Interview 3RDegree

"The reunion was undoubtedly a matter of unfinished business"

(June 2010, text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen, pictures provided by 3RDegree)

Bands that disband and getting back together later on are very common in the music business. There are also several progressive rock bands that got a second or even a third life, hoping to relive their musical dreams. 3RDegree, a rather unknown American band, got also back together lately and recorded the strong album Narrow-Caster. For me a good reason to ask Robert James Pashman (bass guitar, keyboards and vocals) and George Dobbs (lead vocals and keyboards) what they did before, during and after the break.

Robert, I believe you started 3RDegree in 1990. Can you explain the band’s name?

Robert James Pashman: 'I believe I was on the line at a concert in Hoboken, New Jersey when the title came up in conversation with a friend.  It seemed obvious since our music was intense and the American expression of ‘getting the third degree’ is an intense expression. We were also a trio so anything with 3 in it was good.  In retrospect, I would definitely have picked another name for it’s currently held by a rapper/hip-hop artist and several cover bands in the USA!   The official way to spell it is 3RDegree though, all in one word.'

In 1993 you released The World In Which We Live, your first official album.

Did you record songs written about the time you started the band or did you also include newly written songs?

Robert James Pashman: 'The album consisted of four songs written for my previous band Unreal that dated back to 1989, and six songs written with the trio version of 3RDegree that started when Pat Kliesch our guitarist arrived in the summer of 1991.' 

Before you released your second album you worked with the band in 1995 on Still There Is More..., a Todd Rundgren-tribute. How did this happen and which song did you cover?

Robert James Pashman: 'I don’t remember how I found out about it, because it was pre-internet then, but maybe it was the Todd Rundgren fan magazine. It was put out by Third Lock Records in North Carolina which is nearly impossible to find now. We did a ballad called Kindness, but we also did Fascist Christ which sounded like Pearl Jam meets The Beastie Boys. They wanted Kindness so we put the other song as a bonus track on our second album.'

Human Interest Story

was released in 1996. Why did you use this album title and what is it all about?

Robert James Pashman: 'The title is based on the song of the same name which is about the USA talk show culture starting with Jerry Springer and so on. Now, it sounds like something you’ve heard before, but in 1996 it was a rather fresh subject!'

On the album you worked for the first time with lead singer and keyboardist George Dobbs. Can you tell me why you chose him?

Robert James Pashman: 'Basically we wanted to bring the quality of the band up a notch and having a great lead vocalist is one of the most important things to have. We thought we had a unique sound, solid songwriting skills and an ‘ok’ lead vocalist in me.  However, I wanted to make the band better and I wasn’t interested in the ‘glory’ that a lead vocalist spot might have. I was very happy focusing in on everything else as a bassist, backing vocalist, studio keyboardist, songwriter, engineer, producer and so on. Bringing George in, gave us more soul, because his vocals were really unique in prog music. I still think this is the one thing that sets us apart in the genre. I seriously can’t think of anyone I’d rather hear singing than George.'

After this album the band disbanded. Did nobody feel it as a wrong decision in 1997? What was the main reason to call it a day?

Robert James Pashman: 'I now feel it was the wrong decision. We weren’t getting along very well and we just couldn’t get much of a fan base together even though we were playing live all the time. If we just wrote and recorded, I think we would have been well armed for an album in 1998 or 1999 with the internet finally taking hold around that time. We really had a few contemporaries who stuck with it to that time like Discipline, IZZ and some others. It would be nice to be at that level now from having stuck together.'  

George Dobbs: 'I take the fatalist position that it was meant to be all for the best and we were better prepared for our current endeavour because of it. In 1997, I think we all thought time was running out to find some success in music. When Human Interest Story failed to find an audience, let alone that coveted record deal, there seemed little point in forcing things. There was also a technological reason why breaking up was the right decision in 1997. Compared to 2010, internet speed and internet social networking was primitive in 1997. The affordability of high-speed internet and the explosion of social networking that has occurred fairly recently, is part of what made 3RDegree’s re-ignition possible. We can find our audience and they can find us. They don’t have to go to some crummy bar with overpriced drinks and Bruce Springsteen in the jukebox to find out about us.'

Robert, after the band was no more you worked in 2000 with Portal on a trip-hop CD. Why did you do that?

