Interview Aisles (Germán Vergara):

"We owe a lot to prog rock, jazz, fusion, world music, new age, and classical music from all parts of the world"

(April 2014, text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen. Pictures provided by Soraya Castillo)

One of the best progressive rock bands from Chile is without doubt Aisles, which is proved by their fantastic third album 4:45 AM (2013, see review). In order to provide a wider recognition in the prog rock society, Background Magazine decided to do an interview with guitarist, keyboardist and singer Germán Vergara. How came this new album together and what happened to the band members through the years?

Would you please introduce the band members and tell our readers about the origin of the band?
Germán Vergara
Germán Vergara: “The current line-up of Aisles is Sebastián Vergara on lead vocals, Felipe Candia on the drums and percussion, Rodrigo Sepúlveda on the electric and acoustic guitars, Daniel Baird-Kerr on the bass, Alejandro Meléndez on the keyboards and I play the electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards and I provide the background vocals. So far we recorded three albums and our latest album 4:45 AM has been recently released through Presagio Records. Around 2001 my older brother and pianist Luis Vergara, guitarist Rodrigo Sepúlveda and I started to play music together. We had been friends since we were kids and we all went to the same school. As time passed by and after losing contact our paths crossed again later on when we were teenagers, because of our common interest in music. Soon we started to write original music when we were about 16 to 20 years of age. I remember Rodrigo was a big fan of Rush and Iron Maiden while Luis was into classical music and Queen. I loved Led Zeppelin, Queen and Pink Floyd, but since the very beginning we wrote our own compositions; we never did covers. It wasn't until 2003 that we gave this project a strong purpose and we completed the band. I recruited my younger brother Sebastián for the vocals. After some time looking for lead singers we realized that the most virtuous and original voice was the one we had at hand. Later we incorporated our excellent keyboard player Alejandro Meléndez and we started to write and arrange music for our first record The Yearning (2005).”

Recently you released your third album 4:45 AM. Would you please tell me why you chose this title?
“When we were arguing about the most disagreeable hour of the day we came to 4:45 AM, a time at the edge of night and just before daybreak. Somehow the album is about darkness and light. On the one hand the pain, loneliness and misery of human condition and on the other the strength that noble spirits have to overcome adversity and find a reason to fight for something truly personal and meaningful. This existential approach with a self-empowering conviction provides the atmosphere of 4:45 AM.”

Is 4:45 AM a concept album and if so, please tell us what it's all about.
“Yes, sure, it's a concept album. All songs encompass a precise time of the day and they all reveal different situations within the urban landscapes of a large city. What or who woke him at 4:45 AM? Why did he get out of bed and why did he wander through the streets alone when everybody else was sound asleep? Among all the songs of the album, we decided 4:45 AM to be the title track because of its resilient and extremely positive message in a rather dark context.”

Could you please explain briefly what happens on all tracks lyrically, and what does the sound fragments mean on several tracks like the DJ on a radio fragment?
4:45 AM is definitely about resilience, which carries the weight of the entire record. It's about standing up no matter how hard everything in life has been. It's about a very intimate and powerful force that drives you to make your dreams come true. It's about fighting passionately and using adversity to your advantage. You should also watch the video clip we made.

Gallarda Yarura is about a child's fear and the boldness he has to defeat it regardless of how big the dangers are. We created a scene where a child is forced by his mother to go to bed earlier than he would like to. That feeling is very universal for kids: not wanting to go to sleep thus avoiding a dark room and his nightmares. Interesting about this kid is the fact that he's ready to fight his monster taking for granted that it's real. Omar Galindo made a wonderful drawing of this scene for the artwork in the booklet. To fully understand the meaning behind the album it's important to pay attention to both the lyrics and the artwork.

Shallow And Daft is about a radio DJ. He is a conformist dedicated to please the masses. Whoever is on the media, TV, radio or the press, has a great opportunity to influence people, but when you have an uncultured, superficial or materialistic person on that spot, the results can be really 'dangerous'. We intentionally chose a musical idea that Sebastián created. It sounds really mainstream, just to get this message out to people, but with a bit of irony. The lyrics are harsh and insidious, but only on the surface they sound like a regular pop love song. This song is about the question: are these people forced by the ones running the big stations to play whatever they're playing? Who are in control by major record labels? Or, are the masses of people controlling the content and 'speaking through them' with their lack of taste and common inclinations? So, with large radio stations it's either pure commercial music, which is music created with the only purpose of being liked by more people in order to gain more profits, or it's the worshipping of an 'old idol'. The song is also about the lack of renewal, lack of independent thinking, and worshipping of idols. We chose 8:00 AM for this song because it represents a time of the day when you're bound to be part of the social system. We created this scene where this DJ speaks to its audience of 'worshippers' and later on you hear a gang of DJ's from all over the world explaining their predicament as they sing. We used this subject as a metaphore for all people lacking integrity and independent thinking. So it should be understood in a wider sense and it's not necessarily related to the media.

