Solaris Special – Interview with Attila Kollár

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On a wet afternoon on the day before the Solaris concert, Attila Kollár took time out from his busy schedule to travel to the Continental Hotel in Budapest where I was staying, to provide an extensive interview for DPRP to cover numerous topics including the bands history and future plans.

He was charming throughout and eager to answer the questions as fully as he could. It was a fascinating experience. Our detailed discussion ended some fifty five minutes later and I hope that DPRP readers will find his answers as interesting as I did.

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Owen: Thanks for agreeing to take part in this interview so close to tomorrow’s important concert. I hope that the preparations have gone well. Can you tell me how long the band has been rehearsing for this concert?

Attila: We started our rehearsals at the end of August. This was a longer rehearsal period than we used for last year. Last year we performed the well-known Martian chronicles programme. We had played that a lot in the past. This year’s concert includes the Martian Chronicles II programme and it is a new programme for us. We had to learn many new parts and we have combined some new arrangements into the material. I think that we have prepared very well for this concert. The final rehearsal was yesterday and it went well, so I think that we can give a very good concert and performance tomorrow.

Owen: Many of the Solaris band members have jobs, so I guess it must be difficult tying all of that into the rehearsal schedule.

Attila: Yes it is well known that the members of Solaris are not professional musicians. We have our own ways and works. I am a physician, a radiologist. We do not have as much time as professional musicians. The music needs a lot of well organised rehearsals if you are going to create special moments for the audience.

Owen: Thanks for the update on how the preparations have been going. During the course of our conversation I would like to find out about Solaris’ past, the bands influences and some details about the bands future plans.

Attila: Certainly, so if we start in 1980. Solaris began at the beginning of 1980. That era, the late 70’s early 80’s was the final era of the big progressive rock bands. We really liked these bands, especially ELP, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Supertramp, Dixie Dregs and Kansas. We were influenced by this music, but we wanted to find our own way, especially within the well-known line up of bass, guitar, keyboards, drums and flute. It was very interesting to find complexity within the music in this setting.

Owen: The flute is quite unusual as the lead instrument in prog rock, apart from bands such as Focus and Tull so it is interesting that Solaris chose that instrument as one of the main voices of their music.

Attila: In those bands you can hear the flute as a lead instrument, especially in Jethro Tull. Ian Anderson sings, but also plays the flute brilliantly. But the other bands that influenced us… – e.g. Camel and Focus – are very important. They are on the more instrumental side of progressive rock and I liked them very much. I have mentioned earlier in other interviews that Herbie Mann was an interesting and influential flautist for me.

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Owen: That’s interesting as Herbie Mann has a very lyrical style. I can hear the lyricism in your playing, but I can also hear a lot of classical influences as well.

Attila: Yes, I learnt the flute officially for four years in a musical school after my early years. My teacher was very upset when I decided to choose medicine rather than music. Nowadays, I could not imagine myself as a first or second flautist in a classical band or orchestra. I think it all worked out very well, my job; my main work is in radiology. The music and the job are very well balanced.

Owen: What were the challenges of becoming a progressive rock musician in the communist era of the 80’s?

Attila: If we talk about the possibilities where we created our compositions and to find the way to create a whole album / LP it was not too easy, especially for those bands that were without a singer. Solaris had to wait for four years to get the chance to publish the first LP. It was on the other hand better because we could evaluate and evolve our style. We could try different compositions before we went into the studio. We could choose those pieces for this LP especially for the side B. What we recorded earlier in the Hungarian state radio in studio 8 was recorded in 1982/3. We prepared some last composition changing things and remixing of compositions and the main title, the side A of the Martian Chronicles was 80% a new recording.

Owen: You talked about the development of the band and listening to the archive 1 releases you can see the development in the music between then and Martian Chronicles where the live sound is based on guitar and flute with not as much keyboards, so it’s interesting to hear you say that the band took the earliest compositions and developed them.

Attila: Yes if we talk about Back to the Roots No 1, that was the era of our first line up and at that time we played a very fresh style and our first bass guitarist Seres was a founding member at that time. He left the band at the end of 1980, so that was the first era of Solaris. It was really interesting for us. We had a lot of rehearsals, two or three times a week and we wanted to find our way and the real starting point for the band was the pop-rock competition in Budapest in May of 1980.
Out of 137 bands, we gained the third place so it was very surprising for us and after this competition we got the chance to record our first composition ‘the Solaris’. We then had a lot of possibilities to play different clubs, university clubs and these opportunities drove the band to create new compositions and in December of 1980 we had composed one and half hours of music and we created new compositions as I remember. Every month, we composed 2 or three compositions and it was very interesting that some compositions were not played the same way as earlier so we recomposed and rearranged some parts of them.

