Parallel Digressions With Andy Tillison - Part 1
Casual progressive rock fans might only know Andy Tillison from his latest project, The Tangent, the solo project that turned into a group that includes Roine Stolt, Jonas Reingold, and Zoltan Cs?rsz of the Flower Kings, Guy Manning, Theo Travis, and Sam Baine. But many of those whose affection for prog runs a little deeper know that Tillison's connection with prog goes back further than that, to his concurrent project, Parallel Or 90 Degrees, and, before that, Gold Frankincense And Disk Drive (with Guy Manning). In part one of our two part interview, Joshua Turner talks with Tillison about The Tangent and the two albums the group has released to date.
[This interview was conducted on November 21, and after the usual hellos one gets with a phone based interview...]
Joshua Turner: I heard a rumor that you are in the process of moving to France.
Andy Tillison: Yeah.
JT: What prompted this whole move?
AT: [he laughs] Um, cause it was there, you know. [we both laugh] France was there and, uh, we decided to go. It's just weird, uh, it's just one of those things that happened. It's a chance that came our way and we decided to take it. It enabled us to make music a bit more professional, that's all. So, uh, that's what we decided we do. [he laughs] How are you anyway, Josh?
JT: I'm doing very good.
JT: Yeah. You know, I've got a curiosity. I've heard this a few times. I've heard you nicknamed as Tillison Diskdrive.
JT: What's that all about?
AT: Ah, right. Well that's, um, an old nickname that goes really a long way back. It's just from the fact, I'm one of the first people in my crowd of people who liked to gauge computers and, uh, I was always banging on these drives and things, this, that, and the other, and, you know, it is how Andy Tillison Diskdrive [came about] and of course I had a band that was called Gold Frankincense and Disk Drive and... it was just a thing that stuck after a few bands that used to work with me down at the recording studio I used to run. I used to, um, you know, just put Andy Diskdrive, you know, as my credit for engineering things and that kind of stuff, so it's just an old name that stuck around.
JT: Okay. I just heard you were recently on tour with The Tangent. I was wondering, how did that go?
AT: It was absolutely great, um, from my point of view. [It was a] wonderful experience to play with the guys live, as we were and, uh, you know, just a, just a terrific thing to play in front of people who are so receptive. Parallel or 90 Degrees plays plenty of gigs, but we've never had a chance to play to so many people in such a short period of time and it's actually a proper tour to see so many people and meet so people. It's fantastic, and they, you know, the fulfilling of a dream completely really now, to both make the record and actually tour it. [he laughs] It was all stuff that we were never expecting to do, so it just suddenly comes out of nowhere, grabs hold of you, and, uh, like there we are, playing live with this band on stage that we dreamed up, um, two years before and never thought would happen never mind actually go out and play. So, it was just incredible; yeah, really enjoyed it.
JT: I was very happy to see that you are going to be headlining the Rites of Spring Festival in 2005 and I was just wondering how you got involved in ROSfest.
AT: Well, ROSfest just approached us and asked us to play and, you know, we had quite a few, you know, offers from various places and we considered them all very carefully and we decided to accept the ROSfest offer and, you know, obviously we've got a lot of work to do to prepare for it, uh, particularly [as] we're not sure who's playing yet, and we won't be sure till around about Christmas time, and it could even be after that that we're actually finding out the definite. It's ... it's, you know, it was just our first opportunity to play in the USA. We said we'll do this and, um, I'm looking forward to it very much indeed, you know; that will be a real, another peak of, another thing really since The Tangent formed to actually play on... to play on American soil will be amazing, and, I don't know when you say headlining, I don't know whether we are headlining or not. The festival is just a lot of bands playing really and, um, you know, [he laughs] I'll be looking forward to seeing the other bands and, you know, checking out what else is going on and meeting people and talking to people... we've never been a band particularly much into kind of [he laughs] like stage and pecking order, but we are really looking forward to that. What an experience that will be, you know, there has just been so many this year, so uh, [he laughs] I'm a bit crushed by all of you, you know what I mean.
JT: Yeah, I'm definitely looking forward to the festival and a number of those bands; but on the record, I'm looking forward most to seeing The Tangent live. I hate to press it, but you say you don't know who the line-up might be, but do you have any idea who you might be bringing in, who might be there to join in, or who you might bring in to fill in?
