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InterviewsAndy Tillison - Parallel Or 90 Degrees - We're Just Four Lads...

Posted on Monday, October 19 2009 @ 22:10:31 CDT by Duncan Glenday
Progressive Rock After a slow start in 1991, Parallel Or 90 Degrees was very active between 1996 and 2001 - and then everything went quiet. Andy Tillison's focus moved toward his more overtly progressive band The Tangent, which has released a series of successes. But Po90 has thankfully woken from its slumber, and will soon release its newest album, Jitters.

Sea Of Tranquility's Duncan Glenday was able to listen to pre-release mixes, discuss the project with the band's manager, and then then spent time talking with Po90's helmsman, Andy Tillison.

Duncan Glenday - Sea Of Tranquility: The last time you and I spoke was when you played ROSfest - we sat in the window of a small restaurant and had a soda...

Parallel Or 90 degrees - Andy Tillison: Yes I remember - and you wrote that I had graying hair! [Laughs]

SoT: I knew you'd bring that up! [Laughs]

AT: That was the day I noticed that my hair was going gray - I remember that quite well! ... but dooon't worry about it! [Laughs]

SoT: Andy, at that time, you were living in France - but you're in England now..?

AT: Well a lot happened in France. You're probably aware that myself and the keyboard player from both Parallel Or 90 Degrees and The Tangent had been together for a long time. It came to an end over there ... and after a lot of thought I decided to come back to England and start again. And I've been back in the country for about a year, and I'm much happier back at home, I must say!

SoT: So exactly where are you now?

AT: I'm now in a county called Cheshire, which is in the northern part of England - like Yorkshire in the north, but a bit further over to the west. I live in one of the national parks called the Peak District National Park
Not quite as impressive as Yellowstone, but it really is a beautiful place.

SoT: I've been to Chester [Chester is the county seat of Chsehire county - Ed]

AT: Yeah - well that's not so far away. Actually we think it's far, but you Americans would drive that far just to get a burger!

SoT: [Laughs] Andy, to business: Parallel Or 90 Degrees went dormant for a long time - what happened to resurrect it in the way that it has been, with the new album?

AT: It was just one of those things. An awful lot was going on. We made The Tangent's first record - and as it's been well documented, that was supposed to be a one-off project - but it took off big-time, and I had to spend an awful lot more time doing The Tangent. And there was the move to France, and it really became difficult to contemplate doing anything with Parallel Or 90 Degrees. The guys were back in England, I was in France, we had The Tangent to do.

But we never split up! We never said that's the end of the band - we said we'd get back together one day when the time is right. I ran into John and Alex earlier this year, we had a nice meeting, and decided to get started again! The time was right, I've really missed doing that kind of music, and I've really missed the whole "being in a band with your friends" thing - which is something The Tangent could never really be. That was more of a professional, working relationship, and always had been, whereas Parallel Or 90 Degrees was just 4 lads from Yorkshire making records [Laughs].

Four lads from Yorkshire

SoT: You mention running into the guys - how has the lineup changed, and where are the guys all from?

AT: Well of course they're all from Yorkshire! From the vicinity that I'm from. Like The Tangent, Parallel Or 90 Degrees changed the lineup quite a bit. The Parallel Or 90 Degrees that featured Dan Watts and Alex King, who are still in the band, is what I consider to be the best Parallel Or 90 Degrees - because it's the most innovative and interesting to work with, and the most enthusiastic of the bands. I think it's because of the fact that when I took them on they were very young. In fact Alex, the drummer, had actually been a student of mine when he first got involved with the band in the late 1990s. I spotted him in class drumming on his legs, and thought "He's quite good!", [Laughs], and I asked if he was interested in auditioning for a band because our drummer Lee Duncan had died recently. He brought along a whole load of new musical influences because he was that much younger.

Our guitarist was about to emigrate to Germany, so we asked Alex to bring someone in - from his age group - and he brought in Dan Watts, who changed everything! He gave us an amazing focus, and a whole lot of new directions. Unfortunately he was only in for the last record, More Exotic Ways To Die. We'd started work on another album, but because of The Tangent, we never got it finished, though bits of that came out of the compilation album I put out earlier this year.

