My mantra has always been, “music is my lifeblood.” So, it’s always great fun to discover new music to keep that feeling alive. What’s even more fun is sharing these musical gems with others. Not everyone has the same taste in music, but every once in a while, a recommendation turns into a found treasure.
That said, my latest find is a track called “Gratification” composed by Paul Manchin and David Bottrill. Paul handles the vocals, while David wears many hats: track master, producer, mixer, and player of all instruments. As if that isn’t enough, David has worked with Peter Gabriel, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Rush.
This song seduces the listener from the opening bars. The intro to “Gratification” sounds very much like a faster-paced intro to David Bowie’s “Lazarus.” That alone got my attention and kept me glued to the audio. Then, once the curious sound of Paul’s digitized voice, along with the opening lyrics kicked in, there was no going back for me.
Haven’t heard of Canadian band Church of Trees? Well, keep reading and get ready to thank me.
The band currently consists of core members Bernard Frazer (vocals, synths, programming), Stella Panacci (vocals), Heather Brazeau (vocals), and Bob Prendergast (guitar). Frequent contributors are Rob Preuss of Spoons/Honeymoon Suite (piano, synths, programming, bass, remixes), and Rob Stuart of EDF/SLAVE To The SQUAREWAVE (synths, remixes).
Being a late-in-life Numan fan (roughly the past 25 years), this track both delighted me and piqued my curiosity about the band. Fortunately, David Marsden is a big fan also; so, David’s avid listeners have been delighted by hearing several outstanding Church of Trees songs taken from their successful EP and album releases since 2017 (Primitive Creatures, The Dark & The Light, New Bold Dawn, PAUSE, and Pish Posh). All Church of Trees albums are co-produced by Frazer and Blinker the Star’s Jordon Zadorozny.
Which all leads up to the purpose of this post: A new Church of Trees single – “Progression/Rob Stuart Numanoid Mix”—is slated for release on April 8, 2023. The track is from the forthcoming Church of Trees Album Courage, scheduled to drop on May 5. Mark your calendars, folks—you do not want to miss out on either event. Here’s why:
“Progression” is a very suitably named song. It progresses (see what I did there?) from a very Laurie Anderson-esque intro into the best Numan-influenced industrial/synth recording you’ve ever heard via Rob Stuart’s gorgeous, swelling electronic melodies. His synths are lush, multi-layered, and everything a synth-lover like me could want in a track. Lead vocals are calming, emotive, and beautifully executed by Bernard Frazer, who also amazingly provides harmonic, excellently delivered back-up vocals to complete this magnificent work.
It’s one of those tracks where the more you listen to it, the more it speaks volumes to you.
Watch this space for more information about the release of the Church of Trees LP Courage. In the meantime, get ready to be enchanted by its first released track “Progression/Rob Stuart Numanoid Mix” on April 8, 2023. On that date, get on over to churchoftrees.bandcamp.com for your copy—it will leave you in breathless anticipation of what’s yet to come from Courage.
What happens when you combine the masterful electronic creativity of two incredibly gifted musicians? An explosion of sound that rivals the force of a detonated H-bomb. Don’t believe me? Keep reading…
Last year (2020) brought out the innovative acuity of many as a sheer survival mechanism when confronted by COVID. People like me became the ultimate benefactors of music, visual art, and the written word that flowed forth freely like the Mississippi River as an endless balm for our collective suffering. COVID may have halted live mass performances, but it did NOT stifle the imagination, artistry, and ingenuity that continued to give birth to innovative expressionism beyond our wildest dreams.
One such venture that has yielded a wealth of fantastic digital music that defies adequate description is the pairing of musical geniuses Rob Stuart (Electronic Dream Factory and SLAVE to the SQUAREwave) and Brian Dickson (Colony Three). The result is a brilliant collection of electronica titled Boӧtes Void that’s a computer-generated music fan’s dream. Put me at the very top of that list.
Boӧtes Void consists of twelve tracks of moody, ecstatic, in-your-face music. Each track weaves a riveting story without words. It’s such a compelling collection that once the last song fades, it leaves one’s soul thirsting for more.
But enough of my humble opinion. It’s best to get insight on the thoughts and creative process that went into Boӧtes Void directly from the masterminds’ own mouths. I had the honor of posing a few questions to Rob and Brian to better understand how such a classic collection came to life and am happy to share the results with you.
MissParker:First, I’ve got to say that you two creating music together is an incredible confluence of electronic mastery. I’ve interviewed you both in the past regarding your own musical accomplishments, but never dreamed you’d combine your efforts to produce such a wonderful album. What prompted you two to get together?
Rob Stuart: I honestly can’t remember how this project came about. I defer to Brian for this one.
Brian Dickson: I defer to Rob on this…oh never mind…(laughs).
When Rob and I met it was pretty clear we had a lot in common musically, and we often shared hilarious stories about our past attempts at collaborations. Born from that was this concept we both agreed to, which was a “no rules” approach, which has worked out really well for the both of us and I think for the music, as well.
MissParker: The burning question that has to be asked—where did the album title originate from and what does it mean?
Rob Stuart: The album title was very last minute. So much so, that Brian and I did not have time to actually discuss it. I had read something or seen a video discussing something about The Boötes Void (or the Great Nothing) which is an enormous, approximately spherical region of space at nearly 330 million light years in diameter, containing very few galaxies. It is located in the vicinity of the constellation Boötes, hence its name. I thought it was something that fit our music perfectly.
Brian Dickson: Rob clearly put a lot of thought into the title, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I thought the title was about a lack of footwear (laughs). As it turns out, it was a very “fitting” title given our “style.”
MissParker: I have to admit—I was drawn in from the opening notes of Monolith, the first track on Boӧtes Void. I think I even smiled. It starts out so mellow and builds to an intoxicating crescendo. What inspired that track? Did it have anything to do with the monolith recently discovered in Utah?
Rob Stuart: I would love to say yes because that would be so cool but unfortunately not. The twelve tracks of the album were written month by month beginning in January 2020. Our only “rules” for this project were to compose, record, and produce a track with accompanying video each month resulting with a final album release at the end of the year.
Brian Dickson: Like Rob, I’d love to tell you that it was that thought out. This track started with a very short 8-second 4 track seed and grew into the final version after being passed back-and-forth a few times. As it was our first track, we were still working out the “how are we going to work together” on the songs and accompanying videos. I think my best memory of this song was that after it was completed, we both agreed that we were on to something.
MissParker: The overall mood of the album rises and falls from ecstatic highs to depressing lows. What sort of consideration goes into deciding the order of the tracks?
Rob Stuart: That’s an interesting question as that is something I usually agonize over when I release a SLAVE album. However, since this album was evolving from month to month we chose to sequence the songs in the order they were written.
Brian Dickson: Once the 12 tracks were completed, we did a few experimental changes on the track ordering, but we always ended-up back at the original. It wasn’t purposeful at the time, but now when I listen through the whole album, I’m glad we landed on keeping the order as it was created.
MissParker: I’ve maintained that lyrics are important to me. Obviously, lyrics don’t factor in at all with Boӧtes Void, yet it paints such vivid mental imagery. When writing electronic tracks, do you have a particular vision in mind that you’re transforming aurally?
Rob Stuart: I’ve always equated music with painting. The instruments are my choice of brush, the sounds are my colors, the canvas my bass and drums. When I write this type of music, the voice and words are replaced by color and tone. Even without someone singing lyrics I think the consideration for a human element is always there.
Brian Dickson: Like Rob I have also visualized music, but more so as a soundtrack to some imagery or a movie scene. A scene can be full of action, or sad, or contemplative, and that really helps drive a given sound and structure to a track.
MissParker: I’m so curious about the track “Ateoate’s Revenge.” I take it to be a play on “808.” If that’s so, and it’s not a trade secret, can you share what that means?
Rob Stuart: Bang on! That’s a track that Brian initially wrote and titled. It took me a while to figure out what the title meant. Duh!! In fact, I love the name so much I have convinced Brian and a couple of other synth friends to use this as the name of a new synth collaboration project we have started for this year. Stay tuned as there will be an “Ateoate’s Revenge” album release hopefully by the fall of 2021. BTW, it should be noted that Brian also put together the amazing video for this tune.
Brian Dickson: Yeah, I was trying to be clever with that name. The original track was something I created back in the mid-90s with an actual TR-808 (that I regretfully sold to pay the bills….sigh!)
I was so amazed with how Rob literally turned the original version inside-out and created this much better final track.
MissParker:It seems the overarching theme is space. Electronica naturally fits in with otherworldly motifs, and rightfully so. Do you see this genre of music defining more grounded concerns like love, life, loss, or even the political landscape?
Rob Stuart: Over time electronica has become more associated with space and otherworldly motifs but when I think back to the early days of Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, and many others, they were tackling politics with electronic soundtracks like The Sorcerer and Thief. Vangelis handled love, life, and loss masterfully in Bladerunner. I am still inspired by these great works today.
Brian Dickson: I’ve always viewed electronica as something that transcends history, race, and politics. I remember that when I was much younger, places like China, France, or Germany were so foreign to me. All of that changed when I listened to the fans cheering to the music of Jean-Michel Jarre’s Concerts in China or Tangerine Dream in Berlin and realized there were people all over the world with not only the same musical tastes, but also that deep-down we are all the same.
