Spock's Beard is their ninth studio record -- and while some
are ready to write it off as just another post--Morse attempt to stay in
business, many others are declaring their eponymous effort to be one of the best
in the band's entire catalog.
Either way -- there's one thing that stands out about it: The
song--to--song variety is tremendous, and a lot of listeners will find a lot to
like. The style of the songs runs from prog to pop, and from hard--rock to gentle
ballads, and there are elements here that are entirely new to Spock's Beard's
Sea Of Tranquility's Duncan Glenday caught up with Spock's Beard's Nick
D'Virgilio, and discussed the new record in depth.
Duncan Glenday -- Sea Of Tranquility: Nick, the first question on everyone's minds
-- why on earth is your 9th studio album self--titled? That usually indicates a first album!
Nick D'Virgilio -- Spock's Beard: Yes -- you're right! [Laughs]
Although a number of other bands have done it later in their career. We just thought it would be something different to do! We've never had a self--titled record. We wanted to do something classy and
... confident, maybe ... that's what we were thinking. Just something different.
SoT: One thought struck me when I first spun the CD, and reading other peoples' comments afterward it seems to be a common opinion
-- the CD seems to have dual personalities. Does that strike you as an odd statement?
NdV: No, I think you're right! There's a lot of different stuff on there
-- it definitely goes all over the place.
SoT: I would suggest that the one personality is proggy, and equates to your first five--or--so albums, while the other personality is closer to your last 2
-- which were a bit more hard--edged, more rock oriented. For example the first track is very reminiscent of your earlier output. Do you think this will help you reach a broader demographic, or will it perhaps alienate part of your fanbase?
NdV: It would bother me if it alienated anybody. We're making music that I think is very honest, and it's just kinda
where we are right now. We're not trying to write non--prog stuff, or hard rock, we're just doing what comes out. But it also depends on who's writing the song, and that's the biggest reason you're getting different flavors in there! You see, everybody's writing a lot of stuff now. But even if a certain song is just straight--ahead and just rocking, it's still the same core group of guys playing it and that carries through all the songs. It shouldn't alienate anybody. We're just making music, really!
SoT: So all four of you wrote songs? More or less how did that break down?
NdV: Well -- the first song on the record was compilation among the lot of us. My friend Stan Ausmus, a bit from
our friend John Boegehold, and me and Al. Dave...
The second song -- that was Dave and John Boegehold. John Boegehold helped us write a lot on this record. John and Dave have known each other for years and years
-- he's been in a number of prog bands, he does our web site ... he's an old buddy, and a good songwriter who comes up with a lot of cool lyric ideas and grooves, and he arranged all the string parts for the record. And my friend Stan Ausmus
-- I've known him since I was in grade school, and he was actually in the very first band I ever joined. We get together, sometimes just for an hour or two, and we have jam sessions and usually some kind of guitar riff or something good comes out of those jam sessions. In fact
"On A Perfect Day", the first track, came from one of those.
Track 3 "Is This Love" is my song, number 4 is another Dave and Boegehold thing,
number 5 is one of mine again, "Sometimes They Stay, Sometimes They Go" is by Al and our friend Stan
... and actually, Al sings lead on that -- which is really cool.
"The Slow Crash Landing Man" was written by Dave and John, tracks 8 and 9 are both Ryo songs
-- I wrote the lyrics for number 8 "Wherever You Stand", but they're both his compositions. The whole
"As Far As The Mind Can See" epic is Dave and John, and the last song, track 14, is another one of my songs.
So yeah -- it definitely takes you on a ride! [Laughs]
SoT: It certainly does! But on the other hand, Nick -- if your critics
were to say 'Spock's Beard doesn't know what they want to be' ... how would you react?
NdV: Oh we know exactly what we want to be! We've been doing this for a long time now, and if we didn't keep finding new things to keep it exciting for ourselves, it would start to get boring! So we try to keep it fresh, and whoever writes the song, that's the flavor you're going to get. And once you know who wrote each song, you can start hearing it. For example, Dave's songs have a certain thing about them, for sure!
SoT: Are you the hard--rock guy in the band?
Well Dave rocks pretty hard! I don't know if I'm the hard rocker -- that long
song "With Your Kiss" is definitely not hard rock -- maybe a bit more poppy, if anything. I guess I can go either way
... pop or hard--rock.
SoT: The seventeen minute epic song that's broken into four parts -- near the end
-- what's that all about?
