Interviews

Shawn Gordon – Psychic for Radio

Co-Interview by Lady Obscure & lonestar (Senior Editor)

Lady: Hi Shawn. It’s nice finally having a chat with you about your new album ” Psychic for Radio”. As you know, I witnessed some of the recording sessions at Henning Pauly’s studio when they were working on Adrian’s vocals. Oh man, that was a very nice experience for me. I remember when the duo had me in front of the soundboard and listen to ‘Blacken What’s Grey’ for the first time. Instant goosebumps! The first thing I said was: Whoa, the time signature is sick! And Adrian went ‘ I know’ lol.. That song is one of my favourites of 2012 now. Anyway can you give a little biographical and historical info, who all is involved in Psychic for Radio, and how did you guys meet?

Shawn: Well the origin is quite silly originally, I’ll start with the name. I have an Internet radio station as you know called progrock.com, it has over 20,000 songs on it that play randomly. You know how a song will get stuck in your head and be playing? Well, Henning Pauly’s old band Chain had a 38 minute track called “Cities” and I had been out most of the day and it was playing in my head and I walked in to my office, and not only was that song randomly playing, it was at the exact same point on the radio as it was in my head, which is unusual for a 38 minute song. So, Henning and I talked pretty much every day back then and I called him to tell him and I declared that I was “Psychic for Radio” and said that would be a great band name.

We sort of tossed this idea around for a while, and even with Michael Sadler while we were all at CalProg. Michael does a really good Sean Connery impersonation and we got him to do one so he sounded like a gay Sean Connery (no offense to anyone here). So our idea was to all have these goofy punk personaes and live in the studio for a few days and video tape the whole thing and do a punk album, I even had a few tracks basically worked out. One thing led to another and we just never did it, but I liked the band name and I liked the idea of having some guys who had never worked together live in the studio for a few days and just compose and see what they came up with. I did actually do that with a few guys and we came up with some cool stuff, I don’t want to name names as it eventually kind of fell apart, again for various reasons, but I had come up with about half of the album you know hear during that process and I still wanted to finish it.

So, I went to Henning, played him what I had, and the song ideas I had to finish it and asked him if he’d be willing to help me with it since we’d known each other and worked together for so many years, and he was up for it. I’ve made a lot of friends in the business over the years, so as I considered some instrument I needed, I’d just ask, like Martin Orford playing flute or Bill Berends playing lead guitar, or Randy George lending some keyboards. I have a devil of a time coming up with keyboard parts when I write on guitar and guitar parts when I write on keyboards, sometimes I just appreciate a totally fresh perspective. Henning found Adrian for vocals, and what a godsend he was. I met Rick Livingstone through my friend Vince DiCola, then I knew Todd Plant from putting out his Cryptic vision albums and Henning had introduced me to Maya nearly 10 years ago and she has always been one of the very few female vocalists I really really enjoy.

Lady: What does prog-rock mean to you, why did you chose this genre basically? Is it because it fits your lyrics/concepts/themes better or was it sort of a natural outcome?
Shawn: I listened to only classical until I was 15 and a friend played me Genesis “Nursery Cryme” and it was a revelation to me, it was like classical but rock as well, so I’ve been a fan of the genre since that time. For my own music, I just assumed it was progressive. Now the songs are so well done, you probably don’t even notice that some one is in 14, another is polyrhythmic 7 over 4, or the constant 5/8 then 6/8 switching, or the way we torture 4/4 in a song like Euthymal. The reviews have been great, but it is funny how no one seems to have picked up on how absolutely messed up the time signatures are on most of the album and how difficult it was for the vocalists because the final results are so smooth.

Lady: What is your composing process like?
Shawn: Very random, I’ll pick up whatever instrument I’m feeling like playing, sometimes play it upside down to get my hands out of their habit patterns and just play what I’m feeling. The downside to this is when I give it to other people to do drums or something, then that is when we realize I’ve played some insane time signature. One of the songs on the album, the original keyboard riff, for years I thought was in 13 and I sat down to sequence it out so I could compose against it and just couldn’t get it right and finally figured out it was in 14.

