Interview with Phideaux Xavier Nov. 8 - Prog archives
November 21 2008 at 22:26
After the colossal "Doomsday Afternoon" Phideaux will be taking a break form his trilogy to release another album "Number Seven". Phideaux takes some time to explain the new album as well as the plans for the completion of the trilogy, shows, and various other things.
ProgArchives: So where are you right now in the stages of making the new album?
Phideaux Xavier: Well we’ve finished recording the new album. Gabe, my producer and collaborator is mixing it right now. He’s probably been mixing it for about a week and he’s got about another week until I can hear it. Then I will weigh in the mixes and play devil’s advocate for a while, and that will probably take about another week. So we’re probably about 3 weeks away from mastering it.
PA: Is there a release date for 2008 or is that tentative right now?
PX: Well, it’s kind of tentative right now. I was thinking of waiting until 2009 so that it won’t be immediately expired the moment it comes out. So I might pre-release it in 2008 and send it out, but with a 2009 copyright on it. Which is kind of sad because so far we’ve put out an album per year and this will be the first year that we’ve missed. But we’ll be putting out 2 in 2009, one about 3 months later.
PA: Have you been writing and recording the next album parallel to this one then?
PX: Yeah, well what happened was that I had made this album called Doomsday Afternoon, and it was part of a trilogy. The third part of that is made up of two compositions called Eternal and Infernal, and each is about 25-minutes long. So after we’d performed in France and spent a lot of time on rehearsing music and getting ourselves overseas it was a lot of energy. When I came back and decided what to do I didn’t have the energy to tackle these very complicated, long pieces. So we had 2 songs kind of in the bank, as it were. One of the tracks I had done with Rich Mouser who is the mixing engineer and sometimes producer of Spock’s Beard, and we’d done this song called Tempest Of Mutiny for this compilation album about Pirates. That album has been delayed forever and ever and ever, so we decided that we could release it ourselves. We had another song that we’d been working on in our live performance in France called Out Of The Angry Planet which is a pretty cool, 8-minute long song and we had recorded it live and the recording was pretty good. So we had those 2 songs which was about 16 minutes worth of music and I thought, well, rather than starting on the follow-up to Doomsday Afternoon I would gather together a bunch of unrelated songs and release it on an album called ‘Number 7’ because it’s a very neutral title and people would know that it’s not a follow-up in the trilogy. So, we’ve been working on some of that material and then it grew and became more complicated than we thought it was and we ended up throwing out the 2 songs that were in the bank and lo-and-behold we have this new little conceptual album that all kind of flows along in a song cycle. Then those same two songs that didn’t have a home before now are orphans again and a couple of the pieces that fit on Number 7 are also orphan pieces, so in that sense we have been recording it concurrently with this album in that we had too much material that didn’t make it all onto one album.
So yeah, we’re excited. We like making albums, we’re more of a recording group than we are a live group. I personally always have enjoyed albums that sounded very complicated and where the use the recording studio as instrumentation and as another part of the band. Like Thick As A Brick or A Passion Play were very intense in terms of their production, so those are the kinds of albums that I like to listen to, and that’s the kind of stuff that I want to do with my music.
PA: So would you consider “Number 7” to be a concept record, then?
PX: Well, I mean… you know… people can read into it what they want. But every song naturally delivers into the next one and it’s all arranged around a similar theme and the famous personal theme relating to one’s loss of themselves and the loss of their way of life or their path in life. Then finding it again and coming out of that dark place to realize that you’re more rooted than you’d been before. That takes place on a metaphoric as well as a specific level.
PA: Now… the rat and the crayfish, does that symbolize anything in particular?
PX: [laughs] The shrew and the crayfish definitely symbolize something in particular, what that is I cannot say. It’s the constant fight between the forces at land and the forces at sea. We came from the primordial soup and pulled ourselves onto land and the constant battle between land creatures and sea creatures on some level. Isn’t it? Don’t you feel that way?
PA: You know, I’ve never really thought about it that way, but I might start to.
