Australia's Unitopia have quickly grown a loyal following after their last few releases on the popular InsideOut label, and their most recent, Artificial, might be their best yet. Sea of Tranquility's Mark Johnson recently caught up with Mark Trueack to talk about the new CD and the exciting times in the world of Unitopia.
SoT: Thank you, we appreciate your time in answering all of these questions about the exciting past two years for Unitopia. As we come to the end of 2010, it's time to get caught up before one of your most productive years begins in 2011.
Tell us about how you and Sean Timms met. That story never gets old.
Mark Trueack (Truey) - We met through a friend that was running a record shop. He could see that we shared the same interests and wanted us to meet, (the short version).
SoT Matt Williams is also an integral member of the band. Tell us about the talents he brings to the band.
Truey - Matt is a producer in his own right. He is involved in many different productions. He is very hard working and sometimes works up to 16 hours a day. I think if he could do Unitopia full time you would see another side of his talents. We are very lucky to have him. He is currently in the studio remixing and re -arranging some songs for More than a Dream.
SoT Ed Unitsky is considered the 'fourth' Unitopian. Tell us how you met Ed.
Truey - Well actually Ed is the 8th member and we found each other on the net. He liked our sound so we started the process of getting to know his art, before engaging in his work.
SoT Tell us about your music background and your involvement with the business side of music. What lessons did you learn that have helped you as an artist?
Truey - I do not read music but have a great ear and feel which allow me to demonstrate my creativity. Working for record companies does have an advantage. I worked for EMI Music for 10 years and 2 years with BMG. The lessons that you learn are always ongoing. Record companies have changed dramatically over the last 10 years. This is all due to the internet revolution, downloading, pirate recordings etc. The politics are still the same; the artist always comes off second best.
SoT What was it like to see your own CDs in a record store?
Truey - I first experienced this when I saw More than a Dream in HMV stores in London. Unicorn Digital did a great job in getting us into mainstream record stores. When Inside Out Music took us on we seem to be in every store, but that was short lived when SPV went into receivership!
SoT Describe how you became the first band from Australia to be signed by Inside/Out. I hear there is an update to this story.
Truey - While I was in London (2008) I shopped around to see if I could find the right label. Sean sent demos to many companies including Inside Out to see what the vibe was, several came back to us and wanted us to sign on. In the end we went with IO. Not long into the contract SPV (distribution company for IO) went into receivership! So there were a lot of anxious moments. The middle of 2009, Century Media and EMI Music bought into IO, they are still finding their way but at least we are functional.
SoT Let's take a look at More than a Dream. From our conversations, MtaD will be getting a new look and sound soon. Tell us about the revisions and the inspiration for this first album?
Truey - Yes, we are revisiting More than a Dream, as mentioned earlier. Matt Williams who was not on this album is remixing and I am re-singing some new parts, it will have some unreleased tracks and Ed Unitsky is going to do a brand new cover! (not the one that is broadcast on Facebook) It will be a double album as it will have the original recording.
SoT Which is your favorite song off More Than a Dream and why?
Truey Still Here is my favorite. It pays tribute to loss and how lucky we all are in being here.
SoT In the song 'Fate', you mention you're early surfing background. Describe this wonderful time.
Truey I have surfed for nearly 40years and although I have slowed down a bit, I am always at home in the sea. Fate and Inside the Power are some of the journeys you can express by way of music. Fate is really about travelling around Australia/Bali with a surfboard, a nap sack and with very little money. I was always being looked after by something or someone wherever I travelled.
SoT Justify is so intense. The big epic on MtaD. What have you changed on this song for the revised version?
Truey - A few surprises (wait and see) ;-)
SoT Is there anything that you would like to add to the discussion of MtaD?
Truey - Only that I am excited about the revision.
SoT Mark, your singing has been compared to such illustrious singers as Peter Gabriel. How do you feel about the comparison?
Truey - I am very humbled by the remarks, but really I think I have my own sound.
SoT Now let's look at the big one, The Garden. This is where I found Unitopia. It is still my favorite album. This is also where Ed Unitsky came in. Now for the ole 'chicken/egg' question. Did his artwork help inspire you or did your music inspire him to create that cover art?
Truey - The music was recorded before the artwork, I think Ed was inspired by the music, the same for Artificial.
SoT The epic title song is Unitopia at its best IMHO. You came the closest to any band yet in creating the dynamic power of one of my favorite songs of all time Genesis' Supper's Ready.
