"Ones & Zeros contains a strong concept without necessarily forcing the listener into a narrative"
(August 2015, text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen, pictures provided by the band)
3RDegree is an American prog rock band formed in 1990. In June 2010 Background Magazine already had an interview with them (see interview), but since the band have just a new album out with Ones & Zeros: Volume 1 (see review) and are just about to give their first concerts in Europe, it's fair to give them again some exposure. Founder member Robert James Pashman, Bryan Zeigler and George Dobbs were willing to tell a bit about the new album, the band and the upcoming European tour.
For those who don't know all band members yet, would you please introduce the current line-up to our readers?
Robert James Pashman (RJP): “Of course we will. I'm Robert James Pashman and I play the bass, additional keyboards and backing vocals. I'm in the band since 1990 and one of the founding members. Patrick Kliesch plays the electric and acoustic six-string guitars and backing vocals. He's in the band since 1991. George Dobbs is the lead singer, but he also does the backing vocals and he plays the keyboards and percussion. He's in the band since 1995. Eric Pseja plays the electric guitars and acoustic twelve-string guitars. He's in the band since 2007. Aaron Nobel plays the drums and percussion; he's in the band since 2009, and finally Bryan Zeigler who plays the electric guitars in 3RDegree since 2013.”
|From left to right: Bryan Zeigler, George Dobbs, Aaron Nobel and Robert James Pashman|
When did you start working on Ones & Zeros, Volume 1 and how long did it take to finish it?
George Dobbs (GD): “The new album already begun to take shape while we were recording The Long Division (2012, see review), in particular the songs The Gravity and What It Means To Be Human. We even tracked the drums for those two tracks during the final drum session for The Long Division. But I don't think we really began working on the album until 2013. By then we had written and chosen all the songs.”
Why did you decide to split the recordings in two volumes? When can we expect the second part?
RJP: “Some of the band members feel that, no matter how amazing an album may be, the average listener starts to grow weary or tune out at an hour or even less of straight listening. So since we are − and the bands in the prog rock genre in general − an 'album band' and want to have albums out as much as possible, we thought: why should we put out 74 minutes of music on one CD? I think no one takes offense at a fifty-minute album as being too short, and I neither think that a person looks at a 74-minute CD and thinks: “Wow, I'm getting my money's worth!” It's more the experience and keeping it digestible length-wise. Business-wise it's smart too, so we can't be out of the 'public eye' for such a long time between albums. Volume 2 should be out by late 2016, but if it's early 2017 we can live with that.”
Does the album has a story line and if it has, would you tell me what the story of Ones & Zeros is all about?
GD: “It's not so much a story as it is a series of 'scenes' from a world of the near future. It may help
Bryan Zeigler (BZ): “One of the things I like about this album is that it has a strong concept without necessarily forcing the listener into a narrative. There's a story going on, but it's more about ideas. Technology has recently forced us to deal with some questions that until recently were only talked about by nerds, philosophers and religious folks. What is life? Can we create it? And should we? We watched movies about technology coming to life, and it was scary and fun, but not real. Now that The Matrix is being talked about as a potential part of our future, you have to say: be careful what you wish for.”
Between most of the tracks I heard spoken parts by some announcers. What do they mean?
GD: “There are four different narrators who help to expand and clarify the lyrical content: a commercial announcer at the end of Life, a lecturer in The Best And Brightest, a newsperson in Life At Any Cost, and of course, there's the official voice of the enigmatic and ubiquitous Valhalla Corporation, who opens the album with the Valhalla's trademark tagline. That's the one you might imagine hearing when you turn on one of their devices or when you first land on their homepage or get assaulted with as you browse a shopping mall. 'She' is also the official voice for Valhalla's call-centre and voicemail system. At one point she seems to be selling someone on a product while they're waiting, possibly even as they go under the knife, and on two other occasions, to cheerily deliver bad news to a customer.”
RJP: “We start with demos that we all add ideas to after the initial writer. Sometimes those songs are already arranged, sometimes a new part is needed and another writer will pitch in. We then rehearse the songs with drummer Aaron and add a few more ideas. We then book studio time at a proper recording studio like the Panetta Studios, the same place where we mix many of the songs over a weekend, recording all or most of the song's drums for an album. However, there always seems to be some overlap when we're recording something that will make it to a future album at some point. Then George, Patrick and I go back and record the vocals, guitar, bass and keyboards in our project studios. I record Bryan's and Eric's guitars and vocals in my studio where I also do the bass and my vocals. George and Patrick record themselves. We painstakingly produce each other being totally honest with our critiques. For instance, I'll send an MP3 of a bass line I came up with to George and Patrick and they will encourage and discourage at will. A guitar recording with three guitarists could become a 'free for all', but the guitarists keep things under control pretty well considering the vying for space. On each album, we get a little better with our engineering and arrangement skills so I think you're noticing that incremental quality improvement. You have good ears!”
The album reveals a lot of details in the musical parts. Especially the vocals were done very well! Who was responsible for the vocal parts? Did you often overdub them?
GD: “Let's just say that we're not proud to overdub, but sometimes we are proud to not overdub. This may come from me and my own pre-punk philosophy to rock albums as a heightened reality - not a replication of a live performance. We want the music to really come alive during a headphone listen as much as when you have the stereo speakers dialled to 11, with the sound flying into the air, bouncing off the walls and so forth.”
Were you influenced by bands as Steely Dan and Rush for this album?
BZ: “From a guitar perspective, I've always been influenced by Alex Lifeson's approach. I don't think you hear much of him in what I actually play, but I love how many of his solos are something of a surprise. So much of his work fits the song perfectly, yet makes you say 'wow, I didn't see that coming.' He's often also quite playful and I like to incorporate both the element of surprise and fun into what I do as well. There's one solo on the album in which I actually asked myself what Steve Howe (Yes) would have played had he been in Steely Dan. But I'll let you figure that one out for yourself!”
RJP: “Aleksandr Kouznetsov did the artwork. We were getting close to needing an album cover and I went on vacation with my wife to Newport, Rhode Island. In a coffee shop I saw this painting on the wall. It sort of represented to me a lot of what George's and Patrick's lyrics were hinting at. Everyone loved the picture I took of the painting and I called the coffee shop when I got home and tracked down the artist. He was very happy to be involved.”
Your earlier CDs were independent releases. Now 10T Records has taken over this role. Did the label approach you or were you looking for distributors yourselves?
RJP: “Eric started a dialogue with Steve Carroll from 10T Records, but based on us being mentioned with his band Man On Fire in an album review. We were doing as well as can be expected of a 'do it yourself' prog band, but thought a little help would be welcome to get us heard by more people. Steve and I have been in contact with each other every step of the way with this new release and have become fast friends despite my having never met him! 'Thank God for the internet', as Steve Hogarth of Marillion sang!”
In September you will embark on a European tour for the first time. What made you decide to do this and how difficult was it to find venues to perform?
Are you going to record any of these shows for a possible live CD or DVD since you started a crowd funding program to finance the upcoming tour?
What do you want to say to the people who don't know the band yet, but are willing to come to the upcoming concerts?
BZ: “Thanks so much for coming! It's truly gratifying to think that people from across the Atlantic Ocean will come out to see us play. So above all thanks! By the way, what's the best local beer?”
GD: “We have a free four-song sampler available to download on the website mentioned below. It's a great way to get to know the band and we still play all of these songs live. We really look forward to entertain you!”
Thank you for taking the time to answer all my questions!
RJP: “Your welcome; hope to see you soon.”
Website for free sampler
review album 'The Long Division'
review album 'Ones & Zeros, Volume 1'
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