Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Atlas Volt...Revisited...

Greetings from the Concert Closet once again fellow progheads!  As I brace for the end of July--slow down summer!!--my never ending search for all things prog has taken the Concert Closet back to Sweden for an in-depth interview with Philippe Longchamps, frontman for Atlas Volt.  The band's latest album, "Memento Mori," was released in May and is spectacular.  Some may remember my initial review of Atlas Volt in January, when I unearthed a true prog gem, "Eventualities."  Atlas Volt is a band that redefines dedication to the craft and artistry that is progressive rock.  Join me as as I delve behind the curtain for a closer look and a deeper listen...

Closet Concert Arena:  Let's start at the beginning...how did Atlas Volt come to be?

Philippe Longchamps: To make a long story short, in 2011 I started recording new demos and by pure coincidence saw a billboard ad at Malmo City Library.  Adam (Hansen-Chambers) was offering music production courses.  With a personal goal being the release of a high quality self-produced record, I called to find out if Adam could help; he is a skilled engineer and musician with experience in music production.  After advising me to record and mix the songs I was currently working on, Adam began adding arrangements of his own to my songs.  We decided to share ideas and work together on new material; I started writing lyrics for Adam's compositions and he continued writing arrangements. Our original design was an "open collective" type band, but we decided to play all the instruments on debut EP, "Eventualities" ourselves.  This led to the realization we actually were versatile enough to do everything on our own...thus became Atlas Volt.

CCA:  There must be some unique challenges to being a prog rock duo with one member (Philippe) living in Sweden and the other (Adam) calling the UK home.

PL: Yes--it's a great challenge that is about to become greater still...Adam is considering a move to Australia!  However; we already proved the "long distance band thing" is possible by exchanging audio files between Sweden and the UK.  We can be successful if we put the effort in, but the distance does slow everything down.  While recording "Memento Mori" we invited a few musicians to collaborate on some songs and speed up the process.  Realistically, we should do the same on future projects as well.  Adam and I are open to the idea since the original plan was an indie/prog collective.  Our sound is so eclectic and crossover we see this as an opportunity for Atlas Volt to explore new musical boundaries.

CCA: You call Memento Mori a concept album dealing with the secular humanist worldview. My initial listen paints a deeper picture dealing with faith, organized religion. new-age fundamentalism, and the struggle against the powers that "hold all the cards."  Am I on the right track and/or can you elaborate?

PL:  Spot on; you really get the big picture and the essence of Memento Mori's narrative!  I wanted to write thought provoking lyrics that left no one feeling indifferent.  Adam and I decided to dedicate the album to all the innocent victims of faith-based fundamentalism throughout history.  Every song on the album deals with that theme; we explore the various promises of afterlife and salvation offered by the most mainstream thought systems in the world.  We chose every word carefully because there are many different faith-based fundamentalisms and most can be harmful if their doctrines are followed blindly.  Memento Mori's lyrics suggest blind faith isn't necessarily rooted in fundamentalist, new-age, or religious doctrines.  Nowadays, some forms of fundamentalism are based on economic and socio-political ideologies.  For example; many people put faith in the "invisible hand" of the market economy as though it were some omnipotent and omniscient supernatural force! It is strange to see people blindly follow Dow Jones and NASDAQ the same way others put faith in the Vatican or some holy book.  Similarly, some people hold profound convictions concerning things like their country's Constitution or their favorite news channel.  Believing in the sanctity of these things leads to all sorts of  strange moral condemnations, prejudices, and injustices (especially against women) around the world.  We introduced that theme on our debut EP in the song "Taken by the Tide."  The struggle against these powers cannot start until we realize these are all man-made concepts--nothing but love is truly sacred!  In other words, Memento Mori is an attempt to deflate what most people (wrongly) consider to be metaphysical absolutes with a healthy dose of skepticism. The arts have a role to play in the empowerment of the individual against the numerous enslaving imaginary powers we have created throughout history.  Memento Mori is an artistic attempt to raise awareness about these topics while using a secular humanistic approach.

 CCA:  There is a strong feeling riding "just under the skin" on this album...a burning desire to tear down walls and stereotypes that separate and weaken humans as a race.  Is there a lot of personal experience in the music here?

