Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Inside the Progressive Rock World of Peter Matuchniak

Hello and welcome back fellow progheads!  This past fortnight felt like forever--but the Concert Closet has re-charged the batteries, cleaned out the cobwebs, and is now ready and eager to take the search for all things prog to the next level!  Naturally (of course), I decided to get up close and personal with a musician/artist I have admired for a while; someone whose music--both solo and with his bands--crosses many sub-genres within the prog garden.  I welcome you to the vast prog world of Peter Matuchniak.

While Peter plays guitar for Gekko Projekt, a prog band my loyal followers will recall from an earlier review, he also has his hands in other projekts...namely some fantastic solo work and playing with Evolve IV and The Steppes.  The Concert Closet was fortunate to get an interview with Peter recently, and what better way to get to know the man behind the music than to tie that interview to  a review of Peter's solo releases? So let us peel back the curtain on the prog world of Peter Matuchniak...

 photo courtesy Robert Smith

Closet Concert Arena: Peter, in addition to your solo work, you also play guitar for Gekko Projekt, Evolve IV, and The Steppes.  Any other side jobs or do these keep you busy enough?

Peter Matuchniak: I enjoy working on many musical projects; I currently have a few going at the moment.  I am guesting on new albums by Hamlet Transportinae and Marco Ragni that have yet to be released.  I also appeared on several songs on Marco's highly acclaimed album "Land of the Blue Echoes" and one song on the "Psychic for Radio" album.  I recently mixed a song for Shawn Gordon, a cover of "Haunted Man" by Steve Walsh.  If asked to do more I will--as much as I can handle!

CCA: Your two solo releases are a step away from Gekko Projekt; is it helpful and/or important to delve into other areas to keep motivated and stay fresh?

PM: With Gekko Projekt I get to indulge in progressive rock and I love that.  However; my personal tastes are more general and so it is fitting that my solo projects reflect that, because what I do on my own would probably never occur within the confines of any band.  That keeps it unique and personal for me.

To motivate your auditory senses, here is a live version of "Sandcastles," a song from Peter's 2012 release "Uncover Me."  The vocals are almost a narrative as the song slowly builds strength...resting alternately on the shoulders of solid percussion and a lively organ.  Peter steps away from the "traditional" prog sound on this piece; while there are top notes of Traffic and a quick jolt of Atlas Volt, Peter brings a style to this cut--the entire album actually--that is truly his own.  Nothing overpowers yet every instrument stands up and demands to be heard.  Yes, this will be a walk down a different path in the prog garden...


CCA: Is it difficult--or necessary--to keep the solo work and the band work separate, or does one feed off the other?

PM: No it is not difficult, yes it is necessary, and they do in fact feed off each other.  With Gekko Projekt and Evolve IV I get to enjoy collaboration and the inherent restrictions that might place. Restrictions are not a bad thing; as they focus and you operate within that space, you can feed off each other and venture that way.  For my solo projects I create that restriction through a theme or concept for the album, which helps me decide which songs to work on from a lyrical perspective and glue the album together whilst allowing the genres to wander off and venture.

CCA: Where did the inspiration to play in the prog genre come from?

PM: I heard a few albums at a young age that blew my mind and intrigued me deeply.  Hearing "Selling England by the Pound" by Genesis, and then "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" completely changed me.  Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" and "Ommadawn."  And of course "The Snow Goose" by Camel--some of the best progressive rock ever.  I was already listening to "The Dark Side of the Moon" and "Animals" by Pink Floyd.  I would even go so far as to include The Beatles and their later albums that pushed the envelope in rock music.  This is stuff I heard when I was ten years old or younger.

Time for a little taste from Peter's "Destiny" album, a cut called "Spies."  As the song opens, you can almost smell the stale scotch and cigarette smoke emanating from an late night jazz club.   Marshmallow soft drums carefully envelope vocals so smooth they slide through the headphones like a jello shooter...meanwhile guitar work comes through gentle and forceful all at once, leading a clarinet through the haze that settled over the sunset...


CCA: Your solo work has a jazzy, "Steely Dan meets The Alan Parsons Project" feel; specifically the "Destiny" album.  Do you take bigger risks with your solo work, or do you write/play/record simply what you feel?

PM: I like to call my music rock/jazz/folk...even cabaret!  Sometimes I find myself composing music in a style I might not normally listen to.  I was half-joking about the cabaret bit because, for example, my ten-minute song "Landscape Burning" goes off on a tangent into all sorts of musical genres in a whimsical manner, and yet it's in keeping with the lyrical aspect of the song ( a sort of identity crisis where we take on a different image and then destroy it).  In short, my solo projects allow me to wander wherever my muse takes me, and I like to go along for the ride.  It's fascinating and fun when you surprise yourself.

 photo courtesy Robert Smith 

CCA: Father to father, it must make you incredibly proud to cut an album with your daughter Alyssa singing the vocals...and she can really sing!

