After a difficult gestation that saw a couple of name changes and a line-up change, power prog trio AudioPlastik will finally release their long awaited debut album ‘In the Head of a Maniac’ on February 2nd 2015.
I managed to catch up with Dec Burke and Simon Andersson for an illuminating discussion about the band, the album and the future…..
Progradar – I’d just like to thank you both for taking the time to chat with myself and Lady Obscure, I’ve heard the album quite a few times now and, I’m not just saying this because I’m talking to you both now, it really has impressed me. Both myself and Nem are big fans, as are the rest of the authors at Lady Obscure, how excited are about the upcoming release of the album in February?
Simon – Not at all! 🙂 (we all laugh). Well, it’s definitely a burden lifted off the chest (sic). I’m really looking forward to it.
Progradar – So is it really more of a relief than excitement Simon?
Simon – Yes, actually, it is a relief. I say that because this has been so much of an emotional roller-coaster for almost two years, I mean I’m looking forward the most to actually have the physical copy in my hand and I can say “finally” and then what happens? That’s what I actually should care about. What will happen when we release it to the crowd?
Dec – Same for me, exactly as Simon said, I don’t think that it could have been possible to have any more obstructions or things that could have gone wrong along the way. Simon and I have spoken about it at length and first it was, “hey guys, let’s do a band” and we were really looking forward to it but, if it could have gone wrong along the way, it went wrong!
I think the plus side to it all is that we’re really pleased with how the music came out. That was the one thing, we really wanted to make an album that we could go back to in ten years time and say, “Yep, I’m still proud of that, the songs still stand up”.
For me personally, I guess, I kind of haven’t been able to do anything until we get this out. So, like Simon said, once he feels the CD in his hands and I kind of feel like that. We have to get to that point to go, “okay, now that’s done, let’s move on”.
It’s an enormous sense of relief but, also, an enormous sense of achievement, bearing in mind the obstacles, geographically as well. We live in different countries and we still managed to do it so I’m incredibly proud of us.
Progradar – Could you both give me a quick potted history of AudioPlastik, how you two and Richard (West) got together and how you got to where you are now?
Simon – How long do you have??!
Dec – I hate to use the word ‘journey’, it’s such a cliché but, I guess that’s what it is! This began as something completely different, which is my fault entirely!
Simon – Yeh, it was 🙂 , I knew that already, I keep blaming him all the time! It was definitely a different situation from the beginning and it was Dec’s fault actually. He wanted to put this ‘prog’ band together and he did!
The thing was that we had, maybe, too many cooks in the kitchen. What happened was that I tried to record a prog song, the song ‘Silence’, it was the very first one. I just recorded the music and sent it over to Dec and he, for some reason, loved it and added melodies and vocals and sent it back. We were both pretty shocked, I think, that we wrote and recorded the song so fast and that we really loved it.
That’s where we really noticed that we were working very well together so let’s try it with another song, so we did. We kept on going and the rest of the guys were like, “hey, what the hell’s happening here?!”So it’s both good and bad.
Dec – I think that there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen and the thing was, we had all these great musicians together but there was no direction, no ‘which way are we going in?’. All of a sudden Simon and I had four or five demos really fast, I mean in a week maybe, ten days tops!
We said, “Hey guys, what about this?”And, suddenly it was a direction we could go in. I guess everybody wanted to contribute, which is a great thing, but the songs, they were done really. If we were going to add anything to it then it would only detract. It felt like we had a direction and we could get this done really quick and we could have an album out.
This was in the October and we were aiming to have it done and wrapped by February. Then it was, “we should try different songs and we should try this, that and the other” And everything was pulling in different directions. We said we could maybe do that on a second album but right now we’ve got the guts of what is a first album so, let’s just get it done and I guess we just started pulling in different directions.
To get back to your question, it was Richard, Simon and I who decided we liked this direction so, when Kris (Gildenlow) and Colin (Leijenaar) were gone, we decided to continue.
Progradar – I’ll spilt this next question between you both, Dec, your two solo albums were very well received, do you now see yourself as a solo artist who is in a collaboration? And Simon, Darkwater are an established and popular artist so, do you see yourself having a busman’s holiday? Or, will AudioPlastik have a healthy shelf-life and release a glut of albums?
Dec – AudioPlastik, for me, is the band and we will release a load of albums. The reason I did the two solo albums was that, at the time, Darwin’s Radio had just finished what was our last album and I wanted us to get out and tour and make a go of it. It was all a bit, “we’ll do it tomorrow, we’ll do it next week”.
