Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule during the release of the Darkened Room, and the recording of the second part of the story, to answer some questions for the fans here at the Prognaut.com.
Prognaut.com – The new album is fantastic and a great reward for all of us fans who have been waiting for the next chapter to begin. Good things come to those who wait, right?
John: Thank you for the kind words and we’re glad you’re enjoying The Darkened Room. IZZ always strives for quality and if that means taking a little more time to finish and produce a new album, then we think it is time well spent and that yes, good things will come to those who wait!
Prognaut.com - It has been four years since My River Flows and allot of water has crossed over the dam. Appearances at Calprog, 3RP, and Nearfest, would you like to discuss the experience of playing at those great American festivals?
John: We’ve been extremely fortunate to have been invited to play for all three of those festivals and multiple times at Calprog. They are all totally different and unique and each has their own vibe and feel. It was an honor to play NEARFest and to be on that stage in front of all of the great fans who were there to really listen to the music. Of course, we were able to record our first live album from that performance and we are currently working on releasing a DVD from that show as well. Howard Levy and all at 3RP could not have been more welcoming to us and they really put on a top-notch festival with an amazing lineup of bands. We were thrilled to be a part of it and happy to be included in the Festival’s DVD. And of course, Calprog, which the band considers sort of our ‘home away from home’ on the West Coast of the US, is just a truly special festival. From Jim Harrel and his staff, to all of the people who come to watch the bands and enjoy the music together, it is just an amazing experience. I don’t know what kind of magic wand they wave out in Whittier, CA, but if you’ve never experienced a Calprog, you owe it to yourself to get there!
Prognaut.com – There have been other developments that have occurred in between My River Flows and The Darkened Room. Please get us up to date on what has been happening with the band in the interim?
John: Well, as you know, we released our first live CD, “IZZ: Live at Nearfest” in 2007 which gave our fans the opportunity to hear us live, some for the first time. So we were very pleased to be able to release that. We’ve also been hard at work on a DVD from that same show, so hopefully that will be available in the near future as well.
Prognaut.com – The Darkened Room has a storyline behind it and I know you don’t want to explain the concept in full detail, but can you discuss where the inspiration may have come from?
John: The inspiration for The Darkened Room probably came from different places for all of us in the band. I think this two-CD project is very interesting just for that reason alone. There are a lot of themes about birth, death and re-birth and you can take from that what you will. We think that the theme will become clearer when you hear Part II. Without giving everything away, I will say that the theme has to do with whether life has a real meaning and purpose or whether it is, as Shakespeare put it “sound and fury signifying nothing”.
Prognaut.com – What is your favorite song on TDR and why?
John: I think that changes for me on a daily basis! But right now, I am really loving the way “23 Minutes of Tragedy” turned out. It went from a small idea that I had to an amazing piece of music that the whole band came together to write and arrange. I really love the feel of it and the vibe it gives.
Prognaut.com – It’s still too early for me to chose a definitive best song, but I really enjoy the synths and the Steve Hackett, Please Don’t Touch era sound, of the beginning of Can’t Feel the Earth Part III. What was the inspiration for that synth riff and song?
Tom: I would say that "Can't Feel the Earth Parts I, II, and III” highlight the main points in this section of the concept. Part I starts off with the lyrics: "When I was young I used to scare myself with thoughts of forever....what a frightening proposition...to imagine something that never ends." At a very young age, I couldn't conceive of something that might never end. It was a startling thought. I suppose Part I is my musical vision of such thinking. The slightly dissonant "Gershwin-like" piano section is supposed to represent that frenetic, haphazard, yet totally innocent attitude of a child.
Prognaut.com - I recently listened to each of the pieces of Can’t Feel the Earth, Parts I, II, and II, together as one continuous song. Was it ever meant to be heard as one continuous piece?
John: Well, Parts II and III were definitely connected when we first wrote the song. Part I was a separate piece, but since Tom brought in themes from the other parts, we thought it worked well as the introduction, so to speak, of the Can’t Feel the Earth series of songs. We have talked about playing those three songs as one piece in a live setting, so maybe we will do that at some point.
Prognaut.com - Was there a conscious effort not to build such a big epic for this album?
