Time Horizon’s leading man Ralph Otteson opens up during a recent interview about the birth of a band, Pandoras Box, the upcoming 3rd album,and everything in-between.
PoP: Hello, Ralph thank you for doing this interview with us.
Ralph: Absolutely! I am so glad to talk to you Thank you!
PoP: You’re the founding member of Time Horizon a California-based Christian, Progressive Crossover AOR band How long have you been a professional musician, and what professional training have you had if any?
Ralph: Well, first I wouldn’t consider myself “pro” because I support my family by working a day job in the high tech industry, but as far as my involvement with music, I would say I have a lot of years working part-time and I have been able to do a lot with limited time. I hope to do more than I have in the past.
PoP: What is your role in Time Horizon and what instruments do you play?
Ralph: I am the keyboardist and principal writer. I also sing background vocals. I think I am the driving force behind the band because I take on most of the responsibilities, so in a sense, I am the leader.
PoP: Tell us about the birth of Time Horizon, how did that come about, and what does this band mean to you?
Ralph: Time Horizonstarted because I had recorded an album with a band I was playing with. we wrote original music. The band was called Iron Clay Poets. We disbanded before finishing the album, but I wanted to finish it. The problem was I had recorded on ADAT digital tape system and could only do 16 tracks at a time for mixdown. I had about 30 tracks of music, so our then drummer knew another drummer that was also an engineer and had a computer system that I could mix it down with. That drummer ended up being the drummer for Time Horizon. He dug the music and after the mix, he wanted to jam on some of the songs….well, we ended up writing the first album.
PoP: What was the defining moment in your life that sparked the eternal flames to become a musician, and was it a particular band or individual?
Ralph: Well, my family are all musicians, we had an upright piano that I would mess around with it but never had any lessons. In 1977 I saw ELP – the Works Tour. The year before a friend played their record and I loved the sound of the synth. When I saw Keith do his thing, I said that’s what I want to do! mind you, I had not yet started playing. I took lessons in my Senioryear and sold my car to by a Fender Rhodes piano so I could play in a band. I learned covers but found writing songs was what I enjoyed most.
PoP: Your first release was released through your label Angelic Noise Records, what was the publics’ perception of the debut Living Water?
Ralph: It was well-received. I started my label because there were a few labels interested in wanting to sign us, but things kind of went weird so I decided to form my label.
PoP: Was Living Water a charity album?
Ralph: I recorded the album with some friends, Bruce was the drummer and we recorded it at his studio. We had all but one song mixed and for several reasons, it sat for a year. it looked like the same thing was happening again with this band. Like before, I took it soon myself to finish it. I had gone to a Christian Men’s conference and saw an organization called Living Water International (LWI). I had lost my job and was feeling worried about how I was going to get by. I sold stock I had from my previous employer funded the album with the intent to give 100% of the sale from physical CDs to LWI to help people in the world that do not have even the most basic need….water. What do I have to complain about? So in a sense yes it was a charity album. I have not financially benefited from it. I considered it a Ministry. The album sales were okay and we were able to help a village in Ghana, Africa install a well, so I would call that a success.
PoP: Tell us about the concept/meaning behind the name of Living Water?
Ralph: Well,the meaning of Living Water is what Jesus is to Christians. He said he can give living water that in us is welling into eternal life. So, along with the purpose behind the album project, it made sense to name the album that.
PoP: What was the most defining moment of Living Water?
Ralph: I think after we wrote the song Life Fantastic. The bass player at the time was Steve Gorley, an amazing musician that studied jazz and I wrote the riff that he just latched onto and would complement the line with some nice runs on the bass which I doubled on the synth. Bruce came up with a great melody and killer drums. after mixing that I sent it off to Randy George as he was putting together a compilation CD for Cprog or Christian Prog Rock. we released it as a single for the CPR3 album. That was great because we made friends which I still hold dear today. If you get a chance to hear it, it’s fantastic! Unitopia, Ted Leonard, and Phil Keaggy are just a few of the artists on that CD.
PoP: Your sophomore album Transitions was released four years later in 2015, how was this different than your debut?
Ralph: That album was called Transitions because it’s just that. Steve Gorley the original bassist traveled back to Cambodia tocontinue his humanitarian work there. He could have stayed here and rocked out with us, but he had a deeper calling and love for the oppressed and poor. He helped the street kids there, preventing child slave labor and trafficking. I found a replacement in Allen White who I played in a band within the ‘80s early ’90s. He fit right in. The original guitar player left and we got help in that area with Dave Miller. Bruce got about 1/2 way through and had to leave for personal reasons…Now I was down a drummer and a singer, so I recruited help from friends David Walliman, Lang Bliss, and a singer from the band Allen and I played with Rich Reif. I had Billy Sherwood mixing and helping me on post-production. So it is the transition to what Time Horizon is now. That album has a lot of great tunes on it. slightly different, but still maintaining a signature sound.
PoP: You formed a partnership with Melodic Revolution Records for the second release, how did that come about and why was it so important for the follow up of Living Water?
Ralph: I wrote a majority of the album, did the leg work in getting it finished, but realized I need help with promotion. I knew Nick Katona and noticed that he did a lot of albums for great causes. I felt we would work well together as I think we share that desire to help bless others through music in a real tangible way. I am a principal writer for the band, a dad and husband, I appreciate MRR and everything they do to help promote. I am not good at that, it’s difficult for me.
PoP: What influences your songwriting lyrically and musically?
Ralph: Great question. I have always loved prog music. Odd time Signatures, blending genres, and of course melody. The first bands for me were in the ‘70s really. ELP was what got me into prog, followed by Yes, then Genesis. I also loved rock like Toto, Queen, Boston, and the like. The ’80s brought me Saga which is a huge influence. Lyrically, I think Saga’s style but the Beatles and Rush. I know that’s all over the place, but my faith is something that is from my inner core, so it is expressed in lyrics. Sometimes more overtly, sometimes more subtle.