I was getting incredibly frustrated and I had a lot of ideas so decided just to do an album myself. I did that and I had enough songs really quickly to do a second album so I just continued to do it. In the back of my mind the whole time was, however, that I wanted to be part of a band so (In AudioPlastik) I enjoyed the aspect of being able to bounce ideas off different people.
As soon as Simon was sending me song demos across and I was putting melodies to them and sending them back, we knew straightway that we had something special here. This is something that, if we can get it to work, will go the distance.
Simon – I agree on that. In Darkwater I’m the bass player there and I wasn’t there from the beginning so it is their ‘thing’. I am just happy to be involved in that but I need to write and record songs, even If I’m the only one listening to them! I have to do that to keep my sanity.
Now I have found the right guys to write with, so, if you want to call this a band or a project, it is something I will be involved in for as long as they want to. I don’t see the point in starting over with other guys, these are the best songs I’ve been involved with, ever, and we’re shaping it ourselves so we can do, basically, whatever the hell we want to!
It’s a really good situation, if we’re going to make any money or stuff like that, I’m not sure. Of course, it would be very flattering if people would listen to it and enjoy it but that’s not really why I’m doing it, at a personal level, I had to do it.
Progradar – Dec, you recorded ‘Experiments in Mass Appeal’ with Frost* and you did the live release. To my ears ‘In the Head of a Maniac’ has a definite sound and feel of Frost* about it, if a little heavier. Was it intentional or is it just the influences that have come in with you recording with the band?
Dec – I don’t know, having now completed it and going back to it, I kind of know what you’re talking about.
Progradar – I was going to ask you and Simon if you actually think it DOES sound like Frost* or is it just me?
Simon – (Said tongue in cheek, or at least I hope it was!) It’s just you, you b*stard! 🙂
Simon – I can help you because Dec, he is Frost* you know so that’s why, maybe, you see it that way.
Progradar – “Sounds like Frost*” is maybe the wrong way to put it, to my ears it is different. Perhaps it would be better to say there is a touch of, or even hints, coming in to what we are hearing.
Simon – To me that is just fine and if it has some Frost* references in there somewhere I am just happy about that because I love the band. That’s definitely one of the influences for this, I really didn’t think I was going to focus on that kind of genre or sound, this just happened. It is pretty much a result of what we have been listening to and what we love listening to.
Dec – We just went for it but I was with Frost* for four years plus so there’s obviously a little bit of that probably gone into my DNA and some of the melodies. Simon was exactly right, we just did what we do and it (the album) came out as it did.
Progradar – Simon, you did the majority of the production and engineering on the album, I believe? Would you say you are a perfectionist when it comes to the final cut?
Cue extended laughter from Dec and Simon!
Simon – Hell yes! Oh my god! I could pretty kill people who would say otherwise! It’s been both good and bad of course. It can always be better but, for this, I think it’s perfect the way it is.
Progradar – If you keep tinkering with it, can you over engineer it, or is that the wrong question to ask someone who produces music?
Simon – This is actually the first time I have produced music and mixing as well so I don’t know if it is a good or bad question. We didn’t have a deadline so it was a case of ‘A new month, a new beginning’. This has been a huge learning process for me as a producer and mixer. The problem with that is, when you have completed the first song and moved onto the second one, you realise that you have learned so much more now and you need to change the first one, that’s not healthy, you could go on and on and on!
That is why, for this album it is the perfect result. Of course it can get much better but, yes, I’m really happy with it.
Progradar – Moving away from ‘In the Head of a Maniac’, and a more general question, how did both of your musical careers first start? Was it just happenstance or did you start from an early age?
Dec – My parents were musical and they’d played in bands for years. I think I started piano early and then I switched over to guitar. I played guitar for years, didn’t really sing at all. I used to play in a covers band and, whenever we’d try and ‘do’ a song which was a bit higher to sing, the rest of the band would say, “Oh, get Dec to do it”.
I guess the first time I really started to sing was years back. I used to be part of a Rush tribute band to pay the bills and that’s when I first started and, off the back of that, Darwin’s Radio came about. We actually started the band with the view to us getting a singer in and, in the end, it was just, “Ah, Dec, you do it!”
I ended up behind the mike unintentionally but I guess, deep down, I’ve always been a guitar player really.
Simon – Same thing here, my parents were both musicians, not professional though. It’s always been there I suppose. I started off as a guitar player until, after many years, I realised it was boring and you couldn’t get any jobs because everyone is playing guitar. I switched to bass and realised that it could change so much in a song. I felt that that was more interesting and it gave me some studio jobs.
