Volaré Big Bang Magazine Interview

You acknowledge the influence of the Canterbury scene.  Among the classic bands and recordings of that scene, what are your favourites ?  Do you still keep up with what the guys are doing now, and among recent recordings do you find any of great interest ?

Brian:  Generally, we favor the mid to late 70's period Canterbury groups over the earlier bands. Hatfield and the North, Gilgamesh, Bruford - "One of a Kind", Hugh Hopper - "Hopper Tunity Box", Gowen-Miller-Sinclair-Tomkins -"Before a Word is Said", but especially National Health ("Of Queues and Cures" in particular). Also, Henry Cow's "Western Culture" and Happy the Man's albums are also big favorites, but do they qualify as "Canterbury" (does Volaré, for that matter ?) ? I've heard good things about Dirk 'Mont' Campbell's latest but haven't heard it yet...I lose track of most of those guys around '81. Personally, I've been listening to Rascal Reporters, Myrbein, and Universe Zéro a lot lately, all of whom share more than a few characteristics with the great Canterbury groups.

Pat:  To be honest, I really don't have a whole lot of that stuff in my record collection. I suppose the Hatfield/Health/Egg/Khan stuff went over the best with me. Anything with Dave Stewart on it. I also like Hugh Hopper "Hoppertunity Box" a lot. Other than that, I haven't had the budget to keep up with it too much. Although I'd really like to pick up the new Mont Campbell '"Music from Round Tower" or whatever....I've heard it's quite good.

Steve:  For myself, I only discovered the Canterbury scene about two years ago and when I did it was more of "Oh, *that's* what we're doing" rather than "Wow, we should do that" - so, at least for me, it was kind of an after-the-fact pleasant discovery. I grew up listening to the classic prog groups mostly Yes and the fringe groups like Jethro Tull, Rush, and The Moody Blues. All that aside, Hatfield and the North is my all time favorite Canterbury band...followed closely by Happy the Man and Nat'l Health. I must admit that there's an awful lot out there that I haven't heard yet or am just beginning to get into. It's mostly lack of supply --the stuff's hard to find in the Southeastern USA.

The original line-up of Volaré was particularly original in that it included a cellist. What were the reasons for his departure before the album ? Of musical or non-musical nature ? Do you miss the cello in any way now ?

Brian:  Keep in mind the line-up featured on the cassette release is not the original (which dates back to February '94 with Norwegian bassist Jon-Friedrik Nielsen). Cellist Rob Sutherland was a Volaré member for less than a year. He was a Rhodes scholar and was headed for Oxford in the fall of '96, but the Eclectic Electric Event in July of that year was his last appearance with the band. Rob was a fine cellist but seemed to lack the imagination to contribute compositionally and the commitment to rehearse as often as the band required. Most of his melodic lines on '96's "Volaré" EP were originally extra keyboard or guitar parts designated to him. On stage Rob's sound was difficult to integrate, but on the cassette the results are intriguing.

Pat:  Rob left primarily because he moved to Oxford to do graduate work, so he was going to leave anyway. However, after about six months with the group and several months before he was scheduled to leave, it became evident that he was not really a kindred spirit, musically. He was a classically trained musician, and what it came down to was that he simply didn't fit in with what we wanted to be doing. Because he wasn't an original member of the band, also... I guess his criticisms of some of our earlier material didn't go over too well with us. But ultimately I'd say he just wasn't a rock'n'roller, which is more the sort of thing we were aiming at.

Steve:  was definitely on the way out. The friction was musical in nature - basically he didn't like my stuff (I think the phrase "minimalist crap" came up once or twice!... ha ha). Well, I somewhat miss the sound of the cello but not so much the cellist. Don't get me wrong, I harbor no ill will. He was just difficult to work with. I don't think the music has suffered at all---he wasn't a contributing author. And I think we've more than compensated with extra sax, keys or guitar parts.

Speaking of the demo tape, why didn't you include any of its compositions ? Did you feel you had matured since to a point where that material was inferior in quality ? Or did you just feel you had enough good material from more recent times ?

Brian:  The time between July '96 and March '97 was our most prolific period yet in terms of song writing. We had well over an hour's worth of new material going into the studio for "Uncertainty". A few of the tracks on the EP have evolved quite a bit on stage since then and will more than likely be re-interpreted on the next album.

