On the eve of the release of Magenta’s new album Chameleon Rob Reed and Christina Booth have taken time out their varied and hectic schedules to speak to John O’Boyle at DPRP. So ladies and Gentlemen for all things live, solo and Chameleon please welcome Magenta …
John: Hi Christina and Rob. It’s nice to hear that you guys and are about to release a new album Chameleon with it having been about three and a half years since the release of your last studio album the rather excellent Metamorphosis. I would just like to take this opportunity to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions for DPRP.
It may have been three years since that occasion, but as artists you never seem to be ones that rest on your laurels. As Magenta you have released ‘Live at Real World’, an acoustic concert which was recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studio in Bath before a select number of special guests. One would guess that it was fun to be able to present beautiful new arrangements of some of your best known pieces plus an outlet for some rarer outings?
Rob: It was something we have wanted to do for a while. The location was obviously special, but also very practical for the recording process. They also had a lovely Yamaha grand piano, so I was instantly sold. We only did one afternoon rehearsal with the oboe and strings, but they were so good that it just clicked straight away and sounded amazing. It really was a special event and it sadly just flew by. Perhaps we will do something special again as we would love to play with a full orchestra. That would really suit Magenta’s music.
John: I believe that you have played some house gigs too?
Rob: Yes, we have done a few and they are great fun. They can be quite intimidating as you are in somebody’s house, only a few feet away without all the lights and amplification. It also shows that the songs can stand up without all the fancy backing. We didn’t do that much rehearsing for them, preferring to just play them quite freely. It can be a little scary as you‘re out of your comfort zone, but that’s part of the attraction.
Christina: I love the house gigs, it can be quite surreal giving it all in someone’s living room with the audience sat at your feet, but best of all I love the tea & cakes!
John: Talking of outings Christina you have also released a solo album ‘Broken Lines and Bleeding Hearts’ during this time, which I guess allowed you to record some songs that may not have been just quite right for Magenta?
Christina: The ‘solo’ album was born out of the desire to write again as the majority of the Magenta songs are written by Rob and Steve Reed. I have written the shorter more commercial tracks with Rob which we called ‘The Singles’ for Magenta but the albums are the Reed boy’s territory. I love the process of lyric writing and creating the ‘story’ and then singing what I have written and hopefully bringing that story to life with my voice and the great music that Rob creates.
John: Was this something that you have always wanted to do or did you just feel that the time was right?
Christina: It felt like the right time as there was a natural hiatus with Magenta due to the departure of Dan Fry earlier in the year. We had been working on some tracks for quite awhile so it all just fell into place.
John: It was interesting to see that Rob, Chris and Kieran were all involved in the project, as well as the ubiquitous John Mitchell, to the outsider it would appear that you have a musical affinity working alongside your long term cohorts.
Christina: Ha-ha! I have often called Rob my musical crutch! It is difficult to make yourself go out of your comfort zone and also it is easy to use people that you know you get on with and who understand you. John was great to work with, I love his voice and I think he added a lot to the tracks. He was only at the studio a couple of hours and he made it look so easy. It may have been me being lazy but why look too far afield when I had all those talented and creative musicians to hand.
John: Given the opportunity who would you really love to record with?
Christina: I would love to record with Annie Lennox but I have the feeling she may be bit busy!
Rob: I would love to work with Mike Oldfield who has been my biggest inspiration. I have, however, been very lucky to have worked with a lot of people who I admire and recently I had the amazing privilege of working on a project with Steve Hackett, Gavin Harrison and Dave Stewart which I’ll talk about later.
John: I believe that Caamora’s She is being taken out on the road, a project that I believe you are been involved in. Obviously it is a slight shift on your usual approach with Magenta and must eat a lot of your time. How does the approach of working on something like She differ from that of Magenta? Time management must be a nightmare?
Christina: It is quite different to being in Magenta but in a way quite nice as the full attention isn’t on me and it’s fun working with Clive and the gang. Alan Reed puts so much passion into his performance he makes me tired just watching him. I have learnt a lot watching the whole process of ‘She’ as it has developed.
