Although he was the frontman for Asia for 16 years, in 2006 John Payne found himself without a band as the classic line-up decided to reform for a reunion tour, leaving Payne and the rest of Asia to fend for themselves. Not one to sit around idle, the singer/bassist decided to put together a new band called GPS alongside guitarist Guthrie Govan, drummer Jay Schellen, and keyboard ace Ryo Okumoto. Their debut Window to the Soul was a hit with both critics and fan alike, and sees these musicians moving on from their past in Asia and into a bright new future. Sea of Tranquility publisher Pete Pardo spoke to John Payne about this exciting new group.
Read on for the full interview!
Sea of Tranquility: Hi Jon! Before we begin the interview I just wanted to mention that we met briefly around a year and a half ago when Asia did that little Borders Books Store tour here in the US. The band had attracted fifty or so fans into the Wappingers Falls, New York store and you and I chatted for a bit after the performance. That was a fun night, a real quant, kind of intimate setting.
John Payne: Yes, I remember that night. That was a fun little tour, with no pressure on us whatsoever. Not many bands would do something like that.
SoT: Can you take us back to Asia's Silent Nation album, and what happened shortly after with the band, and how GPS came to be?
John: Sure. We were doing our most extensive touring with Asia at the time, around 100 dates in Europe, South America, and things were very busy, plus the album was well received. Our new label, InsideOut, was doing a great job for us, as we signed a three album deal with them. Things were actually going great, we even did a tour of Scandinavia with Dio, and Geoff Downes and I had started writing, probably about 60 songs, to be considered for the next Asia album. We went into the studio to begin recording basic tracks for the next album, with the record label fully behind us, but before long the original line-up had gotten back together as you well know, and we had to explore other options.
SoT: So you must have been a little unsure of your future at that time then?
John: Sure. Even though I have been in the band 16 years, I was always referred to as the new vocalist in Asia, much like Ron Wood in the Rolling Stones who is always looked at as the new lead guitarist, despite the fact that he's been in the band forever. I don't think however that there should be any confusion as to whether there are two versions of Asia, because there isn't. The good side of it is that GPS wouldn't have come about if it weren't for all of this. GPS is not just a temporary project-we have a several album deal signed with InsideOut and we are touring behind it. It's kept me quite busy and opened a lot of new doors, like I'm doing four or five interviews a day, and I've seen us reviewed by metal magazines and websites as well, which I'm pretty happy about. I was always very frustrated with some peoples attitudes that said "oh, it's Asia, that old 80's band", or "well, I've got the first album, why haven't you done another album?" as if we had not other releases. I've accepted actually that this music is sort of underground now, which is kind of a cool thing because it's kind of how music started. You should do the music you love. If I wanted to do music as a job rather than my love for it, obviously I'd be doing something else. I don't consider what I do as my work now; I consider it as my passion. In doing that I'm actually quite happen. You know, you can do to McDonald's, which is the most popular restaurant in the world, but it doesn't actually serve the best food.
SoT: No, not by a long shot! So now you've got GPS -tell us how you got this all going?
John: Jay Schellan had been involved in the demos for Silent Nation, and you know Chris Slade was the drummer on that album. When we'd written a couple of songs with Billy Sherwood, who had a band called Conspiracy, and was also in Yes for a while. He introduced us to his drummer, Jay, who said he's like to work with us in the future, so we stayed in contact. At some point we all sat down and decided to work on some of the already written material and some new songs, so we went back into the studio and made things a bit more progressive and longer, really honed the songs a bit. We sat down, Guthrie Govan (guitar), Jay and I , and said we are not going to give up, so we started GPS, without Rio Okumoto at the time. Halfway through the recording we decided to get a keyboard player. We spoke to Rick Wakeman, who agreed to do it, but then we decided to get someone who would be a little more permanent. Our management team also works with Spock's Beard, and they are also on our label InsideOut. So I got Rio into the studio for three days, and halfway through day three he finished up all the keyboard parts for the entire album. He's a star, he needs to be put in his cage at night and chained down! (laughs) He's a good guy and a great musician. He's also in Spock's Beard full time, but they don't do a lot of touring, so we are all friends and have agreed to work together around each others schedules. We can make it work. We might even do some gigs together with both bands at some point if possible.
SoT: Can you talk a little bit about the live stuff?
John: We are going to perform the whole of the album, plus we might stick in some obscure Asia songs from Silent Nation, Acqua , or Arena, but we really want to push the GPS material. It was a real intense recording process for the album, and I'm real happy with the way it came out and the reviews that we have been getting. I am unhappy with the amount of outlets there are for us, but luckily with the Internet being what it is, and sites like Sea of Tranquility, there are places for us, because otherwise there would be little or nothing. Like I said before, we are not going to revert to playing hamburger music. I'm pretty excited about things right now, we're going to try and get involved and play at some prog festivals, and we toured with Y&T recently.
SoT: The music of GPS is pretty varied, with elements of AOR, hard rock/metal, as well as prog, so you can fit into a lot of areas.
John: It's nice being dynamic. We can get heavy, and do some Journey sort of things. I like the prog aspect of it, but we don't want the prog parts to take over the songs. Bands like King Crimson, Yes, and Genesis, who started it all, always had big hooks and then you had the big musical sections, which were equal to the hooks. Some bands these days have amazing musical sections but no hooks at all. There has to be a song there in the first place. It's interesting that we've had some European hard rock and metal magazines review us favorably, and then see us in prog and classic rock places that also seem to get out music. We just want to do as many live dates as possible to help this band grow, then gear up for another album and keep the momentum going.
(Click here to read our reviews of Window To the Soul)