Interview: Dutch Progressive Rock Pages
21st October 2012
Rhys Marsh is a British musician and producer based in Trondheim, Norway. He has released two albums so far together with his dream band the The Autumn Ghost. Rhys had just released his third solo album The Blue Hour. Here’s a conversation about inspiration and dedication about setting musical boundaries, performing live and of course the Mellotron.
Interview for DPRP by Leo Koperdraat
Leo: Can you tell us something more about yourself? You are British but live in Norway?
Rhys: That’s right, I was born in the south of England, and lived in London until five years ago, when i realised that London really wasn’t the right place for me. Living here, in the middle of Norway, is peaceful and gives me all the space i need to focus on the things that are important to me.
Leo: Are you a professional musician? Or do you have another profession next to you music career?
Rhys: It’s all music, all the time! I also run Autumsongs Recording Studio, where i produce artists, as well as working on my own various projects. The next release from the studio will be Silje Leirvik‘s beautiful debut album. At the end of the year, When Mary, which is former White Willow singer Trude Eidtang‘s project, will release their debut EP. I recorded and produced a couple of the songs, and also actually wrote one especially for the EP.
Leo: Who, what are you influenced by?
Rhys: My main influences are Nick Drake, David Sylvian, Scott Walker and The Tea Party, along with a huge amount of music from 1967-1974, though i’m particularly loving the sound of 1976 these days.
Leo: I don’t see any prog influences in there (although the last three certainly have their proggy moments and the period between 1969 and 1974 contains the first wave of progressive rock). Do you listen to progressive rock at all? I do hear King Crimson influences in your music (Especially your guitar playing in Broken Light).
Rhys: Oh, i listen to a LOT of progressive rock! King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator, Genesis, Cressida and Yes are very often blasting through my speakers! I also love Anekdoten and Wobbler from the newer wave of progressive rock — the bands who still play like it’s the early-seventies. I’m not a fan of what happened to progressive rock after that period.
Leo: Why do you release your solo albums under your name with the addition of The Autumn Ghost?
Rhys: I don’t feel like the Autumn Ghost albums are actually solo albums. There has always been a lot of input from the other musicians. Apart from The Blue Hour, though, where i’d written just about every note before it was recorded.Ii always pick musicians who i know will come up with something that i’ll love. It’s my dream band.
Leo: You’ve released The Fragile state of Inbetween and Dulcima in a relatively short time. Did that have to do with the fact that you had a lot of material already written?
Rhys: Only a couple of songs on Dulcima were written in advance. The rest were written as i was recording, which is how i usually work. After the first album came out i really wanted to release the second within a year ― it was a challenge to myself. I managed to get the album out eleven months later. That was a healthy way to start my career!
Leo: You’ve released Turning Time as a single in 2011. It introduced the change of arranging your music. Was this a deliberate release to see what the reactions would be?
Rhys: Turning Time was meant for the new album, but i couldn’t get it to fit. the mood wasn’t quite right, plus i didn’t want the album to be any longer. In some ways it was a bridge between the first two albums and The Blue Hour, but it was also a reflection on how i felt at the time, so it was right to release it on its own.
Leo: You are about to release your third solo album The Blue Hour. It’s quite different from the last two albums. Not so much in the style of music but more in the way the songs have been arranged this time. Woodwind instruments dominate the sound of the album. What was the reason behind this?
Rhys: After two albums, where anything was allowed, and the strings and Mellotrons were the dominant force, i felt the time was right to set some strict rules regarding the instruments i could use, and in which direction i would take the overall sound of the album. The orchestrated elements will probably always be there in my music, but i wanted to work in a way that i hadn’t done before — arranging for woodwind and brass, and also not using any reverb. It’s dry, intimate and very much became the sound of ‘the blue hour’ whilst i was working on it.
Leo: Regarding said Mellotron: as you said it was heavily used on the previous two albums and it is still used on ’The Blue Hour’ along with the wonderful Chamberlin. Have you always loved the sound of this instrument or where you introduced to it by the guys from Anekdoten, Anglagard and Wobbler?
Rhys: I’ve always loved it, from before i can remember — probably some time in the eighties, listening to the first King Crimson album. A crazy, amazing instrument! It has the same haunting tones as real strings, but with that scary weirdness and inconsistent pitch. There’s nothing like it!
Leo: You work with a lot of “guests” on your albums. How do you get them to play on your albums and are there people on your wish list you’d like to work with in the future?
Rhys: When i’m working on a song, i’ll usually hear what’s missing. on my first album, Mattias Olsson had already played on a few songs, but i wanted even more Mellotron, so i decided to just go for it and ask Nicklas (Barker. Ed) from Anekdoten. He heard some songs and was very enthusiastic about playing on them. It’s pretty much the same story for everyone i’ve been privileged to work with. Regarding the ‘wishlist’, i don’t want to jinx anything, so i’ll have to keep that under my hat for now!
