Interview with Vienna Circle
Menno von Brucken Fock
Vienna Circle is a project of Paul and Jack Davis. The brothers grew up in the rural Wiltshire (UK) and got hooked on progressive music from an early age onwards. Paul and Jack recently released their second studio album Silhouette Moon and are eager to start writing music for their next album. Paul & Jack were kind enough to explain how it all started and how they manage to control the whole process from writing music to selling an album.
Menno: How did you guys get interested in music and when did you start playing?
Paul: As kids we were exposed to our dad’s music collection which was always playing in and around the house or in the car. So we had prog drilled into us as far back as we can remember. I got my first guitar when I was about 14 years old after seeing a T-Rex tribute band. I did what most people do and gave up when I realized I couldn’t play it straight away. A couple of years later our school allowed us the use of a rehearsal space during our lunch breaks which led me and 2 others to form a band. So I took up playing the guitar again. During this time we were obsessed by Dream Theater’s ‘Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes from a Memory’ album. It was at this time I started learning to play the piano as well.
Menno: Did you go to a lot of concerts in the past and at present? Which artists?
Paul: I would say we don’t go to as many concerts as we’d like at the moment. We have seen Dream Theater on numerous occasions in recent years, along with Roger Waters, Paul McCartney, Porcupine Tree, Transatlantic, Neal Morse, to name a few. We are also going to watch Camel in October which we are extremely excited about.
Menno: Did you get a ‘real’ education on composition, an instrument or production side issues?
Paul: We both studied live performance at college which touched upon music notation and music tech. In terms of lessons, we are both self taught in all the instruments we play.
Menno: When did decide you wanted to do an album and subsequently a second album and why ‘just’ the two of you?
Paul: We were both in separate bands throughout school and college. When these bands fell apart, Jack being a bass player and myself being a guitarist we thought we’d start up a band together. Initially the plan was to find a full time drummer and vocalist but finding a drummer and vocalist that were of a similar age (teenagers at the time) that shared the desire to play progressive rock proved unsuccessful. We started writing ‘White Clouds‘ anyway and by the time the album was finished we still hadn’t found either a drummer or a vocalist. I think we grew to like the idea that it was just the two of us and didn’t feel that the introduction of additional full time band members would benefit us in terms of writing songs. Though working with other musicians on recordings is a massive benefit to us, I think the writing partnership works nicely as it is and would possibly be disturbed should other writers be introduced.
Menno: Why “Vienna Circle” ? Any Austrian background?
Jack: No Austrian background. We came across the Vienna Circle when we were writing the music for White Clouds. When the time came to decide on a band name we were incredibly indecisive. Vienna Circle was on the short-list and it stood out from the rest of our options. It just seemed somehow to fit with what we were writing and we were happy to go with it.
Menno: The second album is out now: how were the sales from White Clouds?
Jack: They were greater in number than we had considered. I think the most overwhelming outcome though was how widespread the sales were. We are truly humble to have listeners and fans from all over the world.
Menno: What gear do you own?
Paul: My set up for both White Clouds and Silhouette Moon is as follows: Paul Reed Smith Custom 22 Electric Guitar, Ibanez Custom Electric Guitar, Fender Acoustic Guitar, Marshall EL84 20/20 Valve Power Amplifier with Marshall 1922 Cabs, Boss Effects, Roland GR-33 Guitar Synth, Roland Keyboards, Korg Piano. On Silhouette Moon I used a Fender Strat for the first time on few of the guitar solos. I have to admit that I wasn’t a fan before this but now I love them. Jack uses a Pedulla Rapture Bass Guitar, Boss Effects and a Korg Piano.
Menno: With two albums out it might be attractive to start thinking about playing live. Have you considered going out on the road and what’s the outcome?
Paul: Live playing has been discussed and we would both love to try and put a band together and start rehearsing soon. We both use to play live with old bands and it is something we miss doing, but with Vienna Circle only having the 2 of us we will need to find musicians willing to tour with us which isn’t always easy with a limited budget. Of course the more interest there is in us, the more likely this will happen.
Menno: It seems there’s still reasonably fair interest in progressive rock in the UK, Europe as well as in many other countries. When did you start to listen to progressive rock and which albums in particular stand out?
Paul: The first time I knowingly discovered progressive rock was when I was about 14 and I was hooked on ‘Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes from a memory‘. From then on I’d say the whole Dream Theater back catalogue, Spock’s Beard V and Snow, Transatlantic and Liquid Tension Experiment were the start of our relationship with prog rock.
Menno: Your music is very melodic and I hear so many influences: Beatles, Morse & Spock’s Beard, Anathema, Pink Floyd, Camel, Dire Straits, BJH, Steven Wilson, maybe even Jethro Tull, Eagles and probably more…. what’s your view?
Paul: Well these are all bands we listen to so I imagine our music could indeed sound like a combination of all of the above. We don’t set out to write a song that sounds like another song but you may be able to guess who we have been listening to. I’m sure that is the same with most bands. Saying that I think we have created quite a unique sound with both of our albums. I don’t think you should shy away from your influences, I think it’s the combination of the music you listen to that makes a new sound. To me it’s important for bands to move on with their sound on each album as well to keep it interesting and stop it becoming predictable.
