Idioglossia interview with Phideaux and Nils Herzog

Published on March 6, 2006 .

Hi Phideaux!  Where are you at the moment and what do you see when you look outside your window?

Hello Nils and Idioglossia readers. I am in my home office, looking out onto the intersection of roads before my house. This is a section of Hollywood California called Los Feliz. There’s often fast traffic moving past – usually when school lets out. I live on the low section of the street. The people across the road have large houses – they probably make a lot of money!

-Let’s talk about music. Between 2004 and 2006 you’ve created five studio albums – which is quite a lot – do you have too much time or would you consider yourself being a workaholic?  How is it possible to record five albums in just three years.

Well, in point of fact, the first album “Fiendish” was recorded in 2002 and though we attempted to finish it, the final mix was sorely lacking. I was quite distressed by how poor the sound was considering how much effort and love we put into the album. Around that time my father died and that put me in a bit of a low state for some weeks. When I regrouped I searched for someone to help me mix the album. That’s when I found Neil Citron (who has played with Lana Lane/Eric Norlander and works tech with Steve Vai). He mixed most of the tracks on “Fiendish” and played some bass. I also reacquainted myself with the man who would become my producer Gabriel Moffat. Gabe finished the record off and it was released at the end of 2003 (but bore the copyright of 2004 so it would have a slightly longer shelf life).

“Ghost Story” – the second album – was begun before “Fiendish” in 1999, but never finished. The confidence I found with “Fiendish” and with Gabriel Moffat’s production enabled me to finish the recording of that album. We worked hard to overhaul and re-record bits and bring it up to snuff. Many songs were added and subtracted before that album came out in the middle of 2004.

Because it is my philosophy that albums should be no longer than 50 minutes, there were many songs left off of “Fiendish” and “Ghost Story”. Therefore, “Chupacabras” is an album of material recorded but never finished during those sessions. It was also a chance to stretch out and make more unusual and personal music.

During all this time, and before “Chupacabras” was finished, we needed something quick and fun. On 3/13/04, I invited all my bandmates out to a studio at 6 am. We decided to try and make an album in one day. None of the songs were fully written and nothing had ever been rehearsed. We stayed in the studio until 6 am the following day. However, at the end of the marathon, nothing was truly finished. So, Gabe and I put that project on the back burner and switched back to finishing “Chupa”. About six months later, that was done and then we reopened the “313” tracks and evaluated what was workable and what was not. While this was happening and we were overdubbing the “313” tracks, Rich Hutchins, my drummer and main partner, and I were writing the next two albums (“The Great Leap” and “Doomsday Afternoon”).

Finally, after what seems like an eternity, we are mixing “The Great Leap” which was recorded from April 2005 through January 2006. It will likely come out in May or June of 2006. After we finish this mix, I will turn my attention to finishing up “Doomsday Afternoon” – our most “progressive” conceptual album to date.

And so (pardon the long winded history) though it appears we have made five albums in three years, it’s really more like five in five.

-Since 1996 you work with drummer Rich Hutchins – he lives in New York while you live in L.A. Your Website says that you two communicate by email and telepathy. Could you explain this a little bit more? 

It is more likely by teleportation. I am from NYC and I work in L.A. When we record we do it in one city or the other. Rehearsals and writing sessions usually are in NYC and via post from L.A. to NYC. I commute for a few months before recording. Then we do the sessions in a long week or two for basic tracks. After that, arrangement ideas are emailed and communicated via telephone/telepath… As the album takes shape and the mix is on, Producer Gabriel Moffat takes over in L.A. Rich plays with many other projects in NYC, most recently the Hungry Marching Band, a full marching band where he plays snare drum. They are somewhat of an anarchist collective. Very cool take on the marching band thing.

-Your first album under the name “Phideaux” was an album called “Friction” that was released in 1992. Then there is a break of 12 years until the next album (“Fiendish”) was released. What have you done during this long period of time?

My “first” album was an attempt to piece together some material into an ambitious conceptual album based around the 22 cards of the Tarot and the four seasons of the year. There was a lot of enthusiasm, but the recording was not so great and suffers from some wonky technology of the 1990’s and my generally crap engineering skills. The styles were also not so focussed. From that experience I put together a live band which took the form of an acoustic group consisting of Violin, flute, guitar, bass and percussion.

The SunMachine performed in NYC for about three years and built up a lot of material which we attempted to record. However, these tracks were shelved because they didn’t have the power I envisioned. Partly, I missed playing with a real and kick ass drummer. I was also in a bit of doldrums about music (mid 90s) and was concentrating on my moneymaking career in television production. During this time I met Rich Hutchins, my drummer, and began to write some heavier stuff with him.

I had a somewhat mystical experience one night while I was walking down the streets of NYC where I “wished” I had some heavier/rockier songs. Immediately when I got into my apartment, I took out my guitar and suddenly wrote four of the songs which were later recorded for “Ghost Story” (Everynight, Ghostforest, Come Out Tonight, Universally). This is why I credit my songs as being “Discovered by Phideaux Xavier”. Many of them have come to me fully formed and don’t resemble the music I “craft”.

