Today, I’m here with a man of experience, John Beagley of Formativ. He has quite the story to tell as to how he got here and without further ado…
Oh and you might want to listen to one his tunes while reading this interview, which you can find at the end.
Lady Obscure: So, at the risk of sounding cliché, tell me how it all started, the roads you took until they brought you here to Formativ.
John Beagley: I’m 41 years old, that could take a long time to answer. I started writing music – badly – at the age of 10-11. I started on piano and then got into electronic keyboards. I worked using a tape to tape machine and a overdubbed tracks. It was rubbish. I loved Jean Michel Jarre at that time. Around 1985-86, I discovered Rush and Genesis… Their music opened my ears and I wanted to be in a rock band playing “clever stuff.” We got a fantastic drummer and guitarist and wrote and rehearsed and got pretty good, we did a few local gigs. Sadly, university beckoned for some – not me! – and we split up. I then teamed up with a school mate for the next ten years and began writing and recording a lot of synth pop as So It Is. We got very close to being signed to Trevor Horn’s label ZTT, but were pipped at the final post by the girl group All Saints – who went on to have a very successful few years. So It Is wound down in 2001 and I pretty much gave up on music for a couple of years. After getting married and having my first daughter, I was left some money by my Nanna who passed away and so I bought a 16 track recorder and an old Atari computer and started tinkering around. Someone introduced me to Myspace – and I realised, I could share my compositions with the world! I met Formativ’s Ronald Wahle on there. I was really impressed with his then band, Ghost Circus, and he liked my more pop elements. I went on to write and record 3 solo albums and sold several hundred CDs and downloads all around the world which was amazing!
For my last album, I had linked in with a guy called Dave Kerzner – who is the owner of sampling technology company Sonic Reality. They had worked with Phil Collins and more especially his son, Simon Collins on Simon’s solo album, U Catastrophe. I’d heard a cover they had made of a Genesis song called “Keep It Dark.” It was amazing. I linked Dave in with some of my music and he really liked it! Dave had been working with Neil Peart from Rush, sampling a lot of Neils drums and putting them into loops – which he sold on to musicians. Dave asked me if I would sing on a cover he was making of Rush’s track Mission. How could I refuse? I was also asked to sing backing vocals on a cover he was making with another of my musical heroes – Francis Dunnery. A guy called Jeremy Cubert heard some of my material on Dave Kerzner’s Facebook wall and asked me if I would like to work with him on one of his compositions. The timing couldn’t have been better. I was pretty spent out on 3 solo albums and was looking for a break and new challenge. Jeremy had written a song with Jon Anderson from Yes for Jon’s last solo album. I was sent a demo of Jeremy playing an 18 minute track with just piano, organs and a lovely Chapman Stick bass. It was pretty basic, but the musicianship and track was mindblowing! Loads of strange time signatures, it reminded me a bit of Rick Wakeman. I linked the track in with Ronald Wahle and suggested “this is the time to collaborate!” I knew Ron could master weird time signatures very easily! When I heard the mix with Ron on drums and guitars, it was mindblowing! I started writing the vocal melodies and introduced some synth electronica into the track. I wanted to add some acoustic guitars and Jeremy linked us in with Tom Kraus. Tom played exactly what I was looking for, and the track was finished… Aetas Suite [clickety-click!]. 18 minutes of pure prog!
After Aetas Suite was completed we knew we had something a little bit cool. We decided to make more music and Ron’s wife came up with the name Formativ. We worked on another track – this time Tom took the bass, Jeremy piano, synths and organ, Ron on drums and guitars and me on vocals, electronic stuff and production. We have just finished the 2nd track “Outside Moving In” – 20 minutes long this one!
LO: I know you said you put together the songs so it looks like you write everything together – but, I should ask, is there a specific someone in the band writing the lyrics, coming up with the concepts, or leading the compositions?
JB: Joint effort. For Aetas Suite, Jeremy came up with the demo music for the whole piece. Each of us re-interpreted it on our instruments, added our suggestions, changed bits, I wrote the melodies and lyrics.
LO: Cool, so what are your themes? What do you write about?
JB: The concept of certainly the first two tracks is “life”. Aetas Suite is all about growing up from being a baby, through your teens and then becoming a parent, and all those life experiences you had. With Outside Moving In, I kinda explored the breakdown of family life and someones experiences in trying to become a Step parent and facing the rejection from the family he/she was moving in on… Maybe the next one will be about old age and death … I’m not so sure about that idea…
LO: Although you’ve already told me about who you like, who are your influences?
JB: Far and wide. Personally I love Genesis, Rush, Yes, Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Marillion, It Bites, Francis Dunnery in this genre of music….but I also love stuff from Chicane, BT, Howard Jones, Tears for Fears, Sting, Depeche Mode, I even liked the last couple of Take That albums – some great songs on them!
LO: So, you have done some different music, if I understand you correctly and are doing prog rock now. Was that the plan? Is that your genre, so to speak?
JB: Do you know? I’m not a huge fan of categorising music! Undoubtedly, we write progressive rock write now. But I also love pop music, rock, electonica, trance… So long as its good, melodic, I like it! I guess we chose the prog genre, because that’s what linked us all together.
LO: Good, so now that you are together, what’s next? Album? Tour?
JB: Next – we finish an album. We have nearly 40 minutes of music already with the 2 long pieces. We have a shorter track we are working on now and I feel another couple of shorter tracks will follow to complete it. Touring, hmm, we’d love that, but its a big risk. We all have families and mortgages to pay and have full time jobs. If we toured, someone would have to finance us to do it….But we would LOVE to…
LO: You like the road then? Or do you prefer studio?
JB: Oh god. Well I haven’t been on the road for about 10 years now. I loved doing gigs, I hated all the hanging about between them and rigging/de-rigging the kit! Doing live work is very exciting though, I’ve missed it. I do love the studio though. It’s weird – none of us have even met each other. Everything we do is file shared and loaded up on my Mac! We share of the creative ideas in a private room on Facebook.
LO: I kinda like asking this question to musicians. So what’s more important to you? Catering to the audience or coming up with the best you can?
JB: I have never written to cater to the audience… Not since So It Is finished anyway. I think the day you do this is the day you die musically. Music comes from your heart and your soul. It’s nice to get feedback from fans on stuff. You can bear these in mind when creating in the future…
LO: You are obviously passionate about your music, do you face harsh criticism along the way?
JB: You are never going to please everyone all the time. I get well meant criticism frequently….It’s all positive, people are trying to help you on your way with their thoughts. I rarely get “This is shit, or that sucks”…which is kinda good. Oh dear, I’m opening up the floodgates now! No, it takes a lot to upset me these days. If I was a teenager I might have been upset, and indeed I remember one piece of journalism I got whilst in SO IT IS was kinda harsh maybe… But it inspired me to write a song, and it was quite a good song, so the negativity was turned into something positive!
LO: Back to your project, we talked about how you got Neil Peart involved – could you elaborate on that? How do you think his involvement influenced your final product?
JB: The effect of having Neil Peart drumming on a couple of my pieces was awesome. Technology has come a long way. I remember the first Rush album I bought was Power Windows. I was in absolute awe of his drumming. I could never conceive that 25 years later the guy would be virtually playing on my own songs!
LO: So, you are happy with the music you have? I mean, good musicians involved, a lifetime of accumulated experience behind it… Do you think you nailed it? Or is there room to improve upon so to speak?
JB: Oh there’s always room for improvement in all aspects of what we do. I’d like more gear to help with the process of improvement!
LO: All in all, how’s the future looking?
Cheers to John for being with us and here is Aetas Suite by Formative!