In full confinement, Music Waves went to meet the supergroup's strong man, producer, multi-instrumentalist, leader and composer of Pattern-Seeking Animals,
DARIALYS - 08.05.2020 -
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We went by Skype to meet John Boegehold, former session musician for Spock's Beard but also multi-instrumentalist, producer, and recently creator and composer of the supergroup Pattern-Seeking Animals. An interesting interview with a talkative and passionate musician who only missed the image for the exchange to be total.

John, we're going to start this interview with our ritual question: what is the question that you've been asked too often and that you're tired of answering?

John Boegehold : There is no question I'm tired of answering. The questions I'm asked most often are about Spock's Beard (a band he was in as a session musician, editor's note). I'm sometimes asked about the band's progress, but I'm not able to answer. I'm out of the loop now so I have no idea! (Laughs). A lot of people ask me that question. The last time I worked with them was for the album "Noise Floor", 1 or 2 years ago (Spock's Beard's 13th and last studio album to date), but since then I haven't worked on it anymore.

Well, I've prepared some little questions about Spock's Beard anyway !

John: That's great! As I told you, there are no questions I don't like to answer. I've got plenty of time since I'm locked up at home!

By the way, how are you living this situation? I imagine it's difficult to work as a team, to prepare the promo, the concerts, etc.

John : Well, in California we've been confined for 3 weeks and a half. For the promo, it's fine. It's much more efficient and simple than it was 20 years ago when it would have been a real problem. Everybody's working from home. We had a gig planned for Rosfest in May, but obviously all that's been cancelled. We were also supposed to shoot two music videos for two songs from our new album, but we had to cancel that too. So everybody ordered a green background and lights and everybody's going to shoot their parts at home! We've got a video director who told us how to fix all this so that everything goes as smoothly as possible. We're going to try it and I hope it works! (Laughs). It's worth a try.

And it shows that even though you're experienced musicians, you can still learn new ways of working, use new methods to work with!

John: Yes of course! It's not easy, there are a lot of things that change, you have to stay active.

If it's not confidential yet, I think one of the two songs you're going to shoot a music video for is probably 'Why Don't We Run' because it's very powerful and it's short compared to the average song.

John : It's interesting because originally we were going to make two videos: 'Raining Hard In Heaven' in the studio with two guests to play all the instruments, because it's a pretty complex and deep song. So it was going to be a big video, with the producer and the artistic director. But now that it's just the four of us, we can't play this song the way we wanted to. It wouldn't have worked. The goal was to film 'Elegant Vampires' as a second video, but we've had great feedback on 'Why Don't We Run', so we might film those two. To balance things out, we might release 'Raining Hard In Heaven' as a single later this month, with the album cover in the background, before sending out the promotional videos before the album is released. But we're still working on that. We're also doing individual videos on the album that the label asked us to do. That should work!

In any case, whatever song you choose, it should do it in a clip because they are all great.

John: Thank you! Except for 'Libefoat' which is 17 minutes long! (Laughs)

Of course! And here's my first question about Spock's Beard. Most of the supergroups are built around members from several groups. When you created Pattern-Seeking Animals, you chose to rely only on members and ex-members of Spock's Beard. Why is that?

John : Well, first of all, I've known Dave Meros (the bass player) for 40 years. We played in bands together when we were young and even before he joined Spock's Beard. Whether he's in Spock's Beard or not, if I need a bass player, he's the one I call. He's a very good musician and I've known him my whole life. 90% of the time I've needed a bass player, he's the one I call. So it was a natural choice. Jimmy (Keegan, the drummer, editor's note), I met him when he started playing in Spock's Beard when Neal (Morse, editor's note) left. He was the tour drummer. I really like the way he plays and he's a very good singer too! I really like his voice.

I hesitated with Nick (D'Virgilio, editor's note) because they are both very good drummers. The advantage of Jimmy is that he's a few towns away from where I live. As for Ted (Leonard, guitarist and singer), I met him before he joined Spock's Beard. He's a very good singer and he's a phenomenal guitarist who, I think, doesn't have the means to fully express himself at that level in Spock's Beard because he's surrounded by very good musicians. To sum up, I know a lot of other musicians, but Dave, Jimmy, Ted and I have always been together, in bands, cover bands, etc, so it just seemed natural. And we get along very well. I've worked with some great musicians in the past, but it didn't go as well musically. I think the four of us sound good all together, and it's going well.

If you don't mind, we're going to talk about your new album, "Prehensile Tales". Usually, it takes 2 to 3 years for a band to release a new album. But this one came out only 10 months after the first one. What happened? (Laughs).

John: When I started working on the first Pattern-Seeking Animals album, I wasn't planning to start a band, I just wanted to write songs, especially songs that I'd written for Spock's Beard that I hadn't presented to them, or that hadn't been selected. I offered Ted to sing on those songs and he was happy to do that. We realised that, with time, we had enough to make a good album and everything went pretty fast afterwards. When the first album came out, I told the others that I wanted the next one to come out the following year. So as soon as the first one came out, I immediately started working on the second one, but this time I started from scratch. All the tracks have been written recently, whereas usually I always take up some old ideas that had never been realised.