PoP: You brought in some big guns for the production portion of the album, I am speaking of Billy Sherwood (Yes, Circa, World Trade) and Major Appelbaum (Nektar, Angra, Lana Lane) how did that come about and why was this essential to this releases?
Ralph: Yeah, with Transitions album I wanted to raise the bar. I had contacted Billy Sherwood as I know he has worked with other bands. I sent him a demo of the song “Prisoner” which was a song written when I was on a band 180 with Allen W. Billy liked the tune and so I started a correspondence with him. because he worked with Tony Kaye in Circa, I asked if he could get Tony to play on it. You have no idea how cool it was for me to hear a Hammond organ from him. I had the Yes album on my turntable for weeks. I still can’t believe he is on Transitions. a huge thrill for me. Billy also played as we decided to do a cover of a World Trade song ” The Moment is Here” We changed some of the lyrics to fit our Christian world view and he was Ok with it. He also plays the lead guitar on the track so another cool thing.
PoP: Billy Sherwood also guested on the album along with David Wallimann, Lang Bliss, Tony Kaye, and Jake Livgren. What was it like to work with these musicians?
Ralph: David Walliman is fantastic to work with, he would pump out these amazing guitar tracks in really fast. I used him first for the song Prisoner but found I kept turning to him for the next tune. It was hard not to. He does quality stuff in record time! Lang and I go back a long time. I knew him in the 80s. We had mutual musician friends and hung out jamming at times. He moved to Nashville and got on with a Christian record label there. He is quite the pro. He toured with Michael W. Smith who is a well-known gospel artist. He met his wife Renee who was a backup singer for Amy Grant. Together they write and produce talent. They released some songs that made the BillboardTop 10 last year. I finally met Tonybackstage after a Yes concert. He was super nice and remembered the song which I was glad! I got Jake to sing the last song after Rich was no longer available. It was on the suggestion of the artist Ken Westphal who did our album artwork. I originally was talking to John Elefante and asked him, but he declined, so Ken mentioned Jake while he sang in Proto-Kaw. Jake was great, I paid for a studio session in Topeka, Kansas and Jake said he would play on the album, his uncle KerryLivgren (Proto-Kaw, Kansas) gave him the thumbs up so that’s good.
PoP: From what we understand the long-awaited 3rd album is 99% complete, why has it taken so long to do another album?
Ralph: Oh, man. We’ll all I can say is first….it’s worth the wait. When Bruce joined back with the band to tour the 2nd album, I said we need a frontman/vocalist. We spent time looking for and auditioning a singer. We were also down a guitar player/utility guy. It took a long time to find people that are up to playing this style of music. If they are good enough, it usually means they are not available. We got a call from a Sacramento-based singer David Mau who heard about us and thought he would be a great fit. He works with Brad Gillis from Night Ranger and Ozzy. He also worked with Derek Sherinian and loves prog! We started rehearsing and did a few shows, but again, had someone leave because of work. back to Square one. It is difficult to find people that want to do original music because there is not much money in it. It seems musicians have to play in Tribute bands to survive, which is kind of sad. All that said, we got some material from our new singer David Mau, once we got into writing mode, we just kept going. we did a lot of music and half of the next album is already done, so the fourth one should not be so long a wait. Could have done a double album, but…
PoP: What’s the album called and why?
Ralph: The new album is still having names considered. We just started the process of getting the artwork started so that might have an impact on the final name. We first thought about a song title, but then the concept of the album something in “3” for the third album. Time Horizon “cubed” maybe…I think it will be a surprise.
PoP: Do you have the same line-up as Transitions?
Ralph: The same lineup for the most part. Bruce G. on drums Bruce sings lead on one song, but Dave is the main guy for that role now. Myself on keys and vocals, Allen White on Bass again, Dave Miller on acoustic and rhythm electric. We had David Walliman do lead but guitar for a song, but that song is one we have decided to release on the next album. Both Bruce and Dave Mau had worked with a guitarist from Sacramento, Michael Gregory. Bruce played with him in the ’80s and Dave most recently. Michael G. was a sought after session musician in Nashville and was approached by Neal Morse to play with him. He was in the middle of finishing a degree so couldn’t do it, but that shows what his abilities are. The tracks by him have been Stellar! Overall this is the best line up to date. I am really excited about it.
PoP: Is it true that Michael Sadler of Saga is doing vocals on a track on this album, what song and how did that come about?
Ralph: Yes, it is! I am super stoked to be able to say that! I have been a long time Saga fan! I met Michael once at Calprog in LA a few years ago. We sat down at lunch break and I was thrilled to talk with him. Later, he and I had a Skype meeting after the release of Transitions. I asked him then if he would be interested in guesting on our next release. He asked me to send him something and if he feels he can do it justice he would. It took me a long time after that writing quite a few songs before I felt I had one that he would fit right in. I intentionally tried to make it Saga-ish sound. He loved it and with his vocals, It sounds like something He would do, so I think mission accomplished!
PoP: Do you have any other special guests appearing on this release, can you give us a hint?
Ralph: The only other special guest is Michael Manring who plays fretless bass on a song in tribute to our first bassist Steve who recently passed We went to see Michael in concert as he was a favorite of Steve’s. It was the last time I saw my friend who helped start Time Horizon so …It seemed fitting and Michael was happy too. I love it as it is a very emotional piece for me. It still is hard for me not to tear up listening.
PoP: How many tracks on the new album? Can you give us a song by song breakdown?
Ralph: Yes, we have seven completed songs, still working on song order, they are in no particular order.
