Interview with Eddie Jobson (UKZ / U-Z)
by DPRP’s Menno von Brucken Fock
At the age of 17, keyboard and violin virtuoso Eddie Jobson started his professional career in Curved Air. Subsequently he played in Roxy Music, King Crimson, then with Frank Zappa (with Terry Bozzio and Patrick O’Hearn) and of course a major role for him in UK. When UK broke up around 1980, he became a special guest with Jethro Tull, but after nearly 10 years of being in bands Eddie began to get tired of being a ‘member of a band’ and decided to devote all his time and energy to solo projects.
In the meantime he had been recording with artists such as Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay, Spyro Gyra, John Entwhistle and surely one shouldn’t forget his contribution on one of the greatest albums of that era: Roger Glover‘s Butterfly Ball. The fruits of hard labor in his own studio were Zinc – The Green Album in 1983 and the electronic solo album Theme Of Secrets. While the fans were eagerly anticipating the successor to Theme Of Secrets, Jobson chose a different path, far away from electronic music or progressive rock. He became involved in working for TV and Hollywood and got himself international recognition with his work with the Bulgarian Women’s Choir.
In 2008, after some 27 years of absence, Eddie made a triumphant comeback in Russia and in 2009 in New York with his new band UKZ. The members were recruited via YouTube and are from all over the world: the singer is Aaron Lippert, originally an American but residing in Belgium, virtuoso drummer from Hanover (Germany) Marco Minnemann, Trey Gunn, whom we know from King Crimson, plays bass or rather the “Warr” guitar, he lives in Seattle (USA). Last but not least on the guitar he found an incredibly talented musician named Alex Machacek from Austria.
After the first concert in New York, there were four more shows in Japan and there was the critically acclaimed EP Radiation. More recently Eddie toured with top-notch musicians like Greg Howe, Tony Levin, Simon Phillips and former UK member John Wetton as “U-Z”, playing songs from UK, King Crimson, The Mahavishnu Orchestra and his own solo works. Eddie will soon play a few shows in Western Europe. He will play in the Netherlands for the first time in about 30 years at Boerderij on August 19 with Alex Machacek (guitar), Marco Minnemann (drums) and Marc Bonilla (bass & vox).
In a very long chat (thanks again Eddie!) I have tried to get answers to questions like why Eddie decided to start playing live again and what he has been doing for the past 27 years…
MENNO: Well, Eddie some thirty years ago you decided to stop touring after having toured extensively with Jethro Tull; what were the reasons to stop performing live?
EDDIE: That was in 1981. When I left the Jethro Tull tour at that time I didn’t particularly intend to not ever go out on the road again, but it just worked out that way. To be honest, the live concert aspect of doing what I did never appealed to me nearly as much as the studio side of it; mainly because I’m a ‘details’ person and I prefer to be in the studio in a much more controlled environment, more comfortable and being able to focus on small things. You know, you can’t really do that in a big stage show, then it’s not about small things, it’s about big things and that has never been where my real interest was. Added to that, unlike many other people, I never did it for the adulation or for the audience’s applause, it didn’t feed me that much – being cheered by 25,000 people who probably would be cheering just as much for somebody whom I didn’t respect a week later. That sort of recognition never had much meaning to me, so it was a fairly easy thing for me to stop performing and just focus on making music in the studio.
I felt the progressive movement was over at the time and that’s why I split up UK, but I don’t think I fully realized to what degree it was over until we reached the mid-80’s, It became apparent that the whole industry had changed and there was no market for progressive music anymore; people were just not that interested. I recognized that, but I was still very young, early-to-mid twenties, so I needed to find a different outlet. It started out with “Theme Of Secrets” on the Private Music label (then owned by Peter Baumann of Tangerine Dream fame – MvBF), which was a good outlet for musicians like myself and players like Jerry Goodman. However Private Music rapidly turned into a different kind of outlet for artists like Yanni or John Tess and went on into the kind of music New Age turned into, so that was starting to get unsatisfactory too.
MENNO: Instead of trying to put out a successor to “Theme Of Secrets”, you got involved in commercials, television and so on; how did that happen?
EDDIE: Actually they approached me because of “Theme Of Secrets”. The sounds of that album may sound ‘eighties’ today but at the time they sounded quite fresh; the breathy voice samples and that sort of thing. I had just bought the very first polyphonic Synclavier in New York and just like the CS-80 – I also bought the very first CS-80 in England so I was able to use those sounds on the first UK album, so they became identified as “my sounds”- similarly, I was able to use the Synclavier in the same way. The breathy voice sounds I ended up using hadn’t been heard before and people recognized these as being very fresh. My first commercial score won the Clio Award for “Best Original Score” because it sounded so different from what everybody else had been doing at the time. This led me into scoring to picture. It was a challenge, but I love to learn, I love to grow. It is what I’m always looking for, it’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.
Scoring to picture was a learning curve for me because I had to comprehend what the technical sides of scoring were all about. Even though I started in advertising, the commercials I was doing were very high quality, with top directors. They were almost like mini-films, some of them were for French cinema. They were not some crass jingles for American television; some of them were 3-4 minutes long and beautifully shot. I took a lot of pleasure in that and it led directly into scoring for television, and that in turn led into some work on movies, once I moved to Los Angeles. Generally I’ve always found working alone in my studio to be a much more creative and satisfying way of making music.