PX: [laughs] exactly. There’s a lot of surrealistic aspects to the album, having to do with shrews and crayfish and the battle between unlikely characters and creatures and my graphic artist who has been doing the art for the new advertisement – which shows the crayfish and the shrew fighting – she had done some research online for shrew and crayfish and she found and photograph where a shrew is underwater, diving to get a crayfish. We didn’t even realize that the two were natural enemies or that the shrew would actually go after the crayfish. Apparently shrews have a very specific way of breathing underwater where they exhale a bubble of air and then breath it back in… something we discovered. So yes, on some level there is a purpose to having the shrew and the crayfish in the album and they’re mentioned in the album as well, in the lyrics.
PA: And I’m looking through the tracklist and I’m seeing “Waiting For The Axe To Fall”, which is probably the longest song we’ve seen you do since Chupacabras. Was there anything that made you decide to go out and do that?
PX: Right. Well, Waiting For The Axe to Fall… what happened was that I had written 3 songs, one was called Infernal, one was called Eternal and one was called Waiting for the Axe To Fall. The first two felt like they fit into the trilogy and they were the proper album length. You know, 25-minutes each makes about 50 minutes. This third song didn’t really fit thematically with that. It was about 14 minutes or maybe even 12-minutes when we wrote it. But when we record often times we find that there’s other places where we want to add some verse or in another place were we discover that we want to hear more of it than we thought we would. I tend to write stuff a little shorter than it ends up because we want to have an instrumental section or lyrics or an orchestration that’s particularly interesting and you don’t want to disturb it, but you have another idea that you want tot put on as well. So in that case as we record, songs grow – so it wasn’t a case of, “Let’s make a song as long as Chupacabras”, but we knew it was definitely going to be a longer suite that had a couple of “moments” to it.
PA: And another one that caught my eye was… Thermonuclear Cheese
PX: [laughs] Thermonuclear Cheese, yes, everyone chuckles when they see that. And what about Thermonuclear Cheese?
PA: What is it? Is it a quirky instrumental or something crazy you thought up?
PX: It’s a quirky instrumental. And what it is, is that in the context of this album the album is framed by three songs that have to do with the plight of the dormouse. And I can’t really think because my sister’s in here laughing at me! The album actually begind with this short, one and a half minute theme that I came up with when I was messing around in the studio one day and we recorded it and it was this little guitar thing. Later on in the session I started singing, and it was this little children’s rhyme. And it was, “Dormouse, dormouse have you any cheese?”… no… it was, “dormouse, dormouse, have you any cheese? Or else did it melt in the thermonuclear breeze.” So that became our little children’s rhyme in the middle of the album. Then I wrote another song at the end of the album that was about the dormouse. Of course at that point while we were thinking about cheese melting in the thermonuclear breeze and we needed to get from the note on cheese to f-sharp for the song that came after it so I wanted to write a little transition, so myself and my keyboard player, Johnny Unicorn sat down to write this little piece and it became Thermonuclear Cheese. And it’s all keyboards, it’s just sort of this orgy of vintage keyboards and I think it’s a really great little piece that reminds me of all the great synthesizers and organs on it, those really great Italian progressive rock albums by, like Banco and Le Orme and whatnot. So that was kind of my homage to Le Orme Felona E Sorona.
PA: On your blog you say that there’s going to be “No Pesky Orchestra” on this album. What made you decide to drop that element?
PX: Well on all of our albums there’s always a gimmick. The first album, “Fiendish”, the element that I really wanted to explore on that album was electric pianos and vintage keyboards. That was my first album, so I was using all these friends of mine that I had been working with for a long time and in lots of different bands. For my second album, “Ghost Story” I kind of decided to tear back and just have a very small group of 4 musicians and only me singing. So the gimmick of that album was that it was only going to me my voice and with a small group of musicians. The album after that, “Chupacabras” the gimmick of that album was that it was a long form, superprogressive rock song and I was going to take all the space that I wanted to take and not be concerned about being concise.
