Monday, January 31, 2011

Jeff Wagner: Mean Deviation (progressive metal) Author on UsedBin Radio 2/1/11

So, I've been getting kind of addicted to UsedBin Radio over the last couple of months. Ever since the James LaBrie interview back in October? and more or less realizing it's the kind of music talk show I've wanted to hear and/or host myself at some point. Well, not that every single band/album/topic that is discussed is my thing, but compared to Sound Opinions and Musicheads, there really is no comparison. UsedBin is for the prog rock fan, and the open minded music fan for the most part.

And as some who've streamed the show/downloaded the podcast may have noticed, I've been actively calling in almost every week.

some noteworthy quotes about the book.

There are 2 new books to check out that I contributed interviews to: "The Eric Carr Story" by Greg Prato & "Mean Deviation" by Jeff Wagner -Mike Portnoy

“Mean Deviation zeroes in on heavy metal’s more cerebral, challenging, and even geeky side.”—Ghetto Blaster

“What a massive undertaking… knowledge, passion, skills, and class… this book should be required reading for any metal follower.”— [9.5/10 review]

“The book looks and feels fabulous. Thank you, Jeff Wagner, for this massive information highway for all things progressive metal.”—Paul Masvidal, Cynic/Death

“The book is awesome. I read it in two days.”—Glenn Harveston, ProgPower USA

“Looks cool! I’m looking forward to digging in.”—Jim Matheos, Fates Warning

“We now have a definitive book on the relationship between metal and progressive music.”—Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree

“An expertly researched love letter to the largely misunderstood and often maligned progressive metal scene”—AOL Noisecreep, Holiday Gift List

“Another winner from the folks at Bazillion Points!”—Sea of Tranquility [4.5/5 stars]

“An invaluable compendium”—

“Mean Deviation is a comprehensive history of the genre that fans will enjoy, and future music scholars will use as an essential reference guide.”—Aboutcom

“Jeff Wagner nailed it…another triumph for Bazillion Points”—Metal, 4.5/5 review

This book,  Mean Deviation: Four Decades of Progressive Heavy Metal is written by this guy Jeff Wagner who used to write for Metal Maniacs and helps run The End Records now. And the UsedBin guys are having him on their show tomorrow night (February 1st, 2011). And they suggested I send them some questions. So today and this evening, I have come up with a list of bands and albums along with 1 or 2 general questions that may, make sense to ask him.

Are the following bands/albums covered in your book?

Zero Hour - The Towers of Avarice
Green Carnation - Light of Day, Dary of Darkness
In Vain - The Latter Rain
maudlin of the Well - Bath, Leaving Your Body Map
Subterranean Masquerade - Suspended Animation Dreams
Angra (Andre Matos period)
Spiral Architect
Orphaned Land
King's X and Galactic Cowboys

-How much content is on modern (progressive) "extreme" Metal? I'm referring to the wealth of bands who have started in the last 10-15 years. Many of them influenced by Opeth and Dream Theater. But most of them are regarded as being technical death metal , metalcore, psychedelic folk/black metal, or in some cases, really avant-garde and almost theatrical.

-Is there much content on bands like maudlin of the Well and SikTh and how they were in a lot of ways, ahead of their time?

-Is there much content about instrumental acts? Liquid Tension Experiment, Planet X, and some of the Post-Metal groups like Russian Circles, Isis, Pelican, Long Distance Calling (even sludge bands like Mastodon and Burst)

-And related to those, bands that are bordering on Metal (or Heavy/Hard Rock) that are also influenced by progressive rock. Namely bands Tool has influenced. dredg, Fair to Midland, Karnivool

-How much content in the book is about Pain of Salvation ? (and how maybe since Dream Theater, they were/are the most significant and original band in the so-called "progressive metal" genre to come around )

-Did Jeff interview Fates Warning founding member Jim Matheos and did he ask him about the future of Fates Warning and, his desire to work with Mike Portnoy again? (and did he ask Mike Portnoy, about working with Jim Matheos).

