Progressive Rock's reigning power couple, singer Lana Lane and keyboard wizard Erik Norlander, have had an extremely busy year here in 2004. Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo spent some with the duo a few months back and talked about the new releases, upcoming tours & projects, as well many other interesting anecdotes on today's popular music, and even Arjen Lucasson.
Read on for the full interview.
Sea of Tranquility: You have both been pretty busy this year releasing a lot of product, such as Lana's DVD Storybook-Tales From Europe and Japan and the accompanying CD Return to Japan, the seasonal themed Winter Sessions, plus Erik's Stars Rain Down, and the Threshold Special Edition. Can you talk a little about these and what it took to put them all together?
Erik: Let's start with the Lana's stuff first. We've actually been working on those for a few years. Some of the material on Return to Japan and Storybook goes back to 1997, which was the first European tour we did, and some of it iss as recent as the 2003 tour of Europe. Literally, over the last six years we have collected live recordings and tried to figure out what the best performances where, what the best version of each song is. We've done a lot of tours, played in a lot of different places, and played with a lot of different musicians too, so if you take a song like "Symphony of Angels" for example, we probably have 18 or 20 live recordings of that song…
SoT: With all different line-ups too!
Erik: (laughs) That's right! So we really had to pick what we wanted to release as a definitive live version of that song and 20 other songs, so it really was an ongoing process. We had planned on releasing the DVD in 2002 after our Club Cheetah tour of Japan, but we ran into some difficulty with one musician in particular and had to postpone that, and we ended up using material from our European Tour of 2003 to really complete that part. So the live stuff has been an ongoing thing, but it really came to a head from July of 2003 through January of this year when things really wrapped up. Immediately after that was done, I did the Threshold Special Edition CD, which was a reissue of my first solo album from 1997. I put together a lot of bonus tracks, some of which I had actually started in the actual era that the Threshold CD was recorded. The song "Solace" I was working on as early as 1994, so for the reissue I finally finished it and put it on there, and there are also alternate & live versions of songs as well. I had actually been thinking about the Threshold reissue for a while, and when the contract expired with Kenesis, who had released it originally, obviously it was time for me to do something with it before it went out of print.
SoT: Threshold is a favorite CD amongst many people who are a fan of your music, as well as keyboard oriented instrumental rock.
Erik: That's great to hear! I had been thinking about what to do for at least a year, and I didn't want to just remaster it with a few extra pages in the booklet, I really wanted to do something special. That's where all the extra bonus tracks came in, and the Quick Time video, and I got 7 or 8 people to write liner notes for the booklet.
Prior to Threshold Special Edition, we had done a Lana Lane album called Winter Sessions, and that was an idea from our label in Japan who wanted us to do a Christmas album. We had actually talked about this over the summer of 2003. Well, there was a little bit of a miscommunication of what a Christmas album really was! We thought, "OK, we'll do a few Christmas songs, a few classical pieces done in a real nice way, etc." When I sent a song list to the label, their reaction was "No, no, no, we don't want that, Japanese people won't know those songs, and they will just sound hokey!" So we came to the consensus that we would do an album for Christmas but not necessarily about Christmas, and so we came up with the idea of Winter Sessions which was an album with a winter theme. So we did that in the early Fall of 2003, and it was a really dun album to do. We had a great rhythm section of Greg Bissonette and Stick player Don Schiff, and Don's brother David played woodwinds on the album, contributing some flute, oboe, and saxophone. Plus we had the usually players like Mark McCrite, Neil Citron, and Peer Verschuren on it as well. Before that we were in Europe last year touring, doing a whole bunch of shows, and we are getting ready to do another one this Fall, for about six weeks in September and October.
SoT: If I can go back even further to 2002, you did the Covers Collection, which you both really picked some great songs for. Hearing you do "Soaring" by Aviary was a real treat!
Lana: I hadn't heard of Aviary until a journalist from Japan played that song for me. I thought, "Oh, I would sound sooo good singing that!"
Erik: We actually got the license for the cover version from Brad Love himself, Aviary's lead singer, and he really loved our version after he heard it.
SoT: You mentioned that you have tons of archive material, video and audio. Is the DVD just a scratching at the surface as far as what you plan on releasing?
Erik: The DVD is really a chronology from Lana's first tour of 1997 up to the 2003 tour. As you have seen on the DVD, some of the footage is of less than perfect quality, but we did our best to find what we could, and we felt it was more important to have material from each tour rather than have the best looking material.
