3RDegree

Being a progressive rock band is not as easy as it may seem sometimes. You need to have the skills and the knowledge to blend various music styles beautifully. 3RDegree are not stranger to that… and now that they’re having a second chance, they wanna do things even better than before. Their newest album “The Long Division” is a delightful work that will satisfy all the true prog lovers. Robert James Pashman (bass, keys, vocals) talked to Grande Rock about the past, the present and the future of the band…

Hi Robert… I’m sure you feel fine this time period, since the band seems to be in great shape in every part, right?
 
R: Well, we’re not quite ready to play live because we ran into a few stumbling blocks. One being that we really need a lead guitarist-a lead guitarist who can actually play with us at a moment’s notice. One of our guitarists is a primary songwriter and guitarist but lives on the opposite side of the continent so is unavailable for live performances. Once we started arranging the songs on our new album “The Long Division” for the stage, we saw that it was harder to pull off than we thought it would be as a quartet.
 
 
Firstly, tell us a few things about the band’s first period. After two albums, you called it quits in the mid-90s. Why’s that?
 
R: The period from summer of 1991 to summer of 1995 we were a power trio and I handled not only the bass but the keyboards and lead vocals. Pat Kliesch was on guitar (and is still in the band) and Rob Durham was on drums and stayed on until 2008 recording “Narrow-Caster” with us when we re-grouped. George Dobbs was brought on to sing on the second album “Human Interest Story” which was largely finished when he joined in the summer of ’95. After releasing the CD in April of 1996 we continued playing live everywhere we could in the New York City area and it wore us down as we were getting nowhere as far as adding to our fan base. The frustrations made us choose the easy route of breaking up in January of 1997 right before the internet would have started making it easier for us to gain a following. We actually had a website before we broke up but didn’t use it to its later potential.
 
 
Then suddenly you came back after a 12-year hiatus, with “Narrow-Caster” in 2008. What happened all this time and you finally decided to put the band back on track?
 
R: With my Mac computer I was getting handy with iDVD and Toast and wanted to clear my basement of some VHS and cassette tapes. Getting them all on the computer and then off to CD-Rs and DVD-Rs made Pat and I assess our past again and we got that nagging feeling that we had not finished some great tracks that we left half done in 1997. Completing them and adding a few fresh ones is what “Narrow-Caster” came to be all about.
 
 
Do you think this time is better for a progressive rock band to accomplish its goals rather than in the 90s?
 
R: With the exception of free time and the fact that we were younger-definitely yes. I’m reading reviews and they all marvel that it took us 4 years to finish “The Long Division” and I’ll tell you, we really never took a break, but we found that extraneous projects like our live DVD/Blu-ray and the fact that we were recording some tracks for tribute CDs and our next album (post “The Long Division”) helped push it further down the road.
 
 
So, it took you almost 4 years to come up with “The Long Division”. Were you writing and recording the new album all this time and wanted to achieve the best results?
 
R: Like with “Narrow-Caster”, we found ourselves working on a lot of songs and cut it down to a cohesive collection. The 8 songs we cut off of “Narrow-Caster” are all available on our “The Reunion Concerts” DVD/Blu-ray whereas the songs we’ve started for our next album will most likely continue to be relevant to that project which is looking to be even more “conceptual” than “The Long Division” turned out to be.
 
 
Hence, what are the new things that “The Long Division” brings on the surface?
 
R: Well, we put the songs that have a political or apolitical bent to them in the first half. They all tie in somewhat with the album cover. Tracks 6 to 10 don’t really have much to do with politics although there’s social commentary on “Televised” and “Memetic Pandemic”. New things? We recorded this album better than any previously and brought in some flute and saxophone on one track that made things a bit different. Strangely, glockenspiel makes it onto a few tracks!
 
 
Probably, the album’s title, “The Long Division”, is referring to how the “big” ones that rule the human lives are dividing them into small groups so as to control them in a better way, huh? But I want your point of view as well.
 
R: Well, “You’re Fooling Yourselves” points out the folly of groupthink where there’s a checklist of views you must have to be a democrat/liberal/progressive and the exact opposite checklist of views to be a republican/conservative/traditionalist. The same tired phrases are trotted out every four years like “let’s take our country back” and other trite and silly focus group tested words that push certain buttons. “Incoherent Ramblings” is the inner monologue of a political strategist who goes on talk shows to defend everything their side does and to expose the things their adversaries do. It’s all a song and dance and a charade.
 
