The Tangents seventh album COMM has just hit the streets and the bands leader Andy Tillison has taken time out to answer some questions posed to him by John O'Boyle for Sea of Tranquility. COMM sees the band delivering their strongest album to date, an album that marries old and new; an album that has been waiting in the shadows to be recorded. Join myself and Andy as he enlightens us on all things Tangent and COMM.
John: Hi Andy, thanks for taking the time out of your current busy schedule for an interview for Sea of Tranquility and as ever it's always a pleasure to speak to you. So two years in the making and COMM is about to hit the shelves. How do you feel the process went in recording the album?
Andy: It went pretty well all things considered. We have a budget to work on, and it's less of a budget than Genesis would have for car hire for a recording session, but we just make it work because we have to. Basically we are just veterans of squeezing as much as possible out of the systems as possible, I've grown up as a child of "home recording" and I know what's attainable and how to attain it. Of course I like to set the bar higher every time we start, so we always have a goal, and we just see how close we can get to it. This time we came damn close!!
John: For the unknowing could you tell us a bit about the band members who were involved in the recording of COMM? Luke Machin is a real star in the making, an awesome guitarist who really compliments your style, who has really excelled himself on the album adding that final dimension to the band. Both live and in the studio he just makes it sound so easy.
Andy: Curiously the band for COMM was as usual in a state of Flux. Our drummer Tony had left the band, and we enlisted Nick Rickwood to be The Tangent's Drummer. He didn't work out for us, (and probably vice versa in all fairness), and Tony ended up wishing he'd never left, so he came back, but of course it's not him on the album, Nick had already done the work and the album had gone to press. That's kind of weird, because - well Tony wasn't really gone all that long and I sometimes forget it's not him on COMM. Maybe I think it should have been.
Jonathan Barrett played the bass guitar on COMM, he's just decided that he has to leave the Tangent, ongoing shoulder problems coupled with total disillusionment about music piracy led him to make his decision a month ago now. It was an entirely amicable split and I'm already signed up to do an album of his songs with him. His stylistic contribution to COMM was immense, and it's a hell of a gauntlet to throw at the feet of his replacement 22 year old Dan Mash, but this guy is rising very quickly to the challenge, make no mistake!
Luke Machin on guitar, at 22 years old is now the "old hand" of the band having managed to stay in it for nearly 2 years!!. I can't really say enough about his musicianship to adequately describe his formidable talent, I really think we're looking at a future legend here and slowly but surely others are beginning to realise this. COMM features some beautiful playing in so many styles, a lot of which are unique and intriguing. I hope to work with him for a long time.
Theo Travis on sax & flute of course is still "with us", when he's not with Fripp, Steve Wilson, Soft Machine, Gong, Bill Nelson, David Sylvian or his own bands. He's on this album of course, we're now having to treat Theo as a long term guest these days. He still really inspires me, he's fantastic to work with, a thoroughly agreeable bloke and a great innovator. Every so often we get to do a gig with him, and it's always a real breath of fresh …. er... wind?
John: Ed Unitsky has again supplied the artwork for the album. Is he your Rodney Matthews as his artwork really goes hand in hand with your creations
Andy: Ed is quite a remarkable phenomenon. He lives in Belarus, a place I've never been, and I've never met him. He's not that far from Chernobyl where the nuclear power station blew up back in the 80s. He is an electronic artist who just seems to be able to compose something wonderful out of software that (I suppose) anyone could use. Someone said to me once "Oh, Ed Unitsky is just using BRYCE" as if that was some form of cheating. Well, you could have said of Van Gogh "OH, he's just using paintbrushes". I don't ask Ed what software he uses, and I don't want to know. I don't care how "easy" people say it might be, they only look like this when Ed does them. He has his own style, period. His work is grander in scale than Roger Dean, you can see for miles in a Unitsky picture. I really like the work he has done for The Tangent, we DO discuss how we would like it to look, and there's an observable difference in the work he does for us as opposed to Mandalaband , TFK or Moongarden. I've always asked him to focus on the landscapes first, not so much in the way of figures and animals... and on COMM, well this is an amazing album sleeve. Looks even better on the Vinyl version!
John: There has certainly been some buzz about this album and having already heard the album I can see why. How do you approach the song writing process? When recording an album do you usually have all the material written or are the pieces created during the recording process?
