MWE3.COM ‘AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN IRVINE’ (JULY 2015 w/ Robert Silverstein)
The Metaphysical Attractions Interview
mwe3: The latest John Irvine Band album is Metaphysical Attractions, and it came out at the end of 2018. Why did you call the album Metaphysical Attractions and how does it reflect in the album sound and compositions? The word metaphysical sometimes refers to mystical ideas, so would you consider the album to be somewhat transcendent?
John Irvine: Trying to finally get it done certainly gave me some outer body experiences, that’s for sure! But seriously, yes, my outside music interests are largely invested in learning tarot and researching esoteric thought. I’m very interested in the history of religion and how it runs in tandem with esotericism, and how that relates to the ways in which we currently view the world. So the album title simply expresses how ‘attractive’ I find all that. Of course, ‘Metaphysical Attractions’ works in a couple other ways: like in a sideshow attraction… a fortune teller, perhaps, or invisible forces attracting each other.
mwe3: You changed the lineup of players for the Metaphysical Attractions album. What did each player bring to the table for the making of the album? What was involved with Rich Kass co-producing the album with you? He certainly keeps a solid beat throughout the album. Also, which Metaphysical Attractions tracks are Rob Ironside and Gwen Kelso playing on?
John Irvine: Rich Kass is actually on old student of mine from when I lectured in music at Napier University here in Edinburgh. He is a major talent – a trip to his website will confirm this: www.richardkass.com. I knew that Rich had already made his mark on the Edinburgh jazz scene and knew of his work with the HLK Trio w/ Evelyn Glennie, so he was an obvious choice to get on the new record. He is also a terrific guy and very easy to work with, full of ideas. He was at the mix/master with me and helped me make some important decisions during that process. The saxophonist Rob Ironside and flautist Gwen Kelso are both professional musicians in Edinburgh and hugely talented people. Rob plays on “Metaphysical Attractions II” and Gwen on “Lucy’s Brainwave”.
mwe3: Your earlier album Next Stop featured you playing a Steinberger GR4 guitar as well as other guitars. You’re playing a different guitar on the cover of Metaphysical Attractions. Tell us about that guitar on the cover art of the CD as well as other guitars you play on Metaphysical Attractions, and also what amps and effects you employ to get the right sound?
John Irvine: On the cover of Metaphysical Attractions I’m playing a Charvel Pro-Mod DK24 in Okoume. Unfortunately, I don’t have it anymore – I sold it on fairly soon after the photo was taken. I chop and change guitars a lot. It’s a problem I have for which there is no available cure! For recording Metaphysical Attractions I primarily used the Charvel and a Reverend Jetstream (again, sold it). My current guitar is another Charvel, this time it’s a San Dimas Type 2 in Trans Black Burst, which is a Tele shape, of course. I think with this one I may have found THE guitar for me. It’s an outstanding piece of kit. As far as amps and effects go, I like to keep it simple. I used a Marshall Origin 20w and my old Yamaha DG Stomp pre-amp. I also use a Boss PS-6 for my ‘synth’ lead sound. You can hear that on the guitar solos for “Metaphysical Attractions I”, “Hymn To The Winter Sun” and “Me And My Idiophone”.
mwe3: Last time we spoke you mentioned you would include some classical guitar on Metaphysical Attractions but I don’t hear any nylon sounds on the new album. I also know you saw Segovia play when he was in his 90s. That’s the age not the decade! What was that concert like and how influenced were you by classical guitar and do you find that classical guitar is not usually featured in jazz-fusion music these days? Do you still practice any classical studies or etudes and what classical guitars do you like best?
