It's always such a treat to discover or come accross new artists in the prog genre. Especially ones who are more interested in writing great music that isn't afraid to pay respect to prog's past. That's how I felt while listening to the latest musical project from Lisa LaRue. It sounded new and fresh and yet there was no mistaking the subtle influences. I had to fo find out more so here's my chat with Lisa.
Jerry Lucky: Your bio says you’ve been recording music since 1994 but has music always been a part of your life?
Lisa LaRue: Yes, I have played since I was 3 years old, and music was constantly a part of my life. Whether it was enjoying old musicals and radio hits with my grandmother, or listening to my older friends' bands, to trying to start my own bands as a teenager, music has ALWAYS been there. I listen no matter what I'm doing; life is just too quiet and 'plain' without it!
JL: How did the interest in progressive rock come about?
LL: When I was 13, a guy played the end of Lucky Man over the phone for me. That was IT. He also turned me on to King Crimson, Genesis, Yes ..... plus the fact that I grew up in Topeka, Kansas....... I was totally aware of the band Kansas, as well. The first two albums I bought were Yes "Close to the Edge" and Kansas "Song for America."
JL: Was there a moment in time where you heard something and said that’s the kind of music I want to create?
LL: Probably when I was 4, and was listening to the soundtrack to "Camelot." Sitting between the stereo speakers, I heard strings, cellos, all sorts of sounds with such definition, and I knew THEN that I wanted to orchestrate and make beautiful music that caused people to close their eyes and smile, just as I was doing at that very moment.
JL: Can you recall your first prog “aha-moment”?
LL: Other than hearing the Moog at the end of Lucky Man, I would say it was hearing the great Moody Blues track "Nights in White Satin" and hearing the first words uttered, "Breathe deep ...." I knew then that the mystique of prog was a result of the fusion of classical music, literature, art, and all art forms of beauty.
JL: Your musical style or reference points are quite well shrouded, are there bands or players that you look to for inspiration?
LL: Early on, definitely old musicals and lots of songs that I would say now WERE prog, even though they weren't classified that way. For example, Elton John's "Funeral for a Friend," or Paul Mauriat's "Love is Blue."
I've also always loved Frank Sinatra (and ALL rat-pack era music), Pat Metheny, and lots of early 80's material, like Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran!! That never took me away from prog, though, and there was one band in the early 80's I REALLY liked, produced by Eddie Offord (Yes, ELP), called Art in America. I wonder what ever happened to them?
Today, my inspiration continues to be the classic prog masters such as Emerson, Wakeman and others, but also all of the young people in really talented prog bands that are sprouting up, such as The Source and Souljourners, for example.
JL: Your compositions consist of many segments and transitions…I’m always interested in how a composition comes together. For example Prometheus.
LL: That is a HUGE question to answer, as each song is different. Sometimes, I sit down and write a whole song on the piano, do a little orchestration, and then pass it on to my guitarist, Steve Adams. Sometimes, it's just an intro I write, and then I pass it on to Steve and he adds not only TO the intro, but other parts to the song. And then sometimes, I spend time working on one section and perfecting it to my own satisfaction, and then write the next section later. Sometimes Steve starts the song, using the same process. But, Prometheus, the track you bring up, was a whole different ballgame. Our drummer, Merrill Hale, wrote the entire arrangement as a drum track FIRST. He then handed it over to Steve Adams who wrote and recorded ALL of the guitar tracks, and then it was passed on to me. We had NS Stick player Don Schiff (now a permanent member of 2KX) work on the bass and stick parts while myself and guest Ryo Okumoto (Spock's Beard) worked on the keys. Ryo and I decided to split the song up at the perfect transition spot in the song, and I would take the first section and he would take the second one. It turned out brilliant, I must say! It's an epic track, for sure.
JL: The list of musicians you work with is quite extraordinary. Perhaps you can tell us how you managed to assemble this cast?
LL: I'm honored to hear you say that, and I guess it has to do with the fact that I have good friends, am known by a number of musicians, and have gained the respect of many of them. And also, I just ask! Because they are familiar with my work, or we have mutual friends, it usually works out just fine. There is a real sense of synchronicity within 2KX, and usually the people whose names come up are 'just the right one' for each particular track where we have guest artists.
