Rock Impressions

by Giancarlo Bolther

Are you satisfied with your new record?
Yes, I'm very satisfied. Rocket Scientists has always been an amalgamation of different styles. I think this is the first record we've made that balances all of our influences in a tightly focused package. I think playing live had a lot to do with the aggressive edge to the music this time around.

Why did you wait four years make a follow-up to Brutal Architecture?
Many things have happened since making the last record. We started making the record about a year after the release of Brutal Architecture, but our first tour was confirmed when we were only about a third of the way through with the basic tracks. After the tour, numerous opportunities arose with Lana Lane - both live and in the studio - and we didn't want to pass them up. After three CDs and two Japanese tours with Lana, we finally had the time to reconvene and start working on the record again. At that point, things actually came together pretty quickly but we waited a few months to release the CD to accommodate the record companies' schedules.

You recorded a live album after only two studio records, don't you think it was a bit premature?
No - not at all. From its inception, Rocket Scientists was more of a "recording project" than a band and I think you can hear that in the records. Mind you - I love Steely Dan, Ayreon and the Alan Parsons Project so this is not a bad thing. We had never actually been in the same room at the same time when we secured the 1997 tour. We were all really pleased with the "band sound" that grew out of that tour and when one of the shows was professionally recorded, we thought it would be a good idea to release it because people had never heard that side of us before. If the band sounded pretty similar live and in the studio (like Rush), we wouldn't have released an album from the tour.

You have played for so many artists that you seem to be more top session men than a real band, which role do you prefer?
We've all done sessions, but I wouldn't say that we play for a lot of artists - it's more like we all have our side projects. Rocket Scientists is really Erik Norlander and myself at its core and we're supported by session men. Erik and I don't really play in any projects where we are just "guns for hire." Both Lana Lane and Rocket Scientists are environments where we have a lot of creative input - from writing to producing and arranging. I enjoy Rocket Scientists a bit more because I have the opportunity to see more of my ideas come to life in that setting. The Lana Lane band is nice, however, because it is sometimes easier to appreciate and soak in the whole process when you're not the focus of everyone's attention.

What are the advantages and disadvantages to being a duo?
The advantage of having a partner is that there are two people to share the responsibilities and there's always someone there to take up the slack if one of the duo is bogged down. The advantage of not having more than two people is that there are fewer egos and things can get done more quickly and efficiently. I think it's preferable because the more people you have the harder it is to work together over a long period of time - just look at the member changes in Yes or King Crimson.

What do you think about the new prog and symphonic rock scene?
I think there are some great bands enjoying some success now. It's exciting to see that the scene is growing and not just trodding on familiar ground. I have been saddened to see how extremely formulaic mainstream pop music has become - it's a bunch of rich old men writing and producing recyclable dreck for teen puppets. I think that the prog/symphonic scene will persevere because a music scene that rewards complexity, depth, talent and artistic integrity will continually challenge and reward both the artists and the listeners.

How do you fit into the moment of grace that these styles of music are going through?
I think we are straddling the boundaries of the "old school" progressive bands (like Yes, Pink Floyd, King Crimson) and the newer class of heavier acts (like Ayreon, Symphony X, Dream Theater). I think that the "musical ether" goes through trends and certain eras resonate better with some bands than others. Making an album is the result of a lot of these kinds of forces aligning and I think the current "moment of grace" is a big part of why "Oblivion Days" turned out so well - it was time for Rocket Scientists to do a record like this.

Don't you think that there is a risk of excessive crowding of bands right now?
No - I think that if there's an audience for a certain kind of music, there is always room for another talented artist. Maybe it will become a more competitive scene, but that's a healthy thing because it's just going to raise the expectations the artists have of themselves. When I hear a great album, it always inspires me to push myself harder. The only danger is if the music becomes too "mainstream" then it will fall victim to the pitfalls of "corporate music" - but that won't happen with progressive music because it's so anti-formula.

Along with Blue Oyster Cult, Hawkwind and Saga you are one of the few groups that like science fiction connections, what can you say about this?
Science fiction and progressive rock are great partners in my opinion and I would have to say that we aren't really so unique in that respect. You'd have to mention Rush, Yes, Genesis, ELP, Queensryche, Black Sabbath, Ayreon and a whole host of others as well. The music Erik and I like to create has a mysterious, atmospheric nature and I think it is natural to associate Sci Fi themes with this kind of sound. We have always made it a goal that Rocket Scientists music should have the effect of consuming the listener and transporting them to the environment of the song that is playing. Sci Fi themes are a great vehicle for this effect.

How did you write your lyrics?
Whenever I write a song, it's more like channeling than a conscious process. Words and music suggest themselves at the same time for me. The words don't always make sense - they are more like placeholders for the rhythm of the melody. The words are always pretty visual and usually personal in nature and always seem to have a theme if I analyze them. Once a basic musical structure is in place, I demo the song and try and fill in the lyrical blanks in a stream of consciousness manner. At this point, I give the song to Erik and he focuses the idea and writes something around the basic framework that I provide. He is inspired by literature - you will often find references to Moorcock, Heinlan, Shakespeare, etc. in Rocket Scientists music. Usually, about a third of my lyrics end up in the finished product.

What are you referring to in the songs Dark Water?
Dark Water is an atmosphere. The title is meant to evoke this atmosphere. Imagine a vast ocean of dark water spreading out around you in all directions -- that's the idea. All four of the chapters of Dark Water have an ethereal moodiness to them. Even the last chapter, "Heavy Water", has a very atmospheric feel even though it gets very heavy in the middle part of the song. However, there's a secondary meaning to Dark Water, which is more on the humorous side. "Dark Water" is also an English slang expression for coffee, and as you know, a lot of coffee is consumed in the studio!

Why is it important to be able to get away from the day to day reality?
We like to take the listener away from day to day reality when listening to our music. The effect should be like in the movies when you have a willing suspension of disbelief. Whenever the audience of a movie is made to think "That looked fake" or "No one would actually react that way!" I think it really sours the movie experience. Part of our goal is to make sure that this doesn't happen when listening to our music.

It seems to me that all your records are linked by a unique concept, can you expain it please?
Lyrically, there are several themes that hold the records together, but I don't think there is just one. There are recurring themes about chaos and order, recurring imagery of the elements and recurring references to literature. The "concept" of the band in general is to try and balance classic, consistent songwriting, challenging arrangements and intelligent lyrics into a well produced, modern package.

I've read that Erik worked together with the amazing Keith Emerson, what can you tell us about this great experience?
Erik recorded Keith Emerson in his studio several times, and he did a lot of synthesizer programming for ELP as well. Keith also wrote the liner notes for Erik's first solo album called "Threshold" released in 1997. Through all their work together, Erik and Keith became friends. Recently Erik played on the Magna Carta ELP tribute album along with Glenn Hughes, Simon Phillips and Marc Bonilla.


Reviews (in italian): Revolution Road

Related Artists: Erik Norlander; Mark McCrite; Lana Lane; Ayreon


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