Presenting Dukes of the Orient, International AOR with a Mid-Atlantic Prog Accent

What do you get when you match a Brit from London who loves American AOR with an American from California who grew up on British Prog? Dukes of the Orient is the masterful pairing of vocalist John Payne (ex-ASIA, GPS) with keyboardist Erik Norlander (Last in Line, Lana Lane, Rocket Scientists) who now present their eponymous debut album, ten years in the making. Payne’s powerful arena-seasoned vocals carry soaring melodies and lush harmonies over the sea of classic synthesizers and keyboards artfully painted with Norlander’s signature sonic palette.

Payne says of the album, “With Dukes of the Orient we have dug deep with analog soundscapes, superlative musicians, and song-driven epics. Add to this the masterful artwork of Rodney Matthews and a journey that started with the supergroup ASIA, we give you the next chapter, one we are extremely proud of.”

The two are backed by a world-renown ensemble of top musicians including Jeff Kollman, Guthrie Govan, Moni Scaria and Bruce Bouillet on guitar, Molly Rogers on strings and Jay Schellen on drums. Payne provides bass guitar and additional lead and rhythm guitar parts to complete the audiophile production. The album was mixed on a traditional analog console to preserve and enhance the natural depth, clarity, and soul of the tracks with great care taken to avoid over-compression, extreme equalization, and distortion.

Dukes of the Orient has its origins in 2007 as “ASIA Featuring John Payne,” a band that continued on after ASIA keyboardist, Geoff Downes, left the band to re-form the original 1982 lineup. Payne recruited Norlander to join Guthrie Govan and Jay Schellen for tour dates in the US and initial recordings, some of which endured to appear on the Dukes of the Orient album here. Govan left the band to form The Aristocrats and was replaced by guitarist Bruce Bouillet followed by Jeff Kollman and Moni Scaria. The final lineup resulted in the track, “Seasons Will Change,” released as a video in 2013 and also now appears on the Dukes of the Orient album. Following the death of original ASIA vocalist, John Wetton, in early 2017, Payne and Norlander decided that these recordings should give birth to a new band, both out of respect for Wetton and for clarity with the Downes-led ASIA.

John Payne grew up in Luton, England. Upon moving to Harpenden, England in his teen years, he started his first band. His love of music started long before, though. As a young teenager, he taught guitar at school and also played into the early hours of the morning at clubs in a local cover band. Tired of playing other people’s songs, he formed a three-piece called Moonstone. With influences such as Santana, Hendrix, Trower and Deep Purple, Moonstone toured both locally and around the UK rock circuit. With encouragement from Jim Rodford of The Kinks and Rod Argent, the music bug would not let go. John went on write, tour, session (both as a vocalist and guitarist), record and produce. Moving to London gave him his first break singing backing vocals for Roger Daltry of The Who on the album Under a Raging Moon. This started much session work leading to purchasing The Wall, his first recording studio, which would be one of many. Between session work, Payne was invited to Power Station recording studio to record vocals for the group ELO at the invitation of drummer Bev Bevan and producer Jim Steinman. When legal complications regarding the name arose, Payne made the decision to return to London, where he was invited to join Asia in 1992.

Payne has since toured as “The Parson” in Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, toured and recorded with GPS, co-created and co-wrote the Las Vegas musical Raiding The Rock Vault, and formed The Rock Pack, hosting a plethora of iconic classic rock vocalists. His love of music and analog recording has taken him on a journey as multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, composer, scriptwriter, studio engineer, and producer.

Erik Norlander was born in Hollywood, California and went against the tide of 80s Sunset Strip pop metal, instead learning the craft of progressive rock keyboards inspired by the founding fathers of the movement, Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Eddie Jobson, Patrick Moraz and others, many of whom became friends as Norlander’s career developed. Both Emerson and Wakeman even wrote liner notes for Norlander’s early solo albums. As part of his indoctrination into the genre, he became obsessed with synthesizers and classic keyboards of all kinds, learning the subtleties of sound design and the inner workings of these arcane instruments including his own 1967 modular Moog synthesizer famously dubbed the “Wall of Doom.” This led Norlander to actually work on the design of synthesizers including the legendary Alesis Andromeda analog hardware synthesizer and IK Multimedia Syntronik virtual instrument among many others. Norlander has released 10 solo albums, 7 with his prog-rock band, Rocket Scientists, and 10 albums with his vocalist wife, Lana Lane. He also works with the Bob Moog Foundation to forward the legacy of the maverick inventor.

Dukes of the Orient to release their eponymous debut album with stunning cover art by Rodney Matthews on February 23, 2018, with select tour dates to follow.

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