Demetris "All Around" Katsikis
Apostolis "Retromaniac" Psarros
"LEGEND transcends such genre classifications as Neo-Prog, Heavy Metal, Prog Folk etc. They have a unique sound all their own.’ We have also been described as ‘Grandiose, self indulgent and over the top’ ". [Steve Paine]
And one of the most humble artists we might add. Steve Paine of LEGEND is giving some really deep answers out there! A role model for all [+ keyboard] proggers for sure!
Well, Steve, thanks a lot for your participation in that interview! It’s our honor to host your point-of-view in our radio!
Hello Steve! Where are you now? Where this interview finds you exactly?!
Many thanks for inviting me on to your show it is a privilege! I’m currently in my home studio, in South Wales in the UK. We’re recording Drums for our new album ‘Spirit’. I am lucky enough to live close to the South Wales coast between Cardiff and Swansea, in a small village where we are quite isolated from the neighbors which is great for recording noisy things such as Drums.
Tell us some things about your career history as a keyboard player. How did you decide to become a keyboard player? Have you made any studies? Do you play other instruments?
I learned Piano as a child, partly because both my parents played and it was the first instrument I really encountered. As a teenager I tried guitar but did not do well with it. I ultimately chose to play Keyboards because I became increasingly interested in electronics and I realized that synthesizers and keyboards had huge sound potential. I have always been fascinated by sounds created in a way not possible from physical instruments. At the same time I resolved to follow a career in Sound Engineering as the easiest way of combining my love of music with my day job. I started playing semi-professionally in 1982 and was in a number of bands pre LEGEND, the most significant of these was Nightshade which would be described as Cross-over Prog these days.
In 1983 I met with my long term business partner Mike Turner and together we founded Pagan Studios and Pagan Records in 1985. Our first project was The Magic Mushroom Band’s debut album ‘Politics of Ecstasy’. Between 1985-87 I tried many times to create a new band, but it was only in 1988 when we moved Pagan Studios to Runcorn in Cheshire that I was at last able to form LEGEND.
What’s your influences as a keyboardist? Keyboard players that you have as role-models in your life.
I suppose the first Keys player to have a significant albeit slight subconcious influence was Jon Lord, my brother was a big Deep Purple fan and their music is amongst my earliest recollections of rock music. Once I became a serious player though it was Tony Banks that influenced me most. It was through his playing I realized that the Keys could take the lead and successfully too, plus his choice of sounds was tantalizing. My favorite player of all time, for both composition and technical skill has to be Richard Harvey from Gryphon. Gryphon is one of the lesser known classic British Prog bands of the 70’s. They combined Medieval music and rock music in a really interesting way, they were also famous for having a lead Bassoon Player. As you may have noticed I have very wide musical tastes, so I love players like Yanni, Vangelis, Chick Corea, Peter Bardens (Camel) Dave Greenslade and of course Keith Emerson.
I think your performance with LEGEND is astonishing, you really determine their sound! How did you approach keyboard playing on LEGEND records?
Thank you that is a very kind of you to say, I don’t actually see myself as an outstanding musician, I am more the glue that draws LEGEND together in terms of trying to do the right things to hold the sound together and to create a mood. I love synth programming and LEGEND is one of the few projects where I have complete freedom to craft and use new sounds. I like having the ability to craft different textures and from that set the aural backdrop to our songs. LEGEND gives me more scope as a player than I could hope for from many other bands, indeed I currently act as occasional Keys player for fellow Welsh Prog Rockers Ezra and there my role is much more restricted as their sound is more guitar oriented.
What’s your personal philosophy in life? How do you cope with barriers? And, simultaneously, how do you build your strengths?
Wow that’s a deep question! I suppose the main philosophy I follow is: As long as you harm none, then live as you will. It is a very simple idea that is easy to remember, but quite hard to achieve in practice. I always try to find a way around the barriers that life throws at you, I prefer to think that there’s always another way, I don’t like conflict between people regardless of the reason and although it may be idealistic I always think there is a better way to solve problems.
As for building upon strengths I think that all of life’s experiences good and bad helped to build the essence of who we are and that it is important to learn all you can from every aspect of life. In a way this is reflects the concept behind Spirit.
My philosophy for LEGEND has always been that it is the song that is the most important thing, not the musicians playing it. So I try to ensure there’s a balance with everybody getting to play to their strengths with fair opportunities to take the lead when the song requires it. In that way no one member of the band is more important than the other, including myself!
How do you study for the keyboards? What specific techniques do you use?