Andy: Well I wouldn't like to speculate too much on how other people work, but I think that some people think "it's time to release another album so I'd better write some songs" A lot of prog bands/artists do this I am sure. Genuinely, in our case, its nearly always " we've written a lot of songs so it's time to make an album". Something I read, see on the telly, someone I meet, a story I overhear will trigger something and I'll just find myself humming things in my head to go with whatever it may be. I'll doodle around on the keyboard trying to learn how to play Karn Evil 9 which I have been trying to do (unsuccesfully) for 40 years. Suddenly one of the 4 billion possible ways of playing Karn Evil 9 wrongly will be an interesting deviation, and hey presto we have a phrase that can be used in a Tangent song. Once I've got all the things I want to write ABOUT, then I go off somewhere and sit quietly on my own and think about it all, often a lonely park bench which is so lonely it's nowhere near a park, The bench is almost as alienated as I am, and the two of us make good company. All this divvying around perceptibly gets me nowhere and if Insideout could witness this stage they'd be worried and sending each other memos that I wasn't doing any work. Then I do this thing which usually impresses my partner and manager Sally, and just pop upstairs to the studio, spend an afternoon up there and have a completely new 20 minute epic (The Wiki Man) for example by teatime. Of course I've just had the whole thing in my head for weeks, but the illusion of just being able to knock up something like that in an afternoon is pretty cool. It's my little party trick. When there are enough of these demo songs ready, and when enough of them fit together to form a Tangent album, then the rest of the band comes in and we have a project on our hands. So by the time we start, most of the stuff is already written. We know what we're going to do – and of course there are surprises as we go along....
John: Would you agree with me when I say that COMM has quite poetically and cleverly managed to encapsulate the essence of prog both old and new, marrying them perfectly, baring musical fruit that is ripe for all to taste and enjoy?
Andy: Well agreeing with you would be totally conceited really. That WAS the aim of course, and I'm glad that for you it has worked. I have read reviews that say that "Andy Tillison refuses to accept that it's not 1973 any more" and that's of course another view which largely contradicts yours. And one of the central core themes of this album is "Matter of Opinion" and as a result I can hardly be surprised that there are so many opinions
John: Would you like to talk us through the album giving people an insight to your thought process track by track?
Andy: Now that's a hell of a long question in a very few words! I'll have to be brief....
The Wiki Man – looks at the current state of Communications worldwide and the vast amount of unchallenged opinions. At it's heart it is asking the question "is what we all value so much - "Free Speech" - becoming "Worthless Speech"? Free speech is an unassailable right in my mind, but if no-one really takes any notice of it, the word "Free" takes on another meaning.
The Mind's Eye - a song about how mirrors on a day to day basis let you look exactly the same as you did the day before so you never ever look older. And your mind does that too, so I still feel like a Rocking Motorcycling tearaway fresh from a spot of British Hunt Sabbing (trying to spoil fun for English Blood Sports Aristocracy) and the odd poll tax riot. But I'm older than the bloody Prime Minister now and my back hurts and I like listening to the Carpenters.. Shit!!
Shoot Them Down – Jonathan's beautiful but sad lament to the towns that died under Thatcher's years of destruction of Britain's industries. Clearing the way for the new elite of useless middle management to rip Britain off wile making nothing other than financial gambling profits. And her metaphorical offspring has returned to do the same thing.
Tech Support Guy – A light hearted song about a friend of mine beseiged with snotty demands from his co-workers who never even considered the fact that he was, without a doubt, the best person at his job in the whole building, and the only person on the payroll without whom the company would have actually collapsed.
Titanic Calls Carpathia – A look at the way we used electronic communications over its first century, from the first dramatic response to an SOS, down to the trivialities of telling each other what we have had for dinner on Facebook. Yet all these different uses are all, in their ways, cries for help, sent out into the aether. The biggest question the song poses is, will there come a day when the Carpathia (the ship that rescued 700 Titanic survivors) is no longer listening?
John: There are so many highlights on the album, three of which for me are Wiki Man, Titanic Calling Carpathia and Shoot Them Down, the later two sent shivers down my spine, especially when the line "Titanic calls Carpathia in the night" is echoed. What are the standout moments for you?
Andy: "Titanic Calls Carpathia" has to be my fave from this album. I'm pleased in particular in the way the song was able to take something as broad as 100 years of electro communications that started with Titanic's tragedy but yet work in personal moments based around my own experiences. And each time the refrain of "Titanic Calls Carpathia In The Night" comes it has a different weight/slant to it, down to the people of our planet calling for help from anyone. Because let's face it, in a world destroyed utterly by natural or man made disaster, there'd still be some remote human survivors, and they'd all try to dial 911. I think therefore that it seems that you and I share the same fave moment, but others will find something different on the album to like....
John: When writing epic pieces like Wiki Man and In Earnest do you find it difficult to decide when to call it a day, knowing when you have that perfect version?
