seen YES and although I like them, they have never been what I call an out and out favourite of mine. To be honest if I was given the choice between buying a YES album or a Mystery album…. It would be the Mystery album I would choose.
MSP: Thank you… that’s very kind.
PC: You have already kindly given us an overview of the history of behind the band going back to the late 80’s. You have recorded 6 albums over that time, started a record label and seen a revolving door of band members. Did you ever think during that time that Mystery as a band / project just wouldn’t survive?
MSP: Oh yes for sure… That’s one of the reasons I focused on running the label more between 2000 and 2007. I never quite knew where it was going to go even though we had material for Beneath the Veil…, which I knew was good, I thought at one point it would never get finished but when it was released I was surprised at how well it was received.
PC: How long did it take you to actually write that album?
MSP: Writing is something I do over a very very long time. The new album The World is a Game has songs on it that were started to be written between 10 and 20 years ago… they were never completed, never demo’ed, just ideas that I kept hoping to use one day. I have loads of riffs, guitar and keyboard parts tucked away to call on when I need them.
PC: As I touched on just now… Over the years you have had many members that have come and gone in the band. I know you are the key writer in the band but has that revolving door had any affect on Mystery as a band or in material?
MSP: No I don’t think the sound or style of the band has really changed as such but those that do play at any given time are welcome to come in and do their thing and add their own ideas and sound to the albums. At the end of the day they are my songs with me doing the production so it will always sound like Mystery.
MSP: Yeah I like to think so.
PC: Going back to these various band members… you have had a couple of fatalities in band members which is never easy I’m sure. You lost a drummer and a bass player.
MSP: Patrick ?? (Bass player on Beneath the Veil…) died just after the release. In fact I don’t think he ever got to hear the finished album.
PC: Was he a permanent member of the band at that time or just one of the hired help as it were?
MSP: He was a partial member of the band at that time but he had played with us earlier on in Mystery’s career. He also plays bass on Destiny and some tracks on Theatre of the Mind plus of course 3 or 4 tracks on Beneath the Veil… Of course the drummer who passed away was earlier than Patrick so we have been through this scenario twice.
PC: It must be difficult replacing a musician you have been working with under such circumstances.
MSP: Of course its very sad and never the same but life still goes on and we had to get people to play those parts. Despite those setbacks we have been lucky over the years that we have surrounded by very talented musicians that have saved a working project many times.
PC: Talking of drummers… you have Nick D’Virgilio (Spocks Beard, Big Big Train) playing on the new album. How did you know Nick?
MSP: Well I have worked with him when I produced concerts in Montreal and that’s how I met him.
When we started The World is a Game our drummer, of that time, was unavailable to record with us so I knew Nick had been living in Montreal at that time as he was doing Cirque du Soleil. So I called him up and it turned out he had now moved to Toronto. That still was not too far away but he said yes and recorded all his drum parts in Toronto.
PC: Its amazing how a top top drummer can bring so much life to an album.
MSP: I always knew he was an amazing drummer but when I sent him the basic tracks with click tracks I was amazed at what I got back. You could really tell he has listened to each song in depth and really fitted his drumming in to the fabric of the music really well.
PC: A really decent drummer will make the drumming a real integral part of the music and not provide just a beat to follow.
MSP: Yeah that’s right.
MSP: Well there is always a common theme throughout the Mystery albums although not as concept albums. I like it when people can make up their own mind what a song, or collection of songs, may be about. That way they can fit it in to anything that may relate to them… which is great.
PC: I appreciate that it isn’t a concept album but sometimes common themes run through many artists music. For example the line ‘the world is a game’ appears in more than one track on the album.
MSP: Yes the lyric appears in 2 songs other than the title track. I try to have parts or passages in songs that relate together. I find when I start recording an album there is a certain mood created that then tends to run through the album. So a theme from one song may appear in another but in a different key and a different arrangement for example.
PC: Who writes the lyrics?
MSP: Both myself and Benoit write lyrics. Benoit contributes to some of the songs on the last two albums although I write the majority of the lyrics.
PC: You started the band way back when and have been the driving force behind the band. Is it fair to say that both yourself and Benoit are the face of Mystery now?
MSP: Yes definitely. Benoit is a great signer and even before the Yes connection was a highly valued member of this band. I now consider Benoit to be half of Mystery in a manner of speaking.
PC: You do get a lot of YES comparisons (for obvious reasons) but listening to the album I would say there is a big 80’s RUSH style and influence there. Even to the point where Benoit even sounds more similar to Geddy Lee at times than Jon Anderson.
MSP: Well I am a HUGE RUSH fan. In fact I’m going to see them tonight in Montreal…. I have only missed seeing them on one tour since the Signals album… they are an amazing band.
PC: Do I take it then that Alex Lifeson is a big influence on you as a guitarist?