John Irvine: Yes, I realized I hadn’t delivered for you on that front! Although there is steel string on there courtesy of a PRS Angelus, the Lifeson model, and there is classical guitar on the new album for 2020. It’s done and in the can. But the Segovia concert… it was disappointing, actually. But he was well past it by then – tuning up half way through pieces, lots of mistakes and the like. He arrived on stage wearing a cape and cane, which were removed by an assistant, all very theatrical, like James Brown but without any of the energy. He was never influential on my generation of players, I would say. Completely different technique to the majority of the younger guitarists at the time, and most of my classical guitar influences were formulated already, mainly Julian Bream, David Russell and of course, my teacher at the RSAMD, Phillip Thorne. They were the players I admired most. But having studied classical guitar for about 10 years I stopped playing in 1990 after my post-grad year. I think I found a number of issues with the instrument overwhelming: the gestural problems of a quiet instrument, the repertoire being somewhat limited in quality, the loneliness/anxiety of solo performance, etc. I also couldn’t see myself playing other people’s music for the rest of my life. I sold my classical guitar years ago. But it has had an enormous influence, technically, on my guitar style.
mwe3: How about the keyboards you play on Metaphysical Attractions and are you still using the MOTU digital performer for the keyboard parts on the new album? How much of a challenge is it to overdub keyboards over the guitar sounds?
John Irvine: All keyboards on ‘Metaphysical Attractions’ are produced on the MX4 virtual synth module included in Digital Performer 9. I tend to use the same lead and pad sounds on keys, mainly because I like them and also to give some continuity. I love it when I hear Lyle Mays break out his signature ‘ocarina‘ sound on the Oberheim, so that’s in the back on my mind. Keep things identifiable. The challenge, of course, is not to obscure the guitar parts by layering up synth sounds. In the past I tended to not use them very much as I had once thought of JIB as a vehicle for trio performance at one stage, but latterly I’m using more and more. It’s difficult to ignore countermelodies when they come to you, or textural ideas when they present themselves.
mwe3: You studied with guitarist John Etheridge earlier in your career. Did you study with John in London and how do you feel his style influenced your own guitar / compositional style? Interesting that he’s now keeping the Soft Machine legacy alive.
John Irvine: No, I studied with John Etheridge at Dartington College of Arts in Devon, which is in the South West of England near Plymouth. This was in the mid 1980s. Dartington was a tremendous place. Very left-wing, modernist, intellectual, anti-establishment school for the arts. Everything had to be really new or really old. No Romanticism. I say it a lot but it was easily the best academic education I ever had. Sadly, the college closed several years ago, but that’s British politics for you. Etheridge was terrific. I only had a few lessons with him but it doesn’t take a lot to have an impression on me, and I still think about the things he said back then – the main one being about improvising in any key while staying in one fret position on the guitar. He got me to call out chords and he would solo over each one, all the time remaining in 1st position or wherever he chose. He was fun to learn with. I met him a few times at gigs since then, and he would catch my eye and say “Don’t I know you?”. Great guy and a wonderful musician. Yes, my view of the Soft Machine reunion is simple: the more we can hear their canon of music the better. I think some bands that veer towards the more avant or jazz side are completely within their rights to play live, keep their legacy going, release records. Purely instrumental music tends to wear a lot better than stuff with vocals. The ‘aboutness’ of songs can very much tie it down to a past that is now an irrelevance. And there are definitely some ‘classic progressive’ bands that I don’t want to see rocking out into their 70s and beyond. Should I name some? Better not…
mwe3: Looking back, we were musing, way back in 2015, about that writer who compared your music and guitar sound to Alan Holdsworth, the guitarist who actually died later, in April 2017. It had been a while since he recorded. Have you had recent insights into Holdsworth, both the composer / recording artist and the guitar innovator? What do you think Alan Holdsworth will be remembered most for and why do you think he didn’t record so much in the years before he died?