PL:  Absolutely, our personal experiences definitely shaped this album.  The lyrics to Memento Mori are the culmination of a long period of introspection.  The process made me realize how my personal perception of reality has been conditioned by selfish elements of religious doctrines I believed when I was younger.  The lyrics are an inner dialogue between an "old-self" preaching the value of faith and morality and a "new-self" defending the ethical values that emerged from the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution.  I agree that Memento Mori tries to tear down the walls our species built on assumptions, prejudices, and stereotypes.  I believe secularism does not discriminate--it respects everyone and doesn't claim to have a monopoly on truth.  In contrast, most faith-based dogmas claim to hold the truth while (very often) the moral absolutes they promote are unethical and harmful. History has shown that a sense of righteous entitlement accompanying blind faith has done the world much more harm than good.  I also believe the various forms of religious and ideological fundamentalism prevent societies from evolving as fast as they should.

 CCA: Does "Memento Mori" pick up where "Eventualities" left off?

 PL: Yes; our eclectic sound has become our trademark and--more importantly--there is a lyrical sense of continuity.  One main difference is the cause we chose to embrace with Eventualities.  We gave 10% of the profits generated from CD sales to cancer research.  Our goal as a band is to make meaning of everything we do by supporting worthwhile causes.  We have not decided yet on a cause for Memento Mori.  Musically the songs from both albums are extremely diverse in terms of style, but our fans say all the songs sound as though they are part of the same record.  These sharp contrasts exist in most concept albums and we do not want to be limited to a single music genre...we love to explore new sounds and styles.  Atlas Volt will not be stifled by boundaries as defined by the record industry; we are and will continue to be musical nomads.

 CCA:  Philippe to you  specifically; has parenthood altered your view of where the world is heading and how you want to affect that trajectory?

 PL:  Exactly!  This is my main source of inspiration.  My lyrics reflect my concerns--more importantly, they convey a message of hope.  Parenthood transforms everyone who experiences it. For me parenthood triggered a sense of urgency.  I felt the need to make a humble artistic contribution to the world before it was too late.  Time flies; as a parent even more so.  Becoming a father inspired me to write new songs.  "Shine Your Own Light" from Eventualities is a perfect example; I intended it as an inspiration for my children and it will eventually become part of my heritage to them.  The simple message the song conveys is the essential self-empowering "recipe" to become a free-thinker.  I hope my children and generations after will have the opportunity to break free of the "mental cages" mankind has erected in the past.  Individually we often feel powerless to make change.  However; everyone has the power to sow seeds of hope while removing the roots of irrationality and intolerance.  Everything Adam I have accomplished thus far is in that spirit...and regardless of how successful Atlas Volt becomes our songs will outlive us, and hopefully our music will positively affect some peoples' trajectories.  So, yes, we hope the message Atlas Volt conveys will be a modest legacy to the world.

What's Your Legacy to the World?

 CCA:  Despite the dark overtones of Memento Mori, there are injections of light and hope.  Optimism, or a refusal to let the bad guys win?

 PL: Absolutely.  While the predominantly dark overtones of the album remind us of the inevitable, the empowering philosophical discourse emanating from the lyrics simultaneously reminds us that humans ultimately have the wherewithal to make the planet a better place for everyone.  The message is also to enjoy life, seek knowledge, live in peace and harmony, value skepticism, and defend freedom of speech.

 CCA:  Back to the music in general and Atlas Volt in particular; are concept albums a direction the band will continue in?

PL:  Honestly, I hope so!  I've always loved concept albums; the type you need to listen to from beginning to end.  Sitting in a comfortable chair armed with the lyric booklet and headphones on...listening to a new album start-to-finish.  Not a fan of shuffle or random play--prog music needs to be put in the context of a broader narrative.  Prog rock artists put a lot of thought and effort into building a structure for their albums, and to be frank I don't know if future Atlas Volt albums will be concept albums.  Currently I write the lyrics to our songs in my second language--English.  To a certain extent it makes song writing about specific topics a challenge at times.  Being born and raised in Quebec, French is my mother tongue and I speak Swedish daily since moving to Sweden in 2002. In the future I would love to write in those languages (or Spanish), but that increases the difficulty of making the lyrics fit a concept album.  If we release a multi-lingual record it will probably be an experimental EP.

 CCA:  How does distance affect recording?  Are there additional challenges when a new idea comes to one of you, a song takes a new direction, or some other potential obstacle arises?