John: No, not at all. With IZZ, when it comes to the songs and the writing and arranging, there’s never really a conscious effort to do one thing or another. We really try to let the songs dictate how long they should be and how they should be arranged. We find that sometimes when we try too hard to make something work, it ends up on the cutting room floor, because it sounds forced. We try to make sure nothing is forced in the recording process, so the absence of an “epic” is just due to the fact that none of the songs seemed to fit with that type of arrangement.
Prognaut.com – Or is the big epic yet to come at the conclusion of the story on the next CD?
John: haha – I’m not sure yet actually! One of the songs definitely has the potential to end up as a very extended, epic-type piece, so we’ll see how it progresses (no pun intended)!
Prognaut.com – 23 Minutes of Tragedy is another strong song off TDR. Can you describe the type of show which inspired that song, without giving away the storyline?
John: I originally had the idea of a person who lived life on the sidelines, waiting for something to happen, but never actually doing anything. That led me to think about a life as a TV show, but instead of performing in the show, you’re only living during the commercials – or really, not living at all. Life is at once a comedy and a drama – it has all sorts of those elements in it, but what if we lived our life and looked back and realized that we never lived in the moment, but preferred to stand on the sidelines. That concept scares me. There’s also a similar feeling for the song, “Regret.” I think that fear of not living your life to the fullest is maybe one concept that can lead people to understand what we are trying to get at with this storyline.
Prognaut.com – The acoustic guitars on 23 Minutes are wonderful. So is the majestic melody of the synthesizer after the launching guitars. Where did that come from?
John: The acoustic guitars just came from Brems and I sitting down one night – just the two of us – and I started picking this tune I had come up with and Brems added these delicious chords to play on top of the acoustic guitar. It just had a really nice sound and feel to it and when we brought it to the rest of the band, the song developed from there. Of course, Tom added his soaring keyboard melodies and it just seemed to fit. I love the fact that the song starts with just acoustic guitar, but ends up being really, really dramatic and big. It turned into the center-piece track for the concept.
Prognaut.com – Swallow Our Pride is another of my favorites. It really opens up the album as if the band is coming back to life after some time off. Do you have that feeling after being away from the studio for so long?
John: Yes, I think we did have that feeling. When Tom wrote the opening for that song, I think we all immediately felt that this should be the first song on this album. It begins so mysteriously and it is nice to have that be the first new sounds that people heard from IZZ for a few years.
Prognaut.com - My River Flows was a big surprise and a favorite album for me. It was so good it inspired me to get the entire catalog. It is one of my favorite albums of the decade.
Which is your personal favorite song?
John: Wow – thank you for that compliment! I think my favorite song and the one that I really enjoy playing live is “Late Night Salvation.” I think everyone’s talents are just showcased on that song, but I don’t think the song suffers from too many solos – I think it’s still a very melodic song, but with moments of amazing playing from Brems and the drummers and Tom. Also, it was written very much as a band and I hear that when we play it live or when I listen to it on the CD.
Prognaut.com – Deafening Silence is my favorite IZZ song. It will probably be very near the top as one of my favorite songs of the decade. Where did the inspiration for that song come from?
Tom: Thank you again for the kind words - I wrote the music and lyrics for “Deafening Silence” as a reminder of all the innocent lives that are lost as a result of the decisions that we make as human beings, whether it be due to war or greed or selfishness. Unfortunately, we are responsible for so many innocent lives being cut off too soon and no one can hear their cries. When you think about how many have been lost, their silence is indeed deafening, and I hope that this song conveys my belief that they still live on and one day, we will once again be reunited with those who we’ve lost.
Prognaut.com – The waterfall/river sound during Deafening Silence reminds me so much of And You and I from Yes. Were you influenced by this famous work? Or was it the middle section from Rush’s 2112?
Tom: I don’t think I was influenced specifically by “And You and I” for this part, but certainly it may have been in my subconscious, as Yes has been a big influence on me as a songwriter and on IZZ as a band. Rush’s 2112 did not influence me there – you’d have to talk more to John about 2112!
John: Geddy Lee is a continual influence for me – 2112 is a masterpiece, obviously.
Prognaut.com – Deception and Crossfire are also very deep and intimate songs. Can you describe the inspiration for those two songs?