John Irvine: I saw Holdsworth twice. Once in 1991 in Edinburgh and once in Glasgow in 2008. The Edinburgh gig was with Gary Husband, Jimmy Johnson and Steve Hunt. In Glasgow it was his trio with Chad Wackerman and Ernest Tibbs. Now, this concert was great, I enjoyed it more than the Edinburgh one, but what struck me the most was that Holdsworth’s hands shook for the entire gig. He obviously suffered from dreadful performance anxiety. I was very surprised by this – how could anyone so proficient in their chosen field could have doubts about themselves. But having thought about this a lot over the years I realize that he simply had really high standards for himself; to the point of it being debilitating, not outwardly but inwardly. This is confirmed somewhat by a story that came from Jimmy Johnson, that Holdsworth would overdub a solo, listen back to it, erase it, do another, erase that… and this would go on and on. I think he was definitely ‘on the spectrum’, as we say in the education biz. Certainly his idiosyncratic notational system would bear this out, as would his statement that the notes of each scale seem to ‘flash up’ on the fretboard when improvising. We also have to remember that he spent much of his time in the 1970s as a sideman, so there’s a big part of his career was spent not playing his own music. In fact, he was already 35-36 years old by the time IOU came out. Amazing really. I think that if he had had the financial/record company backing at that time there would have been much more music for us to enjoy. He was definitely an artist that needed patronage.
mwe3: Every track on the ‘new album is excellent but “(Into) The Scrying Glass” is a definite standout track and it’s also the longest track on Metaphysical Attractions. Tell us about the title and also some insights into the way you approached writing it and recording it. I felt there was a kind of Steve Howe or even Steve Hackett like effect in the sound and the track has a solid rock energy. Tell us something about the way the guitars and keyboards were synchronized and how many overdubs are on the track.
John Irvine: “(Into) The Scrying Glass” is one of my favorites, too. The title refers to my interest in divination, mainly the tarot and I-Ching, but I’m intrigued by reflective surfaces and what the mind has to offer in times of contemplation with the invisible forces that can reveal themselves. The track itself represents a trip into our dark unconscious. As to its composition, well, like most of my music I had the chord progression first. You hear that sequence for the first minute or so, just the four chords going round and round. There’s then a bridge of four new chords before the Csharp pedal point. Then a repeat with a solo on top. So quite simple really. The main melody took a while to get right, though. I think the solo is one my best, very melodic and has that “Metheny meets Lifeson” feel that I go for all the time. To be clear, though, when I say Metheny I don’t mean his normal semi-acoustic lead playing, it’s primarily his Roland synth style that has influenced me. He also tends to play a lot slower when using the Roland, I like that, more trumpet-like and expressive. The real Pat. A good example of this is his solo on “The Red One” from the album “I Can See Your House From Here” with John Scofield. There you can really hear where I’m coming from. As far as a Howe or Hackett influence, well, I would say it’s very minimal, if at all. Though a huge Yes and Genesis fan, their harmonic discourse is not really there in my JIB music. But I’m amazed that more people don’t hear an Alex Lifeson influence in my style. It certainly is very strong in my view – MUCH more so than Holdsworth, or any one else really. Rush’s music (up to the “Signals” album) and The Police are really the main rock bands, in terms of a soundworld, that I want to allow to inhabit my own stuff. I think they are there in everything I do. Overdubs? There are surprisingly few in my music. Usually the maximum amount of tracks per tune is between 10-15 in total, and most of those are guitar. And everything is synchronized with a click track on pretty much all my tunes.
mwe3: What’s been the reaction to Metaphysical Attractions in the press? It seems like the internet is the best way to find out about music these days. Seems and feels like the internet is the only dependable way to get any first hand information these days. Television and print newspapers seem so antiquated these days, maybe they’ll completely disappear by mid-century. How do you feel about the model for online music in 2019? I hope it improves and we can figure out a way to market music better on the internet. What kind of futuristic things are you predicting this century and is there any way to know?