To be honest I was finished being in groups and that was also one of the reasons I split up UK because I’d had it with the politics of being in a band. Even at the age of 24 I’d already been in enough groups and it really was a bit tiresome so I didn’t intend to be in a band again. I made a small detour when I joined Yes briefly and then remembered why I didn’t want to be in a group again, so I left and that was it; that was the last group I ever was in. Even with the Jethro Tull tour I didn’t want to be in the group. I made a point to be recognized as a ‘special guest’ on that album, tour and video. I still don’t consider myself in a group, what I’m doing today are my solo projects so I can say definitively that my days in a band, like a democratic band, are over.
MENNO: Isn’t the only difference that you are in control now?
EDDIE: Well sure, that helps. I do all of these live concerts playing the old music from the ‘70s and even if that may seem that I’m going back, to me I’m not. To me I’m moving forward doing things I’ve never done before, which is to actually perform as a solo artist, to have my own choice of musicians and to be able to invite guests to join the band. I decide what we play and how we play it, where we play and, you know, that suits me better.
MENNO: Can you tell us a bit more about the Synclavier? Is it some kind of synthesizer?
EDDIE: First of all the Synclavier isn’t really a synthesizer although it did have a fairly limited synthesizer part of it, a f(requency) m(odulated) synthesis unit, but very ‘early days’ and the FM part of it was completely upstaged by the Yamaha DX 7 when it came out. Essentially the strength of the Synclavier was that it was the first or the second high quality sampling machine: you had the Fairlight and you had the Synclavier; quality-wise they were fairly similar but the Synclavier had a much better tactile interface. It has a really good button panel, mainly used for recording into the sequencer, but a very hands-on sequencer: you don’t have to do everything by dragging and clicking, which you still have to do with most sequencer programs like Logic or Pro Tools. You could pull out a sound with two button hits, throw a sound back in the sequencer with two hits, take a sequencer part playing a flute and swop it around and change it into a brass sample with just two button hits and store it with just two button hits.
Then the keyboard – the keyboard incidentally was taken from the old Prophet VS I think it was – was very nice; it had ‘polyphonic after-touch’ like the CS-80. It became a fast, efficient, well designed way to deal with samples and be able to build up massive multi-track orchestral or rock pieces, with hundreds of tracks from a huge sample library. I’m one of the few people who still uses it as a center piece of my studio, but I don’t really use it anymore as a sampler. I just use it for the sequencer and for the button panel and I now have it all integrated into Logic and into the MIDI devices and MIDI instruments and I use the Synclavier as a control interface for a whole array of sampled instruments and plug ins.
MENNO: Most of us prog-fans probably have no idea about the conception of commercials, what it takes to score to television or to pictures and what kind of money you can make doing this sort of work. Can you comment?
EDDIE: For starters I haven’t done any commercials since the early nineties. Actually they approached me last week to start re-using some of the ones I did in the late eighties. But to answer your question: doing commercials was actually the first time in my career I ever made any money (laughing)! So obviously that was an added bonus you know. Not only did I have a new creative outlet when the record companies, and the general public to a degree, weren’t interested in my kind of music anymore, but I got the chance to work with some very creative directors. It gave me a chance to be flown to Paris for example to record spots over there, or to Los Angeles to work with African singers, so I was getting to do a lot of interesting things musically and getting paid handsomely for it, and also winning awards. So the recognition for my work was there too as well as the financial rewards.
I got a lot of recognition in the seventies for being the progressive keyboard player and violinist but there had never been much in terms of financial reward out of any of it. In those days the agents, the record companies and the publishing companies were making a fortune but generally making pretty crummy deals with the artists. We had the luxury of this fantastic outlet and everything was set up for us back then, the studios were paid for and we simply went in and made the records we wanted to make with almost no interference from anybody. The record would come out and there would be a record label who would put promotional money into it and provide tour support to go out on the road and so on. In many ways it was a great structure for artists if you were lucky enough to get in to that ‘world’, which I was. But, at the end of the day, there wasn’t much money in it.
MENNO: You’ve spent an awful lot of time, some 8 months per year for 4 consecutive years, on a TV-series starring Don Johnson: Nash Bridges. Characteristics of the music are hard to describe but you used quite a bit of percussion, harmonicas, didgeridoo and all kinds of ‘exotic’ instruments. Would this be the perfect example of how intense working for television can be?
EDDIE: Well yes it would. Working for television is probably the most intense thing I have had to do, because the time pressures are considerable. I’ve never been able to produce music for television in the way a lot of top television composers do; they have a fairly limited palette and they repeat themselves a lot, but they get the structure down and are able to turn it out very quickly. For myself, I was trying to do something different on every show and trying to break new barriers almost every week. A lot of the basis of what I did was set by Don Johnson himself, he immediately put all those limitations on what the music could be. You know, he banned strings, he didn’t really want harmony, he didn’t really want melody: he was taking away all of the tools for composition, essentially. He wanted something hip, something more ‘world’ music and that’s why he chose me for the job: I’d been working with the Bulgarian Women’s Choir and other ethnic musicians and he liked that side of what I did.