Rodrigo Sepulveda
Back My Strength is about the lost time and the mistaken path you may have taken in your life, but also the spiritual strength to correct the course and start all over again. The lyrics are autobiographical and it's definitely a song about resilience too, about knowing when to leave everything behind and take a new path, even if you think it's too late there may still be another chance.

The Sacrifice contains an existential theme with very poetic lyrics. It's about the feeling of powerlessness, being trapped, dejected and the struggle to overcome those feelings. It's also about the absurdity of existence, the silence of the gods or their non-existence. The lonely journey to find meaning in life and the necessary sacrifice is the concept behind this song. At the end of this journey the protagonist reaches the ocean.

Intermission is without time and without words. It emerges out of the sound of the sea and the waves reached by the person in The Sacrifice. A cargo vessel loading and moving containers starts to anticipate more darkness ahead in the album.

Sorrow is about a man who has reached the low point of his life. A lost soul wasted by addiction, loneliness, misery and despair. The pessimistic but romantic words make this a very original song lyric wise. It's the aesthetic of 'being together in chaos'.

Hero is an instrumental song and above all an epic story about a modern hero who's secluded in solitude.

Melancholia is the saddest song of all dealing with a child's sickness and of a mother who bears a child without knowing its destiny: is he going to be happy or to live a life in pain. That feeling is melancholia, which might be a mortal illness. We don't know how sick this kid is, but somehow his dreams have kept him alive so there's a chance for him in the future. It was an emotive song to write and to record. I remember being at the edge of tears at the studio.”
From L to R: Germán Vergara, Felipe Candia, Sebastian Vergara, Daniel Baird-Kerr, Rodrigo Sepulveda

Your compositions are a fine blend of elements taken from Latin American music and British prog rock. Especially a band like Marillion with Steve Hogarth comes to mind. Do you agree or are you influenced by other bands as well?
“The progressive rock bands that have influenced us are indeed mainly the British bands, but they are only part of the music that has inspired and taught us. We owe a lot to prog rock, jazz, fusion, world music, new age, and classical music from all parts of the world. There's also a Latin touch in our music probably influenced by Latin American music. Marillion were a source of inspiration at some point, but just one among many other bands that have played an important role like Yes, Pink Floyd, Rush, Genesis, Pat Metheny, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jean Luc Ponty, Allan Holdsworth, UK, Jean Michel Jarre, Depeche Mode, Radiohead, Pedro Aznar, Queen, Journey, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Kate Bush, Los Jaivas, King Crimson, Astor Piazzolla and many others.”

The combination of quiet and heavy musical fragments in one song is just excellent and works fine. This way you build up the song to a climax. Do you know what I mean and how do you get this done?
“I exactly know what you mean. To build a song to a climax is something we really like. We love dynamics in music, something that we probably owe to classical music. The narrative style of some lyrics makes that we want to take the development of an idea real far, even to the point of catharsis. Such is the case in The Sacrifice where I really think we created something interesting. We get this done by rehearsing a lot and putting all our efforts and creativity on the arrangement sessions.”

On the album some guest musicians contributed who gave the music an additional value. Would you please introduce them?
Constanza Maulén sang a very important duet with Sebastián on Sorrow. We were looking for an innocent and pure voice to interpret a scene where a woman tries to bring back hope to a man that is lost and in pain. It's a very emotive part of the album that we made as theatrical as possible and both Sebastián and Constanza had to act and converse with each other while singing. We also worked with a string quintet arranged by David Nuñes, Diana Brown,
Sebastian Vergara
Valentina Maza
, Alejandro Barría and Nelson Arriagada. Adding strings really helped us to build that tension you were talking about on Sorrow. They were also very important on Hero to provide the song the natural symphonic sound we were looking for.”

With Sebastián Vergara you have a wonderful lead singer in the band. He sings without an accent and with much passion. What's your comment on this?
“Sebastián indeed is an excellent singer; he has such a natural talent and with his voice he provides the band a unique sound. We work out the vocal interpretation with a theatrical approach. We explore the nature of the character and submerge into the world that we create. With Sebastián as an interpreter and me as a producer and lyricist we work back to back to get the feeling we want to convey. But more than that we really 'feel' the music we make. It's honest and personal so I guess that's why it transmits passion. The difficult period we've had plus some personal problems made this a very special and emotional album. Well, regarding the accent: we work with special care on the pronunciation. Sebastian and I had the chance to live in the U.S. for a considerable time and so we speak fluent English, however we still decided to have some rehearsals with a native English speaker to improve the pronunciation even more.”

From time to time the sound of the electric guitar parts reminded me of Steve Rothery from Marillion. Do you agree that he's a source of inspiration?
“I definitely agree that he's one of the many musicians that have inspired us. He's an excellent musician and guitar player and he was able to develop a unique sound, but in the realm of guitar players that have been an influence on us there are others that may have played an even more important role on our development with the instrument. Brian May , Steve Howe, Alex Lifeson, Steve Hackett and Allan Holdsworth, I would say they all changed in a way the perspective I had of the instrument and I know that all of them have been a huge influence on Rodrigo too.”