PL:  Indeed, our songs often go in different directions because of the distance issue.  Living in different countries also makes it very difficult to meet for rehearsal.  One of the surprising obstacles is communication via email, Skype, or Messenger.  It is very easy to misinterpret and/or misunderstand the other's vision being so far apart...it really is a tough process!  At times we disagree on minor details, especially in the final stages of production during the mixing/mastering of the songs.  It can take weeks to reach agreement on small things that perhaps go unnoticed to the untrained ear...I am sure every band deals with that.  Our unique circumstances have enabled us to develop a collaborative method that is more democratic.  Even with our similar tastes, we pay great attention to and place significant importance on the details when co-producing a piece.  We have learned the value of compromise.  I do not envy bands with five, six, seven, members--or more--going through the same process.  Another challenge we face is promoting our music.  Being 100% independent and self-financed, it is very difficult to make current fans and potential fans aware of our products through social media. We have had disagreements on a marketing strategy, promotions, and developing Atlas Volt as a brand.  Again, we have learned to make compromises.  It can be extremely challenging for DIY bands like ours to capture any amount of market share because record labels spend considerably more money promoting their artists.  But I should not complain when considering the limited amount of money Adam and I have invested making our first two albums.

 CCA:  There are several musical contributors to Memento Mori...did this add to the stress level of putting the album together?

PL:  In my opinion it reduced the stress.  The guest musicians who contributed to Memento Mori did an amazing job--and helped speed up the process!  I would not be surprised if we collaborated with them on future records.  I also hope other talented musicians would be willing to contribute to future Atlas Volt songs.  David Elias is one of the most creative and free spirited saxophone players I know; he would be a great addition to a future album.  That is not to say I am not grateful to the musicians who contributed to Memento Mori; Jorgen Birch-Jensen, Johnny Aman, Mark Base, Yoed Nir, and Chris Larsen.  Their personal touches helped make the album as eclectic as Adam and I hoped it would be.  The song "We Created a Monster" features Israeli cellist Yoed Nir and Finnish upright bassist Johnny Aman.  Their input was the perfect enhancement to Adam's atmospheric electric guitar and my classic guitar.

We Created a Monster

 CCA:  Both "Eventualities" and "Memento Mori" are fantastic pieces in their own right; where does Atlas Volt go from here?

PL:  Thank you!  While Adam and I both needed a short break after the release of Memento Mori, I believe the best of Atlas Volt is yet to come.  It is impossible to know what the future holds, but I am determined to develop Atlas Volt as a brand...and more importantly write more thought provoking songs in a wide variety of crossover genres.

CCA:  With the success you have achieved thus far, any chance you will be able to quit your day jobs?

PL:  I can't speak for Adam but I am very happy with my day job.  Atlas Volt is my hobby and even if I take it very seriously, at this point in my life I would not consider leaving my family for months at a time to go on tour.  I love song writing--but my goal is simply to make my songs available to those who enjoy them.  I have no delusions of fame, I just want to share my passion with as many people as possible.  If our songs touch someone's life I am extremely happy--that is enough.  Fame is not what's important.  Working as a teacher with teenagers is the greatest job in the world!  They are a great source of inspiration, keep me young at heart, and I feed on their inexhaustible energy.

CCA:  If you could perform live with anyone living or dead, who would you choose to be on stage with?

PL:  There are so many great artists I would love to perform with, but if I had to put together a "dream team," they would be David Gilmour, Robert Fripp, John Paul Jones, Rick Wakeman, Tony Banks, and Neil Pert.  I would also include Maynard James Keenan to recreate the vocal harmonies
and overdubs.  Since we are fantasizing, Steven Wilson would be my co-producer to support us in Abbey Road Studios. The ultimate would be to attend a songwriting workshop led by John Lennon.

CCA:  Any truth to the rumor album #3 is in the beginning stages of life?

PL:  Yes; we already have a working title.  There are a few songs that did not make it onto "Eventualities" or "Memento Mori" that I would like to revisit.  Adam and I are also working on new material.  One of my dreams is to record a long 1970's style prog epic that lasts over twenty minutes--but that is still in the embryonic stage.  You can keep up with Atlas Volt and all the latest information and find out what's cooking via Twitter @AtlasVolt and/or Facebook

 CCA:  Please don't forget to visit Atlas Volt's websites to purchase some really deep, introspective prog...but you will need your own black light...
 http://www.atlasvolt.com/ and http://atlasvolt.bandcamp.com/

Well fellow progheads, I hope this "behind-the-curtain" view of Atlas Volt was as interesting and insightful for you as it was me.  In my search for all things prog, I especially enjoy the how and
why--even more so than the what.  Digging deeper leads to the heart and soul of the artist as well as the music.  Atlas Volt is assuredly not in it for the financial gratification; they seem to garner much more satisfaction being on your "top five albums to be on a desert island with" list...which leads me to my next point of interest...