As a child / teenager I studied Classical Piano and Percussion I also learned a little Guitar and Flute too. These days I mainly practice by playing a selection of old LEGEND songs and some Classical favorites. Like most Keys players I love J.S. Bach so I play some of his Organ music – usually quite badly but I really enjoy it.
I have also learned over the years to adapt my playing technique to fit with the sounds I am using which has been very interesting and there are several parts on the various albums where this technique has created a whole new dimension for us. I tend to play for at least an hour every day, no matter how busy life is, but frequently much more time if I can manage it.
What would you suggest to an aspiring keyboard player? Also, to someone who desires to play some prog rock out there?
Regardless of what instrument you play or what music you love, if it is what you want to do, then believe in yourself and just keep trying. Musicians take a lot of knocks in life and everybody always has an opinion of how your music could be better. But you just simply need to believe in what you’re doing and keep doing it. There are lots of folks out there who will enjoy it you simply have to find your audience.
The advantages the internet gives to folks who are starting out are incredible. It has never been easier to get your ideas out there and most importantly heard. This is wonderful for all types of music from all around the world. Never before has it been so easy to hear about musicians from Greece, or Indonesia or even China – there’s some great music out there influenced by so many different cultures, it can only be good for creativity as a whole.
How do you match your key’s parts with the other musical instruments? Is there any personal approach from your part about that?
One of the advantages of being a sound engineer is that you get to hear and deal with a lot of different instruments and the musicians who play them, so I understand what each instrument can do what, much better than if I’d simply focussed on Keyboards. This gives me an ideal view of what works well with different instruments, so I tend to view my parts as part of the whole rather than as specifically ‘my’ sound.
I spend a lot of time working out what sounds and textures reflect the mood of the music, I like to combine ‘classic rock’ Keyboard sounds such as the Hammond Organ, Mellotron, Moogs etc with more modern digital sound textures. Currently I am into using lots of the sounds associated with modern electronic dance such as Trance / Hardcore and weaving them into our sound to give yet another dimension. I don’t tend to use Piano sounds too much as I am far more a keyboard player than a Pianist these days, though I do still love Piano as an instrument. I’m a huge Oberheim fan and many of the analog style synth sounds on the last two LEGEND albums have been from my old Matrix 1000.
Do you write lyrics? If yes, with what issues do you deal with?
I write around 40% of the lyrics – I tend to create the core idea and Kerry (vocalist) has the task of making it all make sense. Since Cardinal Points I have also been working with an American Poet called MJ Kushinsky, she and I are writing a considerable amount of the lyrics to the new album, though of course Kerry will still contribute as well. The three of us seem to make a really good team. Whisper on the Wind from Cardinal Points is a great example of this collaboration.
For our inspiration we draw on the legends, myths and folklore of the British Isles, the Celtic Peoples and even Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt. I’ve always had a fascination with ancient spirituality and beliefs and I like to explore some the ideas that they embody. Especially as I feel some of those beliefs are as relevant today as they were in their own time. So LEGEND lyrics are a mix of history, the natural world, spirituality and alchemy.
Could you give us a review of your musical collaborations?
That would be quite a long list – I am a professional Sound Engineer and as such I’ve worked with many artists over the years. As far as direct musical collaborations I have worked with Goth artists Inkubus Sukkubus, I produced and played Keys on their seminal album ‘Wytches’.
I produced the first two Mr So & So albums, ‘Paraphernalia’ and ‘Compendium’ Mr So & So are a kind of Prog crossover band, in fact founder member Dave Foster was LEGEND’s guitarist on Cardinal Points and indeed he has played Bass live for us as well over the years.
I have also have side project in which I play Drums and Keys called Mythical Beasts in collaboration with Singer / Songwriter Talis Kimberly, amongst others including Paul Thomson from LEGEND. The Beasts is a kind of Folk / Prog Rock ensemble based upon Talis Kimberley’s Folk songs, rocked up by me in a hybrid somewhere between Loreena McKennitt and Jethro Tull. We recorded an album in 1998/99 entitled ‘Receiving Stolen Gods’ but unfortunately due to record company problems it has never been released.
What is prog rock for you? And prog music in general, anyway? What do you think about the future of prog rock and music in general?
Classic Rock and Prog Rock have been the sound track to my life really. I grew up with a Father who loved a broad spectrum of Classical Music and a very much older Brother who had great taste in music, so I got to listen to the likes of Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Renaissance, Jethro Tull and Steeleye Span from a very early age. So I suppose it was inevitable I would choose to play Prog.