 
How did you come up with a thought provoking lyrical theme such as this? Certainly, it’s not only the music that has to be intriguing but the lyrics too.
 
R: Well, we finished “Narrow-Caster” in mid-2008 and some members of the band got to writing some songs and with that some lyrics and while it wasn’t decided that early that it would be a theme, the things going on in the world were of great gravity and we couldn’t help it not influencing us.
 
 
Please tell us the story behind the other songs…
 
R: “Exit Strategy”: This is more of a relationship song than a political song but the title works in a political way…
 
“The Socio-Economic Petri Dish”: Recaps the absurdity of the late 2008 market crash and the measures taken to “fix it”…
 
“The Ones to Follow”: Simple 3 lines of general apolitical musings…
 
“A Work of Art”: A relationship song using artistic words as allegory…
 
“Televised”: Sets forth the idea that it’s probably not a good idea to be the subject of a reality show…
 
“The Millions of Last Moments”: A short and sweet guitar instrumental…
 
“Memetic Pandemic”: You would have to ask George about this one-I’m not sure how to explain it!
 
“A Nihilist's Love Song”: Another one I don’t have a good handle on but knowing what a nihilist is would certainly help…
 
 
Tell us a few things about the video you’re preparing to release for the song “You’re Fooling Yourselves”? When is it gonna be ready?
 
R: It should be out by the time this is printed. It illustrates the ideas of the lyrics in a way we would be able to pull off with no budget. It’s not “Thriller” but I think it gets its point across!
 
 
You’re also responsible for the production. Along with Dennis Drake, you actually did a wonderful job on the production part. Are you happy with the final outcome?
 
R: Yes, we definitely have our best sounding album so far. Without spending a load more of money that would cut into our meager profits, we cannot really improve upon its sound much more than this. Our mixer Angelo Panetta does a great job.
 
 
You’ve gone independently for once again. I bet you prefer to make things your way and have the absolute control of things. How hard is it to go that way, even though the internet today is a great promotional and advertising tool?
 
R: We have been offered record deals from prog rock labels but have elected to go the DIY route. I think we may be able to give up some control and some profits to take it to the next level with a “deal” next time. It would certainly take a load off of my shoulders personally for sure.
 
 
Did you have any conversations with some labels actually? How hard is it to write music and deal with the social side of music business? I think musicians should only care about the music and nothing else.
 
R: We did have conversations and have gotten assertions that there would be great interest in what we’re doing next time we have an album ready. It is hard to tend the social networks and be the salesman and then also find the time to get into the songwriting headspace. It’s really two entirely different places to inhabit. Ideally you have members of the band doing all different things and I have shared some responsibilities this album letting one of my guitarists deal with the album cover presentation, designing our beer glasses and making the band beer but “band business” is becoming so encompassing that it probably needs to be delegated even further. (i.n.: Yeah, it’s hard for a band to handle all these things at once. I think a good label might help a lot)
 
 
3RDegree band
 
I like the way you blend up nice melodies, with complex parts, the twists of moods and rhythms along with that progressive song arrangements. As I’ve written in my review… it may be hard for someone that’s not into prog music to follow them… but they do satisfy the careful listener eventually. What do you think?
 
R: Throughout our entire 20 year “career” we have been both cursed and blessed by this strange line we straddle with our music between the accessible and the more complex. We believe the complexities make the songs into something worth playing again and again-something less “disposable” and hopefully as a result, make the listener want to obtain our music and dig into it. Problem has been with some progressive rock fans that spend a whole album review wondering if we’re really a prog band or wondering why one song is so short or another is so long. We say, don’t worry about what it “is”. Just enjoy it… or not. We also stay away from fantasy and usually delve into the real life-illustrated crystal clear on the new album. (i.n.: As I’ve said before, it’s not the length of a song that makes it progressive. It’s the actual song. Why some prog freaks think in such a way I cannot tell)
 
 
The last song, A Nihilist’s Love Song”, is the catchier and the most straight-forward of the album. A perfect song for air-play… mostly in the pop-rock music territory. How’s that for closing the CD?
 
R: I wanted to end with “A Work of Art” but Eric overruled and thought a strong ending was good. “Nihilist” was so “straight ahead” that I first feared it as being inappropriate for us to include on our album being that we’re catering to a prog rock audience thinking maybe it could be a download-only or an EP song, but we elected to include it on the album eventually. (i.n.: Glad you did so for it is a wonderful tune)
 
 
What are the expectations from this album? What’s the next step of the band? Are you planning to play at any Festival or tour?
 