The Concert Closet will be grounded for the next two weeks as I make my last pilgrimage for the 2015 summer season to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in search of my own desert island and some amazing New England seafood.  Please spend some time really listening to Atlas Volt on your own proverbial desert island with Eventualities and Memento Mori...you will be better for it...and the Concert Closet will be back after the final high tide of my last beach rendezvous.  The search for all things prog continues...until August 18th...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Welcome back once again fellow progheads!  Leaving Greece was bittersweet; political chaos continues to wreak havoc among the masses while the sounds of No Brain Cell still reverberate through my head.  However; change is inevitable and it seems like a tremendously long time since the Concert Closet has been near the Pacific Ocean on the American side, so perhaps a little time on the "left coast" might be a nice respite. My search for all things prog has given me a craving for something from the lighter side of the prog garden.  Welcome back to the USA--Oregon to be
exact-- and the distinctive sound of Timelight...

Timelight define themselves thusly; "...a progressive rock band..."  Apparently not given to superfluousness, Timelight cuts right to the chase.  Timelight comes across as a band more dialed in to making music than making statements, so let us not waste another second and get right to the prog buffet...

My first indulgence this week is an alluring cut called "Fates Pendulum."  The opening is a faint reflection of Transatlantic--the guitars strike first but the keyboards quickly remind you this is a group effort.  Vocals manage to penetrate the veil of interwoven instrumentation like echoes bouncing off the walls of a cave; the origin is unclear yet you find yourself anticipating the next hit.
Timelight paints with colors that are not necessarily neon-bright, but they do use a lot more than just metallic black.

Meandering back for a second serving I find something closer to the hip side of prog, "Jefferson Dreams."  Timelight paints with brighter colors here; the essence of Beardfish, latter-day Alan Parsons Project, and a subtle aroma of Be Bop Deluxe settle on top like a head on your favorite draft beer...and six minutes in the mood pulls a bootlegger's turn hard right.  Vocals take center stage as Timelight slides into a somber attitude, complete with those suede elbow patches on the sweater your college English professor wore.  Timelight treads a meandering path through the prog garden...traipsing through the dark corners while carrying a bright torch.  The emotional roller coaster makes it hard to pin the band down, but don't let the "Prog Rorschach Test" deter you from delving into the not-so-crystal-clear-waters.

Liner Notes...Timelight calls Portland, Oregon home and is comprised of Chris Rudolph on guitars, lead vocals, and keyboards, Stevie Williams on bass guitar and keyboards, Ron Murvihill on keyboards, vocals, and flute, and Steve Lauer on drums, percussion, and backing vocals.  Aside from being a band with a vast focus on keyboard playing, Timelight has a lean toward early prog...heavy guitar and soundscapes laden with extensive keys and drums.  Timelight has taken root in a hybrid section of the prog garden...hints of Genesis, Rush, and early Kansas streak through the headphones, followed by aromatics of Fire Garden, Stone Umbrella, and Machines Dream.  Timelight must collectively have quite a vast album collection...

My final auditory serving is a piece called "Where Volcanoes Rise."  The hard-hitting guitars wrap themselves around the vocals from the outset, while percussion pulsates steadily on your inner ear with keyboards flittering across the entire song, looking for that proverbial "point of entry." Four minutes worth of sand falls the hourglass when the mood and and tempo slow to a "silent grinding halt."   Timelight seems to thrive on confusion...imagine Opeth opening for The Moody Blues and you begin to sense the bewilderment running through your cranium...

My audio offering to you the listener this week is a song "Around the World."  This is a live recording, and as such is quite remarkable in its own right.  The percussion work is strong and deliberate while the guitars continue to flex their multi-faceted muscle.  Timelight is extremely focused here...the determination oozes through the speakers like sweat on a surgeon's forehead.  An instrumental piece, "Around the World" allows each member of the band to stretch a little and have some fun at the same time.  Learn more about Timelight at http://www.timelightmusic.com/.  Feel free to follow the band on Twitter, @timelightband and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Timelight/474475819230748?fref=ts.

Well fellow progheads, another "diamond-in-the-rough" is exposed to direct sunlight.  Timelight approaches prog from the viewpoint of the fan as well as the performer.  Trudging through the prog garden with heavy feet--yet not so lead filled as to tear irreparable divots--Timelight leaves a mark in several areas, attempting create what is best described as a prog "melange."  I applaud Timelight and their approach to prog; many a band trying to find their way never strays far from the tried and true. Timelight prefers to stay true to themselves and play with passion and grit.

As the summer continues to heat up, I find it is time once again for the Concert Closet to burn some frequent flyer miles in the search for all things prog.  There are many bands out there with the raw desire to play prog the way they believe it should be played.  The music world needs more of that emotional energy...and I am determined to discover it...until next week...

