Bio: The band is Geoff Langley (keys, vocals), Stephen Kostas (lead guitar), Justin Carlton (aux guitars/keys, vocals), Richmond Carlton (bass), and Joe Henderson (drums, vocals). We began in January of 2012 as a backline of sorts for Geoff, when he approached us with some material he’d written for fuller orchestration. The other members of the Committee had been playing together as an alternative/psychedelic rock band, but at the time had been on extended hiatus, and so we were more than happy to embrace a new musical direction. Plus, it was Geoff, and who can say “no” to a guy like Geoff? We began collaborating on more original material and playing shows in the greater Philadelphia area – everything from bars to bookstores to backyard birthday parties. Somewhere in the process, we settled on the band name, which we drew from WWII history, during which the British secret intelligence agency (The Twenty Committee) was responsible for turning German double agents in England, and are boasted to have had a 100% success rate in their operations.
In April of the same year we began, Neal Morse launched the “Chance of a Lifetime” series of videos on YouTube, looking for unknown talent to audition for his touring band. Geoff’s keyboard wizardry got him to the final round of auditions, so he made the trip down to Nashville to meet Neal and had the opportunity to perform some of our material for him in the process. We booked Radiant Studios and hired Neal’s producer Jerry Guidroz to record our debut album. Though Geoff wasn’t chosen for Neal’s band, the opportunity did glean relationships with huge names in the industry as well as open the door to a fantastic recording option.
Genre: We are a melodic progressive rock band – “crossover prog” they call us on the forums – heavily influenced by music theater, thanks to Geoff’s work in that arena. In his words, “Progressive Rock is an expansion of already existing forms of music: Dream Theater had metal, Crimson had jazz and rock, Tull examined folk, and we use theater.” Except for Joe (we’re still working on him), all members of the band are big fans of progressive rock – everything from Yes to Pain of Salvation – so we wanted to write music that we ourselves enjoy, that would both challenge us and also offer a creative outlet capable of incorporating the diverse musical ideas we each bring to the table. To me, prog is the representation of everything music can (and should) be: intentional, provocative, self-defining, and sometimes just plain zany.
Lyrics, themes and concepts: Well, I don’t want to give anything away, but we’re writing another concept album that will be, in part, a statement on art and creativity. We have the general story outlined and some sections of lyrics fleshed out, but the bulk of the writing is still to be done. In some ways, I think it’s better to work with just the bare skeleton assembled, with the details to be added in later, because that eliminates the potential to get off-track. We’ll labor over lyrics while writing the music and afterward. The final draft most likely won’t be finalized until we’re satisfied with the musical side of the project.
Ideas about the album: Recording “A Lifeblood Psalm” was a groundbreaking experience for us. We went into the studio with a lot of high hopes, and I speak for the band when I say that we exceeded all of them. We thoroughly surprised ourselves with what we were able to accomplish in such a short time frame (one week of the whole band being in the studio, one week of Geoff recording keys/vocals on his own, and several isolated dates after the fact adding in the backing vocals), and the result is something we are immensely proud of. In a live sense, our biggest struggle has been keeping our vocals tight, and I can only blame that so much on the terrible monitor mixes we’ve had, so that’s definitely something we can improve on. In a recording sense, I think we could stand to be a little more adventurous in that same department: the vocal harmonies on “Psalm” were partly improvised and partly what we’d been singing live and never locked down until the studio. For the next project, I’d like to be a little more intentional in that department.
Reception: Except for a few internet naysayers, the response to our music has been overwhelmingly positive – so much so that it’s often felt a bit too superfluous to be believable. The reviews have poured in since we released the album in April of 2013, from all corners of the globe. It’s also been featured on a dozen or more prog podcasts and online radio stations, and we’ve had quality writeups in Prog, Progression, and Fireworks magazines. We’re tapping into the type of music that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention in our neck of the woods, but that doesn’t mean the response has been negative. At most shows, we get compared to Elton John or Billy Joel (basically anything with lots of piano) combined with Kansas or Zeppelin (anything with compositional time/key/meter changes), because that’s the closest frame of reference some of these younger bands have with the genre.