MissParker:The track “Machine Language” takes us through what sounds like a spirited conversation between members of non-human intelligence. Do your machines sometimes appear to have minds of their own?
Rob Stuart: Sometimes, yes! That’s usually because I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m a self-taught studio engineer and the way I’ve learned is by trial and error. So it’s no surprise I’ve hit the wrong button and the machine appeared to take on a mind of its own. On the brighter side, sometimes it can turn into a pleasant surprise and something cool will come of it. That’s always a bonus!
Brian Dickson: As a huge fan of sci-fi, I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of AI, but more on the cautionary side. When my gear does something unexpected, I try and turn it into a “happy accident.” Most of the time though, as HAL famously said it best…“It has always been due to human error.”
MissParker:Did you collaborate on all of the tracks, or was it more of a merging of the minds—Rob wrote some and Brian wrote the others?
Rob Stuart: Even though we were never in the same room at the same time due to COVID-19, this was a collaboration in the truest sense. Both of us shared old music riffs, partial songs ideas, 8 bar loops, or came up with something new and if anything inspired one of us, we would get to work on it. Then we would ping pong the track back and forth until we felt that it was finished while having constant discussions. The process was always very respectful and free of ego.
Brian Dickson: Rob’s response captures it perfectly! I’ll add that we both remain pleasantly surprised at how it all went so smoothly, only because we are so used to having full autonomy and control over our own tracks. I think what really helped was that Rob and I decided early on that honesty was key. If that fails, we just default to blatant sarcasm.
MissParker: In a traditional group, some members play guitars, others play keyboards, still others may play brass, and of course, there’s a drummer or two. When you put two electronic masterminds together, how do you split up the music duties?
Rob Stuart: There was never really any discussion about those duties. The relationship between Brian and I was so respectful that we kind of knew what to do and what not to do with each track. It may sound corny but usually the music would dictate what was needed and we both respected that need intuitively.
Brian Dickson: Rob and I wear all the hats in our other music, so we didn’t really land on playing specific instruments. Instead, we’d just add what we thought a track needed, either in the addition of new instruments or the composure of the song.
MissParker:Is Boӧtes Void considered a soundtrack, in that when taken together, all of the tracks combine to tell a single, complex story? Or is it more of a short story collection?
Rob Stuart: I’d love to say that it’s some super, clever, complex story but I’m just not that well thought out.
Brian Dickson: It’s a super, clever, complex story.
MissParker: I’ve asked each of you separately at one time or another about your musical influences. This time, just focusing on making Boӧtes Void, who or what can you cite as your influences for this project?
Rob Stuart: My usual favorites such as Tangerine Dream, Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Brian Eno, Underworld, Global Communication, The Future Sound of London, Carbon Based Lifeforms, Harold Budd (RIP), John Foxx, Biosphere, Synergy, etc.
Brian Dickson: Ditto on Rob’s list. I also watched a lot of Jean-Michel Jarre’s Electronica-related videos about his more recent collaborations with John Carpenter, Vincent Clarke, Yello, and others.
MissParker: We have the privilege of hearing Kim Stuart’s angelic voice on Slow Motion. It’s a beautiful, moving experience. Was the song made with her contribution in mind, or did you decide another layer was needed while in production and Kim provided it? Either way, it’s brilliant.
Rob Stuart: Brian had written this beautiful piece of music but didn’t know how to finish it. He sent it over to me and I instantly knew what to do with it as soon as I heard it. As I was working on it I was messing around with some voice samples when Kim came into the studio and said, “let me try something on it,” which I thought was a great idea. She did two or three improvised takes and I picked the bits that I thought fit best. It did turn out rather lovely!
Brian Dickson: I am totally amazed with Kim’s vocals on this track. I’ll never forget when I first heard the new version with Kim’s vocals, I exclaimed “It’s Perfect!” out loud; It reminded me of hearing Clare Torry on “The Great Gig in the Sky.” With Rob’s brilliant engineering of the vocals and final track it was the perfect match-up, and I’d say this track turned out to be one of my favorites.
MissParker: I hope to hear more from Kim in future releases. In fact, I hope to hear more from you both, Rob and Brian, whether individually, or collectively. Any plans in the works for upcoming collaborative or singular projects?
Rob Stuart: Since Kim is in the house while I’m working in the studio, she ends up being on a ton of different songs by default, sometimes not getting credit for her contribution; however, with the success of the “Feels Like Heaven” cover with E.D.F, we’ve decided to pair up and try doing a full album of similar songs. We are currently working on our next song and will hopefully have something to release by the end of the year.
Brian Dickson: Rob and I have talked about continuing with our collaboration, and we’re looking to feature other artists in upcoming tracks. As with what Rob is doing with E.D.F., I’m also continuing my journey with Colony Three, with this year being focused on the release of several singles that will culminate to an end-of-year album…not sure where I got that idea from (laughs).
MissParker: Thank you both for agreeing to talk with me and sharing your thoughts about working together to make Boӧtes Void.
Rob Stuart: Thank you so much for being a voice for independent music and for asking such intelligent and thoughtful questions about our music and process.
Brian Dickson: This interview was an amazing experience, Sandy. Thank you for everything that you do in supporting us and our music; it means so much and encourages us all to keep at it!
It has been a decade since Benjamin Russell and I first interviewed. I seriously can’t comprehend where all that time went. Back then, we had a chat just before his CD “Rockhill” dropped. I was so moved by the collection that I wrote an impromptu review soon after. I know that Benjamin has been busy creating and releasing since then, but somehow life got in the way, and here we are 10 years later.
I was given an exclusive first look at Benjamin’s latest CD “Balance,” an emotional and insightful journey scheduled to drop on February 26. The tracks speak to a rich life, a full life, a life filled with tales dying to be told. The overall tone and lyrics have me imagining the patriarch of a family gathering the members together in front of a fire crackling in the living room hearth and sharing stories in a way not to instill fear, but to endear, with lessons to share.
My impression is that the more we listen to “Balance,” the more the depths of Benjamin’s life are laid bare for all to see. It’s done not with melancholy, but with a sense of triumph and joy. The upbeat undercurrent tells us that whatever we might learn from the stories he spins, it’s to our advantage and to his great relief.
Benjamin and Elyce, his writing partner and soulmate, took some time out of their busy schedules to indulge a few questions from me. The upshot is that we all have an opportunity to enjoy this latest heartfelt creation from one of Canada’s most gifted musical story weavers. Remember: this creative and inspiring album drops on February 26, so mark your calendars!
MissParker: So what have you been up to the past 10 years?
Benjamin Russell: After the release of ROCKHILL, I put a band together and played shows with Peter Marunzak (former drummer for one of Canada’s most popular 80s bands, LUBA), Peter Patrick (guitarist from Nova Scotia’s NAKED LUNCH), composer, Sandra Chechik on keyboards, and Jose Sierra on bass. It was great to be playing live again!
I was on a high, creating music like crazy, but all over the place. The muse kept jolting me with stuff ranging from acoustic folk to aggressive electronic dance as well my more 80s pop style. I decided to split myself in three. But then everything came to a screeching halt.
There’s a reason there’s such a gap in communication since ROCKHILL. After that, I made an album under my name, SUNDOG, and 2 EPs: BUY THE BOMB, under the name, Guru Groan, and ALL FOR YOU, under the name, River of Stone. These nearly didn’t see the light of day as, just when they were about to be released in 2013, Elyce (my music and life partner) was diagnosed with a slow moving but incurable cancer, a form of leukaemia called, CLL. I stopped making music and had no time to promote it, making the decision to just spend every quality moment together.
MissParker: I’ve seen Elyce listed in the songwriting and video credits. Has she always been so involved?
Benjamin Russell: We met when I had just turned 19 and have been together ever since. A year later, I typed out two copies of the lyrics of all the songs I had written and bound them together into books as gifts for my best friends. They were divided in two parts: Before Elyce and After Elyce. There were already more songs in the second half. She gave me lift and I flew. Since then everything has been a collaboration.
MissParker: Does Elyce write music or lyrics or both?
Benjamin Russell: She doesn’t write music but she’s influenced me incredibly. Elyce is one of the original Beatlemaniacs. Friends and family made fun of her for loving them before they were so big! She has eclectic taste and she turned me on to stuff I wouldn’t have listened to otherwise. As the son of two university professors, I grew up in a home where “commercial” and “popular” were dirty words. I was a musical snob when Elyce opened me up to more than rock, classical and male singer-songwriters.
Elyce: Yeah, he was a real chauvinist! (laughing) Not really, but he hadn’t listened to Barbra Streisand, Laura Nyro, Roberta Flack, or Buffy Saint Marie.
Benjamin Russell: The lyrics are collaborations. Mostly, I start writing something and ask her to tweak it but often I get ideas from something Elyce said or wrote. Some songs are all nearly all her, TRYING TOO HARD, on GENTLE MAN, for example. On that one, she talked while I rearranged the words into lyric form.
MissParker: I feel like I’m forever asking this same question, but it seems to add context to what we’re listening to. What inspired the creation of “Balance?”