-Is there much content about the history of "progressive" metal festivals like Powermad, ProgPower USA and ProgPower Europe.

This whole questioning, and this online Interview with Jeff Wagner got me thinking of two passages on the topic of "progressive" (and progressive metal) that I have almost sadly, always cited as an outlook (if not almost religious statements) on music. And interesting how the 1st, with James Bickers, was nearly 10 years ago in February of 2001. How time flies I guess.

James Bickers journalist, formerly of Progression magazine and the founder of Sea of Tranquility, which was a printed magazine, now exists only online.

Part of my diuscussion with Music Journalist James Bickers at ProgPowerUSA 1.0 February 2001 who emphasized "find the good in everything."

Me: Hi, I wanted to talk to you for my radio show, because you know this stuff. You hear more than most people, and you hear so much of this music. You're in the media, and you're kind of like an expert on it.

Bickers: I suppose I am, but you know, I guess not, because there are so many (bands and albums out there). You know I probably receive 10 or 20 albums a week in the mail and I was just talking to a guy from Bravewords and he talks about how he gets 100 or 200 a week in the mail, and that means there's 180 that I don' t receive or hear. So, I'm not the most up to date guy, but um, TO MY MIND, the big thing to me, is the word "progressive," to me means not sitting still.

Me: Okay. So what listening to so much of this music, and your perception of the people who listen to "progressive" rock, what is your goal?

Bickers: Goal? my Goal I suppose could be for (fans and musicians?) of the (progressive rock) genre is to not just listen to progressive music, listen to Jazz, listen to Country, listen to Hip-Hop, listen to whatever and FIND THE GOOD IN EVERYTHING, that' s the true definition of " progressive."

Me: Yeah, okay

Bickers: Listen to anything. You know, if you take the "progressive" sound; keyboards, weird time signatures, yada-yada-yada that' s REGRESSIVE by its very definition.

Me: You're right.

Bickers: "Progressive" means you take the perceived rules, and you disregard them, then you do what your art says you do.

Me: One perception I've heard before is that its trying something different, trying something new, trying to grow, trying to expand yourself, trying to reach to the the limit; er not to the limit, but trying never to stop, you know trying to do something that you don't know (or think could be done). You're trying to just see how good you really are, or what (exactly) you really can do.

Bickers: Right.

Me: Stuff like that, that' s my take on a lot of bands; the bands that did that for a long time like, Rush for example.

Bickers: Like as far as for like technical skill you mean?

Me: Not even technical skill, I mean trying to experiment, trying to do something different you know.

Bickers: Look where it got Rush?..Rush included on Roll The Bones, they had a Rap.

Me: Yeah.

Bickers: Look where it got them? Their fans turned on them

Me: Yeah I know

Bickers: That' s the antithesis of "progressive." "Progressive" says "there is value in anything that's intelligent." We look to anything intelligent, and yeah we're going to find what intelligent thing we can pull out of it. That's what "progressive" says to me.

Me: You think so, it's whatever we can find "intelligent" in something? Intellectual?

Bickers: I've heard 10's of thousands, well that' s an exaggeration, I'VE HEARD DOZENS AND DOZENS OF "progressive" BANDS THAT OFFER NOTHING NEW.

Me: They' re imitative.

Bickers: That is NOT "progressive." If you don' t offer something new, you're not being " progressive." 

Me: You're probably right.

Bickers: That' s my feeling.

Me: I can see that, I mean that's why I find when bands are trying to do different stuff, or when they' re even LISTENING to different stuff, you can pull more from that you know, like King' s X they don't even listen to any progressive music..

Bickers: Right, right.When you talk to a lot of these artists, when you interview a lot of these artists and ask them " what are you listening to?," there are no "progressive" discs in their collection recently.

Me: No.

Bickers: There are no "progressive" metal discs that they have in the car. You know one thing that I like that about our magazine (Sea of Tranquility) os on the last page it has this thing called the "Listening Room."

