The debut of Abigail's Ghost, Selling Insincerity, raised quite a bit of interest among prog rock fans, particularly those who enjoy the recent works of Porcupine Tree. Packed with a good dose of intricate rhythms, psychedelic passages, dramatic vocals, and thought-provoking lyrics, this album is bound to become one of the best debuts of 2007. Sea of Tranquility Staff Writer Murat Batmaz found the chance to discuss the history of the band, the new album, and the future with band leaders Kenneth Wilson (bass/backing vocals) and Joshua Theriot (lead guitars/lead vocals).
Read on for the full interview!
Sea of Tranquility: Could you talk about the inception of the band? How long has Abigail's
Ghost been active?
KW: Well, Joshua and I have been playing together since I was about 13 (circa 1997), but Abigail's Ghost didn't come about until the fall of 2003. Before that we had various other bands, which ran the gamut from playing painfully bland Top 40 type music to our original love, progressive and guitar rock. Abigail's Ghost evolved out of another band we had. The beginnings of songs now on Selling Insincerity were recorded as demos with the other band. Then in the Fall of 2003, we resurrected some of these old demos and a lot of lyrics I had written in years past for Abigail's Ghost.
JT: That was the first time in our history that Kenneth and I actually set out to collaborate on writing music. The band developed solely as an outlet for the music we wanted to create.
SoT:Who are the current members in the band and what are their roles? Has everyone contributed to the songwriting or is it more of a solo discipline with the rest of the members adding in their own touch?
KW: The current members of the band are myself (Kenneth Wilson), Joshua Theriot, John Patrick Rodrigue, Randy Paul, and Brett Guillory. I play bass, sing background vocals, and am also the main producer in the band. Joshua plays lead and rhythm guitars and sings lead vocals. John is the drummer, Randy is our secondary guitarist, and Brett is our synth player.
On Selling Insincerity, Joshua and myself wrote all the songs. I wrote the vast majority of the lyrics and probably about 30% of the music, which mainly consisted of riffs. "Close", "Sellout", "Windows", and "Cerulean Blue" are mainly my songs. Joshua wrote "Seeping", "Mazurka", "Waiting Room", and "Monochrome". For the most part though, the songs were a collaborative effort. We would send riffs and basic songs back and forth through the Internet and build the songs from that basic framework. When we would actually get together, we would jam on some of the songs and come up with various riffs and ideas, which we would record or write down for later use. We jammed on the songs as a band and played a few live shows, which allowed us to break in the music, and we finessed and changed them continually up until we recorded them in January of 2006. At that point, we had to live with them, so writing for Selling Insincerity was done at that point.
SoT: What type of music were you into during the early stages of the band? How much of it is still prevalant in your current sound?
KW: During the early stages of the band we had been listening to a lot of A Perfect Circle, Massive Attack, Sneaker Pimps, Rush, Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, and Nine Inch Nails. But to be honest, Joshua and I have very different tastes in music and it's very hard to say from where exactly the inspiration came. We just write whatever we feel is good.
JT: I also recall listening to Lacuna Coil, Tool, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai back in 2003 when the band was first coming together. All those bands and the ones Kenneth mentioned are musically referenced in our music. Most examples are subtle and not exactly something a non-musician would catch. For instance the tremolo-laden guitar progression that occurs in "Cerulean Blue" (Track 9 on Selling Insincerity) at 5:05 is completely taken from the Steve Vai school of writing progressions. If you were to study Vai's composition techniques, you'd find that he likes to take a pedal tone and move around the upper notes of an arpeggio rooted on that tone to create a progression. This in turn creates modal implications. I've heard John Petrucci from Dream Theater apply this as well. But to the untrained ears you wouldn't attribute that part of "Cerulean Blue" to the writing styles of those guys because the context of the song disguises it.
SoT:The style of your band is described as "art rock" on your website. Could you elaborate a bit on this term? Does it differ from progressive rock?
KW: It probably evolved from my disdain of genre labeling, so I just arbitrarily labeled the band as art rock. I believe that the Cure would fall under this category and there is a bit of influence from them on songs like "Waiting Room", though no real overt reference. I put no stock in genre labels as a whole anyway. I think I could probably think of a better label, but I'm completely uninterested in the idea. You can
call it progressive rock, art rock, hard rock, or free-form disco jungle dub jazz; I don't care. In the simplest context, it's basically just slightly complex rock music, but we do like to experiment liberally with sound. I'm also very concerned with artwork and the psychology ofthe effects artwork has on the listener, which is probably why the term
"art rock" was thrown about.
JT: Right, I mean it's an all-encompassing term which I think suits bands as dynamic as we are without sounding too pompous or esoteric. When the industry starts getting too genre specific, it alienates people and those who would otherwise appreciate a certain music miss the opportunity to experience it altogether.
SoT: Speaking of progressive rock, one band Abigail's Ghost gets consistently compared to is Porcupine Tree. First of all, what do you guys think of them?
KW: I personally believe that In Absentia is the best album I've ever owned, so yes, I'm very much inspired by Porcupine Tree. The other guys in the band are fans, but not as into them as I am. As a producer, I'm way more interested in them for the sound than the music, but for most people it may be difficult to separate the two.