Progressive Rock / Metal gives me the freedom to express whatever ideas I choose and they can be as simple or as complex as I choose. For me it is a musical form without boundaries and that is what most appeals to me about it.
I think it is fantastic that Prog Rock has now become a recognized sub-genre like Folk, Jazz or Blues so it is no longer considered a pretentious dinosaur. I personally feel that the future is very bright for the genre as a whole and specifically for LEGEND. I think the future will see an increasingly vibrant Prog scene with lots of new innovations in sound and form.
What music do you listen to this period? What’s your musical inspirations too?
Currently I am listening to a lot of Symphonic Metal and Prog Metal as well as a broad spectrum of contemporary Prog bands as well. So bands like Nightwish, Within Temptation, Therion, Unsun and lots of the lesser known but up and coming bands such as Winter in Eden and Amberian Dawn. I’ve followed US Prog Metal Band since their first album which came out the same year as LEGEND’s debut and they will always have a place in my heart. Of the classic Prog Bands I love, Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson and ELP, but it was bands like Renaissance, The Strawbs and Steeleye Span that really resonated with me. The Strawbs in particular are a most underrated band, certainly in the UK where they had a somewhat unfortunate novelty hit single, which probably turned off a lot of listeners, but their Ghosts album for me was a seminal work of Folk influenced Prog.
Peter Gabriel and in particular his 3rd and 4th solo albums had a huge influence on me as a player, because of his approach to their sonic landscape, which was a completely unique alien synthetic organic hybrid sound not heard before or since. It was those two albums that made me want to be a sound engineer and producer.
Classical music has always been a constant in my life and I listen to a broad range of it. What I listen to at a particular time really depends on my mood. Recently I’ve been discovering some of the lesser known composers (well lesser known to me at least) such as Bruckner and Scarlatti. Baroque and Medieval music have a very special place in my heart, but for completely different reasons. Medieval appeals due to its close relation to folk music and its robust arrangements, Baroque appeals for its refinement of form and intricacy. I think the combination of both types works really well in a Rock context and as such form a significant part of LEGEND’s sound.
Recently, Jon Lord “left”. What’s your opinion about him?
Jon Lord’s passing is very sad and my condolences to all his family and friends. Jon Lord was the first exposure I ever had to Keyboards in Rock music, as a result I grew up believing that Keyboards were just as essential to Rock as the guitar, which is obviously wrong, but it was what I believed. The fact Jon Lord both incorporated Bach into his rock solos as well as actually playing Bach pieces in both rock and traditional settings really captured my imagination. Although it is very sad that he is no longer with us he has left us a legacy of great work to enjoy again and again so he will live on with us in our hearts.
About your band; LEGEND were formed during some of progressive rock’s hardest years. What was like playing under these hard circumstances and what was actually your motivation around this time, when Progressive Rock was completely out of fashion?
LEGEND didn’t really start out intending to be a Prog Band as such, we never considered ourselves good enough. I think we were aiming for more of a cross between Uriah Heep and Steeleye Span but with keyboards. I suppose that it was inevitable we would end up as a Prog Band especially as the one band we all considered an influence was Rush. The important thing to me and the other members of LEGEND when we formed was to play music we wanted to play, the idea was not to try to conform to what would be commercially acceptable but to play what we felt. So in a sense LEGEND was an exercise in self indulgence, but we have always expressed what is true to ourselves. It also helped that we all had different tastes, with Paul Thompson being of a Hard Rock and Metal background, Kerry Parker being into Folk and Jazz and of course myself with all the Folk Rock and Prog Rock influences.
When Debbie Chapman stepped into Kerry’s shoes, she brought a classical singing approach that was frowned upon at the time, but with the advent of bands such as Nightwish and Therion this has now become a significant part of the Symphonic Metal genre, so I guess in a way we were ahead of our time.
At the time we formed there was a very vibrant music scene in the area where we lived, which is situated between Liverpool and Manchester. So there were a lot of very creative bands playing all sorts of music. We stumbled onto the then very much underground Prog scene by accident and we were welcomed with open arms. The scene in the UK was very small consisting of a number of very small circulation music ‘zines that were produced by dedicated fans. However in Europe the scene was thriving with a number of larger more professional magazines and companies actively promoting the music.
For LEGEND though the breakthrough came when the a Japanese rock DJ called ‘Captain Wada’ He played our debut album ‘Light in Extension’ on Tokyo’s premier Rock FM show and this led to a publishing and record deal for our first two albums. Because of this we had it easier than most. But as a result we focussed on Europe and Japan which means we are relatively little known in our home country even now.