MSP: Actually he isn’t my main influence as a guitarist… RUSH as a band are a main influence musically … guitarists that influenced me more would be people like Steve Rothery and Steve Hackett.
PC: Just coming back to the new album…. I’m not going to go through all the tracks to talk about them but I am going to pick my favourite from the album ‘Another Day’. Can you tell us the story behind this track?
MSP: Actually all the music on that track is based around the music from the opening track on the album (A Morning Rise). It has the elements of what goes to make up the 20 minutes of Another Day. It’s the same melody, same guitar riff except its being played by different instruments throughout the song. I had actually written A Morning Rise many many years ago and decided that I was going to use the basis of that music to write another song at some point. The essence of the song is just talking about time passing people by, living their lives without anything really happening where days turn to years and you realise that you wish you could have Another Day to start again and do those things you missed or let pass you by.
PC: Well that’s a simple scenario I’m sure anyone one can relate too
MSP: Yes exactly…
PC: So how well, generally, has the album been received since its release?
MSP: We just sent out the Promo’s for the press about 2 weeks ago and so far its going really really good. All the reviews we have had, so far, have pretty much said it’s the best Mystery album so far.
PC: How do you react to bad reviews that you may receive? (if any?)
MSP: Actually we have been very lucky in as much as we have generally always had positive reviews across our album releases. One of the first review’s we ever had for Theatre of the Mind was a bad write up but the same guy re-wrote his review later on saying his first review was based on a limited listen of the album and subsequently changed his rating of the album from bad too good.
PC: Its great that you have had that level of accolade across your releases.
MSP: We do have people that take no interest in our music because it does not fit the Progressive Rock sub-genre they support…. But that’s OK. We tend to fit into the Neo-Prog tag that includes bands such as Asia, Marillion, Arena, etc etc and there is a certain crowd of people that won’t entertain that brand of Progressive Rock.
PC: You touched on the Neo-Prog brand of Prog…. But what really bugs me is the need for people to have to pigeon hole something. Does it really matter whats its called or branded as… good music is good music regardless. I do understand there is a marketing element in using genre’s or sub-genres but lets just call it Progressive Rock or just Prog and be done with it.
MSP: There are, how can I say, Prog purists who think that any Prog album should be music of a certain style and should never change from that. It almost like any track must have a Mellotron, Rickenbacker Bass, Hammond Organ, Moog etc and its not viewed as progressive unless those instruments are used.
PC: By the same token you get those Purists that critise or deem music as not being Prog just because all the tracks are less than 6 minutes long with no 20 minute plus epic etc…
MSP: Of course there is that as well… We have a track on the new album that is 1 minute 30 seconds and we have another that is 19 minutes
PC: Ohh!! By the way… I wasn’t knocking 20 minute songs (laughs)… Just making a point…
MSP: oh I know (laughs)
PC: OK… enough of that… I want to talk about the ‘Live’ band… You use a completely different band when you play live to those you record with. Do you use any of the same musicians for both (Benoit as is that is)
MSP: Due to the geographical location of the guys on the album and of course their other commitments we have to use different members for the live band.
PC: Is the ‘Live’ band line-up pretty stable or does that tend to chop and change too as with the recording band?
MSP: The ‘Live band’ as it is now has been as it is since just before we released ‘One Amongst the Living’. So the same live band has been together for about 5 years or more.
PC: Do any of those guys feature on any of the albums?
MSP: Most of the guys in the band do play a part on the albums or have done so in the past. The keyboard player for instance has been with us in one way or another since the first album Destiny.
PC: That brings us on nicely to my next subject matter…. You are playing in the London next year at the Celebr8.2 Prog Festival in May http://www.celebr8prog.com/Home.html.
MSP: I’m really looking forward to that… we are planning to announce a European tour to tag onto that while we are over there. We have many fans in Europe… in fact more than we do in Canada.
PC: So how did the Celebr8 gig come about? Which will also be your UK debut I believe?
MSP: I was contacted by Geoff Banks via email saying he loved the new album and asked if we would like to play at Celebr8 2013. It was as simple as that really. Of course I knew of Celebr8 from what I had read about the 2012 Festival on the internet etc and was very happy when we were asked to play.
PC: You help formulate what is proving to be an excellent line-up on the day you are playing.
MSP: Arena will be there headlining the Sunday we play. In fact we are playing with Arena in Quebec City very soon and of course doing it all again in London next year. Its all very exciting and a great experience.
PC: You also have Haken (a great band) and Alan Reed with his band playing on the same line up as you.
MSP: Yes I know Alan Reed… ex-Pallas I believe. I am not familiar with Haken though.
PC: Well I’m looking forward to going to that gig and seeing you guys as well as the other bands on the bill. It should be a great day (and weekend) of music. Anyway… you said you hope to turn it into a tour… any ideas where else you might be playing yet?