Living for a Better day…Saga like approach with a rock edge. The Great Divide …..a hard-driving rock tune with prog influence. Digital Us…..kind of Rush meets Pink Floyd maybe? Steve”s song “It’s not goodbye”….instrumental with a new-age feel. Razors Edge…..this is to me Spocks Beard meets Mike & the Mechanics. I Hear, I see…….kind of more Toto like, this would be the more Top 40 hit. Time to Wonder…..a ballad that has a Phil Collins approach. really beautiful tune.
PoP: Who is the production team for the 3rd record?
Ralph: We are going to do as much as we can to self-produce. We self-produced the first one, and we have even more experience between myself, Bruce, and David Mau to do this, but I think when you self-produce, it generally takes longer.
PoP: Ken Westphal, who created the band-logo and the artwork for the first two albums has retired since Transitions, who will step up to the plate to continue making album art for great Time Horizon?
Ralph: We have contacted Ed Unitsky and are in the process of starting the artwork. I think he is one of the go-to artists in the Prog community. He does really good work.
PoP: We hear this album will be released in many formats including vinyl, can you tell us what prompted you to press wax on this one?
Ralph: 2 reasons. First, Vinyl is cool, I miss it! It has a vibe, and it’s becoming more popular as a medium to listen to again. We will still have CDs as well. Second, I like the shorter length. Back in the day, bands were releasing albums on a more regular basis partly because instead of having a 74-minutealbum every few years 45 min is a great length. I mentioned the fourth release is in the wings and about half-finished already.
PoP: Do you collect vinyl yourself?
Ralph: I have my collection from years ago still. I have a lot of original LPs. I think the millennials are discovering how great the music was years ago because of the rise in vinyl popularity again….which is very cool. I do have my wish list ofalbums.
PoP: Name 10 albums that should be part of any serious record collection?
Ralph: Wow, that’s a great question! Let me think hmm…I think a mix of styles and genres is important. I have Classical, Jazz, Rock some R&B and some newer Country. Works I have from, Chic Corea to The Fixx. Gino Vanelli to Jean Michel Jare, but here is a list of favorites
1) The Yes Album…Yes 2) And then there were Three…Genesis 3) Works…ELP 4) Abbey Road…Beatles 5) Toto… .the first one 6) World’s Apart…Saga 7) V ….Spock’s Beard 8) The Vigil …Kemper Krabb (worship) 9) More Power to Ya…Petra 10) Boston……the first one
…can I add the next Time Horizon to the list Ha, ha!
PoP: Describe what success means to you, as a person, not a musician?
Ralph: Success to me is loving what you do, knowing you are valued and matter in God’s eyes, knowing how to Love God in all things, and knowing how to love others. It’s not found in money or recognition. Maybe that sounds sappy to some, but I think it is true.
PoP: 2020 devastated the global community in many ways, how has 2020 affected you personally and the band?
Ralph: Thankfully I can design circuit boards for income, I can do that remotely, so that helps. The other guys are retired or work at home as well. Bruce is an automotive mechanic so he can bring in non-music related income. Sometimes it helps to have additional skills.
PoP: What were your plans for 2020 before the pandemic hit and do you plan to resume these plans at some point?
Ralph: We had started recording before the pandemic. There had also been family emergencies that band members became unavailable for some time, so they slowed things as well. We are also trying to find a booking agent, but again it is Tribute and Top 40 bands they want. Hopefully, we can find help in that area once this pandemic subsides.
PoP: Have you ever considered releasing a solo album?
Ralph: Yes, actually. I have a lot of musical ideas that I want to develop. they are just phrases and pieces, but that is how all the material I have contributed starts out as. the songs take on their own life and write themselves. I would love to work with other musicians and put together something very proggy. I tend to be the more Prog head in the band. I would also like to do a worship album.
PoP: What makes a song stand the test of time such as The Beatles’ Let It Be?
Ralph: Funny you mention the Beatles. That was one of my album choices. The Beatles are timeless I think because the songs have melodies that you can remember. They are creative and appear simple, but when you analyze what the cord structure is doing, it’s genius.
PoP: Do you see value in streaming services such as Spotify and YouTube for example?
Ralph: Hmmm, To me, it is bittersweet. What a nice convenience it is. The problem is how it is hurting the artist financially. The royalties paid are very, very small. I mean, you have to have 100’s of thousands and maybe millions of streams per song to see actual viable income from that. The music industry has changed. I am thankful that I have sources of income to provide for my family, on the other hand, Time Horizon is on those platforms and I hope people use that as well as physical merchandise. That is still how artists keep going. Everyone said…well you just have to play concerts and sell out venues…. .um hmmm… ok, now what?
PoP: What’s been the most memorable time in your music career thus far?
Ralph: The very first time I heard a song I recorded playing on the radio in my car. Back in the ’80s, I was in a band with Allen and we were featured on local F Mradio shows and College radio as well. I was driving in my car and listening to the local station when I heard a song I was on….big big smile! I think the second was being able to work with musicians that I looked up to Billy and Michael Sadler and Michael Manring come to mind.
PoP: Let’s say I asked you to describe your musical style as if you were a painter. How would you describe your music pallet using vivid colors?
Ralph: I think I paint with blended colors like watercolors can bleed from blue to green to yellow. You can see those colors, but the color between them is really interesting. The music I do is different from song to song, but still maintaining a recognizable sound.
PoP: If you could put one thing back into Pandoras Box what would it be?
Ralph: Nothing. I think we have to work with what we are given. I think it’s all about what we do with it.
PoP: If you could perform anywhere in the world, where would it be and who would be your warm-up act, or co-headliner?
Ralph: I would love to tour Europe. It is where most of our album sales are, so maybe would have more people interested in seeing us play. I think we would be a good warm-up band for Neal Morse band, but he plays three-hour shows, so that isn’t gonna happen. Bands like Life Signs from England has a similar sound also Mystery from Canada. I think if we have enough material to do a 2-hour set so, a co-headliner would also be possible.