The real twist was, of course, with Pain of Salvation. That let me be a part of how the industry works. After that, I thought where do I go now? In another band? Solo? Or should I just leave the whole thing? I think I am, now, in a mix between the three, this situation is really nice.
Progradar – Who was your first musical influence and who, would you say, has been your biggest?
Dec – For me, they’re really weird influences. Growing up as a child in Ireland I remember my Mum playing all these LPs from the seventies and the eighties. Artists like Kate Bush and Abba so I guess I’ve always had a sense of melody and it has always attracted me to music. You see all of these shredder guitar players and, yes, whilst it’s fantastic is it melodic? If it’s yes then I love it, if it isn’t then I don’t.
That’s something that has stayed with me all the way through and I try and convey into the music. In this particular set up with AudioPlastik it’s ideal really. Simon will put the framework of the song together and email across to me and I’ve got carte-blanche. “Here’s the song structure Dec now dream up the melody to it”, it’s like heaven.
I can stick it on my i-pod and go for a walk and think of how I would want it to be. Nine times out of ten I’ll send it back to Simon and he likes it, occasionally maybe not so much and we’ll change it.
Simon – My very first influences would have to be AC/DC, Metallica, Pantera and, of course, Yngwe Malmsteen. While they are still good, something happened along the road, I remember quite clearly when I first got to listen to ‘Images and Words’ by Dream Theater and that was just a brand new world.
If you come from AC/DC and you go to Dream Theater you realise there is so much more you can do with music. It opened my eyes to a lot of different drummers and that led me to some fusion as well as Sting, one of my all time favourite artists. Just a few years back Periphery may have been the ‘house gods’, it’s a wide spectrum.
Progradar – Where did the ideas for the songs and the concept of ‘In the Head of a Maniac’ come from?
Dec – Actually the album title is Simon’s idea, he came up with it one evening when we were talking on the phone.
Simon – It was my fiancée’s actually.
Dec – Oh really?
Simon – Yes, it was Sofie.
Dec – It’s a killer title. At the time I wanted the stories, because the songs are stories really, to link and I couldn’t find one. I didn’t want it to be a concept, just stand-alone stories that were linked in some way. When Simon said, “In the head of a Maniac”, I thought it was really cool because you could link the songs that were so different in theme from each other.
You could perceive from the viewpoint of someone who’s in and out of rationality really. One minute you have a song like ‘Tonight’ which is all about love really, so he’s okay but, in another song like ‘John Doe’, he’s off the rails. He’s bouncing in and out of what you would perceive as being sane or not.
I thought that title fits really well and joined the songs together where they are stories but they’re flipping between perspectives on a particular theme.
Progradar – What’s your favourite song on the album and, in fact, do you have a favourite song?
Simon – Oh crap!
Progradar – I’ll start you off then, mine is ‘It Matters so Much’, I love the chorus, the whole song in fact.
Dec – It would have to be either ‘Tonight’ or ‘Distant Skies’, I love the way they both turned out but it’s like picking your favourite child, I just don’t know!
Simon – That’s the hardest question ever, I really don’t know. You can listen to it and stick with ‘It Matters so Much’ and then you lose that a few times and think, “this is the best one”. Then the next one plays and that is the best one, you can go on and on!
I still have a thing for this really ‘war zone inferno’ part in ‘Distant Skies’. That’s just a part so, as a song, it’s still brilliant but, I can’t really say.
Another thing, going back to the last question, I think it was really easy for Sofie to come up with a name (for the album), she just looked at me!
Progradar – Does Richard (West) have any influence on the writing and recording process? To my ears there does seem to be touches of that really big sound you associate with Threshold, especially on some of the riffs.
Simon – Actually, the thing with Richard is that he is very quiet, both on talking and playing. When he actually does say something, or plays something, that becomes the rule. It is like ‘this is your boss talking’. He didn’t contribute to any writing for any songs on this album but he added some extras.
He would add some weird noises or another harmony or something that would really make the song better. To me, he is as much of a producer or a writer in this as we are because of that. He knows what he has to do to make it perfect.
It’s the same thing with his input into the band itself. When we are talking and discussing what to do, he is always in the background as he believes that this is mine and Dec’s ‘thing’. However, when we ask him and he comes back to us, we obey him as he always has some very good points.
He has been around for quite some time now and knows the business, the good and bad, so it’s very cool.
Progradar – When it came to signing to a record label for the release, you chose the up and coming (if relatively small) Bad Elephant Music, what were your reasons for this?
