Interview with The Psychedelic Ensemble
With a fourth release coming up it is high time for an interview with The Psychedelic Ensemble, after receiving raving reviews for the first three releases we all are wondering what is up next.
Gert Hulshof: The music of The Psychedelic Ensemble sounds like the efforts of a band, but it is a one-man project. Who is the man behind this project?
TPE: I’m a composer and performer who worked in the music industry for over 30 years. I’ve composed music for leading artists and have performed as a drummer, guitarist, and keyboardist. In addition to my progressive rock endeavours, I’ve been successful as a composer of classical music. My works are performed on major concert stages, like Carnegie Hall and in similar venues around the world.
Gert Hulshof: Why did you choose that name [The Psychedelic Ensemble] and which bands were you influenced by?
TPE: I chose the name, “The Psychedelic Ensemble,” to coincide with the quasi-psychedelic concept of the first album, The Art of Madness. In hindsight, had I known at that time I would release three more albums, I would have chosen a different “band” name. Regarding influences: so much music has had an impact on me as a composer and performer. I grew up listening to the Beatles, Stones, and Dylan, but I soon got heavily involved in fusion and progressive rock. I became deeply interested in music from early Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, the 11th House, and the like. I also grew up listening to Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Bach, and other classical composers. I have long been a fan of electronic music and composers like Stockhausen, Berio, and Varese.
Gert Hulshof: Can you tell us more about your musical background and what you have done so far?
TPE: I have written opera, orchestral, and chamber music that employs an atonal language. I hold a doctoral degree in music, too. I have taught composition, orchestration, recording technology, and electronic music at major U.S. universities. I have received many music awards, including over 20 ASCAP awards.
Gert Hulshof: How did you get involved in progressive rock?
TPE: When I was a young kid, I began playing piano, guitar, and drums. By the time I reached my early teens, I was proficient on all three instruments. In high school, I started jamming with some older guys who were also classically trained. We then formed a band that played and recorded original prog I had composed. We were successful, but then the prog scene collapsed. The band spent too much time together and began arguing about musical and personal issues. Finally, we parted ways.
Gert Hulshof: Was it your plan right from the start to perform everything yourself or did this evolve?
TPE: When I was recording the first album, The Art of Madness, I thought, “oh, I’ll get so-and-so to play this and another so-and-so to play that.” But in the end, I liked the album as I played it and released The Art of Madness with Musea without other performers. I then promised other musicians I had worked with over the years to incorporate them on the second album, The Myth of Dying. I did use a famous violinist on that album on two tracks. In the end, though, I decided to perform the album myself. I think I pissed off some old friends and good musicians. (Laughs)
Gert Hulshof: So will The Psychedelic Ensemble ever include other musicians on a recording?
TPE: Yes, on the forthcoming album. A chamber orchestra accompanies me on the new album. I think this has been a fantastic addition to the sound of The Psychedelic Ensemble. I am committed to making The Psychedelic Ensemble project evolve. The use of a chamber orchestra has brought another dimension to the project. Also, the concept of the new album includes a female character in the plot. I have been working with a fantastic female vocalist. There is a nice interview with her on the TPE website. On the forthcoming album, she is featured on a couple of tracks and provides some backing vocals. She’s the next big thing in prog vocals, or so say I.
Gert Hulshof: I suspect it would simplify things for you to enlist other musicians and technicians for the next record.
TPE: It does and it doesn’t simplify things to use other musicians. In some ways, it is simpler to play the music myself, rather than write out parts and rehearse with other players. Using an orchestra requires a lot of work to prepare the scores and parts. In addition to the chamber orchestra and singer I mentioned a moment ago, I enlisted a conductor and an engineer for the orchestral recordings on the new album. That has given me the opportunity to follow the score and listen carefully to the recordings. I’m not burdened with conducting and recording the orchestra. I have enough to do playing and recording The Psychedelic Ensemble electric parts, writing the album, and creating the orchestral scores. (Laughing) I’m also a bit of a control freak regarding my music, so I like having complete control.