How has the music landscape changed since you have become a professional musician?
Ralph: I started writing songs as I learned how to play my instrument. I was in the studio at 19 and playing clubs circuit by 21. It was a vibrant time. Original bands were found everywhere. The radio would play local bands. Now every radio station is owned by a handful of companies. the club scene is a small remnant. People were not afraid to pay to go check out bands. Usually, you heard of the headliner but often I liked the opener or support band more.
PoP: Did MTV or the internet kill the radio star?
Ralph: Yes and No. Yes, it killed the radio for the most part, but the internet opened great opportunities to find new music. I still find new music from artists I never heard of. Time Horizon has fans in Europe, Asia, and South America. That is still mind-boggling to me. They would not have me without it.
PoP: People often say that music is dead because no good music is still being produced, is that true?
Ralph: Music is not dead, the bands are there, but they are crippled in some areas. I think modern pop music is cookie cutter. There are just a few songwriters providing for the stars to perform. That’s why the songs all sound alike. If you turn on the radio, you will find Country, R&B / Rap, and Gospel. The only rock is classic rock. When was the last rock song you heard on FM? I hear new rock and prog on the internet all the time.
PoP: What is the best advice you’ve been given professionally?
Ralph: As far as music composition, What you don’t play is just as or more important than what notes you choose to play. For bands, tour, tour,and tour some more. I am still trying to get the second advice into motion.
PoP: What advice would you give to the next generation of future musicians?
Ralph: Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t be afraid to be different. Learn from older music and listen to all genres. There are things to learn from every style And whatever music you do, do it with conviction. Be honest with it.
PoP: Where can people get information about the band and purchase Time Horizon’s music?
Ralph: Well, Time Horizon Website, and a Facebook page that gets updated more than the website ( Not as much as it should) but it is probably the best way to follow current news. The Angelic Noise record label was the band’s store, it has closed for now so our Bandcamp Store, and Melodic Revolution Records. You can find us at all the other Outlets like iTunes, Tidal, Spotify, YouTube, and the like. I think there will be another store set up from the band website in the near future.
PoP: Have you ever thought about being something other than a musician?
Ralph: Originally I thought I would be an illustrator, I studied for a couple of years in college but realized if I want to be a good illustrator, I would need to lay down the music. I couldn’t do it, so I played down my brushes, got a job to buy keyboards, and start a great original band. I did not regret that decision and still feel the same today.
PoP: Do you have a mailing list where fans and voyeursof information can sign up too?
Ralph: I had a mailing list with angelicnoise.com, but that website is debunked at the moment. I am okay for people to reach out to me personally. I will be looking over the mailing list I have to let those that have ordered past albums can get involved with this new project. Give a like to the Time Horizon fan page and follow us there and at MRR.
In closing I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us, do you have anything that you would like people to know that we did not talk about?
Well, yeah I just want people to know that I appreciate the support we have received and, I am doing my best to fulfill the expectations of an artist. I hope that I can do more and more. I hope you see improvement as I am always striving to be better at this. I do fall short in the promotion area, I have never been one to point attention to myself, which when you are a music artist you have to do. I feel uncomfortable saying….hey look at me!.. But, pleasehang in there as I will be trying to update more and all I have to say is I am excited as to what Time Horizon is doing.
PoP: Thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview.
Ralph: It was truly my pleasure and I enjoyed answering these questions, which I might add were brilliant! You are for sure gifted in this area.
Time HorizonBand Ralph Otteson: Keyboards, background vocals Bruce Gaetke: Drums, lead and background vocals Allen White: Electric and acoustic bass David Miller: Electric and acoustic guitars David Mau: Lead Vocals and support keys
Contributing musician Michael Gregory: Lead electric guitar
I can’t believe there are any progheads out there who don’t have at least one copy of the ELP album in their collection, and if they are anything like me then they probably have it on vinyl, a couple of different CD releases as well as the accompanying DVD.
But of course the music which is the inspiration for this album is from far earlier, in fact in many ways it dates all the way back to 1868 when composer Modest Mussorgsky first met artist, architect, and designer Viktor Hartmann, who gave him two of the pictures that later formed the basis of the inspiration. When Hartmann passed away at the age of 39, Mussorgsky was affected quite badly, and this led to him writing the score in just three weeks. However, a version wasn’t published until some five years after his own death, and it wasn’t until the 50th Anniversary of that event that a complete score was produced.
Over the years it has been recorded multiple times, and within the progressive scene, it was, of course, the inspiration for ELP’s 1971 live album.
Now, nearly fifty years on from that, and some 150 years since the original paintings were given to Mussorgsky, we have a new version from German quartet Voyager IV. The line-up is Marcus Schinkel (piano and keyboards), Johannes Kuchta (vocals and drums), Fritz Roppel (bass) and Wim de Vries (drums). That they have been inspired to undertake this piece of work due to the ELP release is never in doubt, as although they do have ten tracks inspired by the original classical work, they also include both Lake’s “Lucky Man’ and King Crimson’s “I Talk To The Wind” which of course also featured Lake on vocals.
In some ways it is an album which confused me quite a great deal, just because they have been inspired by the original score, just as Emerson was, which means that some themes are familiar yet others are quite different as apart from the two numbers already mentioned the rest were all composed either by Schinkel or in collaboration with Kuchta. Also, there is no use whatsoever of guitar on the album (although there are two drummers it doesn’t sound to me as if they are both playing at the same time, although that could be different in concert), plus this is a studio album which has allowed some layering. Then in Roppel they have a bassist who uses a six-string as his instrument of choice, and sounds to me as if he is approaching music from a jazz background and is certainly not content just to be pinning down the bottom end but is adding his own styles and runs.