PM: Of course I am biased, but at the same time I wouldn't have asked her if I didn't think she would add a lot to the project...I love her--but not that much!  Kidding aside, she is an all-around great musician with a keen ear for understanding harmony, great at working with others, plays lovely piano, etc.  Plus she is organized and always comes prepared, so there is little hand-holding.  Yes, it really is nice to have her aboard.  My son AJ is also dabbling in composing his own music; more in the EDM genre, and it's actually fascinating to hear...some very cool ideas.

CCA: If you could play a live gig with anyone, living or dead, who would you want to be on stage with and why?

PM: My mother's dad, Adam Epler.  He was passionate about music and played guitar and accordion. Every Saturday he would conduct an orchestra on Polish radio back in the 1930's.  He was also the town judge which made him a target during WWII.  One day he was taken away and never seen or heard from again (it was only recently we found out he had been murdered in one of those awful mass graves).  I managed to work out one of his songs from dozens of his hand-written sheet music that my mum had saved all this time.  It's a lovely piece that sounds typical of the time it was written in, yet could fit perfectly into a more progressive rock tune.  I would have loved to have known him; to have discussed music...and of course to have the opportunity to play together.

CCA: Can listeners expect new music from Gekko Projekt in the near (or distant) future?

PM: I hope so; we started work on a new concept album and things are sounding great.  But our work tends to come in bursts of effort--due to life's circumstances more than anything else.  I'd love to complete that sooner rather than later, but either way I hope we can deliver many more albums in time. We get on really well together and I love our vibe when we rehearse.

CCA: You are also involved with a band called The Steppes, a tribute to the early works of Steve Hackett.  Can you elaborate?

PM: Bassist Randy George (from Neal Morse and Ajalon) invited me to join the Steve Hackett tribute band.  I normally focus on original music but I found myself saying yes for many reasons.  Hackett is my favorite guitarist and I am very fond of his early albums; there's a bit more of a special, niche feeling to this.  I enjoyed the challenge because I knew Randy would demand the best and put together a super band of musicians.  We have Jonathan Sindelman on keyboards (from Alan White's band and the official Keith Emerson tribute) and Scott Connor on drums (from Billy Sherwood's Circa band).  We also have Pamela George on vocals, guitars, keys, percussion, etc.  I refer to her as the "Pam-of-all-trades" because she can play anything we need.

CCA: What else does the world need to know about Peter Matuchniak?

PM: I am a nerdy mathematician and I love traveling the world.

 photo courtesy Robert Smith 

And there you have it my loyal proghead followers, another glimpse inside the extensive mind of a progressive rock musician.  Peter has traveled the prog garden many times, leaving sounds in different areas and taking valuable experience from others...all the while expanding a passion for music that continues today.

From the perspective of a fan, I offer you one more slice of Peter's solo work, "Landscape Burning." It would be borderline cruel and I would be derelict in my responsibility as a prog blogger to exclude a song that highlights Alyssa's contributions to her father's work.  The prog garden is doing just fine for the next generation, thank you very much.

This song also demonstrates that a solo album is more than simply a single contributor; everyone on that stage makes a contribution that makes the whole more than the sum of its parts.  Peter brings the guitar work and then some--but the bass, drums, and vocals keep up their end of the bargain as well. This song cuts right to the heart and without realizing it, you are left short of breath.

As for Peter's dream duet, I can almost see him and Adam on stage performing a mesmerizing set; the image was so powerful as he described taking the long forgotten music from the past and breathing new life into it. This is why I love the prog garden--the music behind the music; the stories, life tales, and experiences that come alive so vividly as the artist paints the auditory canvas.

Please take time to visit Peter's website at Peter Matuchniak to delve deeper into the man, his bands, his music, and so much more.  Of course I ask that you support not only Peter but all the prog artists in the garden.  Peter can also be found on Twitter @petermatuchniak and on Facebook
Peter Matuchniak FB.  You will can also find Gekko Projekt at Gekko Projekt and the band's Twitter at @gekkoprojekt

Once again time for The Concert Closet to continue the search for all things prog.  Artists like Peter make the journey more fun than I expected it to ever be, and hopefully I will be able to continue the search well into the future...until next time...

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Magrathea...Turning Back the Hands of Time

Hello and welcome back fellow progheads!  Last week's journey to Venezuela was quite the ride; The Viridian Groove was an interesting off shoot into some surrealistic acreage of the prog garden...and this week the search for all things prog goes even further off the beaten path as we journey into the past...