Dec – We were actually on the cusp of signing with two other labels along this ‘journey’. One strung us along for ages and it just went dead, we were going to be with them and everything would be great and then nothing, and then the same thing happened with another label.
Along the way, David Elliott’s label, (Bad Elephant), were in the offing and had told us that it was there if we wanted it. We had told them we were going with this other label and, when it didn’t happen, I went back to David cap in hand and said, “David, if the offer is still there then we would like to go with you guys”.
He didn’t tell me to ‘get stuffed’, he went away to talk to his partner at the label, James Allen, and came back and said, “We’d love to have you on board” So that’s how that happened.
Progradar – It is quite an eclectic label in that they don’t have two artists that sound the same on the roster.
Dec – I spoke to David about this at length, that is what they set out to do really. Basically, do they, as a label, like the music? It could be somebody as diverse as Matt Stevens is all the way through to us. Arguably, we are the heaviest thing on that label so it is testament to their belief in music.
Progradar – Was there a curry involved at any stage?
Dec – Not yet but I’m sure it’s going to happen!
Progradar – I appreciate great album art and yours is one of the best I’ve seen in quite a while. How do you go about finding the artist, decide on a concept and who has the last word?
Dec – David (Elliott) had suggested an artist they’d worked with on other albums but I’d worked with Paul (Tippett, Vitamin P) before. He’d done artwork for Frost*, one of the Darwin’s Radio album covers and he’d done my two solo albums so I loved what Paul did.
I was saying all along the way that when it came to album cover time we should definitely get Paul to do it. It just transpired that he wasn’t busy at that particular time, and the guy is always super-busy, so I was over the moon when he said a) yes, I’m free and b) that the label decided to do it.
He put together three prospective covers and sent them over and, as soon as I saw this cover, I was, “That’s it for me, Simon and Richard please agree!”, and they did.
Simon – Yes that was the one, no discussion. The music (on the album) could be used for movies, especially the instrumental ‘Traveller’ and the intro ‘Leave the World Behind’ as it’s just strings and orchestra. What I see, when I see this cover, is a movie poster, like ‘Silence of the Lambs’.
It is a really terrifying picture and I think it is very suitable with the title and, also, the songs. If i saw this cover I would probably think it was the best album ever and, boy would I be right. J
Progradar – There seems to have been quite a buzz across social media re the release of this album, have you picked that up and has it surprised you?
Dec – I don’t know, I have had a lot of messages from people stating that they can’t wait for it to come out, when’s it coming out? Sometimes I take that with a little bit of a pinch of salt because you don’t know if it is just somebody saying it to make conversation.
I’m always very sceptical and wary of it, it’s lovely to see people saying these things but I always stand back from it and think the proof will come out when it’s released and people hear it, February 2nd will be the proof.
Progradar – Have you got any plans to form a live band and tour the album?
Simon – Both yes and no. I personally would love to play these songs live and make that as perfect as the album. Unfortunately there are a lot of practical issues, first of all we don’t have a full band, which might be tricky, and we have our normal day jobs.
Richard is pretty busy with Threshold and I have my little baby who is taking all my time. It is just the smallest things like the flights to get to the same place. It’s going to be tricky with all the different times and the costs, there are a lot of issues with doing that.
It would be awesome though, I guess I speak for all of us when I say we come alive on stage. While you are on stage that is the beauty of life, the stuff around it is not really life. We will see what happens, if we can sort something less painful, we will all go for it.
Dec – I’m a fan of Richard and Simon anyway, I love what they do and the fact we are in a band together is great. I think the icing on the cake would be if we got to share a stage together but I agree with what Simon says.
The logistics of getting that to happen is very, very tricky. We have discussed that maybe we could do an acoustic performance but how would that work? Perhaps we could get together and film a DVD or doing something that was filmed as the album played and maybe we could release that on the internet.
It would be a great way for people to see it and you wouldn’t have to worry about crappy PA issues and all of that stuff so that’s another possibility. We have been talking about it and I guess that, if we could make it work at all, we’d love to.
Progradar – We have come to the final question, what does the future hold for AudioPlastik, have you plans to write another album or am I jumping the gun with that one?
Simon – Am I allowed to say that it is already done? Of course there is going to be another album and, hopefully, ten more. I have definitely found the right thing here with this. Every time I pick up the guitar or go to the studio I have AudioPlastik in mind.
We have a couple of ideas for the second album, without saying too much.
Progradar – Guys, thank you for your time today, it has been very illuminating. I wish you every success with the album.
Simon and Dec – Thank you very much.
You can read Progradar’s review of the album here.