It is as bombastic as one would expect, but not heavy-handed, and songs such as “Bydlo” are incredibly accessible, exciting and invigorating. It would also be wrong of me not to mention the packaging on this release – as it comes as a hardback digipak containing multiple pages of photos and lyrics, quite something for what I believe is a debut release. This really is the total package, and fans of the original, ELP, Isao Tomita or any of the many other artists who have taken this as inspiration will find much on here to enjoy. Well worth discovering. 8/10
Pictures at an Exhibition was released on Saturday, November 2nd, 2019 on what was Keith Emerson’s 75th Birthday, the specific date for this release was chosen to pay homage to a man who jettisoned classical music into the modern era. Voyager IV has now surpassed and expanded the definition of this classical piece. Pictures at an Exhibition is based on the Compositions of Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky (1874). Like so many of this magnificent composer’s works, they were written quickly but not published, it would be 50 years after his death before a scholarly edition of this work would be published.
Pictures at an Exhibition a piece for virtuoso pianists; Maurice Ravel was commissioned for orchestration of the work in 1922 Pictures at an Exhibition came alive in a new way. This orchestration continues to be chosen for performance and recordings.
Enter, English progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer, who would bring this work to a new generation with their live album release: Pictures at an Exhibition (November 1971). It is a recording of the band’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition which was performed at Newcastle City Hall on 26 March 1971.
History is now rewritten through the re-interpretation and release of Pictures at an Exhibition
Track Listing 01. Promenade 02. Samuel Goldenberg & Schmuyle (From My Point Of View ) 03. Gnomus 04. Il Vecchio Castello (Photophobia) 05. Promenade II (From The Land Of Feathers) 06. Tuileries 07. Bydlo (The Bullock Cart) 08. Lucky Man 09. Catoacombae/Cum Mortus In Lingua Mortua 10. Baba Yaga 11. The Great Gates Of Kiev (Daedalus Calling) 12. Talk To The Wind
Production Notes Arranged by Marcus Schinkel & Johannes KuchtaRecorded October 14-19 2018 at EMI / Maarwegstudio Cologne, Germany by John Caffery, Chris Gardiner, and Franz-Wieland FiltzProduced, mixed, and mastered by John CafferyCo-produced by Marcus Schinkel & Johannes Kuchta Cover Design & Layout by Lieve Vanderschaeve
Band Members Marcus Schinkel: Piano & keyboards Johannes Kuchta: Vocals & Drums Fritz Roppel: Bass Wim de Vries: Drums
The working relationship between legendary keyboard player Keith Emerson and singer and multi-instrumentalist Robert Berry started in 1987. The plan was to form a more melodic, song-oriented band (compared to ELP), which would allow Emerson, Berry, and Palmer to follow in the footsteps of the success that Asia and GTR were enjoying in that period. The result of the collaboration 3, and the album “… To The Power of Three”, which was released in 1988. The first single, “Talkin’ ‘Bout” reached #9 on the Billboard Magazine charts and the band toured the US to support the album.
Fast forward many years, and Robert began speaking to Keith about finally releasing a follow-up, and there was an exchange of musical ideas and song collaborations. After Keith passed away, Robert was left with Keith Emerson’s final musical ideas, and from old cassette tapes, keyboard parts written over the phone, to long discussions about style, the framework of the album was set and ready to be produced. After several months of grieving and contemplation about what to do with these co-written songs and musical fragments from Emerson, Robert decided to resume work on the material that was created and craft a record that would ultimately be a fitting tribute to Keith Emerson’s musical legacy and at the same time re-energize and update the musical style started with ‘3’ some 30 years ago. The result is the forthcoming release by 3.2, ‘The Rules Have Changed’, due out mid-August.
I purchased the original album as soon as it was released, 30 years ago, and had always enjoyed it. After the demise of the band I came across Robert’s work here and there, and when I heard that there was a new album coming out I jumped at the opportunity of catching up with him for a chat.
Who or what first got you interested in music and what were your inspirations during this period?
My first recollection of being fascinated by music was when I was quite young. My dad had a big band, and my mom was the singer. They played music like Frank Sinatra or Benny Goodman and there was lots of sax and trumpet around the house. Somewhere in an old 1/4 tape, there is a recording of my dad saying “get that kid out of here”. He had made the mistake of giving his 4-year-old son the drummer’s old snare drum. Just a side note, I still have that drum and have used it on many of my early recordings before 1985. With their band always rehearsing in the living room I got the music bug fairly easy. The song on the new album “Powerful Man” is actually about that kind of influence. I’ll talk about that a little later,
I had eight years of classical piano lessons and two years of jazz piano lessons. I didn’t like to practice my piano so my dad asked the teacher if she would teach me some boogie-woogie songs. Well she was not too happy about that, but my dad owned the piano store where she taught, so she had no choice I suppose. The boogie-woogie could go on for hours, but practicing the classical stuff rarely came through unless my mom stayed on me. And she did. Since my parents had the piano store and my teacher was their prize teacher, I had to be her prize student. I was entered into countless music teacher recitals where they show off their best student to all the other music teachers. I don’t believe I was her best student though. The problem was that you couldn’t play the boogie-woogie pieces at these things, strictly very difficult music from the classical composers: I knew them all. I look at that music now and can’t believe that I played it at such a young age. I wish these days I could just sit down and whip out a Beethoven or Bach piece. Again, this is for later but with the new album, I had to get my piano playing back up to that standard.
When I was 12, two guys that were seniors in high school (17, 18 years old) came into my dad’s music store. They had heard I could play and thought they’d get free music equipment if they had this little kid with the dad that had the well-known music store son in their band. I joined up, they didn’t get free equipment, but I got a head start playing some classic older rock and roll that gave me a great foundation for what was to come.
How did Hush come about?