The writing was fast. I needed a close deadline to move forward. Usually, bands take longer to release an album because they play gigs, they go on tour for two months, etc. It's not always easy to get an album out in time. But this time, our producer was available, and we were able to record all this right away. There are still some songs that didn't really work and we didn't keep them. The last song on the album, 'Soon But Not Today' was the last song that was written. Basically, there were supposed to be two shorter songs but they didn't work, so we kept this one. But luckily we were able to do all this while still meeting the deadline we had set ourselves.

Not only did you respect the schedule, but above all, you wrote a very good album, you feel it's matured, even though you wrote it in a very short time.

John: Yes, I'm very happy that we're getting very good feedback like that. The problem with writing an album is that you're very isolated. I'm at home, everything's in my studio, I'm in my office, I'm at my desk, I'm plugging in my camera. That's great, but when you do things so fast, it's hard to take a step back from what you've done. You find yourself sitting there wondering if people are going to like it. Well, the musicians liked it, but I had no idea how it would be received by the audience. I'm delighted to get good feedback today when I see that people liked it.

Can you explain us what the cover represents and if there is a meaning behind the titles, if there is a concept behind the album?

John: Usually it's always the same artist who does the artwork for the albums I'm working on. He's the one who does the Spock's Beard cover and he did the cover for our first album. He's very good. Usually, we give him the ideas we have in mind and he comes up with things. But this time, everything went very fast and the deadline being close, I searched on the Internet to see if there was something ready to use. We found this artist called Mirek.

Yes and so I went through his work, he does very beautiful things where he mixes landscapes with animals, it's bluffing.

John : Absolutely, and for Pattern-Seeking Animals, I wanted the cover to have something to do with animals. He had done 8 or 10 artworks with animals that I thought were really good, and the one that I really liked the best was the one that we got in the end. It fell well because it was usable. There's no link between the cover and the songs on the album, but I thought it went well together. It's very cool and strange at the same time. As for the title, 'Prehensile Tales', it's a play on words. "Prehensile' means 'that can be used to take', and 'Tails' are the tails of animals because animals can use their tails to grab things or to hang themselves from trees. But "Tales" means "tale", so it was a play on words that I found interesting. I'd written that down once, and when we started looking for ideas for album names, I came up with this idea and we went with it. That's the story!

While your first album featured 9 songs, most of them quite short and catchy, this time, the new album is composed of 6 songs, sometimes longer with 'Lifeboat' which is 17 minutes long, and they're maybe a little less immediate. Did you consciously want to write a less immediate album with longer songs?

John : On 'Lifeboat', I've often tried to write a long 15 minute song but it didn't work. Sometimes I want to write a 20 minute song, but after 8 minutes I feel like I don't really have much more to add. Now I write a song without setting a time limit, and I see how far it can go. With 'Lifeboat', the initial goal was to make a song of about 5 minutes. But when I got to the 5th minute, I wanted to see what it would look like if I kept writing, and I kept writing, I kept writing, I kept writing! But in the beginning, I had no idea it would last so long!

Lifeboat' starts off with a piano phrase that is reminiscent of a section in 'Orphans Of The Universe' on your first album. Is it involuntary, or is there a link between these songs, and if so, what is it?

John: There is no intentional link, but it just so happens that when I found that section, I found two interesting suites that I chose to develop on two different songs. I'm still with my iPhone handy. If I find a riff I like, I save it to keep the idea. Originally, it was just a 30-second chord sequence. When I sit down at my piano, my keyboards or take my guitar, I often start from something I know and try to follow it up with something else, but I start from an existing one. That's how the idea of the beginning of 'Lifeboat' came to me.

The instrumentation on this album is very rich with the appearance of new instruments such as the violin, the cello, the trumpet, the flute, the baritone saxophone... How did you come up with the idea of using new instruments this time round?

John: It started with the flute. I have a friend named Suzanne, who is a great flutist and plays in several orchestras. I offered her to play the flute on some of the pieces. I think that in the end she plays in 3 pieces of the album. Concerning the violin, I had already wanted to put some on the previous album in a few places, but it would have sounded too much like Kansas passages to my taste. It wasn't that I didn't want people to say: "this reminds me of this band", because I don't have a problem with that. I didn't want the resemblance to be too obvious. This time I contacted an Indian violinist who lives in New York. She's very talented and comes from classical music, as well as having an Indian influence. I asked her to play the violin the Indian way first and it worked. Same for the trumpet, I found that it was missing in some pieces. I preferred to use a real trumpet rather than a synthesizer that can reproduce its sound but without conviction. And given that the two albums came out shortly after each other, I wanted the new one to sound significantly different.

If I'm not mistaken, you wrote the first album on your own. Did you keep the same writing process this time around, or was it a more collaborative effort?

