The Music of Andrew Gorczyca's Reflections: An Act of Glass has to be one of 2009's most unusual, and enjoyable, albums. Conceived by Chris Gorczyca, the album comprises eight songs penned by his brother Andrew. Chris and Andrew had often played together as a sibling rhythm section, Chris's drums to Andrew's bass. When Andrew died prematurely, it fell to Chris to decide what to do with Andrew's legacy of self home-recorded music. Chris's vision has now been realised and shared with the world: the album was released on ProgRock Records earlier this year. SoT writer Alex Torres sought some insights from Chris on the making of this remarkable album.
SoT: You've probably done this many times before, but just give our readers a short background to the "Music of Andrew Gorczyca" project.
Chris: Andrew and I grew up together as musicians. Being brothers, we generally operated as kindred spirits, playing in several bands and writing and recording original songs. Eventually our lives went in different directions and the musical interaction ceased. I always believed in Andrew's music, so when he passed away suddenly at age 40, I felt compelled to get his work out into the world. I knew the music was never heard by anyone other than family and friends, so that was my motivation to start the project. I suppose a fair amount of grief contributed to the idea as well. It started as something very personal, just a desire to "clean up" his old four track recordings with professional care for posterity. The overall vision crystallized with the decision to invite several prog rock players to recreate Andrew's work and to release a proper album.
SoT: Was it an easy decision to attempt to convert Andrew's home recordings into professional music?
Chris: I believe the conversion process was a form of honouring his legacy. I wanted to do something to celebrate his creativity, and bringing the material into the modern production realm was the best way to present his music to listeners. The hardest part was "imagining" what his songs would sound like once they were re-recorded by others. I didn't want to lose the essence of his ideas, so that was a constant guideline for me.
SoT: Fans of which bands would enjoy the album, do you think?
Chris: Perhaps the most identifiable influence in Andrew's writing and the performances given by the players is the band Rush, particularly their mid to late 80s sound. Fans of Yes might find some familiar trademarks in the music as well. And of course, fans of bands like Spock's Beard and even King Crimson might enjoy the album as well.
SoT: How did you contact and then capture the interests of so many eminent musicians for the project?
Chris: Over the years, I had developed relationships with many of the players on this record. The musicians are either very close friends, musical acquaintances from past work together, or simply musicians whose work I have admired. Contacting them was the easy part procuring their involvement was a matter of hope. This was a professional project - all fees were honoured and my organization was meticulous (business acumen obviously appeals to professional musicians). In the end I like to think the players saw merit in the music and understood the unique nature of the project, so all these things helped to assemble the roster as it came to be.
SoT: Ok, their fees were paid, but I guess they would not have been too keen had they thought there was no merit in the project. Had they heard the original home tapes? What sort of comments did they make about the music?
Chris: In general, I think true artists do believe in the work in which they participate, regardless of business arrangements (at least ones with integrity). All of the players received the original versions of the songs they would record, and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive, despite the poor quality of 15-20 year old four track tapes. The overall comments focused on Andrew's excellent melodic sense, his gift for arranging, and how deceptively simple the music seemed (until one tried to play it). There was also a lot of respect conveyed for Andrew's drive to realize his ideas, however primitive the recording medium. Sometimes writers just don't "get it down". For me, Adrian Belew's involvement gives a measure of the merit of the work. I was just a fan of his music (as Andrew was), not a personal friend, and he agreed to do three of the songs - all in separately scheduled sessions. After I sent the first song, he called me directly and said it spoke to him, commenting about the special quality of Andrew's writing. I think it says something that he was willing to participate in the project multiple times.
SoT: How did you capture the interest of such a reputable record company as Prog Rock records? Did contacting the record company come before the musicians?
Chris: Shawn Gordon (president of ProgRock Records) deserves all the credit for picking up "Reflections An Act Of Glass". The record was completely finished and pressed and I was already sending out copies in my own wave of promotion. Shawn heard about the CD and contacted me directly. He was intrigued with the work, understood what I had done in preserving Andrew's legacy, and basically liked the music. We then proceeded with the standard signing process and now the CD is getting vastly more exposure than I could have ever achieved on my own. This was something I never expected to happen, and I couldn't be happier. It's true vindication for Andrew a record company believed in his music and now he is "signed".