Me: Yeah.

Bickers: It's where the writers include what they are listening to. I have the Dixie Chicks and Billy Gilman in there. You know, this is stuff that is far outside of what "progressive" people normally listen to. 

Me: So like

Bickers: You're allowing yourself to hear the good in everything

Me: You think that's the best thing to happen? To try to happen, like for the movement?..not movement, not "progressive" movement, but I' m saying for a lot this music's fans. You think that would be the best thing for them?

Bickers: Yes, as people.

Me: To try to just open up their mind, and try to really, you know not shun the industry .not even shun the commercial bands you know?

Bickers: What I would say is that if your one of those people who listens to only "progressive" rock, you only buy these certain discs, you only listen to things that have a certain sound to them, THEN YOU'RE NO DIFFERENT THAN THE PERSON WHO ONLY BUYS BRITTANY SPEARS ALBUMS. ITS THE SAME THING, JUST THE NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED.

Me: Yep, okay.

Bickers: You have to open your mind and hear what the music is trying to say.

Me: Diversity, or know that' s the thing I respect about some of these Pain of Salvation for example. I don't know what you think of them.

Bickers: I love them.

Me: I think that they're just so much different, that they're so much more interesting for that reason.

Bickers: Pain of Salvation is like a wakeup call to "progressive" Metal. "Progressive" Metal for 3 years now has been in the post-Dream Theater doldrums.

Me: Every band now wants to sound like Dream Theater.

Bickers: Every band either wants to sound like Dream Theater, or doesn' t want to sound like Dream Theater, and that's like saying "don' t think of an elephant right now" well you can't. Now that I' ve said that, you think of an elephant. If I say don' t sound like Dream Theater, you're going to sound like Dream Theater just because you're trying not to. Pain Of Salvation is the 1st band in years that is something new. And they are "clarion call" to "progressive" Metal wannabes, to just wake up, open your eyes and realize there are only 12 notes in the scale, you put them together however you see fit, you use whatever instruments you see fit, and you make magic.

Me: Let' s try to do something completely that we' ve never heard.before.Like Mr.Bungle. What do you think of Mr.Bungle?

Bickers: I love Mr.Bungle, I have great respect for Mr.Bungle.

Me: Even if you're not a total fan of a lot of stuff he's (Mike Patton) doing, or Faith No More or the other stuff Mike Patton's done. You gotta at least respect that he's trying to you know, just experiment, trying to do something that he' s never heard before.

Bickers: Mr.Bungle is woefully under-appreciated.

Me: I have to get more into Mr.Bungle myself

Paul Craddick, former drummer of the band Enchant.

To my mind, there's an interesting, rough-and-ready division in the world of "progressive" music (a category-name I don't like, in any event) between the more avante-garde/experimental or "free-spirited" wing, and, say, the more -- how to describe it? -- "working-in-a-kind-of-tradition" approach, which could be described in terms of certain dominant characteristics that *almost* sum to a kind of "formula": long songs, working in odd times (and working in them in a definite way), conveying an "epic" feel, addressing "deep" topics lyrically, employing certain sounds, timbres, and textures, and so on. Though I'm certainly guilty of having worked in terms of the latter approach, my heart is definitely with the former -- to me that's where the real "action" is.

A simple way to illustrate the difference is to name a few bands that might plausibly fall under each category. In the latter, I'll put bands like Spock's Beard, Dream Theater, IQ, Kansas, Gentle Giant, post-Gabriel-pre-Abacab Genesis, post-Close-to-the-Edge Yes, etc. In the former, I'd put King Crimson (esp. from "Red" onwards), Gabriel solo, much of Rush, Radiohead, latter Porcupine Tree, and other more unlikely borderline cases -- like The Police, U2, Our Lady Peace, and other bands which don't so much exemplify a genre or sound as go to define one of their own (Primus or Rage Against the Machine even). As an aside, I think it's an interesting exercise to ponder where Marillion might go (or perhaps at different points they belong in different places?!)."