Several people in the band play keyboards as well as guitar. Who decides which parts are played by whom?
“It all comes in a very natural way. It depends on who first came up with the musical idea. On Back My Strength I recorded the pianos because many years ago I composed the main musical motive as a kid. On Shallow And Daft, Sebastián recorded most of the keyboards for the same reason. We work integrally and with great care of all the arrangements. We don't want to spoil or change the essence of a musical idea. My instrument is the guitar so if you hear really interesting keyboard parts it's because you're probably hear Alejandro Meléndez play. It's an advantage that Sebastián and I play the keyboards because we can complement and enrich our live sound.”

Who did the fantastic artwork for 4:45AM?
“Omar Galindo, a very talented visual artist. It was a great experience to work with him to visualize the concepts of all songs one by one. It was very emotive to develop an art for each track. We had previously worked together for some drawings he made for Mariachi from the album In Sudden Walks (2009). We projected these images during a very powerful live performance in Chile. This time he took the job of doing the artwork for 4:45 AM and it was definitely a good decision. We are all very happy with the art.”

Alejandro Meléndez
On the band's pictures in the booklet of 4:45 AM, I only noticed five musicians while the line-up consists of six. Would you please explain the omission?
“Alejandro Meléndez is the one missing in the pictures. He is a Brazilian and due to some personal problems, he had to go back to his home country in the middle of the production, so at the time we did the photo shoot sessions he was no longer here. We finished the record without him, but still there's plenty of his work in it. However, you can see that 4:45 AM contains considerably more guitar play than on our previous albums. Maybe it's the direction our music is naturally taking.”

Is it possible for you to come to Europe in order to play the entire album in front of an audience?
“Of course it's possible; we are in the process of looking for agents and venues. We really need to plan ahead just to make a trip to Europe worthwhile. It's not unlikely that we are going to live indefinitely in Europe because our natural audience is there.”

You already played in France. Did you make recordings of those performances for a live release on CD or DVD?
“Unfortunately we didn't, but if 4:45 AM does well in Europe, we hope to tour in 2014 or 2015, and with the music from three albums, we have enough material for a live album.”

In 2005 the debut album The Yearning appeared. Is this a concept album as well?
“The music on The Yearning came spontaneously from our hearts. I would say it's a concept album in the sense that all tracks are about the individual and his romantic search for 'meaning'.”

How difficult is it for a band to record without having any professional experience in a recording studio?
“The lack of experience we had and the fact that we were very young was compensated with the elation and excitement we felt when we created the music. Obviously we didn't have the best technical equipment at the time, but we had all the inspiration and naivety at our side. I remember that feeling with a kind of nostalgia; whenever I hear The Yearning I relive that feeling. That's the magic of music. I truly recommend The Yearning because of its purity.”

Felipe Candia
The Yearning was released as well in Europe by Musea. Did they release more of your albums or only this one?
“That's right. With The Yearning we made an important distribution deal with Musea, but the album was released privately. Now we are signed by Presagio Records but Musea distributes The Yearning, In Sudden Walks and 4:45 AM . If there's any specialized CD store in Europe, they should have Aisles!”

Talking about In Sudden Walks. What's the concept behind this album and did it help to record a second one when you already have recorded a CD?
“After the experience of The Yearning we felt much more confidence to get in the studio for a second album. We had grown up as musicians and we were able to experiment more. We incorporated Felipe Candia as drummer which was musically very successful due to the great chemistry. We had more resources by that time with a growing audience that supported us and fans sent beautiful comments on our music. We even had the chance to have In Sudden Walks mastered by one of the most acclaimed mastering engineers worldwide.”

Is it true that the first two albums will get a re-release? And if so will it contain bonus tracks?
“Yes, these albums will be re-released by Presagio Records, but without bonus tracks. It's very important for us because these reissues now get the promotion they deserve. There's also a chance that we have The Yearning remastered.”

How difficult is for a Chilean band to make progressive rock? Is there a market for your music in your home country?
“It's very hard for us to make a living with the type of music we make. In Chile is a very small market for progressive rock, especially because of the idiosyncrasy of Chilean people who are not inclined to listen to new music. That's why it's so crucial for us to keep making our audience grow worldwide. If our audience keeps growing in Europe the way it is now, we'll most probably continue our career and basing ourselves there in the near future. No matter what happens we love performing the music we make.”

Is it difficult to stay together as friends in the same band for such a long time?
“It's hard, indeed. People change, perspectives change, ideas change. The fact that we've remained together after ten years means that we deeply share a vision of music; we have a strong drive that tells us what to do. I can't deny all the efforts I have personally to keep this ship floating.”

What are your future plans with Aisles and do you want anything to add that I forgot to ask?
“We have plenty of material to start working on a fourth album, but we will most probably start rehearsing soon to start touring the second half of 2014. I would sincerely like to thank Background Magazine for this opportunity to talk about Aisles' music. I would also like to take the freedom of calling your readers to listen to our music. You can find our CDs and merchandise at our official website You can also find it in prog specialized stores all over Europe and the USA and you can download our music through iTunes and many other digital music retailers.”

Thank you for answering all my questions!
“You're welcome, it was my pleasure!

More info about Aisles on the Internet:

       review album '4.45 AM' (2013)

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