It can be difficult to co-ordinate especially when there are so many people involved who are also involved in other bands and working in dare I say it ‘proper jobs’ meaning that not all of us are full time musicians, but if you really want to do something you just try harder to make it happen.
John: Rob you have gone on record stating that whilst writing the new album Chameleon, you got side tracked with some other projects. Is this something that your fans can look forward to hearing in the not too distant future?
Rob: Yes I have been very busy over the last year or two working on a project called Kompendium. It’s all a bit hush-hush at the moment, as I want to get it all finished before letting it out to the world. All I can say is that it’s a huge project, and been the experience of a lifetime. I hope that I have created something very special, and something that hasn’t been done for a long time. If all goes to plan we are looking at a 2012 release.
John: I believe that you wrote enough material for two albums, which I found intriguing, during two differing creative periods which lent the music sounding different on both occasions; the first session being edgier and the second session being more in the contemporary Magenta style. You seem to have come up with a fascinating method of making these recordings available?
Rob: There has been a long gap between the last CD, and we have all been busy on various projects. I did write a lot of material just after Metamorphosis. These tracks kept the same harder feel but were a lot shorter, as on Metamorphosis there were two track over 20 minutes in length. So I was keen to do something a little shorter.
Then we went off and did the Real World show, Tina’s album, and I was also busy with my Kompendium project.
I then was keen to write more Magenta. I had a burst of material from that session.
When I compared the two lots of songs I realized that they were very different and wouldn’t really work on a single album. So originally we planned to put out a Magenta single, which grew into an EP and finally it became the “Chameleon” album. We also recorded it very differently. In the past the albums have been recorded over a long period. This was done over a period of a couple of months. It was very spontaneous and has a real nice vibe to it. Also Tina wrote all the words and Kieran, our live drummer, was also heavily involved.
John: I love your idea of how you are releasing these recordings. Is this something that you are interested in developing further with your older recordings as well as future releases, giving your fans the ultimate release experience?
Rob: Well I can’t take total credit for the concept, but we may be one of the first to try it. Jem Godfrey from Frost actually discussed something similar with me a year or so back. As a way to keep fans interested over the long periods between albums, his idea was to write a song a month and release them as downloads, till you have a complete album. I think I would find the pressure too much to come up with the goods, but with Chameleon, we had most of the songs written and some recorded, so we were confident that we had a good album almost in the bag. I liked the idea of giving the fans a preview of some of the album in advance, drip feeding the tracks, and giving bonus mixes and videos etc. It also gives them longer to appreciate the individual tracks, instead of having to listen to an album full of new material in one go. They can give the songs more individual attention and will hopefully be familiar with them if we decide to include them in the live set-list.
We also gave the multi–tracks of one song to give the budding producers the chance to remix or just listen to how the song was constructed.
Its been very well received, and good fun for us. It may be something we will do again on future releases.
John: What are your thought processes on song selection when you have two differing sounding approaches and what leads you to deciding the ultimate selection of tracks for the album?
Rob: It was really obvious with these two batches of songs. One was a lot more punchy and direct, song based almost. The other was more, intentionally like the album Seven. Longer, multi part songs.
The first batch of punchier songs just sounded great together. I think they are still mini epics, and have all the usual Magenta sounds and layers. Plenty of solos and dynamics, but a lot more immediate and concise.
John: How difficult is it to not so much reject songs but decide that they don’t work in the grander scheme of things after having spent time creating them?
Rob: One of the songs from Chameleon sat on my computer for nearly 3 years, unused and almost discarded. I just came across it and though it was really good. It’s bizarre how close you can get to a song but need time away to see it in a new light and then finally realize how to crack the code, so to speak. We re-recorded it, tweaked the arrangement and it then sounded great.
Another song went back to 2005-06 when we were recording ‘Home‘. We spent months and months rehearsing this track and couldn’t get it to work. So again it sat on the shelf for a very long time. We decided to give it another go and just re-wrote bits, until only about two lines remained from the original. It was worth it as again it’s now a great track.
John: So what can your fans expect from the Chameleon album? Would you like to talk us through the album?