The majority of press labels LEGEND under the Neo Prog category. We rather disagree with this simplistic description, but we will leave it up to you to describe LEGEND's music to someone who's never heard of your music.
You are quite right that we are classified as Neo Prog, though if I am completely honest I do not really understand what distinguishes Neo Prog from other Prog. Classifications such as Folk Prog, or Symphonic Prog make a lot more sense to me when I am describing LEGEND. I conclude though that the Neo Prog title came about as a way to distinguish the UK Prog bands of the 80’s / 90’s from the classic bands of the 60’s/70’s. If that is the case then we fall into that classification purely as a result of timing rather than musical content.
The best description for LEGEND I have encountered comes from one of Prog Archives Special Contributors; SouthSideoftheSky which I quote; ‘LEGEND transcends such genre classifications as Neo-Prog, Heavy Metal, Prog Folk etc. They have a unique sound all their own.’ We have also been to described as ‘Grandoise, Self indulgent and over the top’. Which I think fits us too!
After three very good albums and, between 1998 and LEGEND's return in 2008, there was a very long pause. Which are the reasons for this pause?
After Triple Aspect was released in 1996 we had intended to start work on Cardinal Points as soon as possible, but other commercial considerations got in the way. I was particularly busy with my company’s business, which caused Cardinal to be shelved for a couple of years. Legend became dormant at the beginning of November 1998 due to a number of factors. Although we never made a conscious decision to stop, it was simply something that happened due to circumstances. I was collaborating with other bands such as Mythical Beasts, then my long term business partner needed to retire plus I had a new family too.
Other band members got married and had kids and thus we drifted apart. We have all remained friends over the years and we did talk several times during the early 2000’s about getting together in some form. It really was just a case of real life getting in the way of pursuing our dream.
What were you dealing with during these years?
With Paul Thompson, John Macklin and I all having new family responsibilities it was really a case of taking every day jobs to support and build homes for our families and looking to the future. LEGEND had been successful in a small way, but it would not support all of us and our responsibilities. Fortunately I was able to stay in my trade as a Sound Engineer, even expanding out into Lighting Design and Stage Management. A useful side effect of this period is that when LEGEND goes live we can bring extra production values to the lighting and presentation to our show and I am very excited about those possibilities! Look out for a spectacular concert in 2014 which we shall be filming for DVD. In terms of playing I pretty much didn’t touch a keyboard from 1999 to 2006, except on very rare occasions. I must say I really missed playing.
In 2008 LEGEND made a great comeback. Was the Progressive Rock revival during the new millennium a reason for this?
The main reason for LEGEND’s reformation is simply John Macklin (Drummer) and I started talking about it a lot from 2006 onwards. Initially we didn’t know what would be possible but as we talked I re-mastered and compiled the material for the Ritual Echo album, just to find out what sort of scene there was out there. It was also to see if anybody remembered us. To our surprise it was very well received and so we began making serious plans to make Cardinal Points. Cardinal was very much in the planning stages when LEGEND became dormant in 1998 so it was really a case of picking it all up where we left off.
Through 2009 and early 2010 I re-wrote all the original ideas and we ended up with the album as you know it. Getting the original line up back together proved difficult. Despite Facebook and the internet we couldn’t reach our original Guitarist Paul Thompson, so we asked long time friend and Mr So&So member Dave Foster on guitar. We also had the opportunity to invite our original singer Kerry Parker to actually contribute to an album at last. Kerry was a significant part of the original LEGEND incarnations, it is unfortunate that a family tragedy meant she had to leave before we recorded our first album. Also during this time I stumbled over the old analogue masters of our concert video ‘Playing with Fire’ so I decided to re-master them and release them on CD, which was something we had always wanted to do, but it just wasn’t practical at the time.
And what about the writing process. Are you the main composer of the band or the other members contribute equally?
Yes I am the principal composer in LEGEND though every member makes their mark on each and every song. I rely on all the musicians to bring their own personality to what I write. I love hearing how they interpret my ideas it is all part of the magic for me. I am also the band’s arranger and producer as well as performing most of the sound engineering and tea making duties.
In the early days LEGEND rehearsed on a weekly basis and I used to bring my ideas to rehearsal and we wound jam around with them and gradually build them into a song structure. On the Light in Extension album this included a lot of songs I had written as a teenager and brought them to the band to see how they would develop. For the following two albums we refined that approach slightly but the principal remained the same.
