If you happened to get swept up in the resurgence of the progressive rock scene in the early/mid- 1990's, especially here in the US, then no doubt Maryland's Iluvatar could very well have been a band whose music hit all the sweet spots for you throughout most of that decade. The guys have been fairly quiet since the early 2000's, but they are back now with a brand new album, From the Silence, and ready to once again show the world that they are one of the must see & must hear prog acts from the last 20 years. Band members Glenn McLaughlin (vocals), Dennis Mullin (guitar), Jim Rezek (keyboards), and Chris Mack (drums) recently caught up with Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo to discuss what's been going on with the band since we've last seen them, the exciting new CD, live shows, and their take on the current prog-rock scene.
SoT: The band has been somewhat quiet since 1999s A Story Two Days Wide, at least from a recording perspective. Despite some prog festival appearances, for many genre fans, it's been a bit of an 'out of sight, out of mind' thing, yet here you are back in 2014 with a killer new album and all familiar faces in the band. Can you talk a bit about the late '90s going into the 2000s for the band, and what you all have been up to, together and apart, in all these years?
Jim - I believe the 'out of sight, out of mind' thing is very true. A lot of people that are familiar with the current bands in the same genre don't seem to know of iluvatar. While the band never broke up, we just seemed to have long lapses in activity tied to everyday real life occurrences. Since 2010 I have also been writing and rehearsing with Prophet Code. The band includes former iluvatar drummer Gary Chambers and iluvatar collaborator Tom Kraus. We have played 3 shows in the past couple of years and are working on recording for a proper release.
Dennis - Yes, unfortunately, our personal lives, professional careers, and side projects all contribute and prevent us from getting together and working on Iluvatar projects as much as we used to. The reality is that Iluvatar is a very serious hobby for us. As much as we'd like it to be more full time, our own individual responsibilities outside of the band have to take a higher priority. Since the last Iluvatar album "A Story Two Days Wide...", I have also worked on two CDs from the band Images Of Eden (www.imagesofeden.com).
Chris - Iluvatar for all of us in the band has always been there... We enjoy playing live and wanted to get an album out, but seem to fall short on focus. I'm not sure if it was burn out or just personal things getting in the way but I'm feeling there's a renewed energy in the band. I would hope we get back to writing and not take another decade plus to get something out. In the downtime of Iluvatar I managed to stay pretty busy with various projects. I joined the band Puppet Show and released 'A Tale of Woe' on Prog Rock Records in 2007, Around the same time I recorded the debut album with Oblivion Sun and gigged with them until 2009. I just recently built up a nice home studio and am currently recording an album with Dan Britton of Deluge Grander.
Glenn - I would look at it as the " 30 something growth spurt ". Families and careers, changes in status etc. Let's face it, the prog genre is not a great catalyst for super stardom and easy paychecks. That's what makes this genre unique in itself. The artists create music from the heart and soul without conforming to the standard formula of quick turnaround performance. We focused more on stabilizing a personalized and individual foundation in order to keep the music alive later on down the road. We didn't want to lose sight of what we had set out to do years ago, and that's to finalize a product that we felt comfortable with and not rush to meet the needs and quotas the music industry would normally expect of a band, so to speak.
SoT: Iluvatar are often looked at now as a part of the 'elder statesman' of the resurgence of progressive rock in the '90s. Do you feel like the band did their part in helping prog gain some popularity in that decade?
Jim- Yes, I do feel that we played a part in the 90s resurgence. I believe we were well received by a certain crowd.
Dennis - I'd like to think we played our own small part in our genre regaining some popularity back then.
Chris - For me definitely... I joined the band in late '97(?) but had their CD's around '95 and thought they kept that Prog sound alive alongside other bands I was listening to at that time like Marillion, iQ, Jadis, Pendragon ...all the 'neo' stuff as it's labeled today.
Glenn - We felt at the time we weren't at the pinnacle of our career and we knew there was a lot more music to come. If we are recognized as such 'elder statesman', I admit it's not how we perceive ourselves, but at the same time are greatly honored to hold such stature.
