To start this interview, why don't you tell us the history of your band? Vietgrove are in activity since the end of the eighties, even if it's been your name to give continuity to the band; besides, much time has passed between "Orbis Tertius" and "The Little Apocrypha"...
I started off making electronic music in the early eighties, when I liked to listen to, and looked out for records with prominent synthesiser sounds on them. I liked the simple, raw, but somewhat charming sounds from then so much, that just about any record that had lots of electronic sounds on it would make me happy. I would listen to records by the Human League, or Klaus Schultze, or Gong, or Hawkwind, or rush or Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, or Throbbing Gristle, or Genesis, and it was all the same to me. It was all exciting, because it was "electronic" in some prominent way. There was this used record store near me, which was run by this hippie, and I also used to find all these Californinan electronic albums - a picture of a nebula on the front cover, and some long-haired guy standing in front of a Serge or Buchla modular synth on the back, and I would just find it incredibly exciting!! I suppose I was completely obsessed with synthesisers. Around this time, my sister Helen was still at school, and she came home one day, and told me the art teacher was selling his synthesiser. We put our savings together, and found that we could afford it, so we bought this tiny little Roland monophonic synthesiser, along with this even tinier Casio thing that could actually play chords. She lost interest in it pretty quickly, so I had to buy her share out! It was worth it though, because I loved the thing, and I used to play along with my records all the time, or tape down a key on it, and push the sliders up and down, trying to work out what they all did. After I got the hang of playing and programming it, I bought this used Korg string machine, and this little Roland sequencer, and that was a breakthrough for me, because then I realised that I could write my own music. Really that's been it from then to now, I just keep trying to write better and better music, because that makes me happy. I met Mark in the early 1990s, when we were trying to put together a progressive band. As it turned out, we couldn't find any other people who were suited to it, so he wound up as part of Vietgrove, poor fellow. In all honesty, it's been the best thing to happen, he's an excellent guitarist, and the music we write together is so much better than the music I write on my own.
With "The Little Apocrypha" you have created a rather ambitious and interesting work, entirely instrumental, with quite extended compositions; like in the best tradition of symphonic and romantic prog-rock, listening your music seems to been cast into an unreal and oneiric dimension... I'd like to know which have been your greatest influences, either in music and literature. Titles as "La Casa Sul Lago Della Luna" and "Villa Flora" let us understand a sure interest towards Italy...
In music, the stuff that's especially inspired me has been Popol Vuh's records - "Das Hoheleid Salomos" especially, the first four Spirit albums, the classic Byrds albums, especially "The Notorious Byrds Brothers", Todd Rundgren's Utopia, Simon House's Mellotron and violin playing on Hawkwind's records, Shirley and Dolly Collins records, especially the ones where Dolly arranged the music for early music ensembles, Magazine, Tim Blake's album "Blake's New Jerusalem", The Enid, Vaughan Williams, Shostakovitch, Messaien, Delius, and so on. What I like about a lot of this music is that it creates a sense of "place", by which I mean, the music evokes some kind of atmosphere beyond just being a good rock band, or the story the lyrics are telling.
Likewise, with the books I read, I tend to like fiction which takes the reader to some strange place, not far away from, but noticeably different from the "normal" world. My favourite writer is Jorge Luis Borges, and I also like Alasdair Gray, Stanislaw Lem, Michel Faber, that sort of stuff. Not pure science fiction or fantasy, but odd in some way nevertheless. Another thing I like to read is gothic fiction from the 1700' and early 1800s. Ann Radcliffe especially. They are terrible books really, but at their best they do have this certain atmosphere. Italy is a common location in these books, I think. That said, the two titles referred to are from more modern books that I've read. Francesca Duranti's "The House on Moon Lake" and xxx xxxx's "The Dog King" respectively. The former is the better of the two by a long way, but nothing she's written seems to be in print over here at the moment. I was trying to get some of the atmosphere of the book in the piece of music I wrote of that name.
Being musicians and playing a particular type of music like yours: is it to be explained as a mere and simple action of love towards the great bands of the past or behind your mysterious compositions hides an openly message and a will to convey towards the listeners? And what do you think of a revival about symphonic and romantic prog-rock in terms of media-attention and music-business? Will it be possible in these days???
