Interview Robert Berry:

"After the death of Keith Emerson and Trent Gardner the rules had definitely changed"

(November 2018, text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen)

To The Power Of Three is the only album recorded by the British-American progressive rock band simply called '3'. It was released in 1988 by Geffen Records. At the time it could be seen as a kind of spin-off from Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Greg Lake was replaced by Robert Berry. Unfortunately it was the band's first and last album. That is: until now because in 2018 The Rules Have Changed came out. It's a kind of successor to To The Power Of Three recorded by '3.2'. The album could be considered to be a second collaboration between Robert Berry and Keith Emerson. However, without the latter since he passed away in March 2016. In order to learn more about this special album, Background Magazine was invited to talk with Robert Berry about all the ins and outs!

Congratulations with your great album The Rules Have Changed. Did you expect that you could make such an excellent album on your own and are you satisfied with the final result?
Robert Berry
Robert Berry: “Thank you for your kind words, Henri. I've been overwhelmed by the great reception of The Rules Have Changed. First of all I think you know that Keith Emerson and I had worked on it together for three months before he died. We had a detailed description of what we wanted a 3.2 album to be and how we would go about it. We had an old cassette tape from 1987 with a song we didn't use on the first album and other bits. Keith had also sent me complete parts to use in digital form. They weren't songs or total ideas, but just excerpts. We also spoke by phone a lot. After Keith had died, I wasn't going to finish the album. We had five songs ready to complete and I was writing one at that time called This Letter. Then he passed away and I was heart-broken. After about six months I had the idea of asking his son Aaron Emerson to play on the album. I thought that would be a great tribute to his father. He was excited to do it and asked me to send him a song. Unfortunately I got excited about the possibilities and sent him a very hard song. He replied and said that this was not his dad's kind of playing, so he didn't like to it. Who does really; it's musically very technical and hard. But this idea had got me thinking about completing the music, maybe not to release it, but to finish my thirty-year dream of doing a second 3-album with Keith. To be honest, when I got it done I couldn't tell what I had. I had struggled for a year doing hundreds of hours of recordings asking myself 'what would Keith do here?' That drove me and guided me, but when I was done I was too deep in it to really know if it was good enough to honour our friendship and history.”

Did you ever intend to release the album as 3 or was it immediately clear that it would be 3.2? Why would Keith call the band 3 instead of Three?
“It was to be 3.2 from the beginning. The album was the follow-up to 3 so as in software language it was the band 3 version 2. Keith actually wanted to name the album 1. He said: 'not one, but 1'. At the time, I thought that 3.2,1 wasn't quite right but I figured that we would discuss that as we got closer to finishing it.”

For some people it may be hard to believe that you recorded this album completely on your own, especially for the keyboards that sound like Keith Emerson. How difficult was it to get out of the shadow of this great keyboardist in order to sound like him?
Robert Berry and his keyboards
“What most people don't know is that I had already recorded about twenty percent of Keith's playing. When we started with the songs on the first album, Keith arranged the musical bits. On this album we started with some musical bits and it was my job to glue them together with words and melody. When it became clear that I was to finish the album as '1', I had to totally immerse myself in both the original keyboards of the first album and the new bits. I spent countless hours of fine tuning my newly written parts to find sounds that linked them together with Keith's musical parts. The song What You're Dreaming Now was almost done. That also helped me to fine-tune my own playing, not to emulate but to match in some strange ways Keith's playing. I say strange because I really felt his spirit guiding me. I don't know if it was my constant tug of war with 'what would Keith do here' or him actually watching over me. All I can say is I don't really know exactly how it came out with the continuity and credibility that people seem to hear in it. The process itself, although an emotional and technical struggle, gave me so many times of great joy. You should hear it through my studio speakers. I used everything I knew as a recording engineer and producer to make it also a sonic achievement.”

With regard to your musical skills, I always knew that you could come pretty close to the musical style of Keith Emerson. However, I can imagine that some people didn't believe that you played those keyboard parts yourself.
“So far everybody has been so nice and very supportive. I had some self-doubt before the album came out. I thought I was setting myself up for criticism, but I just had to complete the dream. Then it came out and everybody seemed to feel the love in the music. They felt Keith was still there, they felt the effort honoured his legacy. I was in tears the first week from all the lovely comments. But, I'm sure that there are always people out there who cast doubt on my parts. I just can't worry about that. I did this as I was left to do so. I had to take ownership in the fact that I knew the sound, I knew the plan, and I was the singer of 3. If I can say this without sounding egotistical, I am capable. I'm no Keith Emerson but who is or could ever be. He was one of a kind. But after eight years of classical piano lessons and two years of jazz piano, I had a fairly good grasp of the instrument. I even played a few keyboard parts on the first album of 3.”

The songs you wrote on your own fit perfectly to the songs you co-wrote with Keith. Did you intend to do so right from the start?
Robert Berry and Keith Emerson (r)
We had analysed what was right with the first album of 3 and what went wrong. We had talked about our musical experiences over the past 27 years and what we were capable of now. We also dug deep into what we wanted to achieve. The only thing we hadn't talked about was me doing an acoustic guitar song. I like to joke and say Greg Lake always got to do one and I want to do it as well. But really it was inspired by a conversation we had about him visiting his grandkids before we got together to finish the album.”

