Darwin's Radio seemed to have it all with their two excellent albums finding the band being lauded by fans and critics as the future of Prog. Whether it was the debut album Eyes Of The World and its mix of short and snappy tracks that captured the imagination, or the longer expanses of Prog to be found on its follow up Template For A Generation which rekindled a love of the epic, the Prog world held its breath to see what the band would do next. Well after a brief sojourn with Jem Godfrey's Frost*, the answer was that singer and guitarist Dec Burke would leave the band, resulting in them going into hibernation. Now having just released his second excellent solo album in just over two years - Paradigms & Storylines, Dec spoke with Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid to look both forward and back...
SoT: Hi Dec and thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for Sea of Tranquility.
My pleasure Steven, thanks.
SoT: Seeing as this is the first time that SoT has spoken to you Dec, I'd like to start with a little history if that's OK?
SoT: You first came to prominence with the UK Prog act Darwin's Radio. Tell us about your time with them...
Well keyboard player Mark Westworth and I formed the group in 2002 I think it was. Mark had just left GLD [Grey Lady Down], and I was looking to form an original group having played for years in various cover bands and tribute groups. A friend of mine suggested Mark and I meet. We were introduced and we hit it off musically and personally. Mark then suggested Sean Spear as bassist as he too had left GLD and was also on the lookout for a group, so we started writing as a trio while hunting for a drummer. We wrote a tonne of material, hours and hours of stuff. Eventually we hooked up with drummer David Pankhurst and we started to develop these ideas in a rehearsal room, and write more stuff….
SoT: Just as Darwin's Radio were really beginning to receive some positive coverage in the media and from fans, you decided to leave the band to pursue a solo career. Some people thought the timing of your decision was surprising. What was it that led you to seek pastures new at that stage?
Yeah I know... That was a hard decision to make. My vision for the group was more about what ended up on our second album Template for a Generation - longer songs, complex time signatures and playing. But that album took so long to come together. I hoped so much for it to succeed but I was frustrated. I felt we really could have capitalised on that album and wanted to get out and tour it, but it became a constant battle and debate on how or what we would do. Also in the mix was the fact that by then Mark was busy with IQ, and I had joined Frost* - time for Darwin's Radio was being marginalised. A tough decision, as I loved the band and the guys, we had a great chemistry. Who knows, maybe one day we may reunite….
SoT: As you mentioned, the other band that people will have known you from prior to your solo work is Frost*. How did you get involved with Jem Godfrey's band and will you be joining up with them again in the future?
Well never say never, but I think that band actually works better as a four-piece and had great chemistry with their first album Milliontown. With the second album Experiments I felt that I was only on board just for that album and tour. Then along the way Andy Edwards [drums] left, before John Jowitt [bass] did the same. Then we did the "Dividing Line" track for the live album The Philadelphia Experiment, which was a lot of fun. At that stage Jem was ready to gig, but I was working on my solo album and really was on "full solo album mode". Jem then decided that he'd take the band out as a four piece again - so really that's how that came about. But he and I are still in touch, which is great…. that's music for you, the revolving doors of members coming, going, but the music still gets made, so it's all good.
SoT: So that brings us to2010 and Destroy All Monsters, which was your first solo album. I have to say that it is an album that I really enjoy, with its mix of Prog, a little Ambient and loads of Melodic accessibility. How was it having complete control over your music from start to finish?
Brilliant! Scary! Exciting! It was a rush of emotions and I'm so glad I did it. Musically, and melodically it's a great album.
SoT: With all of the other hassles that come with trying to get an album recorded, released and known about, was working as a solo act more challenging than being "just" a band member?
Only as far as the writing went - honestly I was terrified! I hadn't really written much on my own before and it was daunting, but I loved the freedom of being able to do whatever I wanted. Having done a prog epic with Darwin's and the Frost* album, I thought it would be refreshing to do something very different from what I'd done before. I loved it.
SoT: For that debut album you teamed up with ProgRock Records. Now I received a promo disc from them to review, which - if you don't mind me saying - had a mix that was more than a little challenging. When I published my review of Destroy All Monsters, highlighting what I saw as real mixing issues - something I noticed that other reviewers also picked up on, they let me know that a remixed version was suddenly available. I received that as a download and was immediately blown away by the clarity and vibrancy it gave the songs. Can you shed any light on how all of this came about?
....yeah the mix did suffer greatly. As you say, that's now been fixed. I think it was an issue with the mastering that was missed, but most importantly it's fixed. Phew!
SoT: Looking back on Destroy All Monsters, how do you view that album and were there things that you felt you'd learnt to take forward to your future work?
Yeah, double check everything before you send it off to be pressed!!! (laughs)
SoT: Did you get the chance to get out and tour to promote the album?
I did a few gigs in the UK and then as a support to Mick Pointer's Script for a Jesters Tour in Holland, which was a lot of fun. It took me back to my Frost* days being out on the road.