AT: Sure, there is going to be myself, Sam Baine, and Theo Travis. Um, that's basically what we've been, we're expecting at the moment. I mean, Theo said he'll come. Sam's definitely coming and I'm coming; basically, Sam and I have written everything that The Tangent has played so far, you know, it's our music, so, really it's, it's a project that belongs really to us and we have to make, we kind of have to force our, our own hands really to decide whether The Tangent is going to exist beyond the days that Roine Stolt and Jonas Reingold and Zoltan Czsorz could play with us, because they originally decided they would make one record with us. That was it. [He laughs] That was what they were going to do. They were going to make one record and they made one record and then carried on being The Flower Kings until certainly we rang them up and said, "Will you make another one?" and they said, "Okay, we'll make another one" and then there's another one and then we rang them up and said, "Will you come on tour?" and we talked about it a bit and said, "Well, it will be difficult, but we'll think about it" and they came and did a tour and then [he laughs] and then of course, you know, there's a question, How long can we go on... asking another band to be our band, if you see what I mean?
And we don't know how long that can continue and the simple fact is, is that The Flower Kings are a band in their own right that's been going for ten years and we can't stop them from being their band and it just may be that around that time of year, The Flower Kings have to play their own gigs. They might have to do their own tour. They might, all sorts of things might crop up and that will be their priority, you know, good though I think The Tangent is, I will understand 100% that they are three members of my favorite band, [I laugh] so if they want to go and be in my favorite band, well, that's what they should do, isn't it?
And, I think the point is, is that rather than just say okay, no more Tangent then if they, if they do decide that or they're not available, we kind of have to think: right, let's go play this music and find some great musicians who, who can take their place and play the music for them and, you know, I think there is people who understand that. What you end up with is a kind of sort of type of King Crimson style arrangement where people change and people come and go and everything like that, that the idea, the ideology and the structure of the band remains the same and takes different musical directions depending on who is playing with the band at the time and that could be quite an exciting thing, 'cause their hasn't been a project that's worked in that way for quite some time, so perhaps that's the way we might go and of course perhaps we might come with Roine Stolt, Jonas, and Zoltan, we just don't know about how it will be. It's a very, very difficult thing. Of course everybody's asking, so um, I think that's the most comprehensive and honest answer I've given yet though, Josh. [I laugh] You've done some good work for us in the past.
I've tried to be as forthright as I can there. Is this for a magazine interview or is this a radio interview?
JT: It is for an online journal.
AT: Online journal?
AT: So, you'll be writing this down. I don't have to worry about anything.
JT: Oh no.
JT: You've definitely done very good, politically spinning this. Maybe you should be a politician.
AT: [he laughs] It's not meant to spin at all. I'm just trying to be honest.
JT: Yeah, but regardless, I mean, you, The Flower Kings, The Tangent, you're all putting out good music and I guess that's the bottom line. I was wondering, how did you come up with the name The Tangent?
AT: Well, that's a simple, it's a simple matter of convenience. It's a pun of course; um, basically, my other group Parallel or 90 Degrees is a couple of geometric comparisons, you know, parallel to the... the original idea was it's supposed to be that the mainstream and you run parallel with the mainstream or you go against it... uh, that's what the Parallel or 90 Degrees name meant to me. Another direction is to go off a tangent, which means to do something completely different. I don't think you have that phrase in America [for all your European readers, we actually do -JT]. We use it a lot in England. We go off on a tangent. It just stuck straight away, you know, it fits with Po90. Everybody in the band is doing something slightly different from what they normally do. The Tangent was a great name for it and of course, uh, that's where the problems I ended up with, this having to do what you alarmingly call political spin, is because the fact that I decided to give it a group name in the first place, I think the only reason I decided to do that was out of absolute and complete honesty in that, once I started to make a solo album, which was of course The Music That Died Alone ... when I eventually got to hear what it was sounding like with these amazing six musicians on it, I started to think, I can't claim credit for that as my work. I just cannot put my name Andy Tillison on the top of this record and say that's all mine, so I decided to give it a name. I decided to call it The Tangent. I asked everybody if that was alright and they all said it was okay, so I did it and unfortunately I've gotten myself into real sticky water, because everybody now thinks The Tangent is this band and we've got to be the same every time, but unfortunately it ain't going to be that way. [we laugh] Okay, I'm sorry about that, Josh.