After that we did “313” were we tried to make an album in one day. And on that particular album I used a lot of EBO guitar. After “313” we did “The Great Leap”… and I can’t really remember what the gimmick for that album was. But for “Doomsday” we decided that we wanted to use an orchestra, and we were going to have a friend of ours write a score and use members of the LA philharmonic. Also on Doomsday I wanted to use a lot of guest appearances with people that I have a lot of contact with in the progressive rock community. After “Doomsday” we started rehearsing to play live and the 10-member band that is Phideaux really started to gel outside of the studio. So I knew that for the next album I wanted to use only ten people, who are the live band, generate all the sound on the album. So that’s what the “No Pesky Orchestra” kind of means. Plus, I remember Queen used to put “No Synthesizers” on their albums back in the 70s as a kind of ‘badge of honor’.
And of course our press release is a bit of a joke because obviously we didn’t use computers and people to try to sound as close as possible to bands that have come before, so a little bit of tongue-in-cheek there.
PA: Was there a lot of pressure for this album after seeing the success of “Doomsday Afternoon”?
PX: Well, I think the idea behind pressure… Doomsday Afternoon seems to hit people where they liked it. We’ve had criticism before where people say we’re not progressive enough or we’re too weird or you can never tell what our albums are going to sound like – is it going to be art rock, is it going to be mutated pop, is there too much of the ‘singer/songwriter’ thing going on, it’s not long and complicated enough, we don’t play our instruments well enough. There’s always a qualifying overlay with our music because we don’t strictly try to adhere to, “Let’s try to be a strictly symphonic metal prog band.” Doomsday Afternoon was an album where every song morphs into the next song and everything you hear through the album you’ll hear on the last song and it’s conceptual and it’s definitely one long song-cycle. So we didn’t really want to make some of Doomsday Afternoon, and I do have the follow-up written, which is “Infernal” and I think that when I got around to it I didn’t want to do the third part right away because everyone’s going to be thinking, “is it as good as…? Is it not as good as…?” So that’s why I decided to do this other unrelated album so I don’t have to worry about a direct follow-up. I wanted to put a disclaimer on it saying, “This album will not be as good as Doomsday Afternoon,” but… uh… my band wouldn’t let me.
PA: [Laughs] Yeah… the progressive community is a little bit crazy like that sometimes.
PX: Exactly. I’m a music fan as well, so I’m just as excited and opinionated and betrayed by my favorite bands just like the next person. I was talking to some of my friends the other day and we were talking about how whenever a new album comes out from a band that you like it’s always this alien… foreign thing that disappoints you. Then you listen to it for a couple weeks and you think, “Oh! Maybe this is good!” Some of my favorite albums are albums that I despised the first time I heard them. So I guess if some people despise us then that’s a good thing [laughs].
PA: You’re going to be playing the Three Rivers Prog Festival next year, how did that come up?
PX: I don’t really know how it came up. We’ve been really trying to book those festivals, but because we don’t play live I think a lot of people don’t have any faith that we’ll sound good live. Even though we performed in France and had a really good time and rehearsed like hell and everyone seems to enjoy it. We were able to perform songs like Chupacabras and songs that were really complicated but were still able to have fun and with 10 people you should be able to get a really good sound! So I had been contacting various prog festivals and I spoke to Howard about the Three Rivers Prog festival and he hadn’t heard of us so I sent him some stuff to review and he really liked it. We were talking and he invited us to perform! So I guess we were one of the first people they announced so that was pretty exciting. I believe we’re on the first day as either the second or third set of the day, so we’re not the warm up-warm up-warm up, but we’re certainly not the headliners or anything. So that came up and later on he announced Edensong, which is a band which is new and exciting and we’re very happy to be playing with them. We’ve been trying to organize a gig… 2 years ago I was talking to James about trying to get together a double-bill that we could some gigs before we went to France and that didn’t happen, so this year we’re trying to do something like that before the Three Rivers Prog fest because we’ll both be playing there.
