The consensus amongst the majority of the staff at Sea of Tranquility was pretty constant-Majestic's 2010 release Ataraxia was one of the best prog albums of the year, and it was a CD that brough about a ton of excitement. So much so that we had to get in touch with both Jeff Hamel & Jessica Rasche to get some in-depth info on this great musical project and their outstanding recent release. Read on for SoT Staff Writer Mark Johnson's interview with Majestic!
SoT: Jessica and Jeff, welcome to Sea of Tranquility. We appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule finishing your new album with the new band Descension Rising, as well as rehearsing for your upcoming shows; to answer some questions for your fans.
Let's start with Descension Rising. Can you tell us about this band and the new album you're working on?
Jeff: First off, thanks for all the support SOT has given us. It is truly appreciated. As you know, Majestic is first and foremost a recording project. A few of us thought it would be fun to get together and jam once in while just to keep the chops up. During the recording of Ataraxia, we began to have enough 'jam' material to do some live shows. The music itself is different than Majestic in the sense it is not as "prog" and more just a rock jam band.
Jess: I would like to just echo Jeff in thanking SOT for their support. Descension Rising has certainly been a great outlet for all of us. For me, it's been a nice transition from only doing internet projects like that of Majestic to working with musicians one on one. It has been an overwhelmingly enjoyable experience working with such talented musicians and I am excited to see what the future holds for us.
SoT - You have already played some venues, what has the response been like so far for the new music?
Jeff: We have only done a few shows yet the response seems to be fairly positive. The band is still very green and we are still defining our sound so I think the verdict remains to be seen.
Jess: I agree with Jeff in that we are still defining our sound as a band, which I must say is an exciting adventure to be a part of! I think that the sky really is the limit for Descension Rising. We are fortunate to have four individuals with such a wide variety of musical influences. This and the fact that we are not afraid to take risks and go beyond our comfort zones in order to make music that is true to our hearts, is what I think makes Descension Rising so enjoyable for the listener. There really is something for everyone.
SoT - What will be the name of the new album and when do you plan to release it?
Jeff: We have done some recording for the DR project and other projects as well. It is undecided if we commercially release DR under MajesticSongs or just give away as promotion. Majestic has a new release coming up very soon and once that is complete I can then focus on the DR stuff.
SoT - How extensive will you tour across America?
Jess: As we mentioned earlier, we have only had a couple shows thus far, and we do plan on to continuing to play live and to build our fanbase. With that said, we really don't know how far Descension Rising will travel, but I think I speak for all of us when I say we all are excited to see where this journey takes us.
SoT - Now let's talk about Majestic. As you know from my review I loved the latest album Ataraxia. Which was your favorite song to write and record?
Jeff: We had many different players recorded throughout the CD and this made each track unique. This makes it tough to pick a favorite. For me it was probably more of a tossup between Dance of the Elders because of the technical aspect and Reflections because I got to have my son record on it with me.
Jess: Wow, It's hard for me to pinpoint a favorite on Ataraxia. Jeff really allowed me to stretch my wings on this project by really allowing me experiment vocally, and because of that, I have a lot of my own personal favorites. However, I can pick my top two, the first being "Wither" because the music was so beautifully composed that it almost became a playground for me vocally, where I was able to really experiment with different sounds, styles and feels. The other would be "Faceless" because the lyrics have personal meaning to me, and I am grateful to Jeff for allowing me to have that moment to express my emotions within this song.
SoT - The opening sounds off Ataraxia are shoes walking across wooden floors. The walker seems to be entering a party before the sounds of the ocean take over. Where were you taking the audience with these effects?
Jeff: Well, we had to start somewhere didn't we? (laughs) I always like the idea of taking a few steps back to learn about ourselves and see the big picture. I just wanted something that represented the idea of hectic turning into calm, or stepping into Ataraxia.
SoT - Jessica takes over and does a wonderful job with the support of the rest of the band to begin to lay out the story. How does the title Ataraxia or a sense of calm, help define the concept and story of the album?
Jess: When naming the album, we were looking for something that could describe the story as a whole. We came across the name Ataraxia and it is defined on Wikipedia as a Greek term used by Pyrrho and Epicurus for a lucid state, characterized by freedom from worry or any other preoccupation. I found the name to really sum up the feeling of the cd as a whole. There is quite a journey throughout the story, as the music brings you through a wide range of emotional waves from calmness breaking through into anxiety, but by the end, you are left with pure tranquility- no more fears, no more anxieties, you are only left with a sense of calm telling you that "everything is going to be alright".
SoT - The artwork associated with the album helps add to the concept and story. How did you find the artwork, and how do you feel it helps to support or reinforce the concept and story of Ataraxia?
Jeff: Actually the artwork came from MALS, our label. When I first saw it I was excited about it and thought that it fit well. The images gave a timeless look to the CD.
Jess: I have to agree with Jeff on this. It really suits the CD perfectly.
SoT - The electric guitar and drum sequence that follows Jessica's opening vocals is incredible. It brings back some memories of earlier neo prog songs I have heard. Where did that grinding guitar riff with keys find its inspiration?
Jeff: Chris did a fantastic job on the opening of 'Faceless'. We are always messing around during rehearsals and I am sure the opening riff started there. Actually for most of the recording process I had another track to be the opening of the CD but I changed it last minute because I really like how 'Faceless' turned out. After Chris finished the drums on it, I knew this was the opener.
