Synaesthesia are the hottest new prog band to hit the scene. Voted ‘Top Tip for 2014’ in Prog Magazine, this youthful band have just released their eponymous debut album on the Giant Electric Pea label. The promising quintet also played their first gig at the Boerderij in support of IQ back in December to a wowed audience. DPRP’s Basil Francis was able to catch up with 20-year-old lead singer, keyboardist and founding member Adam Warne to share a few words regarding the new band.
Basil: Hi there Adam! Thanks for taking the time to speak to DPRP about your new album.
Adam: Hi Basil. Pleasure to speak to you. No problem at all.
Basil: Your debut album was released just two days ago. How are you feeling about it?
Adam: Proud and excited. It’s been an amazing journey and I still can’t quite get my head around it. I wrote a lot of the music on that album a few years ago with little to no intention of getting it released professionally on a label so to have it recorded properly in a studio and to be working with Mike Holmes and Rob Aubrey, two very important people whom I look up to with great respect – it’s quite something, I must say. A lot of effort, time and passion went into writing and recording the album from everyone involved – so I do very much hope that the listener enjoys what they hear.
Basil: Hopefully no tension or intervention though! When did releasing your music on a professional label start to become a reality for you?
Adam: For the most part, the recording process was very smooth! I loved every moment down at Aubitt Studios in Southampton. I felt like we had quite a nice little team going on, myself, Rob, Mike and Joe Lewis-Brown who helps out at the studio. He had quite a big involvement in the album and I’d be great if people knew that!
With regards to the entire thing becoming a reality… well, I suppose it was the first train journey down to Southampton to the studio. It was at that point where I thought, ‘well then… here I am. I’m signed to GEP and I’m about to make the first bit of recording for the album.’
Basil: Take me back to the beginning. How did Synaesthesia start?
Adam: It all started out as a casual ‘bedroom project’ I suppose. It was all for fun and as I said, not a lot of intention of it going on to becoming anything big. It was when I had my good friend Nikolas try putting some guitars to what I had at the time that it just suddenly clicked. It brought in a whole new layer and really enhanced what I had. I absolutely loved it. He was really up for working on the project with me, so we continued working together for the next year and a bit together. That was Synaesthesia back in the days before it was called Synaesthesia!
Basil: That brings me to my next question, why the name ‘Synaesthesia’?
Adam: I toyed with different names briefly but just couldn’t settle on anything. I’m not quite sure why the word ‘Synaesthesia’ did it for me but it just clicked when I first heard it. I was in a lecture at university when the lecturer came onto the topic of what synaesthesia actually is and how it affects people. I loved the sounds and the definition of the word. I felt like it was almost fitting with the music somehow. I noted it down and later that day made a firm decision to go with it.
For those who don’t know, synaesthesia is a mental disorder which involves a crossing of the senses. For example, certain colours conjure up a taste, or pieces of music or even specific notes make you think of a colour. I recently read a report in the newspaper of someone who named every single station on the London Underground network with a food item according to whatever taste the station name reminded him of!
Basil: Well, I think it’s a great title, although quite prone to misspellings and mispronunciations, don’t you think?
Adam: Unfortunately, yes. Even though it clicked with me, I knew we’d forever have this problem of misspellings and mispronunciations. Almost leads me to regretting the decision but for now, it stays! If anything, I now take a light-hearted approach to the situation by purposefully misspelling it myself in ridiculous unidentifiable ways. Sinner’s Theatre?
Basil: You’re not the only ones of course. I interviewed the manager of a 70s band called Fruupp and it seems they had it even worse than you. And let’s not forget other examples like Gnidrolog, Quatermass and Spirogyra. It seems prog has a rich tradition of hard to spell band titles!
Adam: Hah! Of course. I remember when I first met Ollie and we talked about the title. I asked him what he thought about it. His reply was a simple “It’s prog isn’t it? Don’t worry, prog fans like complicated things”.
Adam: I’ve been listening to prog since a young age. Almost unintentionally you could say. I grew up listening to it as my father would always put bands like Camel and Jadis on the stereo. With this engrained into my mind, I started taking it seriously and listening to progressive music in my own time. Some of my first encounters of prog through my own exploration of the genre were bands like Dream Theater, Riverside and Rush. I suppose it’s natural that I then wanted to try writing Progressive Rock music of my own when the time came.
Basil: It’s interesting that you almost ‘inherited’ the music from your father, as it seems that most younger fans rebel against what their parents like. Of course, my dad liked punk music back in the day!