Lady: Are you happy with the final product? In hindsight, would you change anything?
Shawn: I know it will sound egotistical, but I absolutely love this album, while there are songs some people will like and some won’t because it isn’t terribly cohesive in the genre jumping we’re doing, I find it to be refreshing in that regard and keeps me interested throughout. The playing is top notch, the production is stellar, and you can decide if you like the songs or not, but you can’t disagree with the first two parts of that statement.

Lady: How has the overall reception been? I mean it’s been only a couple weeks since you released it, right? But I’m sure there have been reviews.. other than the one lonestar did. 🙂

Shawn: I’ve only had a handful of reviews so far, but they’ve been overall incredible and very satisfying, I was really worried how it would be received because it is a rather odd album that you really can’t compare to anything.

Lady: Considering that you tend to work with whole bunch of musicians from different countries, it seems hard for you guys to play gigs. Have you got such an intend at all? Or keep it to to studio only?
Shawn: I had some thoughts about it years ago, but I developed really bad carpal tunnel syndrome and just for myself I don’t think I could play the whole thing without having other people to help cover for me. It would be fun, but I doubt it would be cost effective.

Lady: What do you see for your future? What’s next?
Shawn: Just trying to get by day to day, I’ve had a lot of tragedy in my life the last 5 years and in the last 6 months has gotten to a point where there are days I’m barely functional from the stress. I just hope to sell this album, people enjoy it and make a tiny bit of money from it.

Lady: How do you draw your lyrical inspiration? Is there a ritual to it?
Shawn: When I write something, and I only wrote part of the lyrics on this album, but even musically I have a visually concept in mind and a mood I’m trying to portray, the music can drive that, for example: I sit down and start playing, and something comes out that i like, I think what it makes me think about and then I focus on that concept from there on the music and on the lyrics or lyric idea. I’m very visual. The album cover art on this for example was from a dream I had and sketched out when I woke up.

Lady: So what bands do you draw your inspiration from?
Shawn: #1 is Genesis, and that should be obvious when you listen to the track “She Knows”, and it is meant to be obvious without being a rip off, it is probably the only real obviously influenced song on the album. Another big influence, however it doesn’t affect my writing, just that their musicianship is so great, is Saga. Newer bands that really caught my attention are older Spock’s Beard and older Pain of Salvation, just really great stuff, very original.

Lady: Is it a good time being in the prog-scene now?
Shawn: It hasn’t been a good time since the 70’s. Between piracy and a glut of music and people not wanting to try something new, this really isn’t the place to be unless you just have a strong passion for it and realize you aren’t really going to make any serious money.

Lady: How important is it to cater to the audience for you? Do you follow their reactions?
Shawn: Well, it is a two edged sword. I don’t give a thought to what people will think of when I do something, but after I do it, I really want their approval, but it doesn’t change how I write, because I just write how I write.

lonestar: As you mentioned, you began your music career with an Internet radio station, Progrock.com, can you briefly explain how that developed into progrock records and the myriad other projects you have?
Shawn: I was getting a lot of really good music submitted from indie artists and I thought “shoot, I already have an online shopping system for my software company, I’ll just make a label and drive traffic there from the radio station”. 3 months later I’m working on a project with James LaBrie and I suddenly had to scale it up pretty damn fast, way more than I had ever really anticipated. This lead me to also create Mindawn, because in the first 6 months of iTunes, you just couldn’t get on it, so using my software company, we created a digital download system in 3 months that was better than iTunes in a lot of ways in its openness for audio file formats, operating systems and devices. We were even awarded a preferred vendor status with the University of California system.