JT: They're a great band. Gavin Harrison is probably my favorite drummer ever. I'd also have to say that In Absentia is sonically the best work of art I've ever listened to. As far as their music is concerned, I prefer their earlier material. Perhaps that's why In Absentia worked for me --it was a compromise between the old Porcupine Tree sound and having Gavin Harrison in the mix.
SoT: How has the reaction been so far to Selling Insincerity?
KW: For being a relatively obscure band, I think the reaction to us has been quite good and maybe has exceeded our expectations in a few ways. When I finished the album, as most anal-retentive producers often do, I had a few doubts about the outcome. It's strange to know that there are people who enjoy my album more than I do. I'm still not completely satisfied with the album and would like to re-record it someday in the distant future. I'm a perfectionist and a fervent revisionist, so it
may come to the chagrin of fans of the original.
JT: Yes, I think we were all surprised at people's reactions. For instance, we've heard from so many people that absolutely love the songs we ended up hating after post-production. We've also received some pretty weird comparisons from fans which range from The Beatles to Tool. It's very interesting when people attempt to describe what they're hearing in their own heads. It definitely gives us some perspective.
SoT: Does it bother you that some critics have claimed that you are perhaps a bit too similar to Porcupine Tree? Was there a conscious effort to sound like them or did the songs evolve in that vein naturally?
KW: It depends on the way they go about comparing us. The music itself is almost entirely inspired by other bands and only one song on the album can truly be considered inspired by Porcupine Tree. The production on the other hand is very much inspired by the work of Steven Wilson and not limited to just his work with PT. I'm also a fan of Anja Garbarek and loved his work on Smiling and Waving.
I can completely understand the comparisons to PT, because we do share a lot of the same influences, but there does come a point when people tell me that we directly ripped them off in the narrowest of terms and I take major offense to that. It's just completely wrong. I can make a list of every single part of every song on the album and the bands/artists that inspired them and you'll be hard-pressed to find Porcupine
Tree more than twice in that list. I don't try to hide my influences at all and am more than happy to elaborate. I've even seen some critical voices proclaiming that "Joshua sings a bit too much like Steven Wilson", but the fact of the matter is he really sounds more like Chris Corner (IAMX,Sneaker Pimps) than anyone.
JT: The whole Porcupine Tree/Abigail's Ghost thing has been bittersweet. We found a ton of fans because of it but also stepped on a few toes in the process. As Kenneth suggested, the production of Selling Insincerity was highly inspired by Steven Wilson's approach to the studio. For me that's where the comparison ends and the contrast begins. I can understand how a very loyal Porcupine Tree fan can feel like we're covering ground that's already been treaded. Everyone tries to associate a new band with something they've already heard. I do it all the time, but it has never been the deciding factor in whether I liked the music or not. What really pisses me off is when people just ignorantly accuse us of stealing intellectual property. I feel like the problem is that the people who really make a negative issue out of it probably don't listen to too much music outside the realm of Porcupine Tree. If you don't listen to a lot of contemporary music, you miss the point ofAbigail's Ghost AND Porcupine Tree. That band draws from all aspects of modern recording, songwriting, and performance techniques.Abigail's Ghost happens to share that philosophy. So in the end, I don't mind critics comparing us to Porcupine Tree (as I've said they are a great band), I just wish that the comparisons would be accurate. The beauty of today's information age is that everyone can be a music critic.The sad part of today's information age is that everyone can be a music critic.
SoT: The artwork of Selling Insincerity is amazing. Does it convey a special meaning?
KW: I spent a long time looking for just the right image for the album and I really think I found it when I stumbled across Konrad Krol's work. Krol is the photographer who took the photos featured on the album.
When I was looking for artwork for the album, I knew I wanted images that gave a sense of separation and isolation. The focal points or subjects of the pictures seem to be separated in some sense from everything else, which is a frequent theme in the lyrical content of the album. The cover image seems to show two contented women sitting at some distance from one another and they have a very detached way about them. The baby doll lying on the ground in the foreground is of course the true subject, which has ties to the themes of abandonment and child abandonment in songs like "Seeping" and "Cerulean Blue".
So yes, the artwork does convey a special meaning and was chosen intentionally.
JT: I really didn't think as deeply about it as Kenneth did. I just kinda thought the shit looked cool. I love the way that the faces of the women disappear towards the top of the frame.
SoT: Could you talk a bit about some of the messages you tried to convey in your songs? You seem to criticise the bleak outlook on the current state of music much like Porcupine Tree's "The Sound of Muzak".
KW: I take it you're talking about "Sellout". Actually, "Sellout" is a bit less about the current state of music and more about people specifically compromising themselves or their own good judgment for the sake of making money or fame. I think most independent musicians have some sense of disenchantment with the music industry at large. More specifically, the song was inspired by Ashlee Simpson, a (sadly) popular American pop singer, but not directly about her. In the end of the song, the
protagonist, or antagonist if you will, is forgotten and no longer has a voice in the world because she never really developed a voice of her own. It's more about being true to yourself and your instincts than a morose outlook on the music industry.