The score was based on African percussion rhythms and then all the instruments on top, like didgeridoos, harmonicas, Asian nose flutes, all kinds of strange instruments. They were all there to give the show a different sound, just as in my commercials, but this was harder edged, trying to give it a hipper kind of tone that other TV-shows didn’t have and I think I succeeded in that. But trying to do new things almost every week was very difficult; you know I actually did an entire show with a Dick Dale type of surf guitar, and I did another show with just bagpipes and pennywhistles. Real challenges for myself to come up with a whole new tone for the show and keeping it within the parameters of what that particular episode was supposed to be about. Adding to the demands, Don was always late on the set and the shows were delayed over and over again and sometimes as late as 3 to 4 days before they were supposed to air… then I’d have three day to come up with 45 minutes of music and that led to very great pressures.
MENNO: Was it still fun then with that kind of narrow time frames?
EDDIE: Well… I guess scoring the show was fun the first year or two but after two years of doing it I started to get a little burnt out to tell you the truth. It got a little tedious with all those last minute pressures when they weren’t really necessary. Other people indulging themselves and causing everything to get delayed and still making last-minute changes to the picture the day before it was supposed to air to 15 million people! Generally, dealing with “Hollywood” is not the easiest thing and they are not really my kind of people, but as long as the creative side is challenging and rewarding, I get to stay home and make music in private.
The process of creating is where my passion is; it is not necessary for me to actually have other people hear it. As I said, I don’t do it for the applause. It’s the reason I never released “Theme Of Mystery” (supposed to be successor to “Theme Of Secrets” – MvBF) or never finished and released “Legacy”: the creative aspect is why I do it in the first place. You know, I worked on the “Legacy” album for years, on and off, and at some point I felt I had got out what I needed to get out of it and I didn’t feel the need anymore to finish it. I had learnt a lot, I had some wonderful experiences, and that had been quite enough for me: going around the world to make it, conducting the Prague Philharmonic, working with the “Bulgarian Women” in a cathedral, singing my music; working in New York with Tony Levin; working in Peter Gabriel’s studio with Steve Hackett and Bill Bruford, filming everything as well – so I had even been learning about video and documentary making. That’s a lot for one project.
I’d even written some Bulgarian poems in the archaic style of Bulgarian folk poetry. It led to me working with a professor of Balkan poetry from the university of Boston to create the poems for the Bulgarian choir to sing. People keep asking me ‘why don’t you release it’ or ‘will you ever release it’? The answer is NO, I won’t release it because I never took it to the final stage, the mechanical stage: sequencing the album, mixing everything, making a design for the album cover and getting it all manufactured, making deals with distributors, publishing companies, getting the albums in the shops, you know, that kind of stuff for me is fairly tedious.
MENNO: But surely you can imagine how disappointed all your fans will be, knowing the music has been recorded but the album will never see the light of day?
EDDIE (laughing): You’re talking about yourself are you?
MENNO (grinning): Well just a bit then…
EDDIE: You see, my whole career, especially now, is about trying to balance what I want for myself, with what other people want from me. I mean, surely I respect the fans and I’m appreciative that people have liked my music going back to the early seventies, all through the eighties with my solo stuff, and especially since I came back into the public eye a few years ago, but there are constant pressures to do what other people want me to do. If I let other people decide what I should do, I’d probably be on tour with John Wetton for the rest of my life doing In The Dead Of Night! Now, I don’t mind doing that up to a point, but that song was written 34 years ago and the format that I’ve chosen to play it in, is the U-Z project, which is a revolving all-guest project. I have to limit how much I return to the past, and how I do it. Recently I played with John Wetton in Japan and of course the Japanese promoters ‘sold’ it as a UK reunion. But it wasn’t that for me, it was just part of the U-Z project, a vehicle to pay tribute to the Prog era.
With U-Z we play music that influenced me, music I wrote, and other music from the ‘70s and ‘80s: U.K., King Crimson, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and give people a chance to hear that music once again. It satiates the need of the progressive rock public to hear the tunes they never got the chance to hear played live before. At the same time it takes the old songs off the table for any of the future projects I might want to do. If I wanted to do something wild with UKZ in concert for instance, I wouldn’t feel the need to play Alaska or Nothing To Lose, know what I mean? So my goal is to find the right balance between what people want from me and what I want for myself, and it’s particularly hard at the moment to find that balance because now I’m back on the road; I have to deal with promoters because I can’t do concerts without them. But the promoters always want to use the brand names like “UK,” or they want “Eddie Jobson from UK, playing UK”, so with a new project like UKZ, playing live is a much harder thing to do.
MENNO: You already mentioned The Bulgarian Women’s Choir a couple of times; winning awards, truly great, but a totally different genre. How did you get involved?