Gert Hulshof: If you were to describe your music in a few words, how would you categorize it?
TPE: My music combines symphonic prog, fusion, and classical styles. In a word, “Progfusical”! How about that? A new category! Everyone is hell-bent on categorizing music. I’m not sure my music falls into any one category. That’s good news musically, I believe, but it constrains the music in the marketplace.
Gert Hulshof: Can you tell us more about the concepts of your albums?
TPE: Each is a kind of journey. On the first album, The Art of Madness, the concept is a journey into insanity inspired by paintings by psychiatric patients in New York. I saw an exhibit that was both inspiring and terrifying. Later, I heard an NPR interview with the psychiatrist who oversees the production of the patients’ artwork. In the NPR interview, he said, “I think that creativity and artistic production is almost a symptom of mental illness.” Wow, what an assertion! That quote from his NPR interview actually opens the album and sets the stage for The Art of Madness.
The second album, The Myth of Dying, is an original concept about the afterlife. I constructed the concept by taking small sections of prose and poetry from Blake, Dante, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and other sources. I patched them together like a quilt. I created my own story from pre existent literature.
The third album, The Dream of the Magic Jongleur, is “story telling,” as François Marceau from The International Prog Rock Show put it. I wrote a long poem in rhymed quatrains about a travelling musician—the Jongleur—who seeks a wizard who resides in the realm of dreams. It is said that the wizard can impart magical music. In the end, the Jongleur’s music spares society from a calamity. The moral, as it were, is that music, and the arts in general, has the power to save us. I think it was James Joyce who wrote, “…and tomorrow we’ll read that Beethoven’s fourth concerto made tulips grow and altered the flow of the oceans’ currents. We must believe it is true. Otherwise, it would be quite hopeless.” That’s what The Dream of the Magic Jongleur is about.
Gert Hulshof: Where do you see as the main differences between your three albums? Both conceptually as well as musically?
TPE: Conceptually, all three albums, as well as the forthcoming album, present some kind of tragedy—a descent into madness, death, and a looming cataclysmic event. I guess like a gravedigger, I’m not an optimist! (Laughs) But each concept has what I believe is a positive resolution. In that way, the concepts are similar. Musically, the three albums share similar traits, too. As I mentioned earlier, The Psychedelic Ensemble music is infused with prog, fusion, and classical influences. But each album selects one of these genres as a central influence.
Gert Hulshof: Are you familiar with the Prog scene in general and specifically the festival scene in the U.S. with NearFest, RosFest, etc.?
TPE: Yes, I am going to RoSfest this May. I have no idea who is performing, but I’ll be there.
Gert Hulshof: Are there plans of forming a band to play your music live?
TPE: My small staff and I worked for several months last spring to organize a tour performing The Dream of the Magic Jongleur. I had a great list of musicians who had signed on to accompany me. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with a serious illness that required major surgery from which I am still recovering. The tour plans had to be left behind.
Gert Hulshof: What is your experience with the music industry and the new internet music scene?
TPE: I’ve had to do just about every kind of work there is in the music industry–I’ve performed, composed, arranged, orchestrated, engineered, produced . . . you name it. Regarding the internet: it is remarkable how one can disseminate music worldwide with the click of a button. However, with a different click, one can also pirate music—that’s a drag. I’d like to know the addresses of the people who steal my music. I’d go their houses and steal all their records—ha!
Gert Hulshof: Without losing your anonymity, are you involved in any other bands or projects and what are your plans for the near future?
TPE: These days I record tracks with other bands occasionally. I recently produced a recording with a young band. In the next two years I plan to do more production work and arranging for other artists. I do a ton of writing for other performers, which is my main activity in the business beyond The Psychedelic Ensemble.
Gert Hulshof: One final question, is there anything you want to add to this interview?
TPE: Yes, I am very grateful to have the opportunity to interview with you at DPRP. Many thanks to all the DPRP readers who have taken an interest in my music. I deeply appreciate all of the support. Thank you, Gert.