Maggy Simpson is the new collaboration between one-time Glyder mainman Bat Kinane and multi-talented instrumentalist, songwriter and producer Shane Counter, with the pair creating an interesting, eclectic, Rockin', Proggin' collection with their debut album Lab Rat And Lobster. Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid spoke to both Bat and Shane to find out more....
Maggy Simpson isn't the first time you two have worked together, with the two of you teaming up on Bat's solo album 'A Lifetime To Kill', as well as some other projects. How did you first start writing and recording together?
Bat: We met over ten years ago when Shane moved to Ireland from the UK, we discovered we had a mutual appreciation of King's X and we both were big into writing and recording, we had always talked about collaborating and we finally started working on some production pieces together. Then I borrowed some of Shanes music for a track on my solo album and Shane also gave me some advice on production for the last Glyder album. I've always wanted to work with Shane as I love his approach to production and textures of sound.
I know that you have already come in for a little online "stick" over the band name Maggy Simpson. What is the meaning behind the band name and why did you choose it?
Bat: It's always hard to remember exactly where ideas and concepts begin. It really just popped into my head one day for no reason. Maybe a little like Thin Lizzy using the character Tin Lizzie from the Beano. At that time it was a ridiculous name for a band but it's just a name and people get used to it and it doesn't matter.
And I also have to ask the meaning behind the album's unusual name, 'Lab Rat And Lobster'?
Bat: That's another one which I don't exactly know where it came from but I think it might have been something in my subconscious mind that referred to Lieber and Stoller.
The album is remarkably and pleasantly diverse. Was that always what the two of you hoped to achieve with the album?
Shane: Yeah, for sure. I know that diversity doesn't always sit well with some music fans, but I think it's important not to be too repetitive. I love Progressive Rock, so I'm naturally drawn to experimentation and evolution. That was something that we were conscious of though, and we had to restrain my tendencies to be too extravagant!
Bat: I brought the Classic Rock element to it and it's a nice mix of Progressive and Classic Rock. I think its complex enough for the Prog fans and straight forward enough for the Classic Rocker.
With the album being so diverse, could you take us through some of the styles and influences that inspired you both while you were creating it?
Shane: I was definitely thinking more in terms of melodic content first, musical muscularity second. To that end, I thought specific influences such as King's X, U2 and Foo Fighters would be apparent when we were done and I think they are in there, but we also worked the initial sketches pretty hard to produce the best arrangements we could. For example, on "Message in a Cosmic Bottle" we trimmed the tempo a little and dropped everything by a whole tone to help the song breathe. Originally that one was a bouncy, poppy instrumental kind of affair. Our final version is certainly a lot heavier, has something of a Classic Rock-Metal feel and that chorus was written especially to add some darkness and contrast. That's very typical of our approach throughout. Rock and Metal songs can sometimes be a slave to a couple of strong riffs but we weren't afraid to look at key changes and tempo changes to achieve a better all-round song. It means that we have delved into our rich reserves as music fans, covering reference points from The Kinks to Thin Lizzy to Rage Against The Machine and a lot of things in between.
Bat: I never think about it too much, I just let it flow. We had a large pot to draw from on this album and it was for me a great experience to sing melodies and come up with concepts from Shane's music.
Would it be fair to suggest that the lyrics on the album are written from quite a personal and at times revealing perspective?
Bat: Yes at some points they are, some are pure fantasy like "High Time to Die" and "Message in a Cosmic Bottle" and say on "Last Days Of Cool" we all know people like the character in this song. Some are reality based like "On Blabbermouth". Other songs like "Coldest Eyes", "Free Your Mind For You", "Sorry" and "Spending Time" are based around truth, while "Stoner Blues" is mostly true but slightly exaggerated. The music reminded me of the early 90s in parts so in I mentally transported myself back to that time and that's where a lot of the lyrics come from. Music is something that can bring you to a place emotionally, as I said earlier I brought myself back to my late teens and early twenties to write the lyrics... I'm very far away from that place now so it's hard for me to talk about those things in some ways. As you said the lyrics are quite revealing so it's very obvious what the songs are about. I don't believe in being cryptic. A lot of modern lyrics are that way and make sense only to the writer. I'm old school when it comes to lyrics, I love Phil Lynott and Kris Kristofferson; they tell great stories. I think story telling is lost in today's music. "On Blabbermouth" came from reading an article on blabbermouth.net one day. The Internet brings out the worst in people. People can hide behind their computer or device and not be accountable, saying things they wouldn't say in person. This song was inspired by some hateful comments about a murdered Metallica fan on the music site of the title. It must have been so hard for that girl's family to read those comments. While this is not an attack on the site itself, it is a commentary on some of the trolls that frequent it. Censorship is not the answer, but people should be held accountable. "Message In A Cosmic Bottle" is a fictional story based around Voyager 1. In 1977, a golden record with messages, music and all things about mankind was sent into deep space on the Voyager 1. It is hoped that, one day, this record will be found by other intelligent life. This song is a fictional story of how the Golden Record in a "Cosmic Bottle" is found by an intelligent, Godless race. They listen to the music on the record, believe it to be from Gods and decide to follow it back to Earth. When they finally arrive, Earth is a barren planet with no life. Ultimately, we may self-destruct, destroying this planet and ourselves, but we have left our legacy, lost in space. If or when that happens, an alien race might learn from our mistakes.'
Bat, the last time you spoke to Sea of Tranquility, you had just released the excellent Glyder album 'Backroads To Byzantium', however things became very on and off and on again for the band around that time. What happened after 'Backroads...' and do you ever see Glyder flying high again?
