Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Servants of Science "The Swan Song"

As always, welcome back and thanks for taking the journey with me fellow progheads!  The Closet Concert Arena digs a bit deeper this week as we take the search for all things prog to the UK and check in with Servants of Science who recently released their debut album, The Swan Song.  As a bonus I was able to score an interview with founding member Stuart Avis which will hopefully give us a more vivid peak behind the curtain...

Closet Concert Arena: What were you doing before Servants of Science and how did the band originate?

Stuart Avis: In some ways I've spent the last 20 years building up to Servants of Science.  I've known Andy Bay our bass player and drummer Adam McKee since 1998; we used to play in an "indie" rock band.  Last year I invited Andy to my studio to put some guitar down on these keyboard parts I had for a song.  This ended up evolving into the closing number on the album, "Burning in the Cold."  I have done a number of collaborations with our vocalist and acoustic guitar player Neil Beards over the course of the past twelve years and Helena DeLuca on rhythm guitar and vocals has collaborated with me the past few years as well.  Ian Brocken, our lead guitarist, is a recent addition to the band--and he is smashing all the guitar parts.  I consider everyone who is part of the band a close friend; I wanted us to have a great vibe and gel right from the start.  As luck would have it, I have very super-talented close friends.

I own a studio in Brighton called "Black Bunker."  This is where Servants of Science started, originally as a recording project between myself and Andy.  From there it grew as we invited more people into the Bunker to build on what we were writing and recording.

CCA: Where did the name Servants of Science come from?

SA: "Servants of Science" the song actually came first.  I had music but no lyrics; one day while driving to the studio the line "Servants of science and sculptors of dreams" popped into my head and I pulled over to write it down.  Throughout the rest of the day I came up with more lyrics and when I got home that evening started to formulate the song.  Whilst putting the song together it occurred to me that "Servants of Science" would also work well as a band name.  I took the idea to the others and they loved it.  It is the fastest band name I've ever come up with and it felt right straight away; suits what the band does lyrically.

CCA: "The Swan Song" is a concept album and the band's debut, yet the term usually implies a farewell.  Can you shed some light on what we can expect?

SA: I really liked the irony of that title for the debut album, it's from a lyric in the song "Servants of Science" and fits the concept really well.  The album tells of an astronaut observing the end of the world while floating in orbit...mixed with hints of a possible mental health disorder like schizophrenia.  So from an alternative angle the lyrics are also about the main character succumbing to depression and taking his own life.  Depending on your interpretation of the music, it is the swan song of Earth or the main character--or both.  Much of it is quite cryptic but the clues are there.

CCA: There is an ambient, almost astral feel to a lot of the music.  Did that lead the direction of the writing or was this an area you set out to discover?

SA: It's certainly a style of music I've been a big fan of and wanted to explore for a long time.  Aside from Sparks, I grew up listening to the likes of Pink Floyd and Mike Oldfield, music that has space to breathe but also takes you on a journey.  Science fiction and ambient, ethereal music have long been good bedfellows; they compliment each other very well.  I've done a fair bit of "poppy" stuff in previous bands, but I have never wanted to make music that was straightforward.  At the very least I always tried to introduce a weird sound into a song, even if for only a few seconds.  With The Swan Song we were able to experiment with textures and sounds right off because no one had any formulated songs.  We had a blank Logic project as the canvas for each track; we worked from the ground up trying different things.  A lot of it fell by the wayside, usually things that sounded to "poppy."  What stuck was the stuff we found to be sonically interesting and we introduced song elements into those experiments.  It wasn't always strange sounds though; sometimes it was unusual chord shapes that to this day we don't know what they are called!

Perfect time to check out a cut from the album; let's start with "Peripheral."  As the song opens you get a sense of dawn; the world is beginning to awaken from its slumber...the drum keeping time to a steady pulse that gives rise to a ritual more than a celebration.  Top notes of Eno during his "Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy" days fills the headphones, and there is a definite early Pink Floyd aroma in the air...Servants of Science wanders--but not aimlessly.

CCA: Who does the songwriting and how does that process work within the band?  

