Star keyboard player Andy Tillison spent some time with Sea of Tranquility's Pete Pardo recently to discuss the sophomore album by The Tangent called The World We Drive Through , the bands scheduled live tour, and progressive rock in general.
Read on for the complete interview with Andy!
Sea of Tranquility: Can you talk a little bit about the history of the band and how it all came about?
Andy Tillison: It was really a case of myself working on my solo material, separate from my band Parallel or 90 Degrees. This was back in 2001 I believe, but in 1999 I did a concert with my band that also had The Flower Kings on the bill, and I was really blown away by them. I became a bit of an addict overnight really, and pretty quickly they became my own personal interpretation of modern progressive rock…I was really a fan! I befriended a guy who knew them and saw us at the gig, and this person actually wrote a bad review of the Parallel or 90 Degrees set. By one of those curious twists of fate we actually wound up becoming very close friends! He's actually now The Tangent's manager. He then introduced my music to Roine Stolt and said "do you fancy playing on it?" and Roine said yes. Roine suggested we add a wind player, and I was able to ask David Jackson, because I know most of the Van Der Graaf Generator people, and I also asked Guy Manning to take part as well. Roine added two of his fellow members in The Flower Kings (Jonas Reingold and Zoltan Csorsz) , and Sam Baine, our other keyboard player, is such an integral part of Parallel of 90 Degrees. So all this time I was actually building up a solo album with a very strong cast I guess. Halfway through the recording, I started to listen to how it was sounding with all these really cool people that I'd never dreamt that I'd actually get to work with, I started thinking that to call this a solo album would be a little conceited and dishonest. How can one name take credit for all this incredible work that these musicians have done on the album, so I decided to give it a name, and the name was The Tangent. Sometimes I'm not sure the name was the right decision though!
SoT: How did you come up with the name?
Andy: Well, it's a geometric term, just like Parallel of 90 Degrees, to go off on a "tangent" and so something slightly different. It almost seemed like there was no other name we could give the band.
Andy: So, I gave the group a name, and we made one album, which was all we ever intended to do, but much to my surprise it got signed to InsideOut, and even more to my surprise a lot of people seemed to really like it!
SoT: That's for sure!
Andy: It's incredible, all the nice things that people and reviewers have said about the album.
SoT: I have a question, in regards to the success of the album. Now, the music speaks for itself, but do you also consider some of the success of the album due to the promotion and distribution efforts of InsideOut Music?
Andy: I think that's worth mentioning. They are a company that can get progressive rock music out into the world in a big way, and it was really amazing to have them on our side. I think it made all the difference. Without Roine's involved as well it might have just been an "undiscovered gem" so to speak. That led to people asking for us to do another album, so we said yes, let's try it again. I had no shortage of material, so we decided to make the second album, and we are actually taking it out on tour. So, the whole things actually started out as an accident from day one, all these things were never supposed to happen, and I just really stepped into it! It's been a huge roller coaster ride for me.
SoT: So this was intended to be a one-off project that hasn't actually worked out that way?
Andy: No, it hasn't! We now have a band with two albums, and a tour. It's been something that has really worked, and no one person is responsible for all the musical creativity. Even David Jackson wanted to do the second album, but unfortunately was tied down with other commitments. We were very lucky to get Theo Travis, who if course played the sax and flute on the second album, and as it turns out Theo is the guy we are going to stick with. He's just a tremendous player.
SoT: Yes, he is a great player, and has an extensive jazz background.
Andy: Theo is predominately a jazz musician in his own right, and he has quartet. But of course Theo is a guy who has a lot of music influences, he's like a walking encyclopedia of progressive rock music anyway! (laughs) Plus he's played with groups like Gong and Porcupine Tree, so he knows a lot of the progressive rock vocabulary in general. His parts on the second album were recorded quicker than anyone else's –he was so absolutely to the point, and a delight to work with. I look forward to working with him next time, and of course he is joining us on the road as well.
SoT: So he is playing the ROSFEST gig?
Andy: Yes, he will be with us then. (Editors Note: the new line-up for the band is Tillison, Travis, Sam Baine, Jonas Reingold, Jaime Salazar, Krister Jonsson, and Guy Manning) We are going to be asking people to treat us kind of like they did King Crimson back in the 70's, as a sort of project that may or may not have the same people in it at all times but it will have the same spirit. Hopefully it will have points of interest depending who is on the record and when, and who is able to tour if we do tour. I think that prog rock fans do tend to like classic line-ups, and in fact I have already heard from some people that "how come we are not touring with the classic Tangent line-up", and I thought, well hang on, how can it be a classic line-up when we only did one album with the original line-up? Yes didn't have a classic line-up till Fragile and that was four albums in. It's kind of wrong to discuss the classic Tangent line-up at this point because we don't know how long it's going to last or how long the interest will be there. We are happy that right now people are interested in having us around.
SoT: Where does all this leave Parallel or 90 Degrees?
Andy: Parallel or 90 Degrees is something I'm not going to give up on lightly, I've put a lot of time into it. Unfortunately the band does not have a record deal at the moment, and The Tangent commitments are taking up a lot of my time. We have some material that we are going to work on and sort out here in 2005, and what happens to it is anybody's guess.
SoT: You are obviously writing a lot of material. How do you decide which will be Tangent and which will be Parallel or 90 Degrees songs?