I had been in a few bands during high school. Some decent bands with some very good players for young guys. But nobody had started as young as me and I seem to be a little ahead of the curve. I was majoring in music in college and playing in a nightclub at night with a fake ID so that I could buy a new BMW: it had been on the top of my list for a few years. The drummer in that band, Mike Dimock, also had a dad that owned a music store. In fact, I taught piano there and sold Fender guitars and amps for him while I was in high school. I knew their family well and Mike and I had really hit it off. After a year or so of playing the nightclubs, a local booking agent called me and said he had an idea, he wanted to put myself and Mike with two other guys and put together sort of a local supergroup. It sounded like a cool idea, so we met, liked each other, and started to rehearse for the next two weeks before a big showcase for booking that was coming up. We had ten minutes to fill. The idea was to segue six or seven7 songs together, playing a verse and chorus of each, so that we could showcase more of what we would be playing for the listeners. No band had done this before, and at that showcase, we got all the gigs.
The buyers were local high school and college bookers and they loved what we had brought to the show. By the way, I had got my dad to contact a big importer of English musical equipment to the US and find out how I could get a Mellotron. Yes, it was the first time a local audience was exposed to real violins, choirs, and flutes. We were a force to be reckoned with, LOL. The only bad thing was that the newly named Hush had only learned a verse and a chorus of six or seven songs, we didn’t have time to learn the whole song for this showcase. So now we had 20 or 30 gigs starting in about a month and we needed to have two hours of music ready to go. It was a great way to start a new band. Years later my band 3 kind of started in the same way, we had two songs to present to record companies and that was it. We got signed immediately by Geffen and had a short lead time to get them a full album.
How did you first meet Keith Emerson?
I had met Carl Palmer about a year earlier, it had been recommended he listened to my cassette tape by John Kalodner at Geffen Records, Asia’s label. We tried for six months to start a band with a few different people but nothing seemed to click. My manager, Brian Lane, called me one day and said that he wanted me to meet Steve Howe. Steve Hackett had left GTR and they needed a songwriter and guitar/keyboard player. I thought it sounded really interesting so I met Steve at his home. We hit it off really good with the songwriting and as friends. He is quite a talented guy if you didn’t know. LOL Oh, I thought you probably did. I spent the better half of the year writing and rehearsing with GTR, but had difficulty with their singer. I had told Brian that I was willing to give up my solo career and my possible new band where I’d be singing with Carl Palmer, for GTR if I could at least sing one song on each album. I thought that was the deal but the singer was having nothing to do with that. In fact, even when I sang harmony or background parts of some type he would come out and double me live right there on my mic.
I decided that this wasn’t a good fit for me so I left GTR and had planned on heading home from London. Brian Lane called me the day before I was to leave and said that Keith Emerson would like to have lunch. I was a little shocked, I had just backed out of my first big break and was a little unhappy about my decision. I accepted the invite of course but was quite nervous about meeting him. I had spent time with several big names before but this guy, the king of the keyboards, the Jimi Hendrix of the keyboard players? We met for lunch and right away he made me very comfortable. Such an easy going, fun, warm personality. I thought I was meeting some mad scientist or some computer programmer type that didn’t speak the kind of English us common folk speaks. But he was the exact opposite. We hit it right off and spoke of plans to possibly start a new band. At the end of what was about a two-hour lunch, he said he only had one thing he wanted to ask me. I thought uh oh, what could it be? Maybe he wanted to own all the songs? He wanted to be the singer? LOL funny if you ever heard him sing – but no he simply said: “would you mind playing a few ELP songs if we go on tour?” I told him I’d be honored and said I would never expect him to leave behind such a legacy. I saw another part of his personality right there, he looked at me with those caring eyes of his and said “really?” I didn’t get it then, but years later as we spent time writing, recording, and touring I realized that Greg had made things very difficult when it came to control. I, on the other hand, am a team player and want the team to all benefit equally. He was pleased as we parted that day. Then came the first trip out to his house in Sussex with Carl driving. To say I was excited, well I don’t think I have to explain to any of your readers how I felt. It’s hard to put into words anyway.
ELP broke up in 1979, reforming as Emerson Lake & Powell in 1985 and releasing that album in 1986, but two years later it was 3 who were together and releasing an album. How did that all happen?
3 actually got together in the middle of 1987, we wrote and recorded a few demos. After sending them to Geffen we went in and did a video to the song “8 Miles High” we had been working on. Brian had hired a video crew for a thousand pounds to spend two hours with us. His only instructions were to make the video look like the movie ‘Close Encounters’. Not sure what he really meant, but the crew took it to mean lots of lights blurring out the camera when they were shooting past us. It was genius to me. That video looked so energetic and actually had the feel of what we would become on stage, a much less formatted band than ELP was. We had our parts that were written in stone, but there was room to jam and expand in a different way every night. That came across in “8 Miles High” before we had ever stepped on a stage together.
There was a lot of damage left behind by Emerson, Lake & Powell financially: they played arenas and rarely sold out so they lost money. As much as I loved the album and loved Cozy’s playing, it just wasn’t the draw without Carl. 3 decided to start as a new band would start, bring this new album to the fans in small venues and we played something like 1000 to 5000 seaters. Sold out, fans seeing Emerson, Palmer, and the new guy ‘Yank’ up close and personal, Never before or never again would that be possible, it was truly a great experience. We also made a profit and didn’t create any loss for anybody involved in our tour and business. Keith owed so much money from the Emerson, Lake & Powell disaster that he thought he didn’t make any money with 3, but that was so untrue. 3 paid off his debt so he was free of their past. Just to show you how well we actually did, I built a house in a very nice area of Silicon Valley and paid cash. Not that the band was about money. It wasn’t. We were about starting their career in a new way and mine in a first launch.