John Irvine: I’m lucky that my reviews have been very, very positive so far. And I’ve had a lot of support from various people on the indie prog radio scene eg. Stephen Speelman at Friday Night Progressive, Gregory Kampf at La Villa Strangiato, Matt Sweitzer at Canvas Prog Hour – these guys are so generous with their time and friendship, it makes it all worthwhile. As far as the online model for music goes… I must say that I’m all in favor of sites like Bandcamp. They give you a good return. I know for a fact that all of my music is available on some of the Russian sites, but I’m delighted that people still buy from the artist. I sell most of my music from there and most of it is digital downloads, not CD. This situation has raised an issue for a lot of indie musicians as to whether it’s worthwhile printing up CDs anymore. I think limited runs are fine for review purposes and for the odd diehard CD fan, but really I think digital will take over soon… if it hasn’t already. I went completely digital a few years ago and use Swinsian as my desktop player on my iMac. It gives me enormous satisfaction knowing that all my music is there at a click of a mouse and all saved to an external disk in aiff. Needless to say, I don’t do streaming. Again, this brings up something else, the question of ‘soundfile quality’. I have always thought that the quality of files, whether mp3 or CD quality FLAC, Hi-Res etc, is directly linked to the consumer’s access to storage space. I don’t think it is anything to do with an individual’s preference. If our phones could handle 1GB of space, people would have FLAC on there. It is undeniable that for the past 20 years music data has been impossible to store for the average punter. That’s very slowly changing. I also think that the worldwide adoption of a ‘lifestyle’ fed to us by a certain Swedish furniture retailer has led to people not wanting walls of CDs in their homes. I know I’m guilty of that. This ‘ownership of the music object’ applies largely to us, the over 50s. The album is simply one tiny aspect of what music is about these days. You see, LPs were our scrying glasses back in the 1970s; the reflective surface that held so much power for us; it was the main connection with the ideas of our heroes – but nowadays our computers are what we gaze into, and we can seemingly access so much more from this viewpoint. Now, all this info can be very helpful, of course, but we need to remember it still isn’t as good as our imaginations. I think we can compensate for the lack of album art, gatefold sleeves etc by applying principles of deep listening, and by creating the best audio setup that you can afford.
mwe3: You were mentioning another album you were working on for release in 2020? You choose to not do live shows so, so are there any insights into upcoming ventures, music / literary projects, writing and even possible performance videos coming as we march to 2020?
John Irvine: Yes, the fourth JIB album is almost completed, in terms of demos. I have been working on material over the past few months and it has come together quite quickly. Funnily enough, I played the whole thing through to my son last night and he thought it was the best thing I’d ever done. Which was very kind of him. I think the next album has more detail in it than anything I have done on the three ‘primary colour’ albums. The material has kind of demanded it. It’s also heavier in a lot of places but at the same time more sophisticated and complex. I’m very pleased with what has come out so far. At some point, I see myself doing some YouTube playing related videos. Running down the more fingerstyle-oriented JIB pieces. I think people would be quite interested to hear that.
MWE3.COM ‘AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN IRVINE’ (JULY 2015 w/ Robert Silverstein) THE NEXT STOP INTERVIEW
mwe3: I was kind of kicking myself for not hearing the Next Stop CD last year. It’s that good. When did you write and record Next Stop and how would you compare it with you earlier album Wait & See?
JI: Well, thanks Robert for the kind comments. It’s great to know that the album is finding the kind of people I intended it for. And to answer the first part of your question, I composed the majority of the material for Next Stop in the two years following Wait & See. It takes me a long to time to get an album’s worth of music together. My home studio set-up had changed between albums and I had some problems with gear, but those were resolved over time and the main work was done from February to June 2013. The final mixing and mastering was done at Castlesound Studios in Pencaitland, outside Edinburgh – the same place as where Wait & See was done. Stuart Hamilton was the engineer on both albums. He really transformed the material into what it is, sound-wise. In comparison with the first album, I think Next Stop marks a real development. I think the compositions are more complex, a bit more interesting than the material on the first album, certainly the keyboards and background layerings are richer, more intricate. And both the jazz element and the progressive element are more prominent on this one, they’ve both been brought out a bit more.
mwe3: It seems like you’ve hit a veritable sweet spot on Next Stop, is that a fair statement? What was your sonic mission this time?