The rest of the album has absolutely nothing to do with the music industry in any way. Selling Insincerity is more about trying to convince yourself or someone else that you're more (or sometimes less) than what you really are. "Monochrome" for example is about a woman who tries to turn her mate into something he is not and pretends all the while that the relationship is more than what it really is. She seems to think of things in black and white terms and wants to edify her significant other in a way that just isn't realistic.
I could elaborate but that would sort of defeat the purpose of reading the lyrics and extrapolating your own meaning.
JT: Of course, without giving too much away -- the jist of the album has to do with relationships. The perspectives change from song to song but the observations remain focused on people letting certain aspects of their life get in the way of their relationships with others. To be honest, the album wasn't written with this general concept in mind. It's kinda neat that it can even all fit into a category considering how
haphazardly the lyrics and music were written (1000 miles away from each other connected by broadband).
SoT: You've released two EP's before Selling Insincerity. How much of that material has been carried over to your debut full-length and are those EP's still available?
KW: The EP's were actually scheduled to come out before the actual album to introduce demo material and also offer a sneak peek into different aspects of the full-length album. Unfortunately, due to a lot of unforeseeable problems, the EP's were released about a week after Selling Insincerity. They are both limited to 100 copies and only available through our website. After the initial 100 copy run, they will not be
released again in any format. The EP exclusive demos will never be released in any format again, as I'm against ruining the value of items for collectors, being an avid collector and obsessive compulsive pack rat myself.
SoT: Did you negotiate with any record labels prior to releasing your debut or did you intend to release it independently from the start?
KW: We started our own label with the specific intent of releasing the album ourselves. There was never any kind of negotiation with a record label.
JT: I was studying Music Business/Management at Berklee College of Music in Boston when we decided to form Abigail's Ghost. From the very beginning, I wanted to be as self-sufficient as possible and put all my studies to practical use. In the summer of 2004, Kenneth and I became partners in Aesperus Music and have used the label to build Abigail's Ghost to where it is today (not very far).
SoT: What prompted you to create the Aesperus Music label? Will you be releasing any other bands on the label in the future?
KW: As mentioned above, we started the label to release our music and other bands/artists that Joshua and I enjoy. We are negotiating a deal with a Louisiana-based singer/songwriter by the name of Caleb Elliott, who is a friend of mine. I'm also going to produce his forthcoming album, which we will release on the Aesperus Music label sometime in the near future.
Right now we're a very small label, but we do plan to expand the label in the future.
JT: I'd like to keep Aesperus as small as it needs to be to properly devoted the necessary time, attention and funding to the artists on our roster. Besides that basic philosophy, Kenneth and I are very busy with activities besides Abigail's Ghost and Aesperus Music and are unable to over-extend ourselves anyway.
SoT: Are you fully satisfied with the results of the production on your album?
KW: As I previously mentioned, I did the majority of the production work, but it was really a joint effort between Joshua and myself. Because we had written the songs together and Joshua had already recorded demos, it was more about finessing up what was already there. I am usually the last say in such matters though, as I'm the pickiest and most fickle listener.
JT: I wasn't fully satisfied with anything on the album with the sole exception of maybe "Mazurka", but I don't think I would have ever been fully satisfied with it anyway. If given the time and budget, Kenneth and I would have tweaked and rerecorded parts until our eyes melted. But for the most part, I really like the way it came out. It makes me anxious about going into the studio again for the next one.
SoT: Is the digipack version of the CD the only version of the album or will there be a standard jewel case issue as well?
KW: As of now there is no plan to make a jewel case version available. We specifically picked the matte finished Digipak for aesthetic reasons. If anything, I would love to one day release a revised special edition of the album in a book format similar to the O.S.I. Special Edition album, but something unique to the theme of Selling Insincerity.
SoT: Are there plans for a tour or any live gigs yet? If you could, what bands would you like to tour with?
KW: It's too early to tell right now. We're definitely going to get out and play some shows, but it's very difficult for all of us to get together in one room to rehearse much less put a tour together, as we all live a considerable distance from one another at different times of the year. Three of us are still in college, which also takes a lot of
time from that as well.
I don't really care what band(s) tour with us. I mean of course we have our preferences, but I wouldn't count anyone out.
JT: I'd love to tour with a rich band with a nice tour bus with X-box, a microwave, a theater, wi-fi and a butler with a substantial knowledge of run-on sentences.
SoT: What other current prog bands do you listen to? What are some of your favourite releases of 2007?
KW: I really enjoyed Fear of a Blank Planet by Porcupine Tree and Pain of Salvation's Scarsick. Also, the latest Pure Reason Revolution album is quite good, but anything involving Paul Northfield usually piques my interest.
As far as non progressive rock albums go, I've been listening to IAMX's The Alternative, Nine Inch Nail's Year Zero, and Silverchair's Young Modern.
JT: I don't really listen to that much current progressive rock. If I'm in the mood for that sort of thing, I'll spin my copy of Moving Pictures by Rush. 2007 really hasn't been a year of new music that I really got excited about. I will, however, second Kenneth on the IAMX and Silverchair releases though. Those two are ridiculously good.