We had hoped for longevity and of course a hit record. We got the hit record with “Talkin’ Bout”, # 9 on the Billboard charts which brought us new fans. By the time it rose to the Top 10 we were seeing younger people coming to the shows: the Ritz in New York actually had quite a few young girls in the audience. They wanted to hear that new band that they had heard on the radio, but then there were the die-hard ELP fans who wanted to hear ELP material. They wanted nothing to do with this new guy that wasn’t Greg Lake. This began to takes its toll on Keith, and he would get quite a few fans telling him that they hated that he was playing on more pop-rock songs and they hated the female background singers. In fact, one guy wrote him a letter that it was embarrassing for Keith to be doing that. He left his phone number on the letter and Keith called him, he was sensitive that way. All this criticism led to 3 breaking up after just a year and a half of working together. Right, when we knew who, what, and how we should do a follow album up Keith was done with it. I would find that in later years that fan criticism really held a spell over him,
Were you simply asked to step aside so Lake could return?
I explained a little bit about that in the previous answer but let me just say this – Keith and Carl had always told me to be myself. Do not do what you think the fans want or what Greg would have done, just be you. There is nothing more empowering than two of the greatest musicians in our lifetime wanting me to be me. They had also had their fair share of problems with Greg. Don’t get me wrong, I actually only met Greg once and we got along great. I am a fan of his voice, his playing, and that special thing that made him great enough to take John Wetton’s place for one show in Japan: the job he did with that was amazing. But as far as ELP was concerned, he wanted the power and made most of the money. He wrote the hit songs and the writer gets the publishing dollars and therefore lots of times seem to have a bigger say so. I think Keith especially felt slighted by that. After all, who in the band was the only one of a kind? From 3 on, the ELP reunions were about money. Of course, now remember that this is my point of view, but I did remain friends with Keith and Carl and you can read between the lines during certain conversations how they felt.
3 was very high profile, yet from there you appeared to take a step into the shadows as it were. Was that a conscious decision, and if so, why?
This is a very interesting point of view for me. It actually made me think about all the other musicians I love that seem to disappear for a while. What happens to me is a book of its own. I had many songs I had written with Steve Howe. I had many songs I had written with Keith and Carl, and I had songs during that period that I had written for other purposes. One day I was working in my studio with Andy Latimer from the band Camel and he asked me about all this material, and asked what I was going to do with it, to which I said “nothing”. Those bands are gone for me. He told me that he thought I should put it out, fans would love it, and it was just laying around anyway. I thought about it and decided to take his advice. I put out ‘Pilgrimage to a Point’ mail order from my studio and it sold like hotcakes, I couldn’t believe it. Not high profile, but honest and rewarding. Then in the mid-1990’s, I got asked to play with Sammy Hagar as he was having problems with Van Halen and needed a bass player for his solo gigs. This was a great time in my life, Sam is a dynamo, to say the least. It was the hardest rock as in Hardrock that I had ever done. I found myself enjoying that edginess so I wrote an album I called ‘Takin’ it Back’. To me, it was time to take back my career and I wanted to move forward. I signed with a company in Germany that went bankrupt about three months after my album was out, strike out for me.
In 2004 another opportunity came up, I got asked to join the band, Ambrosia. I was thrilled, one of my favorite bands. The perfect blend of progressive and pop. I got to sing songs like “Life Beyond LA”, progressive, and “Biggest Part of Me”, beautifully crafted blue-eyed soul-pop. I spent two years trying to get them to do a new album. I had a studio, two of the other guys had studios, and I couldn’t get them to budge. I had written a few songs that I thought were really good for that band, and Joe Puerta the bass player had a few that were really good already but I just couldn’t get them to move on it. I learned something very important during my time with them. Their material was so demanding to sing, that when we toured I would constantly gargle with Listerine so that I wouldn’t get sick. For the first nine months, I was doing great. But as time went on my voice got rougher and rougher. By the time I gave them notice that I was going to leave, I was struggling with some of the high notes vocally. What had happened, and what I didn’t realize, was that the alcohol in the Listerine was stripping my vocal cords. Just like the way alcohol dries out a wound when you put it on your skin, it dried out my vocal cords. I didn’t realize this until six months or so later when I was a little under the weather for a gig I was doing, so I drank lots of water. All of a sudden I realized I was singing better than I had in years. The show I would do locally was a sort of greatest hits of my career, so I’d actually play “Talkin’ Bout’” and I’d also play “Biggest Part of Me”, both very demanding, and they were flying out of my mouth with ease. I did a little research and found out what I had done to myself by gargling the Listerine. So we move up to around 2008 and I get a call from Greg Kihn, his bass player Steve Wight had a stroke and he needed someone to fill his shoes. From then on I’ve been touring and writing songs with Greg. He’s a very prolific guy and lots of fun to work with. The music is very simple and it was a challenge to wrap my head around at first. But we put out an album last year that got very high marks from all the reviewers and Greg Kihn fans. So to answer your question – LOL, I have been busy trying to stay in front of an audience but sometimes things don’t go as planned. I have a song on the new album that Keith and I wrote called “What You’re Dreaming Now”. It’s about moving forward. That my motto – ‘today was a good day, now what can I accomplish tomorrow’. You can’t let disappointments or failures stop you.
I have come across your some of your work with different musicians over the years
I have been blessed with the gift of creativity. I am never at a loss for a lyric, a musical section, or for that matter a complete song. One of the great joys I have is working down at my studio Soundtek. Five days a week, when I’m not on the road, I work with mostly unknown singer/songwriters that are at my studio to record their most important work. That song that came out of them, that is unique to their life that will live on forever in their families. They don’t have to be famous, they don’t even have to have a completed thought or arrangement, I am there to do the parts that they don’t have. Be it lyrics, chords, arrangements, or just playing the instruments to complete their vision. I do from 100 to 300 songs a year for clients like that. Sometimes I have bands like the Celtic rock band Tempest in the studio and I am mostly producing, I have done twelve albums for them over the years. I love every bit of my musical life. Nobody is too small or too big, it’s all just music to me. Imagine if Keith and Carl would not have given me that same opportunity, you would not be talking to me now.