Tom: I can speak to Deception – this song is really about those in power using their position to prey on the innocent. Whether in the corporate setting, the political setting or unfortunately, in the religious setting, there are so many instances of very selfish people abusing their power and authority to lead others down a bad path. Those who are led down this bad path are less to blame than the ones who led them there and this song is about just that. I believe that those who have been deceived can and will be helped, but the deceivers themselves are the true villains.
John: Crossfire is about the different decisions we make in life – the really big decisions. Sometimes it’s whether or not to seek help for an addiction or it’s what career path to take or who your friends are. I think we come up on 4 or 5 really big decisions throughout the course of our lives and if you decide not to choose anything, you get caught literally in the crossfire of the two paths and end up not really living life.
Prognaut.com – Abby’s Song is a tribute song. Can you share the story behind the song?
John: This is a song about my cousin Abigail – she’s more like the little sister I never had though. I had the thrill of watching Abby grow up on a daily basis and turn into an amazing girl – she has this wonderful imagination and her smile and laugh are contagious. She’s now almost 12 years old (yikes!) and still has that same amazing personality. The song just literally came out in about 15 minutes and the initial guitar strumming reminded me of Abby’s personality, so I just went with it.
Prognaut.com – The Wait of It All, also from Ampersand, is full of those powerful keys and that ELP sound really shines through. The keyboard and piano play an important part throughout your collection. Do you draw allot of influence from Keith Emerson. Can you describe what it was like to open for Keith Emerson’s band this year?
Tom: Keith Emerson was my keyboard hero growing up and is still a main source of inspiration for me. Unfortunately, we did not get to open for his band this year due to his cancellation of his tour. However, I do know that he listened to IZZ’s version of “Trilogy” and apparently was impressed, which was quite a thrill!
Prognaut.com – Anmarie and Laura’s voices are essential to the sound of IZZ. I know you have said Laura is sitting out the Darkened Room to concentrate on theater production, but can you describe the relationship they have with the band?
John: The band is very lucky to have two amazing, dynamic voices who have graced the IZZ albums over the years. Anmarie and Laura both bring something different in their vocal styles and sounds, so it’s been great to have both of their voices in IZZ. They both love the band and the band loves them both, so they will always be a part of the IZZ family!
Prognaut.com – Your music is very deep and shows wonderful progression, if listened to from Sliver to Darkened Room. How would you describe the progression and what have been the most memorable steps along the journey?
John: Wow – it’s been an amazing decade for the band. Sliver was released in 1999 and The Darkened Room in 2009, so when I take a moment to look back, it’s almost impossible to believe that it’s been 10 years and that we are not only still together, but I think getting stronger as a band and as friends. It’s an absolute pleasure to make music with this group of people and I hope it continues for a long, long time. I think one of the memorable moments for me along the way was the reaction when “I Move” was first released. I feel like that album really put us on the map, so to speak. It paved the way for playing at some amazing festivals and venues and it was a springboard for all of our other albums. “I Move” will always have a special place in my heart.
Prognaut.com – Ron Fuchs reviewed the I Move album here on the Prognaut.com back in 2002, (see link below), and to his credit and insight he recommended other bands listen to what you were creating as a way to help build the future of progressive rock. Tom once said, in one of the few interviews I have been able to find, (http://www.progressive-newsletter.de/index.htm?/intizz.htm), “…great music is great music, no matter what style.” “Our style is that we do whatever we want to do - Isn't that what progressive music is all about?” What in your view is the state of today’s prog rock? How about the state of American prog rock?
John: I think the state of music in general is better than it has been in a long while. I find that many bands labeled as “indie” are sounding more and more like Yes or Genesis or King Crimson! I think that many of the labels that were forced on artists by the major labels and finally breaking down and artists can perform the music they want to perform, whether it has progressive elements or jazz elements or folk elements. I think there are some very talented bands that fall into the prog rock category and what I am interested is how some of the bands labeled as prog will be viewed in the future by the general public. I think it’s becoming cool to be different again. Listen to artists like St. Vincent or The Punch Brothers and tell me they’re not playing music in the spirit of Yes and King Crimson and Genesis – there is some great stuff happened out there today and I’m glad IZZ is a small part of it.