One of the problems of reforming the band was the fact we had all moved to different parts of the UK. Fortunately technology came to our rescue, so my approach to writing now is to create a demo version of each song, with basic Drums and Guitar as well as Keys. I share the demos with the other band members for them to work on their parts, then we get together to record the final songs. I was a little nervous about this process at first, but it worked really well for Cardinal Points, so we are approaching the new album exactly the same way.
I thrive on being a part of the whole process from the simple idea to mastering the final product. I also interfere with the artwork and booklet layout as well. LEGEND really is my heart and soul and I am so blessed to have far more talented musicians than I that want to take part in making the music a reality.
Tell us about your upcoming album “Spirit”.
We’re very excited about it, the drums are sounding great already! It is going to be our hardest / heaviest album to date. Whether we’ll go full metal on parts of this is still unknown, but it is heading in that direction. The symphonic metal influence is really showing on this one. Combined with the fact that Paul Thompson has been located and is returning to the fold it promises to be very exciting.
In a way Spirit is following on from Cardinal Points in the sense that it is a concept album. It is intended to work as a whole with all the pieces interlinked, though it should also be completely accessible as individual songs. The concept is based upon the spiritual journey we all make through life, regardless of faith or religion, it is about those events that mark us in ways we do not expect and all combine to make us what we are as individuals. So it is celebrating the diversity of the individual as well as the single spark that unites us all – Life.
Much as with Cardinal it will be a core line up of LEGEND regulars; John Macklin on Drums, Paul Thompson on Bass and Guitar, Kerry Parker on Vocals and myself on Keys of course. We shall also be using guest musicians, such as some form of Choral Section. There are a lot of choral parts in the new material so expect hints of Orf’s ‘Carmina Burana’ or Handel’s ‘Messiah’ on the finished recording! Also my son Taliesin (Tali) Paine is also making his recording debut as a guest performer on Guitar.
Which are some of the LEGEND plans for the future?
Well as soon as Spirit is finished we intend to go out and play some festivals in 2013. Mostly these will be UK based, but we hope we may get to Europe too! We love to play live and do not get enough opportunities to do it, so we fully intend to rectify that next year!
Also I am planning live extravaganza in the UK – hoping to draw LEGEND fans from all over Europe / Worldwide to a special show in a fantastic venue, where we can stage LEGEND as we have always wanted to. So a large lighting rig and huge production values! This is planned for early 2014 so keep your eyes open! It is our intention to record the show for DVD and CD release later in 2014 or early 2015.
Apart from all that I expect we’ll be back in the studio in 2014 to record yet another studio album, ideas are forming for it even now, though obviously this depends what happens in the meantime. I have to say I am feeling very optimistic about the future for LEGEND and indeed for Prog music as a whole!
Is there any possibility to see you playing with LEGEND in Greece? Greece is not a prog band's paradise, so actually what should a Greek organizer do so that LEGEND could ground in Greece for a live performance? [maybe JustIn Case Prog Radio could mediate about that! It’s in our future plans, actually!)
We would love to play in Greece! I recently saw that Shadow Gallery had done a minor tour there a couple of years back and that certainly seemed successful, the audience, were very enthusiastic! Our criteria is simply as long as we can afford to do it then we are more than happy to do so. We don’t expect huge fees for playing but we do need to cover our time and expenses. So we’re always willing to discuss any possibilities that may come up.
A message from your part for the listeners of JustIn Case Prog Radio and all the prog’n’rollers out there is…
Thank you to everyone out there that supports Progressive music, in fact any good music and musicians! As an artist the most wonderful and satisfying thing is to know when your music has touched somebody, there is no better feeling in the world than that. So when you hear bands and artists that you like, let them know, like their Facebook pages, visit their websites. It is the responses from our fans that keep us going, it is certainly why I do it all! Yes we’d love you all to buy our albums, but we all know that times are hard for everyone, so if all you can do is ‘like’ something then let the artists know – they appreciate it so much!
Anything that you might add?
I’d like to give a huge thank you to Demetris and Apostolis and all at JustinCase Radio from all of us in LEGEND. We appreciate how much work it takes to bring a radio show to the public and especially when you are the first in your country. We wish you all the best success possible! Thank you too, for a most interesting and enjoyable interview! I hope my answers live up to the expectations of your excellent questions! I shall make sure you are amongst the first to hear Spirit when it is finished!
Dear Steve, thanks a lot about answering those few (lol!!!!) questions!
Demetris “All Around” Katsikis
JustIn Case Radio Founder & Progducer
Apostolis “Retromaniac” Psarros
JustIn Case Radio Progducer & Neo-Prog collaborator in www. progarchives.com