JI: Yes, I think Next Stop is the better album, overall. But if I were to be overly self-critical then I would say that there are things that I like more on the first CD. The playing on Wait & See is a bit tighter, in my view. With the last album I let a bit of the production side of things slip, because of time constraints and the fact that it was a bigger project, as a result there are several things that could have been done better. It reminds of an interview I read a long time ago with Yes drummer Alan White, where he’d criticized Trevor Rabin for going through the whole of their Talk album and moving all the drum audio so it was perfectly in time. Well, that was my approach on Wait & See, and it shows. Next Stop has more of a ‘live’ feel, but lots of people seem to like that, so it’s all good.
mwe3: You’re pictured on the cover of Next Stop playing a kind of Steinberger (headless) looking guitar. Is that the same red guitar pictured on Wait & See as well?
JI: The guitar on the cover of Wait & See is a Hohner headless guitar called ‘The Jack’ made in the 1990s – a Steinberger copy, very similar to the current G3T but with a Strat body. Very well made – and having played a good variety of Steinbergers over the years, a very versatile guitar. The guitar on the Next Stop cover is a Steinberger GR4 headless, correct.
mwe3: How has your choice of guitars changed and evolved over the years and what guitars are you playing on your albums? Do you also play acoustic guitars?
JI: My main guitar at the moment is an ESP Edwards SG 100LT2. I’m a big fan of Edwards guitars, Japanese made, great design and craftsmanship. My SG is an amazing guitar. It has the lowest action of any guitar I’ve ever played. That is the number one thing for me – low action. I work and work on a guitar until the action is virtually not there, and if a guitar doesn’t come up to scratch, then it has to be moved on. The guitars used on the albums varied a great deal. I used a Hohner SE35 semi-acoustic, a Gibson Rd Standard, a Godin Solidac, the Hohner Headless, the Steinberger GR4 and a Hohner HR1000 Super-Strat. As far as amps go, it was an ENGL Screamer Combo and an ENGL Thunder Head through a 4×12 ENGL cab. Effects used were the Yamaha DG and UD Stomp boxes. As yet there have been no acoustic guitars on either of my two albums. This will change on the next one. I’m not a steel-string player… I find them very difficult to play, but there will definitely be some classical guitar on the next one.
mwe3: Tell us what keyboards you’re playing on the CD and how the keys mesh with the guitar sounds?
JI: I use MOTU’s Digital Performer in my home studio. It’s a program I’ve used for about 25 years now, and all the keyboard sounds are virtual instruments from their ‘MX4’ program. Most of the keyboards are secondary in importance to the main guitar parts, but I wanted to fill out the sound a bit more on this album.
mwe3: Can you tell us something about where you’re from, where you grew up and where you live now as well as how you became interested in the guitar and how that interest led to you becoming a recording artist?
JI: I was born in Bristol, England in 1965, but my family moved to the USA when I was 1 year old, and then on to Canada shortly thereafter. We also spent a year in Zimbabwe before coming back to the UK in 1979. I started the guitar that year and took classical guitar lessons in Plymouth for a few years. Though I’d started music late, I made good progress early on – enough to then go to Dartington College of Arts to do A-Level music and, following that, The Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama in Glasgow where I got my BA and studied with Philip Thorne. This takes me up to 1992 when I began a Ph.D. in Composition at the University of Edinburgh with the composer Nigel Osborne as my supervisor. I completed that in 1999. So, you can see that a lot of my formal education has been in classical music. But I’m getting ahead of myself… Growing up in Southern Ontario as a teenager you couldn’t help but be influenced by what 1970s FM radio was playing at the time: Steely Dan, Chicago, Doobie Brothers, Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder etc. and by the local rock bands on the Toronto scene: Rush, FM, Max Webster, Goddo and Triumph. We were also listening to the major hard rock bands of the 70s: Kiss, Aerosmith, Queen, B.O.C., Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent, Angel and so forth. Now, a lot of that music is very sophisticated, but a friend of mine in 10th Grade told me to go away and listen to Relayer by Yes, to ‘hear what real music was like’. I knew “Roundabout” from the radio, but hearing “The Gates Of Delirium” for the first time was a whole new listening experience. It was all I played for about a month, and soon, Genesis, Gentle Giant and King Crimson followed. We then moved to England. I was lucky that the public library in Plymouth had a great vinyl selection. I would take out anything that looked remotely interesting to me. So, I borrowed Stockhausen, The Manhattan Transfer, a whole bunch of ECM stuff, Bill Dixon, Ornette Coleman – it was a treasure trove. Most importantly though, was that I went to Dartington College of Arts, Devon upon leaving school at 18 years old. This was a somewhat radical, left-leaning, arts establishment where I was lucky to be taught by the composer Frank Denyer, study with the jazz guitarist John Etheridge and attend concerts by Evan Parker, Keith Rowe, Keith Tippett, Yoshikazu Iwamoto and Armanath Mishra, amongst others. I also saw Segovia play in the Great Hall, but he was already in his 90s at this point. Needless to say, this was the best education I ever had.