The thing was that these guys were so much younger - now, of course, they're in their early 30s and now they're in the situation that I was in they first met me! [Laughs] And then they got married and had their first children, and they have families now, and ...

SoT: And soon they'll be graying! [Laughs]

AT: Yes - they'll be going gray, and you'll be there to report it, Duncan! [Laughs] And because we couldn't find Ken, our old bass player, we've had to bring in another bass player. He was someone Dan and Alex already knew, so I'm working with a band that's around 32 to 36 years old or so, and I'm a little bit older!

SoT: As you know, I have copies of the pre-release mixes of the songs - how closely does that represent what will be on Jitters?

AT: That's pretty much a finished mix - 8 short tracks, and it's not a very long record - just 43 minutes. It's about time someone made a 43 minute album again! [Laughs]

SoT: Well - if I compare The Tangent with what I've been listening to - it seems to be heavier that The Tangent, darker perhaps, maybe not as complex, and of course no long epics. But how would you characterize the difference between this, and what you've been doing with The Tangent?

AT: Well for me, Parallel Or 90 Degrees has always been the music that I write, and the rest of the band contributes - it's our music from 2009. It's the music that we just naturally make together. The Tangent is definitely a case of "let's form a progressive rock band and make some traditional progressive rock music". I don't see either of those options as bad - with The Tangent, it was nice to work within a certain set of rules like progressive rock bands do

But Parallel Or 90 Degrees is not about that at all. It 's about making music now. Sure as hell it's still a progressive rock band - I'll never distance myself from that in the way that some of my contemporaries do. Yes, we're a progressive rock band. Do we sound like Genesis? Not a bit. Do we sound like Yes? Not a bit. Do we sound like Van der Graaf Generator? Occasionally. Do we wear capes? Not at all! [Laughs] It's Parallel Or 90 Degrees. It's modern progressive music in the same way that Muse or Radiohead aremodern progressive music.

SoT: I understand what you're saying. In terms of the style, though, and the dynamics, the degrees of complexity, the overall vibe - how would you compare it with The Tangent?

AT: Well we obviously don't get into complex arrangements in quite the same way, though it's very deceptive. For example - there's a song called "Backup" which starts with a load of guitar feedback, then it blasts into song, then it quietens down ... but because it's guitar-oriented, and because there are heavy drums behind it, it's very easy to say that it's simple. But it's in 5s, it's in 6s, it has peculiar little tempo twists in some of the riffs that come in and out of it - and in many ways, it's just as complex as The Tangent. But it just doesn't sound as complex. It's like comparing a fast sports car with a Grand Cherokee Tourer - there are completely different purposes for the 2 bands.

SoT: When is the album's planned release date?

AT: We believe it will be the first week in November.

SoT: Jitters isn't a concept album, is it? Is there an overriding theme to it?

AT: There is an overriding theme - the "jitters" are the things that happen to make everything go wrong. For example in the past we've had the credit crunch here, which in France they called a general economic downturn - and a few of the songs, particularly the title song, refer to that - and shakes my stick at the media who actually fuel these things.

For example all it takes is a guy on the news to say that house prices are going down - and house prices will go down, because he said it. And when people say that the stock market is losing faith in itself, then - the stock market loses faith in itself! People don't realize the effects of what they're saying. The song "Jitters" compares this with road signs that say "back up ahead". So everyone slams on their brakes and slows down, and now there is a back up - but perhaps there wasn't really a back up at all!

The song "Backup" looks at the way Facebook and systems like it have changed our lives enormously, and the way we communicate. There's a song called "On the Death Of Jade", which is a very sad song about a reality TV star in Britain who recently died of cancer.

I never write concept albums - but I like songs to fit, and have relevance to one another - so I like to use a theme, and perhaps one song will refer to it, and another song later on will refer to the same theme. But that's without them becoming the kind of formal concept album that people like Clive Nolan do from time to time. It's just what I'm thinking at the time.

SoT: Tell us about the "Dock Of The Bay" song - it sounds like a cover song, but not quite..?