Andy: The tweaking is always the problem. Knowing when to stop is crucial, and also very very difficult. But there are formulae that you can use, because nearly all really great songs use them. The epic tracks that I've done that don't work as well are the ones like "A Gap In The Night" or the "Place In The Queue" title track where the pieces are so progressive (with a small "p" - note) that they don't sufficiently come back to a given point. Those two pieces were deliberately linear, but looking back on them I don't think there was enough to tie them into being great songs. The fact is that even the great epics of the genre, Like CTTE and Supper's Ready, Gates Of Delirium have this pop song format that they stick to, despite all the complexities they contain, the fact that they are longer etc etc, it still just comes down to old fashioned songwriting. I always feel most happy with a song when it comes back on itself and you start to hear revisitations of earlier themes... you're familiarising yourself with it on the first listen. Like the bit where "Getting over overhanging trees" re-appears on "Tales" and the drop dead gorgeous moment when they go "On the hill we view the silence of the valley" for the second time in CTTE. F***ing amazing. Those are my aims and benchmarks. To go from point A to point B, to point D, then to C, add a whole load of other alphanumeric sections and bring it back. This is a simple progression. It is therefore Progressive, at which point we can capitalize the "P", because that to me was always the meaning of the name of this genre. Music which ITSELF progresses. Not the movement, or the genre – the actual pieces of music progress within themselves. And CTTE still does it! 40 years later.
John: Although not a concept album there is a strong theme running through the album, something that seems to be very close to your heart. How did you come up with the idea of using communications as a subject?
Andy: It's just my other major hobby. Been a COMMS geek since I was a kid, building crystal radios and yogurt carton communicators. Was a CB enthusiast, I'm a licensed Radio Ham, got into the Internet in the early 90s just as it started to creep into Britain, done packet radio – RTTY, Morse Code, Slowscan TV, worked as a presenter on Radio Caroline where I had a show for a few years called "Dance On A Volcano", done some short wave music broadcasting with the late Rob Leighton. I love it all. Had to write about it I guess!
John: One thing that has really struck me about your song writing is the lyrical approach you take, which at times seem to have hidden clues for the fans to discover. Is this the case?
Andy: Well I must say I do like hiding things – like the lyrics to "Ethanol Hatnail" on the Down and Out album. I do get every couple of months a request for these lyrics, and often asked why we didn't include them in the booklet for that album. Of course I always reply that we DID put them in the booklet. You just have to look for them... And that song is an anagram anyway, so another puzzle. Ed Unitsky & Ian Oakley hid loads of stuff in the Escher-style centrefold of "Queue" and yes, I like hiding things in the lyrics and wondering if anyone will find them. I LOVE games and stuff like that around my music, and the great thing is, if you aren't bothered about finding the answers, or even knowing that there's a question, well it doesn't matter anyway. A lot of people who listen to the Tangent aren't even English speakers, so they're getting a whole load of vocal sounds that they are either enjoying or not enjoying for a non lyrical reason. Me, I adore listening to bands singing in Italian, because I don't understand a single word. It's like having a day off!!
John: I also love the way you manage to turn the lyrical content questioningly in on itself making it relevant on several planes, like Wiki Man and Titanic Calling Carpathia which really gets the mind thinking.
Andy: I think some people criticise us for being "preachy". But we ain't preaching. We ARE just asking questions all the time ya know. Just because there isn't a question mark on a written sentence, doesn't mean it isn't a question. Sure, I take a pretty left wing view on things. A lot of people Stateside would find me to be way way left of what they consider "liberal" already. But still I ask questions, because I know that I am sure as hell not the person to come to, looking for answers. I haven't got them. If I am conceited at all, it's in the belief that is I ask the right person the right question through my music, then maybe THEY will come up with the correct answer. So if I were to change the world by influencing someone else who had the ability to do such a thing, well that would be the Mother Ship of my ambition wouldn't it?.
John: Your vocal presentation is just so fitting which allows you to perfectly present your songs as a whole. It must be difficult to get that using other vocalists?