NdV: Well, you know, it's not really about much of anything! [Laughs] The lyrics are kind of vague, letting the listener come up with their own conclusion about what's going on. It doesn't make a concise story, like the epic on the last record did. You knew the guy was getting in a car crash and was going to die and come back
-- and that kind of stuff. This one is more ethereal, perhaps a little a bit weird...
SoT: Which begs the question: Do you see yourselves doing another big
opus, a coordinated concept piece like Snow?
NdV: We haven't planned on it! But perhaps sometime in the future.
SoT: What are your favorite moments on the album?
NdV: There's a lot, actually! I think there's a favorite moment on every song. The acoustic guitar thing that Al did on the first song, the kind of guitar--answer thing, is fantastic.
SoT: That was probably my favorite moment too! That, and the soaring melodies on the first track.
NdV: Cool -- yeah, those are nice, thanks! The second track is just a lot of fun to play drums on. It's hard, it's rocking, it's fast, and Dave just kicks
ass on that song!
The third track is kinda my ode to Cheap Trick. I do drum loops on the side, and I was working on this piece with Bun E Carlos, who is Cheap Tricks's drummer, and I had this guitar riff.
So I put one of his drum loops with the guitar riff and the song came out of that. I recorded the drums on an old Ludwig kit, where the kick drum is 26 inches, and the sound that Rich, our engineer, got out of that was so Zeppelin / John Bonham
... massive! And fun! So that's what gets me going on that track. Oh -- I could go on about each song! Like the piano ballad on Ryo's second song,
"Hereafter". It was a very strange song to do, because I've never really sung like that before.
SoT: Oh heck yes, that song was really unusual for Spock's Beard!
NdV: Yeah -- well we've never really had a song like that on any of our records before! Yet the way it turned out was a pleasant surprise for me.
And as for the other guys? Well I don't really know what their favorite
moments are, but I guess Al singing lead on "Sometimes They Stay, Sometimes
They Go" -- he did a great job there. That song is slow and kinda sexy, and might be his favorite moment. But I don't really know.
SoT: In his review, my Sea Of Tranquility colleague referred to Ryo's
"searing Hammond, Mellotron, and synth layers" ... what sort of setup is he using? Are those Mellotrons and Hammonds, or are they patches?
NdV: No, the Mellotron is real. Ryo only wants to record with his Mellotron, so we had to put up with the crackles and all that
-- but you don't really hear them on the recording. But you know -- it kinda cracks, and when you let go of the note it goes [screeches
The organ is his Korg CX3, but it's played through a Leslie. And the rest -- he used an Arp Odyssey, and a mini--moog,
and an old Roland Juno ... and the rest are samplers and that kind of stuff.
SoT: A lot of classic kit, there! I know people who have a Mellotron in the basement and can really say
'Oh, I have a genuine Mellotron' -- but they're actually recording with patches because of the ease of use, and
because they often prefer those sounds!
NdV: Well some of the new samples are unbelievable! They really do sound better, and you don't have to worry about playing a chord for just seven seconds! [Laughs] Regular 'Trons are great, but the way they've sampled the new
stuff is amazing.
SoT: Moving to a different topic -- where is Spock's Beard the most popular?
NdV: Europe -- we're definitely most popular over there, and Germany is probably still our biggest country. But we also do really well in England, Holland, and France
... Europe is where we sell most of our records, and we tour the most. And we've always had great shows on the east coast of the States
-- and we do well in LA, our home town. And we're touring this album, of course, and headlining ROSfest in late April.
Spock's Beard On The Feel Euphoria Tour
SoT: What was the temptation to do ROSfest?
NdV: Well they've been asking us to go there for a number of years. We did NEARfest ages ago, so it was a great excuse to go and play a festival for a change.
SoT: What keeps you guys busy from day to day, when you're not working on the music?
NdV: Well I have lots of family activities -- and my wife just went back to work, so I'm kept fairly busy, with my 6 and 8 year old kids. And right now I'm concentrating on getting my studio tweaked.
SoT: What would you say is the best album of the year so far?
NdV: Well this new Beatles Love record is pretty fantastic. Hang on
-- let me scan my iTunes here!
SoT: Do you see that as a real Beatles album, or just a commercial rip--off?
NdV: Well I don't really care -- it just sounds great! [Laughs]
SoT: Well Nick, many thanks for your time. I'm a regular at ROSfest -- so let's set a beer--date
NdV: Yeah [Laughs] let's do that -- that will be cool!