EDDIE: Initially I got involved as part of the Legacy project. At the time the choir was on the same label as John Wetton; he managed to ‘raid’ the record label vaults, and one of the products he managed to acquire was a live album by the Bulgarian Women’s Choir, I believe it was on the Mesa label. John played it to me and he said he thought it would be kind of cool to have me write something in this style for him to sing. I listened to it and my response was: yes this is indeed very cool, I would like to write something in that style but not for you to sing, but for them to sing! So I went out and tried to find them, get hold of their scores so I could see how their music was written and try to fully understand it. Again this was one of those musical challenges, digging into it all and trying to understand the history and the musical lineage that had led to what it was: rather strange, very dissonant, an almost Middle-Eastern-sounding complex tonality, that was really very different and challenging to the ears for a lot of people. I was really intrigued by it and I wanted to know how to compose it. So I went about listening to the music and reading about it, talking to Bulgarian people to find out about their background, how the choir was formed, who the original composers were and so on and so forth. Then looking at their scores which were written in an almost archaic style, using rarely used musical notation devices that I just vaguely remembered from my childhood music theory classes, and I figured out how they notated that yodeling-style singing they were famous for.
To my surprise I found out that everything had been written out in detail: every glottal turn, every ornamentation had been written out. And so I learnt how to write it, I went over to Bulgaria and started recording. And that wasn’t only a fun thing to do, but was also one of the most challenging and creative things I’ve done in my entire career.
MENNO: You directed the score for the movie “Brother Bear” with Phil Collins. How did you get involved?
EDDIE: It took another eight years after my early recordings with the Bulgarian Women’s Choir but eventually it all came around. I was approached by Disney to put the choir on a couple of Disney movies. I ended up working with Phil Collins who wrote a song for the choir that I arranged and I went over to Bulgaria and conducted and recorded and got to do some nice choral work on a major Disney movie. This is how I work. In most cases I start doing things because of the passion and the challenge; it may take years and years but eventually, in my experience, it usually pays back somehow (laughs). Did you know Brother Bear was a much bigger movie than people realized? It was a 250 million dollar success! After that film I did some work on the Haunted Mansion movie with Eddie Murphy; there was choir on that as well.
MENNO: Did you actually work with Phil Collins and did you do some backtracking together?
EDDIE: We didn’t actually play together, if that’s what you mean. We had only met once before. He knew who I was and of course everybody knows who he is, so we knew we shared that same background, but our focus was getting the soundtrack made for the movie. After we met and discussed the possibilities of working with the choir, he wrote a song specifically for them and then I worked with it and tried to make it fit somehow into the Bulgarian style, and harmonized it in a somewhat more dissonant way. Mark Mancina was the orchestral composer for the soundtrack and we all worked together on this. I did the recordings in Bulgaria and mixed it all so the only thing they needed to do was to push up the stereo faders and there was the choir in all its glory.
MENNO: On your website you are pictured in a room full of state of art technology. Is that your own studio?
EDDIE: Yes, it is the studio in my home and that’s where I’m sitting right now. This has been one of the advantages of working in advertising, television and film; I was able to really build up the technology and set myself up and have the funds to do it. I started that way back in New York. This is the fourth studio I’ve built and this one is actually in my house, two were in New York, and I had one in Los Angeles (Burbank) when I was working in television.
It’s been a wonderful thing for me to be able to produce anything at any time and in any style or for any kind of project I wanted to, because I’m completely self-contained and in the comfort of my own home. The whole Radiation EP was done remotely on the Internet, with musicians all over the world basically recording their parts and sending me the files here. I also produced the video from my home studio – I sent them all green screens, which they had to set up behind them and put on a DV-camera to video themselves as they were recording all their parts. So everything that was recorded on the EP was also filmed ‘live’. That’s how the Radiation video was made and that’s something else I’ve had to learn how to do… to assemble all those audio and video files, edit everything and create the graphics (such as the burning cross).
It was all for the first time for me – using Final Cut Pro software and reading the manual while producing my first video. In this case the challenge was to take what I’d learnt from scoring to picture and actually get into the video side of it more, as I had with the Bulgarian choir; filming them and figuring out how things get filmed properly and how to compile it and now how to edit as well. So I hope to do more of that.
MENNO: There has been a release from the U-Z project: a double live CD; any plans to do a DVD?
EDDIE: Yes. Actually my next project is to make a DVD of the so-called “UK reunion” concerts in Japan – with myself, John Wetton, Alex Machacek and Marco Minnemann. You know, I film all of my concerts with six little HD cameras, I’ve been doing that for a couple of years now. So what I decided to do with the footage of the concerts in Japan is to cut together a DVD. At the same time I’m remixing, re-mastering and repackaging the U-Z live album for a ‘deluxe’ version, that’s what I’m doing at the moment..
MENNO: On the Zealotslounge site (www.zealotslounge.com) you mention the members will be able to get hold of the deluxe package?
EDDIE: Oh absolutely! The Zealots always will get the priority in everything. It’s part of a new model I’m trying to create; you know, as the traditional record industry goes into complete collapse and CD sales continue to decline considerably, generally the sales of music for any individual artist, especially for artists like myself, is in decline. One has to reconsider how to remain in the business of making music. So I decided, a while ago as you may know, to turn to the fans and say, look, if you enjoy what I do and want to hear more of it, see more concerts and see me remain in the record making and touring world: why don’t you support me with a small subscription and in return I’ll work for you? It’s like in the old days with Bach or Tchaikovsky who had their own sponsors, patrons of the arts. So I thought: let the fans be my patrons of the arts and they’ll get to hear music that hasn’t been released and get to see video footage, unavailable anywhere else, and get inexpensive or even free deals on new music, pre-sales for concerts, meets and greets, and so on and so forth.