Owen: When Martian Chronicles came out it in May 1984, it was released in Hungary and then was eventually reissued and distributed worldwide by the Japanese King label in 1996. In the meantime, the band stopped in 1986 and went on to become Napoleon Boulevard. Can you give some details about this stage of the bands history?

Attila: Yes, so Martian Chronicles appeared in 1984 and it was the disco era in pop music in Hungary and also in western countries, so the expectations from the Hungarian state record company (Hungaroton) was that they wanted to give a chance to publish LPs for those bands who can gain 100,000 copies – after one year we sold about 42,000 copies of Martian Chronicles. We thought that for an instrumental band this was a real success. Nowadays, I could imagine this would be a huge success, but at that time the Hungaroton leaders said: yes it is good, but we don’t think it’s enough for Solaris to create a second album. So then, we discussed with the members that we are in this situation and we love this music and we love this style of music, but we have to change. Then the members stayed together and we found a very talented singer, Vincze Lilla and we decided we will start another style of pop music but now we finish the Solaris era. And if we get the chance we will publish Solaris music later.

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Owen: So did Solaris carry on composing at the same time as existing as Napoleon Boulevard or was all of your attention pushed towards Napoleon Boulevard during this period?

Attila: There was a little bit of overlap during this era when we played the farewell concert in April ‘86. At that time we did the rehearsals with Napoleon Boulevard and in the same year there was an interpop festival in Hungary and Napoleon Boulevard was the winner of this festival. So that was the real starting point for the new band. At the end of ‘86 we got the chance to record our first Napoleon Boulevard LP. Then after this 1st LP the new band was very well known in Hungary and it was one of three main pop bands in that era.

Owen: I have seen the Napoleon Boulevard you tube videos and they seem to be very popular.

Attila: Yes, the basic material what we used at that time was very close to Solaris music and we have to know that this was the final years of the communist era in Hungary and it was very important to find a way in our lyrics to write sentences in these compositions which are connected to the struggles of that time. What we could do and what not do… so it was a little bit difficult at that time.

Owen: So there was a political message in Napoleon Boulevard?

Attila: Yes some compositions had political messages and fortunately in the final years… mainly in 1989, it was more open, just one year before the political changes in Hungary, so it was really helpful to create real messages in our compositions.

Owen: That’s fascinating, I had no idea.

Attila: For you it’s not easy as these words are Hungarian but we had some English lyrics at that time, one CD which was a compilation of Napoleon Boulevard songs had some English content.

Owen: I always thought the two bands were incongruous, but I can see there is link, there is an undercurrent of a similar style, but I guess you were playing to a different audience?

Attila: The audience overlapped, some liked Napoleon Boulevard some fundamental prog rock fans loved Solaris but after these years when we look back for this period I think we could find the way that we can publish new LP’s cos it is really interesting that by 1989 we signed a new contract with the Hungarian state publishing company. We wanted to publish the Solaris black album 1990 and we wanted to mention to the leaders of the company that we wanted to have in the signed contract that we wanted to publish the next three Napoleon Boulevard CDs and Solaris double LP. They said ok… so you can do it and it was a big surprise for us that they gave us a chance to publish it!

Owen: Was that because society was changing?

Attila: Yes, better era for possibilities

Owen: So the bands co-existed then?

Attila: Yes

Owen: Thanks, that’s cleared that up, because this information is difficult to find.

Attila: It’s better if we talk about this political situation and the possibilities, Napoleon Boulevard and Solaris is well known.

Owen: Cos music is not independent, it reacts to what goes on in the world.

Attila: Yes, we are not on Mars we are on the earth (laughs)

Owen: Can we go on to discuss Martian Chronicles II?

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Attila: Yes

Owen: After the release of Nostradamus there was a long time before the band created their next release Martian Chronicles II, which in my view is a wonderful album? It has a lot of the spirit of Martian Chronicles. It has its own identity, but you can also see the links. What made the band decide to create a follow up?