Adam: Even though I was growing up with it, it wasn’t until around the age of 13 to 14 that I started taking my own serious interest in the genre. Before discovering the bands I mentioned, I had a somewhat embarrassing music taste if I look back to it now. But then again, I suppose at that young age – who doesn’t?
Basil: I personally went through an ’80s’ phase myself. Dark, dark times. Now for a more serious question, why do you think it is that so few young people enjoy listening to progressive rock?
Adam: I think it comes down to exposure. Even though it’s making a slow but definite resurgence – most people aren’t hearing the music. There will always be those types of people out there who this music would naturally appeal to them, but if they don’t ever hear it – how will they know that exists?
All it needs is someone or some band to come along to make a bridge and crossover these progressive elements with mainstream elements. You could argue that Muse are doing this. I reckon they’re doing it well, but one band isn’t enough.
Basil: Might Synaesthesia be this new band?
Adam: As I always say – one thing at a time. Let’s see where this goes.
Basil: How conscious are you of trying to bring prog to a younger audience?
Adam: I can try my damn best. I’m writing stuff at the moment that’s very much song-based with progressive elements. Lots of hooks, but strange bits and bobs here and there. I’d like to think that Synaesthesia has the ability of being a group that’s not about being strictly prog. We can reach out to other genres if we want to. Why not? Some could even argue that this is being prog it itself! Look at Simon Godfrey’s latest project, Shineback!
Basil: Ahh, the classic debate over whether music is ‘Prog’ or ‘Progressive’; I’ve had that one many times. I often feel that a lot of prog nowadays is simply unoriginal, bands simply copying other more successful bands and throwing a few weird time signatures in, therefore not being ‘progressive’ at all. Would you agree with this?
Adam: It really is a whole can of worms. If you open your mind, you could even argue that there are lots of non-prog bands out there being progressive. Very much so. But that’s something else. I don’t like unoriginality. There is a fine line between being unoriginal and pastiching something with a new approach and people need to realise this. For the most part, of course I’m going to agree that simply copying a more successful band and throwing a few weird time signatures in is unoriginal. What’s the point in this?
Basil: I don’t know, but I can show you countless examples of bands that do this. I’m very happy that Synaesthesia isn’t one of them, as it’s great to hear a fresh approach from a young band, thus keeping prog alive! How would you describe the music of Synaesthesia to someone who hadn’t heard of you before?
Adam: I was recently asked to explain the sound of the music in a metaphorical way. My answer was, ‘like a Twix. Layers of crunchiness, and gooeyness wrapped in a lovely soft chocolaty exterior but there is more than meets the eye.’ On a serious note, I’m not sure how I’d describe it. Modern prog? I suppose elements of traditional prog rock with modern aspects. More song based than the usual traditional prog rock. Lots of synths.
Basil: It’d also be interesting to know who are your biggest influences on this album.
Adam: I have quite a few influences but I must stress that I’m in no way trying to shadow them or copy their styles. Some of the main influences for the music were Frost*, Porcupine Tree, IQ, Dream Theater and Muse.
Basil: Let’s move onto the album itself. Synaesthesia starts with the twenty-two minute piece Time, Tension & Intervention. What motivated the writing of an epic song?
Adam: It’s funny to think that it started out at a six-minute track. Would you believe me if I said this? It’s first incarnation was simply what is now known as the Past section which comes in directly after the big instrument section in the beginning albeit a slightly different version. I felt like it needed something else, so the next addition I made to it was the An Excursion instrumental section before. I then kept on adding bits on after the Past section. I suppose I got a bit carried away.
Basil: Ha, maybe Supper’s Ready was written this way, who knows? Once you realised it had gotten so bloated, was it difficult to find an ending that was suitably epic?
Adam: When it reached a certain point, I knew that it had to go into a nice long guitar solo. Because why not? It worked in the end. I wouldn’t say it was difficult. The main thing that was difficult about this section was having a solo that kept the interest and built up gradually. Ollie really pulled it off I reckon. The only change that the end had from the demo version was that bit where vocals come back between the two sections of guitar solo and the addition of that little acoustic finish.
Basil: My favourite bit on that track (and perhaps on the whole album) is the five-minute instrumental An Excursion, which I described in my review as “a sumptuous segment taking the listener on a rollercoaster through many different themes and moods.” To me, it really sums up the best of what Synaesthesia is about and gives a joyful triumphant kick to the start of the album. How on earth did you go about composing that bit? Details are appreciated!