I am blessed to have Steve Adams and Merrill Hale, also known as the two-man prog band, ARZ. Steve and I write so well together! And Merrill, he is just creative and brilliant. The fact that they live so close together and have worked on many projects together makes them a perfect team! And I'm blessed to have also as permanent members, Don Schiff and Dave Schiff. Together, the two of them have worked with almost every well known artist from Elvis Presley, to Tina Turner, to Rocket Scientists, to even The Muppets.
As far as our guests, I met John Payne (Asia) almost 20 years ago now, and always wanted to work with him. "Fast and Blue" is my third album now that he has been part of. Michael Sadler is the good friend of one of MY good friends, and he didn't hesitate when asked. I have so many mutual friends with Ryo, but hadn't met him yet, and just contacted him and asked him, and now we've not only worked together, but have become friends...... again, it's just a matter of your network, your reputation, and your tenacity, HA!
JL: You started emailing me and sending information my way some time back…it’s probably been a year or two already…it struck me that you were quite keen to use the technology to spread your word. I’m interested in how that all came together. Not everyone is that computer savvy.
LL: Really, it just seems that the internet is a common way to send any communication anymore, other than smartphones. It is fast, you can send attachments, it is economical and you just can't beat it. I don't see how people DON'T use the internet to communicate anymore?
JL: I’m guessing the response to Fast and Blue has been quite positive?
LL: Yes, it has. We went all out with this one. The album was co-produced by John Payne, we produced a DVD, and issued a special 24-page, color booklet explaining the concept behind the album and all of the songs, plus information on all of the musicians. It has gotten great reviews, and we are very pleased with the outcome. The CD is available through many mediums, and the DVD and booklet are available through my website (www.lisalaruemusic.com)
JL: What’s been your experience distributing the CD digitally? What are the benefits and the drawbacks (if any)?
LL: Well, most of my sales are for physical CDs. But, the benefits of digital are that there is not as much cost up front for getting it on the market. If you use your own website, there's almost NO cost, and an aggregator for shops such as iTunes, eMusic, etc. is a small expense compared to CD manufacturing. It's necessary to have both, I have found, when you are in the prog genre, especially. In prog, people love the artwork, the liner notes, and the sonic quality of 'real' CDs.
JL: Any thought to performing live?
LL: We would LOVE to play some festivals, and as we are just now getting to the point of having permanent members instead of so many guest artists, it may be possible.
JL: What’s next on Lisa LaRue’s agenda?
LL: We are in the planning stages of the next album, scheduled for release in late 2012, and have a couple of holiday things planned ... I am re-releasing a remastered version of my 2008 album "Transformation 2012" on January 1, 2012, and also releasing "The Lisa LaRue Collection" for Christmas 2011, which has some of my favorite tracks from 5 albums of my back catalog.
I am also in the process of working up ideas for a keyboard/stick album with Don Schiff, a new keyboard TRIO which will be announced in 2012, and hoping to write and record some music on the side with my significant other, John Baker, whom you probably know from the prog band, Mars Hollow.
JL: Lastly my desert island disc question…if you were stuck on a desert island with only 5 discs which ones would they be and why those ones?
LL: Woohoo!! I have been WAITING for this question from somebody!!!
1. Brain Salad Surgery - Emerson, Lake and Palmer
Because Karn Evil 9 Third Impression is about the most impressive prog song ever done, and the whole album inspired me for years and years..... I've never 'not' had a copy of it with me, wherever I am.
2. Six Wives of Henry VIII - Rick Wakeman
This was the album that I always wanted to emulate. I had the album, with the picture of Rick and all his keys, tacked up on the wall over my keyboard as a teenager. I wanted to do concept albums and do them all by myself with guests as I needed, just like Rick!! And I did! Thanks, Rick!
3. Kansas - Masque
To remember the boys of my hometown and how they literally 'brought prog home' for me, made it seem accessible and feasible.
4. Aura - Asia
To remember John Payne and all of the inspiration, mentoring, professionalism, and friendship I have gained through him.
5. Fast and Blue - Lisa LaRue 2KX
So I could listen and decide what I want to do on my NEXT album .... when I get off the island!