2005 has seen an influx of strong new progressive rock bands hitting the scene, but the band that has perhaps garnered the most attention just might be Norway's Magic Pie. With their fine debut album Motions of Desire destined to make it to many Best Of lists for the year, Sea of Tranquility's Pete Pardo tracked down the band to gain some more insight on this exciting new release.
Read on for Pete's conversation with singer Eirik Hanssen, guitarist Kim Stenberg, keyboard player Gilbert Marshall, and drummer J.T. Johannessen.
SoT: How has reaction been so far in the progressive and hard rock communities towards Motions of Desire?
Eirik: The reaction has been absolutely fantastic! We laugh a little in silent disbelief some times, but we are extremely proud and happy to know that almost anyone listening to the album gives us unbelievably great feedback! The whole project started with really low expectations from our side, but of course we were very excited to hear what the feedback from the "big world" would be. When the very first reviews came along we really didn't believe them 100% (i.e.: "In my eyes Magic Pie is one of the most exciting progressive rock bands in the world today. (9/10)", "...a mixture of Dream Theater, Spock's Beard and a bit of Flower Kings blended into the bands own sound... (9/10)", etc), but at this time (Oct '05) we have gotten a huge number of really nice reviews regarding "Motions of Desire from all over the world. I think there are over 40 reviews lying on our web-site. There has also been a lot of greetings from many people who tell us that our music is nice, and it is hard not to believe that there is only the internal band-members that appreciate this music now..
SoT: Based on the songs on the new CD, is it fair to say that Magic Pie are as influenced by classic bands like Deep Purple, Atomic Rooster, Uriah Heep, and Yes, as well as some of the newer bands on the scene?
Eirik: A lot of the band members grew up in the seventies and it is fair to say that we are pretty influenced by some of the artists you mentioned. The paradox here is that Kim, who really supplies the band with a lot of nice material, actually was born in 1975! We are not really sure where his influences come from, but like he earlier has said: "I don't think we ever said we were going to play 70´s prog-music. It just came naturally as we started writing; maybe our influences have something to do with that". The only thing we actually agreed on was that we would not be playing prog-metal. After hearing Space Revolver by The Flower Kings and really getting into bands like Spock's Beard and Transatlantic I knew that this was my kind of pie. And of course, we have also been influenced a great deal from bands like Marillion, Kansas, Transatlantic, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Dream Theater, etc..
SoT: Can you talk a little about how the band came together?
Eirik: The members came from a wide variety of musical background, each one previously playing in several bands and projects of different genres. Kim and I played together in a cover-band, JT and I played together in another cover-band, etc – Gilbert was brought in early, Lars Petter (who replaced our first bass player, John Kamphaug) and Allan came in after some time.. The final conclusion is that we all came together wanting to have fun playing and enjoying music – the way it's supposed to be – and not for some plan of becoming known or anything…
We all agreed to play prog-rock, but we dwelled round a couple of semi-prog covers, along with a couple of Kim's songs before setting our foot down, deciding to start playing ONLY original material. After that, it was full throttle for all of us concerning our own ideas.
Gilbert: We all came from playing in different types of bands, and none of us really did any serious prog work previously. For my part, I've always listened to bands like ELP, Camel, Focus, Uriah Heep, Pink Floyd, Genesis, YES, etc... In fact, ELP's TARKUS was the absolute first prog-album I listened to. The band came together after a suggestion by Kim to form a prog-rock band... (EXCELLENT - way to go, MAN...!) ...and BOOM - here we are, 3 years later!
SoT: The sound of the band is centered on the Hammond/guitar interplay, as well as a variety of different vocal styles. Has Magic Pie purposely tried to stay away from the more symphonic synth based sounds of many of today's progressive rock bands to this more hard rock approach?
Gilbert: Initially we didn't set out to stay away from symphonic synth, but for me, Hammond organ has always been one of my favorite instruments, along with Moog type synth sounds. So this, you might say, is the stem of our music. Perhaps needless to say, but in my early teens, Ken Hensley indeed was one of my inspirations for keyboard playing – accompanied by Keith Emerson, Jon Lord, Pete Bardens of Camel and countless others. I also enjoy the Mellotron sounds and electric piano a lot, and will probably try to implement more of these sounds into the music as we progress.