Andy: Well John, you are certainly on my side, which does make, actually, for quite a difficult interview to answer! You're also writing for an American website and in general the biggest black mark against the Tangent in the USA is my voice. It always has been. So, while thanking you for your positive slant to the question, I'll answer based on the fact that most guys over that side of the pond wish I'd get myself a good Tenor singer like the guy in Mars Hollow or Hasse Froberg, Daniel Gildenlow, whichever... However, the nub of your question is still valid. I HAVE to sing. That's all there is to it. It's not that I have to sing, it's that I have to speak. Lyrics, to me, are the number one reason I do the Tangent. Or any other band I write for. This is why I get up in the morning. I consider myself a competent keys player, a "just get away with it" singer, but I'm proud of my lyrics. I think it's what makes the Tangent that bit more relevant than the bulk of modern prog. I ain't as good a keyboards player as Morse or Rudess, Wakeman or Emerson are so above my league it's not true. But I don't feel to be their inferior when it comes to the lyrics. It's natural that I want to put my own voice to them, regardless of how untrained it is, how unpalatable to the ear it might be to Americans, Germans and Swedes,,, ( The French seem to like it a lot!), because I am surely going to SAY them as I meant them to be said. My emotions and experiences will be part of how that performance takes place. Because Rock singing is entirely different from Classical singing. The LACK of training actually brings in emotions that Classical singing can never dream of having. I've heard too many people comment on some Diva's performance as "emotional", but usually this means she has good vibrato and can do a great crescendo and do a really loud bit. She's also reading from a 200 year old manuscript written by a dead Italian, in a language that isn't her own anyway and even if it was would be archaic. Like with politics in songs, Americans (bless 'em) bewilder me because I get loads of flak for having politics in my music from the USA – the country that produced the best political music in the world ever ever ever, and produced some of the world's most wonderfully incapable singers who changed the world of music by making people re-examine what the human voice could do in music, and who was welcome on the stage at all. Dylan, Petty, Waits, Springsteen. These guys would not have been auditioning for a role in "Miss Saigon" on Broadway. Dylan and Springsteen are among my favourite artists who have ever lived. I don't want to give my words to someone else and tell them how to sing them. I found that hard to do with Roine Stolt in the early Tangent years. It took a lot of getting used to, listening to a stranger (which he was at that time) singing a song which was a message of hope to my own son. I think he did a good job, he always does. There is a real prog genius, but it was still hard for me to give him my lines.
John: You certainly have an ability to tell a story, making it interesting both musically and lyrically, which isn't that easy, but your wordsmithery just drags people in. What are your favourite Tangent songs?
Andy: Well I've mentioned "Earnest", "Titanic" and "Where Are They" already, and these are faves of the epics. All these are true stories and lets face it, true stories are usually the best. For all my love of science FICTION, Apollo 13 is still the best story and that really happened, and that's why it's part of the "Titanic" song. Earnest was a composite/hybrid of three elderly men I knew through my love of Amateur Radio, one from the RAF one from the Lufwaffe, all active during the second world war, all seriously neglected after it was over and even more so into their latter years. "Where are They" is probably my number one of all of them, where I tried to write 5 sequels to 5 earlier stories into one piece and make them relate to each other around the song's central theme that "the story is never really over". As far as I am concerned, it worked, was cathartic, liberating and totally uplifting, and I reckon the song is too. I've written some shit, rest assured, but that one isn't. I am very fond of the three "Lost In London" songs, and the third one "Perdu Dans Paris" is up there on my list.
John: I see this time out Jonathan Barrett contributed to the song writing process contributing "Shoot Them Down", and even sang the song, which was a nice and fitting touch. Is this something that you would like to do in the future?
Andy: Well the Tangent has never been a closed shop for writing. Jonas Reingold and Roine Stolt were invited to write songs for it, (they declined) - Sam Baine wrote two, Theo Travis has written a couple. Jonathan's song goes way back to when I knew him in the 80s. I ran a busy recording studio back then and worked with hundreds of young bands back then. This song he first recorded in my studio in about 86, and despite all the thousands of other songs I recorded at that time, I could still remember the lyrics to that one 25 years later. In the socio-economic pickle that we find ourselves at the moment it was totally appropriate, so I asked Jonathan if we could re record the song. I was delighted that he said "yes". And of course, I'll be only too pleased to get songs submitted by the current lineup.
John: All the reviews I have read so far have spoken very highly of the album and for me it is definitely the strongest album to date. This certainly must make you feel very positive that your time and effort has been appreciated and like wise rewarded accordingly?
Andy: Hmmm.. reviews are funny things in the world these days. It is of course very nice to read a nice review of our music, why wouldn't it be? But it has to be said that in this current COMM based world, one of the things we as a race are not short on is – reviews. There are reviews of Memory Foam pocket sprung mattresses, reviews of cars, boats, radios, memory sticks, hard disks and baby alarms. And as these reviews are usually just a load of contradictory "hates" and "loves" it becomes more and more difficult for the end user to actually work out what they are thinking of buying. All you have to do is think of a product and you can find huge amounts of reviews for it, a lot of which will say it's bad, a lot will say its good, and making a decision is therefore no more easy than the days before the internet. Thing is ANYONE can write a review of a 3.5 hard disk now. They can say "these are shit, mine broke and there was no tech support" But you have no idea if the guy writing that has any real knowledge of computer systems, whether he's treated it as it should be treated and whether he spoke politely to tech support or just sent a rude email. Back "in the day" music reviews were written in general by people you got to know. If Phil Sutcliffe or Chris Welch said something was good I think I would usually think "I'll check that out" If John Peel said something was good I was interested, but was not "put off" if he said it was bad. You could work these people out. Nowadays with so many sites and blogs it's really difficult to build up a picture. I am certain that within the next few days a review will turn up of COMM on a big forum site like Progarchives saying "can't see what all the fuss is about, it's a really dull album". And don't forget that on forum sites like this, bands can join under pseudonyms and write good reviews of themselves and mark down their rivals. There's a lot of that going on, but it will NEVER ever ever be us. We always have, we always will, play fair! In playing fair we will lose opportunities to build the band's fame level. But we were never about fame levels anyway. So!!