Record companies and promoters are in the business of making money, not art. They will unlikely invest in new music, new ideas, new artists, so they will always disappoint. Essentially you’re on your own with your technology and the internet, so for someone like me it’s rather difficult to figure out how to function when the entire business structure has completely dissolved. If I can get enough people to cross that barrier of paying a small subscription and to join me in this partnership – because that’s the way I see it – I will keep on trying building up the Zealots Lounge and think of those folks as my audience and my sponsors. Don’t think of retail anymore, don’t think of making music to sell music, and don’t make albums to sell discs: that whole thinking, in my opinion, has to change and at least for me it has. This kind of thinking started back in 1980 with me: I was still with a major record label but other than that, I did everything myself, so now I’ve had some thirty years to learn how to really do EVERYTHING myself and keep it small, contained and controlled and use the latest technology. I spend a lot of time keeping up with the latest technology… on the bleeding edge!
MENNO: You must be a computer wizard to be able to compose, produce, score, edit and even make your own video’s but still your website is ‘still building’… howzat?
EDDIE: Well building websites is one of the few things I haven’t gotten into. What I have gotten into is designing; that’s what interests me: the look and feel of the site, and I do all the graphics, creating all those little icons on the Eddie Jobson website and such, but I’ve always been in other people’s hands to build the flash programming. At this point I’m trying to convert it all to HTML-5 and that’s also not something I do – and it’s expensive. I tend to take on these projects and make them much bigger than I probably should. When I designed the Eddie Jobson site, the initial idea was that someone who doesn’t know who I am just needed to scan across the TV monitors – childhood, bands, guest appearances, instruments, advertising, TV, etc. – and find out everything relevant about me, my entire story, in just a number of seconds.
When I started building this site a lot of it was meant for my grandchildren: to present all different kinds of music that I was involved in on one page. Because: some people know me as a progressive rock keyboard guy, others know me as a TV composer and actually don’t know I played in bands, or they know me as the Bulgarian Women’s Choir composer/producer. I’ve got all these different sides and I wanted it to put it all together and encapsulate digitally all the different avenues that I’d gone down and present it in a nice easy way. In doing so it required 31 pages to be built (laughing) and it just took so long to build that site, the Globe Music site, the UKZ site and now the Zealotslounge site…. You know it takes forever and costs so much money.
I had some Russian guys building the Jobson site in Flash and now Apple will no longer support Flash… So yes the site is not my top priority although I’m still working on it, but instead of spending a whole lot of time filling in all the details of my past, my focus has been on UKZ and getting back on the road, building a state of the art keyboard rig and working with Infinite Response on the VAX77 folding keyboards, working with the newest MacBook Pro and working with that technology to make my rig as small as possible. We’ve even consulted directly with Apple and had them make changes to the MIDI implimentation in the OS. Meanwhile, as we speak there’s someone working on the conversion of EddieJobson.com to HTML 5 and if that has been done, hopefully it will be much easier for me to upload photos and texts and be able to fill those 31 pages in a more timely manner.
MENNO: A few years back I had the pleasure of doing an interview with John Wetton. He mentioned there were plans the two of you would do start doing something together. You joined on stage together already so why didn’t that happen back then?
EDDIE: Mmmmmm, it might be that he was referring to the Legacy project. The Legacy project with John involved fell apart for a number of reasons. Let me put it this way, John has come to a different place in his life and it’s become possible for me to work with him again. I’ve been the one, at several stages from 1993 onwards, to look into doing something new with UK and eventually that led to what became known as the “Legacy project” in 1995. There were a couple of years with John involved, but it wasn’t meant to happen. As time went on I was the one again – in spite of a kind of estrangement between the two of us – who approached him about doing the Poland concerts in 2009, and those recordings form at least 50% of the Ultimate Zero album. That led on to the Japanese concerts, because he enjoyed it, we got along well, and the shows were good. It took me another year and a half to get him back on stage with me again for the concerts in Tokyo, New York, Boston and San Francisco in April this year. I don’t intend to do any new music with John, but we may do some more shows together; he’d be more than welcome to be a guest with the U-Z Project basically anytime he wants, but John’s priority is Asia and I recognize that. Besides, I wouldn’t want to spend the whole time reenacting UK, it’s a double-edged sword.
MENNO: I’ve seen John’s decline from the early days, the success with Asia and later as a support act, but he’s made a fabulous comeback and in my opinion his voice is better than ever and I think his performance on the U-Z live album is great!
EDDIE: I absolutely agree. Ironically indeed, his voice sounds better than before and his pitching is tremendous, and that’s really why I decided to make an album out of our Poland performances. I’ve had some other great performances with Simon Phillips and Trey Gunn doing the Mahavishnu track, and then Tony Levin joined us and we ended up doing the Poland concerts and they turned out really well. In fact I think it’s probably the best recorded versions I will get of the music from that era, a sort of the ‘ultimate’ version.
