On the second disc of the two-DVD package Live at Last, the first concert video from California proggers Enchant, a fan named "Keith from Connecticut" refers to the 16-year-old group as an "overtalented, underrated band." That statement, sadly, says it all. Despite seven studio albums and one of the most distinct sounds in modern progressive rock, Enchant still can't book a tour in its homeland (although it has opened U.S. dates for the likes of Camel, Steve Hackett, IQ and Eric Johnson), and the band garners absolutely no airplay — relying on word of mouth and some of the most steadfast fans in the world, many who journeyed from around the country and around the globe to be part of Live at Last in Oakland, Calif. "It was our first chance to just go out and do what we wanted, and we just played until we were ready to fall over," guitarist and Live at Last DVD and companion CD producer Doug Ott recently told Michael Popke.
Recorded at I-Musicast in Oakland, Calif., on March 13, 2004, the gig presents Enchant in all its glory. While the first disc of the DVD captures Enchant in a marathon two-and-a-half-hour set that includes 23 songs recorded with a five-man lineup that now appears to be steady after personnel changes at keyboards and drums, the second disc of interviews presents the band as regular and witty guys at or nearing 40. They still work day jobs, Ott says, and three of them have kids. During the interview segments, band members discuss such decidedly uncool topics as the magic of memorizing all the lyrics to Journey's Escape (vocalist Ted Leonard) and the thrill of buying a drum kit on sale (drummer Sean Flanegan). That they have still managed to garner such critical worldwide acclaim and gushing loyalty from deep-thinking fans who appreciate Enchant's distinct brand of progressive rock is a testament to the band's willpower and musical depth.
Not bad for an outfit that first made a mark performing a memorable version of the obscure "Man of Our Times" on the 1995 Genesis tribute CD, Supper's Ready, one of many tribute albums released in the Nineties by Magna Carta, Enchant's U.S. label at the time. "It's funny that you mention that, because out of the things that we did with Magna Carta, the Genesis tribute record was my favorite," Ott says.
Sea of Tranquility: How cool was it to play in front of an American crowd?
Doug Ott: It was awesome. We play a show here and there in the States, but we haven't really had the opportunity to go out and do a tour.
SoT: Why not?
Ott: That's a good question. It's probably because we're not popular enough. The record company could pay thousands of dollars to put us in all these places, but it doesn't do much good if 40 people show up. I think the main thing that stops us is we're not really big enough to fill a lot of the venues and it's not a monetarily sound idea to go out and play shows with 40 people there.
SoT: Then how did this gig come about? Did your label, InsideOut Music, want a live album from Enchant, and then you got to decide where you wanted to play?
Ott: We've been around for a number of years, and it just was time. People were e-mailing us asking if there was any live Enchant material. And looking at where we normally play, I thought, 'Man, we've got fans in parts of the world that will never get to see us.' So it was one of those things that if we actually made a live album and a DVD, then people could sit in their living room and experience what an Enchant show would be like. We obviously have a much bigger following in Europe, but it's a lot harder to do things in other countries — especially since we always go out as a support act. We figured if we actually book a show at home and make it 'An Evening With Enchant,' then we could have full control over what happens. We could play for as long as we want, and we could be more in charge of the recording and the filming. That's why we chose to do it in our neck of the woods. I just feel really fortunate that people came from all over the world to see the show.
SoT: Did you feel pressure — as if you had something to prove because so many fans had never seen you live? Plus, you were in front of not only a home-state crowd but also a home-country crowd for a rare performance ...
Ott: There definitely was pressure, especially since it was a one-off thing. We knew we didn't have another night to go back and redo something. It's not like many bands that do a DVD and film two or three shows and take the best of everything and put it together. We didn't have that opportunity. When I watch the DVD now, I feel like we weren't quite as relaxed as we normally are. Ted seemed a little nervous at times in the beginning. His voice wasn't quite as comfortable. He sang everything really well, but he'll tell you if you ever talk to him that he felt unusually tight during the first three or four songs. He really wasn't loosened up yet. And a lot of that had to do with nerves. His family was there, and all these cameras were around.
SoT: How about you? Were you nervous?
Ott: I was, too. But we had just come off a tour with Spock's Beard in Europe, the band was sounding great and playing these songs are really second-nature at this point. So to me, it was like 'Let's just do it. We're going to kick ass and have fun and hopefully that will come across both on audio and video.' And I think it does, I really do.
SoT: There's a simmering undercurrent of aggression and passion in Enchant's playing on Live at Last — something that comes across stronger than it does on record. If it's possible, Ted's voice sounds even more vulnerable than it does on disc, especially because Enchant's lyrics are so personal and intense.
Ott: I agree with you. Ted's really, really good at getting the emotion out and pushing it and selling it to the audience. You kind of have to bathe yourself in that emotion when you go out there, and sometimes it gets hard. Some of these songs are very personal. There are actually two points in the show where I'm doing guitar solos and almost crying, just feeling the emotion of the song. We really try to feel that every night. The songs and the music are that close to us.
SoT: Were you feeling that way on "What to Say," as Ted was? ["What to Say" is a personal, gut-wrenching song written by Leonard in the voice of a family man who knows he's about to die from a brain tumor.]
Ott: No, I was feeling it more on "Acquaintance" and "Comatose." I think Ted was really feeling it on "What to Say." When you watch the DVD, just look at his face as he's singing the last line — "Don't let my memory fade — and he's walking away from the mic. You'll go 'Wow.' There's a lot of emotion there.