My loyal followers will recall a review of the band Magrathea back in 2015 just as the holiday confetti and glitter were being swept off the floor.  Well, this week I took the Concert Closet back to 1995--hard to find those settings on the GPS--and a listen in as Magrathea released their first album "Underclouds" in re-mastered form.  I usually enjoy stepping into the way-back machine; it isn't often the search for all things prog travels in reverse...

The album starts with the title cut and immediately you are hit square in the forehead.  Magrathea refers to themselves as a symphonic prog band with some dark moments and a quirky humour.  This cut rides the darkness a bit and then quickly throws brighter colors at the canvas in a spin-art sort of way; you find yourself racing in your mind to keep up with the tempo and time changes.  There is a Be Bop Deluxe aroma wafting in the air...much the way Bill Nelson toys with your senses and rationale, so to Magrathea comes right at you from all directions.

Moving along the disc, I am immediately grabbed by the fourth cut, "Slave to the Machine."  Guitars work a frantic pace, being held by the tether of drums and bass.  The tempo comes down just long enough to fill the lungs with oxygen...and swiftly the mind blows continue.  Magrathea emits top notes of Marillion and perhaps a thin layer of Rush as they build a crescendo of sound only to let the air out just before it engulfs you completely...and thus begins a cycle of excitement that whisks you through 6 plus minutes of frenzy...and prog bliss...

Liner Notes...the Magrathea of 1995 had a slightly different look than the band performing today. The line up for the original "Underclouds" release was Gary Gordon on bass, Glenn Alexander on keyboards and vocals, Jason Smith on  guitar, and Gary MacDonald on drums.  Gary Gordon and Glenn Alexander, the original founding members of the band, continue to control the direction of the band.  Of course in the prog garden the only thing that never changes is change--and therein lies the beauty.  Gary MacDonald and Jason Smith have moved on to other projects.  However; after leaving in 2003, Gary MacDonald returned to Magrathea in 2007 to record an as yet unreleased EP entitled "Antiques."  Perhaps more time travel when this disc hits the airwaves...
The carousel filling the guitar position-- a la Spinal Tap--has Gary Gordon holding down both lead and bass guitar currently.

The current line-up continues to work on new music and are currently putting the finish to their latest album, due for release in early 2017.  For now, let us enjoy Magrathea vintage 1995.  My final cut for review is "The Lion's Den."  A track from the darker side of the prog garden, you feel an almost tribal rhythm moving through the headphones...and as delicate as a ball-peen hammer, vocals start to to break through to the surface.  The drums cut a path across semi-rough terrain as guitar work breaks in and begins shining a brighter light on the entire piece.

Magrathea has been through several line-up changes and taken their music across much prog garden acreage as a result.  Carrying top notes of early Genesis, Marillion, and King Crimson, Magrathea has a chameleon like ability to move in and out of sub-genres encompassed by the prog umbrella, making the band a must listen for progheads across the spectrum.  To find out more about Magrathea and purchase "Underclouds" in its remastered form, check out Magrathea Bandcamp.  You will find links to purchase this as well as all their other albums...and as you know I encourage all my loyal followers to support the bands of the prog garden.  Magrathea can also be found on Facebook at
Magrathea FB and on Twitter @Magrathea5.

This week I offer you a link to a song but no video.  No need to worry; close your peepers and Magrathea paints a vivid picture on the other side of your eyelids.  This cut is called "Interactive Dreamers;" quite fitting I thought...


The opening offers all the evidence you need as to why Magrathea lays claim to symphonic acreage; but give the piece time to wash over your auditory canals and fill your head with imagery and sound...perhaps twice around the garden to get the full effect.  The keyboards flow with the guitar like melting butter filling the crevices of a hot Belgian waffle, and the drums keep you focused.  1995 was a pretty good year...

The Concert Closet has been enjoying the search for all things prog for a while, and the search will continue on..so long as there are new and undiscovered bands bands dotting the prog landscape, my mission is never complete.  At the risk of sounding like a PSA however, I continue to ask you to support Magrathea and and the dozens of other bands reviewed here on these pages.  I have always thought of the prog garden as a family of sorts... we who look for more from the music we listen to.

Magrathea has shown the ability to re-invent themselves while traveling different paths throughout the prog garden.  Taking tangent roads with side projects and other bands does not deter them from continuing their journey; I believe it is quite the opposite.  The "extra-curricular" work helps Gary and Glenn keep Magrathea fresh, and this album--despite being originally recorded in 1995--helps drive that point home.  Staying one step ahead sometimes requires a look in the rear view mirror; it helps to know where you've been when deciding where you want to be.

As always my fellow progheads I will continue the search for all things prog, scanning the globe for the latest and best in undiscovered prog beauty...but I must alter course slightly.  Moving forward I will post every other week.  This will allow me to spend ample time listening to the music, connecting with the band, and presenting to you the best review possible.  So please enjoy the music of Magrathea...until next time...