JT: No, it's the perfect answer. I'm also wondering, how did you actually meet Roine Stolt and when did you decide to get him involved in a project with you?
AT: Um, I met Roine for the first time in 1999, when his band was doing a concert in, um, Rotherham, England, and we'd been asked to support them, just to open basically and I've never heard of them. I'd just been told The Flower Kings. As a matter of fact, I kind of sniggered and thought what kind of a name is that for a band, you know, and just thought, um, that it would be a fairly easy night for us kind of thing, and when I saw them in soundcheck, I wanted to run and hide in the dressing room. Wow! This is fantastic and... I was just so absolutely gobsmacked at what I considered to be, what I saw them play that night when they came on stage for real. You know, it was to me like progressive rock music as I'd known it and loved it was back. It was a real amazing experience to feel that and, um, I think that ... on that particular night, I was, you know, almost moved to tears by it. I was standing there with a great big lump in my throat listening to them do "Stardust We Are." I went home and my only thought for the next three weeks was how could I kill the keyboard player in The Flower Kings so that I could join.
[I laugh hysterically] Um, and of course, I don't want to kill Tomas Bodin cause he's a really nice guy and I'm a good friend of his and he's a friend of mine and that's it. I've got a lot of respect for him, so [he laughs] I've been, you know, just a fan from that moment onwards. I just went to see them local most times and I got to know their manager after an exchange of emails that originally started off in quite a hostile manner. You know, he's not their manager. He's our manager, sorry. I'm getting things confused here. A guy called Ian Oakley, who was helping The Flower Kings out here in the UK. He wrote a bad review of Parallel or 90 Degrees [I laugh] and I kind of wrote to him and said, "Well, why did you give us a bad review? I think we're quite good really." He wrote back and said, "Yeah, sorry I wrote you a bad review," and we became very good friends and he introduced me to Roine personally and played him some of my music and of course the whole Tangent thing came about me and he's now the manager after giving me a bad review. So, it's just one of those amazing things that twists and turns around. He never expected when he was doing that, what the consequences would be. Neither did I. It's just one of those things that just leads to somewhere you weren't expecting it to go and we got the whole band, the record contract, and the albums have all come from that one argument we had. Quite a good thing.
JT: That's pretty funny. You've got some very interesting titles for the last two albums that you came out with for The Tangent: The Music That Died Alone and The World That We Drive Through. Can you explain what these titles actually mean?
AT: Um, well, I've always been a believer in a good title. I mean, the title is, um, you need to almost spend as much time thinking what the title of the record can be as you do about what the record is itself, you know? It's... it's something that, you know, you need to draw people in. The Music That Died Alone is, uh, it's basically the title of a song on the album and the, the idea being that, um, I wrote some songs actually about progressive rock music. I think that actual album was the first time that music, that progressive rock has ever written about itself, um... and I think that was an important moment. Nearly every other kind of music that we can think of has written songs about itself. Rock n' Roll has had songs about Rock n' Roll. Disco has had songs about Disco. Folk has songs about Folk. Country Western has had songs about Country Western music and, um, I think for the first time in thirty odd years, when The Music That Died Alone came about, it actually had some songs about progressive rock on it, and, um, you know, I have a lot of very strong and... you know, loving feelings for progressive music. I'll always have them and I'm one of the kind of people who really like it and then proceeds to show it off in public. I'll blow it like a trumpet until the cows come home. It's something that, um, I've always thought got a very bad deal,...and surprisingly enough that ... a lot of people who know that I came from the punk scene really more than the progressive rock scene, that my first experience, that my first band, a lot of the production work I did in the eighties, were a lot more involved with hardcore punk rock than they were to do with prog, but all that time I kept my love for progressive rock music alive.