mwe3: Who were some of your favorite bands and musicians growing up? What era of music did you grow up in?
JI: Obviously, my early teens listening is tuned to the 70s progressive and hard rock bands mentioned above, but when we moved to the UK in ’79 I became very interested in post-punk and new wave. It was very different to the North American zeitgeist – The Police, The Fixx, The Clash, Killing Joke, Siouxsie & The Banshees, XTC, U2 – all really inventive stuff, and ‘progressive’ in its own way. Of course, a lot of that would find its way over to the Canada/U.S.A. soon enough, but culturally punk/new wave wasn’t nearly so influential as it was here in the UK. It motivated listeners politically, socially and provided an alternative conscience to the mainstream. This was very appealing because progressive rock had blown itself out of the water by this time, so this plugged the gap left by those progressive bands. And, I was getting into Frank Zappa…
mwe3: Track four “Your Skyline” is a tribute to the late great John Martyn. Even though John Martyn was primarily a folk-jazz singer he must have had a big impact on you. Tell us about John Martyn and how other musicians had an impact on you.
JI: John Martyn was another big influence in my early 20s. I’d seen him live with his band in Plymouth in 1983 and a couple of times since then in Glasgow. His One World, Glorious Fool and Grace & Danger albums I regard as being his best work, and right up there with Joni Mitchell’s Court & Spark, Hissing Of Summer Lawns and Hejira as the pinnacle of the guitar-based, singer-songwriter genre. I must also say that I regard the Michael Hedges album Watching My Life Go By in that category. But just thinking about these three guitarists and how they approach the instrument harmonically, it’s interesting to note that all three used alternate tunings. Now, that’s not something I go in for, but their chordal usage is certainly one that I am very keen on – particularly the Hedges vocabulary. So, certainly it was a sound that I was looking for – but in standard tuning. You can see where I’m coming from. And if you take into account the Metheny things, the Holdsworth things, add in some extended chord voicings and classical fingerstyle then you have my harmonic goals pretty well mapped out. I should mention that around this time I got heavily into the West Coast/AOR scene: Christopher Cross, Michael McDonald, Ambrosia, Al Jarreau, Toto and, of course, this music has many great, great players like Jay Graydon, Steve Gadd, Larry Carlton etc. who are all well-versed in jazz and rock styles. That music stills holds great appeal for me. It has amazing moments of jazz-influenced harmony, for example a track like “Generalities” by Marc Jordan. Genius.
mwe3: Do you find your music being influenced by other art forms like movies, paintings, other musical genres as well?
JI: I find my jazz music is not influenced by other art-forms to any great extent. However, my classical music is. I’ve written two multidiscipline works concerning Outsider Artists. The first being a musical drama about Laure Pigeon (a French mediumistic artist), and the second, a Percussion Quartet about Kea Tawana (The Ark) and Ferdinand Cheval (Le Palais Ideal). I’ve also got a symphonic piece about Hopi culture, a piano duet on Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and so on. Learning about painting, and art in general, critical theory, philosophy etc. I saw as being integral to my Ph.D. studies. I did a lot of reading back then. I had lofty ideas that the polymath model was the way forward, and if I’m honest, I still believe this to be the case.
mwe3: One writer wrote that Next Stop is the best album Allan Holdsworth never made. (or something to that effect) It sounds to me though, like you take Holdsworth’s sound and make it even more melodic from a rock perspective. Is that a fair assessment?