SoT: It's a great snapshot of the last 7 years essentially.
Erik: Right. Now, we do have lots of other stuff, and we will be really more archival footage, and in 2005 we also plan on releasing a proper concert DVD to help celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Lana Lane. This will be one concert, ultra high quality, shot with multiple cameras, and recorded to multi-track.
Lana: That will be fun!
SoT: Any plans on where you are going to record that from, or is this something that is already recorded?
Erik: No, we will actually put on a special concert in Japan for that. We will let everyone know who is coming to the concert that it will be a 10th Anniversary concert for Lana Lane and that we will be shooting a DVD for it.
SoT: How tough was it to edit in Peer Verschuren's footage in over Arjen Lucasson's on the 2003 tour clips on the DVD?
Erik: It wasn't hard from a technical standpoint. I built up some video editing chops, and I had some people helping me, so basically when he was in the shot I either didn't use it or cropped him out of it. We shot Peer on a soundstage with similar looking lights and a black background. He played great and he's really fun to work with. The only downside to it of sort, well there's two things. Obviously, Peer wasn't at that concert, so that aspect of it is compromised, and I was forced into making a decision on it that I wish I didn't have to do. Second of all, it really limited the amount of wide stage shots that we could include on those six songs.
Lane: And a lot of shots of me, because he was around me a lot too on those songs from that particular tour.
Erik: In reality, we only had to do this for 6 songs out of the 22 that are on the DVD, and I felt it was it important to include footage from that concert. I figured I would take the heat for it, but 4/5's of the band was live! (laughs)
SoT: You know, the first time I watched the DVD I had not read the booklet yet, and I'm watching the footage from the shows and wondering "what the hell is going on here", and then I read the booklet and understood what had happened. Honestly, and I think a lot of people felt the same way, it was surprising to read about all the problems you both had with Arjen, as he seems to have this reputation of being a total professional, of being ultra-creative, throughout all the Ayreon and Star One projects, as well as the many albums he has appeared on, including your own.
Erik: Well, in our experience that that was not the case.
SoT: That's so odd because you both had a nice history with him.
Erik: It was really surprising to us and we didn't see it coming at all.
Lana: No, we were completely blindsided. But, also, with Arjen, I don't know how many people who have worked that closely with him have been interviewed, and I mean those who have had Arjen be a part of their projects. Mostly the people are hired to be a part of his projects, and most of it is done long distance. Our situation was a physical band.
SoT: So, did he just not take it seriously?
Erik: What we found out later was that he had an agenda behind the whole thing. He did his own Star One tour immediately following our tour, and did his own live DVD/CD, and of course told us nothing about it. It seemed to us that he had done everything he possibly could do to almost sabotage our thing so that it wouldn't be in the way and wouldn't be competing with his, essentially being a warm-up gig for him. That was really brutal for us.
Lana: Also, he hadn't played live for years until he played with us. He had become this sort of hermit, and the results were shocking. We've played with a lot of known people and been in close proximity with those people for weeks and months, and never experienced anything like that. It was real disappointing.
SoT: On a more positive note, what was it like to play with Vinnie Appice?
Lana: He's the greatest in the world! Vinnie is probably the loudest drummer I have ever played with! When he hits his drums, whatever I am wearing just kind of poofs forward! (laughs)
SoT: I remember being a teenager back in the early 80's seeing Black Sabbath live on the Mob Rules tour and being in awe of what a huge drum sound he had.
Lana: He's a great guy as well.
Erik: I'm doing a trio tour this year that Vinnie will be a part of. We will also have Kelly Keeling, who sang on my Music Machine CD, playing bass and singing, and Lana's coming along as well to sing vocals on a few songs.
SoT: You mentioned earlier that you have both played with many different people. Have either of you ever been offered to play with any mainstream or larger acts? I know Erik you are very close friends with Steve Vai.
Erik: We are friends with Steve- we go to the Christmas parties! There was a time when we discussed the possibility of going out on tour with him, but we had our own going on so it didn't happen. We kind of keep ourselves busy with our own projects. You see all the releases and all the tours, so there's not a lot of time for other things. I mean, if I was offered the job to play keyboards in Yes, I'm sure I'd make the time! But yeah, we've both had offers to play with named artists as side players, but we've turned them down. We have our own machine that's rolling here, and while you can make $2,000.00 + a week playing with a named artist, you're just a hired hand and that's it.