SA: I guess I did the core writing of The Swan Song and most of the recording myself, but everyone made invaluable contributions.  Andy Bay wrote the first lyrics.  He came up with the "Come along to the sun" line which appears at the end "Burning in the Cold."  This was a huge relief as I had no lyrical ideas whatsoever.  The only snag I had was looking for something dark while Andy came up with what felt like a very positive uplifting line. All I could think of was the "Let the sunshine in" chorus from the end of Hair, so I challenged myself to twist that into a dark lyric, just as the "Flesh Failures" section of the Hair track covers dark subject matter.

On the way home that evening the film "The Day the Earth Caught Fire" popped into my head; a classic 60's sci-fi about the cold war.  Suddenly I had a eureka moment!  I got home, dug out the film, watched it twice while writing notes, and then put the lyrics together.  I always wanted to write a song based on Ray Bradbury's "Kaleidoscope," where a space shuttle crew survives their ship's destruction in a meteor shower.  The story is essentially the conversation between the astronauts while they still have radio contact.  Whittling it down to one character, I wrote our song "Kaleidoscope" around that.  From there lyrics flowed easily; we knew where we were headed.

Some songs started as keyboard ideas; "Tedium Infinitum" and "Another Day."  Others originated with guitar experiments..."Peripheral" was written around one chord that I liked the sound of and added synth chords to.

Our next album will be much more of a collaborative process.  Working on The Swan Song we didn't know if we would even be a band; it was just a group of friends chipping in with the recording.  Now we are a great 6-piece ready to take the album to the world and work on the dreaded second album...

CCA: Who or what are the biggest influences on your music?

SA: It would be churlish to deny the Pink Floyd influence; they really were the masters of atmosphere.  Some of us met and bonded over our love of and respect for Floyd.  Rick Wakeman's "King Arthur" and "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" along with ELO's "Time" were big hits with me as a kid; I loved concept albums from a young age.  Around age five I started buying albums by Depeche Mode, OMD, and The Human League.  I fell in love with the otherworldly synthesizer sounds, they developed my appetite for stranger things I would later find tucked away in the prog gems of my parents' record collection.

CCA: If you could play a live gig with anyone--living or dead--who would you choose and why?

SA: Definitely Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd.  Despite seeing a few Earl's Court Pink Floyd shows in 1994, the curse of youth meant I did not get to see Floyd with Roger Waters until Live 8; the box that remains unticked is seeing Syd do his thing on stage.  Of course I would insists we play together only one minute so the remaining members of Pink Floyd could take the stage and perform longer...

Time for another music interlude...with the obvious Pink Floyd reference, I chose "Kaleidoscope."  The song title reminds me of the "Atomic Heart Mother" days and the music runs the gambit from "A Saucerful of Secrets" to "The Wall."  The background sounds are an intriguing addition in and of themselves; but as they weave their way through the clouds to wrap around guitars and vocals as smooth as old corduroy and as soothing as a glass of merlot, you feel your pulse slow and your mind grin.  Servants of Science pays homage while driving the chariot forward into untilled acreage.   

CCA: How are album sales doing and what are the challenges to getting your music out there in today's market?

SA: We've been blown away by the response; we're getting new orders every day!  People are hearing the album and really taking to it, and it's happened rather quickly.  A few months ago no one outside my circle of family and friends even knew we were making music and now when I log into our Bandcamp page I see a complete stranger has purchased our album, that is truly an amazing feeling.

I think the challenges are the same as always; trying to stand out in a crowd with something fresh. What has changed is how you do that.  The Internet is full of opportunity; social media  presents a lot of options for reaching out to people, often via others who help spread your music even further, and there is a nice knock-on affect to that.  Our prog appeal has certainly helped.  There is a wonderful camaraderie amongst prog fans, so much passion for and dedication to the genre.  Fans tell other fans about new bands all the time, they love discussing the music in depth.  People on different continents, having never met, immersed in lengthy conversations with each other because they both enjoy the same music and/or album; it genuinely means something to them which is amazing.

Insert subliminal purchase information here: Look for The Swan Song and find out more about Servants of Science at Servants of Science.  The album is also available at SoS iTunes and
SoS Bandcamp.  You can even follow them on Facebook SoS Facebook and Twitter @ServantsScience .

CCA: Any personal favorite(s) on the record?

