Simon McKechnie

Bio: This album and the last have been solo projects with colleagues from my career coming in to record for me. Before these two prog rock albums I had worked for twenty years here in london UK mostly as a composer of jazz, Latin, contemporary classical and TV music. Adam Riley who plays drums on Newton’s Alchemy used to play in the jazz fusion group Azul that I used to run. He is very technical, but also very free and can rock out with the best of them. He has played with many people on the British jazz scene including playing at the Brit awards with Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua. Clare Salaman who plays the Swedish folk instrument the nyckelharpa on the new album is a very accomplished early music specialist who has collaborated with me on several previous projects. She runs her own group The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments and has directed the period instrument orchestras at the Royal Academy of Music. Jan Hendrickse who plays bass flute is a remarkable improviser who worked with a wide range of artists from Ornette Coleman and Howard Shore to Nitin Sawhney and Natasha Atlas.

Genre: Well I’ve always been a huge fan of progressive rock – I think it’s one of the best spheres for musical creativity. Basically, as long as a basis of rock is in there, you can use whatever means of expression and development fits the story – I love it! The weird thing is that I only brought out my first prog work last year after twenty years of being a musician. This came out from a period of illness where I was lying on my bed improvising with guitar cranked. After a few weeks of this I said to myself, ‘What is this stuff that keeps coming out? Of course – It’s prog!’ Most of the material for my last record ‘Clocks and Dark Clouds’ resulted from these improvisations.

Evolution of the initial musical and thematic elements: ‘Newton’s Alchemy’ came about in a very different way to the last record. After seeing an exhibition about alchemy at London’s Science museum I started to hear music in my head and feel forms – All that talk about transmutation and about all things being made of only thing was getting my musical juices flowing. Then I started to read around the subject and got fascinated by Isaac Newton as this boundary between the modern age of enlightenment and the previous era where rationality had more to do with religion. As the album is essentially one developing piece of music, some aspects of the construction had to be worked out formally otherwise I’d have been left with an amorphous mess. Then I mostly jammed the smaller scale stuff to make sure it sounded fresh. Finally I went backwards and forwards, tweaking the large and small scale material until I felt it both flowed and had a good shape.

Lyrics, themes and concepts: I like ideas-based lyrics. I want worlds to immerse in and try to paint. Newton’s alchemical work gave me such a world because he was so passionate about his studies and also because so many of the ideas seem at first to be so alien to the modern mind.

Ideas about the album: Actually, for a self-critical guy, I am happy with the portrayal of the intensity of Newton’s world and with the flow of the album. I guess from the playing side, there are always other ways of expressing things, so a few times I’ve found myself thinking, ‘I should have played this bit more like so and so’.

Reception: Well it’s only just come out, so these are early days, but I’ve heard a few nice things said already – Let’s see!

Preference; live or studio: Well I’m stuck in the studio for now so I’ll say studio!

Next step; live or studio: I would love to tour this stuff, but unfortunately I have some health problems that mean that I am unable to play live for the time being. I had some offers to tour the last record which I had to turn down. Disappointing, but what can you do?

Future plans: I’m already looking at the next album which will be longer pieces with symphonic elements. Another prog rock album of course – I’m hooked now!

Composers: All the music is written by me. On ‘Newton’s Alchemy’ some of the lyrics are written by me, but about half of them are quotes by Isaac Newton.

Inspirations: There’s definitely some Yes, King Crimson and Rush in there. All bands I love. The harmony and development come more from post-tonal classical music though.

Preference; cater to the audience or music for its own sake: That’s a very difficult balancing act. On the one hand I have these musical visions that I try to bring to life. Then again, I don’t want to speak to myself – The idea is to communicate after all! I would like to think that the passion in the works is evident and that this helps the listener in on a fundamental level.

Greatest Accomplishment: You know, I really only really care about what’s coming next. I get these things in my head and I have to do them. What happened before kind of melds into one in the abyss of my mind! So, if you asked me to play something from ‘Clocks and Dark Clouds’ I’d have to go back to the recordings and take the parts down – It’s all a bit of a blur now.

Anything else? Only that I find progressive rock fans to be the most open-minded and generous listeners that I have encountered and to ask people to be patient with the new record and give it a couple of listens because there’s a lot going on in there!

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