Rob: As I said earlier, it’s still Magenta. With Tina singing, Chris’s trademark guitar playing and my production, it’s always going to be Magenta. In Chameleon mode we also were up for trying different styles and instrumentation in the songs. They are very punchy and have grooves. I listen to all kinds of music, and always will borrow ideas if I like them, and put them in a prog/rock context. So you may have a section that has Yes-like harmonies and guitars over a Coldplay type of melody, with a U2 feel to the rhythm section. I’ve always tried to sneak other music styles into Magenta. You can’t go too far or it wouldn’t be us, but I do like to see how far we can take the listener with us on this musical journey, so it may shock a few people. Though we have never released the same thing over again. Each album is different. It’s always a slight gamble, but in the end, you’ve got to do what you believe in.
Christina: From my perspective this was the most fun Magenta album to work on, it just appeared from no-where. That may sound a bit odd but all of a sudden we had eight songs. My opinion will probably differ from Robs as long after I have left the studio Rob is the one who slaves over the tracks till the wee hours, whereas I go home have a cuppa tea and the next thing is Rob sending me the finished package, easy!
John: Imagery has always been important with your releases. I am intrigued by the artwork for this album. Would you like to tell us what your thoughts and ideas were or was free reign giving to the artist / designer?
Rob: Well I did the artwork for this one. The photo is of a human Chameleon, Tina on the beach. The name Chameleon really fits Magenta on this album, as we are always trying different things musically, especially on this album. The photo of a body painted Tina was taken by a photographer/body artist Dave Daggers. Originally it was going to be used for the Metamorphosis cover, but didn’t really suite it. It just seemed appropriate to use it for this album.
John: Interestingly Dan Fry’s farewell gig was at the Winter’s End Festival in 2010 a show that I had chance to witness and your live return is going to be at the stunning Summer’s End Festival, a show I am really looking forward too. I see you have recruited bassist Dan Nelson and drummer Steve Roberts from Godsticks, both very versatile and talent musicians. How did this union occur?
Rob: We have had a nightmare finding permanent bass and drum players in Magenta. We have a bit of a Prog Rock School going where people can come and do their apprenticeship with Magenta and then go off to into the world of music. The biggest problem was that the band was always myself, Chris and Tina, and this is finally something we have now made very clear, for the first time. The best thing with the two new guys, apart form them being amazing players, is that they have their own band, Godsticks, and are happy with the way things are structured and will just be joining us live for the moment.
John: Not to pry too far but is this a permanent fixture for the touring band?
Rob: Yes, I really hope so. The new guys have really fitted in musically and personally. We can finally get on with the music and forget about band politics.
John: For me you have released some stunning albums, but live is where it is at for you guys, an arena that really allows your music space to breathe. Which arena do you prefer to work in?
Christina: I love ‘live’ as it’s where the music really comes to life. The Magenta studio albums are very challenging to record and I really enjoy the process but it’s when I look out into the audience and see people’s faces, eyes shut and living and breathing every part of the song, sometimes even crying (hopefully for the right reasons!) that’s when all the hard work pays off.
Rob: I prefer the studio, and love creating the music, with all its layers. It’s very exciting and I love working quickly and adding different instruments. I use the studio and computer as a compositional tool. The tracks are always changing and developing, right to the end. I may listen one day and chop a chunk out if it doesn’t earn its place. I really want every minute of music to count. I don’t do filler and can be ruthless with the song if it’s not up to scratch. In the end though it’s all about the melody for me. Doesn’t matter how good the widdle is, or the arrangements, if it isn’t a good song you have nothing.
John: What are the touring plans for the band and what can your fans expect from you this time out?
Rob: We haven’t played for about 18 months, so the first gigs are to bed the new guys in and for us to find our feet again. We are now a 5 piece with Chris handling all the guitars, but it’s sounding really good at the moment. We are already planning for next year, and always like to do something special and different…so watch this space !!!!!!
Interview for DPRP by John O’Boyle
30 Sep 11 – The Pop Factory, Porth
09 Oct 11 – Summers End Festival, Lydney
19 Nov 11 – The Peel, London
20 Nov 11 – The Robin, Bilston