Elyce: As I used to tell my high school students, my husband’s best and worst quality is that he’s very sensitive! The smallest thing can inspire him to create but sometimes to extremes. He has so many ideas and projects, and needs be grounded. Balance has not been easy for him to achieve.
Benjamin Russell: Yeah, Elyce has kept me tethered to the mother ship. There have been many times I could have rocketed off this planet entirely if not for her!
I gave up my job in August 2018 to be with Elyce. We began the best years of our life, and Elyce encouraged me to start recording again. We were well into BALANCE when we realized we were working on not one but two albums. Elyce started it – she said, “This should be a rock opera!”. We put BALANCE aside and quickly wrote and produced SHIKASTA SUITE, which came out in November 2019. It’s based on Nobel Prize winning author, Doris Lessing’s science fiction novel, Shikasta.
MissParker: Do you find that the more life you’ve lived, the more reflective your music tends to be?
Elyce: I think it’s always been a big part of his music. A song like BROKEN-HEARTED LOVERS, his first vinyl release back in 1981, was a punk/pop song, but I know the real story. The lyrics say, “Sat up late last night with the headphones on, listening to some music, crazy love songs…” Ben was actually listening to Beethoven’s 9th and Bach organ fugues while he decided whether to ask me to marry him after we’d been seeing each other for only 10 days.
Benjamin Russell: Ha ha, that’s true. Reflection. It’s like hiking. You get IN THE ZONE, and just climb your mountains, but every once in a while you come to a break in the trees and can see for miles. That’s kind of where we are now.
MissParker: Do you have a specific audience in mind when you write your songs?
Benjamin Russell: As broad as possible!
Elyce: I tell him to be free as an artist and not pigeon hole himself.
Benjamin Russell: That being said… (laughs) I want this album to resonate with fans of my 80s music who’ve supported me and have been waiting a long time for a followup to my 1984 album. I had done remakes and videos for MIRACLE (on SUNDOG) and SHADOWS (on SHIKASTA SUITE), but this is fresh material with a vibe that’s being recognized. Some have compared BALANCE to Pet Shop Boys and New Order’s later stuff.
MissParker: How important are the lyrics?
Benjamin Russell: That’s a great question. When I started writing songs, they were always first but now it varies from song to song and music has become increasingly a focus. I’m always writing melodies in my head. Many of them have been lost over the years because I didn’t write them down. Now I do, and lyrics might come later.
Elyce: What we’re saying is important to us. There are fewer words now but they are carefully chosen.
MissParker: Did you perform all of the musical parts for “Balance” or did you have help in the studio?
Benjamin Russell: I did everything with the exception of some of background vocals. I had help from Oliver Russell and Erin Ilagan on WORD (YOU MAKE ME FEEL) and REFUGE, and that’s Elyce in the tag to I AM A STRANGER.
I played electric and acoustic guitar. I really enjoyed playing bass especially the solo on ALONE, as well as doing some parts in real time on my computer QWERTY keyboard (the solo on IN THE ZONE, for instance). I combined real playing with sampling on BENT OLD MAN AND MULE. I was going to call it a “landscape for voice and banjo” and wanted it to be just me plucking and singing live, but it grew into a full electronic, sampled and looped production.
I’ve come a long way from the days when everything was actually played on instruments. Now my main axe is the computer! When I made the album in 1984, I didn’t have one, but I had to be a programmer. Anybody who used a drum machine or sequencer back then had to bend themselves to the weird and conflicting operating systems, so most of what is on that album is actually played. Computers have made composing so much easier.
For me, everything changed radically in the last couple of years. I used to write out the words with chords, put together beats and build on top of that. Now, I almost always write out the melody first in actual music. I use a program called Notion. Some of the instruments are written straight in there. Then I’ll export it and continue in my main music program, Logic. REFUGE is a string quartet and was completely written in Notion before I sang on it.
MissParker: How much do current world events influence your music, or is it mainly personal experience?
Benjamin Russell: That’s a big question! How can you avoid current events without sticking your head in the sand? THIS SKIN is intensely personal, about being ready for an internal change, but on another level, it’s a statement of solidarity with everyone struggling to be seen for who they are, not their race, religion or gender.
I AM A STRANGER came from a dream. I was in a big crowd at some event, a conference or something. No one knew each other, but before it started, everyone stood up, faced their neighbours and sang a song together. I told Elyce about it and we wrote this song. She calls it an anthem. My waking dream is that that could happen one day, that everyone could sing it with me.
Elyce: This is where I step in and tell him not to get carried away! (laughs) I just know that it makes me feel positive and hopeful.
Benjamin Russell: We need to remember that the world is many individuals and each one is important, crucial even, in unique ways. IF asks and answers the question: “What if you were never here?” BLINDED BY NEED, shows how we get so caught up in our own pains and insecurities that we become blind to each other. Are these personal or are they issues everyone in the world has to deal with? I believe it all starts with each one of us if we want to heal our world.
MissParker: I know no one is really performing live at the moment, but prior to COVID, had you been performing at venues? When the COVID crisis is over, do you plan to take your music on the road?
Benjamin Russell: These days I’m strictly a studio artist due to our situation.
MissParker: Do you think the creative solutions that artists have come up with to circumvent COVID restrictions and get their music out to the fans—Zoom, YouTube, Streaming—will permanently change future live music performance?
Benjamin Russell: There’s nothing like a live concert. Whether in an intimate club or a huge stadium, the experience is so much more than just the artist and music. Everyone’s energy contributes. Fans and feedback generate something on a whole other level. That’s what’s so hard about not performing – it starves an artist’s need to connect.
That said, thank God for the internet! It’s helped me keep in touch with fans all over the world and allows me to release an album like BALANCE without touring. Videos on Youtube give a taste of what a performance might be like, but like everyone else, I can’t wait for live performances to come back!
MissParker: I’ve spoken to other artists who say the creative flow never stops—that even though this album is complete, there’s so much creativity waiting to get out that more songs are already writing themselves. Does that ever happen to you, or do you try to take a break between each completed collection?
Elyce: Try and stop him! Creating for Ben is like breathing. If he takes a break from music, then he’s doing photography, poetry or painting. Lately he’s even managed to combine them all in his Instagram posts which I think would make a great coffee table book. Knowing him, the next album could start with the cover design, a drawing which inspires us to write a song.
Benjamin Russell: I don’t know. If I never made another album after BALANCE, I’d be OK with that. It’s that important to me – a distillation of what we have learned.
I’ve already finished more songs which could have been on this album, but a lot of thought went into the flow and balance and they didn’t quite fit. I’m working on a remake of ONE LOVE from my 1984 album. People keep requesting the original, but I don’t have the rights to the recording and TGO Records, my label back then, is defunct.
Missparker: Where can people listen to and purchase your music?
Benjamin Russell: All my music is online (except for my 80s albums which are out of print but even they can only be found on Ebay, Discogs, or whatever). My vinyl and CDs are available on Bandcamp. I’m on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Youtube, and anywhere else you get your music online. Streaming doesn’t pay much per play, but when people put you on their playlists, it adds up. And I know people are listening, which keeps me creating.
Missparker: This has been fun! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your music and your thoughts with us. Looking forward to future releases!
Benjamin Russell: Thanks for asking. You do so much to support independent music and spread the word. It has been a real pleasure and it is wonderful to reconnect with you!
Be forewarned—I’m going to drop the stuffy, professional interviewer persona and let my fan-gurrrrl flourish…
OMG—they’re back! And not a moment too soon! I’m excited beyond words!
This year has been the year that keeps on giving, and I’m not going to rehash that. It has been the year that will forever go down in history as sucking rancid canal water. So lately, whenever there’s a glimmer of hope, it tends to shine like a blinding beacon through the storms of hell.
That said, SLAVE to the SQUAREwave, the incredible duo of Rob Stuart and Colin Troy MacPhail, is back with an outstanding 90-minute collection of new music that, even if this year hadn’t been the epitome of everyone’s worst nightmare on steroids, would STILL rise like a phoenix above the ashes of contemporary music. These guys have been at it for 20 (count ‘em!) years, and the music is still as fresh as any debut album, let alone the latest in an already brilliant catalog. So what’s the album called? Why, “20/20” of course. Get it? Twenty extraordinary years of musical collaboration that just happens to coincide with the infamous calendar year 2020.
What makes S2TSW’s music really shine is that it always has something for everyone. Rob and Colin are not pigeonholed into one particular sound or style. They unabashedly experiment with sound, lyrics, instrumentation, orchestration—you name it, the sky’s the limit. This album is no exception. But lest you think it’s a hodgepodge of random notes forming a mishmash of unrelated songs under the guise of a collection, think again, honey. The progression is deliberate and logical and delightful to aurally behold.
And one last fan-gurrrrrl observation. I am a David Bowie fan, pure and simple. I’ve written in the past about my undying love for Bowie because he literally saved and validated my life over 40 years ago. And, that’s what makes S2TSW so important, so relevant, so vital a part of my life. In addition to the brilliant rhythm, melody, arrangement, and production that Rob brings to the table, there’s Colin’s voice. He has Bowie’s range, emotion, and creative delivery all wrapped up. This duo has filled an enormous void for me—both when Bowie retired and when he unfortunately passed on. Few musicians can make that claim. I’m making it for SLAVE to the SQUAREwave with deep-felt love and sincerity.