Attila: Yes, it has a lot of connections to Martian Chronicles. The second studio album after the Martian Chronicles was the Nostradamus album. This is a concept album. We wanted to come out with another concept album and we were thinking about the possibilities. We had a lot of ideas about and connections with the compositions, finally Róbert Erdész, our keyboard player suggested creating Martian Chronicles II, because he really loves Sci-fi novels and this gave a good way to create a concept album around the novel “Night Call” from Bradbury. So that’s why we decided to create it. It was really also a good decision that we started with a suite for the first part of the LP and then we created some shorter compositions for this. We found a lot of interesting cassette tapes from the old era from the rehearsals when we worked together with the final line up especially Cziglán István who unfortunately died at the end of 1998, and one of the compositions started with a short part from that era of Martian Chronicles.

Owen: So there is a direct link with the past?

Attila: Yes, we wanted to indicate that there is a real connection with the earlier era.

Owen: You can see it throughout the album there are lots of little nods to the original and I think that it works really well as a follow up and moves the whole musical concept forward.

Attila: Yes, one theme in Martian Chronicles II plays a major role in the long suite and this theme was originally in the first era of the band and some parts were rearranged for the NOAB composition. It was played at that time but finally we removed it from the final Martian Chronicles… and when we created the new compositions we decided to use this theme in Martian Chronicles II !

Owen: The way Martian Chronicles II ends is full of humour. This is a theme that is present in a number of compositions of such as E minor Concerto and in Solaris 1990.

Attila: Yes, Solaris 1990 from the black album 1990 yes we have a lot of humour in rehearsals we laugh a lot and we wanted to use some other way of humour in Martian Chronicles II because Sci-Fi is not always very dark and not without humour. It is not to be taken seriously.

Owen: Are there any Solaris tracks that you particularly like, or are proud of to have been involved in?

Attila: The 3rd part of the original Martian Chronicles is very close to my heart and also “If the fog ascends” from that album. From Martian Chronicles II, I love the long suite…, and from those shorter compositions where the composer Csaba Bogdán one of my favourites is “Impossible”.

Owen: My favourite piece must be LA 2026 which I really adore from the 1990 album

Attila: Amongst all of our compositions the ‘LA 2026’ is the heaviest and really one of the most important. Next year, we believe we can create the 1990 album in concert and this composition holds a lot of possibilities to recreate it using a big orchestra. We want to work on it and want to create it as a heavy composition and we want to put it on next year.

Owen: So LA 2026 is going to be given some new life then?

Attila: Yes and 1990 it is a really long album because it’s a double LP and it is more than one hour, so that should be interesting.

Owen: Is there any significance why Solaris usually play in November of each year?

Attila: 20 years ago we played in LA in November ‘95 and when we started the regular series of concerts in 2013 we played at MUPA in September and one year later played October, now we play in November. The decision to play again in the autumn next year has already happened for us. It’s practical to play in the autumn. We can start concentrated rehearsals at end of August because of families and jobs… we are much more busy in the spring and summer.

Owen: Tomorrow’s concert appears to be very popular.

Attila: Yes fortunately it is happily close to a complete sell out and we hope we can give a good concert for our fans.

Owen: Tomorrow is also the launch of a live CD and DVD?

Attila: Yes last year’s concert was really memorable for us. And also it is really important to know about this anniversary concert that this year in April we got an important award from ‘ARTISJUS’ : for the best concert of 2014 in Hungary… It was really a big surprise for us!
Last year we also published exactly on the day of concert the ‘Martian Chronicles II’ CD and the Solaris fans queued for 250 metres long row to have the new album signed… so it was memorable. We hope it will be the same tomorrow. After the concert we will organise also a signing stuff.

Owen: That’s wonderful and shows the connection the band has with the people who enjoy the music.

Attila: Yes we have lots of fans who are really our friends.

Owen: In your own solo compositions and in Solaris there is often a traditional folk, baroque and other classical influence. Is that a conscious decision to include these influences?

Attila: Yes, these compositions are important to me I like baroque music and learnt a lot at the beginning of my flute playing. I especially like Bach and Telemann and for my first solo CD, I rearranged a composition from JS Bach. After this first solo CD we created with my musician friends two other Musical Witchcraft albums. After the third one we changed our name to Invocatio Musicalis because at that time we started to create some other compositions. Especially we created new songs based on reformed church psalms and songs. These were very important for us and we think that it should be much clearer to give the content of this band rather than Musical Witchcraft. Nowadays, I work on an anniversary CD. Probably, I will finish it next year and with cooperation of my musical friends should all be completed by about beginning of February. I want to publish this CD in March, 2016. It will be called prog rock 55.