John: Interestingly you ran a competition to allow musicians from throughout the world to contribute a solo, the winner being the amazing keyboard player Andrew Roussak. What was the response to this competition like?
Andy: The response was pretty terrific. We had 150 odd serious entries which came from all over the world. We had no help with it from anyone, no sponsorship, nothing. Couldn't even get our local prog rag to mention it. The entries came from around the world from Thailand to the USA via central Russia, the Ukraine and France. People put time and effort into it – something that the internet famously circumvents nowadays – everything is so EASY, but not this. Andrew Roussak's solo was the one that won – we selected 10 of the best and put them on our site and asked our fans to choose their favourites. We had thousands of mails on that, another marathon job for our long suffering manager Sally, and Andrew won by a hair – just beating the French horn player Marc Paphegin and a stunning guitar solo from Dmitry Ignatov from Russia. Steve Mauk and Kerry Chicoine from the Mars Hollow entered too, they both were in the top 10 – they've really impressed us with their co-operation because they didn't see themselves as "too cool" despite their current success levels. I guess that people outside the competition looked on and waited to see how it went, and that we'll see someone else do one soon. Probably with more money!
John: What made you decide to do this?
Andy: Although it's great to have a real band together in the same room now as opposed to the TFK era where we were oceans apart, the communications stuff in the early Tangent lineup was really rather exciting because I had no idea what was going to turn up. So we introduced this as a way of randomizing the music a little. There was this section that we had where we simply did NOT know what was going to be there... even during the final mixdown where we had to mix the thing 10 times with 10 solos. So we didn't actually know which one was going to be released until the album had been finished. That was cool, random, and terrifying all in one. Most terrifying is the fact that Andrew's astonishing solo is on keyboards, and whether I'll EVER be able to reproduce it live, well I just don't know!
John: I having seen varying incarnations of this band, today's line-up is definitely the most cohesive and in all honestly the best. Unfortunately the much loved Jonathan Barrett has now left the band for various reasons; how did you come across the new bass player Dan Mash? Could you tell us a bit about Dan and what he brings to the table for The Tangent?
Andy: Dan is an extraordinary bass player and like Luke at 22 years old he's open minded and highly positive. He has impressed us a great deal in the year and a half in which we've known him, he's been very close to us during that time, accompanying us on a few festival dates including a trip to Italy to the GONG festival in Parma last year, and he depped for Jonathan at an impromptu Tangent gig at a private party down in Brighton. He plays also in Concrete Lake, once again with Luke, he's into Jazz, Prog, Funk, Metal, NO, forget all that. He's into MUSIC. He's part of a new generation of talented and ambitious musicians, (using the word ambitious not as in CAREER ambitious, but MUSICALLY ambitious) – and we have two of them now in the Tangent. We are all going to learn from each other, and this has all been a free education for me since The Tangent began. Non stop learning. Love it.
John: Is Jonathan moving onto pasture green, is he retiring from the music world?
Andy: Jonathan has begun recording his long overdue album of songs. He's already asked me to partake and I have enthusiastically accepted. I really rate his writing. I don't think this will be a "prog" album – expect some elements of Nick Drake, John Martyn, Joni Mitchell, Sting to jostle around each other. Let's hope he can get that out soon!
John: Not many people may know this, but you were the first person to put streamable music onto the internet for people to download way back when, which is really fitting with the COMM idea. Do you feel that the progression of this technology has been a benefit to you or a hindrance?
Andy: Of course when we posted that Mp3 back in the mid 90s we realised that the technology was going to be important. After all, they guy who downloaded it (it took days) actually turned up at the first gig by Po90 – the first download of an Mp3 demo actually brought us a new fan. Our first in point of fact. And since then, the net has given us so many ways to get our music out there we can hardly "seem" to complain. But of course, it's given a lot of other people the chance to "get our music out there" and the internet pirates are hammering us 24 hours a day allowing our music to be looted from broken shop windows at any time. Add to this the fact that anyone with an electric guitar and the ability to get a tune out of it now has access to a PR network the size of the universe, an online TV channel, world radio station etc etc, and there are so many musicians on the net now that it is statistically impossible to even begin to know which to listen to. Prog music (like all other genres) is awash with new bands and artists. Some correspondents call this "healthy". I'm not so sure myself, I find the number of artists off putting, a great many of them to be sub standard and as a result this means I miss a lot of the good stuff (of which there is also plenty). There's just no really good Editing going on. Everyone can have a good review, and in the end it all becomes meaningless. If I am being put off, then other people are. I'm a music addict, so other people MUST be feeling the same.