MSP: We have some things we are working on and have a couple of dates booked but I cannot really reveal anything at this time. We should be making an announcement very soon.
PC: I know you haven’t played the UK before but have you played any of Europe before?
MSP: Nope…. It will be all new… a complete European debut.
PC: Excellent!! So will these dates be as a support band or are you planning headlining gigs?
PC: Oh Cool!! Mind you a European support slot on a major tour would still be great for exposure (dare I mention it… say as a support for YES for example)
MSP: Oh yes… that would be amazing if we could do that…. it probably wouldn’t be YES.. but maybe that is something we can work on next to find a major artist to tour with.
PC: OK… note to myself… I mustn’t mention YES anymore… as they have been mentioned WAY too much in this interview (laughing)
MSP: Oh don’t worry about that… I don’t mind (laughs)
PC: Tell me.. What is the Prog Rock scene like in Canada or even the US? To me it doesn’t seem quite as prevalent as it does here in Europe?
MSP: Well in Canada generally it is sort of bubbling under the surface but I must say it has always been big in Quebec, where we live. Most of the first Prog bands (e.g like Genesis, Pink Floyd) made it big here in Quebec before venturing into America. We have always been very open to the Progressive scene here and it has always been big. Bands like Supertramp, for example, were playing in clubs in America at one point but in Montreal they were playing to 18000 people in arena’s.
PC: So aside from Mystery you also run a record label…. Unicorn Digital http://www.unicornrecords.com … how is that going?
MSP: Yeah its going really good at the moment. We had a few rough years early on but its doing well right now. Of course we have to make changed to the business as time moves forward. We have had to embrace downloads etc for example. One of the problems is there are now lots and lots of bands trying to sell their music to a fan base that pretty much remains the same. One of the problems is that with the internet and freedom to be able to listen to music on sites like Myspace or bandcamp etc people listen to music online and think that’s good… so buy the album. Once they listen to the album on a better listening platform – i.e CD through a Hi-Fi system they suddenly realise that the quality of music is not as good as they first thought.
PC: How are your other artists doing on the Unicorn label?
MSP: The band Spaced Out have been doing quite well. They play fusion type instrumental type Prog. I don’t know if you have heard anything by them?
PC: Alas not… I have heard of them but not any of their material.
MSP: They have 6 albums released so far that have done well. We also have Daryll Stuermer (who played with Genesis)… he did really well on the label too. Currently Mystery are the top selling artist on the label.
PC: Well I suppose Mystery are the flagship band of the Unicorn label.
MSP: That’s not necessarily been the case. When I put Mystery on hold to concentrate on the label… Mystery of course were selling very little and all the concentration was put onto the other artists on the label. We try to push the bands or artists that people want to hear. If a particular band / artist is doing particularly well we will give them as much help and attention as we can as a a label. Mystery at the moment though are in fact the top selling artist for the label so therefore Unicorns current flagship artist.
PC: You are a Multi-instrumentalist I believe…. What instruments do you / can you play?
MSP: I play all the Keyboards on the album, as well as a little Bass but I really consider myself a guitarist first and for most.
PC: …. Do you sing as well?
MSP: No.. not really
PC: So how long have you been playing?
MSP: I started playing when I was 9 years old….. (PC: jokingly interrupting…. So that was about… 9 years ago then??… laughing)…. Noooo 30 years ago (laughs). I started playing with the electric guitar. My father was a guitarist also so there has always been guitars in the house when growing up so it was almost the natural thing to do.
PC:… and what other music do you like to listen too?
MSP: I actually find that I don’t listen to enough music these days as so much time is taken up with Mystery and the label. My favourite type of Prog is music such as Asia or Genesis (with Phil Collins)… that’s were I started… I have never been into bands such as King Crimson, although I appreciate, respect and acknowledge what they have done as a band and for the genre. If I was given the choice of seeing Asia or King Crimson… it would be Asia everytime.
PC: I couldn’t agree with you more… King Crimson do nothing for me as a band and I don’t see the attraction… but hey!! each to their own… that’s music.
MSP: I must add that I am very impressed with Porcupine Tree and also Opeth… they are both really really good.
PC: Well one last thing…. Which is my interview trivia part piece…. I want to ask if you are aware of who you share your birthday with?
Birthdays / Anniversaries:
Michel St-Pere – 28 August 1967, Jack Kirby, cartoonist (X-Men, Spiderman, Hulk, Capt America) 1917, Paul Martin (Canadian politician) 1938, Nik Turner (Hawkwind) 1940, Dave Hlubek, guitarist (Molly Hatchet) 1951, Chris Armstrong, CFL slot back (Montreal Alouettes) 1967, Jack Black, Actor, 1969, Death: Charles Darrow (inventor of Monopoly)