The SunMachine dissipated due to lack of interest and Rich and I were struggling to find other musicians to help us with this newer and heavier sound. We tried a few people out, but I was getting a bit depressed about the music business and where exactly I fit in. A vocalist friend of mine was working with a guitarist (Rick Roberston and Matt Burns) and they suggested Rich and I play with them. I became the bass player and for a couple of years I took the back seat in someone else’s project, a post punk band “Satyricon”. During this time, Rich and I had written “Ghost Story” and were making the initial recordings. Ultimately these were scrapped and I moved to L.A. and “gave up” music. However at this time I discovered a new world of progressive and psychedelic rock music which inspired me again (Ayreon, Dream Theater, Discipline, Porcupine Tree, Marillion, Arena, Supergrass, Boedekka). I spent the next couple of years listening and buying everything I could find, as well as reaching backwards into the realms of great Italian progressive music from the 1970s.

Shortly after September 2001, I decided that if I was truly going to give up music, I should make a final album whose agenda would simply be to create something I loved.

I hired producer Kramer (who is known on Indie circuits and has worked with many artists such as Daevid Allen and Danielson Family) and came back to NYC to regroup with Rich. Actually, I asked my favourite songwriter Matthew Parmenter to produce me, but he politely refused! Rich and I rehearsed in the beginning of 2002 and recorded “Fiendish”in NYC with Kramer and David Gervai (who once toured with and recorded Peter Hammill). After this experience, my inspiration returned and I decided to make albums for the pure art of the music. Since that time Rich and I have worked with various people who we have played with throughout our joint careers. That is why the albums have different line ups.

-All of your albums provide many different styles of music – would you consider this to be part of the definition of “progressive music” – this broad stylistic bandwidth?

Each album has its own sound, its own personality. I am still searching for sounds I hear in my head. I have a wide love of many different styles, so it is hard for me to be totally “progressive” or totally “punk” or completely “metal” or fully “folk”. I love music that keeps you on your toes and never knowing what to expect. It must be frustrating for some people who want a certain sound, but I’m hoping people can hear the fun, humour and melody in our music. We are basically presenting songs. We love instrumentation and arrangement and sweeping cinematic sound. Sometimes it is Genesis we channel, other times Morricone inspires and sometimes we need Joy Division and David Bowie as our muses…

-You feature a lot of different singers and instrumentalists on your albums: Are they all friends of yours?

Most of the people are folks I have played with in other bands throughout my career. I also love to work with friends who are personally enjoyable.

-Do you think the USA is a good place to write progressive music? Is there anything special about the progressive scene in the USA?

I can’t really speak for the “scene” because I am something of a hermit. I connect with the “scene” on the internet. I find the pockets of progressive fans and friends everywhere. Probably I see Europe as a golden oasis of progressive music and open minds. However, there are some amazing musicians in USA and a thriving community of progressive fans and musicians… Now, if I could only get them to hear some of my music!

-Is there anything you could tell about your new album “Doomsday Afternoon”? The album title sounds kind of dark …

This album is our version of “Animals” or “A Passion Play”. It is set up like a two sided story. Side one is essentially one long song. Side two begins with a long track and then goes through some long instrumental “freak out” sections to rekindle some of the themes from Side One ending in a return to the initial theme that begins side one.

The story/concept basically concerns environmental/social/political issues. Perhaps we are now in the afternoon of doomsday. Who can know where human history is in the moment. Pretty trite stuff perhaps, but crucial and dark indeed. I think there are some fun songs within the suites and we are planning to use a medium sized chamber orchestra throughout the album.

Each album, for me, has a featured instrument or vibe. “Fiendish” was about oboes, Theremins and acoustic guitars. “Ghost Story” was rock guitar and organ. “Chupacabras” was mellotron, instrumental passages and progresssssive rock and “313” was a piano based album of short songs.

“The Great Leap” is a follow up to “Ghost Story” with emphasis on ROCK MUSIC but with unusual instruments mixed in and now “Doomsday Afternoon” is the orchestral album…

-In your opinion: Which band is the most underrated one in the world? And why do you think so?

Well, there are bands who historically have been underrated. I recently discovered Locanda delle Fate, and I could not believe that given the beauty of their first album that they were not lauded the world over. Of current music there are two bands/performers who I love. They are certainly rated, but in my opinion not enough. That would be Arjen Lucassen (who admittedly is fantastically popular these days) and Matthew Parmenter of Discipline. Matthew’s music is so stirring it nearly makes me want to erase my own tapes. It is good and clean and shocking and detailed. I want to weep when I hear some of his tracks. Luckily, I don’t really listen to a lot of music while I’m making my projects, otherwise I would never be able to do anything because I’m always comparing my stuff and thinking that I’ve lost the plot.

-Thanks a lot for your time! 

Thank you and thanks for your interest in our music.