John: Actually, it's the other way round. On the first album, there are two songs that we co-wrote with Dave: 'Stars Along The Way' and 'No One Ever Died And Made Me King' a couple of years ago for Spock's Beard, but it didn't do that. This time, I wrote it all myself. I got the inspiration so I started writing. After that, I didn't write every single note. I wrote all the parts, but I was telling Dave to write bass lines at certain moments, for example, or of course, I wasn't telling Ted which guitar solos to play. There were a lot of collaborations.

I have the impression that from the first album, you knew what kind of music you wanted to write. It's a complex music and sometimes, the songs are long, but it's quite easy to access in the end. Do you think you found your recipe?

John: I don't know if there is a recipe for it. If I like what I write, then it ends on the album. I grew up with the progressive rock of Yes, Genesis and Gentle Giant that fascinated me, and it may sound contradictory but I really like pop that goes straight to the point with melodies that are catchy and can be sung. For me, to write a 3 minutes piece of good pop music with a catchy and catchy singing is as much genius as writing a long piece. Even if I write a complex prog song with measure changes, I always try to write catchy passages. Sometimes, when I go into instrumental passages that last long enough and find myself skipping passages to go through the song, I say to myself, "who's going to listen to this passage if I don't listen to it myself? ». So I prefer to remove this section.

I also think you can totally combine pop and progressive music. I'll even tell you that one of the albums that impressed me the most in 2018 was Kayak's "Seventeen" which has long progressive but still catchy tracks, and next to that, a lot of 3 minutes tracks that are very immediate but at the same time very well constructed and not too obvious.

John: It's a very good album! It's interesting because when Kayak started in the 70's they were a pop band. But it's actually all good on this album, and that's the kind of thing I like. Even if you listen to the first progressive rock bands like Yes and Genesis, even if you listen to their longest and most progressive songs, there are always melodies that you can sing and remember. On 'Close To The Edge', there are plenty of moments that catch your attention like the chorus for example, and yet, it's an 18-minute song! And I think that unfortunately, that's what artists often lose when they venture into long songs. After that, that's just my opinion! It's just that I like it when songs take this kind of turn.

Given your long career, do you still have expectations when you release an album? If so, what do you expect from "Prehensile Tales"?

John: The original idea was to release the album and play gigs afterwards and play in festivals, but the coronavirus is calling all that into question and I'm already working on a third album! I'm in charge of the promotion too. I'm doing what I can to make this record a big hit. That's why I wanted this second album to come out so quickly. A lot of bands release an album and wait 3 or 4 years to release the next one, and the reasons are quite understandable. But the longer you take to release an album, the more people will forget you. There are so many bands that it can happen quickly. Beyond that, I like to write and produce a lot.

Do you plan to go on tour, at the end of the year maybe?

John: We don't know. We've had a few offers like the Rosfest. It's more like Jimmy and Dave doing that, but at the moment nothing's really planned. A lot of the shows have been rescheduled in May and June at first, but they're in danger of being cancelled again. I've seen that Steve Hackett has rescheduled shows for 2021. But we don't have visibility, that's the problem. Even if we can play in September or October and the virus episode is over, will people come to the shows as before? Will they have the money to travel and come to the concerts? We don't know. We'll see what happens!

There are a lot of bands that release an album before they disappear, but with Pattern-Seeking Animals, things seem more serious with two albums released in two years as we said before. Has Pattern-Seeking Animals become more than a side project? Is it becoming a full time band in the same way as Spock's Beard?

John: It's normal that in people's minds, it's just a side band. But since I'm no longer working with Spock's Beard, Pattern-Seeking Animals is my number one band. I've always made my own music, I've always had my own bands. The other guys see things differently but for me, it's not a side project, it's my band! I don't intend to do anything else.

This is good news for the future! It means that we can expect to have a new album pretty soon!

John: Oh yes! I'm still writing anyway. The label, InsideOut, is happy too! It's not that common in bands these days, except for Neal Morse where I feel like he's writing music all the time! Most bands, they release a new album, and you don't hear from them for years. I saw that Pendragon had recently released an album, and that's great, but I think it's been 5 years since they've released anything. If you're able to release music regularly today, I think that's a big advantage.

So now for you the challenge is going to be to release the third album in 9 months!

John: (Laughs) My God! I think every year is good. We can expect a new album mid-spring or early summer 2021 for the next Pattern-Seeking Animals.

We started this interview by asking you what was the question we asked you too often. On the contrary, is there one you would have liked me to ask you?

John : Well... Sometimes people ask questions about specific songs, and I like to answer them, but there's nothing I would have particularly liked you to ask me. You've asked a lot of really good questions already!

So we'll meet again for the interview of the next Pattern-Seeking Animals album, in a year or two then!

John: Yeah, in a year or so! Not in two years, in one year! (Laughs).

Thank you very much for a very good album, and thank you for accepting this interview! Stay tuned, and I hope you'll be able to play this album on stage soon!

John: We can't wait too! It was great, see you soon!

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