Menno: How do you compose: in solitude or together?
Paul: Generally I will come up with a load of parts, melodies and arrangements and in most cases put together the demo tracks in solitude before meeting with Jack to fine tune the tracks and incorporate any ideas he will put forward. On ‘White Clouds‘ the lyrics were pretty much split 50/50 whereas almost all the lyrics on ‘Silhouette Moon‘ were written by Jack. We both tend to do a bit of everything but during the writing process of ‘Silhouette Moon’ we seem to have found our roles in the band a bit more. I will provide say 80% of the music and Jack will provide 80% of the lyrics. It seems to work well for us.
Menno: How long did it take you to record Silhouette Moon?
Jack: We recorded all the drums, bass and guitars over at the Monkey Puzzle House Studios. Perhaps most renowned in our genre for being the studios where Porcupine Tree spent a bit of time recording ‘The Incident‘. We were there for 5 days 4 nights. The vocals and other instruments such as saxophone, clarinet and flute we recorded at the Huddersfield University. Which took approximately 4 days to complete.
Menno: What’s the role of Tom Davenport and Alex Micklewright (and all other guests)?
Paul: Something that was great about this album was working with some other great musicians. I tend to write the flute, clarinet, and saxophone parts on a keyboard but it was really cool to get Jess, Dave and Patch involved giving us a real authentic sound. We had Alex Micklewright playing the drums on this album who was incredible. He managed to record the whole album in about 8 hours. The album was mostly recorded at Monkey Puzzle House Studios, engineered by Rupert Matthews and Tom Peters. This was a great experience for us as White Clouds was mostly recorded from home. Tom Davenport was helping in many aspects behind the scenes sourcing recording locations, personnel and more.
Menno: Is it really so, that the two of you do everything yourselves (compositions, playing most of the instruments, arrangements, artwork, selling the album, marketing, press)?
Paul: We try, where possible, to do everything between myself and Jack to ensure that we have as much control as possible and are not reliant so much on others if we need a little extra here and there. Although we don’t perform the parts on the albums, all of the flute, clarinet and saxophone and orchestral arrangements were written by myself. The drums are mostly written by ourselves to a demo stage but Alex Micklewright added his personal touch to the final recordings. Jack has learnt how to edit video which is proved very useful for album promo trailers and our ‘making of’ feature film along with designing our website and store. It is useful to be able to produce the artwork myself also. Artwork for an album goes way beyond the front cover to the CD. For this album we have needed artwork for the album, the DVD, the website, and in the future we will no doubt need it for t-shirts, vinyl, tour posters etc. The list keeps on growing, but in doing the artwork ourselves we have no limitations. If we require a new piece artwork based on the Silhouette Moon theme we can just get on with it rather than have to involve others, which costs and holds us back time wise.
Menno: So far which tracks are the ones you are most proud of?
Paul: That’s a hard one to answer but I think I’d say ‘White Clouds Finale‘ and ‘Her Green Eyes Blew Goodbye‘ from the album ‘White Clouds‘ and ‘Dreams Presage‘, ‘Ballad Of Night‘ and ‘Eternity‘ from ‘Silhouette Moon‘.
Menno: Have you done anything else with regard to composing music apart from Vienna Circle?
Paul: I have hours of ‘Film/Orchestral’ pieces of music written that I am yet to produce proper professional recordings of. I imagine I will just keep storing them up until I find somewhere to use them whether it be for Vienna Circle or not we will see. We are both huge fans of film and TV music and hope to do something with it in the future.
Menno: Are you trying to make a living out of making music or do you have ‘ordinary’ jobs as well?
Paul: The last two albums have taken a long time to complete during the recording/production phases and this is mainly due to having full time jobs alongside Vienna Circle. It’s quite hard to find the time between the day jobs. The dream is to wake up every day, write a new song and earn a living out of those songs. So I guess you can say we are trying to make a living out of music whilst at the same time making a living out of ‘ordinary jobs’.
Menno: How do your mom and dad feel about what you’re doing?
Jack: Our parents are big fans of the music. I think they just want a quicker turnaround between albums….
Menno: How’s the music business in the UK these days?
Jack: It’s a difficult one for us to have an opinion on because so much of our business is pushed to an on-line audience, and the UK’s response to that is much the same as in central Europe. I think this question is one best answered by the bands that take to the road to establish themselves. But I think it’s desire that holds it together rather than profits.
Menno: Do you still believe albums, vinyl etcetera has a future?
Paul: We hope so. To us an album is all about the whole package with the artwork and having something to hold. An album needs to be written as an album and not just individual tracks. They need to have a nice flow and curve to them. Individual tracks are great, but it’s important they fit in context with an overall product. Although our songs can be seen as individual tracks, for us the product is the album. It would be a shame if music were to go completely digital. Hopefully vinyl will become popular again.
Menno: How about your future plans?
Paul: We can safely say that we are planning to write another Vienna Circle album. With both albums we have learnt so much from others around us and we are becoming more and more competent in doing more of the jobs associated with getting an album out there. So hopefully it won’t take as long this time. We also cannot rule out playing live at some point. If we can get enough interest this is something that we are keen to do.
Menno: Thank you for your time!!