MissParker:Well, here I am in the enviable position of asking my favorite duo questions about music I adore. Can it get any better than this? OK, before I absolutely embarrass myself in front of you guys, let’s get started.
It’s been 3 years since the last album release, “Jigsaw.” When did you first realize that it was time for another album?
Rob Stuart: It’s just natural for us to start working on a new album right after we’ve released one. It’s in our blood!
Colin Troy: It’s quite funny, I told Rob after we had finished the new album that I was a bit burnt out but of course 2 days later, I was jamming a new baseline for a new song. It’s a bit masochistic. (Laughs)
MissParker:The album’s name is just so perfect. When or how did it dawn on you that not only had you guys been doing this for 20 years, but that you’d have another album release in the year 2020?
Rob Stuart: Colin put that together. It was the perfect motivation to attempt to write 20 songs and meet a tight deadline. I can’t believe we did it!
Colin Troy: Actually, I believe we never intended to write 20 songs. However during the past seven months or so a lot of good and bad things occurred, so there was a lot of inspiration to continue writing. I agree with Rob, I can’t believe it either.
MissParker:David Marsden, God love him, has been teasing us by playing selected tracks during his live broadcasts for quite some time, now—maybe a year? So that tells me this album has been in the works for a while. Do you have a process that you follow for writing and recording songs? For example, I know that Colin generally writes the lyrics and Rob creates and arranges the music…is it usually lyrics first, then music? Or does Rob come up with a concept melody and add the lyrics later? Or a little of both?
Rob Stuart: It’s all of the above. I don’t write lyrics, only music. So, I’ll write a solid, structured music bed with a verse/chorus/bridge etc. and send it to Colin who will write a lyric and melody. In the past he would come over to my studio to record the vocals but during COVID he recorded most of the vocals in his own studio. Depending on the lyric Colin comes up with we will rearrange the song. Sometimes the intended chorus becomes the verse, the bridge becomes the chorus or the verse can become the bridge, or not. There are no rules. On other occasions, Colin will send me a fully realised track with music and lyrics already completed and then I’ll put on my producer hat and get to work by chopping it up or adding to the song to finish it off.
Colin Troy: I find writing the music the easier part of song writing. The lyrics are usually the last thing to put down because I find it is the most difficult part of song writing.
MissParker:I’m big on lyrics—it’s probably the frustrated poet in me. To me, the lyrics are just as important as the overall song. I feel the lyrical angst in some of 20/20’s tracks, which makes a whole lot of sense, given the state of the world. But, I also feel joy and hope in others, and I love the balance. It’s like you’re saying, “It’s been a shit year, but hang on, there’s something good around the corner.” Was that intentional? If so, how did it evolve?
Rob Stuart: I’ll defer to Colin.
Colin Troy: It’s funny—when I listen to the new album, I view it in two parts—the 2019 lyrics versus the 2020 lyrics. With the exception of a few songs written in 2020, most of the material became quite personal due to what was going on in my life these past 6 months. There was no intention other than writing in the moment. The only evolution I would say is letting mother nature take its course.
MissParker:I love movies that you watch over and over, only to discover something new each time. I gotta tell ya, I’ve been listening to 20/20 over and over again the past few days and it continues to sound fresh and new each time, hearing something different with each play. I truly believe that ability is deliberate and couldn’t possibly be accidental, and something I enjoy to this day with Bowie’s music. I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but what in the world is your secret?
Rob Stuart: We put a lot of work into our music, so I appreciate the question. Some things do happen by accident but a lot of thought is put into our music. A good example of a happy accident is the lead vocal cutting out in the last chorus of “Something’s Kind of Weird.” That was unplanned, but it added drama and suited the song, so we made the decision to leave it in. The other day our good friend, Scott MacLean, called up and said that he was just listening to our song “Supernatural” from our first album and had just noticed me whispering in the bass breakdown even though he had listened to the song many times before. That was something I had done deliberately. I think adding layers like that is fun for a producer and is also rewarding for the listener.
Colin Troy: Accident or not, when it comes to producing music, no one does it better than Rob.
MissParker: Does Colin lay down all of the vocal tracks himself, or do you guys use other back-up singers?
Rob Stuart: Yes, Colin has such a versatile vocal range that he lays down all of the vocals himself although my wife, Kim sings backing vocals on two or three tracks on the album. A good example of them singing together is the opening of “Souvenirs.”
Colin Troy: We have used backup singers before on previous albums. A great singer named Liz Tilden, Coco Brown, and also a great singer, Penny Robillard, who also used to join us for the live shows who now lives in Australia. The past couple of albums, Kim has stepped up to the plate which is great because she softens the belting back-up from me.
MissParker:OK, I have to admit it. For some reason, I’m always looking for influences in music. With that in mind—and I mean this as a huge compliment—if Kate Bush were male, don’t you think “Something’s Kinda Weird” would be her musical doppelganger?
Rob Stuart: That is a huge compliment. Colin and I have always equated Kate Bush as Peter Gabriel’s counterpart. Now that you mention it, I could see both of those artists taking on that track. Wouldn’t that be great!
Colin Troy: I absolutely love Kate Bush. She can sing any of our songs at any time.
MissParker:And the intro to “Hot Mess” made me sit up straight in my chair. It puts me in mind of Trio’s “Dah Dah Dah.” What a blast from the past and a breath of the 80s—am I right?
Rob Stuart: You’re bang on. That is the sample from Trio. Actually that track is loaded with sampled drum loops. There’s the DA, DA, DA Loop, Eminence Front Loop–The Who, Sound Of The Crowd Loop–The Human League, Crabs Loop–Jean Jaques Burnell, Dancing Fool Loop–Frank Zappa, in the bridge, Conversation Piece Loop–David Bowie, and throughout the song, Read My Mind Loop–The Killers. My goal with this song was to make it sound reminiscent of Devo.
Colin Troy: Again, Rob is a genius producer. I near s*** my pants with laughter when I heard the initial Trio sample.
“It was 20 years ago today…”
MissParker:And I have to mention “Model Citizen.” It’s a brilliant song all on its own, but the video totally takes it over the top. What was the inspiration for the screenplay? And, before you answer, let me just throw this out there—I didn’t think there was much left that would make me blush in my old age, but Colin—wow!
Rob Stuart: That video was all Colin. (Pardon the pun!)
Colin Troy: Ha, ha, ha! The inspiration for that song, and in particular the video, comes from working in the service industry for so long. I have seen a lot of “business suit facade.” I have seen a lot of skeletons come from those business suit closets. And, it ain’t pretty!
MissParker:Can we look forward to other music videos for tracks from 20/20?
Rob Stuart: Yes, a video to “Hot Mess” is on its way. Colin will explain.
Colin Troy: Yes, David Raetsen and I teamed up together again and shot a video last Monday. We are still in the editing process and the footage looks a lot of fun and will be released next Tuesday (Dec 22).
MissParker: Woo hoo! One of my favorite tracks on 20/20 (and coincidentally, there are about 20 of them) is “Bonnie and Clyde.” I’m intrigued by the lyrics and what inspired them. Oh, and I couldn’t help but hear the reference to “Station to Station”—very clever!
Rob Stuart: Colin!
Colin Troy: I have to confess that “Bonnie and Clyde” is a kind of continuation of “Texan Thugs and Rock ‘N’ Roll.” It’s about two people being badasses. I’m not a badass, only on stage! (Laughs)
Of course I had to make a reference to Bowie because he was the ultimate on-stage badass, right?
MissParker: Absolutely! And speaking of badass,I’m completely gobsmacked by the various instruments in each of the songs, some sounding like you have a backing band of at least a dozen eclectic musicians. Does each instrument’s unique sound have to be layered in individually, and if so, about how long does it take to lay down so many tracks?
Rob Stuart: We work with a lot of loops but as we’ve aged we’ve had a harder time keeping up technology which has forced both of us to go back to basics by playing live. I’ve never had the patience to figure out technology beyond its use for my personal requirements, so rather than waste time figuring out how to make things work, I’ll just play by hand. My lack of technical ability has actually made me a better player. These days my main tool for sounds is my iPad Pro. You can literally take all of the beautiful, old synthesizers and analogue drum machines that I have in my studio, plus much more, and put it into an iOS device.
It does take a long time to lay down individual tracks, but depending on the song the time can vary greatly. Most of the time, we are working with 60+ tracks. Those tracks will usually be mixed into sub-mixes before the song is finally mixed down and mastered.
Colin Troy: Personally I believe that you should use every music tool that is available whether it be an acoustic guitar, a keyboard, a drum loop, or an electronic synth loop. The beauty of sound is endless. I tend to write a structure and I will let Rob flourish with all the details.
MissParker: I’m curious to know how you come up with the melodies. I know a lot of musicians will hammer out a rough draft on a piano or guitar. Do you guys have a favored method, or does the magic just happen?
Rob Stuart: Sometimes the melody can be obvious and I’ll know where to go with it, other times I’ll sit at the keyboard and hammer out a melody line over and over again until I find something that works. Then I’ll usually figure out a counter melody or harmony.