MENNO: Why did you choose Greg Howe as the guitarist?
EDDIE: Well, you know, I’m always looking for musicians capable of playing the material. I think most musicians don’t realize – in fact I didn’t even realize it myself until three years ago – how difficult it is to play my music, because it doesn’t sound that hard. It’s always a challenge for me to find musicians, especially guitar players, who are able to grasp what’s supposed to be going on, and have the technique and the taste to reproduce the right sounds, be able to produce them on stage flawlessly and get the performances to the level I’m trying to get. It’s an ongoing struggle, but anyway, one of the musicians I found to be capable enough was Greg.
MENNO: Talking about the music: I really love the title track of that unreleased album “Theme Of Mystery” as well as the string pieces you presented on the Zealotslounge site.
EDDIE (laughing): Alright! Yes, these string pieces were something else I did for the challenge. I spent quite a long time working on those strings, trying to recreate what I heard on the Brother Bear movie, sitting in TODD-AO studios with the Hollywood Strings, this wonderful orchestra being recorded in the most magnificent way, with an incredible array of microphones and just the best of everything. To hear that I’d go WOW, now we’re talking! That’s something you can’t really create… or can you? I went away from those film string sessions more thinking like “or can you?” and probably spent – on and off – three years trying to figure out how I could create samples or use samples I’d previously recorded from different places, from Prague, from the places I worked on the Legacy project and put it all together, and then work for a long time trying to make it into a very playable patch on one keyboard. My goal was to be able to reproduce the Hollywood String Orchestra, playing in TODD-AO on my keyboard without having to have a hundred-thousand-dollar budget. Probably just a handful of people had ever heard those string sounds samples until I put them on the Zealotslounge website.
MENNO: How come do you choose not to have those pieces available for (paid) downloading?
EDDIE: Well as I said before I don’t feel like I’m in the music-selling business anymore, my mindset has changed. I’m in the business of being a creative artist that has a sponsorship fan base. Last Christmas I put a piece of music on the Zealotslounge site, an arrangement of “Silent Night” with the Bulgarian Women’s Choir. That was a demo because right now I’m in the middle of writing a cello part for Yo-Yo Ma, I don’t know if he’ll do it, but it would be nice to have a cello on there as well and to have it on the site next Christmas. Most of the music now is not meant for retail, I’m just letting people see into my world. I’m not out of retail completely, but I’m not sure if I will record a full album again, because I doubt if the album is a viable tool anymore. You know, my son is eighteen and he’s never bought a disc in his life, and he loves music! He has an incredible collection of music: Stravinsky, Fauré, Mahler, Bobby McFerrin, King Crimson, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles … it doesn’t matter, but most of it has been collected one track at a time from iTunes and he has his iPhone on shuffle, and that’s how he consumes music. Anyway, indeed I have a store section on the Zealotslounge and a download section as well. It’s not there to make a profit, just to cover the costs, but as you’d noticed, there’s nothing on the download section at the moment.
MENNO: You pointed out that you are re-mixing the U-Z live album. Why did you start re-mixing that album in the first place?
EDDIE: I’ll tell you why. When I mixed the album at the end of last year, I did so pretty much in isolation and with the idea that people would feel they were sitting in the hall when they put on their headphones. I wanted to present that live concert experience, especially because I don’t do that many concerts so there are a lot of people around the world who will not be able to see one of the shows, certainly not one with Tony Levin and John Wetton in it. So I wanted to recreate that live hall experience and I think I did that – I thought it captured a lot of the magic and the atmosphere of the show. What I didn’t realize is that nobody else does it that way. So when the record went out, a lot of the people’s reactions were ‘oh it sounds like a bootleg’. It doesn’t sound like a bootleg at all, but I did have a lot of hall ambiance, like live microphones from the hall mixed in with it rather than just the dry signals from the drum mikes for example, so I didn’t make it a “produced” studio-sounding album. I didn’t realize people are so used to live albums sounding like studio albums – like Pink Floyd’s Pulse album for instance; it sounds as if it’s all been re-recorded in the studio. If it’s highly compressed and dry and with rich artificial reverbs, that’s what people associate with quality.
It bothered me that some folks started spreading the idea that the recording quality was poor, so I decided that maybe it was a bad choice on my part to mix it that way because, in fact, the recordings are all fine – 24-bit, 48k etcetera. I’m convinced that the emotional aspect comes across really well and that you’ll get goosebumps hearing the mellotron echoing around the hall in Starless. That was my focus. The risk in remixing the album is that I might lose some of that magical and emotional content. It will be hard for me to make it a studio-sounding album and still capture that emotional content and the excitement of live, but that’s what I’m working on right now. By the way, the album has only been available on the Zealotslounge website and maybe one or two other websites, for instance the King Crimson website. So as far as I’m concerned the album hasn’t actually been released outside of Japan, where the album was quite a success by the way; it reached number 3 on the Amazon album charts and was in the top 20 for months. Anyway, as I don’t consider that the album has been fully released, I am taking some license to remix it, along with creating a ‘deluxe’ packaging version.
MENNO: Some somewhat forgotten tracks would be the single “Yesterday Boulevard / On a Still Night”. Has this track ever been released on CD and are you planning to perform these songs live?