SoT: How were the re-recordings undertaken? Were you present at all the sessions or were some of the contributions remote?
Chris: The production effort happened in stages, beginning with rhythm section foundations. I was living in Los Angeles at the beginning of the work, so I began tracking drums, then other players added bass and rhythm guitars. I moved back to Seattle early on during the undertaking, and from there the project began travelling around the country to different players and studios. I was present for every session except the guitar tracks provided by Phil Keaggy (he preferred to work remotely).
SoT: Was there any "live" recording done or were musicians working to tapes?
Chris: I began the project by putting together Cakewalk sequences of the songs as "skeleton" parts. These sequences included any necessary click tracks, song forms, and melodic references. I played to these audio guides when laying down drums, and other players then played to my drums and any other sequenced instruments they needed to hear. As we went along, any unneeded Cakewalk information was muted. It was very efficient to have this master guide in the different studios. All of the musicians were overdubbing to pre-existing foundation performances, so we did not have live studio ensemble recording.
SoT: Whose idea was it to fill in all the adornments - violin, piano, acoustic guitar? - were they part of Andrew's original home recordings?
Chris: Andrew was very experimental in his choice of instrumentation, so most of those instruments (violin, acoustic guitar, piano) were part of his original songs. The musicians added some of their own decorative designs to the performances, but the parts remain faithful to the original ideas. A notable exception is the solo piano section that closes "Curiosity Song (I Only Want To Know)". These passages were improvised by Ryo Okumoto, and I enjoyed the shift of mood on what is otherwise a very pop-oriented song (as Andrew himself once described it). I thought it was a nice alternative ending, instead of a traditional fade-out.
SoT: How many songs were recorded for the album, or was the original decision just to have the 8?
Chris: Originally, I was going to do just one song, which was my all-time favourite Andrew tune "The Tall Tale Heart". This was before I thought of doing a real record. Then the list grew to seven songs, with one more added later because I wanted to feature Andrew somewhere on the CD. We chose "All Fixed (Predestination)" with vocals by Andrew. I realized going into the project that it would take some time, but it was becoming apparent that adding more songs might add even more time to the four-year effort. I really wanted to have something finished within five years of his passing in 2004. The track list is probably the one thing I wish I would have done differently, because it is a short album by today's standards, and Andrew did have plenty of material. But, reaching back, it is more like the records Andrew and I were listening to as teenagers (the days of vinyl), so that makes me feel better
SoT: How has the album been received by reviewers and fans?
Chris: I've been floored by the response. The reviews I have seen have been quite positive. I realize it might be difficult to review a work with this kind of history, but the focus has been on the music and the comments have been very uplifting. Overall, people have been particularly impressed with Andrew's abilities as a songwriter, and that has been most gratifying to see in print. People who have purchased the record have written to me out of the blue saying how much they enjoy the music some have followed up months later to remind me how it still speaks to them. In addition to the positive reaction to the record, it's also nice to see these comments appearing from places all over the world (thanks Shawn!). Seeing that, I have to feel the original vision has been realized.
SoT: Is there any chance that you will be forming a band to play some of these songs live?
Chris: I currently perform in a Seattle Yes tribute band called Parallels. We've had the pleasure of having Alan White sit in with us a couple of times (he lives in the Seattle area). The band has started reviewing original material from both "Reflections An Act Of Glass" and fellow member Randy George's band Ajalon. We hope to perform songs as a complete original set at some West coast prog festivals in coming months. It's a new goal for us, so we'll see how it progresses.
SoT: Is there any possibility of a follow-up album?
Chris: Andrew had amassed quite a body of work, all in different stages of development, from completed songs to theme segments. It would certainly be possible to record several more albums from the remaining music. I've thought about it to be sure, however if done, I think it would be a more local effort with musicians and studios in and around Seattle, perhaps only offered as downloadable music. I think seeing "Reflections An Act Of Glass" as the finished product it is, along with the reaction to it, measures up to all the emotion that went into making it. I don't know if I could feel the same sense of accomplishment with a follow-up record. We'll see!
SoT: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions Chris - good luck with your musical adventures!
(Click here to read our review of Reflections-An Act of Glass)