SA: I'm torn between two.  "Peripheral" is a very personal song; writing and recording it was a very cathartic process, but more than anything the vocal performances of Neil and Helena really make it special.  When they launch into "How are you all from here?" I still get goosebumps, even after listening to it thousands of times!  They did the song an incredible service.  The other has to be "Burning in the Cold" because it has everything I've wanted to get out of a song.  It was the genesis of the entire project and got me thinking about songwriting in ways I hadn't before.  It is also the first time I'd written lyrics I felt comfortable showing to someone else.  There is stuff in there I am immensely proud of I didn't know I was capable of.

CCA: What are your feelings on the state of prog rock today?  As a new band, what are the challenges to getting recognized?

SA: Prog appears to be having a wonderful renaissance, it's in a very good place and growing.  Of course the term "prog" is much broader today than during the 70's boom.  Bands like Radiohead and God Speed! You Black Emperor, right through to bands like ours that draw inspiration from more obvious prog influences like Kraftwerk are now part of the conversation, and that's a good thing.

We have a number of gigs lined up with some great bands making a name for themselves and achieving success on their own terms.  I mentioned a camaraderie earlier; it extends to the bands as well as several have been very courteous to us, allowing an opportunity to share their audience.  Everone seems united toward a common goal--the music.

In terms of recognition it certainly seems like a minefield at first but everyone I've contacted has been very welcoming and kind.  The more people you reach out to and contact the more you will get recognized.  With social media the key is to not procrastinate.  If you are willing to put in the hours  whenever possible, people will start to take notice--or get sick of you! 😂

CCA: Is Servants of Science currently touring?

SA: We are not touring as such but we do have some exciting shows lined up!  Our campaign for The Swan Song kicks off in London at 229 The Venue. We will be performing with IT and Taikonaut March 14th, followed by an appearance March 31st at the Fusion Prog Festival.  This is an epic all day event with some well established and newer prog bands that are making waves.  April 21st we will be at The Prince Albert in Brighton in support of The Filthy Tongues.  Then back to London May 13th at the legendary Fiddler's Elbow in Camden where we share the stage with Hat's Off Gentlemen It's Adequate and the Tirith.  We will be headlining at The Hasland Theatre in Chesterfield June 30th with our good friends Lorna.  We've also secured a support slot with This Winter Machine August 26th at The Talking Heads in Southampton.

We're really fortunate to be in such great company for these gigs.  Hell, I'd like to be able to just go and watch!  More offers and opportunities are being sorted through; shaping up to be a busy year for Servants of Science.

Sate your appetite as we wind down with a slice of  "Servants of Science." Another haunting entry in the book of prog--but fear not.  Servants of Science rings of Hat's Off Gentlemen It's Adequate as this song strives to reach it zenith.  There is a heart punch buried below the surface just waiting to burst through the headphones.  I get the sense that Servants of Science are capable of squeezing emotion from dry sand.  The music is but a backdrop as vocals cut through the thin veil of your eardrums; not with a shriek but with so much fervor...and the calm gently washes back up on shore, lapping at your feet like an eager puppy.  I think it was Arlo Guthrie who said, "Once more, with feelin."


CCA: What else does the world need to know about Servants of Science?

SA: We are going to be your new favorite band.  Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow; but someday, and for the rest of your life...

I hope you have enjoyed listening to and learning about Servants of Science as much as I have enjoyed bringing them to you.  The prog garden is alive and well indeed, and as long as bands like this continue to nurture and grow, the future looks extremely bright.  Stuart said the prog genre has expanded over time; the umbrella covering a wider swath of music today than ever before.  I say good for the genre; more entries into the garden brings more fans, which can only be a good thing.

The search for all things prog once again pulls up stakes as the course for the next leg of the journey begins to take shape...until next time...

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

All Shall Be Well

As always, thanks for stopping by the Closet Concert Arena again this week fellow progheads!  Despite being in its early stages, 2018 has been quite active in the prog garden with no sign of slowing down any time soon.  Progressive music is many things to many people, and is interpreted as such by many artists. This week the Concert Closet takes a different tack, navigating  through the remaining days of winter via the Netherlands for some introspective listening with a band that sees the prog garden from an alternate perspective; welcome to the world of All Shall Be Well...