SoT: That emotion is part of what makes Enchant so listenable. I can sense that you guys are passionate and take this music seriously. You don't always get that sense from bands these days, even progressive bands.
Ott: We try to bring the emotion into the music as well as we can, and Ted is a very emotive singer. I really think he's able to sell and feel his own lyrics and my lyrics. I think that is one of the reasons that a lot of our fans are so loyal to the band. It's not like we're singing about some fantasy story or political stance. We sing about deep-seated emotions that people can relate to.
SoT: There were some technical difficulties with this DVD, and there are some theories out there about what went wrong …
Ott: There was a problem in the mastering, where the first 86 minutes of the show were actually in mono, as opposed to stereo. Nobody caught it, and the DVD was actually released in Germany. People though, 'Well, what the heck? This sounds like crap.' And then we discovered the problem and were like 'Gee, this is a major fuck up.' We pulled it from the shelves, remastered it and put it back out. The process delayed it by about six months. There also are some spots where the audio and video aren't perfectly in sync, because I had to do every shot by hand. It was very, very difficult and took something like three months of editing. I'll never do it again.
SoT: How has Enchant's sound evolved over seven albums?
Ott: Back when we were doing material for A Blueprint of the World [Enchant's 1994 debut], we were basically a bunch of kids in our twenties, trying to just impress each other with this lick, that riff or this time signature. We experimented a lot. A Blueprint of the World is the result of about five years of writing and arranging, whereas later albums were like, 'OK, write the music, record it, put it out.' As time went on, I realized that Blueprint was great, It's got some terrific stuff on it, it's full of energy and there's a lot of verve in the album. But at the same time, the direction in a songwriting sense wasn't really as cohesive as I wanted it to be. Since then, I've tried to make each album a little more cohesive within itself. So you'll see a change from Blueprint to [1996's] Wounded, from Wounded to [1998's] Break, from Break to [2000's] Juggling 9 or Dropping 10, and so on. I just tried to make the songs as good as I possibly could while still keeping that musical integrity there and not overshadowing the lyrics and the melodies. To me, the thing about prog music that loses a lot of everyday listeners is that there's just too much going on and they can't lock in on anything. Ted and I really try to make what we think is a great combination of what popular music should be — music with a really strong melody and hook and lyric — and incorporate that into a progressive background by maintaining the musicality that progressive music has.
SoT: Do you consider Enchant a progressive band?
Ott: Yeah, definitely.
SoT: And now Enchant's first European headlining tour [beginning March 27 and well into April] is upon you …
Ott: We've never had the opportunity to headline, which is why this tour is just going to be An Evening With Enchant. We're really excited about that. It's a European tour at this point, although I am talking to InsideOut Music America about trying to get some dates across the United States when we get back. So I'm hoping we'll be playing six or eight shows around the States.
SoT: Why has Enchant's experience in Europe been so different than it has in the States?
Ott: Our record company is from Germany and has put us out on the road with a lot of high-profile bands, and we've gotten a lot of press. Having Steve Rothery produce our first record also helped. He was constantly talking about us. So people heard about us and started coming to see us. Our next venture after that was supporting Dream Theater. Suddenly, we were playing for 2,000 people. They see us play, they go buy a CD and then they become fans. Then we went out with Marillion on the Radiation tour and played 5,000- and 10,000-seat places. The fan base just grows and grows and grows. That's what happened over there. The difference over here is that we don't go out and play with everybody. We played NEARfest a couple years ago, we play San Francisco, we play Los Angeles. But it's really hard to get something going in America because there are not the mediums that exist in Europe to plug the band. In Europe, radio stations are playing progressive music, there are tons of magazines on the shelves in stores. It's not just a fanzine or a web thing. The exposure is just much larger.
SoT: Do you regret that Enchant hasn't hit headline status in your homeland, or are you just pleased to still be doing what you're doing this far into the band's career?
Ott: Well, you always wish things were a little better here. I feel bad about the fact that we have fans in the United States that we can't get to. The fans are everything to us. If not for them, we'd just be a bunch of guys with some really cool ideas in a garage somewhere. If I had it my way, we would go out on the road in the United States for a couple months every year, just to connect with people. Unfortunately, it's just not possible.
SoT: Would you have done anything differently?
Ott: I probably wouldn't have signed with Magna Carta. We never got much press or promotion or a chance to go out and play.
SoT; That's a shame, because Magna Carta had a lineup in the mid- and late-Nineties that is comparable to what InsideOut Music has now.
Ott: There is a huge misconception in the United States: We were signed to InsideOut before we were signed to Magna Carta. Our deal with InsideOut was basically everywhere in the world except North America and South America. We licensed our first two records to Magna Carta for those territories, so most people in the United States who bought A Blueprint of the World and Wounded have the Magna Carta versions. The InsideOut versions were imports.
SoT: What's next after the spring tour?
Ott: We're working on new material and hope to possibly get a new record done by the end of the year. I won't say there are going to be any big changes, but at the same time, I don't think there is any Enchant record where you can say, 'Oh, this sounds just like the last one.' It'll definitely have all the elements that make Enchant what it is, but every album I want to try to do something new and change it up a bit. So I'm looking forward to getting back in the studio and trying some new things out.
A Blueprint of the World (1994)
Time Lost (1997)
Juggling 9 or Dropping 10 (2000)
Blink of An Eye (2002)
Tug of War (2003)
Live at Last (2004)