SoT: As I mentioned you teamed up with ProgRock Records for that debut album. However with your excellent new release Paradigms & Storylines, you appear to have gone it alone. Why did you decide to do things this way this time?
Financially it made more sense. It's such a tough marketplace, I needed to feel as in control as I could be. Shaun's label did an amazing job, but I decided it would work better this way for this album.
SoT: Anyone who has visited your website at http://decburke.com/ will have been able to view little video clips giving an insight into how you composed and constructed Paradigms & Storylines. How interesting has it been to share a little of your music as you make it?
Yeah it's fun, I need to do some more of those really and keep in touch with people, although I usually keep people up to date on my Facebook page more than my website really.
SoT: From what I've seen, it looks like quite a solitary process you follow in the initial stages of composing. Do you feel you work best in this situation?
Yeah, I think I do. Initially I wasn't so sure, but yes I much prefer that approach.
SoT: However when it comes to recording the album you use a full band to realise your music. Do the songs evolve as you open the music up to the band?
Yes, without a doubt - on this album particularly the keyboards. Carl Westholm had free reign to do what he wanted with keyboard sounds and so on, I asked him to stay true to my melodies, but, to interpret things as he saw fit. Stefan Fanden [bass] too was a revelation creating some amazing sounds. I think Cia Backman's backing vocals also really lifted everything and Mike Wikman was a powerhouse, he's an extremely musical drummer, always listening to things and very solid.
SoT: Stefan Fanden also produced and mixed the album, what was it about his approach that you wanted to capture on Paradigms & Storylines?
Yeah he's amazing. Such a great guy and a really close friend of mine, we're always on the phone, thank goodness for "Viber" or my phone bills would be huge!! (laughs) What made me really want to get Stefan involved is that big bombastic sound that he gets on his Carptree stuff - I love them. We spoke on the phone and his ideas were very similar to mine, so he seemed ideal.
SoT: I'm very intrigued by the excellent album title. Where did the inspiration behind Paradigms & Storylines come from?
Yeah I like it. I have no idea, it just popped in my head one day, and I thought "yeah, I like that". A happy accident you could say.
SoT: The music on the album covers a wide range of genres and styles, although at all times it remains progressive and accessible. Coming into this album did you have a clear vision of how you wanted it to sound and flow?
Thanks Steven, well that was my goal on this one. To be honest I just locked myself away for ten days over the Christmas break, and I don't really remember how I went about it, but I'd play little bits for my wife and she'd say she liked it which was positive. In fact I wrote the song "Yesterday's Fool" while taking a break from the writing, I was waiting for the kettle to boil and was strumming on the acoustic in the kitchen and it just came along and practically wrote itself in two or three minutes. It all happened very fast, and by January the writing was done and I was demoing the material for Stefan.
SoT: On both of your albums Dec, I think your music has the ability to cross-over into different markets, with appeal to the modern Prog scene of bands like Porcupine Tree or The Pineapple Thief, but also into more mass acceptance that the likes of Muse have achieved. Do you feel that your music has the ability to appeal to the masses, while keeping the Prog-heads happy as well?
I would love to appear more to the masses - I don't really come from a Prog background per-say. I love the more Pop type elements of music coupled with Rock music. Hopefully I guess, I want to sound like me, to be as original as I can and hope the people like it. I think the potential to appeal to the masses is there I just need to tap into it a bit more.
SoT: The lyrics that you write are thought provoking and it is obvious that a lot of time and effort goes into that side of things as well. Where do you get your inspiration from and how easy is it to turn that into the words you eventually sing?
Thanks again! Yeah I always worry about the lyrics and what I'm going to say, as I'm quite a shy person. For this album I approached it as someone looking in at a particular situation and then telling the story on behalf of a character from that situation, but it takes me a while to piece it all together, that's always the difficult part of the song for me.
SoT: Considering the scope of your music, is it sometimes a challenge to make the words and music come together as seamlessly as you would like?
Yes definitely, often the melody and the sound of what I'm trying to achieve hint at certain words and I can go from there, but yes, nail on head, it's a tough one.
SoT: I know that you played a show in The UK to promote Paradigms & Storylines. How did that gig go and do you have any more planned?
Yes it went fine, no one died which is always a plus!! But the feedback was very positive and people enjoyed the music which was good.
SoT: Is it the same line up that recorded the album that performs with you live?
No, my Swedish connection played on the album (laughs). Live it will be, John Jowitt on bass, Tim Churchman on drums, whose played with Ark and Darwin's Radio, Patrick Darlington ex of The Urbane on keyboards, and Hywel Bennett from Replica-X adding additional vocals.
SoT: Obviously the new album will be taking all of your focus right now Dec, but what can we expect to see next from you?
I'm already working on a new band project and there will be more news on that later in the year. Right now I'm writing for my third solo album! Busy, busy (laughs)!
SoT: Well that's all my questions Dec. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer them.
My pleasure mate, nice to talk to you.
(Click here to read our reviews of Paradigms & Storyliines)