In 2013 it was ten years ago that Arena recorded their critically acclaimed concept album Contagion.
Recently Contagion Max (2014, see review) was released and it's perhaps nice to find
out how founding member and keyboard player Clive Nolan looked at this album back
then. In 2003 I had an interview with Nolan for Background Magazine which is now featured in our Special series!
I believe you initially started to work on Contagion in February 2002 with producer Mike Stobbie, but later
on he quit this production desk and it fully became into your hands. Why did this happen?
: “Well, it was just a question of timing. Sadly Mike's time was already pretty
stretched and we just weren't able to give the album the attention it needed.
So, it seemed like the best plan was to change the plan. We took the album back to both Thin Ice Studios and to
studio, The Outhouse. For a month
we worked at the same
time in both studios to
catch up time. Then I
went over to John and we
completed the album.”
Did you have any doubts about the album that it would not become as you intended, and why was there so much
“The changes in plan led to the delayed release. Once
John and I were producing we had to go back a few steps before we could really
go forward again. This all takes time. Actually I think we made a great team, and
now I'm very happy with the results.”
The new album is once again an album with a story line. Can you explain the concept and why did you record
another concept album?
“We didn't intend to make another concept album, it
just went that way. I had written a short story, which simply fitted the moods
and atmospheres that we wanted from this album. To be honest the story isn't
essential to enjoying the album. There are many other layers above that! In
brief it's about a guy who accidentally sets off a cataclysmic word disaster
and then spends the rest of his life trying to undo the damage. Noah meets Pandora.”
Aren't you afraid that people are going to compare it with The Visitor, your first concept album?
“Not really. As far as I'm concerned this one's stronger. But hey, both albums are rather different.”
You wrote the lyrics for Contagion, but can we on any future release seen lyrics written by Rob Sowden?
In most bands the singer also writes the lyrics.
“It's just the way we work. Rob will write the lyrics for
his solo album, for example. The writing team for Arena is me, drummer Mick Pointer
, and I'm writing the lyrics. It's just as simple as that.”
I read somewhere that John wasn't satisfied with the way the guitar parts had been recorded. Is this true?
“Not at all! In fact, he recorded his own guitar parts, and they just sound great!”
On the album you used the Virus, a new keyboard. In what way did it influence the sound on Contagious and did it
inspire you to come up with some new things?
“It's a great keyboard. Martin Orford
) was waxing
lyrical about it when I was on the Pendragon
tour while Martin and Gary Chandler
on the tour bus with us. By the end of that tour my mouth was watering! I knew
Mike Stobbie already had one as well, so I had faith that it would be a great
keyboard. I went into a music shop when we played in London, and I bought one!
It's a very inspiring keyboard, and it will certainly lead me in some interesting musical directions.”
The piano we hear on the album isn't a real piano, but a virtual instrument. Am I correct?
“My, my... someone's been doing his homework! Yes, you
are correct. It is a virtual instrument called 'The Grand'. It's the best piano I've ever used. I love it!”
The opening track Witch Hunt starts with a bunch of Malaysian voices on top of each other. How did you do this?
“It's made up of loads of different samples and
snippets from all over the place and certainly more than just 'Malaysian
voices'. We just wanted to create this state of half-conscious confusion.”
Witch Hunt also contains one of the heaviest parts ever recorded by Arena. It almost sounds like heavy metal!
Who came up with this idea?
“I came up with the idea, but it's John who got the'heavy'
sound. He used a lot of detuned guitars which added a weight and grunginess to the mix. I just love it!”
The guitar solo was initially written for guitar but changed into a keyboard solo but later on it changed
again into a guitar solo. True or not true?
|Ian Salmon (left) and John Mitchell|
“Not quite... it started as a keyboard solo, but I
felt it just didn't bite hard enough for the first song, so I asked John to do the
solo. He wasn't too sure at first, but once he got going, it was obviously the right move!”
We also hear somebody saying 'it was an err it was an err' or something like that. Would you please explain this?
“Well, I accidentally sent some MIDI notes to one of
the voice samples, and it came out like that. I kind of got attached to it.”
This Way Madness Lies is a fine example of how strong Ian Salmon plays
the bass guitar. I think it took a lot of time to record his bass lines, didn't it?
“This was the main element to come out of Mike's
studio before we moved on. There are some excellent bass lines going on. I
believe they both worked very hard on those.”
This track also contains a wonderful guitar solo probably the longest John as ever played. He almost sounds like
Steve Hackett here. Do you agree?
“Absolutely; John knows where he's going when it comes to those big Arena solos.”
At the end of Spectre At The Feast I heard some backward talking by Rob. What did he say?
“Tell you that would make it too easy. Someone surely will work it out!”
On The Box contains a message as well: a Morse code played on the Hammond organ. What does it mean?
“Hey... that one's even easier since the Morse code is in the CD booklet.” (however, it didn't
come with the promotional copy, HS