JT: For me, growing up in the 70's with Deep Purple as my favorite band, the implementation of Hammond, leslie- and guitarwork-elements feels just natural and great.
SoT: How hard was it putting together epic tracks like "Change" , the "Illusion & Reality" suite, and "Full Circle Poetry"?
Motions of Desire
Kim: I usually start with the melody for the song and then I build the music around it.
The hardest part is to get the right "flow" for the song. It is very important that it doesn't sound like part, part, part, part etc…This is where most of the hard work begins, getting the right atmosphere and building up the right tension, so that the next "riff" around the corner comes naturally, even if it is in a completely different style altogether.
SoT: Are there any plans to tour behind this CD?
Eirik: We haven't planned anything - but we sure hope to play for music friends at some nice festivals in the near future. All the band-members have full time jobs during daytime (and a lot of wives/children in the afternoon), and most of our spare time the last two years has been put into the making and marketing the CD.
SoT: Has the band been approached by any of the Progressive Rock festivals to perhaps play in 2006, other than ROSFEST?
Eirik: No – not yet. But we are hoping to get some serious invitations! We have recently made a deal with a booking company, and they are working with some "leads".. We are fortunate enough to play as support for (legendary) former Uriah Heep member Ken Hensley the 2'nd of December in Norway, at "Sweden Rock Kick-Off". This kick-off is an event designed to present some of the bands ready to play at that festival in Sweden next year. Even though we are not yet booked to play at the festival, we hope to have a shot at being one of the bands playing there in the summer of '06. We really do hope that there would be an opportunity to play gigs in lots of other countries as well in the near future, as we regard the international rock scene as becoming more progrock-oriented than ever. There definitely seem to be a growing attention to prog- & Artrock in general.
SoT: How do you feel about coming to the US to play the ROSFEST festival? There are a lot of great bands on the bill so far.
Eirik: ROSfest '06 is going to be great – and all the band-members are really looking forward to that weekend in April '06!! We have also listened to the other bands booked for ROSfest '06, and what can we say – there is a LOT of really good music to be played in Phoenixville next April!
SoT: How does the writing process take place in the band?
Eirik: The writers are mainly Kim (a lot), JT (Dream Vision) and Gilbert (Motions of Desire). Mostly the author presents a concept idea for the music to the other band-members by a CD created in a home studio. Then we arrange and rehearse the music in the spirit of Magic Pie, and there happens to be some changes along the way from ideas to final productions.
Gilbert: For my part, I often fuse together good themes and ideas to form a
finished piece, often writing lyrics as a last stage. (although I do have a drawer at home with various lyrics from earlier days). I have no objection to use an idea or song of mine made 15-20 year ago, if it fits in the picture...
JT: So far we have been writing and composing songs separately. As for me I usually start with some ideas for the music itself, and then add the lyrics in harmony with the elements and the atmosphere of the song. What I'm using is a plain Roland keyboard along with my Roland digital drum-kit to make a draft of the song into the studio PC-software. When I'm done with the arrangements I distribute some mp3's to the other band members for listening and comments. Further process of adaption takes place at the rehearsals when we do the rest of the band arrangements and finalize the song in the spirit of Magic Pie.
SoT: Have outlets like the Internet and Satellite radio helped gain exposure for Magic Pie?
Eirik: The internet and the radio stations have been crucial to spread our name and our music – and we are extremely happy for living in the year 2005 with the possibilities this world wide infrastructure has given us.
The Internet is a fantastic tool when it comes to marketing and distributing information around the globe. The combination of e-mail, websites and mp3's is invaluable for communicating fast and easy. Information is available for everyone just a click away, and the early response and feedback we got was the reason for us to decide making Motions of Desire.
At first we produced a limited edition of 1000 as a self-made product, mainly in hopes to get in touch with a record company which could take us a step further. By taking advantage of the possibilities the Internet can offer, and thereby doing a lot of work with research and marketing, we managed to get in touch with a lot of people throughout the "Progworld" who were interested in reviewing our music. As a result of this, the CD's were also sold to several web-shops and customers all over the world. In fact, all of the CD's vanished in 8 weeks… this would never have happened in 1985!