AT: It will be called the "Dock Of The Abyss", and it's a new piece of music, but there are parts of it with direct references to Otis Redding's "Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay". We quote directly from it, in the lyrics and the melody, but the actual song is very different. For me, that's probably the most successful track on the record. It was an idea that worked out very well. It was another one of the global recession songs. "Sitting On the Dock Of The Bay" was also about a recession situation - a guy who'd come from Georgia to San Francisco and couldn't find work, and as a result, found himself sitting with his feet dangling his feet over the dock of the bay.

My song is more about looking around at everyone, and realizing that any second now, we could all find ourselves in a much worse situation - if the stock markets don't pull themselves back from the brink of this crisis. I think of it as the beginning of one of those disaster movies, where you get introduced to all the characters who're about to get into real trouble on an airplane, or whatever. You get to know them, and find out about their little problems before the disaster happens. And I was wondering - am I looking around at everybody, getting to know them, and wondering what they'll be like in a year's time if some major financial catastrophe were to happen.

So I tried to get all that together in that one 5 minute song - with references to disaster movies, references to old American protest songs, references to the miners' strike in the UK in the 1980s ... and I think it all worked.

SoT: Fascinating - and that leads in to my next question quite nicely: What are your favorite moments on the album, and can should your listeners look forward to?

AT: Well - since we started the band, Dan Watts has been busy with other stuff - he's a professional musician, and we haven't had as much time to write together, as I'd have liked, since Dan and I work really well together. However we were able to collaborate on two tracks, in particular, which I think are the standouts. Those are "Threesome", and "The Death Of Jade", the third and the final song on the album. I think those 2 tracks are amazing, and show where the band can go. And I really like "Dock Of The Bay", because of the way the idea worked out.

Dan's a really clever guy. I've worked with him since he was in his early 20s, and now he's built this amazing vocabulary of music, he's learned all sorts of new techniques, and he's become an excellent guitarist. But whereas a lot of progressive rock guitarists have been influenced by Steve Howe and David Gilmour and so on, his vocabulary owes just as much to Trent Resnick and the Nine Inch Nails or Johnny Greenwood from Radiohead - yet he'll go back and look at the older stuff as well. So if I said "I want you to play like David Gilmour in this section", he could. However - I don't need to ask him to do that, because he'll often just do something else entirely, and he doesn't just do what you expect him to. Dan does things you don't expect! So I really like the songs he's helped me write.

SoT: For the long term - what's next for you, Andy? Is it The Tangent, or Parallel Or 90 Degrees, or another Colossus project ... what's next?

AT: Well - funny situation, but two of the things I've been working on have reached a head at the same time. The Parallel Or 90 Degrees's album Jitters is ready, and The Tangent's album is ready as well. So I'm actually going to be doing two releases in November - bizarre, and it wasn't planned to be that way, but that's the way the cookie has crumbled. We have our first Parallel Or 90 Degrees gig in early October, and I'm seriously hoping to enjoy it, though it's been a long time since we worked together so it might not be the best gig in the world, but we want it to be fun, and we'd like to play more often. I'd like to play live with The Tangent with the new English lineup I have for that band, and yes, Guy [Manning] and I will I'll probably do more Colossus stuff a bit later on. All sorts of stuff to come, but right now, my main plan is to have a rest! Since January I've just made these two records at the same time, which has been an immense amount of work.

SoT: We're talking about Jitters now - but briefly - is there anything special we should look out for on the new The Tangent album?

AT: I'm very pleased with it, and it's become one of my favorites - it's a return to the basic values of The Tangent. It kicks off with a 20-minute long piece which is typically emotionally uplifting Tangent - it's one of those prog rock pieces that I wrote because that's the kind of music I like to listen to. It diversifies - there are a few more modern pieces that we sneaked in - there's a track called "Peroxitine" which could have been a Parallel Or 90 Degrees song. There's some very challenging stuff on there, there's Cantebury styled music, and it's a fairly concise album. Just 5 songs, no double-album, no books with it, just a simple good music experience - and it gets down to some serious "prog".

SoT: Going back to something you mentioned earlier: One of your strongest influences has always been the Van Der Graaf / Hammill style - and you mentioned that there's a bit of that in Jitters?