JI: Holdsworth is a big influence, yes. But, as I’ve said in other interviews, not in terms of his soloing. It’s a pointless exercise even bothering to cop licks off him. His solo ideas work with his chordal context, and there it ends. And anyway, he is so technically unapproachable to most mortals like myself that imitation is not even an option. I think because my album covers have headless guitars on them, and I mention him as an influence in press material, a lot of people have commented on the perceived similarities. So it’s largely my fault. I personally think my music doesn’t resemble Holdsworth’s at all. It is much more rock-based and Metheny-esque than Holdsworthian. Having said that, the above quote is still my favorite!
mwe3: What guitarists today do you feel are breaking new ground for the instrumental rock fusion genre?
JI: As far as newer jazz guitarists go, I like Tim Miller and Steve Topping… he’s not new, but he only recently recorded his two solo albums, though I don’t hear a lot of stuff that excites me as much as the older albums by the greats. You see, people like Metheny, Holdsworth – these guys are great composers, and the difference between them and the you-tube speed merchants is just that – the compositions. I mean, wouldn’t you rather listen to Metheny’s “The First Circle” or “Minuano (Six-Eight)” than a sweep-picking, neo-classical nightmare? Wouldn’t you rather hear a piece like Holdworth’s “Sphere Of Innocence” over any shredding-type music you care to mention? There is no contest, in my opinion. But bigger, stronger, faster, louder seems to win more and more in our culture, doesn’t it? A shame that.
mwe3: Any favorite current artists that you’re listening to these days?
JI: I like the saxophonist David Binney a lot, and I also find myself turning to some of the fusion that I missed out on first time around: Oregon, Codona, Brand X etc… I get a kick out of finding new things I’ve missed in the past. You used to be such a victim of what your local record store would stock, but that’s all changed now. The internet is a great source of discovery in that way. With rock bands, I’m very into noise and math rock: Rob Crow, Amusement Parks On Fire, Buildings, Ladder Devils, Cellos, Kowloon Walled City, Dope Body, Polvo, Pissed Jeans, Roomrunner – this kind of stuff. It’s where it’s at as far as inventiveness is concerned, at the moment
mwe3: Do you enjoy playing live in concert?
JI: Oddly, no, I don’t enjoy live performance. I’ve always thought of performing as a form of damage limitation rather than the ultimate form of self-expression. It can never be the same as a great recorded, edited musical experience, and I don’t need the roar of the crowd or the smell of the greasepaint to get me going. But on that note, I remember reading about Zappa being asked whether he preferred working with the synclavier in the studio or working with his band. He said: “I’m almost tempted to plump for the band.” So I’m very much in that vein, these albums are recording projects rather than vehicles for performance. And the way live music is going at the moment there is no way of doing it without making a loss financially. Hiring musicians is expensive. They need to paid properly for their time. It is enough that the albums can approach some semblance of breaking even, without putting myself further into debt! (lol)
mwe3: What other activities are you involved with in Scotland, including your classical music and TV/Film music and are you also into the literary world too.
JI: As far as other activities go, my classical composition is on hold for the moment. Similarly with TV, film and theater music. My kids are still young and my son is a Type 1 Diabetic so I have to prioritize my creative work carefully nowadays. But, yes, I have two books out, and a lot of published poetry in various journals and webzines. The novels are part of a nerdy, sc-if trilogy called The Smith Chronicles and have been selling very well, to my surprise. I’m finishing the final novel at the moment for late 2015 publication. After that I will return to writing poetry for a bit and then I have plans to start a new fantasy/historical book for children based on the Scandinavian to Constantinople trade route during the Middle Ages. I’m really looking forward to that.
mwe3: Even though Next Stop came out in 2013, it clearly deserves hearing by guitar fans in 2015. So a year after Next Stop, have you been writing new music and or planning new recordings?