All Shall Be Well is self described as "...instrumental, cinematic music..."  The band likens their music to "...stories rather than songs."  There is a lot of acreage in the prog garden, and this week it looks like we are entering relatively new territory.  All Shall Be Well is one of those bands that views their craft through an entirely different lens.  Should be  a fun week; let's take the lid off the box and see what's inside...

Starting with a cut from the band's 2011 debut "ROODBLAUW" I chose the cut "There Will Always be at Least A Thousand Things You Don't Know."  Emitting strong top notes of Brian Eno in his ambient hey day and Robert Fripp's Soundscapes, this is a very soothing piece.  ASBW paints a very serene picture with gentle strokes on the canvas using a smooth brush. The colors blend beautifully, much like honey melting into a warm cup of tea.

Moving to their 2014 release "BLAUWGEEL" I set the stylus down on "Some Speak of the Future, Others of the Past."  Building on the cinematic, ASBW stays on an ambient path but takes a tangent road on the journey as they meld post-rock into their style to claim a spot in the prog garden all their own.  The drums take center stage on this cut as keyboards and synthesizers play a supporting role.  Top notes of Abstract Aprils seep through the headphones as your auditory canals are filled with excitement best described as "raging serenity."

Liner Notes...All Shall Be Well is originally from Haarlem, The Netherlands.  The band started creating stories in 2010 and have three albums on their resume.  The group consists of Joene, Vincent, Wouter, Bas, and Niels.  Rebuffing the corporate side of the music business, ASBW does things their own way, a la King Crimson.  Music is recorded, uploaded, and released through Creative Commons, making them as transparent and close to their fan base as Bent Knee.

Checking on their latest release "GEELZWART," I found a timeless piece, "Grieg's "Ases Tod' Reimagined."  This is album is three classical gems reworked and "threshed out" in their words, looking for unsuspecting harmonies.  Listening to this you understand why they feel more like storytellers than musicians--although they are pretty darn good musicians.  More of their soundscape/cinematic tendencies are shining through on this cut; the guitars fold into the drums like fresh berries rolled into a crepe...ASBW work splendidly with soft pastels, filling the canvas with delicate hues that soothe the mind and spirit.

All Shall Be Well have made their music available at these sites; All Shall Be SWell bandcamp,
All Shall Be Well soundcloud, and All Shall Be Well cdbaby.  Of course there is also the obligatory Facebook page All Shall Be Well FB and Twitter @AllShallBeWell.  Ample opportunity to check out the world of ASBW...this is a band that seems to shy from the spotlight while not being afraid to share everything in their velvet lined arsenal.

As an aperitif, I chose the cut below from the band's debut.  "Forgot Yesterday, Am Today, and Will Be Tomorrow" is a soothing port wine at the end of a stressful day.  I detect top notes of Flim and the BB's riding across the room along with just a sprinkling of Harold Budd.  The story starts out in a pleasant mood, strutting gently like a newborn fawn, only to turn abruptly and darken the
horizon--albeit to a duskier grey.  Even the drums are soft on the ears as the headphones fill with a restrained force...until...and then back again.  Pull up a seat in the prog garden and wait for it...dim the lights; you don't want to ruin the mood...

Well progheads, it seems another week has moved slowly by, yet so quickly do the days race past.  All Shall Be Well bring cinematic/ambient music to a different dimension, offering the listener a chance to hear through a different filter.  The sound is majestic and humble; striking while staying away from the din of the ordinary.

The search for all things prog has once again trod new territory.  Although The Closet Concert Arena has been host to many cinematic bands that paint extravagant pictures with the ease of drawing a curtain, few have been so deliberately outside the lines.  And once again the journey continues...until next time...

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


We are inching closer to spring fellow progheads!  Yes, winter continues her cruel joke; throwing a "Bombogenesis" at us like so much crystallized confetti one minute and then raising the mercury in the thermometer just enough to entice us the next.  But the Concert Closet continues to turn up the heat in the search for all things prog.  This week we travel to the UK and check in with yet another new entry into the prog garden, Circu5.

Despite winter's habit of freezing the tundra, the soil in the prog garden is quite fertile for this time of year.  Circu5  has been tilling acreage in a dark corner of the garden over which The Closet Concert Arena shines a bright light, illuminating what is proving to be quite a discovery.