AT: Absolutely! I first listened to Van Der Graaf Generator when I was twelve years old, so that's many years of being a fan! [Laughs] They made some remarkable records, and I've listened to so much of Peter Hammill's singing that when I started to learn to sing, his style would be one of the models I would use, and how I wanted my voice to sound. He has an amazing voice, unique. A lot of people don't like his voice - and a lot of people don't like mine. You have to trade off character for accuracy sometimes. The Flower Kings, for example, or Neal Morse, who have such lovely trained, tenor voices ... that's not me. I'm telling stories, and you either like it or you don't. With me it's about character, rather than hitting all the high notes spot on.

There's a guy over here called Ian Brown, who's become a bit of a hero of mine. He sings with a really, really heavy Lancastrian accent - I think he can only sing about six notes, but his voice is just so chock-full of character. I love watching him sing, and wondering what he's going to do next. But it's going to be one of six notes, and it's going to sound like he's from Manchester. I like the ability of people to put something of where they live into their music. Every so often you'll get something like "Penny Lane", with the strong accent, and when he says "customer" you just know where he's from. Only people from the north of England would say it that way, and it's lovely to hear.

A lot of people have worked hard to get away from that, but a lot of the young bands today have started to move away from that. Bands like the Arctic Monkeys and the New Vinyl now use their own accents, and that adds variety. You'll sometimes hear me say things that sound slightly "Yorkshire", like in the little monologue about being in an airplane.

SoT: You've obviously been busy, turning out two albums - as you mentioned. But the last time we spoke, you were saying that you wouldn't like the music to be a full time occupation for you, and you'd prefer it to be a hobby. Is that where you are right now?

AT: At the moment, music just has to be full time. I wouldn't be able to produce the same amount of music if I were doing it part time. Essentially, though, I am not like Roine or Neal Morse. Those guys are able to produce enormous amounts of music very quickly. In their heyday, between them, they produced something like five albums in a year. I thought - how the hell do these guys do it? It takes me a long time to write and record, and everything is done very slowly - so I couldn't do it at the same speed, and I'd need more time. So if I took a day job, you wouldn't be hearing from me for a couple of years, at best.

SoT: Well now that it's close to completion - what label will be releasing Jitters?

AT: the label is Omegatunez, which will be a worldwide label. Distribution is being set up as we speak. There are some European distributors who're taking it on, and a lot of it will be online, the idea being to cut out a lot of the unnecessary costs that traditional record companies have to absorb. The thousands of free copies to people who are just not interested in writing anything about progressive rock music, and so on.

For example, I don't know who the latest teenage bands are anymore - but why should someone who writes about them be in receipt of a Tangent or a Parallel Or Ninety Degrees record, when they aren't going to do anything with it, except perhaps put a torrent on the 'Net? Which a great number of them do. The the biggest source of pirate progressive rock discs is from the promotional copies that we send out. And we know this, because they appear before the album is released! So we know it's the journalists. Most of the progressive rock journalists wouldn't do that kind of thing, but there are people who'll just put them up as torrents. I don't know why, or what they gain from that - maybe it's just a sense of rebellion...

SoT: What about your cover art - who's doing that?

AT: That's being done by the band. Basically - me. I've done the covers for all Parallel Or 90 Degrees albums, and I've done this one - it isn't a big feature of the album, and these two albums are focused much more on the music.

SoT: Any final thoughts on the new album?

AT: With Jitters - when we were deciding what kind of record we wanted to make - we just wanted it to sound like bloody dynamite! We didn't do anything by half measures. Because The Tangent exists, there were "proggy" things we weren't going to do on the Parallel Or 90 Degrees record. There are no keyboard solos - not many solos of any sort. It's all about hard-hitting songs, tunes, melodies...

There might be comments from people who don't know the history, some might say we sound a bit like Porcupine Tree - of course, we will laugh at that. We were doing death metal workouts, and drum and bass and sample loops while Porcupine Tree was still making Pink Floyd records. [Laughs] Porcupine Tree is great, one of my favorite bands, but with Parallel Or 90 Degrees we're quite loud, and we're not shy to use use heavy sounds.

It doesn't bow to any particular genre, it's just an exciting rock and roll record!

SoT: That's about as much as we have time for, Andy. Many thanks for your time, it's been a lot of fun, and very informative.

AT: Well - thanks for your time, and thank you for working with us!

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