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SIMON MCKECHNIE (UK)

 

Demetris "All Around"

 

Simon McKechnie

 

Some of the most down-to-earth, creative and consistent answers I have encountered as an interviewer until today. Crossover prog is the least to say (the term fuels some ambiguity anyway) but art rock (older term for crossover prog) finds its shelter and expression here with “Clocks and dark clouds”, one of the most musically diverse, but comprehensible at the same time, albums I have ever enjoyed. SIMON MCKECHNIE is a sophisticated musicaholic with a prog taste that can trigger your cerebral auras discovering further prog possibilities and dimensions. Taste this work!

 

Dear Simon, thank you very much for your participation in that interview! It’s our honor!


Where are you now? Where this interview finds you exactly?
With a cup of tea and my Rush (Permanent Waves) t-shirt on in my house in Catford, South London.

Could you give us a brief (as much as you can, haha!) catalogue of your collaborations until today? I found some, like BBC Television, a musical with author Gary Waterman, the foundation of the prog band AZUL and a collaboration as a guitarist with the band (name?) of Portuguese artist Nuno Silva! How great and diverse are all that?
What else? Hmm, well I also wrote several contemporary classical pieces, for example a brass quintet for a group called Golden Section. I’ve done a lot of Latin music such as some big band charts that I did for the Latin Jazz Orchestra of a great British-based Colombian percussionist called Roberto Pla. My old group Azul actually played jazz fusion (prog rock’s cousin I think). I ran that group for ten years or so until 2005. I also studied Indian classical music for a couple of years…and then I’ve played in some local lo-fi heavy rock bands with guys head banging one metre away from me. Loads of other stuff – Don’t get me started!

I learnt about you from…you! I had not heard your music before and I was really struck by your performance “Clocks and dark clouds” (as our producer Aeolus did and you can see that in his review of your album here http://justincaseradio.com/prog-topics/prog-reviews/157-simon-mackechnie-clscks-and-dark-clouds-2013-uk). What an amazing prog music sound, eclecticity and diversity! How did you achieve this kind of progressivity in your sound and orchestration?
Wow, thank you! I suppose my background has something to do with that. I guess you could say that prog usually comes from virtuoso rock players who have good feel for composition and are often inspired by classical, jazz and folk amongst other styles. On the other hand, I’ve worked primarily as a composer and arranger for more than twenty years and been involved at first hand in classical, jazz and folk…and just happen to be a massive prog fan. So why haven’t I been involved in prog before if I like it so much? Well, it felt so natural when I finally did get round to making my own that I have absolutely no idea!

You executed all the instruments except from the drums played by Adam Riley, right? Any other musicians/stuff contributed to this album?
There were no other musicians. The other person involved was the mastering engineer Jon Astley. He’s worked with everyone, for example he mastered Abba Gold, Eric Clapton, The Who and produced ‘Who Are You’. Also, his studio is called ‘Close to the Edge’. What decent progger could say no to that?

What is the sound of that album? How would you describe it? Progarchives platform says it’s crossover prog but you are the most appropriate person to define this.
It sounds pretty much like straight-ahead prog to me. I think a few sites are calling me a crossover artist because my last album was folk. To me its sound primarily comes from the prevalence of polyrythms, the use of harmony which has tonal and atonal double meanings, and mostly flowing, singing melodies above all the complexity and angularity.

What is the concept of the album? It has some “earthy” titles like “Mother and daughter” and “The emigrant” and, simultaneously, some “spacey” ones like “God particle” (earthy too, paradoxically, according to the latest scientific discoveries though!) and “Clocks and dark clouds”. Is that a concept album or a set of different songs that are connected with some way?
There is a loose theme in that all the songs have something to do with time. Then there are also a few other resonances between songs. So for example ‘Gorham’s Cave’ is about the birth of the last Neanderthal, whilst the second part of ‘Mother and Daughter’ is about the first baby born out of Africa.

I was also amazed by your first one album called “London Reborn”, that seemed more folk to me (and that’s great of course!), with the contribution of many musicians on it. How was that album as a debut for you? Also, give us some info of its making, its concept and its music direction!
Actually, I released a couple of albums with Azul but they were only available in the UK. I did “London Reborn” because I got bogged down doing commercial music like TV for a few years and I started to feel a bit like a robot. I wanted to do something where the only point was for it to be good. I was playing through a book of English folk songs and started to hear some developmental ideas I liked and off I went. Actually there is a lot of progginess in that album too.

How do you compose music? What’s the concept inside your head when you wake up in the morning (or at night, why not?!!) and you tell yourself something like “I’m going to make some music”! What’s the procedures/routines you follow?
The first thing I must say is that ‘Clocks and Dark Clouds’ was written in a different way to anything else I’ve done. It so happened that I became rather seriously ill in 2012 with a weird neurological condition. I was under doctor’s orders not to do anything analytical, and also not to read books, and watch TV. One thing I could do was lie in bed with guitar cranked and improvise – The more sensory and less I thought about it the better. All the ideas for the album and this whole shift into prog rock came from those improvisations. In general though, I usually go backwards and forwards between working on an idea in a very immediate way and then in a formal way. So, I might play around with some small music theme out of my notebook or whatever until it seemed to have a life of its own. Then I typically look at it in a more technical way to see what developmental possibilities it had and maybe tweak the theme in a way like ‘If I make this small change then it allows these better story-telling possibilities’.