Owen: Is that going to be in the style of Invocatio Musicalis?

Attila: Yes, on the second CD (Utopia), we started with my guitarist friend, Gábor Naszádi to create music that was closer to world music and the basic compositions of this new project will be closer to this than on the first Musical Witchcraft CD.

Owen: When Solaris play live does the music give opportunities for the band to stretch out, because the music appears to be tightly composed?

Attila: Especially for me live music is much closer to my heart than studio work. I like the possibilities when we work on special sounds in the studio but the live performance has unique possibilities to find a way to the audience and we can change some parts in these compositions, also. During live performances we could play longer solo parts. We can feel each other on the concerts as much as it is possible after so many years. We are very close on stage and it’s really important that we play together. It is highly important for the audience to see that we understand each other. So after a longer period a band could be much sweeter for example, just as old wine is much tastier.

Owen: You outlined a little earlier on about Solaris future plans, what else can you add? Is there a plan to rerecord the 1990 album or the new interpretation of LA 2026?

Attila: One of our new plans, that we have a chance to put on a screen the Martian Chronicles with a ballet next year. The Director of the Hungarian state opera asked the Solaris band to put on Martian Chronicles. He likes our music and thinks that it could be really interesting in a ballet setting. In April, 2016 I think it will be interesting. On the first three performances the band will play live. It will be a part of the official programme of the Budapest Spring Festival. It is well known that this festival holds a lot of different programmes – classical, jazz, world music and theatre programmes – and not only in Budapest, but in other Hungarian cities, too. So we hope that this unique ballet programme should be interesting for music and ballet lovers, too.

Owen: The cross- over of different art forms sounds exciting.

Attila: We are very enthusiastic about this and we will start to work with the ballet choreographer some weeks later.

Owen: After that, are you hopeful that Solaris will record and produce something new in the future again?

Attila: Yes we have a plan that from those parts which are not in Martian Chronicles II we have some basic material for a new CD. I don’t know how long we will have to wait for it, but I think fortunately we have a lot of new ideas, so probably we can publish new album by 2017.

Owen: I look forward to that …you touched upon the archive material in our conversations earlier such as NOAB. Originally there were three archive releases planned two have appeared has the third been shelved?

Attila: The first of these was ‘Back to the Roots’ and we want to finish these archives with a third one. It will be the final part of the 83/84/85 – the final line up of that Solaris era and we have some really interesting concert recordings from these shows. We will work on this material probably in the second part of next year.

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Owen: Great, so it’s going happen.

Attila: Yes

Owen: Thanks for your answers so far, we have covered a lot of things. One of the things I have alluded to is that it is difficult to get information about the bands plans. The old website had an English section but the new one is in Hungarian, will the website have an English section?

Attila: Our founder member bassist will work on the English version of the recreated website also. We agree that we have to show to the audience worldwide in English version also the past, present and future of Solaris as much as it is possible!

Owen: There is a lot of interest in Solaris outside Hungary and there is a resurgence of progressive music in the UK. Some younger people now have an appreciation of the legacy of prog bands.

Attila: A lot of comments on you tube and on our earlier website showed that we had a lot of interest throughout the world… so comments came especially from USA, Brazil , Argentina , Mexico and from Europe: Italy, France and Sweden. We know that after the Japanese reissue in 1996 and the republication of Martian Chronicles in 1988, this music became well known all over the world and e.g. one of our friends who have a special prog-rock radio programme in Australia, he plays regularly Solaris music!

Owen: Thank you so much for your detailed answers. Solaris are a wonderful band and one of the best exponents of pro flute rock.

Attila: Thank you so much, if you have any other questions don’t hesitate to write and ask. DPRP web site is very interesting and I’ve found really interesting things there!

Owen: Yes it has a large cross section of prog music and is a well – respected site with a lot of visitors and readers.

Attila: Oh, yes! It was interesting for us in Brazil and in Mexico… we met some interesting prog bands at this time. If we did not take part of these festivals we would not have known about them, so it is really nice to have places and to find news about different prog bands.

Owen: Thanks again for your time

Attila: Thank you, it was a pleasure!