Truey - Once again this was not our intention, it's just the way music evolved.
SoT I know Hieronymus was the inspiration for the theme, but what inspired you to take the chance with a double album for your sophomore effort?
Truey - Most critics thought the Garden was a concept album, well we had many songs and we like them all, there were so many variations that we wanted all of the styles to be heard, many reviews claimed that there were too many songs and it should have been a single album; but hey that's history!
SoT Which is your and the band's favorite song on the album?
Truey - Sean's and Matt's is Journey's Friend, mine is Give and Take.
SoT Angeliqua is another favorite. Was she your or someone else's Kaleigh?
Truey - Yes she was one of the girls in my life.
SoT The rest of side one is incredibly beautiful music, much of it instrumental. What are some of your favorites?
Truey - I Wish I Could Fly.
SoT Side two of The Garden is a great amalgamation of talents and sounds, showcasing the accessibility this band has to a wide audience. It all gets started with Journey's Friend. Who is Journey's Friend to you?
Truey - Well, Journeys Friend is about the path we make in our life journey. I relate this to myself and my eldest daughter, sometimes we fall off this path we take, then we become resentful. The friend is the spirit that is within us.
SoT Which is your favorite song off side two of The Garden?
Truey - Give and Take and Don't Give Up Love.
SoT The Garden's side two closes with the epic song 321. Tell us about the incredible story behind this song. The Chilean mining accident of 2010 must have brought back memories?
Truey - Yes it certainly did, I got many messages in reference to the Chilean miners, we were in London when the miners were rescued, memories certainly flooded home. Brant Webb (one of the miners from Beconsfield) and I still remain good friends. The brief version on this story, was while the events were unfolding I was writing a song called trapped, and as the news was breaking many of the news slogans came out with 321 hours trapped under the ground. So began the birth of "321". We did one big show in Beconsfield, Tasmania, (3,405) people, to help raise safety awareness. The Chilean story was a lot different in that at least they had room to move. The Beconsfield incident had the boys trapped in cage no bigger than a toilet cubical. But both shared the same comparisons by way of being trapped.
SoT Do you think you will someday re-mix the Garden as you are doing with MtaD?
Truey - Never say never, and it has been spoke about, we will do a version in 5.1 DTS for sure, I have heard the live DTS version and it sounds amazing.
SoT Now let's talk about 2010's release, Artificial. I was lucky enough to hear an early copy of the album live from your studio on Skype, a year before it came out. It blew me away then and still is one of my favorite albums of all time. Where did the inspiration come from for this incredible album?
Truey - It all happened down at Marion Bay, (October 2008), when Sean, Matt and I were writing songs for THE BROTHERS in Conflict project. As Matt and I have a lot of interest in Artificial Intelligence, Matt suggested that we write some songs about it. So in February 2009, I presented a several song template to Sean. He was very excited and so we both started the process of developing the music and lyrical content.
SoT The Beatles had to help inspire this album. You pay tribute to them well on Nothing Lasts Forever. Would you please tell that story of the first time the Beatles came to Australia?
Truey - Well that's a trick one cause I came from the UK, the same day as the Beatles arrived in Melbourne. I was only 10 years old, but I remember seeing streamers soaked on the tarmac (it had rained all day) and Beatle signage everywhere. We had missed them by two hours. That was my recollection.
SoT With Artificial, you decided to make the album into a suite of songs. Was this inspired by the Beatles or Pink Floyd?
Truey - No I think that was our own desire.
SoT Ed Unitsky does a great job as the voice of Tesla on the epic. How did you approach him to do this?
Truey - I asked him months earlier, and he was not sure what it meant, so I went through Kat (his manager) and she quickly made sure he knew what it was all for. He could not wait to do it. We chose several Tesla statements, and picked the one that would suit him.
SoT When I first heard Gone in the Blink of an Eye for the first time from your studio I remember it was right around the time that Michael Jackson passed away. The song really captures that spirit of making every day count.
Truey - Yes it was a sad day for the music world. It is a reminder that things can disappear right under our very noses. The video that was made gives another interpretation.
SoT You added Suffocation to the mix I first heard and it is terrific. Reminds me of One Day off the Garden in some ways.
Truey - I remember telling Sean that something was missing, and I wrote a few lyrics with the intention of Sean writing like a intro to a book. He liked the idea so Suffocation was born.