Andy: That's not a problem that has developed yet…
SoT: Both bands do have different styles…
Andy: Yes, they are different. If it sounds a bit like vintage 70's progressive rock music, with some swirling Hammond organ and 7/8 complex drumming in the background, then it's going to be The Tangent. If I start something with a monster guitar riff with a distorted Mellotron in the background, then that's going to be Po90. I'm a pretty lucky guy in that my musical tastes that were given to me are very "Catholic" so to speak, in that I take in so many different types of things or possibilities. I really enjoy punk rock, thrash metal, as well as progressive rock music, which always gave me a lot of pleasure when I was growing up. I feel what I am doing now really isn't as "retro" as people think it is. I've seen a few reviews that call us a "retro" band….in fact it might have been one of your reviews on Sea of Tranquility…
SoT: (laughs!) There are far more retro bands than the Tangent I think.
Andy: The point is, when you use the word "retro", it all depends on how you want it to appear. For example, if you make a record that sounds progressive like a progressive rock record from the 1970's, that's retro and it's taken to be a bad thing. But of course, if you are the White Stripes and you make a record that sounds like Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground from the 1960's, that's also retro but that's really cool!
Andy: See what I mean? So it really depends on who is doing the criticism. One man's retro is another man's old fashion.
SoT: Right! I think if you are a big 70's prog fan, and someone mentions a new band that is sounding retro, that fan is likely to be interested in that new band.
Andy: I guess that is the case. The way I tend to look at it, with progressive rock in the 1970's, it's more of a case of picking up before we were so rudely interrupted I like to think of it. There were a lot of really interesting and very forward things happening in the 1970's. It was probably rock music's most creative period ever, between 1965 and 1975, and then it was all rudely interrupted by the media industry's agenda of what should happen to make a successful and profitable music industry. They decided to go ahead and do that, and in the meantime they forgot that continuing progression and adventurism within music that had been developing until 1975. And I have to say that a lot of the bands were responsible, but what I've tried to do in the same way, and I'm not the first, I mean Spock's Beard have picked up the torch, and the Flower Kings picked up the torch, and of course Transatlantic, to actually deliver music that is very much rooted in what was happening at that time, taking it off and moving it further. Looking at those people, I saw all these elements of progressive rock being picked up, and thought "yeah,this is really great!", but there are a couple of bits that they may have missed, and I wanted to put those back in. There are certain ways of looking at this that they missed out on. Of course Spock's Beard picked up on the whole great showbiz side of progressive music, the excitement, the "rock" side of it all. The Flower Kings picked up on the great ethereal and optimism that Yes had. I think what I wanted to do with The Tangent is infuse that with some of the more delicate things that existed for me, like the darkness of Van Der Graaf Generator, the humor of the Canterbury scene, and the whole bloody English-ness of it all, you know what I mean! It was ours, it's was our thought, and it was about time we got our own back, with all these Swedes and Americans getting away with it. (laughs) We tried to do something like that, and introduced some jazz-fusion that the Canterbury bands have, and the gothic organ that VDGG had, plus attaching a great deal of importance to the lyrics. If it's retro so what!
SoT: I notice that the new recent CD The World That We Drive Through sounds a lot different than the debut, with less of a Canterbury or fusion feel, and more song oriented. Was that done on purpose?
Andy: I'm not saying anything bad about it, but the first album was somewhat thinly spread, more jammy, and I know a lot of people hoped for something that would sound a little more like that one. But really, we could have done that, but that perhaps would have been an easy way out, perhaps it would have eventually been a disappointment. In fact, some of the reviews have been rather bizarre, as some people have said the new album is too much like the debut, and others have said it's not enough like the first one. So we go, "Well which do you want guys"? (laughs) It's a bit bewildering actually. The compositions are more focused and structured here than they were on the first album.
I guess if I was to defend my own work, I think I would say that some of the reviewers tended to try to review the album too early. The first album came out, surprised everybody, everyone listened to it a few times, and wrote positive reviews. This time, everyone was waiting for it, listened to it once, and had the review waiting to submit to their site at nine-o'clock the next morning. I think that what we have on offer, is definitely one of those albums that requires more work. If I can give you an example from the past, after Selling England by the Pound came The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, which left me as a 17 year old kid completely bewildered, saying "what am I going to do with this?" and now it's one of my favorite albums of all time. Same thing with Tales From Topographic Oceans, I remember going "ugh, what's all this about, where's my nice Close to the Edge", but now Tales is still on my player every month, and has been for the last 30 years. There's not a month that goes by where I don't listen to something from that album. It still continues to inspire me to this day.
SoT: It's not always about the albums that strike you instantly. Sometimes it's the ones that take a while to sink in that stay with you the longest.
Andy: I think that's true. I deliberately wanted to make one that was like that, but we had given them the opening shot with the first album, one that they could get into immediately. On the second album I wanted to give them something that could run a little deeper. If it succeeds, I will be very pleased. I realize that I am taking a risk and that some people will actually give up after the second album and say "well that one sucked, it's not as good as the first one", but of course the people you are trying to touch, who are the ones you are really writing it for, are the ones who will find it. It will take work.
SoT: What about the bonus track on the CD "Exponenzgesetz"-that's all you on the keyboards correct?
Andy: That particular one has me on a couple of virtual instruments within the computer, like a Mellotron, and a Hammond organ, but the rest of it is done on a vintage 1972 mini moog which I believe at one time belonged to Manfred Mann.
SoT: Very cool!
Andy: I also used a modular synthesizer, one of those with all the patch leads all over the place. I really had tons of old recordings that were in the same style as this bonus track, that early 70's electronic progressive style, much of which didn't really fit into what The Tangent was doing, so when InsideOut said we could put a bonus track on the special edition I decided that was the time to add one of these songs on there. If you are a Tangerine Dream fan I'm sure you will like it.