SoT - "Wither" is another fantastic track off the album. The woodwinds, orchestration, keys and guitar chords are wonderful. Tell us how this song was created.
Jeff: A lot of what I record is not really planned ahead of time. Like 'Wither' for instance, I was looking at some orchestral patches on keyboard and hit record. I usually start with strings and add other sounds from there. The songs tend to write themselves. The result just reflects the mood I am in at that time. If the idea is solid I keep going with it.
SoT - On "Delusion", Jessica describes what sounds like a near death experience. Was this written from the perspective of a character or does it describe a real life encounter?
Jess: The near death experience was written from a characters perspective. I have never encountered a near death experience myself, but I have had a few "close calls" that have left me curious about whether something controls our destinies. My curiosity certainly helped me in writing this small piece of prose.
SoT - "Take My Breath Away" is the epic 14 minute tale on the album. Tell us about the work that went into creating that masterpiece.
Jeff: TMBA was a remake of a track I did a few years ago. I am usually not a fan of rehashing old ideas, but the first time I did it, I was doing all the instruments and vocals. Since I had all these great players at my disposal I wanted to redo it. In staying true "Prog" nature of course I had to scratch just about everything and rewrite new riffs and jam parts.
SoT - The album closes with "Reflections", which sounds like it was an addition to the album.
Jeff: 'Reflections' was an extra. My son plays acoustic guitar and the track came about from us just improvising one day. Lyrically I like it because it is all about looking back and taking in all that you have seen and done. Years from now my son will hear the track and remember all that was going on in his life at the time. So for me personally, it was a nice little ending to the CD. Jessica and I went back and forth several times about who should sing the lead vocal. I guess she won that discussion.
Jess: When Jeff discussed the meaning of the song with me, I was so moved by his sentiment that I felt very strongly from the beginning that he should sing the lead vocal on it. I am pleased that I stepped aside as I think the song was so beautifully done by Jeff and his son alone. It warms my heart to know that this father and son now have a moment in time that will remain theirs forever.
SoT – The Clover Suite is another great side project. This EP is available as a free download from the Majestic main website. First of all thank you for this gift. What was the inspiration for this 'suite'? Why 'Clover'?
Jeff: Clover started from some PBS special I was watching about evolution and the beginnings of life on earth. Again, in the truest prog fashion, I thought it would be cool to talk about the very first four-leafed clover. "The one who strived to be different than the others" So I wrote the four-piece little epic about this four-leafed clover coming to be. I am sure Jessica thought I was nuts with this idea.
Jess: One of the reasons that I think that Jeff and I work so well together is that he and I actually do see things quite the same way, but Jeff has an incredible gift in being able to tell the story through his music and his lyrics in an abstract way. In a sense he is the artist, painting a beautiful portrait with such vivid colors, but someone needs to interpret his vision. It works so well because I am able to easily understand his meanings and relay the story through my vocals. Every concept Jeff brings to the table is one that I am excited to explore, it's refreshing to work with someone that likes to experiment and explore beyond the norm. There has not been a journey yet that I have thought he was completely nuts on, well, maybe just a little. J
SoT – I like all the songs on Clover Suite and will definitely get around to reviewing it. In the meantime, please tell us which are your favorite tracks and why?
Jeff: My fav is probably the second movement. Jessica did an outstanding vocal on that track.
Jess: Another tough one to choose, but I would have to say the second movement as well, because the music is so beautifully composed. One reason I like working with Jeff is that his music allows me to be extremely expressive, and the second movement in Clover is a perfect example of that. That piece really has a lot of beautiful moments in it just by it's self, so beautifully done in my opinion.
SoT - I also have your Proximal Distance album from iTunes. Another great piece of music. This is harder than Clover and Ataraxia. Is this your outlet for harder edge music? What was the genesis or inspiration for the project?
Jeff: With Majestic I do all the writing. The Proximal Distance project is a collaboration of writing with Gregg Johns of Slychosis and me. Since Gregg is the sole writer of his band, PD gives us both a chance to experiment a little more and feed off each other's ideas. Gregg is an extremely skilled writer/player and I am honored to work with him. We have begun some initial ideas for PD II and I am looking forward to recording this summer.
Jess: I was honored to be asked to work on the Proximal Distance project after have been working with Jeff on the first Majestic project Arrival. Each track that came my way was a trip!! I was amazed at what these two masterminds were putting together! It certainly was a fun adventure and I look forward to working with them on the next.
SoT – You guys are prolific. Is there another band or project to watch for in the future?
Jeff: I will be releasing a big project under Majestic called "Labyrinth" here in a few weeks. There are some very epic tracks on it and we are excited to get this out to the fans. Members of our mailing list will be able to download this for free so make sure to get signed up; it will be worth your time.
SoT – Is there anything I did not cover in this interview which you would like to discuss?
Jeff: Just wanted to thank you and Sea of Tranquility for all the wonderful support you have shown us. It is appreciated. You help keep prog alive and well!!!
Jess: I want to thank everyone at Sea of Tranquility and everyone in the prog community for welcoming me with such enthusiasm and open arms! I am so happy that I found my way here, and I hope that I can continue to be a part of such a wonderful genre of music for years to come!
SoT: Thank you for your time in answering these questions. We at the Sea of Tranquility and your fans look forward to all that will come from your creative talents.
(Click here to read our reviews of Ataraxia)