Interview Ken Jaquess (K2)

“We wanted to move forward and to try to update the seventies sound!”

(December 2010, text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen, pictures provided by Ken Jaquess)

Sometimes the release of an album is no longer in the hands of an artist or a band. This happened to Ken Jaquess from the American progressive rock outfit K2. He wanted to release a follow-up to the highly acclaimed debut Book Of The Dead (2005). However, it took him five years before Black Garden saw the light of day. Ken Jaquess was willing to tell Background Magazine why the second release took so long.

Ken Jaquess

Congratulations for releasing again a superb album with K2!

Ken Jaquess: “Thank you for that, Henri! It took a long time, but it finally got released!”

Can you tell me why it took five years to get Black Garden released after the sublime Book Of The Dead?

“The main reason for the long delay was lack of money. The economic recession hit us pretty hard here in America which meant it was going to be harder to find financial backing to record and release Black Garden. Ultimately, I ended up financing it myself which added even more delay, as I'm not a rich man! It had been finished for two years prior to its release!”

How difficult was it to come up with a strong follow-up album after the press and the public were that positive about your debut?

“We were not too concerned about what people would say. It's always hard to do a follow-up release after a very well liked debut. We simply wanted to do an album with this line-up and see what would happen. Book Of The Dead was more a solo album for me, whereas Black Garden was a group effort with all members contributing to the writing process. We knew this album would sound quite different from BOTD, and it's supposed to be different. So far the reviews have been great!”

Can you tell me when you started to work on Black Garden? Did you want to use the live line-up for the recordings or the same guest musicians as on BOTD?

“I started writing Black Garden right after K2 did a hand full of gigs here in California back in 2006. I had the mindset to use the live line-up as we worked very well together! I intended to add some tracks by Allan Holdsworth. We talked a lot about it, but our schedules just never seemed to work out!”

To some extent the sound of BOTD is still present on Black Garden. Did you intend to remain this sound? Does K2 have a sound of its own?

“Yes, there are some similar sounds on Black Garden that appeared on BOTD too. I think K2 does have its own sound and I hope that K2 is digging out its own little niche in the prog world. It's hard to stand out and be different in this genre, as that's what everyone else is trying to do!”

Would you please tell me about the concept of Black Garden?

“The concept is based on the ancient Polynesians journey across the Pacific Ocean to find new lands to inhabit. It's quite an amazing story and I thought it would be a great subject for K2. Black refers to the lava that forms the islands, and Garden refers to the lush garden-like vegetation that eventfully grows. Some of the tunes are about the geology or the weather of the islands. Other songs are about the people who settled there, how they survived, how they got along and how they fought each other.”

Please, would you roughly explain the lyrics on the album?

“The title track Black Garden is about the creation of the islands. I wanted to put the lyrics together with an unexpected melody and see what would happen. That's why there is a Middle Eastern theme, but the lyrics are about the creation of an island. Passage To The Deep is about the actual 'roots' of the island, underwater and unknown. Widows Watch contains two stories in one. The first is about a native fisherman, who has gone out to sea, but he doesn't return and his lover feels intense loss and seeks understanding. The second is about the loss of a child and the hidden emotions that come with it. Encounter Or Absence is about the celestial aspect of the ancient navigation techniques used by the Polynesians. Storm At Sunset is about the weather that affected and shaped the islands. Summer's Fall is about the end of the summer season and a tribesman reflects on what his life is all about. He also begins to 'write' his history for the first time using wood carvings. The last song Path Of The Warrior deals with the warring tribes and how a young warrior becomes a man by protecting his family and his own tribe.”

To what extent did the other musicians contribute in the compositions and in the making of Black Garden?

“The other guys had a lot of contributions with many ideas that I had to sift through and try to pick which ones would work. I purposely let the reins loose a bit more on this album to see what all of us could write with me kind of guiding us. On BOTD I was very controlling of most everything that was played. Black Garden was produced in parts by all of us.”