Lane: And a lot of times you are away for a while, it's not just short little jaunts here and there, you have to be out on the road for extended periods of time, and at the moment we can't do that.
SoT: So Lana, how bad do you want to crack the US market?
Lane: (laughs) Oh, I'm so over that! In all honesty, that's never been my objective. I've always just wanted to make my living making music.
SoT: It must be a little disheartening though to be fairly successful in various other parts of the work, but here, where it would make a lot of sense for people to really notice, it doesn't happen other than on a very small scale.
Lana: Well, you would think, but when I listen to what's on the radio I can see why, and I don't know if I would want to be associated with what the US thinks is commercial. Plus, I love being able to travel, which I would still be able to do, but I couldn't go to my favorite stores and stuff and not be mobbed!
SoT: I remember the first time I heard a Lana Lane CD, my first thought was that this music would have been huge in 1987.
Lana: I feel so lucky that I have been able to do what we do, because there are so many musicians who can't break into any market at all.
SoT: You're reaching people and that's the important thing.
Lana: Yeah, and we make a nice living, and it's great that we are a team and do it. I couldn't wish for anything more. I just get saddened at the kind of mediocre music that people will buy. That's the disheartening thing for me, not that I'm not any more popular, it's just that people don't have taste, and you don't have to have any talent to become somebody here, and that's so lame.
Lana: I'm kind of an old music geek at heart-I love Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, and all that kind of music. I was listening to a live album today of Count Basie backing up Frank Sinatra at the Sands in Las Vegas, and you hear the audience, you hear Frank, no notes out of tune, phrasing perfect, Frank tells little stories here and there, and it's just a continuous live recording, and I was thinking there is no popular artist today who could do something like that.
SoT: That's pure entertainment for you!
SoT: Erik, any plans for Rocket Scientists at the moment?
Erik: Mark McCrite and I have written a new album, but the challenge is not to find a window of time to go in and record it. We had started to record the album with Shaun Guerin last year before his passing, as he was going to be the new drummer for Rocket Scientists. We had played a few gigs with Shaun, and hope to release that on DVD at some point. When we lost Shaun we kind of put all that on hold for a while, so I went ahead on did the Music Machine album, which I had been working on for a while, as well as the tour, and the Winter Sessions album. We kind of went on with our schedule and Rocket Scientists just sort of got left in the dust. However, I just did a few shows out here in California for Cal-Prog, which was a real success, and I did a solo set, and Kelly Keeling, Lana, and Mark all came out and sang, and it was really great. So we are all still working together, it's just a matter of finding that window to record the album. We do have one new song for the album that we played live at the end of 2002 in one of the shows with Shaun. Part of the song uses the big modular Moog synthesizer, so we played that to a click, and we got a realyl good live recording of Shaun for the middle of the song, so we are actually going to put that live recording on the record. I also did a session with Simon Phillips about a month ago, and I had Simon play on the rest of the song, so it will be Simon on the beginning and end, and Shaun on the middle. I think it will be a nice tribute to Shaun, and I think he would have been thrilled of the idea of Simon Phillips finishing the track. So I hope in early 2005 we can get a new Rocket Scientists album out.
SoT: So we can assume sometime after that a new Lana studio album will be set to come out?
Erik: You actually might see the new Lana Lane album before that, but it's going to depend on some plans we are working on. We are busy planning the 10th Anniversary concert in Japan for Lana, and we'd like to have her new album released by then.
SoT: What's the line-up going to be for Lana's studio album?
Erik: It's going to be the same band we toured Europe with last year…
Lana: But without Arjen!! (laughs)
Erik: Peer will play guitar, Ernst Van EE on drums, and Don Schiff on bass/Stick, Mark McCrite & Neal Citron on guitars, Kelly Keeling, Lana, and myself.
SoT: Are you planning on a Lana Lane US tour at any time in the future?
Erik: Well, the East Coast trio tour and this outdoor festival RockFest in Wisconsin will be a good test to see how we can tour in the US. If it all goes well, next Spring before we go to Japan and Europe with Lana Lane we'd like to do a string of US dates as well.
Note-Erik Norlander has also recently released a solo album titled Seas of Orion, which is now available, but had not been set for release at the time of this interview. Be on the lookout for an upcoming review of the CD here on Sea of Tranquility.