Adam: Maybe it’s the key changes and intricate melodies that keep the interest of the listener. It was so long ago now so I can’t quite remember all the details of how I went about creating the piece. It was all composed in Apple’s Logic Pro software, section by section. I just kept adding to it bit by bit but doing this in a way that I knew would keep interest. I didn’t repeat any two sections exactly the same. The way the instrumental sounds now is how it’s always sounded since the very first demo. Not a single section has been changed or re-written since which I’m quite proud of!
All in all, I wanted to create something that was mad. Something bombastic and almost over the top. I remember going through a phase of experimenting with a lot of time signatures when writing too, especially 13/8 which was my favourite at the time. How very trivial and sad – to have a favourite time signature.
Basil: Oh don’t worry, we all have one; mine is 7/8! Really, I must congratulate you, because that part takes you on a journey, and it all seems to flow naturally. I especially like the addition of acoustic guitars, which stops it from being too synthy.
Adam: Well thank you very much. Means a lot. Once I started working with Nikolas – it was a conscious decision across all the demos we had at the time to bring guitars more to the forefront. Although, I say that and overall the album is quite synth-heavy still so you can probably imagine what it used to be like! Now that we have two guitarists, at this stage who knows what the next album will sound like!
Basil: Indeed! I look forward to hearing it! While we’re on the topic, can you explain what the lyrics of Time, Tension & Intervention are about?
Adam: At the time of writing the lyrics for the entire album, I’d just had massive falling out with someone whom I’d considered a best friend. Of course, how incredibly soppy and stereotypical for a teenager to write about such themes. Time, Tension and Intervention details how we knew each other, how it all came to be and my doubt for who this person actually is and the finer details
As I’m on the topic, I might as well explain the how the lyrical theme continues across the album. Sacrifice details my thought process of getting rid of this person and cutting them out of my life. Epiphany covers my sudden realisation that I’m in a position where that person is affecting and somewhat destroying my mental stability. My shouting out of the lyric “I want to go home” really is what it says on the tin. Good Riddance. Well… that one’s self-explanatory.
When it comes to the end of the album with Life’s What You Make of It, this was the last song I wrote in the sessions for the album and as soppy as it sounds I wrote this for my girlfriend, Rebecca. The lyrics detail a sudden change in life, how you shouldn’t let the past affect your future. Simply put, hang on in there!
It’s not the best lyrics in the world, I whole-heartedly admit. But you must remember – not only was this project my first experience of taking singing seriously – but my first time experimenting with lyric writing.
Basil: I recently read a quote you’d made that prog has “lyrics that explore different territories.” I’m not sure how well you could argue this in the case of Life’s What You Make of It.
Adam: Haha! Well yes, Life’s What You Make of It was actually a conscious decision to be soppy. When I wrote it, I approached it with a prog-meets-soppy-love-song point of view. This song was always like this from the start and was a direct reaction to the rest of the album which was just full of depressing lyrics.
Basil: I’d not really seen it from a concept album point of view, so in that sense I guess there is some harmony to it. Fair play! Which is the most fun track on the album to play live?
Adam: I would probably say Noumenon. It’s a lot of fun. Not too difficult to play so I don’t need to think about it too much. And of course it gives me a chance to move around and get jiggly.
Basil: That particular track sounds a lot like An Excursion. What’s the reason for this?
Adam: As the album can almost be considered to be a concept album, at that point – it felt appropriate to bring back that theme. I really liked some of the melodies in An Excursion so I really wanted to bring them back one last time. It’s like the music is the reflecting the theme by saying “Hey! Remember me? Yeah, I’m still here. I’ve not gone anywhere yet!”.
Basil: That’s excellent. I also wanted to briefly discuss the title to that piece, as Noumenon is not a word I’d heard before, but appears to represent some complex idea of Kantian philosophy. Where have you heard that word before?
Adam: I’d heard this word from the very same lecturer that said the word ‘synaesthesia’ a few months before. Again, same situation. Liked the sound and the definition. The definition of a ‘thing not necessarily being a thing’, almost like the opposite of a ‘phenomenon’ really appealed to me.
Basil: It’s a great word, and I’m sure you’ll get more prog fans involved in the philosophy of Kant now! On the album, you play both the drums alongside your main responsibilities as keyboardist and lead singer. How did you find recording several parts for the same song?
Adam: A lot of fun. I was used to this approach and if anything it was a much easier affair in the studio as I didn’t have to worry about the recording end of things. I just needed to get on with playing the instruments and singing. I also played bass for the demos, so it was great to hand that over to Mike as he does a much better job than me! It’s amazing what you can achieve with technology.