PA: I was actually going to ask if you had plans for more shows before the 3RP or after.
PX: We do definitely want to get some planned before hand. We would like to play some certain prog rock venues that we would like to play at on the east coast. Like Orion studios and there’s the New Jersey Prog house. We’ve had some discussions with Mike at Orion, but I don’t know if that will come to pass, but we hope it would. It’s hard to figure out where to play because we’re a 10 person band, so we can’t necessarily fit on the small stages of New York’s clubs, and we don’t want to play a gig to 8 people when we’re a 10-person band, that wouldn’t be so fun. Which is why we’re aiming more at the festival performances. But we do love to perform, so we’re going to definitely try and get some gigs leading up to it.
PA: Then earlier this year you did a collaboration with Arjen Lucassen on his new Ayreon project, what was it like working with him?
PX: Well he sent me the tracks, he had sung it himself and provided the harmonies, so all I had to do with that was sing it back to him. Now he had written it in a key that was slightly higher than what I normally sing it in, so I sung it how he wanted it, but also at an octave and it sounded kind of cool. So I sent it back to him and said, “You might get some mileage out of using the low bit as well as the high bit,” and he wound up using half of me singing low and half of me singing high and that was kind of a fun jump which was cool.
Arjen… a friend of mine had sent him my albums Fiendish and Ghost Story because they thought he would like them. And I would never have sent them to him because I’m not really… I don’t really… it seemed a little bit weird to send my stuff to someone I admire, you know? But a friend of mine sent him this stuff and he sent me an e-mail which I at first thought was a joke. I thought, “Well someone’s pretending to be Arjen Lucassen” and he wrote me this very detailed letter about how much he liked Fiendish and what synthesizer sounds he like and at this point in the song he liked this flourish... so we had an e-mail correspondence, and I had invited him to do like… fifty-seven things on my album, but at that point he was moving his studio and trying to get tied down in his new location, but also starting to organize his songs for the last Ayreon album, so he was unable to do anything on Doomsday Afternoon, but I was able to get him to say, like 5 words which we married to one of my songs. Then after that he invited me to sing on his song on the album. Which was fun! I wanted to do more, but I think that’s my 25-seconds of glory. But it’s been good and we’ve met a lot of people through that. A lot of people say they heard my voice on that track and decided to hunt me down and see what else I was doing.
PA: Is there anyone else you see yourself collaborating with in the future?
PX: Well I would love to collaborate with lots of different people. I’d love to do something with James of Edensong, we’ve been talking about doing something like that. And of course who wouldn’t want to work with Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, I mean… who hasn’t worked with him [laughs], he’s worked with everyone anyways. I mean there’s… I’d like to work with lots of different people. I’m not that much of a musician, I’m more of a creator of ideas and I flesh it out with the help of other people. So I’m not sure that I could offer my skills in kind of a “Supergroup” kind of thing, I’m more of a conceptual thinker. So I’d probably work on a more unusual kind of project with someone. I also have a lot of my own stuff that I want to do, so that’s always the hard thing. How do you have a job that’s not music, but supports music and have the time to do the music. But if you come across anyone who wants to work with me then send them my way!
PA: [laughs] Will do! I was also wondering about your first official release, which was of demos called ‘Friction’. Do you think that’s ever going to see the light of day again?
PX: Well Friction is an album that is very embryonic and definitely more of a collection of demos and kind of embarrassing on a certain level, and an album that I should have had a little more oversight on making sure that all the vocal sounds were good and all the keyboards sounded good. It’s an album that reflects an idea of what kind of music I want to do. It’s kind of all over the map. I think the songs are good, but I don’t think the recording is very good ad I don’t think the mix is very good and unfortunately some of the original master tapes are gone so I can’t really remix it. I would plan to re-release it, but I would like to redo the songs that are on it. I know I have one fan who has worked with me a lot and that was how he discovered me was through that album and it’s his favorite album. So he thinks I should re-release it. But whenever people want to hear it they say, “oh it’s your first album, I really want to hear it!” and I’ll put a copy in the mail to them with a warning that if they let it out of their sight I will come and hunt them down [laughs]. Most people people usually say, “oh yeah… it’s not at good as I’d hoped” [laughs], you know. It’s an ambitious set of demos that are quaint in a certain way and it’s not my best foot forward. I think if I released it, it would be a bad impression, people would see it and think, “Oh, this is Phideaux, this is their first album – I’ve heard of them!” and they bought IT and having it as their first experience of our work then it would detract and send them into the wrong idea of what this project is about.