Leo: Where does the title of the latest album come from?
Rhys: The Blue Hour is the time between day and night. The moments between the dark and light. If there is one, that’s pretty much the guideline for my music. This far north, the blue hour is quite an enigma, but it’s still strong enough to inspire me to this extent.
Leo: Is this title also chosen to refer back somehow to the first album as the time between day and night could also be seen as The Fragile State of Inbetween?
Rhys: It wasn’t planned, but it really could! When i received a printed copy of The Blue Hour, i realised that i’d apparently made a trilogy. It’s like the final piece of the puzzle in the first Autumn Ghost era. It was a definite plan to make Dulcima a contrasting album to the first, but this one seems to tie it all together.
Leo: The album has a great live feel to it. Was it recorded live?
Rhys: I’m glad to hear that! Everything was actually recorded separately, over the course of six months or so, though in a very organic and natural way. This is the first album where i was at every session — a lot of the first two albums were recorded abroad, then the files were sent to me — so that probably has a lot to do with the cohesiveness of the record.
Leo: Your lyrics are not always clear to me (as English is not my native language) but the imagery really comes across. Especially in ‘The place where you lay’. Is that song about grieving? What inspires you to write a lyric?
Rhys: Anything can inspire me to write a lyric, though it will always end up clouded in ambiguity. I know what the meaning is in my lyrics, but i want to say it in a way that people can and will interpret in different ways. That way the stories become about them, and they can relate them to their own lives. I’m not a lyrical dictator — more a lyrical suggester.
Leo: Can you tell us something about the process of recording an album? (As I think a lot of people do not know what it takes to make and release an album independently)
Rhys: I don’t think there’s an exact process, as every record presents different challenges, which is one of the best parts about it. For a start, though, you should set aside anywhere between six months and three years. Maybe less, maybe more. It’s intense, but it’s also very natural. It’s comfortable, but also very uncomfortable. There’s a lot of contradiction involved! The only think i’m sure of so far is that if it hasn’t driven me just past the edge of my sanity, i haven’t worked hard enough on it.
Leo: You are also a part of Unit together with Takashi Mori and Ingrid Chavez. How did that collaboration start?
Rhys: Takashi and I met on MySpace about six years ago, just before i moved to Norway, as i was starting to work on what then became the first Autumn Ghost album. As i recall, we found each other at pretty much the same time, loved each other’s work and decided to start working together. Takashi’s first contribution to my music was on the first Autumn Ghost single, I Will Find A Way To Reach You. He came to visit me in Norway shortly after i moved, when we recorded the rest of my first album, and it was then that we came up with the idea of forming our own ‘unit’. I’d of course known about Ingrid from her work with David Sylvian, so i was thrilled to hear that she was a fan of mine. She also knew Takashi through MySpace, so it just felt natural to ask her to be a part of Unit. The Falls From View EP is a very beautiful piece of work that i’m very proud of.
Leo: When I hear an Emily Barker track at the start of an episode of the British Wallander series I always think that your music would also be great to be used in films as it has a strong cinematic atmosphere to it. What’s your opinion about that and is film music something you would like to do sometime?
Rhys: I’ve had some of my music featured in some Norwegian documentaries, but i would certainly like to try my hand in writing for film. I love the cinematic aspects in music. in a way, i feel like i’m writing a short film every time i write a song.
Leo: At the moment you are rehearsing with a live band to start touring. I noticed that no woodwind players are featured in your band. How are you going to translate those new songs that heavily rely on the woodwinds to the live situation?
Rhys: When it comes to playing live, i’m not aiming to replicate the albums, unless i have the option of having a twenty-piece band and orchestra — i want to reinterpret the songs in a way that suits the setting. My live band is just a trio, with Ole Kristian Malmedal on electric piano and voice, Anders Bjermeland on drums and voice, and myself playing only electric guitar and singing. It’s raw and spontaneous. In several of the songs we have open sections, where we know that we’ll improvise, but we don’t know for how long, or where we’ll end up going. we’re playing most of the new album, along with some from the first two. It’s been great to take the songs apart and put them back together in a way that brings out the energy and excitement for us. It always feels fresh, which is great for both us and the audience.
Leo: I read that there are two concerts planned in Norway. Any plans to go abroad?
Rhys: There are some plans in the air, but it’s early days. I’ll keep you posted!
Leo: When someone would like to visit Norway. Where does one go and what time of year?
Rhys: The summer is beautiful, the winter is beautiful, everything in between is beautiful! It’s a beautiful country. You can’t go wrong.
Leo: Thank you very much for your time, Rhys!