Circu5 released their self titled debut in September, a concept album dealing with a child being raised as a psychopath by the government in hopes of curing the condition.  I can actually imagine my tax dollars being spent on a project such as this; perhaps this is more like a documentary soundtrack...hmm...

The story begins with "Coming Home," and it is the  dark opening you thought it would be.  The acoustic guitar is somewhat haunting; I sat in tense anticipation of an emotional eruption that never quite came to fruition.  Instead, this piece builds the mood and tempo as you tentatively walk the gloomy halls of a manipulated mind.  The vocals and guitar work well together, like salve on an open wound you just know will get worse before it gets better.

No time to waste as the second cut, "My Degenerate Mind" begins to bleed through the headphones.  This is the hard-edged, cranium penetrating piece with a raking riff you were afraid of--or perhaps hoped for.  Circu5 does tone it down a bit; no shattering glass to unnerve you, but  there are top notes of Queens of the Stone Age interlaced with aromatics of Spock's Beard running through.  Just trying to keep you off-balance enough...

Liner Notes...hailing from Swindon, Wiltshire, UK, Circu5 was born in the mind of Steve Tilling.  Steve is a multi-instrumentalist wearing far too many hats to list here individually; suffice to say he is the lifeblood of Circu5.  Many guest musicians performing on the album include Dave Gregory and Matt Backer on guitars, Phil Spalding on backing vocals, Johnny Warman on backing vocals, Andy Neve on keyboards and synthesizers, and Alan van Kleef on drums.  Lou Young is also credited as the psychologist on "The Chosen One - Resurrection." A crowded stage indeed.

This is album is a bit autobiographical; Steve says it "...mirrors the ups and downs in my life while making it..."  If Steve was willing to bare his soul and pour everything he had into this album, how can you resist?  Circu5--the entire entourage--walked many different paths through the prog garden on this album, although dark, damp, and macabre seem to be the  strong undercurrent.  There are glimmers of light as the transformation from psychopath to "mere mortal" begins to pierce the veil...there is a brilliance to the album as you listen all the way through...a vivid breakthrough as each track bleeds into the next.

You will learn so much more about Steve Tilling, Circu5, and the making of this album at Circu5.  The music is available for purchase there as well as several other sites, including Circu5 bandcamp,
Circu5 burningshed and Circu5 iTunes.  Lots of options, so make sure you get your copy.  You will also find a Facebook page Circu5 FB and Twitter @Circu5Band  for keeping up on all the latest.

My final selection for review  is "Blame It on Me."  This is a brooding piece...the soft acoustic opening can only keep the floodgates closed for so long.  There are top notes of Foo Fighters running through as the tempo and pace push the needle to the right.  Circu5 runs through your veins like a shot of adrenaline; the loud noises and taps on the lining of your skull interspersed with a sedative to help you ride out the highs without losing control.  There are flashes of Transatlantic permeating the headphones throughout this cut as Circu5 walks up to the prog/pop line and leans in.

I chose "The Amazing Monstrous Grady" as the song to lure you in with.  This cut is the turning point of the album; psychopath meets creator if you will.  The vocals slap you as you realize the manipulated confronts the manipulator and nothing is as it seems.  This song has strong top notes of Jethro Tull at their prog best running through it.  The guitars come at you like strobe lights careening down a winding tunnel...the drums leading your steps across unknown terrain...   

Once again we reach the conclusion of week well spent.  The prog garden continues to bring forth a hearty bounty from every acre.  Progressive music is proving to be greater than the sum of its parts; each sub-genre expanding the boundaries and spawning new growth.  The search for all things prog continues to be an adventure that redefines itself weekly, each new discovery a different facet of the jewel that is progressive rock.  So time to expand the search and discover more new and exciting gems hiding in the prog garden...until next time...

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Colin Tench Project "minor Masterpiece"

Welcome to February fellow progheads!  Despite winter's refusal to relinquish the bitter cold, this week The Closet Concert Arena turns the search for all things prog into an upbeat quest.  I, like so many others, was deeply saddened to learn of the untimely passing of Colin Tench this past December.  Having been anxiously awaiting the release of his newest album--work he seemed quite proud of--I held a private vigil hoping Colin's (now) swansong would still grace the airwaves.