On Our Bond you sing in the Spanish language as well. Why did you do this and was Keith 'una brillante estrella sobre la tierra'?
Carl Palmer spoke Spanish and he worked with me on the lyrics for Desde La Vida. It is still a respected song in the history of Emerson, Lake & Palmer and I always felt that the Spanish language gave a truly wonderful sound to it, so I wanted to honour that part of our history. Last night I did an interview in Mexico City. They really appreciate the use of Spanish. And yes, Keith was a 'bright star across the land'. But no, I don't speak Spanish, ha, ha.”

Why did you choose to play on the Memory Moog? It perfectly makes you sound like Emerson playing the brass synthesizer.
“I used mostly my Korg Oasis. Keith had one too. Furthermore my Roland D50 that we used on the first record, and my Oberheim Matrix 1000, which is a big part of the old sound of Keith Emerson. Together they gave me the big GX1, Oberheim brass sound that Keith loved. The Memory Moog I used for smooth, rich pads and of course the Moog solos.”

My compliments for the way you played your synthesizer solos, especially the solo on the title track sounds amazing. It's not a solo that refers to Keith. Did you do that on purpose?
“You may know the progressive rock band Magellan. Trent Gardner (who passed away in June 2011, edt) was a friend of mine. In fact I did the drums and guitars on the last album by Magellan. A few months after Keith died Trent left us exact the same way. I was still in shock over Keith and suddenly Trent was gone. After the death of Keith and Trent the rules had definitely changed and it was hard to understand. I wrote that from the combination of everything I had experienced between the three of us.”

Robert Berry playing guitar
This Letter starts as a simple song played on the acoustic guitar. It almost sounds like a demo. As the song continues up-tempo the Emerson kind of honky-tonk piano parts can be heard next to Keith's typical brass synthesizer parts. That was brilliantly done. How did you come up with the idea to do it this way?
“I mentioned I was writing this at the same time we lost Keith. I actually used the first part that I had demo'd hoping to send it to Keith. It was a place in time I wanted to stamp into the album. Nobody knows that, but you know now and your readers. It was personal to leave the intro in demo form, rough vocal and all. My idea was to have him expand the end into this frenzy of honky-tonk piano, something that would get crazy but has some very hot playing on it. When I actually had to do it myself I just couldn't get it right. I deleted the second half of the song twice, before I landed on the current version. It finally felt crazy enough to almost express what I was saying in the lyrics. It's hard to 'really' put feelings into words.”

Why did you call the album The Rules Have Changed? I guess a lot of people think it has something to do with you and Keith writing the album several years later after the release of To The Power Of Three (1988). But it doesn't, does it?
“It is simply the song that expressed my sadness, my amazement and my dedication to two great musicians and friends. Even though I wrote this late in the game it seemed like the best title and sentiment to me. I think people relate it to the loss that happened while the album was being developed.”

The original album cover had the main colours red and black. This album cover mostly is green and yellow. Did you do that for a special reason?
“Well, I was fortunate to find one of the Sunarts office girls on Facebook. That was our manager Brian Lane's office. Sally Ann had married Ian MacKay. Ian was the original artist that worked for the Cream Group and had designed our 3-album cover. I asked him if he would update it using the same font but with the new.2 and title. He accepted the job and sent back those colours. Genius really as it looks great next to the original and stands out when placed in magazines and on the web.”

Are there any songs left from the writing sessions with Keith or did you use everything he came up with since only four songs on the album are co-written?
“I actually have lots of other parts and files, but to me there are no more chances of talking, planning and playing over the phone together. My sole focus is on what we had planned to do. I'm feeling that I may have got it right by the wonderful response from fans and journalists like you.”

Keith once wrote you an e-mail in which he stated that your wife Rebecca is a keeper, lose the beard. Did you lose the beard?
“Yes, for a week, but I only saw more wrinkles so I grew it back.”

Is there any chance that you will ever play the album live on stage?
“The talk right now is to do a world tour next year encompassing my thirty-year progressive rock history from GTR, 3, my solo album Pilgrimage To A Point, Magna Carta tributes like Roundabout, my time with Ambrosia, and 3.2. It would be quite a show of mostly material people know, but has never been played live. I'm very excited about it.”

For a final question I always ask musicians what their future plans are. So what are your future plans?
“Right now I'm doing many, many interviews each week around the world. We have hired a team to get more visibility for the album on radio and social media. There are also plans for a vinyl towards the end of the year. And then we'll see how the tour shapes up for early next year. If we tour I will expect to meet you in person and thank you for your interest in The Rules Have Changed and your kind words.”

It was my pleasure, Robert, thank you.

More info about 3.2 on the Internet:

       review album 'The Rules Have Changed'

All Rights Reserved Background Magazine 2018