Prognaut.com – Who would you consider the innovators in music in general or in progressive rock specifically?
John: Well certainly The Beatles – but that almost goes without saying at this point. They redefined rock music – but I won’t even go on about them since there are thousands of books written on just this subject! I look at someone like Joni Mitchell as a real innovator. She inspired countless other female artists and had one of the most unique and dynamic voices in all of music. Certainly, King Crimson, Genesis, Yes and ELP were all very innovative in their own ways, although I think those bands thought that they were just making rock music. I’m not sure that any of them had the sense that they were creating a new genre called prog rock, so it’s pretty interesting how that happened.
Prognaut.com – Will we get another great song from Laura like My Best Defenses in the future?
John: Yes – I think you’ll get more than one! In fact, Laura and I are in the midst of recording an album made up of songs that we have co-written. It’s turning out to be very cool, so look out for that in early 2011 most likely.
Prognaut.com – Molly’s Jig is another fun song off Ampersand. How much fun was that to play live?
John: That is a Brems composition and yes, it is incredibly fun to play a real Celtic jig live! Brems is such an amazing guitar player and songwriter – what a pleasure it is to play with him.
Prognaut.com – Razor and Meteor are two of my favorites off your first album. Which are your favorites and why?
John: From Sliver, I really like Assurance – it seems to have withstood the test of time. We still really enjoy playing it live and audiences seem to continue to respond well to it. I also love Double Bass – and not just because I wrote it! I think the interplay between the two drummers and the bass and guitar is so cool.
Prognaut.com – Star Evil Gnoma Su is one of those hats off to Emerson songs. Where did the inspiration come from for that song?
John: We were trying to come up with a musical way to communicate the darkness of I Move’s protagonist or main character. It was sort of his descent into the pop music morass and into the despair that came from it for him. If you rearrange the letters in each word of the title from front to back, you get “Rats Live Among Us” – and that’s really what we were trying to say, in an instrumental sort of way.
Prognaut.com – Believe, The Mists of Dalriada, Oh, How It’s Great!, Coming Like Light, and Light From Your Eyes, are some of my favorite songs off I Move. Which are band favorites and why?
John: I actually love “I Already Know” – it’s probably my favorite song that Tom’s written. It’s just so beautiful and so emotional. The lyrics and music fit perfectly.
Tom: I really enjoy playing the song “I Move” – it’s a very quirky track that comes together nicely in a live setting.
Prognaut.com – Do you have a planned release date for the second part of The Darkened Room?
Tom: No planned release date yet, but we are really shooting for 2011.
Prognaut.com – Will it bear the same title, or will it be different?
John: It will probably be a different title – maybe with a similar theme, but certainly playing on the dark/light theme.
Prognaut.com – Can you tell us of your tour plans for next year?
John: We have been focused on the writing and recording of the next installment of “The Darkened Room” so we’ve been playing shows as they come up, but we hope once this next album is done, to have a more extensive selection of shows to follow the release.
Prognaut.com – If you could play anywhere in the world, where would you choose?
John: We’ve been talking about trying to hit Europe at some point soon. We’ve always gotten a lot of great feedback from Germany in particular, so it would be a real treat to play there. Also, it would be nice to play a show in Scotland – Brems’ home country.
Prognaut.com – Is there a concept or event in the world, be it current or historical, you would like to write about?
John: Wow – good question. I’m a big fan of Abraham Lincoln and have a fascination with The Civil War. I’m not sure how that would be turned into an album of music, but it would be cool to try. Maybe take a story of one soldier and see if a story came out of it – although I fear that Roger Waters has cornered the market on albums about war!
Prognaut.com – I know this has been a very long list of questions, (sorry, I’ve been a fan for a while), is there anything I left out that you would like to discuss?
John: no problem! Thank you for asking such detailed questions. All I’d like to add is a big thank you to all of our fans who continue to support IZZ – we couldn’t do it without you!
Prognaut.com – Thank you for taking all this time to chat with us. We wish you success with the Darkened Room and its sequel. We look forward to that and hope to get to see you play some or all of it live this year!
Interviewed by Prof on June 20th, 2010