Jerry Lucky: You’ve just come off the success of The Big Red Spark…Has that changed the band’s game-plan in anyway?
Robert Ramsay: Not at the moment, we're still taking it one day at a time - I think the main thing that has changed is that the opportunities we are getting offered have got bigger :-) The more people that buy the album and like it, the more ambitious we can be when we come to doing things in the future.
Simon Godfrey: Very true. In terms of Tinyfish as a creative force, nothing’s really changed that much. We are still the same bunch of mates who got into this business not to further our careers but to make music that we genuinely love.
JL: In the Progressive Rock world…how do you measure success?
Robert: The number of fans you have and how good your relationship is with them.
It's still quite a small pond, and we're not ones for losing interest in our fans once they've bought the record. Of course there are other measures in addition to this, but for us, the primary success criterion is how many people support us and our music.
Simon: I totally agree with Robert. You measure your gain by the number of smiling faces you encounter. If people
tell me they enjoyed a live show or that the stuff we release raised the hairs on the back of their necks when they gave it stuff
a spin on their iPod then my job is done. You really can’t ask for much more than that.
JL: Your brother, up until quite recently, was running his own Prog band (Frost*), did that create or “spark” any kind of competition between the two of you?
Simon: Absolutely. We are totally competitive when it comes to music but in a good way. I am my brother’s biggest fan because I love what he does. We both have an intimate knowledge of what the other is capable of and that acts as a huge incentive to create the best music that we can. I trust Jem’s taste and judgement in music totally and when either of us creates something we think is special, nine times out of ten the other one is the first to hear it. The open competition helps to make each of us better writers and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Robert: Really? I heard there was a well-attended knife fight in Milton Keynes Bowl that settled the matter, and Jeremy agreed to back down and disband Frost* ;-)
Simon: Only because you leapt on his back at the last minute and hit the poor bugger over the head with a frozen chicken!
JL: I’m trying to imagine a conversation between the two of you…one of you
say’s “You know what, I’m going to start a prog band.” And the other says, “Really? I was thinking of doing that myself.” Did he follow
your lead? Or was it the other way around?
Rob: I believe it was completely independent. But things in the world often happen at the same time in different places.
Simon: That’s very true. The moment we both decided to form prog bands again was a total coincidence. Both of us had fallen out of the prog world after our first band Freefall split up. We were both very bitter about the whole scene as we’d come really close to landing a major deal back in the early 1990s but it fell apart at the eleventh hour leaving us with nothing. Each of us disappeared into other avenues of work for a decade or so but I think in our heart of hearts we both knew we’d give progressive music another go because the genre meant so much to us. As for who thought of it first, I think Jem can claim the prize on that one.
I know we can read the full Bio and origin of the band on your website (www.tinyfish.org) so tell me something about getting together
that you haven’t shared with the world as yet?
Robert: Simon asked me right at the beginning why I thought he wanted to form Tinyfish. I said "Unfinished business". He said "You bastard".
Simon: Haha I remember you saying that and you were (and are) totally right. I was a full time drummer back in the Freefall days and I couldn’t play any other instrument. When we broke up, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t rely upon the industry of others to make music anymore. To that end, I put my sticks down, bought a guitar and started to teach myself how to sing, write and play. It took me 10 years of hard work but I eventually felt technically capable enough to start another prog outfit and very happily, Tinyfish was the result.
JL: Your catch phrase…The World’s Smallest Progressive Rock Band…what’s the thinking behind presenting that image?
Robert: Every band tells people how fantastic they are. That's boring. We thought we'd start with setting more modest expectations for people so that they can actually find out for themselves how fantastic we actually are without us forcing it down their throats.
Simon: Agreed. Like the name of the band itself, the catch phrase started out as an in joke reaction to the hyperbole that is often associated with Prog. We were ‘tiny fish’ in a huge ocean of bands that included Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Floyd, etc and we thought we’d go in the opposite direction, making being small and unknown a virtue instead of a handicap. After all, wasn’t it Robert Fripp himself that advocated the formation of small, mobile, intelligent units back in the early 1980s? We decided to take his advice and see where it led.
Even today, we keep the ethos alive because we are as much friends as we are band mates. Rush serve as a very good example of that because even though they are huge, it’s very obvious that they still get on very well. That kind of friendship is something we aspire to because there is no point being in the business if you don’t enjoy both your work and your workmates. Being the world’s smallest prog band is a state of mind now and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
JL: The decision not to have a dedicated keyboard player…was that intentional…?
Simon: Absolutely. We did approach a couple of keyboard players when we started out but with the arrival of the Roland GR-20 guitar synth system back in the mid noughties, we realised the technology which had previously only been available to top level players was now within our grasp.
It also presented us with a creative challenge because it didn’t allow us to hide behind a wall of 11th chords or mini moog solos. The last element was that not having a keyboard player flies in the face of tradition which is something we are very keen to do. Some people have said we are not progressive rock simply because we DON’T have a keyboard player. One wonders how they miss the irony in such a statement.