Where a lot of people sort of like have to say this as an almost para-fashion that progressive rock music was pretentious middle-class blah, blah, blah. I kept it very, very close to my heart and, uh, I guess I always will. I consider it to be a very, very important part in, in the history of twentieth-century music and I hope it is going to have a big role to play in the twenty-first century and really the title of the first album The Music That Died Alone was sort my question, if we don't do something about it, if we don't kind of try to let the media understand that this music has a place in the history of twentieth-century culture then nobody will actually hear it to become, um, you know, to carry the music forward and if I give you this almost solemn thing, this solemn kind of thought really,... that if The Flower Kings and Spock's Beard and The Tangent and, you know, many of the other bands like Anekdoten, Discipline, and Salem Hill, all those guys, if we guys are the people who grew up listening to progressive rock music and now started to make it here in the, um, late nineties and early two thousands, who is going to do it for us when we get old? [I laugh] You know, who is going to carry on and pick it up? Because the point is that we're here because we heard it, we lived it, and it was part of our lives, but the real challenge, the next generation won't hear it, because of the fact that the radio stations, the mainstream radio stations, the press, the TV companies, MTV, do not cover it, do not let people know it is there, and you will be surprised, because I've had the opportunity to be able to play progressive rock music to people who are a lot younger than me from the point of view that I'm a teacher and, um, like you'd be surprised just how much they like it. They say, wow, we've never heard anything like this before, you know; you tell them, once a long time ago this band called The Nice, they decided to record a whole symphony with a rock band. They thought what a great idea, you know, [he laughs] they're so enthusiastic about it, but they never got to hear any.
I've heard people describe The Gates Of Delirium as wow, that is seriously funky, you know, and it is what you think about it. It's a really seriously funky piece of music and unfortunately, nobody lets them have it and lets them get that kind of reference and I often think if it doesn't happen that the music will fade into history, die alone, if you like, with no friends, and I really don't want that to happen, so I push it, I've pushed as hard as I can, and uh, I hope a lot of other people, gawd I'm taking ages to answer this question, you're probably getting bored, sorry Josh. [I laugh] Are you still there or have you gone to sleep?
JT: Oh yeah, I'm still here. [he laughs]
AT: The other album, The World That We Drive Through, the title about, it's a similar kind of notion, um, but less specific towards progressive rock music. It's like, let's take more notice of the things in the world as they are happening. Let's take more notice just like it was in progressive rock, let's take more notice of the things that we do in daily life that affect other people, some of which are bad, you know, like, for example, you know, when we're trading shares, let's perhaps try to think of who it might be affecting out there in the world, whether people will become poor as a result of what's made us rich. And at the same time as that, [as] looking on the negative side of things, it's also looking at a very positive side of things as we whoosh from, you know, 9 to 5 everyday and push through our lives, we often forget to look at the really great and beautiful things that are right in front of our eyes and, you know, it's just there to take. So The World That We Drive Through sees us all pretty much on a self-obsessed journey through life, forgetting that there is a load of really good stuff to pick off the trees, just off the side of the road that we're on. I guess that's, um, what the titles are about. [he laughs] Sorry Josh.
JT: No, that's perfect. [we both laugh] That answers my question. That's exactly what we're supposed to do here. I've already heard that you are writing material for the next The Tangent album. Is that even true?
AT: Oh yeah, it is, um, kind of like musical ideas running through my head and the idea of trying to do,... like sort out some kind of overall concept for how this will be... , suffice to say, it's going to be a big one. I think that every progressive rock band needs to disappear into its own ass at some point, you know. Um, I'm trying to make it, you know, trying to... I intend to push it further and take the people a little further than we've taken them on this album. A few people gave up on the first hurdle with The World That We Drive Through because it is a little bit more difficult, a little bit more dark, a little bit more mysterious than it's previous effort. I think a lot of people have pointed this out, but it is a record that is not quite as easy to get into as the first one was, and this is the nature of progressive rock music, that you, you try to invite people in into more adventurous places and the third one, yes, I wanted to take it further from, take it further, still basing it within the kind of like, idea of progressive rock as if it was before we were so rudely interrupted in 1977, and I still want to make music that's, that's a progression on what we've done before. So yeah, I've a half-started idea, ... I have sort of like a general concept that is coming together in my head. It's all to do with queuing, waiting for things, and handouts, and, uh, people of various positions in the queue [line]. So, if you imagine a queue that George Bush is in the front of and let's um, some... some kid who's broken his leg on [an] Ethiopian famine field is at the back of the queue, then perhaps you're looking at something that I intend to write about on the next record.
JT: That's very interesting. Basically, all your ideas are very creative.