What would you say to an aspiring musician that wants to pour some prog elements in her/his music and jump in the prog world?
Do it! Try stuff. If it doesn’t work out like you’re hearing in your head then find out why not. You’ll learn a hell of a lot of good things en route. It’s a great field to work in!

You seem to play a wide array of instruments. What do you believe, multi-instrumentalists are born, are made, both, or/and all of them and something more than that?
I think it’s down to circumstances (more Rush springs to mind!). So for me I originally played jazz guitar, but my keyboard skills improved from studying composition and then working as an arranger. Then I played bass in Azul. The other guys in the band are top players so it really pulled my level up – I think it was Pat Metheny who said, ‘If you’re the best player in the band, join another band’. Then for TV work it’s handy to be able to play as many things as possible so I have an office with about fifty instruments that I play to very varying degrees.

What are your favorite issues/subjects when you write lyrics? And how do you write lyrics? Is that a spontaneous or/and a structural procedure for you?
Well, on “Clocks and Dark Clouds” I seemed to go for big stuff like evolution, but in the past I’ve preferred more intimate themes. I really enjoy writing lyrics, but cannot say, ‘tomorrow I’m going to write this and that’ in the same way that I can with music. It either comes or it doesn’t. Like the music though, it’s usually a mixture of spontaneity and structure.

Which are your favorite music songs during your lifetime? Also, your influences as a musician?
I’m a bit of a musicaholic, so it almost hurts to single out tracks, but seeing as you ask, and bearing in mind that you’d get a totally different answer if you asked me tomorrow, here goes –
Close to the Edge (Yes), Birds of Fire (Mahavishnu Orchestra), Living for the City (Stevie Wonder), A First Circle (Pat Metheny), Starless and Bible Black (King Crimson), Tom Sawyer (and hundred other songs by Rush), In the Region of the Summer Stars suite (The Enid), Loro (Egberto Gismonti), Concrete Jungle (The Wailers), Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress (Gil Evans Orchestra), Monasterio de Sal (Paco de Lucia), most of The Beatles, Miles Davis……..
And my influences? It depends on the style of music but Rush, King Crimson, Yes, Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Gil Evans, John McLaughlin are all in there somewhere. On the classical side Debussy, Schoenberg, Bartok, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Ligeti and the greats of the classical era have shaped how I think about form, harmony and development.

What’s your personal philosophy in life? How do you overcome barriers and how do you use your strengths?
Without wishing to get too Zen on yo’ ass I think the most important thing in life is to have compassion for all life including oneself. As for barriers, I do mindfulness meditation for a couple of hours a day. These things are personal, but I find in my case that this is the best way of being aware of my strengths and weaknesses, and also helps me to deal with issues in an uncluttered way.

Is there any genre/style of music that you haven’t played yet and you’d like to play if you had the opportunity?
You know, I used to be crazy into learning and studying every style. I am glad I had the chance to do that, but now I am more interested in letting my influences and studies coalesce into one mature expression.

What is prog rock for you? And prog music in general, anyway? We think this is a concept and not a genre, as many believe. Also, what do you think about the future of prog rock and prog music in general? Are there any ways for the betterment of its promotion through internet and other means?
What links King Crimson to The Enid to Henry Cow to The Mars Volta to Dream Theatre? I suppose the one set thing is that there has to be rock instrumentation. So my previous album “London Reborn” is folk rather than prog rock even though it has some prog elements. And then what? I guess there has to be the idea of stretching possibilities with that instrumentation and basic language of rock – the progression. So, I’m with you guys in thinking of it as a concept.
As for the future, I’m sure it’s here to stay as long as there are people who are into genuine, mature, intelligent, beautiful, rock your balls off music. That would be forever! It’s definitely on the up here in the UK after lagging behind other countries for quite a few years. I’m a newcomer to web promotion so probably not the best to say, but I’m sure the internet is key for all non-mainstream music.

Some of your plans for the short- or the long-term future are…
I’m so glad you ask me that! I am working on a new prog album. It’s called “Newton’s Alchemy” and is about, surprise, surprise, the alchemy of Sir Isaac Newton. He wrote more than a million words on alchemy and had the most complicated psyche. The idea of the project is to show his actual method of work and reveal his psychological state as the album progresses. I’m well into it!

A message from your part for the listeners of JustIn Case Prog Radio and for all prog’n’rollers out there is…
You have great taste!

Anything that you might add?
I want to say how cool I’ve found all the people involved in prog. Just real music fans you know. From South America to Asia everyone I’ve spoken to since I released the album really cares about the music being good and really listens. What more could you ask?


Dear Simon, thanks a lot about answering those few (lol!!!!) questions!


With honor,
Demetris “All Around”
Founder and Progducer of JustIn Case Radio (www.justincaseradio.com)


http://www.simonmckechnie.com/

 

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