Future plans: We took a bit of a break for the early part of the year as Steve and his wife had their second son, but we are back to regular gigging and are working on new material for our second album. We were recently on the bill for the NJ Proghouse series and are hoping to get another show with them again, and have been knocking tentatively on the doors of festivals like Rosfest, Beardfest, etc, but we’ll see what happens there. We’ve also got some in-the-works plans to do some shows a little bit outside our usual stomping grounds, more toward western PA, and we even have a potential show date in Chicago for later in the year. Right now, we want to play when we can and focus on writing. They say the sophomore release is often more difficult than the debut, especially when – as the reviewers say – we’ve set the bar so high for ourselves, so we want to spend time perfecting this second offering.
Composers: “A Lifeblood Psalm” was primarily written by Geoff and arranged by the band. With the exception of “The Knowledge Enterprise” suite, the rest of the album was the material he’d brought to the table mostly formed when we became a band. Geoff and I both wrote lyrics for “TKE” and everyone had a hand in shaping that epic into its final presentation, but Geoff by far did the bulk of the work on our first project. For this new album, we’ve all been more collaborative – especially on the side of planning the concept – since we’re all involved on the foundational side this time. The goal is to write as a band, so both musical and thematic ideas will be coming from all five sources of input.
Inspirations: We have a number of influences. Geoff attributes much of his inspiration to Stephen Sondheim, Adam Guettel, Mast/Morgan Band, and the Ben Folds Five; Joe cites Mew, Edison Glass, MuteMath, and Carter Beuford as influential; Richmond listens to a lot of William Jackson, the Doors, Beatles-era Paul McCarteny, and Iron & Wine; Steve draws from Incubus, Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater, and Rush for his playing; for me, Roine Stolt & Hasse Fröberg of TFK, Pink Floyd, U2, and Sufjan Stevens have had lasting impact on the way I think about music.
Preference; cater to the audience or music for its own sake: At the risk of sounding high-minded, if we wanted to cater to the audience, we’d play pop tunes. I think it’s been especially tough to break into the local scene for us because we’re one of a mere handful of prog bands in the Philadelphia area. The post-hardcore and pop-punk thing is still alive and well, and indie bands are the flavor of the day. Not unlike any other band, we write the type of music that we love. Musicians are a bit selfish that way, I guess. On the other hand, we do want to cater to prog audiences also – not by writing music that we know they’ll like, but by trying to do things that they won’t expect. Music for music’s sake, though.
Greatest Accomplishment: As The Twenty Committee, we’re still relatively young in career age, but there are a number of things I could point out. The writeup in Prog magazine comes to mind, getting an enthusiastic ovation from the crowd at the NJ Proghouse, the floods of positive reviews that are still coming in… Again, our career has had a pretty short life thus far, so the greatest accomplishments are still to come. We’re just pleased to say that we wrote, recorded, and released a quality album that, even if were to fade into obscurity, would still a piece of music we could be proud of.
- Steve Blomerth says:09/03/2015 at 11:20 pm The songs of The Twenty Committee’s song are by turns uplifting, melodic, and witty, with great attention to detail so that motifs and melodies shift, grow and return in a very musical and mature fashion. The musical theater and ‘prog rock’ influences serve to make their music have dramatic impact; telling stories and bringing the listener on little musical journeys. The songs also leave room for some extended keyboard and guitar solos during which the entire band shows how tight and nimble they are. The comments by Justin Carlton reinforce my impression of The Twenty Committee as musicians with mature aspirations and dedicated to the type of music I happen to like; energetic, intelligent and melodic with alternating complex and lyrical sections. I look forward to their next album and urge fans of Yes, Gentle Giant and Genesis to support The Twenty Committe’s work and have the fun of purchasing their first album.