R: We hope the album continues to keep the fan base we have and add to it with some fresh ears. We would like to play live in the spring of 2013 although we really thought we would be out there this autumn. We had some great shows lined up with District 97 and Izz that we had to release ourselves from. It really bummed me out personally because I’m the one out there making the friendships with other prog bands and trying to set up alliances and shows that will induce prog fans out of their houses but the reality was we needed more time to get our house in order. Obviously, we want to play a festival and have sent out our music to Terra Incognita in Quebec as well as ROSfest in the USA but we’re thinking about sending stuff to the UK festivals and Baja Prog but it seems futile as the budgets don’t really allow for transatlantic band inclusions.
 
 
Do you actually believe, as I do, that 2012 is a prog year? A good many great releases from old and new bands… I’ve never listened to so many prog albums in one year… is it me… or his year is just full of progressive music?
 
R: 2012 has been amazing. Our peers have come out with albums (or are about to release albums)-great bands like Echolyn, Pinnacle, IZZ, John Galgano (of Izz), District 97, Shadow Circus, Ephemeral Sun, Discipline, I & Thou, Tom Brislin-and that’s just the Americans! (i.n.: You’re so right dude…)
 
 
I believe that quality is what our music is missing in this time period. Everything is so similar and so easy-going that most of the fans are truly confused. Which is this “force” that will bring back things to what they used to be… to a time period that music was art…?
 
R: Hell if I know! We can only hope that more people want more out of music than how it seems now where it’s so disposable-only existing as a file you downloaded or got from a friend. We’re one of the last genres with fans who still want something physical (CD, Vinyl) to touch to signify that they “have” music. Words on an iPhone screen just don’t have the same value. (i.n.: People will have to reconsider the way they get their music sooner or later…)
 
 
And some weird Questions now!!!. How did you come up with the name 3RDegree for that band?
 
R: We were a trio and the music was… intense-like a third degree burn.
 
 
What do you think about the International financial crisis? The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer… but for how long?
 
R: There are differences of opinion in the band. I’d say three of us would agree with mostly left/liberal solutions/views and two members are a bit harder to harder to pin down but then I can be describing everyone unfairly! It was Kierkegaard who said “to label me is to negate me” and I think that’s very true.
 
 
Which is the record you wish you had written and why?
 
R: Probably Kevin Gilbert’s “THUD” or “The Shaming of the True”. Just such great music with timeless and strong lyrics. 
 
 
How difficult is it to survive and to succeed in a music world that is ruled by irrelevant people that promote shit-wannabe-good pop music all the time… without caring about music quality?
 
R: Seems these people are finding it harder and harder to survive. The “majors” are shrinking. It’s all narrow-casting and finding those “1000 true fans” that understand you and always want your music. You can live off of that if you can get there.
 
 
Were you obliged to give just one album to extraterrestrials that would represent the whole human music, which album would it be and from which band/artist?
 
R: Maybe “Dark Side of the Moon” if only because they would like the album cover.
 
 
Do you believe in consequences or everything is happening for a reason… that we cannot totally understand… so we choose to call it consequence?
 
R: Can it be a combination? (i.n.: Sure it can…)
 
 
Which music kind can’t you bear to hear at all?
 
R: Well I don’t begrudge anyone who likes it but I never “got” rap/hip-hop myself. (i.n.: Neither do I…)
 
 
Imagine that your wife is selling your whole album-collection just to buy an expensive ring for herself. How would you react?
 
R: Well lucky for me I picked a good woman for myself but that would be horrible because I’ve been collecting for so many years although it’s almost all heard off of my big iPod as a cold and lifeless file-not that a CD is much more than that anyway!
 
 
Thx for this interview Robert… Wish the best for you and your band. Please leave any message you want for the end…
 
R: Thanks Thanos! Well, we just ask everyone to take a look at our website www.3RDegreeonline.com where we have some new stuff like “The Long Division” shirts, Belgian Beer chalice glasses, CDs, hi-res downloads, DVDs and Blu-rays-all the sales of which keep us existing. Our new album is also at iTunes, eMusic, Spotify, CDBaby, Amazon.com and orderable at any music store in your hometown. You can also listen and look at lots of different stuff from us there. Thanks to everyone reading this for your time.