Pat:  I originally lobbied to get "North by Northwest" on the disc, but it turned out that we could stand pretty strongly on the new stuff that we had done subsequently, so... Plus, I think the material on is compositionally better. Steve in particular amazed me with his level of creativity on the new record.

Steve:  We were simply more excited about the new songs. If Ken Golden had asked for a double album then we probably would've whipped them out. Inferior in quality? Hard to say - we did a re-vamped version of 8th Direction at ProgDay and it seemed to get a bigger response than anything. Personally, I think the newer stuff is more interesting on the whole. But some of the older material is not without it's merit.

The compositions are all credited collectively. Is this really the case ?

Steve:  Not exactly...Pat and I are the main writers. We have songs we generally think of as "Pat songs" [NxNW, Odessa, Abcircus - but I did the opening 'melody' on this one, ha ha ! -, Vespers, Blitz, CropCircles, Mid. Clear] and those we generally think of as "Steve songs" [8th D, 3 o'clock, One minute of thought in two seconds of time (Incomplete, Broken, & Abstract - 'the trilogy' we jokingly call it), B & W, Misshapen] and on a rarity a true pat/steve steve/pat [Broken Waltz, and Combine]. In reality, Brian is invaluable when it comes to arrangements so he deserves some credit for everything. Not to mention that we often leave it up to each member to create there own part. And even when Pat or I do orchestrate everything out, chances are the individual will play their part a little differently...and always better. And we always bounce ideas around the room. We like for every member to be satisfied (or at least ambivalent!) with every part of every song. If someone grumbles a bit, majority rules and life goes on. We've never "argued over whether the next chord should be F or F#"...

Brian:  Steve and Pat are the band's composers. A few songs ("Caught in a Combine" and "The Broken Waltz" come to mind) are truly written in partnership and group arranged, although most Volaré tunes are usually the creation of either one writer or the other, and then are sent through the "cheese grater" of group arrangement (i.e.,"haggling"). There's a lot of freedom given over individual parts and melodic or rhythmic additions/variations ("democratic to a fault"...). Tracks 4,6 and 8 on "Uncertainty" are a conceptual trilogy composed by Steve, and tracks 5 and 7 are Pat's songs. The other tracks also generally owe their existence to a single writer but have been in the live set for so long they've assumed a real "group composition" feel and have evolved over time.

Pat:  Actually, writing credit is split mainly between Steve and I. Brian has say, naturally. But the core ideas---the chord changes, rhythms, riffs, melodies - come from either of the two of us. On the record, the 'composing credits' are pretty much 50/50. Steve is responsible for "One Moment of Thought", "In two Seconds of Time", "Incomplete, Broken, and Abstract", and "Black and White".  "Caught in a Combine" was the one true joint effort that we actually did... The rest of them I composed.

Can you try to analyze the main differences between your respective writing styles ?

Pat:  I've always felt that Steve has done a very good job arranging pieces, especially in terms of delegating parts to particular voices. His ability to come up with a catchy riff or rhythm blows me away. The stuff he came up with for "Two Seconds" and '"Incomplete" just put me on the floor. I'd say he knows how to put to use the sounds and instruments that are made available to him very well. His use of theme and melody and the way that he states them in the context of a piece are also extremely tasteful. I personally think that I take a less involved approach to putting a piece together. I usually take a series of chord changes and string them together... While I let melody, rhythm, and instrumentation take a back seat. As a composer, I'm just kind of a hack. Just chord changes; and I'll come up with a melody by just soloing over them. I suppose it's closer to jazz more than anything else. Play a head, then solo over changes. That's all "Midnight Clear" is.

What part does improvisation play in your music ? Is that part significantly different when you play live and when you play in the studio ?

Brian:  On our two releases most of the improvisation comes in the form of a soloist within a song structure. Live, we often extend the beginning ("North by Northwest"), middle ("Blitz"), or ending ("Abcircus") of a particular tune, as well as bridge two or more songs together with a few minutes of transitional improv. We're also known to allow enough time in the set list just in case a spontaneous free-form jam session demands to be unleashed upon the unsuspecting audience...