JI: As far as another JIB album goes, I don’t think that will happen this year. I’ve simply haven’t got the time. But the next one will be very different to the previous albums, that is for sure.
iO PAGES: ‘JOHN IRVINE: THE LYRICAL GUITAR’ (ISSUE 121 w/ René Yedema)
RY: Why does a modern classical, soundtrack and theatre composer start a second career as a progressive jazz-rock guitarist?
JI: Well, composition was already my second career. I had previously studied classical guitar for 10 years, through school and music college, before I went off to do a PhD in composition at the University of Edinburgh in the 1990s. However, all this time I was watching my old Scott Henderson ‘Jazz Fusion Improvisation’ video and writing fusion tunes on my Fostex 4-track. In essence, I’ve always been doing jazz-rock, but just hadn’t found the right time to record and release things – until 3 years ago, with ‘Wait & See’.
RY: Although the music of The John Irvine Band has many similarities with jazz-rock/fusion albums, the compositions seem to be focusing less on difficult rhythm-shifts and virtuoso soloing and more on melody and symphonic arrangements, which sometimes even sound like coming from a Genesis-recording. Why do you choose this approach?
JI: In terms of composition, harmony is what interests me. I feel strongly that chordal movement makes the drama. Melody comes out of that, as a matter of course. So I’ve always tried to move unusual chords to unusual places, and not to follow any set ‘functional’ paradigm. As far as soloing goes, the more melodic and lyrical the better. Think of Pat Metheny’s solo on ‘Story From A Stranger’ from his ‘Rejoicing’ album, or his one on ‘Are You Going With Me?’ from ‘Travels’. They are my two favourite guitar solos ever, yet neither is overtly technical. Combine those with a bit of Alex Lifeson and you’ve pretty much got what I go for. The Genesis symphonic approach… well, I’d rather listen to something like ‘Burning Rope’ or ‘Blood On The Rooftops’ than music that existed purely for the purpose of playing scales and arpeggios over it. That’s the point at which I leave jazz behind and prog takes over.
RY: The track Your Skyline on Next Stop is dedicated to the late singer-songwriter John Martyn. What’s your connection with his intriguing music and has the use of effects pedals influenced you?
JI: John Martyn’s albums, from ‘Solid Air’ through to ‘Well Kept Secret’, have regularly sat on my turntable for over 30 years. He was a true innovator. The keyboard solo on ‘Your Skyline’ was done in the spirit of the ‘One World’ guitar solo, while Alan Emslie’s military snare, at the coda, sends dear JM metaphorically up the River Clyde. In terms of effects, delay and chorus are integral to my sound, but rarely do I use delay, rhythmically, like he did.
RY: Do you feel connected with the guitarists I mentioned in my reviews of your albums, like Snowy White, David Gilmour, Lyle Workman, Steve Topping and Brett Garsed or is it Allan Holdsworth after all ?
JI: I would say Holdsworth is the main influence out of all those great players, yes – but I’m really only interested in his chords. His soloing style has never been something I’ve strived for, even if I did have the technical ability. I like a blues note and a bent string, here and there, and Holdsworth tends to avoid such nonsense! Having said that, Steve Topping’s album ‘Late Flower’ is a work of enormous depth and one of the best guitar-driven album of recent times. I like guitarists, from whatever idiom, that have a unique harmonic approach – Steve Khan, Michael Hedges, Andy Summers, Christopher Cross, Joni Mitchell, Rob Crow, Devin Ocampo…
RY: The keyboards have an important place in your compositions, which would justify an extra musician in your band during live-gigs. What would be your favorite if you could choose from keyboard-players from the progressive and/or jazz-rock field?
JI: My keyboard skills are pretty basic. In fact, I would call myself a disciple of the ‘Geddy Lee School of Keyboard Playing’ so it would be an easy gig! But if I had to choose a keyboardist for The John Irvine Band it would be someone like Lyle Mays. His first solo album, ‘Lyle Mays’ is a pinnacle of jazz-rock.