Colin Troy: Honestly, I find writing the melody the easiest part of the song. I may not have a structured lyric but I will still sing a gibberish melody that sometimes becomes an unconscious lyric. Kind of like speaking in tongues.
MissParker: Totally selfish question here—are there any songs currently under development for another SLAVE album in the near future? One can only hope the answer is “Yes,” and that we won’t have to wait another 3 years!
Rob Stuart: We have some songs left over that did not make the final album that need finishing but we did cut this one close. Colin wanted to add a last minute funk tune, so he wrote the song “20twenty” while I was actually uploading the tracks for final distribution. He played me the idea over the phone, so I knew it was going to be a great track. We got it done at the last minute, but that being said, I think we are all tapped out for songs at the moment. Knowing us, that never lasts long. As I said, it’s in the blood!
Colin Troy: Don’t get mad Rob, but I’ve already started working on a new tune. (Laughs) I really do think I’m a musical masochist!
MissParker: I want to sincerely thank you guys for the two decades of hard work and absolute listening pleasure you’ve given us. There’s nothing better than the gift of hope, and over the years, that’s what your music has been to me, and others I guarantee.
Rob Stuart: Thank you so much for supporting independent music and for your support of S2TSW.
Colin Troy: Awwww, thank you so, so, much for your support and love. AND to all the squareheads who love and dig our music! We can’t wait to see you guys at a live show soon. I know we’ll all be dancing and singing and having a great time together again!
SLAVE to the SQUAREwave’s album 20/20 dropped on December 15, 2020. What on earth are you waiting for? To miss out on this fantastic collection of life-relevant songs really would put the year in the dumper. So, get over to wherever digital media is sold and grab your copy now. It’s the perfect antidote to a year the likes of which we’ve never seen before and hope to never see again. Consider it an aural vaccine.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: One of the best things (and there are so many) about being introduced to David Marsden’s live radio show 14 years ago, and then more recently (2014) to his free-form stream NYTheSpirit.com, is getting to know some incredible music acts and artists that I never would have been exposed to otherwise.
George Rondina is part of this treasure trove of talent. Three of his songs recorded under the moniker Imagination Machine that David has played on his live weekend show have absolutely torn me up: A Northern Evening, Dancing on a Highwire, and True (May the Road Rise). These hauntingly lovely songs are the perfect blend of an internal, aural, emotional journey highlighted by Rondina’s expressive and unique voice. Personally, music is an escape that makes the real world tolerable by pushing it aside and providing a safe haven in which to curl up and fantasize about what life should be. George Rondina’s music is that and so much more—it envelopes the listener within a protective bubble that promises salvation rather than mere isolation.
It’s my pleasure to share this interview with you and to hopefully pull more listeners into the ethereal world of Imagination Machine. Given the reality that we are forced to deal with every day, I believe this is an alternative that many will willingly embrace once its magic has touched the soul.
MissParker: I’ve done some research about you online and am amazed at your accomplishments, most notably the Toronto recording studio known as Number 9 Audio Group. Before I ask you to expand on that a bit, I also read that you were part of several bands back in the late 70s. What can you share about that experience?
George Rondina: I’d like to say, thank you for having me and for the very kind and generous introduction. I started out as a musician and was in a couple of different bands in high school. Once graduated, the musical journey really kicked in and the 3 bands I was in toured Ontario and Quebec.
It was fun for the first few years, but living out of a suitcase in some not-so-swank hotels took its toll after about 5 years and I started to think of something I could do that would garner a bit more of a normal life. After much thought, Number 9 Sound Studios ( Number 9 Audio Group ) was born.
MissParker: So, getting back to Number 9 Audio Group—the name is intriguing, by the way—where did the name come from (I have a guess) and what prompted you to switch from performing to producing?
George Rondina: Ah, so the name Number 9 of course was a culmination of things—John Lennon’s infatuation with the number 9 and numerology, as he was born on the 9th day of the month, and so was I. In 1981, for lack of a better name, Number 9 it was.
We ran the studio in tandem, with playing live on weekends, at first. When my first born came along, the rest of the band approached me about touring full time. I was happy playing weekends and running the studio through the week. It was a very hard decision, but I chose to keep the studio going, as I had no interest in going back on the road at the time and I knew it would have been very hard on my family. So that’s when the switch happened.
MissParker: The “who’s who” list of artists you’ve worked with at the studio is impressive, to say the least. Of the people you’ve worked with, who left the biggest impression and why?
George Rondina: Wow, that’s a tough one, as many of the bands like “The Barenaked Ladies” weren’t famous when we first recorded them. There are a few that I enjoyed meeting a lot, like David Clayton-Thomas of Blood, Sweat and Tears. David recorded 4 albums at Number 9 and we became quite good friends. Jim McCarty from the Yardbirds and Renaissance would be another. A real gentleman. The work we did with the Stones, Van Morrison, and Will Smith was either rental work or location recording—mostly arm’s length—never got to meet them directly. After almost 40 years there’ve been a lot of great experiences, that’s for sure.
MissParker: Who haven’t you worked with that would be high up on your wish list?
George Rondina: We could be here all night (laugh) . Of the living: Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, Pete Townshend and The Who (whom I have met but haven’t worked with), Pink Floyd, particularly David Gilmour, Genesis…The list is endless.
MissParker: I’m curious about your connection with David Marsden. How did you first meet up with him and how long have you known him?
George Rondina: I’ve known David from his radio shows since the 70s, but he’s only known me since about 2017-18, when I released A Northern Evening and he was kind enough to add it to his playlist.
MissParker: I fantasize about having been a part of the music world, but life seems to have had other plans for me. So I’m always curious—what got you interested in music and which instruments were the first you learned to play?
George Rondina: Feb. 9th 1964 The Beatles played the Ed Sullivan Show. That night, I decided that music is what I wanted to do. I was just a young kid. I tried guitar but just couldn’t get the hang of it, where piano came much more naturally for me. Then came the other keyboards and synthesizers, which I have a nice little collection of my favourites now. The only other thing for me was singing. I started in choirs at an early age.
MissParker: Who were your early musical influences?
George Rondina: Well of course, The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, and the whole late 60s-70s scene. Later: Genesis, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, ELP, David Bowie, Tom Petty—the list could go on almost forever.
MissParker: Even though you’re a musician first and foremost, what planted the Imagination Machine seed?
George Rondina: I’d been writing songs all my life but pushed aside recording them to focus on the studio, raising my kids, and making ends meet. Later in life, which started around 2016, I recorded a Christmas song for a charity to help kids with depression issues. The song was called Shine On. After I finished recording that song, I decided that it was time to start on an album.
MissParker: To me, you have the perfect blend of synths and instrumentation to enhance your vocals on the gorgeous track “A Northern Evening.” The first time I heard David play it, I about fell out of my chair while grabbing my phone to Shazam this amazing song I was listening to. What inspired you to write that song?
George Rondina: It was a long time ago. I wrote the majority of A Northern Evening when I was in my 20s, and adding parts and lyrics in 2016-17 when I recorded it. By the way, I’m very encouraged and grateful by your kind words.
It was an experience I had while in Northern Ontario on a crisp, clear winter’s night while snowmobiling. We reached a peak and gazed into a sky full of stars with northern lights and shooting stars. It was an epiphany for me. I guess the belief that there is something more was confirmed that night and soon after came the lyrics and the song.
MissParker: I absolutely adore “Dancing on a Highwire.” What’s the back story to that song?
George Rondina: That’s a little sad I guess. My father suddenly passed away at 56 when I was 21. Literally died in my arms. The only death I’d experienced before that of someone that was close was my grandmother ( my Dad’s mother) the year before. I went into a bit of a dark place and was searching for something. Not to get too deep into the experience, Highwire is really just about the fragility of life and how we all have the courage to carry on even through the darkest of times.
MissParker: Rooting around YouTube I’ve come across some other Imagination Machine gems that are both playful and lovely. Do you have any other songs in the works?
George Rondina: The other Imagination Machine Songs are Muskoka Trees, Blue Room, and I just recently finished a song called Still In The Silence. Going in the studio this week to start another new song.
MissParker: Please share how we can purchase your music and also be informed of any future releases.
George Rondina: It’s pretty well a one-man show right now. I don’t have a website or FaceBook page just yet for Imagination Machine. The other thing is since I started Imagination Machine there is a children’s group using the same name, so it may evolve into George Rondina and The Imagination Machine .
I think tuning into Dave Marsden’s NYtheSpirit.com is a good way to hear what is going on with Imagination Machine or my personal Facebook page. The songs are all available on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Bandcamp, YouTube, and more. You can download from iTunes and Bandcamp, which is always preferred by the artist.
And, before we end, I think it’s very important I acknowledge the musicians, engineers and studios that played a huge part in making our songs presentable 🙂. They are: George Koller, Vito Rezza, Graham Walker, Larry Bodner, Chase Sanborn, Reg Schwager, Ciceal Levy and Amoy Levy, Caroline Akwe, John Madill, Aaron Fund Salem, Arron Davis, Bridget Hunt, Carolyn Blackwell, Winona Zelenka, John Switzer, Samuel Bisson, Alex Toskov and Veronica Lee, Loretto Reid, Eric St-Laurent, Anne Lindsay, Bernie Cisternas, Brian Mcloughlin, Alex Lang, Number 9 Audio Group, Alex Gordon, Abbey Road Studios Mastering, Lacquer Channel Mastering, and Noah Mintz.
Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. It’s been a pleasure.
It was truly a pleasure to learn more about this inspiring music maker and producer. Follow the links below to sample some of his incredible work. And, if you like what you hear, be sure to support George Rondina and Imagination Machine using the links he gave us above.
I’ve had the enormous pleasure of being introduced to the delightful electronic music of Brian Dickson, a.k.a. Colony Three. I was asked to review a collection of 10 tracks titled Ergosphere. Wikipedia defines the word ergosphere as “…a region located outside a rotating black hole’s outer event horizon. Its name was proposed by Remo Ruffini and John Archibald Wheeler during the Les Houches lectures in 1971 and is derived from the Greek word ergon, which means ‘work.’”
This listening experience allowed me to take a remarkable journey that I look forward to revisiting time and time again; I know that I will hear more and experience different sensations with each opportunity.
The first five tracks lull us as listeners into a sense of peace and well-being—a journey that is both pleasant and without a hint of danger. Suddenly, with the opening strains of “Bad Gram,” the mood changes and we are thrust into a metropolis of sights and sounds that are both confusing and terrifying. As the music gathers steam, we are subjected to the aural awakening of the “fight or flight” instinct.
“Random Sparks” brings us back to a safe haven, giving us hope that there will be no other dangerous interludes until we reach the conclusion of our travels. But, just as suddenly as we feel that sense of calm, we are reminded by the dire melodies in “Collider” that the dangers we face are still all too real.
In the end, the pace of the excursion slows down, the dangers melt away, and again we begin to feel that perhaps this odyssey will have a positive completion after all. “Winds of Elysium Planitia” puts me in mind of The Man Who Fell To Earth when we are given glimpses of Thomas Jerome Newton’s suffering family back on his native planet. The final track, similar in scope by looking back on the previous tracks, evoke feelings of both relief and sadness—relief that the trip is over and we are still breathing, and sadness, because of a nagging feeling that the world will somehow be forever different.
I am so pleased to have had a chance to interview Brian Dickson to provide some first-hand insight into the origins of this lush collection’s creation. I hope you will enjoy reading what I learned about this man and what he has to say about his exquisite music.
MissParker: I can sit here and list all of the influences that I hear in this brilliant music—from Brian Eno to Gary Numan to Underworld to Jean-Michel Jarre…but my opinions would be irrelevant. Let’s hear it from you–who are your influences and why? BD: I’d say my biggest influencers are Tangerine Dream and Jean-Michel Jarre. In the early 80s I lived in a very remote northern town so my exposure to music was mostly through the one local radio station that played top 40 pop and country music. One day, I was digging through my older brother’s stuff and came across a cassette of Force Majeure, and listening to it was a life-changing epiphany. I’d never had an emotional response to music until hearing this. It wasn’t the harsh “bleeps & bloops” synthesizers that I’d heard in so many b-movies and radio shows, but instead an incredible audio landscape that took me on a fantastical journey. I became obsessed with finding more music like this and pretty much anything that pushed boundaries.
Thanks to radio shows like CBC’s “Brave New Waves” with Brent Bambury and CFNY (under the tenure of David Marsden), a whole new world of musical influence was made possible. Listening to bootleg cassette copies of CFNY played a large part in me moving to Toronto.
MissParker: I’m terrified of flying, but I do it out of necessity. Listening to “Approach” made me smile because it actually reminds me of the airplane’s approach to the runway for a landing. What is the true meaning behind that song? BD: First, I love hearing about how you interpreted this song as it was always a dream of mine to create something that sparks the listeners’ imagination.
Certain sounds or songs create a type of visualization for me. When composing, I often start with a single sound and build on it, twisting and overlaying a few other sounds. At some point a scene forms in my mind and I often end up naming the track whatever was in this imaginary scene. In this case I had come up with the album name “Ergosphere” and thought it fitting that this song would be the approach into the Ergosphere and beyond.
MissParker: “Indifference Waves” has a lovely build-up to the brief spoken word segment. It puts me in mind of Gary Numan when he was
(c) Brian Dickson
experimenting with techno in the 90s and ended up keeping it as his signature sound. Then it takes off into a fabulous confluence of electronics and raw drumbeat. I love that combination. What inspired it? BD: “Indifference Waves” was born of a sample from a 1964 episode of Danger Man in which John Drake (played by the outstanding Patrick McGoohan) finds himself in a surreal village called Colony Three. Many speculate that this episode was the precursor to the iconic science-fiction series The Prisoner which finds McGoohan imprisoned in a mysterious village where everyone is known only as a number.
“Indifference” describes my interpretation of The Prisoner, which is the importance of questioning the status quo. I’m finding that naming the songs is almost as much fun as making them!
MissParker: There seem to be very brief, if any, breaks between most of the tracks. Was this collection meant to flow like a single soundtrack, or are the songs meant to stand on their own? BD: Some of Ergosphere was composed with no gaps between the tracks, but I’ve found that some streaming platforms or audio playback software inject small breaks between songs. Spotify seems to play the album “gapless” while others are hit and miss. I’ve noted that artists like Jean-Michel Jarre now release large single track “continuous play” version of their albums to avoid this issue. I personally love continuous play albums as they seem keep the listener’s imagination and mood flowing throughout.
MissParker: I played a lot of Jean-Michel Jarre in the late 90s early 00s when I was a corporate trainer. I used his music specifically to soothe my classes while they were testing on the stuff that I’d taught them. I hear some of his influence in “Flight to Tadoule.” What is your take on Jarre’s music? Did he inspire you to create your own version of electronica and how? BD: Jean Michel-Jarre is influential on almost everything I produce. In my opinion, Jarre has found the precise balance of classical composure and technology. His bold approach to musical and performance experimentation is inspirational. I was fortunate enough to go to Jarre’s amazing 2017 performance in Toronto and it was better than I could’ve ever imagined.
Jarre inspired me to start simple and build on it. If I ever got the chance to speak with Jarre, I always imagine that his advice would be “There’s no wrong way to do it.” Sometimes when working on a track I will literally ask myself, “What would Jarre do at this point?” which always seems to get me past the block.
MissParker: “Clearwater” has a remarkable intro that flows seamlessly from the close of “Flight to Tadoule.” It reminds me of a DJ making the perfect segue between songs during a radio broadcast. Were the two songs created in tandem purposely? BD: Unbeknownst to everyone (until now) “Clearwater” and “Flight to Tadoule” were composed in memory of my mother and father. My mother lived her final years in Clearwater, a scenic town in the interior of British Columbia, Canada. Her last years there were the happiest of her life and it was always a pleasure to see her so happy there. One of my fondest memories of my father was when he took me on a flight in a Cessna to a very remote northern community called Tadoule Lake. I felt it fitting to have these songs sound very different on their own but also be somewhat connected.
MissParker: Up until “Bad Gram,” the songs seem to have a laid back and dreamy quality to them. Then all of a sudden we’re thrown into a random foot chase with pursuers hot on our heels. The urgency carries over into “Influence,” although not as intense. What brings on this change of mood? BD: I really enjoy your interpretation of “Bad Gram,” and I think I hit the mark on this one! As the song was being composed, I started imagining a scene from a Michael Mann movie, like some of the amazing instrumentals that Jan Hammer had done for Miami Vice. After the lulling jazz-bar sounds of “Daydream on Pacific Avenue” I wanted to create an unexpected spike of adrenaline for the listener to snap them back to the rest of the album.
MissParker: I mentioned in the introduction how some of this collection reminded me of David Bowie in “The Man Who Fell To Earth.” My only complaint about the film is that 45 years later, the soundtrack (which Bowie did NOT compose) presents as a bit “cheesy.” Your music on Ergosphere, however, is as timeless as space itself. That said, did you have a “movie” playing in your head when you created these tracks? BD: That is another really big compliment on many levels! I didn’t set out with a movie in mind for the overall album, and I think the timeless aspect is a result of a personal preference I have for simplicity in both the composure and instruments being used. My good friend Rob Stuart (of SLAVE to the SQUAREwave) and I discuss this philosophy at length, that so many of the timeless classics were created using equipment that was greatly limited by today’s standards. I believe these limits are what ultimately demanded the most creativity and best performances from the artists at the time. I used to think that because I had a 16-track recorder, I needed to make use of them all. (Maybe to get my money’s worth?) Now, my studio has the ability to mix and record over 1,000 tracks, but I generally use 10 tracks for most songs, which encourages me to focus on melody and dynamics.
(c) Brian Dickson
MissParker: Is all of the writing and production solely yours, or do you have people that you collaborate with? BD: For my first album, I made a conscious decision to go it alone as I ultimately wanted to own the outcome and find my own groove, so to speak. I did the writing and recording over the course of a few months. While the composing and recording was the fun and easy part, I was really struggling when it came time to master the album. Mastering is the final step in the process where the entire album is stitched-together and balanced for harmonics and volume levels. I’m thankful for being able to lean on Rob Stuart for advice during this journey as he has decades of experience in music composure and production. These great conversations turned have led to Rob and I collaborating on some new tracks.