Robert James Pashman: '3RDegree guitarist Pat Kliesch and I had been getting into bands like Portishead, Massive Attack, Air, Hooverphonic and things like that and we wanted to be a more electronic band with a female vocalist. We did four songs and that was it.  We’re still very proud of it. Just a year later, the sound we’re trying to achieve made it big in the form of Zero 7 whom I love.' 

In 2001 you released your solo album Recovering Dreamer. Does the album title mean that you again made music that you liked the most and was it progressive rock?

Robert James Pashman: 'No, it wasn’t progressive rock, but rather a bunch of cover versions of things just to have fun with and originals that were different from 3RDegree or not used for 3RDegree, mostly pop and soul sort of songs.'

Did you play all the instruments yourself on this release and can we expect another solo album in the future?

Robert James Pashman: 'Indeed, I played all instruments myself, but because of lack of time, I’d say it will be my first and my last solo album. George on the other hand, has many solo albums and will continue to, I’m sure. Great, great stuff!'

You also promoted progressive rock in New York and New Jersey. Can you tell me what this was all about?

Robert James Pashman: 'Since there was a complete lack of a prog scene in the New York City and New Jersey-area, I tried to find other prog bands that would like to play together. We put together some shows with Bob Wolf, two of which were with You Were Spiraling later Spiraling with Tom Brislin who played with Yes, Camel and Renaissance years later.' 

Was finding old tapes of the band the start of the reunion or just a meeting of friends in a New York city bar?

Robert James Pashman: 'I knew I had those tapes. It was during the summer of 2005 that I was going through them to put them on the computer, so I could throw away the physical tapes. By doing so, I really liked a lot of what I heard and it rekindled my desire to finish a lot of the good songs we never finished when we broke up seven years earlier. It was the 26th of December that we got together in New York City for a lot of mostly Belgian beers, and Pat Kliesch and I asked drummer Rob Durham if he would join us. We then found George on keyboards and lead vocals the next summer.'

Who came up with the idea to film the Reunion Concerts and were those concerts satisfying?

Robert James Pashman: 'By April of 2007, I still wasn’t so sure how serious this was all going to get again, so I made sure to do a three camera shoot to capture the acoustic and electric shows we did. It turned out we would finish the Narrow-Caster-album a year later and we would be quite serious about it, but when we did these shows it could have been the first time in ten years we had played and the last time ever for all we knew.'

You asked your former guitarist Eric Pseja to contribute. Why did you ask him and why didn’t he stay in the band as a second guitarist?

Robert James Pashman: 'Eric was not our former guitarist. He was a friend of the band and had worked with Pat Kliesch, but now, with Pat Kliesch living in Los Angeles, we needed a guitarist here on the east coast too, so Eric is officially in the band along with Pat. Pat came to do the ProgDay shows last year, but the warm-up show for that and a show we just did in Washington D.C. were done with Eric. The Reunion Concerts were unique, because we then had them both!'

George Dobbs: 'As a matter of fact, we’re working with Eric into the recording outfit as well. He’s already come up with valuable guitar parts for one of the new songs and our constantly evolving - and soon to be committed to tape - update of the 1991 song The World In Which We Lived.'

Before you did those concerts you were already working on a new album. Why did you use songs that were almost ten years old? Did you have to finish something you started then and c

an you introduce the line-up of the band that recorded the new album?

Robert James Pashman: 'We played songs from our first two albums, but also songs that would be on Narrow-Caster a year later plus songs that were left off Narrow-Caster that will probably never be recorded and stand as being only on The Reunion Concerts video and nothing else. That makes it something that we still promote, because it has things on it found nowhere else.' 

George Dobbs: 'Actually, before we broke up, we were working on a new album. Part of the inspiration for us getting back together was the idea of finishing that album. Undoubtedly, the reunion was a matter of unfinished business, but it also seemed like a natural place to start right where we left off. The line-up of Narrow-Caster was the usual team of Robert Pashman (bass, keyboards, backing vocals), Patrick Kliesch (guitar, backing vocals), George Dobbs (lead vocals, keyboards) and Rob Durham (drums). In addition, the man who’s typically our drum tech, Dan D’Elia, filled in on drums for The Last Gasp and the title song.'

Why did you choose an album title like Narrow-Caster? You tried to explain it in the liner notes, but will you try to explain it again? Does the album have a certain concept?