SoT Unfortunately, many people will not hear the three other glorious tracks that made it onto the expanded edition of Artificial. All three of them are fantastic. Was there a conscious effort to avoid a double album with Artificial, and why?
Truey - Now I know how much you love double albums, but we had no intention of making Artificial into a double. The 10 Tracks that made up the Artificial Suite were really the album. But we knew through the our label Inside Out that we could do a special limited edition digi-pack, so adding those 3 extra songs would work well.
SoT Ed Unitsky's artwork is again over the top on Artificial. Whose idea was the tree house on the CD?
SoT Which is your and the band's favorite song off Artificial?
Truey For me, The Great Reward and This Time I Think We Got it Right; Sean, Nothing Last Forever; Tim Irrgang, Artificial; David, Rule of 3s.
SoT Is there anything else you would like to add about Artificial?
Truey - Only that we are very proud of this project and hope that it continues to reach out and touch people's experience.
SoT This year was incredible. Your hard work over the past five or so years really paid off with a trip across Europe where you met allot of friends and new fans. What are some of the highlights?
Truey - You are right, the work that we put in, was very satisfying. There were so many highlights but I think playing Summers End was the most overwhelming experience I have ever had. Not only playing to a sellout crowd, but their participation was amazing! It was also my birthday, (55 years young), and they sang happy birthday, great present!
SoT Unitopia has also gone though some growing pains as some players have left and new players have joined. What is the current lineup and how did some of the new members help you during the tour in Europe?
Truey - The current lineup includes Sean Timms, Matt Williams, Craig Kelly. David Hoppgood, Tim Irrgang, and myself. Craig and David have added a new depth to the sound live, and they have amazing personalities. I look forward to working with them on future projects. The evolution of the lineup has really helped us to become a better band. Anyone who has performed with Unitopia has enjoyed, but some are not ready to commit to such a complex band. So these are really the real reasons why we are not able to retain some of these great players. I think Dave and Craig will be with us for quite a while :-)
SoT I understand some of the new players will participate in the writing on future projects the band has under way.
Truey - Yes your information is true, (you must be a secret agent). Dave is a writer and is very keen to work on the new project "Turn Left". Craig wants to join in the process so this next project will be quite different. I have written several songs that I will present to the team very shortly.
SoT Which songs made it on the playlist for most of the European tour.
Truey 1. Suffocation, 2. Artificial, 3. Nothing Last Forever, 4. Not Human Anymore, 5. Tesla, 6. Gone in the Blink, 7. The Great Reward, 8. Angeliqua, 9 More than a Dream 10. Justify, 11. One Day, 12. The Garden, 13. Here I Am, 14. Carpet Crawlers.
SoT Which show stands out for you and the band from the 2010 tour?
Truey - Summers End/ De Boerderij, Zoetermeer.
SoT Which is the band's favorite song to play live, if you had to chose?
Truey - The Garden/The Great Reward.
SoT- Are there any Spinal Tap moments you would like to share?
Truey - Yes but I will save that for special Blu Ray/DVD released June 2011.
SoT Ok, we're up to 2011. Tell us about the new work you have underway to be released in 2011.
Truey - We have 3 projects going right now. More than a Dream Deluxe Double, Covered Mirror (concept album), and More than a Garden of Songs Tour 4 disc pack Blu Ray/DVD.
SoT You also are working on some outside projects. Will you release any of them in 2011?
Truey - No, but it's certainly exciting working with some new musicians, THE HOPE was scheduled for last year but we have put it on hold for the moment even though we have enough material for a double. I will be jetting around the world next year recording songs for various projects (all will be revealed next summer).
SoT Where can fans see Unitopia live in 2011?
Truey - In Australia.
SoT 2012 and beyond look very good for the band. Especially 2014, when you release a tribute to the end of World War I. What are some of the details you can share about this epic series of projects?
Truey - We have written about 30 minutes so far and will start getting stuck into it late 2012, now that's working to a deadline. I do not want to discuss this project at the moment because we have plans in doing a doc on the making of it (so let's focus on what we have so far).
SoT I know this is pretty extensive, but is there anything I left out that you would like to add?
Truey No, only thanks for your kind support and hope we can all meet up very soon. Oh and Happy New Year to everyone!
SoT Thank you again for taking time out to answer all of these questions. Good luck to you and the band. We in the USA look forward to seeing you guys live in concert someday. Cheers.
Photos Courtesy of Unitopia
(Click here to read our review of Artificial)