It’s early days but we are both really excited about the outcomes and are looking forward to sharing them.
MissParker: Do you perform live? If so, where can people have the pleasure of being enveloped by your music in a live performance? BD: I haven’t spent the time yet to research live performance in this genre…I’ve simply been having too much fun creating the music! I think my gateway into live performance would be through that previously mentioned collaboration. It would be the experience of a lifetime no matter what the venue.
Missparker: Where can people sample and ultimately purchase your music? BD: For the latest information about Colony Three and to sample new music in the making, visit:
Excellent music never dies; sometimes it just goes away for a while. And, like a treasured loved one, its return evokes strong emotions of joy, relief, and a reconnection with the universe. That’s what’s happening here, folks. And, I am delighted to be the bearer of the fantastic news.
Rob Stuart first graced Rave and Roll’s pages exclusively as a featured artist back in November 2009. Earlier that year, I had published an article about his Toronto-based band SLAVE to the SQUAREwave, followed by a review of their then-latest smashing release, The Money Shot. Earlier this year (Feb. 2014, to be exact), I was privileged to announce Slave’s return with a jaw-dropping, in-your-face collection of tunes called Asphalt, Sex & Rock ‘N’ Roll. Now, I am thrilled to deliver the trifecta: Rob Stuart’s long-awaited re-emergence featuring an entire catalog of synthesizer-driven musical goodness from his band, Electronic Dream Factory (E.D.F).
Rob agreed to be interviewed so that I can share with you all a little bit about the beginnings of E.D.F., its evolution, the inspiration for the music, and the reason for the decision to re-release the catalog.
When did E.D.F. make its debut in the world?
EDF studios circa 1983
Originally E.D.F was and still is the name of my home recording studio. I stole the name from a small British synthesizer company called Electronic Dream Plant which built a very cool monophonic synthesizer called “The Wasp.” My earliest recollection of my first home studio was back in 1981. I decided very early on in my “music career” that rather than pay other people to record in their studios, that I would just build my own and teach myself how to record, engineer and mix.
I was only sixteen back then and gear was incredibly expensive, so my first studio was nothing fancy. I would work three summer jobs to save up enough money to buy studio gear. I still remember purchasing the first real synth I ever owned, a Korg MS-20 for $595.00 at Steve’s Music Store in Toronto. I was so proud walking home with that synth tucked under my arm that day. It was once I started writing original music when I decided Electronic Dream Factory would also serve as a good band name.
Who were the original band members?
Greg Fraser, Rob Stuart, Rob Tennant (1992)
There have been many incarnations of the “band”version of E.D.F. Version 1.0 is me alone as a solo artist . Long time friend/musician/ artist, Greg Fraser was the first person to become an official member. Our first full-length self-titled album was just Greg and myself. Version 2.0 included Rob Tennant, who was the live drummer.
We soon added Maxx on guitar. Version 3.0 included Emerich Donath on stick bass and Rude Van Steenes on electronic percussion and vocals. I knew Rude back from the Vis-A-Vis days as I was an original member of that band .
EDF Version 3.0
Why synthesizers and electronica vs. guitars and…?
I’ve always been a synthesizer nut. Ever since I first heard early synth-based music like Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Pink Floyd, Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Throbbing Gristle, David Bowie, Brian Eno, Gary Numan, John Foxx, and early Human League, I knew I wanted to get into synthesizers.
First of all, they looked so cool and they could make sounds that you’d never heard before. That was really the appeal to me. I would spend hours messing around with my MS-20, plugging in cables, twiddling all the knobs, to come up with unique and different sounds. I’ve never been a person who is comfortable jamming in a rehearsal studio or in a band situation, which is why I don’t really consider myself a musician. I still don’t play that well, but writing, recording, and producing came fairly naturally to me. Writing music always was and still is a personal journey for me, so when MIDI came along it allowed me to create all parts of the music by myself, which I thrived on.
Having said that, I’ve always been a guitar fan, so when I couldn’t fake a guitar part by myself or find the right guitar sample I’d have to bring in a guitar player. Of course nothing can replace the thundering sound and look of a live guitar player on stage. That’s where Maxx came in. He was a cool-looking dude with a great head of hair and a killer guitar sound which added to the live element and gave the studio recordings a little extra grit.
Was E.D.F. mainly a studio band, stage band, or both?
I’ve always been a studio guy, but you have no choice but to play live if you want to promote your product seriously. It’s a great feeling playing your own music live with 3 or 4 other people on stage with the lights, smoke, and (hopefully) crowds of people in the audience grooving to your tunes; however, I also derive immense pleasure spending hours in my studio just writing or playing music by myself.
That’s were the “other” side of E.D.F comes from, as I also record and release ambient, chill out, new age music which I never intend to play live. Our finest moment was playing at Pine Knob in Detroit, Michigan in front of 10, 000 people for a big end-of-summer music festival.
What or who inspired the music?
The “who” is endless. See all the bands named earlier. Inspiration can come from anything, really. It could be a unique industrial sample, synth patch, drum and bass groove or simply a nice chord progression. It’s piecing all of those elements together that makes it fun and challenging.
Did E.D.F. originally get the airplay it deserved, and if so, by whom?
The first E.D.F release was actually a cassette-only; but, believe it or not, we used to get airplay on the radio. CFNY 102.1 in Toronto was the first station to play our music. That station was a huge supporter of local independent music, led of course by the one and only David Marsden who still plays my music to this day on his new station http://www.nythespirit.com. With open-minded people like David and the good folk at CFNY, the song “So, What of Tomorrow” ended up being a winner on a CFNY talent search contest and was released on a compilation CD, which to us at the time was unbelievable.
Other places that would play our music would be University radio stations like CIUT (University of Toronto), CKMS-FM in Waterloo, and CKLN (Ryerson University) who were always great supporters of ours. Local DJs like Ronno Box and Craig Beesack would play us at clubs like Catch 22 and local promoter Billy X was also an early supporter of E.D.F
What’s it like to translate a concept in your head into music that you share with the rest of the world?
It’s fun at first, but it can quickly become frustrating when the business aspect kicks in. I won’t even talk about the music business these days as no one has a clue what’s going on; but back in the early 90s there were still labels you could shop your product around to. For our first album we had some interest from TVT Records which had just signed Nine Inch Nails. For the second album, “Drama Dream” we signed a deal with a label in Montreal, which went bad. For the album “Number 3” I had a distribution deal with Toronto’s The Record Peddler. Financially that was probably the most success I had with an EDF album as they managed to get distribution deals in quite a few different territories worldwide.
What made you decide to resurrect EDF?
One word: “Tunecore.”
Tunecore is a great service that distributes your music around the world to digital music stores and streaming stations. It’s really cheap and allows you to keep 100% of the earnings. They really do get the music out all over the world! E.D.F had a pretty strong following in its heyday, especially in Europe.
As I mentioned above, the album “Number 3” was released and distributed internationally by The Record Peddler. I used to get royalty cheques from airplay I received from places like Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Norway and many other countries. Over the past few years I decided to post some old E.D.F videos on YouTube and found that people were actually looking for the old releases. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to re-master and re-release the whole collection in a new package.
Hence “Industrial Catalogue:” All four E.D.F albums in one, 64 songs in total, reasonably priced at $8.99. I did the same with my ambient/chillout/down-tempo E.D.F music, as well. Four albums in one package under the title ˜Noise Control” with 60 Songs in total.
Are there plans for live shows, and if so, where?
At this point, definitely not. SLAVE to the SQUAREwave takes up all of my spare time with live performances and recording. The last time E.D.F played live was at a rave in the middle of a farmer’s field in Oakville, a suburb of Toronto. This was actually where I met Colin Troy from S2TSW, as we were both playing at the rave that night. I was performing my more “techno” E.D.F material while Colin was doing his Smokin’ Jehovah project, which was a mix of middle eastern music and house. Really cool stuff. We chatted through the night about our love for Bowie, Roxy Music, and electronic dance music. We became instant friends and SLAVE to the SQUAREwave was born.
Do you have any examples of E.D.F. music online that people can preview?
Here’s some of my ambient/chill-out music taken from “Noise Control”:
Will the entire catalog be available for purchase? Where?
“Industrial Catalogue” is available via Amazonmp3.
“Noise Control (Vols 1 to 4)” is available via Amazonmp3.
Both albums are also on Spotify, Rdio, Shazam, iTunes, Google play, Wimp, Deezer, beats music and many, many more on-line stores.
Can folks buy single tracks?
Yup! Single tracks are the standard 99 cents.
Will this inspire you to go back into the studio and create new E.D.F. tracks?
E.D.F has never really stopped. It’s just come in many different shapes and forms over the past 32 years and will continue to evolve. I’m getting more and more into the chill-out/ambient stuff as I get older, so you can most likely expect some more music in that vein.
I’m considering releasing some music by a duo group I was in back in the mid 80s called “silent GREEN.” It was an ambient project where the music was ad-libbed and recorded live. I played synthesizer while Bruce Bentley played “ambient” guitar. Bruce and I also had a synthpop band called “Ear Candy,” which was another CFNY-supported band. Tragically, Bruce passed away last year, so I’m thinking of releasing it in his memory. Some of that music is pretty magical.