Pat:  We used to do a "lot" of improv, making stuff up on the spot. Sometimes we'd come up with an actual composition that way, sometimes not. In the makeup of music on the disc, there's very little that wasn't at least 'planned'. Generally we'll tack on an improv bit to the end/beginning of a tune that we feel would sound good with it, like the end "Abcircus" or "Blitz" or something. But we'll keep everything controlled. For example, the guitar/synth solo at the end of 'Blitz' will stay in 13/8, but we may play it for three or four minutes. Occasionally we'll just jam in show, and that's a lot of fun. In the studio, we just did whatever sounded best. If an improv bit worked, we kept it. If it didn't, we either do it again or just overdub.

Steve:  Well, for myself and I'm fairly certain the others too... The songs are quite structured. We improvise insofar as we don't really play every note exactly the same. it's fun to come up with a new bit over an old part. and we do like creating entirely alternative arrangements. And we occasionally do an improv at a show. More often we have improv segues - e.g.. between Abcircus and Blitz. in the studio we did that improv segue and we did a from scratch track we called "Oxford Don" but didn't have room for it on the CD.  Only later did we realize someone might construe the title as a reference to our ex-cellist. It was actually the name of a race horse from an episode of Banacek we watched that morning. I love improv. But the main outlet for that used to be a side project me and Brian were in called The Rubber Experiment. We had some arranged numbers but often did shows entirely improv.

How did you meet Steve Babb and Fred Schendel ? Did you have any previous knowledge of their work with Glass
Hammer ? Are you happy with their production work ?

Steve:  I'll leave the first part of this question for Brian...no, i had never heard of them. I'm generally pleased with their work--Fred in particular had some really good ideas for the keys and just the mixing in general.  I would complain that the guitar sound is too raw...  If you mean the clean tones then i'd have to agree. But it's not Fred and Steve's fault, it's my fault for being poor and not being able to afford decent equipment... Ha ha! If you're talking about the dirty sound then I wholeheartedly disagree... It's supposed to be harsh and raw. What better way to convey confusion, aggression, and madness ?... I'm sure Pat will love that last bit !

Pat:  I had heard of Glass Hammer beforehand, but had never "heard" them. I'm extremely pleased with the way the disc sounds.  Unfortunately, being as close as I am to the recording, I notice little glitches or subtle mistakes that most ears don't hear... but that's just me.

Speaking of Glass Hammer's production work : I assume you got in touch with them through Ken Golden of The Laser's Edge, but did you have any previous knowledge of their work?  Are you pleased with the result ?

Brian:  I'd say it's fine, except for the guitar whose sound I sometimes find a bit too raw... Actually, I sent a tape to Sound Resources (Glass Hammer's studio in Tennessee) and *they* sent it on to Ken at Laser's Edge. I thought Sound Resources must be a small record label ! Glass Hammer did a great job recording the album for us. They too found the guitar to be too "raw" at times (as you did also), so we had to fine-tune their perception of Volare`'s sound and let all the raw edginess come through in the recording. A common misconception seems to be that we're only interested in a Happy the Man/Hatfield style, when the reality is that we force the audience to contend with a harsher, more dissonant element with dark undertones at times.

You once described your style as "garage fusion for the 21st century". Would you mind sharing an updated description ?  On a more serious note, what past and current bands do you feel close to in spirit and style ?

Brian:  The latest Volaré catch phrase is "Instrumental mood swings, from mellow to malevolent and points in-between." I've also recently likened our sound to "blasting an ECM album through a megaphone." Certainly the Hatfield/National Health sound is a main ingredient, but also add some instrumental sections of Genesis circa "Foxtot" or "Wind and Wuthering", plus elements of King Crimson's "Larks' Tongues..." period, as well as Happy the Man. The key for us though is to simmer this concoction for 3 or 4 years and some truly unique flavors begin to come through in the music.

Pat:  I don't know how well that fits. That was Brian's idea. It's kind of funny though. It may sound a bit naive of me to say this, but I think of this album to be the type of thing that people who like music in general would like. It's not the most accessible style out there, obviously. But we've received positive response from some fairly unlikely sources. Anyway, to answer your question, I guess 'garage fusion' is still apt... Maybe not for the 21st century. I've heard 'instrumental mood swings' before. The best one has got to be 'a cross between the Doors, Europe, Yo Yo Ma, Angelo Badalamente, and TV theme songs'. I've also heard that we're a jazzier version of Rush with no singing. I think that the Happy the Man and the National Health references are pretty much on the money. I also think that Genesis, Crimson, Return to Forever, Weather Report... some kinda jazzier groups. We have a tinge of that going on too. I'm a big Metheny fan and I've always wondered how much that showed up in our music, like whether anyone noticed any similarities. Of course, you can't overlook the strong REM similarity as well (laughs).