Robert James Pashman: 'I didn’t invent the term, but basically it’s the opposite of ‘broadcast’. I think the entire prog community is an exercise in ‘narrow-casting’. Compared to other musical genres, it’s a more publicized group of fiercely dedicated fans of adventurous music, some with interests closer to avant-garde and some more into the sound of those who broke ground in the seventies. On my song Narrow-Caster, I was lamenting that we have few things that bring all of us together because we’re all so able to focus in on the things we already: a fine meal, a musical style or a vacation spot. So many people in the US constantly visit Disney World every summer and have no idea how great a time they would have in let’s just say Amsterdam! Maybe I would enjoy a kind of music or food, but just never had it because I keep on listening to and eating the same things I know I like already? That’s what I was going for.'

Two tracks on the album have some strange titles. Can you explain what Apophenia and The Proverbial Banana Peel mean?

Robert James Pashman: 'George?'

George Dobbs: ' Apophenia is a word coined by German psychiatrist Klaus Conrad in the late fifties, originally to describe behaviour he noticed in schizophrenics. This term has taken on wider meanings, since sane people also tend to compulsively, irrationally or hyper rationally organize of things into patterns regardless of the truth of those patterns.  The title of The Proverbial Banana Peel speaks to that ‘archetypical’ pop-culture image of someone slipping on a banana peel and the fascination or pleasure people derive from that event.'

Robert James Pashman: ’Banana Peel’ also started with the title ‘schadenfreude’ which is German for taking pleasure in other people’s problems, but was then Americanized into ‘banana peel’.

The sound of the band on the latest album and also on some of the older releases reminded me of Echolyn, another band from your country. Do you agree that you have a lot in common with this band music wise?

Robert James Pashman: 'No, I don’t agree much with that.  I love Echolyn, but I think they’re more Americana than we are. We’re slicker Westcoast-sounding as the Germans call it. Echolyn mix Americana with the complexity of classic prog which makes them very different. Their singer and guitarist Brett Kull is a great guy and he and drummer Paul Ramsey are actually fans of 3RDegree which gives me a great feeling and a bit of affirmation. We would love to record our next album at their studio and they would love to do it. We’ll see.' 

George Dobbs: 'I’m more or less with Rob on that one. I suppose we are a more ‘coastal’ sounding band. Echolyn is more ‘heartland’ sounding.' 

3RDegree has released a lot of DVD’s, maybe even more than CD’s. How does it come that you are so productive in releasing DVD’s?

Robert James Pashman: 'My daily job is in the video broadcast field, so I’m quite handy with video recording and editing. When we do an important show like the Reunion Concerts or ProgDay 2009 we arrange camera crews and capture it for everyone. Since half of our fan base is in Europe, we stress to them that chances are we’ll never play in Europe, so they have the DVD’s and Blu-Rays to ‘see’ a 3RDegree-concert.'

Thanks for thinking of us here in Europe, because it’s certainly a long way to see you guys rock! The DVD of Progday 2009 gives a good view of the way the band performs nowadays or have things changed since then?

Robert James Pashman: 'Well, we have Eric playing guitar instead of Pat, but otherwise it’s the same thing with occasional live shows and varying set lists that touch upon our whole recording catalog.' 

According to the DVD’s I saw, you always do some covers. Were you, as a band, inspired by bands such as Gentle Giant and Genesis or by the music of Sarah McLachlan?

Robert James Pashman: 'Very much so. Gentle Giant and Genesis are pretty obvious for a prog band, but Sarah McLachlan was more of a thing to do at our acoustic show.  We picked one of her songs that we particularly love and George really did it justice.'

George Dobbs: 'Actually, regarding Sarah, there is this stylistic cracking-of-the-voice thing, typically by an interval of a fifth from full-voice to falsetto/head-voice, which Sarah McLachlan does. I believe I picked that up from her a long time ago. Gentle Giant and Genesis were particular inspirations for me in my formative musical years.' 

Do you release your CD’s and DVD’s yourself or do you have a distributor?

Robert James Pashman: 'You can get our stuff via Paypal at our website but also at various places in the USA, Europe and Japan that you can connect to via the ‘buy’ page at our website. We want people to buy where it’s most comfortable for them.' 

Are you already writing some music for a new album and what are your plans for the future?

Robert James Pashman: 'We have been writing since late 2008 and have played some of the songs already live. There are three new songs on the new Live At ProgDay 2009 DVD, but those songs are subject to change. We hope to have something out for late 2011 and to have some songs submitted to festivals late this year. Fingers crossed!'  

Robert, George thank you for answering my questions!  

Robert James Pashman: 'It’s been a pleasure.' 

George Dobbs: 'Same here.'

3RDegree Website

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