John: I know you and Jonathan have strong views on this as music to a lot of people today is seen as a throw away commodity that doesn't need paying for, which fortunately is not the case as it can make or destroy careers and even bankrupt people; we are even seeing musicians leave this industry because of this. Surely this can't be right and someone needs to make a stand?
Andy: Of course we have to look at both sides here. Yes, a lot of people see music now as a free commodity. There's a line in "Titanic" which is all about an poster I saw in a motorways service station, advertising the fact that is you returned your empty coke bottle to a recycling point you would get TWO free iTunes songs. Legal ownership of "Blowin' In the Wind" or "Give Peace A Chance" in return for an empty coke bottle. Amazingly depressing though that is in itself, it got worse when I noticed that there were loads of empty coke bottles in the waste baskets – in other words, nobody could even be bothered to do that, because you can have those 2 songs anywhere for free without returning a silly bottle. Our fan funded DVD was pirated earlier this year, sales grinding to a halt the minute the thing appeared. 500 copies were downloaded in 2 days. We even made it into a "illegal downloads chart" for that week, coming in at number 14 behind Lady gaga at number 1. For big artists like Gaga it's a nuisance that only big sponsorship deals can offset. For us, it's everything we can put in the fridge. People genuinely don't realise.
John: I'm not too sure what the answer is, but I do feel that downloading is not the answer as I like many true fans of music like to have something to look at, like the good old days of vinyl.
Andy: Well I do know some serious piraters. They have disks so crammed with music they've acquired that they simply haven't got time remaining on their lives to listen to it all. They are basically "collecting" and amassing music for the sake of the achievement I guess. Some of them do it to make small amounts of money from sites that make larger amounts of money which they make from advertising dodgy products like weight loss programmes, online pharmacies and adult XXX dating sites – high revenue businesses that would not be welcome on Amazon. A lot of money is now being made on piracy, the old "file sharing" idea is long gone. This is big business, we are the end product of this business, and we don't get offered a CENT for our contribution to their profits.
John: On the other side of the coin there are people who like to try before they buy?
Andy: Yes. "Try Before You Buy" does sound like a perfectly reasonable idea. However, this often actually translates as "Have the entire thing before you buy, thus obviating the need ever to part with any cash at all because you can't try electricity before you buy it and the bill needs to be paid" So yes, you can Try the new Tangent album, right now, before you buy. And you can keep it forever, never pay us for our work, and play it in 20 years time. That's if you like it of course. There's no risk at all. The pirate user gets to make ALL the choices, whether to pay, whether to keep, discard, whatever. We have no say. For our 55 minutes of music that took us 2 years to make and that you can play for the rest of your life and enjoy (if that's your kind of thing) we are asking for enough money to :
1. buy a small round of drinks or
2. buy enough gas to take your car around 80 miles (in Europe) or
3. Buy a takeaway pizza for two people.
All these things are gone in a flash. Musicians work will last you forever, you can listen to it on your vintage iPod on the balcony of a retirement home overlooking a lake in your twilight years, you can have Neal Morse's songs at your golden wedding anniversary. Each album you buy costs about the same as two packets of cigs. Those tobacco companies don't do try before buy do they?
John: The rather excellent Going For Two DVD, which has been highly regarded by the critics also see's The Tangent being able to display their talents for the whole world to see allowing a unique opportunity to voyeuristically view what the band are all about. Why did you choose this method as opposed to the standard format with the participation a live audience?
Andy: We just saw a hole in the current market I guess. Nearly all the DVD shows we've seen are concert footage these days, and Jonathan and I always really liked the studio based performances of the 70s on shows like the "Old Grey Whistle Test" here in England. They seemed more intimate, because you, the television viewers WERE the audience. You weren't the second most important people to the people actually at the gig, You knew this performance was for you!. So that's what we did. No rented sub pink floyd lights, no fancy stage clothes, no bullshit. Just a band, their instruments and their music. That's what we aimed for, and that's what we delivered. I am very pleased with the final result and it is, without a doubt, my personal favourite Tangent "product" of them all - all the songs are better than the originals.
John: What was the response to this release like?
Andy: In general it was really good – in fact it was great across the board with just one major exception where a major UK high street magazine decided to subject it to ridicule and insulting comments on the way we look and dress. Real prog publications with an actual knowledge of the current scene though were smitten with the thing, and for a fan release it did really well. If it hadn't been pirated we'd have been able to pay the musicans more, and maybe Jonathan wouldn't have left the band. But that's the way it goes.