Robert: It was also a very practical decision. None of us can play keyboards so we'd have to obtain a keyboard player that fitted our very particular band chemistry and that is a big ask. We couldn't be bothered with all that palaver - it took us long enough to find a drummer - so no keyboard player.
JL: What effect does that have on the sound of TinyFish?
Robert: It makes it bigger because we take up less room on stage. J
Simon: I think that as a group, we recognised a creative opportunity in having no keyboard player. The guitar has always been the primary interface of choice for everyone in the band (including our drummer Leon who is a superb guitarist/bass player in his own right). It is an instrument that we understand and we use the guitar in conjunction with new technology to write in a different way.
Yet as I listened to The Big Red Spark…there were keyboards there. So how is the decision made on where to add keyboards?
Robert: It's all guitar synths. Unless Simon has been lying to me.
Simon: Rob’s right, it’s 99 percent guitar synth and/or triggered samples. I used keyboards on one song called Refugee to bang out some basic chords but then edited the midi data in Pro Tools to give it a quasi dissonant feel which was beyond my meagre skills as a pianist to articulate on the fly.
The track is a good example of today’s technology allowing you to reach beyond your physical technique and manipulate the individual elements that make the song better. For Tinyfish, what is best for the song comes before all other considerations.
JL: In my review I made reference to a kind of Steam-Punk reference in the attitude and sound of your music. A kind of Jules Verne/HG Wells on steroids. Is that a fair observation?
Robert: Certainly, the album was envisaged as a similar sort of beast to Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds, so the comparison is definitely fair. It means that we've awoken those similarities in people's minds, and hopefully giving the album further depth for the listener.
Simon: At the time of writing the album, I loved the genre with a passion and was involved with elements of the Steampunk community on-line. I initially wanted to imbue the record with an out and out Steampunk feel but as the subject matter of The Big Red Spark evolved and reached a lot further into the notion of parallel universes, we decided to dial down the focus upon one particular genre. A shame really but you never know, we might return to Steampunk a little further down the line.
One Steampunk element that has survived is Robert’s stage costume which he wears when performing the opening section of The Big Red Spark. He looks like some mad crossover between a professor and a 1930’s aviator. I remember the audience at the album launch show in London giving him a huge cheer as he walked on stage. He looked so cool!
Robert: My favourite reaction though was from Paul. He walked into the dressing room and saw me dressed as The Professor and his face just went totally blank with surprise. For a few seconds, he was like: “No information on this!”
JL: How does the band actually craft the music? Is there a standard or typical approach you employ to make the music you do? Lyrics first…music first…jam session…?
Robert: Normally, Simon comes up with the skeleton of the song, basic melody and so on, then he records la-la-ing where the words should go and pass it over to me. This lets me see where the syllables fall, and hopefully not write something Simon can't sing. Although a few lines here and there have had to be changed over the years to accommodate his need to breathe occasionally.
After that, the rest of the band get involved and from here, the song changes as their ideas come in, and the final song can end up radically different to its first conception.
On the new album, Simon is keen for Paul and Jim and Leon to get involved a lot earlier so that the song starts evolving sooner.
Simon: That’s true. I’ve always collaborated well with Rob as the roles are pretty clearly delineated but both James Sanders and Paul Worwood are fantastic melodic players and their contributions for the last album have really shone through. I’d like to see more of that for future recordings.
have a new full time member in the form of drummer Leon Camfield who as I mentioned before, is no mean writer himself. This means
that we have a lot of talent to bring to bear upon the next Tinyfish album which is bloody exciting.
JL: I’m guessing one of the most oft asked questions about the Big Red Spark is…what’s it all mean? What’s it all about?
The basic idea came totally out of the blue from a very strange dream. I was walking around some kind of large building and discovered a room containing a doomsday device which for some reason I knew could not only destroy everything in this universe but all worlds in all other potential universes as well. It would be the end of absolutely everything. I don’t usually remember dreams and having one so vivid left a big impression on me. I also distinctly remember the machine being called The Big Red Spark. Why would I remember something so specific and why that particular name? The whole thing continues to baffle me.
Later that same day I told Rob over the phone what had happened and it really caught his imagination. He wanted to know why as well as how such a machine would be created in the first place and set about mapping out a story to explore the seed I had planted in his head.
Robert: You know when you have a song that you can't get out of your head? What if, instead of a song, it was an IDEA? An IDEA that tells you how to build an incredible machine... You don't know what the machine is actually for, but it's so exciting you have to get to work on it as soon as possible...
What if people in other universes all got the same IDEA, and all started building this machine?
What if... the purpose of the machine was to destroy everything in every universe...?
The Big Red Spark is meant to be an expression of the human death wish, which by the end of the album, we have turned around to discover that it's actually the urge to evolve. What the author Iain M. Banks calls "subliming" where a civilisation discovers that physical form is not actually necessary to existence.
Simon: Or it’s about fast cars and breasts. We’re not entirely sure. ;-)
They call themselves "the smallest prog band in the world, but Tinyfish are far from being a small fish in a big pond. In fact they're getting bigger everyday, especially following the release of the spectacular Big Red Spark. Here's a few words with Robert Ramsay and Simon Godfrey.