EDDIE: I don’t recollect having played either of these songs live ever. Maybe “On a Still Night” at one of the master classes I did in Japan, but I don’t think so. I think I was 19 or 20 at the time when I got an opportunity from Island Records to do some kind of solo project just like everyone one else in Roxy Music – Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay, Bryan Ferry – all of who’s solo albums I played on. I wasn’t ready to produce an album of my own, so they said “do a single.” I had to pull something together fairly quickly and I did it all myself other than Simon Phillips on drums who was my ‘fellow British teenage musician’ and I chose to record it at Abbey Road Studios using Pink Floyd’s engineer and the Beach Boys’ producer, really a luxury to work that way. Paul and Linda McCartney were in the studio next to me (laughing), working on a Wings album. It was a privilege to be able to do something like that, and I came up with this violin track and on the b-side probably one of the first New Age tracks ever recorded.
MENNO: Do you still have your own record company (Globe Music)? What is the status at the moment?
EDDIE: Globe Music is still there but somewhat dormant at the moment for a lot of the reasons I’ve just described. I created it in 2000, ultimately as an outlet for my own music, but initially as an outlet for musicians (regardless of genre) having difficulty finding a healthy outlet with the traditional record labels, so I formed a “musicians’ musician” type of label. The Bulgarian Women’s Choir Voices Of Life album was the first release I think. It gave me a structure so that if I were to go back to making records, I would know how to do it. I would have the manufacturing as well as design and printing set up, and distribution into retail.
MENNO: Since Curved Air have reformed and are playing live again, I was wondering if they approached you?
EDDIE: Well… yes, I actually did a walk-on with them. I said I haven’t played in Western Europe in 30 years, but in fact I was going to play at a festival, I think it was called “Woodstock revisited” or something, somewhere in England. Sonja approached me to join Curved Air for one appearance at this big festival, where Asia would be playing and a whole bunch of groups, Uriah Heep, and many others. Essentially what happened was that the entire festival collapsed; the promoter of this festival, that was supposed to be a three-day happening, was relying on the ticket sales to pay the deposits to the bands and when the ticket sales weren’t that impressive, the deposits didn’t show up for the bands, so the bands began pulling out and it turned into a complete disaster.
Sonja was rather disappointed that this wasn’t going to take place and asked me to come over anyway and do the rehearsal and see what came of it. We had the flights booked so I said sure I’ll come over anyway. She set up a rehearsal room and while we were there, Sonya phoned some friend of hers and said, look, we’ve got Curved Air back together again with Eddie Jobson, how about we play at your club? So this was set up and after a few days we played this tiny club somewhere out in the countryside in Southern England, can’t remember the name of the village. But we actually did a show and there were only thirty, maybe fifty people there because it was all so last minute. Anyway, that was about as many you could get in the place because it was as big as someone’s living room! So yes, I played a one off gig with Curved Air. And indeed we talked about working together in the future because Darryl (Way – MvBF) isn’t doing it anymore and we talked about the possibility to play some Curved Air music with the U-Z project with Sonja as a guest at some point in the future.
MENNO: Now about UKZ: why did you choose to form a band through the Internet, also for the challenge?
EDDIE: No, not for the challenge but because it was possible to do it and it meant that if I’m trying to find the top musicians in the world I’m not limited to the ones living in my neighborhood. As a result it turned out that everybody in the first lineup of UKZ had a passport from a different country. So it was quite global. I knew I had the technology and that I was able to form a virtual band. At the time I wasn’t even necessarily thinking of going on tour. I was just trying to re-invent myself, making new music with top musicians and contemplating what the role of the keyboards would be in 2008.
MENNO: As far as I know UKZ played their first gig on January 24 (2009) in New York, then there were a few shows in Japan but apart from the EP, no full album or concerts in Europe. Why?
EDDIE: Yes, you’re right, that is all UKZ has managed to achieve – concert-wise. Again, a lot of what I do is about process, as I demonstrated with the Legacy project or working with the Bulgarians. It’s about trying to do something and getting into the process and meeting the challenges that present themselves. UKZ has been pretty much that: how do I do this, what does it sound like, what does it look like, what kind of technology do I need to go back out on the road and recreate all of these new modern sounds, and recreate all of the sounds from the seventies without taking a jumbo jet full of Hammonds, CS-80’s and so on? Who would be my road crew, who would be my technicians, my sound guy, who’s going to manage this, who’s making all the travel arrangements?
There are so many things you have to learn how to do when you’re starting from scratch again. At the Town Hall show in New York we had a huge light show, at great expense, that I had to put together myself. I promoted the concert myself because I couldn’t find a single promoter who was interested in putting on the show. I rented the hall, had to deal with the unions, it was a huge project that I lost money on, frankly. But I grew; I learnt what to do and what not to do and started to get some idea of what the audience was for anything new or anything old that I might present.
MENNO: The name UKZ. Does it have anything to do with UK and Zinc?