John: It must have been quite a buzz just letting the music do the talking, no gimmicks etc; true musicianship of the highest order. Certainly watching the DVD confirms you guys were made to play together, you can almost feel that bond you have. It also demonstrates to the world the magnificence of the band too.
Andy: Yeah, I mean prog is sometimes famous for going up its own arse you know, And that's a quite justified criticism in many cases. Shows became more and more elaborate – bands just vying with each other for the most expensive lasers, screens, pyrotechnics and shit like that. The Tangent can't afford any of that stuff, so we do the show armed with nothing more than our instruments and our bodies and whatever the venue we are playing in has at its disposal for lighting. That can be anything from 5 100 watt spots to a full rig. We don't really care that much. The show is about our energy and music. And we provide both in copious quantities with this version of the band. The whole Tangent thang is "back to the music". Let it stand alone. Still a punk. Always was!
John: Andy you are not one to be idle as you are also releasing your second solo album Murk. What can you tell us about this? Is this album in the same vein as FOG?
Andy: It is a second volume in the "Fog" series and there will be more. Less structured and more ambient music is a big time love of mine, I'm a lifetime fan of the Tangerine Dream 70s work and I find making this music very therapeutic and it helps me focus better on the concurrent Tangent project by diverting me away from it from time to time. I get real pleasure making this music, so it is necessarily more self indulgent that the Tangent stuff.
John: You are also offering some nice packages from your website which includes the Digipak CD, Vinyl edition of the album and your new solo album Murk all at a very reasonable price available at www.thetangent.org.
Andy: Thanks for the plug!!
John: How have the sales of COMM been going? Do you feel this is a way forward for the band allowing you more control offering fans what they really want?
Andy: Well difficult to say overall, but at Tangent Towers our own web sales have been the best we've ever had, by a long long way. This might not reflect the overall sales share, because our manager Sally has done an amazing job of focussing people onto our website which has blossomed into what must be one of the more interesting band websites currently on offer. We consider that site to be as much a part of what we are as the music.. and it's a popular site, so popular in fact we keep getting offers to buy the name!. So cautious optimism is what we can say at the moment. We DO offer a more complete experience than can be gained from somewhere like Amazon, we do signed copies, add on publications and releases like a 8 inch size version of the CD booklet that goes with the Vinyl album. Nobody else has this. And of course buying from US puts more cash directly into the band's hands than any other method. But PLEASE... feel free to buy elsewhere... it's cheaper for you for sure, and we do still get paid if you buy! "Every little helps" as our largest supermarket chain in the UK keeps reminding us
John: Are there many recordings in the vault? Have you ever considered putting out a special Boxset together as this seems to be the way forward these days, offering your fans a unique insight to your creative world and vision?
Andy: Stacks – going as far back as 1976. We have Tangent related recordings spanning all the time between the first Tangent band (1978) and the current one. These include "The Music That Died Alone" recorded in 1978, stuff that ended up on Tangent albums recorded 20 years previously, the 1980s era where we married Death metal with prog and had something that doesn't sound a million miles from Opeth in 2001 (without the cookie monster). Theres 20 minute epics recorded 4 years before "Grendel" We DO intend to make a lot of this available as a box set thing next year if we can get the interest of a company to do it, maybe that will be Insideout, maybe not. We'd have to talk to them about it.
John: Live you are a force to be reckoned with, continually blowing your audience away with your music. I have gone on record as stating that you are Britain's best Prog band, a statement that I will firmly standby. What can your fans expect from the up and coming planned live show?
Andy: It will be energetic and alive. We have 2 members who are living this all for the very first time. Their energy rubs off on Tony and Myself, and they will probably tire us out! As for "Britains Best Prog Band" - well, really, from the bottom of my heart, thankyou for saying such a kind thing. It's like you giving me a beautiful watch and me having to say "I couldn't possibly". I can't of course subscribe to that view, and there are sure as hell a lot of people who that view will disgruntle, people who have followed IQ for decades, Marillion, Arena, Big Big Train and Magenta – many more share the same dedication that we have, and to more people THEY are the best prog band in Britain. It is of course subjective, and it's nice to find such kind words in a world so hostile to prog.
John: For the last two years you have been playing throughout Europe building up a new audience, headlining festivals to high acclaim and rave reviews. Recently you have been invited to Russia to play gigs and headline a festival which really speaks volumes. How did this invitation come about?