AT: I don't have to take, I can't take credit for all the ideas. I mean, a lot of the ideas of this came from a conversation I was having with an American chap called Michael Gardiner, you may have met him, you may know him, or heard his name or whatever?
[I believe he is referring to journalist Michael Gardiner, whose writings appear in (at least) Progression Magazine and the Prog4You website - helpful, unassuming ed.]
AT: We had an interesting conversation. As we talked in the conversation, I actually sort of like smiled at him and said, "You do realize, we are writing an album here already?"
JT: Oh wow. [we laugh]
AT: It was quite a nice moment and I think that ... you know, that something will come of it and of course, uh, [he laughs], in true Tillison style, I could also say, well it might not be either. It might be about fishing boats in Cornwall, but I guess I can't promise anything yet and I'll be starting to actually record the basic outlines of songs once I get to France, probably in the New Year and I'm hoping to start recording the album in the later half of 2005 with a view to releasing it in early 2006, so that's really what I'm looking at.
JT: I'm already looking forward to it. [we both laugh] Just to switch gears to talk about your other band, to give it its due, I'm wondering what's planned for the next album with Parallel or 90 Degrees?
AT: Well, um, Po90 is part of my life and has been since 1996. I've put an awful lot of work into it and there is a lot of me in that band. The fact is that I can't exactly say what is going to happen. All I can say is that we recorded, we've recorded... um, half of an album. In fact, I've recorded a whole album and we recorded it at Jonas Reingold's studio over a year and a half ago now, and basically what actually happened with that album, that record, is that half of it is the best stuff I've ever recorded in my life, [he laughs] um, I'm so pleased with it and so proud of it that, you know, I can't, I can't stress how much that is a great piece of work.
The only problem is that the other half isn't. [we laugh] The other half is probably the worst stuff that I've ever written and the blame thoroughly rests with me because I wrote it,... some weak songs with weak lyrics about weak things... things that I really didn't think about enough, basically 'cause I was so in a hurry to get some tunes together in time for going to Sweden and I think I overstepped it really. I need to spend a little bit longer writing this stuff. I'm not kind of a one-man hit-factory like Neal Morse who can just write genius song after genius song without even having to pause [to take] a breath, you know. The guy can, you know, he could have written a fifteen minute epic before breakfast and then written a song for the album three down the line just after having a bacon sandwich. I mean, that's Neal Morse, he's got that ability and that talent and I'm very envious of him. For me, I kind of need to spend a lot longer writing and I don't think I've put as much into that as I should of done, so I'm hoping very much to be able to like sort Parallel or 90 Degrees out in the early new year.
But one thing I can tell you almost for sure is that we'll be putting out a compilation, a retrospective of Parallel or 90 Degrees' career fairly early in the new year. So, that's on the horizon. That's news in fact. I think you're the first person to be told about it. At the moment, it's looking like at least being a double CD set ... and there's a chance that and I say, I explicitly repeat, a chance [he laughs] that, um, the video that we did ... and released on VHS video in 2001 may get released as a DVD. That will be very good, because we didn't sell many of those, because we thought that people were not interested in it just at the time that DVDs were really taking off, and before an independent band could afford to pay for a DVD, so we, you know, we have the chance to release a DVD this time. So, that's what the plan is, to release a double album, two CD retrospective with kind of a bonus DVD, uh, of our performance in 2001, which should be really nice to see again actually. I was very pleased with what we did that day.
That's the Po90 news, Josh, but I can't really give you a lot though. [he laughs]
JT: I'm also wondering, how did you actually meet your bandmates for Parallel or 90 Degrees?
AT: How did I meet them?
JT: Yeah, how did you meet them? What's the history?
AT: Oh right; well that goes, obviously Parallel or 90 Degrees has had a fluctuating line-up since the days it was born. Well, the first album is just me and Sam, Sam Baine, and, um, really after that, people just came along and we invited them to get onboard. I don't think there was any great particular moment when we all met. The only thing I know is that by the time we've finished, the five people who were in Parallel or 90 Degrees were some of the best friends I'll ever have and, you know, ever have had and, um, no matter what happens about Po90, they will still always be my very good friends.
AT: Are will still there, Josh?
JT: Yeah, we're still here. One thing I want to ask you about is that, you talk about incorporating computers in your songwriting process. That sounds kind of original. You say you're one of the first people in your area to start doing that kind of stuff.
