Friday, October 21, 2016

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Interview: Brian Johnstone


As part of our Band Of The Month feature today we present the nice talk Brian Johnstone had with Diego Camargo for Progshine about his music, life and of course, his new album Consent Under Coertion.

The result is a very interesting and a great reading in the Interview below, have fun:

Interview by Diego Camargo

Progshine – Hello Brian! I would like to start this interview with the basics and your beginnings. How did you start playing music and when (and how) Prog Rock came about for you?

Brian Johnstone - I started lying piano at the late age of 16 - just as I was leaving high school to go to University. I came from a very non musical family where no one played music or had any interest so I didn't get any opportunity to go to music or piano lessons at an early age.
My first introduction was at the age of nine when my older brother played Trilogy by ELP. I remember being captivated and fascinated by the sounds of the Moog synths which featured heavily on that album. Then later than 1973 ElP released Brian Salad Surgery (my favourite album of all time - it can never be played enough). I was totally hooked but then ELP took few years off. Then in 1977 I was a few years older when they released Works and Fanfare for the Common Man. From there I bought every ELP release I could find.
Then my best friend’s older brother introduced me to Yes as they had just released Going for the One. From there I spent a lifetime being fascinated by the genre which offers so much opportunity for innovation and freedom to do anything musically. Im still exploring.

Progshine – How you write your songs and how’s the recording process?

Brian I almost always write at the keyboards/piano by improvising and messing around. I didn't really have capacity for waiting much in my head. It comes to actually more like through) me like a radio signal and I intercept and decrepit it and form it into a song.
Recording is digital on my home studio, I moved to a full digital studio many years ago after my first album and love the freedom it allows me as a solo artist: to write songs that sound like a band but I can do it without a band - only because it's tough to find collaborators. I am always looking for people to collaborate with.

Progshine – And talking about your new album, how was the process of writing and recording it? How much time did it take and how’s the response so far?

Brian This album took some years to write and complete. I had a lot of songs but wasn't happy with them all so it took some time to filter out the less promising ones. It also took me a long time to find a suitable vocalist but finally found Kevin Kennie (Scarlet Inside) to sing my songs. He is a great singer and excellent collaborator.

The response has been great so far. People are very positive about this album. That’s great because it shows a slightly heavier and more harder end sound that my previous albums.

Progshine – And talking about your released albums, how different you think they are from each other?

Brian My first album was a collection of ideas from right across the spectrum. I have always have a wide rate of influences. One thing I got from being a fan of Keith Emerson was the breadth of musical influences. To me that's what he  brought to/created for Prog: the ability to play any kind of music and corporate any style or element.

My 2nd and 3rd albums were more eletronic/pop influenced with but with a general Prog approach, I was experimenting with styles and influences. As a keyboard player I find it
tough to make hard edged rocky, aggressive music sometimes, as it’s so associated with guitar acts. Again with the exception Keith Emerson who really rocked with keyboards.
With Consent Under Coercion I think I am closer to what I think represents my musical voice and sound and style. However I don't like being predictable so I am working on a lot of ideas for new material which mixes a wide range of styles and influences, I always try to do something different which catches the listeners attention and makes them say “Oh that sounds interesting and different” while still entertaining them.


Progshine – Some time ago you told me you were writing some new music. Do you have ideas for the next record already? How that works for you? How do you know when it’s time for a new album?

Brian Good question. I am experimenting with lots of styles on music and see where I want to go.
For me there is no point in being like the Rolling stones and releasing the same music year after year. I have to find some new area to grow and develop. Artists who are great in moving forward are U2 and Madonna. While they are not Prog artists their approach is to grow and develop and do new things. I'm not sure what my direction is but I have a lot of stuff in the pot. A new album is ready when i had 10-12 songs that are complete enough to make a collection and an album. I still like the idea of the album being a collection. One song at at a time is not enough.

Progshine – And if we're talking about records, how you deal with music nowadays? Do you collect CD, LPs or you're a full time Digital kind of person?

Brian I have a collection with a lot of all formats but I am all digital nowadays purely out of convenience. But I do like CD. A physical presence gives something tangible rather than some conceptual and virtual and disposable. I dislike downloads for that reason but they are here to stay and all musicians have to deal with it.
I think the resurgence in vinyl is a total music business cynical attempt to extract more money from back catalogue re-issues by arousing curiosity of millennials and appealing to the nostalgia value for older generations.

Progshine – You're also an Arranger and a Producer. You work on your own studio? How much this is important on the current music scene? I mean to have your own studio and your own time to do things.

Brian Modern technology means virtually anyone can get involved in music making which is great, however, it's not a substitute for talent or skill for writing, creating or playing. I am proud that I can play my music and have learned and grown a skill over the years but can record, arrange, products and release it without the giant budget you needed in the past.

I believe in the merit of having learned and continuing to learn, gain new skills and develop as an artist. There is merit and virtue in that. But technology doesn’t give you that by itself: it’s merely a tool for efficient operations.


Progshine – And you're from Scotland, right? Do you think that nowadays it makes any difference, in the music world, from where you come from? There's a strong musical scene in Scotland for your kind of music?

Brian I think it does matter but only in terms of marketing. Creatively anyone from anywhere can make good credible, innovative music but the music business is a business, and that has a geographic focus. So being fairly remote from London, New York and LA is always a disadvantage for any artist. Although modern technology helps communication the business (ie. the power and decision making and influences are all still run by ‘Big Music’ with ‘Big Money’).

Progshine – Changing a bit the topic. As a reader, I have always liked to know about my favorite artists tastes such as their favorite bands and albums. If you could name the bands/albums that influenced your music, which ones would they be?

Brian That's always a double barrelled question: What I listen to doesn't always reflected in the music I make. I love Jazz Funk but am not good writing in that style. I love David Foster's writing and production but I don't write in that style. I like a range of bands and styles:

Bands
- Emerson Lake and Palmer
- Yes
- Rush
- Steve Hackett
- It Bites
- Bruce Hornsby
- David Foster
- Billy Joel
- Nik Kershaw
- Eagles
- Hans Zimmer
- Alan Silevstri
- Spyro Gyra

Albums
- Brain Salad Surgery (Emerson, Lake & Palmer)
- Going for the One (Yes)
- Hold your Fire (Rush)
- Spectral Mornings (Steve Hackett)
- Once around the World (It Bites)


Progshine – Thank you for your time Brian! It was my pleasure to interview you. I like to leave the final space in my interviews for bands and artists messages. So the space is all yours!


Brian Prog Rock: I dislike the term prog rock because it get so much bad press and I dislike having to use the phrase. But modern marketing requires that I have to attach to a genre. But that is the
ultimate irony because for me the term simply allows me (or other artists) to write in any style or use any influence and that by itself defies classification.

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Listen Brian's music:
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