I think what we're trying to convey in our music, is a sense of journeying somewhere. This is part of why our compositions are kind of linear - I don't like going round and round and hearing the same thing over and over again. Usually with music I listen to that's in a verse/chorus/verse type of format, I find that I get frustrated with hearing bits I've heard before, and I find that I tend to skip to the end of tracks quite a lot, even if it's stuff I really like. I'm listening to Todd Rundgren's "A Wizard, a True Star" as I write this, and that's kind of the perfect songwriterish record for me. All the songs are great, and short, you get a verse, a chorus, another verse, a solo, then you're on to the next song. I suppose this sort of outlook means that obviously I'm going to wind up listening to and writing progressive music. I don't want to go a/b/a/b/a/b/a/b, I want to go a/b/c/d/e/f/g/h/i/j, if you know what I mean.
I find it very difficult to imagine a major revival in progressive-orientated music, or any cultish, "underground" music form, I'm afraid. It's kind of interesting in Britain, that very recently there's been a lot less of the kind of stigma that progressive music had, to the point where if someone admits to liking, say, Yes, they won't get a critical beating for it, but at the same time, I think progressive music by its nature is a small-market, cultish thing and the major record labels are very much set up to deliver mass-market music, and nothing else. Also, the labels are increasingly buying up mainstream media outlets - magazines, radio stations and the like, so I think any non-mainstream art is pretty much shut out of that whole scene, which is a shame, and certainly not the way it used to be.
On the other hand, there are obviously big changes in the way music is delivered to listeners coming, and the major labels' hegemony might not last long. There must be some way to ride this out, and be able to get music out to people outside of the physical album format. I think about this a lot, but I'm damned if I know what to make of it. It's a puzzle.
Which type of instrumentation have you used for your last cd? In several moments the sound seems to evoke wonders of the ancient sounds of the seventies...even if, maybe, you should make use of real percussions and, if it's possible, fix up something about recording.
I use a load of old digital keyboards and modules, mainly from the late eighties and early nineties - Yamaha SY77, Ensoniq SQ-r, Korg Wavestation and Kawai K5 mainly. I like a lot of the instruments from then, the generation of instruments from before then had just been sample-replay units like the E-mu Proteus or the Korg M1, whereas this lot all seem to have been designed to do something different in some way. They're all quite unusual, and if you take the time to learn to program them, you can get some lovely inspiring sounds out of them. The drums are from an old Roland drum module. When it was new, it was the best, but there's better stuff available now, which allows you to do things like control open and closed hi-hats with a pedal controller, and stuff like that. I should probably save up some money and get something better. I do really enjoy programming the drums, it's one of my favourite things. I try to program them so they sound like a real drummer playing, rather than emphasising the machine-like nature of them. I don't really want to get a real drummer involved, because playing our stuff would be terribly boring for them - about 2/3 of the time, they'd be sitting there, doing nothing! I have thought about buying a few hand percussion instruments - a tambourine, a dholak, some bongoes or something like that to track over the top of the electronic drums. I hope we get better at recording as we go along! Some people have told us the album doesn't sound "raw" enough!
In the end we'd like to know what will you reserve to us for the future... we're expecting great progress from Vietgrove!
We're busy recording stuff at the moment. I usually have some kind of general idea of the kind of sound I'm aiming for - with this album, and the one before, it was to combine the Rickenbacker 12-string electric guitar sound with a kind of heavy sequencer sound and spacey sounding electronic chords. It didn't work, in that this doesn't describe the music very well at all. Plus I got distracted when I bought a synthesiser module with a really good acoustic piano sound in it, and I started writing stuff on it, but it did work in that in trying to achieve this sound, I made a load of music I really like, and that I'm really pleased with. At the moment, I'm starting to get this sound idea in my head, which is to combine very hard, overtly electronic sounds, almost Subotnick-ish sounds, with acoustic guitars. The sound I hear in my head is very rich and beautiful, so I'll see if I can head in that direction, and see where it leads.
As well as this, we're going to try to play live as often as we can. We got to the point where we were getting really good, but we stopped to get into recording "The Little Apocrypha", and then my wife and I had a child, and so on, and suddenly it's years since we last played out. This is REALLY frustrating, and we're not going to make the mistake of stopping playing live again.