JT: Could you explain your songwriting process and how you actually incorporate these computers into your songwriting process?
AT: Well, really, um... I need to stress the fact that in The Tangent, as opposed to, I mean, as a matter of fact, most people in the reviews haven't actually picked these up, um, and it is something that I would have thought was the most obvious thing about The Tangent... But if you listen to a lot of records that are being made today, starting with Porcupine Tree, even The Flower Kings in fact, you notice as you go through records, there has been a lot of what I call Pink Floydery. People using sounds from the real world, like station noises or cars passing or televisions in the background and samples of people talking like in, you know, Voyage 34 by Porcupine Tree, and in the case of The Tangent, although I use a computer, not many people notice that there is nothing on The Tangent record like that at all, ever. It's all absolutely either played by a musician on a musical instrument or sung and that's it. There's no background noises, there's no sound effects, there's no samples, loops, or anything like that. We use computers yes, but we only use computers as a way of recording the music just instead of a tape recorder, and we also sometimes use a computer as a musical instrument itself to actually create the sound, but every single note is still played as a live performance by each musician.
So we use overdubs, yeah, um, you know, like people have been doing since Sgt. Pepper and before, but everything is real, everything's played on a keyboard, on a bass guitar, on a guitar, on a mandolin, or, or sung, and there's absolutely nothing else there at all, and it's almost, it's almost kind of strange really, because so many records now have got these little effects, and there's nothing wrong with them, I actually quite like them myself. I just thought, let's try and do something that's completely without them.
So, yeah, I use technology big-time, because that's what progressive rock bands always did. I've always found it a little bit unusual, but quite a lot of progressive rock band fans...um... were quite offended by the idea of using a drum machine, because a drum machine is an artificial way of creating the sound of a drummer, yet the same people swoon when they hear a mellotron, which is an artificial way of playing back a string section. It's just the same thing, I mean, that's all a mellotron is. It's a bunch of recordings of string players playing and a drum machine is just a bunch of recordings of a drummer, so one is the same as the other and the only difference is that it is possible to program a drum machine to play itself, but you still have to program it, which is still in essence a kind of performance, however, The Tangent has no programming in it at all. It's just absolutely everything played and, um, we just use technology in the same way and, you know, go wow, that's a good piece of technology, let's use it in our band in the same way that Keith Emerson said, wow, that synthesizer sounds good, we'll have one of those and we'll use it, you know, that's what we do. We take whatever is around and we try to use it. We try in The Tangent to keep it as musical and performance-oriented and as honest as it is humanly possible and that's quite important to me. [he laughs]
Um, I need to tell you, Josh, that I have another interview, which also started three minutes ago.
JT: No kidding?
AT: But, if you like, I can give you a ring back when I've finished that and continue this one.
JT: Okay. [I laugh] Yeah, 'cause I do have a few more questions left to ask you.
AT: It's okay. It's no problem at all... um, the only thing is that Eric [Corbin, InsideOut Music America] is lining me up another one right now and that's with a radio station, so I should probably give them a buzz.
JT: Yeah, why don't you take care of that.
AT: I'm supposed to be doing a half an hour with them.
AT: And then if I could have a cup of tea and then I'll give you a ring back, is that going to be alright?
JT: That would be perfect.
AT: Okay, Josh, it's good to talk with you. I'm going to do this other one and you'll hear from me in about, um, half an hour plus, is that alright?
And thus ends part one; here's part two.
Gold Frankincense And Disk Drive - No More Travelling Chess (1992)
Parallel Or 90 Degrees - The Corner Of My Room (1996)
Parallel Or 90 Degrees - Afterlifecycle (1997)
Parallel Or 90 Degrees - The Time Capsule (1998)
Parallel Or 90 Degrees - No More Travelling Chess (1999)
Parallel Or 90 Degrees - Unbranded - Music From The EEC Surplus (2000)
Parallel Or 90 Degrees - Enjoy Your Own Smell (2001)
Parallel Or 90 Degrees - More Exotic Ways To Die (2002)
The Tangent - The Music That Died Alone (2003)
The Tangent - The World We Drive Through (2004)
The Tangent - Pyramids And Stars (2005)
The Tangent - A Place In The Queue (2006)