Thanks so much!
Thanks for your support. I love what you do. You don’t know how important things like this are to a band/artist. You’re really doing a great thing here and it is most appreciated. XOXO
Time to meet a wonderful current artist who would have been vital in my favorite musical decade, as he is today. Tim Langan has a very full and impressive musical resume. He gave me the opportunity recently to get to know him and I’d like to share the experience with you. Be sure to take the time to check out Tim’s music on YouTube, as well as the various websites posted at the end of the interview.
Tell us about who or what (or both!) has influenced your music.
From the time I was very young, I have known that I wanted to be a musician. My very early experiences in grade 1 involved singing the National Anthem first thing in the morning.
My mother likes to recount a story of being called in to the school by the principle and being told that I had a very good voice and they were recommending that I be sent to a choir school, as they felt that I had a sense for music inside me. She and my father decided that I was a little bit too young to be travelling downtown on the subway every day for school, so they decided instead to get me involved in piano lessons.
What is your first significant musical memory?
The singing of the National Anthem was one of the very first things that I remember about my discoveries in music; however, there were a few other things that were to come that also stick out in my mind.
I was the youngest in my family. My 3 older brothers liked music a lot. They were between 11 and 16 years older than me. I remember for my eleventh birthday getting 2 vinyl records. One was Elton John’s Greatest Hits and the other was Paul McCartney’s Band On The Run. I was hooked. I also enjoyed sports as a kid and used to spend hours hitting a tennis ball against our garage door. My brother had a Volkswagen beetle with an 8-track player in it and I remember specifically listening to Jeff Beck’s “Wired” over and over again while smashing the tennis ball off of the garage door. I must have listened to that album 1000 times as a kid and still enjoy giving it a listen today.
How soon after that did you decide that’s what you wanted to do?
I have almost always had a sense of wanting to be a musician from a very, very young age. It has always seemed like the natural and obvious thing for me to do.
In fact, I have tried to make it “go away” on several occasions, but it just won’t seem to leave me alone.
What was your first group/band and what part did you play?
My first performance with a band was in grade 8 when I performed with 2 friends at our grade school. We played 3 songs together. I believe we opened with Elton John’s “Rocket Man” with myself playing piano with drum and guitar accompaniment. Then I switched over to bass guitar duties and we performed Edgar Winter’s “Free Ride” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” – I don’t recall whether any of us wanted to actually sing these songs, so we may have played them as instrumentals. I find it amusing that this still seems to be a trend for me in my own writing, as the vast majority of the music that I am involved with, somehow seems to bypass the urge to add vocal to the song.
The name of this band was “Jupiter” and my next door neighbor, who was 4 years older than us wanted to be our manager and went out and bought us matching bracelets that had “Jupiter” engraved on them. We used to joke, what could be stupider than calling a band Jupiter?
The drummer in that first group was my lifelong friend Sascha Tukatsch, whom I have had the privilege to write and record with on so many projects over the years, including our high school band, which started as Reign, which would later be released on CD under the name “The Harrison Fjord”
Do you prefer to perform in the studio or live? Why?
I love both. The studio offers the very unique experience of capturing your ideas and how you were feeling at that exact moment for the rest of time. That is very special indeed.
The live experience is also very special, because there is a nervous energy and adrenaline that is created from performing in front of people, with the pressure of wanting to perform perfectly and put on the best show possible for all of the people who have come out to see you play.
What inspires you to write your best music?
This is a difficult question to answer. Inspiration is taken from so many potential sources. Music is also very subjective, so who can really say what is “best?”
My own compositions are so varied in style from one to the next that I have a hard time trying to define what it is that grabs me or guides me in a certain direction. Usually, I am just a conduit that the music flows through. Most of the music that I write happens very quickly, indeed. People, places and events are most often secondary to the writing process. In peak writing times, I just sit down and compose and usually at the end of the day/night I have a finished piece of music, whether it is a short pop ditty or a full orchestral score.
What was the best concert you’ve ever attended and what made it so special?
Concerts are a wonderful experience for me. I usually do not attend massive venues, as most of the musicians that I tend to be inspired to watch, are lesser known, virtuoso types of players.
While I have been to may rock shows in large venues, like Supertramp, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, Queen, Aerosmith and Rush in the late 1970’s, it is the acts that perform in the smaller venues that I truly cherish.
Performances by Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin & Paco DeLucia with Steve Morse as the opening act, The Pat Metheny Group, Frank Zappa, Weather Report, Return To Forever, Yes, Uzeb, King Crimson, Joe Satriani, Youssou N’Dour, Level 42, Adrian Belew, Marillion, Hugh Marsh, Manteca, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, Alain Caron, David Sanborn, Marcus Miller, Steve Vai, Victor Wooten, Dream Theater, King’s X, Michael Manring, Fishbone, UK, Zappa Plays Zappa, Tommy Emmanuel, and Porcupine Tree are stand outs in my mind over the years; but probably one of the greatest shows that I ever saw was Andreas Vollenweider and friends on Oct 16, 1989. My reasons for liking this show specifically over all of the others is musicality. The inspiration that I drew from all of these shows is incalculable, but this one Andreas Vollenweider show was indeed something very special.
If you had a “do-over,” what would you do differently?
While I do read and write music, perhaps I would have tried to go to a “music” school to acquire a piece of paper with my name on it, although, I guess it is never too late?
What’s coming up next?
I have been quite busy this year adding my musical voice to many different recording projects. I have recently finished playing bass for a guitarist, singer, songwriter, named John Jamieson. I am hopeful that this CD will be completed and ready for release by the fall.
Also, I have recently re-connected with a guitar player friend of mine that I worked with about 20 years ago. Her name is Irene MacKenzie and she is very talented indeed. Irene called me, asking if I would record with her and her son MacKenzie Coburn on a piece of music that she wrote for her Mother, who had passed away from pancreatic cancer 20 years ago, shortly before MacKenzie was born. I had always enjoyed working with Irene and given the music that she and her son were jamming on, I immediately agreed. We initially sent a bunch of ideas back and forth through the sky drive in a common email account over the internet and when we were ready, I drove out to their home studio to record my bass and keyboard parts on the CD.
We are currently in mixing and mastering for this debut CD and I am very anxious to get this one out. The CD will be released under the name “The Green Rain Project” and the disc will be entitled “ToRUTH” – Irene and I have talked a great length at working on many more CD’s together, as the music for this CD came together very quickly.
Another project that I have been recording and performing live with is “Lisa Smith’s Powerhaus” – I had been asked to join this band after they had released their debut CD “Maze Of Souls” and we have been working to put the finishing touches on the band’s second CD – “612” – I am hopeful that this disc will be completed and released later this year. I am confident that this disc will be well received by fans and critics alike, as I feel the writing is very strong within the rock genre.
I have also been recording and performing with The David Bacha Band. This has been quite a long term project for me and I am hopeful that 2013 will be the year that we finally get this one to the market. We shall keep our fingers crossed.
Lastly, I continue to write and record at my home studio, as this is just something that I have to do to maintain my sanity.
I have my entire musical catalog, (11 CD’s) which does not include the 5 CD’s that I was commissioned to do for a friend’s record company, that I am trying to get remastered and up for sale online. It would be a major achievement for me to get all of these up to CD Baby and iTunes this year, I remain vigilant in trying to complete this task.
What advice can you give to aspiring musicians?
Follow your dreams, work your butt off to be the very best you can be and don’t stop doing what you love for any reason.
Where can people listen to and purchase your music?
While some projects are currently available for purchase online (try Google to search out the band names) some are available through CD Baby or iTunes – (The Harrison Fjord – Machine Tree / Splub – Splub )
Most of my catalog is not currently available for purchase, although I am trying to rectify this problem.
Should you wish to check out a lot of my music and several of the bands that I have played with and currently am playing and recording with, I have over 100 videos, slideshows and music posted at my youtube channel, which can be found at:
Short-lived, yet talented–that’s what we’re all about here at Rave and Roll. Frozen Ghost, a Canadian 80s new wave band founded by Arnold Lanni (vocals, guitars, keyboards) and Wolf Hassel (bass, vocals), is no exception, with one slight twist. Lanni and Hassel were also previously members of another short-lived and talented band called Sheriff. The 80s was a decade of band-hopping and “six degrees of separation,” and Frozen Ghost fits right in with that scenario.
To make matters more interesting, Frozen Ghost and Sheriff became rock chart competitors. Lanni, who owned the rights to Sheriff’s name, benefited from both bands’ royalties, so it turned out to be a successful business venture for him. Unfortunately, this somehow watered down the drive to make Frozen Ghost a musical force, and they ended up disbanding in 1993 after a long-awaited and mediocre album release.
Check out the band’s first two album releases: Frozen Ghost (1987) and Nice Place to Visit (1988) to experience the essence of what Lanni and Hassel had to offer before the musical waters were muddied. This is Canadian 80s at its finest, and another example of how regional music was criminally underrated and under-promoted here in the states.
Frozen Ghost ~ Round and Round ~ via YouTube user frozenghostsongs:
Frozen Ghost ~ Should I See ~ via YouTube user kurdtss:
Frozen Ghost ~ End of the Line ~ via YouTube user frozenghostsongs: