17th September 2012
A host of woodwind and brass players have assembled at Autumnsongs Recording Studio in Trondheim, Norway; yet this ensemble isn’t here to create a blatantly classical movement, but a piece of work that underlies what both baroque pop and progressive rock have become. Of recent, many prog bands & artists have taken their own stance on meddling classical with rock in a more down to earth way, beyond what bands such as The Moody Blues and Procal Harum did in the 70′s, where musicians including Steve Hackett and Steven Wilson have brought that real symphonic edge to the table, not to mention the ethereal approach later King Crimson ‘Projekcts’ have also adhered to a stricter form of composition. But the classical connection with rock doesn’t stop there.
Never to be blindsided with simply garage rock overtones and loud guitars, indie/college rock also has their own flavor of art rock and melodramatic popular song as Belle and Sebatsian & The Divine Comedy have put forth a new flavor on what The Beatles and Brian Wilson innovated in the 60′s, with the darker approach of The Velvet Underground combined with a modern edge. Call it baroque pop, chamber pop or even chamber prog, what Rhys March & the Autumn Ghost have done is they have brought a more intimate setting to the artistic flare to music that has no boundaries, his latest album The Blue Hour is a testament to that, being a a collision of melodramatic popular song and parlor song balladry, inundated with psychedelic, ethereal, and atmospheric mannerisms. Marsh, a busy man himself, gives us the details on one of his finest hours.
Tommy Hash: Several albums into your career, where do you see “The Blue Hour” fitting into the mold of your life’s work?
Rhys Marsh: I always plan the albums, and try to lead them in certain directions, but often something happens along the way which leads me, or the songs, in another direction. for example, when I was writing ‘Dulcima’, it was planned to be a stripped-down folk album, but then it took a turn and got loud! This was partly due to the interaction of the musicians, but also due to me allowing the songs to be what they wanted to be, to go where they wanted to go, without restraining them in any way.
Knowing and expecting this, I was very strict with myself when working on ‘The Blue Hour’. Every note was written before it was recorded. I felt that there was a space between the first two albums that I wanted to explore, so I lead the album there, although I was at that point further down the road, so it ended up somewhere different. it does feel like I’ve completed some kind of circle, though, and as a result there are many more directions appearing that I plan to take over the next few releases, which I’m sure will then give me more directions to take after that. I’m expanding the circle!
TH: In your career you have used a lot of orchestral instruments as opposed to a variety of synthesizers, where was the seed planted to take this musical approach throughout your career?
RM: I’ve always loved the way that orchestral instruments can adapt so well, and fit into other styles of music, especially in the singer/songwriter sound. I started using strings in my recordings back in 1998. there’s something about the sound of violins playing in unison with the melody, or a string section coming to the front of the picture where there’d usually be a guitar solo. it’s a beautiful, heartbreaking sound. with this album, I made the tough decision of not having any strings, but choosing to arrange for woodwind and brass quartets instead. the gorgeous, intimate sound of the woodwind really added a magic to the sound, added with the sheer power of the brass. a very cool combination!
TH: What were some of the inspirations behind the lyrics, you mention that the album was written and recorded entirely in Norway, what is it about Norway in particular that inspires you, ie: scenery, culture, weather, etc..
RM: I’m certainly inspired by my surroundings! I really appreciate the fact that wherever I look, I see mountains on the horizon. they have a solitude and sense of calm that I love. I lived in London for many years, and also in New York for a while, and I thought that the chaos of these places added to the spark of creativity. In reality, though, the sense of calm I feel here really helps to bring out the more meditative elements of my music, which can then be blended with the spark.
TH: What does the title “The Blue Hour” refer to, and what does you band’s name “Autumn Ghost” mean as well?
RM: The Blue Hour is the time between day and night. It’s a very evocative time, bridging the gap between the dark and light, or the quiet and loud. if there’s a guideline for my music, then that’s pretty much it. Of course, though, living this far north the blue hour is quite an enigma! Regarding the band’s name, Autumn and Ghosts both have mysterious qualities to them. I wanted to find out what happens when I combine these two elements. That was my starting point at least, and as you know by now, that took a turn, which took a turn…
TH: You really have a lot of instrumentation within the album, how is it that you go about arranging everything for each song?
RM: I love orchestrating! I do that a lot as a producer as well. It’s one of the most satisfying parts of the process for me, starting with the basic structure of the song and building it up — hearing an oboe in the intro, or a cello in the chorus. The lines always flow freely when I’m working on the song — it’s just a case of capturing them as fast as I can, before the second clarinet line appears and the bassoon line is lost!
TH: I noticed that when you play live, there is only you, Ole Kristian Malmedal, & Anders Bjermeland, how is it that you translate your music from the elaborate arrangements in the studio to the more stripped down band on stage?
RM: It would be a real challenge to recreate the recordings, and that wouldn’t necessarily be what I’d want to do on stage anyway (unless I had a twenty-piece band and an entire orchestra with me), so I put together a band where the focus isn’t on playing the songs note for note, but using them as a blueprint, and playing off each other — reinterpreting the songs in a way that’s exciting for both us and the audience. In some of the songs, we have open sections, where we know that we’re going to improvise, but we don’t know how long for, or where it’ll take us. Every time we play them they end up sounding different! We’re playing quite a lot of the new album, along with some songs from the two previous albums. It’s very much based around the dynamics and energy of playing live. Ole, Anders and I have ended up with something that sounds in between Red-era King Crimson, early Soft Machine, with lots of three-part harmonies laid on top.
TH: How have the live performances been for you and what are you favorite venues, any gig in particular that might have been special?
RM: There have been some great concert experiences, though for me it’s all about connecting with the audience. some of the best experiences I’ve had have been in places where you wouldn’t normally have a concert, like a coffee shop or a small stage in an intimate room. The boundaries are broken down and people can feel closer to the music.
TH: Can you give a little bit of detail on how the album was produced and recorded, and special techniques used?
RM: Well, for a start, reverb was banned! delay was allowed, but only in small doses. I wanted this album to be really dry, so all the instruments and songs appeared to sit right in front of you. this was also the first album where someone else helped with the mixing. I spent a few days in Bergen, with Iver Sandøy, who plays most of the drums. He runs a great studio down there, and he mixed both his and Martin Horntveth’s drums, using a lovely array of vintage gear. I’m the control freak who normally has to handle everything, but it was actually a real pleasure to work with someone of such caliber, who understood and respected the sound and added something really special to it.
TH: You also have released an EP with Unit as well as having worked on other projects, any full length from Unit on the horizon soon, and are you working on any other projects?
RM: Takashi Mori, Ingrid Chavez and I have sent some ideas around for a Unit album, but it’s always a slow process, due to time differences and distance. The EP itself took a few years to put together! Sometimes this is the right way to work — it becomes less impulsive and more meditated, which for Unit really adds to the atmosphere of the music. Apart from that, I’m working on my first solo album, as well as hatching plans for the next Autumn Ghost album. There will also be a second Opium Cartel album coming next year, and later this year Silje Leirvik’s debut album will be released. I’ve been working with her on this over the past year, and we both feel that we’ve created something very genuine and beautiful.
TH: One last Note – Have you ever thought of film scoring?
RM: I have, and I’ve had my music featured in some Norwegian documentaries. I would definitely like to try my hand in film scoring. there’s a great cinematic element in my writing that I’d like to run wild with!