PA: And your main job is directing television, what came first for you? Musicianship or directing?
PX: Well from the time I was a small kid my first memory is being in my family room and hearing music coming from my sister’s room, and I couldn’t even believe how good it was – it was a Jefferson Airplane album. It was a song from Grace Slick called Lather… I must have been 4 or 5 years old or something and I went up to my sister’s room and said, “what is this song??” and she told me what it was and showed me the album cover and it was the first time that I realized that music is the most important thing in my life. Of course I was a big Beatles fan, and I had a big sister, so I was always sneaking into her room and seeing what records she had and sneaking my way into this room of records. When she was in college various friends of hers took it upon themselves to educate me about bands like Genesis and Yes and King Crimson. So I was always obsessed with music and I learned how to play folk guitar… I had a guitar teacher who taught me to pick and play Renaissance songs, but I was never really good at guitar playing. I didn’t read music and I wasn’t that confident as performance as an instrumental artist. I just wanted to be like Ian Anderson, you know, I just wanted to be a singer who made everything happen. So I always wanted to be a musician, but I didn’t have the education to be a professional musician and I didn’t really want to go into classical music and I didn’t really want to be a studio musician. So when I went to college I just wanted to do something that was fun that would be a day-job and I got into television thinking, “oh well, why don’t I look into TV and media creation”. I’ve always been interested in acting and actors, which lead me into studying and directing television and theater. So out of that I worked my way through various jobs before I got the opportunity to be a director. Definitely my main love has been music, and I work for the money to be able to create my music.
PA: Are you satisfied with being the part-time musician and full time director or would you have it the other way around?
PX: Well I would much rather be a full-time musician, I would be able to make more than one album a year. There’s so many albums down the pipe that I wish I could release. But the choice of KIND of music that I make is not a mass-culture thing. A) I’m a little bit older than the young, 20 year old guys that the record companies want to support. That means that I’m at one marketable level, and me, I chose to do music that’s a little bit baroque, a little out of fashion, and it really requires people to sit and listen to it, so most people don’t want to spend the time listening to music this way. So I think I’m okay with having my job and being able to support my music with my job because I do the music because I want to hear the music. It’s my creative outlet. The fact that other people ave enjoyed it is thrilling and exciting and I love hearing from other people about their experiences with my music, but I don’t think it’s going to support me at this point. Maybe! Who knows what will happen as I get my name more out there and I get a larger body of work. I just knew when I started making albums that I needed to make more than one album because a lot of people make one or two and then they don’t make it big and they stop. I’d rather put out a lot of albums because I want to have a body of work that has some good stuff, and has some medium stuff and some more experimental stuff and stuff that people can detect is a little more off the cuff other than trying to make sure that every release is the most perfect thing that I’d ever done. I try to have a little fun with it.
PA: Coming into my last question now, and that would be… what was the last CD you listened to?
PX: The last cd I listened to… Well, there’s 2 cds that are in heavy rotation for me right now. That would be Matthew Parmenter’s Horror Express and Edensong’s The Fruit Fallen. And of course… Phideaux Number Seven about 600 times.
PA: [laughs] you’ll be nice and sick of that pretty soon
PX: Yes. Very sick of it soon. I’m getting to the point where I never want to hear it again, so… that means I’m about ready to let it out into the world.
Thanks again to Phideaux for taking the time to answer our questions. Number Seven is on the way.