Kurdt Vanderhoof, guitar player and leader of trash metal titans Metal Church for many years, has always been a fan of progressive rock, and over the last few years has fine- tuned a project that is now called Presto Ballet, a symphonic rock band that utilizes vintage keyboards and crunchy guitar work with an ode to classic 70's hard rock and prog groups. Their debut album called Peace Among the Ruins is out on InsideOut America, and already garnering much acclaim and interest. Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo caught up with Kurdt recently and talked about the debut CD and plans for the future for his exciting new progressive rock force Presto Ballet.
Sea of Tranquility: Thanks for taking some time out to speak with us today Kurdt!
Kurdt Vanderhoof: Hey, my pleasure, and thanks for the great review of the CD on your website!
SoT: No problem-I'm just happy to hear that you have seen it.
Kurdt: Oh yeah!
SoT: We sometimes wonder how often the bands actually get to read all the many reviews that are posted all over the internet.
Kurdt: Well yeah, if people let us know that they are there, we do. Eric Corbin from InsideOut gave us the heads-up that you guys had posted the review.
SoT: That's cool. So, why don't you talk a little bit of how this whole Presto Ballet thing came together? Everybody already knows you from your many years with Metal Church.
Kurdt: Well, basically Presto Ballet is just an extension of the Vanderhoof solo stuff which I have also been doing for a while, which is more of a 70's styled straight rock stuff, and within that I think I wanted to just challenge myself as a writer and go down that path. It's basically emulating a lot of the styles that I love and never quit listening to, along with the straight rock stuff I've always been a big progressive rock fan.
SoT: And I'm sure most people who have followed your career would have never known that! (laughs)
Kurdt: (laughs) Yeah right! Exactly, which is becoming kind of fun cause people are pretty surprised!
SoT: The Metal Church guy is doing prog? (laughs)
Kurdt: (laughs) Yeah right! It was just basically finding the right people, and then really wanting to just step out and do something that drew from the 70's, which has that whole vibe that I love. That's kind of where it came from.
SoT: Interesting. So, this has been in the works for a couple of years?
Kurdt: Well yeah, the album wasn't recorded all at one time, it was recorded in between tours or whenever I was doing something else with Metal Church, basically over the last three years or so.
SoT: I notice that most, if not all the folks on the CD have been involved with your solo band.
Kurdt: Yes. Scott Albright, our singer, sang on the first Vanderhoof record, and Brian Cokeley was the keyboard player and back-up vocalist on both Vanderhoof albums.
SoT: Scott has a really good voice0what was he doing before you discovered him?
Kurdt: I think he was doing a lot of local bands. I've known him for quite a while, and we finally had an opportunity to work together back in 1997/1998. Basically I found him from an ad in a local music newspaper. One of those things where it actually worked out! (laughs)
SoT: It's amazing when you come across someone who is so talented and has been pretty much undiscovered, and especially when there are so many untalented and horrible musicians in popular music these days. Where is the justice?
Kurdt: Especially these days. Well, I hope to change the fact that he is undiscovered, that's the idea.
SoT: What's the reaction been so far to the CD?
Kurdt: Absolutely amazing! I'm just blown away, and the response has been way more than I ever could have expected, and everybody really gets where it's coming from too and that's really cool.
SoT: I guess the only question I have about that is, are your long-time fans from Metal Church going to understand this album?
Kurdt: I doubt it! (laughs)
SoT: Maybe that doesn't matter though. I'm sure you will open the door for yourselves to a whole new group of fans who have no experience with Metal Church.
Kurdt: That would be awesome.
SoT: Metal fans may not "get" the album, but progressive rock fans will.
Kurdt: I think fans of music in general will "get" it. The closest thing I've seen to a bad review on any of the metal sites so far was like "I don't know why I like this but this is good, it's certainly not metal". That's the worst thing I have seen so far. I'm expecting a lot of the hardcore metal heads to say "what the hell is this", and that's fine. This album isn't for them. If you only like metal than you probably won't dig this, and that's cool.
SoT: Absolutely. When I reviewed the CD, I made some comparisons to bands like The Beatles, Yes, Deep Purple, The Flower Kings, Aviary…
Kurdt: Aviary I have never heard before, and after I read your review I tried to do some research on them…
SoT: They were only around for a few years in the late 70's, and a really wonderful band.
Kurdt: Interestingly enough, the bands singer Brad Love was born in the town I live in now.
SoT: How weird is that?
Kurdt: I know…I was like, whoa, that's way too cosmic!
SoT: Yeah, it is! You know though, the first band I thought of when I listened to your CD, was Aviary.
Kurdt: I remember seeing their albums back in the day, but I had never heard them so I didn't know.
I wear my influences on my sleeves, and I'm proud of it, so when people say they hear Kansas, Rush, Genesis, Yes, Queen, Deep Purple, or whoever, when they listen to our music, that's an honor just mentioning me or the band in the same phrase.
Peace Among the Ruins
SoT: On some of the prog message boards word is starting to get out about Presto Ballet. Once you mention Mellotron, Moog, Hammond, etc., interest automatically starts to happen and people want to check out the band.
Kurdt: It's great how the Mellotron has really come back as the calling card for prog again. It's totally killer!
SoT: Can you talk a little about the keyboard sounds on the album-what was real and what was samples?
Kurdt: Nothing was sampled. Nothing. Not a thing. It was recorded on tape, no cut and paste editing, everything on it was real as it will continue to be until the day I die. (laughs)
SoT: That's great, and kind of what I expected you to say as it does sound like it.
Kurdt: That's the way it's supposed to be.
SoT: What kind of equipment did you use?
Kurdt: MiniMoog, Oberheim OB8, Prophet 5, CS80, Hammond B3 through a Leslie driven by a Marshall, and a Mellotron M400, all vintage stuff.
SoT: Awesome. So many newer bands use all the latest technology to emulate the vintage sounds these days. Kind of sounds like the real thing….but really isn't.
Kurdt: Yeah, it sounds "like" it! (laughs) One of the problems, and I hope people don't think I am a hypocrite, but if we do get a chance to get out on the road and tour, we are not going to be able to haul all that stuff with us, so we are obviously going to have to use some samples live. Taking the analog synths, Hammond, and Mellotron out on the road with us would be very difficult if something breaks down, how do you fix it? As far as the records go though, only vintage, that's what it's all about for this particular band.
SoT: If you have the opportunity to play a large festival, a really special one, would you consider bringing out the vintage gear?
Kurdt: Absolutely, as long as we can get people to help us lug it all around! If we can get on some of the prog festivals, we would totally be into it. A lot depends on how the record does. I'm going out and doing a European tour with Metal Church soon, then doing some engineering work with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. As soon as we get the opportunity we'd like to take Presto Ballet on the road for some shows. There are really no plans right now, but the response has been so great that we would like to set some gigs. This is a labor of love so I will do whatever I can.
SoT: So Presto Ballet is going to be a long-term thing?
Kurdt: Oh absolutely! I'm already writing songs for the next record.
SoT: Great news. Looking forward to it!