Steve:  Yup, that was always a poke at ourselves for our collectively slack playing styles. but have improved quite a bit sense that term was born (you can just imagine how slack we were before...). Ugh, I can't really give a good description. We're just doing progressive rock the way we'd like to hear it. It comes out Canterbury and sometimes "symphonic" - a fairly useless catch-all term. It comes out harsh and it comes out sweet. it's sometimes corny and sometimes poignant. it's sometimes humorous and sometimes very sincere.  But we love to play it all... Well, I'm working toward feeling closest to Robert Fripp or David Bowie in spirit (or what I know of them anyway)... Personally, im moving into a more experimental phase. Neither Fripp nor Bowie have ever been satisfied with doing the same thing - now I just have to find out if I really can invent something entirely new.

Can you tell me more on the subject of outside cooperations, in particular your appearance on ProgDay with the French TV gig where Volaré provided two replacements for missing members ?

Brian:  In addition to Volaré's appearance, Pat and I sat in on French TV's ProgDay '97 gig, and I have since recorded and "toured" with them in Kentucky. The ProgDay performance was thrown together with out a single real rehearsal ! (as was my sitting in on one Glass Hammer tune). We enjoyed it, but it wasn't exactly a flawless on our part. I joined the band for a November '97 recording session including a Samla Mammas Manna tune and a Volaré cover song ("The Odessa Steps Sequence"). Pat may work with the Echolyn crew again, and we all hope to collaborate with French TV again at some point. Steve and I have also signed on to record as the newest members of Somnambulist for their second Laser's Edge release, due out in 1998.

Pat:  The Progday thing went like this. Mike Sary (whom we had gotten to know pretty well, since Volare had played with FTV about four times previously) called Brian and I to see if we'd like to sit in. Their original drummer couldn't do the gig, so he wondered if Brian would mind doing it. I was not originally intended to sub for John for the first half of that show. Amazingly we pulled it off... or at least everyone is being really polite about it! As for Always Almost, I went up there in October to put down a few tracks for their new album. Brett and I have toyed with doing some sort of side project (I actually mailed him a tape of some ideas the other day), but nothing beyond that.

Steve:  Brian and I are involved in a side project as well... with Somnambulist out of Chattanooga, TN... Another Laser's Edge group.  There stuff is more symphonic than I'm used to doing but damn they're talented musicians. And they're also very willing to be experimental... We both have high hopes for that right now. I'm also playing with a more straight (but not too straight) fusion type group in Durham called Smokin' Granny... We met them at ProgDay back in September.

What are Volaré's plans for the future, in terms of gigs, future second album, challenges to be set in terms of musical progression, etc. ?

Brian:  Volaré certainly hopes to record again (with maybe more of a "live, acoustic jazz quartet" feel juxtaposed with more "raw" experiments in tension and release !) and possibly to re-release our '96 EP as a remastered cd (possibly to to include bonus tracks?) next year. In-between time we're all very bust with the above mentioned bands (see #8) in addition to our own local projects... Which all means two things for Volaré : it will be a little while down the road before we can even *think* about the next album, but when we do we will hopefully have grown enough as musicians so that the next cd couldn't help but be a step beyond the first.

Pat:  Right now, we're lying in wait to see how 'Uncertainty' does. We'd like to do another record, but as for now we're taking it easy.  We've talked a bit about it and hopefully it will happen. Other than that, we have no current plans for touring. As far as musical progression, we'd kinda like to do an album of Toto covers, except for no singing. Of course the trick is to get Ken to pay for it !  Who knows.....

Steve:  There's been talk of working up a second album's worth of songs sometime but we're in no rush. we all want to devote time to our other efforts for the moment. We tired of gigging the club scene in Athens...not much of a prog-town. I think we'll stick mainly to festivals and mini festivals. We're open for suggestions...

Just one last question - why didn't Richard Kesler take part in this interview ? Is he out of the band or what ?

Steve:  Ha ! No, Marc is just a little difficult to get a hold of some times. I assume Pat contacted him, he usually prefers to leave these sorts of things to the three of us anyhow.

(c) 1998 Big Bang Magazine

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