Bat: I think we made a great album but I think that as a band we were not strong enough live. The first line-up was killer. I think the new band had the potential but it would have meant going back to the very start playing with garage bands to try and get the experience we needed. Also our singer Jackie was living too far away to rehearse at the level we needed. I can't really see Glyder ever flying high again, that's not to say we won't have a reunion gig sometime in the future. I don't know really. I think we have all moved on in such far directions that it would never be possible. If I'm honest I'm much happier working with Shane on the Rock side of things and I want to continue on my solo path. We did some great things with Glyder but it is now part of our past.
And then you handled your first lead vocals on your solo album, however your vocals on this album feel more assured and confident. Is this something you have been spending time working on?
Bat: I've been playing a lot of covers gigs and I'm the singer in that band. I guess it's starting to pay off. I wasn't sure if I would be able to deliver on this album but I discussed it with Shane and we decided that we were doing it for ourselves so on that premise I decided that I would take the challenge.
I believe that some of the songs on 'Lab Rat...' started life as Glyder demos. How did these songs evolve as you shaped them into Maggy Simpson songs?
Bat: Yes "High Time To Die" was knocking around from the 'Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow' album days. I knew Tony would never sing it, it isn't his kind of Rock. I then I sent a demo to Chris Laney in polar studios in Stockholm and he demoed it. We were going to pitch it to Alice Cooper, in its original form it sounded very Alice, however when Shane added to it, it became a very different beast. "Coldest Eyes" comes from that time too but it was too dark for Glyder. Also "Free Your Mind" was potentially for "Backroads to Byzantium" but didn't fit in and we demoed "On Blabbermouth" for "Backroads..." and Jackie changed the lyrics to "Hammerman" but it didn't fit either. Shane added his parts to these songs and they fitted right into this project.
You also have ex-Glyder man Davy Ryan playing drums on the album. You must be delighted to have him involved?
Bat: Yes, Davy is a great drummer, he has such skills and is very easy to work with, I miss not being in a band with him, you always feel so assured with him behind you.
So Shane, we know Bat from his time with Glyder. Can you take us through your musical background and some of your previous bands and projects?
Shane: My formative guitar heroes were guys like Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton – people who could make a guitar sing, but in an accessible format. As I got more interested in heavier sounds like Sabbath, Purple, Zeppelin, Maiden and Van Halen – people who could make a guitar scream, if you will – I started to hear the kinds of sounds I wanted to actually make. When I discovered Progressive Rock through Yes, Floyd, Crimson and in particular, Rush, I realised you could put all this into one limitless melting pot. That was very exciting, very inspiring to me. It was pretty difficult to meet other people that shared the same vision though. That's why I started writing and recording my own pieces on a primitive 4-track, I'm probably not enough of a Rocker on one hand, and not pure Prog enough on the other. The 'albums' I made back in those days became my calling cards and I was able to meet more like-minded musicians as a result. I played guitar in a couple of vaguely Prog Rock bands in the late 90s in England, Scream In Blue and Mr.Do being the most notable. Over the years I've done a bit of teaching, some session work and been in bands as a guitarist, but I really found my comfort zone in the studio, as a composer and producer. I've made six full albums and at least three mini-albums as a solo artist as well as building a library of production pieces.
Some of your previous music has been in the instrumental progressive style. How has putting together a more song based album differed from what you have done before?
Shane: Having done so much instrumental work and not having been in a band for a few years, it was a real tonic to be able to work on songs. My biggest challenge was in showing restraint. When you operate without vocals and lyrics, you have a greater freedom to fill in spaces and use textures that you wouldn't dare otherwise. I tend to be fairly unconventional in terms of arrangement and structure under my own steam, but for this project we said the song was always going to come first. I found it really refreshing to give focus to the very core elements of melody and rhythm and work on songs with actual verses and choruses!
Some of your music has been used in commercials, internet campaigns and on TV channels such as ESPN. How did you get into that side of things?
Shane: That started when I found out about taxi.com, an A&R company for production music, through a fellow band mate at the time. He had sold a piece of music to a music library in America via the site. I figured I would enjoy the challenge of writing music to a brief, and that my personal style was well suited as background music for TV and so on. Turns out I was right! Production companies are always looking for music and like most musicians I hear it wherever I go: Radio stings, web ads, TV themes, corporate training videos…somebody writes this stuff.
So are there any future plans for Maggy Simpson?
Shane: We are discussing working on a new album next year some time. We are collecting riffs and ideas at the moment so I guess when the time is right it will happen.
And what other projects and music do the two of you have lined up outside of Maggy Simpson?
Shane: I have a solo album coming out in the next couple of months. Not surprisingly, it's an instrumental Prog fest with cinematic ambition! I'm also playing guitar for a Dublin based band called The Filthy Bayonets, styled after 90s bands from the Pacific North West.
Bat: I have just written and recorded another solo album. It's very much an Americana and Country Bluegrass affair. I don't think Glyder or Maggy Simpson fans will like it! That's a completely different side of me. I enjoy being a Rock fan as well as a Country fan. Classic Rock and Country to me are two honest forms of music and in these days I feel a lot of music is so contrived and pretentious and it's music from a generation that are self obsessed. I cannot relate to it.
Thanks for your time guys. Finally where finally can people pick up a copy of 'Lab Rat And Lobster'?
Shane: It's on i-tunes and spotify and so on and you can get a CD directly from us at http://maggysimpsonrocks.blogspot.ie/
(Click here to read our reviews of Lab Rat And Lobster)