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

No Brain Cell

Welcome back and thanks for joining me fellow progheads!  I hope everyone had the pleasure of spending too much time enjoying the beach and sun!  The window allowing summer to flow through our lives is much too small--but I digress!  I am back, refreshed, and ready to take the Concert Closet across the universe in my search for all things prog.  Following that urge--and with a desire to start the second half of 2015 with unbridled enthusiasm-- I have found myself in Greece absorbed by the multi-faceted sounds of No Brain Cell.

Simply referred to as a "progressive rock band," No Brain Cell opens their bio with the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" claim to fame of having been the opening act for Porcupine Tree in 2010.  Not a bad opening I must admit...and knowing how warm and fuzzy Steven Wilson is, I believe Greece will be my "Port o' Call" for the next seven days...

I open the buffet this week with a cut called "Man of Silence."  An eerie sense of the macabre floats through the headphones at first, carrying with it a dark foreboding that bursts through about two minutes in. The darkness coats the song like so much oil from the Exxon Valdez.  What the drums fail to hit the guitars catch on the follow through.  This song slaps you hard, with top notes of Dream Theater and Tool.  Wading through the dark outer edges of the prog garden, I sense a cross/hybrid in the make up of the music, which stirs a strong desire to dig deeper...

Going back to the buffet in search of a different varietal, I find a more absorbing piece called "Intermission."  An almost hypnotic opening takes you through a dark alley filled with haunting vocals, thick guitars, and keyboards that batter your head just enough to keep you on alert.  The music seeps right through your pores, getting under the skin much like poison ivy--but instead of leaving you scratching like mad, it soaks through to your bloodstream and gets pumped to the outer reaches of your consciousness.  Strong aromas of Opeth with hints of Liquid Tension Experiment and Pandora run rampant across the disc.

Liner Notes...Hailing from Thessaloniki, Greece, No Brain Cell was founded by Thomas Petrou, who wears several hats; composer, arranger, programmer, lead vocalist, and keyboard player.  Thomas is joined by Elias Papadopoulos and J. Demian on acoustic and electric guitars, Lazaros Pliambas on percussion, Trainanos Papadopoulos on french horn, Michalis Piperkos on clarinet, Kostas Vavalas on bassoon, and Katerina Vavalas on oboe.  The credit list for the band's latest album also includes several other musicians for lead and backing vocals, guitars, synthesizers, and lyrics.  No Brain Cell jams a recording studio like beatniks stuffed in a phone booth circa 1968 and has no problem filling a stage when performing live...

No Brain Cell has two albums on their resume; a self-titled debut released in 2013 and the follow up "Monuments" released in 2014.  While No Brain Cell certainly has a dark side, I do sense other colors on the canvas.  There is a deliberateness about the way the music is arranged...almost genteel with a smoothness similar to strawberry sauce sliding down the sides of a cheesecake.

My third take from the buffet this week is a song from that eponymous first release called "Illusions." The opening is an expected shade of dark...a mood and tone one would expect Illusionist Criss Angel to thrust on his audience while playing with their minds.  No Brain Cell has the honors here though; toying with you the way a python might tease his next meal...slowly moving in for the kill while the unbeknownst prey naively enjoys the ritual...

For your listening pleasure, I chose a song that embodies the heart and soul of the band, " Don't Cry." The piece opens with an innocence that seems to embody who No Brain Cell is ...light rays slowly poking through a dark veil.  The mood surrounding this cut is almost akin to that smoke filled night club where the house band continues to play one last song and you hope the evening never ends.  No Brain Cell stretches their own boundaries here, channeling emotions of Porcupine Tree and Tool, mixed with hints of Opeth, Dream Theater, and a dash of Focus.  Learn more about No Brain Cell at http://www.nobraincell.com/. Of course feel free to follow them on Twitter  @NoBrainCell and the ever popular Facebook https://www.facebook.com/nobraincellband.  Just be sure to prepare yourself for a "not so ordinary" journey through the dark cavernous world that is prog...

No Brain Cell may flourish in the dark corners of the prog garden, but there are many layers to this onion.  Roots furrow deep into the soil and stretch across much acreage, drawing from and giving to several sections of the prog garden; metal, ambient, intellectual, art, experimental, and new age among them.  The search for all things prog continues to unearth fresh and stimulating sounds...exposing new and previously undiscovered bands just waiting to be heard.  The Concert Closet continues to push this journey across the planet...and I thank all of my fellow progheads for staying the course.  Time to find other gems lurking under the soil...until next week...