Why 3.2, and why now?
Why now is a loaded question, as for 28 years Keith had wanted to leave 3 behind. He would always say how much fun we had, but never really talk about the music, the criticism was hard on him. But then a record company wanted to put out the 3 ‘Live in Boston’ performance. It was really just a paycheck for Keith at the time so he signed the deal. I was very excited that there was enough interest in 3, that 28 years later a new album would come out. Not really thinking about it again, Keith received the CD in the mail. He was home alone one evening, enjoying a glass of wine as he’s been known to do, so he decided to put on the CD. He listened to the whole thing and immediately called me. His voice sounded so excited. He said “Robert, we were really a good band. No really a good band.” I couldn’t believe my ears. I had always thought that but never thought he’d give it another chance, and there it was. The open door to my 28-year dream. After we spoke about how much fun we had had and how the spark on stage with the jamming was just the best time ever I broke the question. I said that a record company had been bugging me for years to do a follow-up album but I knew he wasn’t interested. I said “What about now Keith? Any chance you’d consider working with me to do one more really great album?” He gave it a mild “yes” and that was enough for me. I called the record company and asked if they were still interested, they were. I called Keith back, we discussed the ideal parameters for such an album and the record company agreed to every detail. Keith was amazed at their deal, the advance involved, and the interest being so high. He was ready to start so we did.
How much of the material was originally developed at the time of the first 3 album?
Only one of the songs came from the original 1986 or 87 cassette tape. There were also some linking section for new songs and some solo chord sections I used from that cassette. The rest was written from new digital files Keith had sent me, and lengthy phone conversations where we both had our digital pianos going and would play back and forth: I would record my version of what he was playing on the other end of the line. A lot of times he would say “no, no, you’re missing a note there” or “that chord needs the 9thwith the …” That was fun. He was creating and teaching me his ideas at the same time, as I would consistently miss a little subtlety that was Emerson-esque. I had about 20% of his parts already done and played by him on the album.
Was the original plan for you and Keith to work on the new release together?
This was to be the follow up 3 album, there was only the idea that we were to continue where we left off. We had talked to Carl and he was committed to his own band, so that was not a consideration. Our actual choice for the album was Simon Phillips, but we weren’t going to even talk to him until we had got together at Soundtek and recorded the basic parts of the newer songs.
Keith and I lived fairly close to each other, while Carl was always on the road. To be honest with you, and maybe a little snobby, I had been disappointed in the efforts of ELP since 3. I didn’t hear that fiery playing, those amazing arrangements, or the greatest songs. ‘In the Hot Seat’ wasn’t too bad, but after that, I just didn’t feel that they were playing up to their potential. It wasn’t that they weren’t capable, I believe it was just the spark of creativity was not gelling after all these years. I also didn’t care for the Keith Emerson Band stuff. To get the most out of Keith I believe you have to either be a keyboard player and speak his language or just piss him off so much that he brings all that energy to the playing, LOL. That was referring to the way it sounded to me that he and Greg had worked at times. Again, just my point of view and not based on me being there at the time.
I do have some more pieces on that cassette tape, and I have lots of music in those digital files he sent me. But my heart is with this album. There will never be another phone conversation, a goofy joke, a happy day, a stressful day, an idea that is burning to get out that includes a very brilliant, lovely man with a heart of gold on the other end of the phone. This was my last chance to work with my friend, the bandmate of my greatest success, and to complete a 30-year dream. This is the only time this could ever happen.
Will a band be put together to tour?
From the beginning, Frontiers wanted us to do a few live shows. Keith was not keen on this as his arm had been bothering him and he was trying to wind down the live performance. We had the exclusive right to choose if and what we did live, so my idea was just to let it set until we saw how the album had done. He would consider it if he felt like it, which was good enough for me. Now, of course, that can’t happen where Keith is involved. But I must say that the response to the album has been so wonderful that I am trying to work on a tour now. I had no idea that so many fans of progressive music would discover this album, and take it to heart for exactly the reason it was done. A follow up that gets what 3 should have been, right. Fans have embraced it, and that has sparked my interest in taking it on the road. Hopefully, there will be an extensive tour early next year. That is what I am dreaming now to coin a phrase!
What will the next piece of work be from Robert Berry?
In all honesty, I am feeling like the 3.2 tour may be something that keeps me on the road a lot and working more progressive concerts and productions. It’s funny to say, I think it’s time as I’ve been waiting for this for 30 years but —it’s time!
As I said earlier, I am in the studio every day that I’m not on tour with Greg or playing somewhere solo. In November/ December of every year, my holiday band December People gets together and we do shows for different charities. December People is Gary Pihl, guitarist from the band Boston, David Lauser, drummer for Sammy Hagar, Dave Meed, keyboardist for The Tubes, Jack Foster from the Jack Foster band, and myself. It is a special brand of holiday songs you have to hear to believe. You can check out the website if you enjoy rock Christmas music but you’ve never heard something like these versions.
Throughout all this, I will be enjoying studio clients from 13 years old to 70 doing what they have always wanted to do – record their original songs. I love it and it also keeps me finely tuned for when that song pops into my head or just some idea to spring off of.
I appreciate you helping to spread the word on 3.2. It has been a labor of love and I am very proud of the final product. I finished it exactly the way Keith and I had set the outline. We spent three months preparing for what we hoped would be a rekindling of a fun time, a very creative time, and a very successful time. Yes, I know that critics like to say it wasn’t but I would say a Top 10 hit and a successful tour launched a very successful friendship that lasted almost 30 years. I hope you hear that when you listen to ‘The Rules Have Changed’.
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