SoT: Let's go back a bit and look at some of your influences; to anyone listening to Iluvatar, you can hear bits of Genesis, Yes, IQ, Marillion, and Pendragon. Were you into all these bands, and did they help shape your music, or where there other, more important artists that moved you into doing this kind of music?
Jim- Most of the bands mentioned are certainly ones I have listened to and enjoyed for many years and I think some of it shows in our music.
Dennis - Yeah, those bands were certainly some of my favorites to listen to over the decades, along with Pink Floyd, Kansas, Rush, Steve Morse and The Dregs, Journey, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Dire Straits, The Who, Jeff Beck, Al Di Meola, Allan Holdsworth... Plus various blues, jazz, and classical music. Heck, there's just too many to mention. All of those influences and more I'm sure will subconsciously filter in here and there as I write and develop a piece of music. I write music that I'd like to listen to. I have always enjoyed the more complex playing and arrangements of the prog and jazz fusion genres, but I also feel like the playing and arrangement should serve the overall song itself, not the other way around. I think that attitude is reflected in Iluvatar's music.
Chris - Pretty much all of those bands have been an influence on all of us at one time or another. I believe music can be a outpouring of your influences. You are what you listen too.
Glenn - We all come from very diverse musical backgrounds, practices and upbringings, but the common denominator which influenced all of the members of Iluvatar are the aforementioned bands and artists.
SoT: 1995's Children holds a special place in many fans hearts-can you talk a bit about the creation of that album, and what makes it so endearing to so many people still to this day?
Jim - All in all we were able to get a really good sound and mix for the Children album. To me, it seems the overall vibe was very consistent. As for the actual songs, almost half of the material was left over from the Debut CD.
Dennis - A Couple of the songs on Children ("Late Of Concience", "Eye Next To Glass", and "Darkest Hour") were written before the debut CD came out, and some others were based on pieces that had been floating around in my head for years before the band developed them into what we eventually recorded. I think the material on there is pretty strong, and the songs flow nicely together to create a very listenable album. But that is the intention for any record we've released.
Chris - Gary Chambers played some great drums on it. It's my all time favorite from this band. Great songwriting.
Glenn - I think it captured the band's individualities of each members' songwriting abilities. For me personally, it was the first album where I had to develop my strengths in my penmanship and in creating a melody within or around the music the boys had written collectively, matching the lyrics to the texture and feel of each song or passage. It was the first album I allowed myself expression in the songwriting roadwork as well.
SoT: The new CD From the Silence picks UP right where you left off, and you guys have not missed a beat. From the first listen, it's an instantly memorable album. Describe the writing process of this album, as far as when these songs started to come together, how long it took, and any favorite tracks the band members have any why?
Jim - The inception of some of these songs goes back quite a few years. Over 10 years ago we put out a very rare and limited (125?) CD named "3 Demos" and it comprised of Resolution, Favorite Son and Moo Moo. They've since been re-recorded in their entirety for this release. For quite some time back in 2006/2007 we would just show up at rehearsal and start playing little pieces out of thin air. As the evening progressed we would record these parts on a simple stereo recording, not multi-tracked. The next week or so when we got together we would just start again with fresh ideas. In the meantime, Dean would sift through these pieces and organize CDs filled with interesting little parts we had come up with over the months and he'd pass them on to us. Basically we had 4 CDs full of ideas. I have been telling people for years that this album is done. And it was. It just took some extra time to make it available to the fans.
Dennis - Picking up from where Jim left off, we listened through a ton of improvised rehearsal jams and ideas, picked ones that seemed to have potential, combined a few, and developed them into the songs on From The Silence. Then the songs developed further as we continued the recording process. Bear in mind that this was usually just a few hours a week, which helps explain why this thing took so very long. There were also a couple of pieces that were brought in more or less structurally complete musically. Then there was mixing, remixing, re-recording some things, and remixing some more... At the end of the day, a couple of my personal fave tracks on the new CD are Across The Coals, Resolution, and Favorite Son.
SoT: It's great to hear Jim Rezek laying some some truly vintage keyboard sounds throughout the album. What instruments did he use in the creation of From the Silence?