Ryo Okumoto

How difficult was it to maintain Ryo Okumoto on keyboards since he plays with Spock's Beard as well? Did the accident with his teeth affect the recording process?

“No, not at all, Ryo is a very dear friend and he's the keyboardist for K2. Spock's Beard and K2 never get in each other's way. As for that awful accident in Japan with his jaw, that was never a problem as he had already recorded all of his parts. Did you see the x-rays of his jaw? He must have been in terrible pain!”

No, I didn't, but I read he had been very lucky! Did you write certain parts of Black Garden with Ryo in mind like you did on the Book Of The Dead?

“Yeah, I did do that. And Ryo knew that ahead of time what I had planned. So he was up to speed with what I was trying to do.”

How did you separate between Ryo and yourself concerning the keyboard parts?

“Well, this time I left it to Ryo to record most of the keys! I played some synths, but he played everything else. I'm nowhere near as professional as Ryo when it comes to keyboards, so it's best for him to play as much as possible. With BOTD, I played most of the keys, because I couldn't find a keyboardist! No joke! Once I met Ryo, he added the finishing touches.”

Did you use a real Mellotron for this album or samples?

“In fact we used the same Mellotron as on the first album. Ryo and I are the owner's of that Tron.”

Just as the late Shaun Guerin, his replacement Josh Gleason was lead singer of a Genesis tribute band. Were you looking for a Peter Gabriel sounding voice or was it just a coincidence?

“It was just a coincidence, really. I mean...I was looking for a vocalist that sounded similar to Shaun Guerin and a D.J. in Ohio told me during an interview off the air about Josh, so I sought him out. I'm really glad he liked K2's music and wanted to join the band! He sounds incredible!”

Is Josh still the lead singer for Mind Sky another fine progressive rock band from your country?

“I believe Mind Sky was a one-off project. I don't think they plan to do another.”

The three K2-releases that appeared so far were all released by different labels. Why was that and are more companies interested in Black Garden?

“Ha, ha, you know, it was never planned that way! It's just how this crazy business is sometimes. It can be really frustrating trying to get music published and released, and you have to pick whatever opportunities come your way. We were shopping the album around to different labels, and Magna Carta approached us! It was funny how it all fell into place. We are very happy to be on Magna Carta now! They have worldwide distribution and that's what K2 always wanted.”

Do you think Black Garden will have the same impact on the audience as Book Of The Dead?

“It's too soon to tell, but probably not, as BOTD was new and unexpected. We wanted to put out a great album that was very different from the first one. We wanted to move forward and try to update the seventies sound we sometimes have!”

Are you satisfied with the music on the album or do you believe that certain things could have been better?

“I'm very happy with this release! It's a totally different album for K2 and everybody contributed to the writing process. That's what we were aiming for, so everybody is very pleased with the final outcome! It's also doing better commercially, with two singles that have gotten some airplay here in America.”

Do you perform the album live as one piece of music or just some of the songs?

“We just perform some of the songs, as we also add in some songs from BOTD and some of Ryo's solo tunes.”

Any plans of bringing Black Garden to Europe for some live concerts?

“Yes, we do have plans to come to Europe, but...I told you that last time we spoke! The worldwide recession really screwed a lot of bands that had plans to tour Europe. You need a financial backer and our financer backed out, so no tour. We will be touring the North-Eastern United States in the spring of 2011, with plans to finally get to Europe in summer. So we are in the planning stages right now.”

Does the success of K2 mean that your other band Atlantis no longer exists?

“Yes, Atlantis is no more. Teknobudd, the keyboard player from Atlantis, and I still stay in touch on a regular basis, but I think Atlantis is done for good.”

Thank you for answering my questions, Ken!

“Thanks you so much, Henri! It's always a pleasure talking to you! Cheers!”

More info about Ken Jaquess and K2 on the Internet:
       Website Ken Jaquess
       MySpace 1 (with samples)
       MySpace 2 (with samples)
       review CD 'Book Of The Dead'
       review CD 'Black Garden'
       review DVD 'Live In Hollywood'

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