lonestar: In your bio, you mention that you have met all your music heroes except Tony Banks, who else is on that list? Let me quickly mention that you worked with one of mine, Martin Orford of IQ on the Psychic for Radio project.
Shawn: Love Martin, it was really gracious of him to play on my album. The list is pretty long, but the guys in Saga, Dream Theater, Queensryche, Jadis, Kansas, Sebastian Bach, Tony Carey and many many others. With Tony, he is rich, he doesn’t need me, but what I’d love to do is cull through his library of unfinished ideas and pull an album together of it, with his approval of course and then get Fish or Michael Sadler to sing on it. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Lady: Oh hell yeah, that’d be such an accomplishment. Speaking of which, what do you consider to be your greatest when you look back at your career in music?
Shawn: Finishing this album is big on there since it is the only one I’ve ever done. About 25 years ago Todd Rundgren canceled a show at a fairly big venue at the last night, headline on a Saturday, and my band got the slot, it was sold out and I’d only been in this band for about 3 weeks, it was exciting and nerve wracking, but also a high point.

lonestar: Psychic for Radio was a project conceived to create music in an ego free environment, without over-thinking it. First off, how did you come about this concept?
Shawn: I was tired of arguing with people in bands about parts and being in control, even though I was usually the one in control because I had the best business head. I wanted to be able to introduce music and parts from anyone and feel free to accept or reject it without anyone getting their feelings hurt, including myself.

lonestar : How was that expressed in the writing and recording process?
Shawn: I just flat out said what I wanted to do and were they interested in doing it. In the end, it really went smoothly and a lot of first or early ideas were used, there wasn’t a whole lot of false starts.

lonestar : How did this work with the musicians?
Shawn: Shoot, for the guest stuff, it was a piece of cake, it was rare I didn’t just accept the first take, it was really quite refreshing after some of the people I’ve had to work with.

lonestar : Now one of the things I mention in my review is how easily accessible to the listener the Psychic for Radio album is, meaning I feel that the album could have an appeal to a wide array of listeners, a rare feat for progressive music, do you feel this is a part of the ego free environment?
Shawn: It could very well be, because we just went with what came naturally, there was very little overthinking and I’m finding now that oftentimes my first impression is the right one.

lonestar : You drop a hint that the line up of musicians will change from project to project with each Psychic for Radio album, any names you’d care to mention that you have in mind?

Shawn:
 Hell, at this point I’d just like to survive the year. I’ve got a crazy concept for another album that I’ve been discussing with Henning, we’re going to try a proof of concept song to see if it only made sense in my head or if it actually makes sense as a song. I would love to work with a soulful vocalist like Tom Jones or Paul Carrack for this project.

Lady: You seem to work a lot with Henning Pauly? Can you tell us a little about your collaboration? How and when did it start? The nature of it?
Shawn: Boy, Henning and I go back to 2 months after I started the label. He was living about an hour from me, and somehow heard about the radio station and sent me the first Chain CD, which I loved and I called him and we got together and I was working on a Saga tribute album, that never materialized and I explained my concept for one of their songs, next thing I know he’d actually don’t it pretty much exactly how I wanted to do it. Then we did Frameshift with James LaBrie, and then got to meet and work with Michael Sadler, really one of my heroes since 1980, which was an absolute thrill and everything he does is just magical, and we are good friends to this day. We just did project after project, we’d have crazy ideas and try them, spent a lot of time in the studio together, he’s just flat out brilliant, as you know Nem. We pitched things to a lot of people who also said “no” to us, but it was worth trying. We’ve had our spats, and sadly he is in Germany now, but we’re past all the spats and I miss those years of talking on the phone every day and discussing music, but we still talk and work, but it isn’t quite the same. We are absolute polar opposites when it comes to things like politics and religion, so we just don’t talk about that stuff, but music and family we can talk about all day. I’m proud to have him as a friend.

Lady & lonestar: Well we really enjoyed this interview Shawn, thanks for your time.
Shawn
: My pleasure Nem, RJ, thank you too.[author_infos title=][like][tweets][googleplus size=]

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