This week I am happy to learn the Colin Tench Project's minor Masterpiece has in fact been released and is now at the top of my playlist for the foreseeable future.  The Concert Closet lauds this much anticipated album as the search for all things prog takes a tangent road to celebrate Colin and the "minor Masterpiece" he was so anxious to share with the prog faithful.

The album opens with "See How She Runs," a melodic tune with top notes of latter day Genesis wading through, and perhaps a touch of Big Big Train.  The guitar work hits in quick blasts, riding a wave of keyboards and percussion to a quiet landing on a piano.  CTP is bold with a hint of mystique--just as you'd expect...

Moving further along the buffet line, "Squeaky Door Time" quickly fills the headphones.  This is Colin channeling his inner Carlos Santana, and it sounds like he is having a grand time.  The canvas has been splayed with a battery of color that would impress Peter Max.

In my experience, very few prog albums were recorded with the dance floor in mind.  However; Colin lays a groove here that would make Frank Zappa smile and strut majestically around the stage.  The mood transforms like a kaleidoscope; from funky, to ska,  to rockin'...and then changes into a jazzy velvet dinner jacket...smooth as Highland Park 18 year-old single malt...

Liner Notes...The Colin Tench Project suddenly and unexpectedly lost its leader in December and as they say, the hard part is the world just keeps turnin'.  I spoke with Colin via Facebook a few times about this album and the aura he gave off was pure excitement; I could feel it...you know that sense you get when you just know.

Colin plays guitar, piano, synthesizers, sings backing vocals and more.  Of course minor Masterpiece would not be complete without the other stellar performers on the album; Peter Jones and Joey Lugassy on vocals, Petri Lemmy Lindstrom on bass, Joe Vitale on drums and percussion, and Gordo Bennett on all orchestral instrumentation.  Christo Pellani and Eddie Young make guest appearances playing drums and cello respectively.  Yes, Colin surrounded himself with one helluva band;
he did like to do things in grand style...

My final selection this week is a darker piece with semi-ominous overtones, "Waiting for Gordo."  The tension mounts immediately as the piece opens.  I am taken back to my youth and Saturday morning cartoons when my mind was bathed in classical music...I close my eyes and the child conductor on the album cover comes to life and just commands that baton.  There is so much here; top notes of IQ and an earlier incarnation of King Crimson perhaps.  This song leaps at you much like a moth emerging from a cocoon; slow and deliberate...and suddenly the majestic thrust of the wings allows it to break free.  Gordo Bennett is stunning as he bounds about the orchestra pit hitting every note and breathing life into a vinyl disc...I can see Colin's smile from headphone earpiece to headphone earpiece as he sits at the piano and caresses such beautiful sounds from those keys...

You will find minor Masterpiece at CTP Corvusstone and CTP bandcamp.  Colin also has multiple Facebook pages; this one is a good start CTP Facebook.  Here you will discover some insight to the man and his music.  I know I tend to overplay my hand, but this is an album you will want to own as the Colin Tench Project collection is now finite...

I chose the cut below, "Now Get on Your Way," to wrap up our time this week.  The opening is just majestic; Colin blends prog with classical in a way that enables the music to enter your pores and flow through your entire being...you don't just listen to this album--you engage with it.  I get a John Wetton in his Asia days vibe from this piece as the lyrics crash all around you like an unexpected thunderstorm.  Gordo outdoes himself with the orchestrations, and Colin plays the guitar and synthesizer so fluidly it seems like he has four arms. This is an album to savor slowly...drink it in and let it the magic begin...


Well fellow progheads, another week has passed us by.  Fortunately we were able to spend it wrapped in a minor Masterpiece.  Colin put all he had into this album and the result is striking.  The music transcends the prog garden and takes you on that proverbial journey Timothy Leary was so fond of.  Music tends to paint pictures for me and the canvas laid out for minor Masterpiece is bursting with colors and images that come alive.

The search for all things prog is a journey I have been on for several years, and music like this is why I walk the prog garden each week.  There are top notes of  everyone from Al DiMeola to David Byrne flowing through the vinyl and it takes a passion few possess to bring all that together in a cohesive manner such as we have here.  Relish this one...

And once again The Closet Concert Arena sets off to continue the journey...until next time...