Jim - Real Mellotron for most, if not all of the parts that sound like what one expects IS a Mellotron (Cellos, Choirs, Violins, perhaps some other sounds). MiniMoog for the lead synth parts and effects. For the most part, we used whatever sounded good for the part, whether it originated from a Kurzweil, a computer, a Roland JP8000, EMU Vintage Keys module, etc.
SoT: "Le Ungaire Moo-Moo" is an incredible, King Crimson styled song-was it intentional to try and get that KC vibe, or did it just turn out that way?
Jim - the piece was written by Brian Packham many moons ago as a collage project. Written for 2 pianos. Dean actually operated the 4 track cassette player while Brian played the parts on something like a Roland Juno 60. We just rocked it out!
Dennis - Dean brought in this old recording made by his college friend Brian Packham. The original piece was written for two pianos, with lots of interesting dissonant chord changes and odd time signatures. We thought it might be an interesting challenge to see what we could do with it as a band. So we each took a part that seemed appropriate for our instruments, and added our own ideas to make the arrangement our own. We didn't set out to make it sound like King Crimson, but the instrumentation and tone choices made along the way do indeed contribute to make a sorta KC vibe, and a very different musical tangent for us.
Chris - Originally when I heard it I thought... Oh yeah...we have to Crimson-ize this ! That being said , there's a lot just in the bare arrangement of the song that had that recognizable Crimson tone to it.
SoT: I made a comment in my review of the album that there is a nice variety between the symphonic, more bombastic pieces and the more pastoral, melodic, and lush songs on the CD. How hard is it to strike that balance, and give a little something for every musical palette?
Dennis - As composers, we come up with a wide variety of musical ideas; heavy, mellow, spacey, upbeat, laid back, etc. As we combine and filter these ideas to form songs, and then decide which songs we will record for an album, we are conscientious of creating a certain ebb and flow to the overall album, with a variety of peaks and valleys equally distributed for an interesting overall listening experience.
SoT: Are there plans for some live shows in support of From the Silence?
Dennis - Yes. Rehearsals for some live appearances are being planned now.
SoT: I'd love to know, what are some of the bands favorite prog albums of all time?
Jim - Van der Graaf Generator -Still Life , Gentle Giant - In A Glass House, Peter Hammill - Silent Corner....
Dennis - Porcupine Tree - In Absentia (or most anything by them or Steve Wilson); Genesis - Selling England, Trick of the Tale, Duke; Yes - The Yes Album; IQ - Ever; Ozric Tentacles - Strangeitude; Marillion - Afraid of Sunlight; Spock's Beard - Kindness of Strangers; and oh, so many more...
Chris - Yes : The Yes Album, Fragile, Close To the Edge, Relayer. Genesis : Nursery Crime, Foxtrot, Selling England, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Trick of The Tail. King Crimson: practically everything they've done ! Gentle Giant: Power and the Glory. Happy The Man 1st Album, Crafty Hands . Rush: A Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres, Permanant Waves, Moving Pictures. Marillion: Misplaced Childhood, Clutching at Straws. IQ: Tales from the Lush Attic, The Wake, Ever. Porcupine Tree: The Sky Moves Sideways, Signify, Stupid Dream. Spock's Beard: Kindness of Strangers. Flower Kings: Stardust We Are, Space Revolver.
I could go on and on...
SoT: It seems like these days in the US there are less prog festivals than there was a decade ago. How important do you think these festivals are for this genre?
Jim - I think they are very important and i try to attend when possible.
Chris - I think they are very important as well...even though we never do very well at any of those ! I try to go when time and money allows, even if I don't know a lot of the bands. Usually I come away with one or two new favorites.
SoT: What does the next 1-3 years look like in the Iluvatar crystal ball?
Dennis - I'd love for us to do a bunch of shows, then start writing a new album, to be completed and released before I'm a senior citizen!
Chris - Ditto. Definitely some shows.. Get back to writing and move forward.
SoT: Any other items you'd like to share with the Sea of Tranquility readers?
Chris - Thanks to everyone's support and positive energy regarding our latest CD effort ! I realize we're not everyone's cup of tea but it's important to us that the fans who like us are happy with what we release and hopefully we'll gain some new fans along the way.
(Click here to read our review of From the Silence)