Andy: We have a lot of fans in Russia, I guess that's all there is to it. The band has always had a much more worldwide fanbase than being "big in the UK and the US". On the day of the announcement, a load of 'em went out on a Vodka drinking party to just celebrate that we were coming! We even got a photo of about 8 of them toasting us. That is truly lovely and we've posted that picture on our website in their honour. We were contacted by them with a proposal, the proposal was great, and we're going with it. We have no idea whether we will experience success or disaster. All we know for sure that we Will experience is – experience.
John: Which leads me nice onto America, a country that The Tangent haven't played for far too long and there are many people there who want to see the band live. Surely now the time is right for that American market to open up its door and for someone to bring the band over to play one of their many Prog Festivals as a starting points?
Andy: Well I ain't an expert, and I'm not a promoter and I'm sure these guys have as many hidden problems as we musicians have. Putting something like Rosfest or Nearfest together must be a major headache. Not least being the fact that they are besieged with request to play their festivals by nearly every progressive band in the world. And that's literally thousands. So bearing in mind that I DO NOT KNOW THE WHOLE STORY and so I could be very very wrong, I'll say my piece about how I see it. Since we played Rosfest in 2005, where we were festival headliner, closing the whole show, we have not been invited back to the USA. John Collinge at Progression Magazine will happily confirm to you that on that night we blew the roof off the place. The audience loved it. All you have to do is hear the recordings from the show that feature on our "Going off on ONE" CD to know that this is no exaggeration.
I would guess that from their point of view, the band that appeared then is no longer the same. That Jonas is no longer there, and that we probably are not as good without him. Therefore the onus is on us to prove that we are fit for the task. This is a reasoning that I can understand and sympathize with. I think that we have proved ourselves, we've worked our way back up and we stand on our own as a band, no longer to be seen as a spin off the Flower Kings (who were of course 100 percent responsible to bringing us to peoples attention in the first place, no way would I ever deny that) I think the time IS right to invite us back.
But other things have changed too. Half way through the last decade, Bands like ours were headlining these successful events, In the wake of those successes, a lot of bands (often lesser known bands during that era) from the 70s have reformed and it's these bands that are being offered top slots at the major US festivals. It's a scoop for a festival to be able to offer someone like that. Having said that, that means a LOT of the budget has gone, and the rest of the festival billing is often made up of bands prepared to play the festival for a considerable loss. It would cost us nearly 5000 USD just to get there. If we had that money, we'd be there, but we do not.
The Russians on the other hand are putting us on as headliners this year at a major prog festival, paying our air fares in and out, organising another two gigs for us while we are there, laying on a tourbus, driver and tour manager - and paying us a very decent fee for each concert from which we will do what we are supposed to do, "make a modest living out of this". All this from a country that lots of us write off as a "poorer" nation.
Believe me, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to come and play in the USA again. Our last experience was fantastic. But we need to be invited, and right now, that ain't happening. We haven't received any enquiries for next years festivals either, so I'm presuming we are not on the books for 2012. There is not a day passes here at Tangent Towers without an American fan wanting to know if we'll ever come back. They are, regrettably, asking the wrong people.
John: Are you planning anything special for the Summer's End Festival, a festival that is close to your heart and being Dan Mash's debut with the band live?
Andy: We have been asked to play Summer's End which I have been present at 4 times already, twice as a performer, a year ahead of our previously agreed next appearance. We'll be special guests of Arena on the second night of the festival, and we'll very much be respecting their past career and contribution to the scene. It's their moment and we'll just be providing them with a good warm up then we'll be down at the front watching them! I'm sure as hell staying for the next day to see Magenta, one of my fave friendly rivals. It's a great lineup this year. Dan is really looking forward to it, and of course the rest of us can't wait to show the audience the new generation of prog musicians. We intend to play a festival set of favourite Tangent songs from most of our albums, and will not be ramming the whole of COMM down the throats of people who haven't heard it yet. Of course there WILL be some of the new album, but it's too early to build an entire set around it. We hope to please old friends and make new ones. That's all we can ask for isn't it?
John: Where else can people catch up with you live?
Andy: In Russia, Belgium, France and The UK this year, maybe Canada next year, we've got dates under negotiation in Europe again and MY GOD would we like to come to the States.!!!! All dates are on the website of course. www.thetangent.org
John: What are the future plans for The Tangent?
Andy: To carry on. "Roll the dice" and see where we end up. As the song says "You can't find the future,'cos it finds you". My biggest future plan remains to be able to hand the Tangent over to a new custodian one day in the very very distant future when I am too old to carry on. That the Tangent can carry on as a group without any of its original members, rather like an orchestra or football team. Still making adventurous music for a difficult to please world. That is my biggest hope. That what I started can continue, and maybe find its deserved slot in the public minds in days to come where music may be needed again in the way I needed it in 1973.
(Click here to read our review of COMM)