Basil: How long have you been a drummer for? For that matter, how long have you played keyboards?
Adam: I’ve been drumming since I was 14 and have been playing piano since the age of 8 although not properly until the age of around 11. I had lessons at 8, lost interest which was eventually rekindled but by then I had lost all the skills I’d picked up from the lessons. I didn’t want to bother with lessons though, so I self-taught.
Basil: As a drummer, who are your biggest influences?
Adam: Probably Gavin Harrison, Mike Portnoy and Neil Peart.
Basil: All great drummers! One last point about the album, how was it to finally work with one of your biggest prog heroes, Mike Holmes of IQ?
Adam: It was fantastic. Lots of fun! He’s definitely the biggest perfectionist I know. Every single aspect of the album down the individual bass notes had thought put it into it in terms of how it sounded, where they were in relation to the music and to the mix. Was quite an experience. I’d love to continue working with him for future albums. In our break times, it was always loads of fun asking him little fanboy questions as well. I learned a lot about IQ in those months of recording and know stuff that most people don’t know!
Basil: I have to say, for a debut album, the sound quality is utterly exceptional, each instrument has their own space and is perfectly crisp. Most debut albums don’t sound anywhere near this good so you’re very lucky indeed! Who do you have to thank for that?
Adam: As well as all the work Mike put in, I must thank Rob Aubrey as well. He’s an absolute wizard when it comes to engineering and without him, we wouldn’t have been able to spend all those days down in his studio working into ridiculous hours of the night.
He is hands down, the best engineer I know. Probably more known for his work with Big Big Train, IQ and many other bands.
Basil: Your album features gorgeous artwork from Freyja Dean, the daughter of the illustrious Roger Dean. How was that arranged?
Adam: Whilst we were half way through recording the album, I began to put some thought into album artwork. I was thinking big, not completely seriously but just because I wanted to see how far we could go. I noted some names down, asked for suggestions. I even put Storm Thorgerson on the list! Coincidentally and unfortunately, he died the very next day. Strange coincidence. I spoke to Mike and Rob about it and it turns out that Rob could put me in contact with Roger Dean. This blew my mind so I said yeah let’s go for it and see what happens! Obviously, this was a bit out of our budget but we were given a more fitting opportunity. Roger’s daughter, Freyja. New generation of prog artwork artist for a new generation of prog! I couldn’t be more happy with the result.
Adam: Yes, we met on a number of occasions. First meet up was when she invited me down to her university to watch a presentation she was giving. But when it came to working on the artwork itself, that was all done on Skype.
Basil: How was she to work with?
Adam: We had lots of fun planning it out. She’s great to work with and full of fantastic ideas. I’m looking forward to working with her more in the future.
Basil: When did the recruiting of the rest of the band come about?
Adam: When it came to the time that Nikolas decided to leave the project due to his work with other bands over in Norway, I began my search for a new guitarist. I met Ollie at a Spock’s Beard gig in London, May last year and we hit it off instantly. He was really interested in the project. He helped finish off the remaining guitar parts. Once the recording was done, I began my search for the rest of the band. I spoke to Sam who I’d known for a while through my university course and he was interested too. So I went from having no guitarist to two guitarists! I met bassist, Peter through engineer, Rob. And finally drummer, Robin through a post I made on the IQ forums!
Basil: I expect you’ll be touring soon with the new line-up. Can you give me any details about that?
Adam: At this point I can’t give away too much. Not because I’m not allowed to, but simply because I have nothing to give away. We’d like to tour, but it’s too early to say what’s happening as we’re still in the process of speaking to the right people.
Basil: How difficult is it to juggle band responsibilities and University work?
Adam: Surprisingly not too bad. I just need to ensure I write everything down. Reminders, calendar schedule, notes. As long as I keep organised and make sure I know what I’m doing and what needs to get done, I’m fine.
Basil: How many gigs have Synaesthesia done now?
Adam: Only our debut gig over in Holland supporting IQ. Can’t wait to do more though!
Basil: What a gig it was too! A very special debut performance indeed, and let’s hope for many more in the future. Thanks for coming to do this interview Adam, it’s been great to speak to you.
Adam: No problem at all, Basil. Was a pleasure. Thanks very much!
Since this interview was conducted, Synaesthesia have been confirmed for the band line-up of the HRH: Prog 2 festival in Hafan y Môr, Wales and will play on Thursday 20th March.
Official band website: http://synaesthesiamusic.com/