EDDIE: Not necessarily. A lot of people think it has. My new company is called UKZ inc….. (laughing). I suppose obviously there’s some kind of association. I’ve always liked the letter Z and, actually, when I started out thinking about the name I intended to call it UK3, just to make it the third UK, but then I decided that first of all it linked it too much to UK and that people would expect it to be ‘just a new UK’ and secondly I knew John Wetton would have a problem with my using the UK name alone. So I decided it was more generic and perhaps a bit more modern to call it UKZ instead; it still refers to UK, but it really is something new. If people have an association with Zinc as well, that’s all fine.
MENNO: You are doing some concerts in Europe; what kind of rig will you bring?
EDDIE: It’s all digital. My entire rig consists of two laptops, two folding keyboards and three Plexiglas violins. All the sounds from the violins are coming from the laptop, it’s all software instruments or plug-ins. All the effects, devices, everything is in the laptops! Then we have two keyboards called VAX77s, by Infinite Response (some interesting video of Eddie playing the VAX on YouTube – MvBF).
It’s something that I worked with Infinite Response to develop: a polyphonic after-touch, velocity-sensitive keyboard that folds in half and goes into a very small case, which you could take on a plane as ‘carry on’ luggage. So the rig is very portable, all the CS 80’s , Hammonds, Moogs you name it: all in the laptop… and you don’t have to tune them anymore!
MENNO: You’ll be playing in Zoetermeer with two members of UKZ and then there’s Marc Bonilla. How did he get involved?
EDDIE: The first concert I did when I came back after 27 years was meant to be in the most obscure place I could find. I’ve been invited by a Russian promoter whose first Western rock record he could get hold of when he was 15, was my Curved Air album, “Air Cut.” He’s now a big progressive-rock promoter in Russia. He invited me to do a performance at Kazan, Tartarstan on August 30, 2008, a place I’d never heard of to tell you the truth. So I thought it would be fantastic, because it couldn’t be more obscure than this, right? If I were to get my feet wet after 27 years, no one would know…, right? That wasn’t the case: it turned out to be The Creation of Peace Festival, a sort of “Woodstock in Russia” with 150,000 people in attendance! The promoter invited many of his favorite progressive rock musicians including Keith Emerson and three members of King Crimson (not Robert Fripp), but also other people I knew, like Dave Pegg with Fairport Convention, whom I played with at the very last concert in 1981 – with Jethro Tull. Fairport Convention was one of the bands that influenced me when I was young. This band got me out of classical music and got me interested in electric music.
Keith Emerson too was one of the musicians that influenced me and there they were – all on the same bill. I did a short set where I basically played being Fripp. We played Larks Tongues In Aspic and Red and so on. Before that I did a walk-on with Fairport Convention and in the end even Keith Emerson and I were on stage together as part of a huge jam – myself playing violin and Emerson playing harmonica – led by Marc Bonilla, who was doing the lead vocals with Keith Emerson. We were jamming on a Led Zeppelin song – you can look that up on YouTube as well. So this ‘obscure’ return to the stage turned into this massive event and the next day there were at least twelve videos on YouTube (laughs). Anyway that’s where I met Marc and I heard how well he did the Greg Lake songs, so I figured he would do pretty well on the John Wetton songs too.
So that’s how I brought Marc on board for the tour in 2010, with the two drummers: Marco Minnemann and Mike Mangini, who’s playing in Dream Theater now. I’ve found that Machacek is by far the most appropriate guitarist who can play the Holdsworth stuff as well as the King Crimson songs accurately. But it’s good to have Marc Bonilla’s voice on top of the UK and Crimson material, so I’ve asked him to play bass on this tour. This would make it possible to keep the band down to a 4-piece.
MENNO: Have you rehearsed for these upcoming concerts yet?
EDDIE: Not really. That’s the advantage of having this caliber of musicians. Usually I just tell them what we’re going to play and they’ll do their own ‘wood shedding’. Then we get together for just a few days and we’re ready to go! Probably we’ll end up in my studio. In the past I used to put it all in a big rehearsal room, so we could get used to the stage layout but you know, we’ve all played together enough times, so we don’t really need to do that anymore. Now we just get together in the studio and talk through the issues, do that for a couple of days and usually it’s fine.
MENNO: We talked about the near future, but do you have any plans for 2012?
EDDIE (long silence): No…. honestly, I don’t. It would be good to try to get more of a European presence, which I haven’t really succeeded in doing. I’m having difficulty breaking back into Europe; the promoters don’t seem interested, whether I do something old or I do something new… minimal interest. Maybe next year I can get onto some of the festivals like perhaps Loreley (or High Voltage, Summer’s End – MvBF!!).
While thanking Eddie for the huge amount of time he took to talk to me, I mentioned he would be seeing me in “De Boerderij” as ‘the guy with the huge camera’. We had another vivid and lengthy discussion on camera’s and artist privacy.
Eddie Jobson still is an enthusiastic, brilliant musician, full of ideas, ambition and with his own point of view on music, musicians and the whole music industry… or what’s left of it.
It will be a privilege to see him live in Zoetermeer on August 19!
Interview by DPRP’s Menno von Brucken Fock
Images courtesy of Eddie Jobson
(Eddie Jobson, UKZ en U-Z)
Zinc, the Green Album – 1983
Theme Of Secrets – 1985
Radiation (UKZ, EP) – 2008
The Ultimate Zero Tour (live) – 2009