I And Thou

Sometimes you can discover the album of the month by just listening to an indie release. It’s true that in our time independent releases have nothing to be jealous of those that are being released by small or big labels generally. Only in the distribution part there’s a small problem but through the Internet that problem is bygone for lots of buyers. I And Thou got out attention and it’s sure that this album needs and must get more exposure… we, here at Grande Rock, have chosen it as the Best Album of July… wanna know why… just listen to it… and read all those interesting things the mastermind of the band Jason Hart told us…
Jason Hart pic

Hi Jason… Congrats on “Speak”… it’s a captivating album actually… that’s why we’ve chosen it as the Best Album of the Month on Grande Rock…
J: Thank you so much! I’m really flattered that you’ve chosen to honor the album in this way. (i.n.: Thx for the music Jason… it’s really exceptional!)
First, tell us when did you start working over the idea of this project on your mind? Did you wait to take a break from Renaissance in the first place?
J: I was actually working on the album long before I joined Renaissance. I think I started writing the material around 2005, and we began recording in 2009. So the project was developed over the course of many years. I am very slow! Renaissance is not a full-time gig at this point, so there was never really the need to take a break from it. I am always very busy, trying to make a living as a full-time musician, and it was always a challenge to find the time in my schedule (and that of my collaborators) to focus on I and Thou.
So how did you come up with the name I and Thou?
J: “I and Thou” is a book by a German philosopher named Martin Buber. I read it in college and was intrigued by the idea of the individual’s relationship with the “divine”, however one describes that. I feel that in trying to express myself through music, I am trying to bridge the gap between my rather solitary human life and the larger mystery of the universe and the unknown. There is a searching, seeking quality to my music, I believe, that the name I and Thou describes well.
What’s the musical direction you wanted to go with this project?
J: I have been a fan of progressive rock since I was 12 years old, so in a way I wanted to honor the music that has meant so much to me in my life. I hoped to create music without self-imposed boundaries, in which I permitted myself to develop my musical ideas as far as I could. I honestly didn’t have an agenda when I started this project beyond trying to be as true to my muse as possible. That we’ve been able to achieve something that people are responding to so strongly is I hope a reflection of the years of hard work, and the desire to create something as honest and beautiful as possible.
And you actually invited a bunch of great musicians to accompany you, right?
J: I have been fortunate to work with a lot of great musicians over the past many years, and when it came time to start recording, I was able to bring many of them on board. The core band was myself on piano and keyboards, John Galgano from IZZ on bass… a truly brilliant musician and the person who in some ways kept me sane during this long process… Matt Johnson is one of the great rock drummers, he’s famous for playing on Jeff Buckley’s “Grace” album, and we played together for many years in Rufus Wainwright’s band. My dear friend Jack Petruzzelli played the majority of the guitars, he was also with me in Rufus’s band, and he’s a member of the Fab Faux, Patti Smith’s band, and works with tons of great artists. I had a few featured guests, like Paul Bremner and Laura Meade from IZZ (obviously that came through the John Galgano connection), and was blessed to have contributions from the great French/Israeli singer/songwriter Keren Ann, who I have toured with extensively, and of course the man himself, Steve Hogarth from Marillion. I feel very blessed to have had such a great team bringing their immense talents to the table.
What’s the story behind “Speak”?
J: I can’t say there is an actual story behind it. “Speak” is something from my subconscious brought to reality through words and sounds. I have long been inspired by this short poem by Rilke (translated by my brother), which in some ways expresses my work:
I live my life in growing rings,
Which ripple over all things,
I may not complete the last,
But I will do my best.
I circle God,
The Ancient Tower,
I will circle a hundred years long,
And I don’t know if I’m a falcon,
A storm or an echoing song.
What does the oil painting on the cover artwork symbolize?
J: Of course the painting is by the great Annie Haslam, who was generous enough as to provide the artwork for the album. She calls the painting “This Glorious Earth”, and I put the image in a circle to symbolize the globe. I wouldn’t presume to speak for Annie, but to me it is a fantasy landscape, a place where anything is possible, where there is beauty and great mystery. I think it matches really well with the music and the band name and title of the album.
Please give us a hint about each one of the songs…
J: “Speak”: As a child I was always the shortest in my class at school, and I was never especially athletic...  so I got teased and picked last for sports. There is a line in this song which ‘speaks’ to how these experiences affected me.
“And I Awaken”: There is a part in the middle I call the “Mark Kelly” section. A bit of the old “widdly-widdly”, old-school Marillion.
“Hide and Seek”: Further hints about my childhood, and perhaps about my father, who passed away during the recording of the album.
“The Face Behind the Eyes”: The first song I wrote for the album, and in many ways the “proggiest”, with this crazy Tony-Banks type riff in the middle. Great fun to play. The coda was something that happened rather spontaneously in the studio, and I knew it was how I wanted to end the proper album.
How did you decide to cover Rufus’ “Go or Go Ahead”? Steve Hogarth is giving a great performance on the song and the orchestration you did is fantastic… you took it a step further I think…
J: As I’ve mentioned before, I played in Rufus Wainwright’s band for nearly 3 years, and he is to me one of the great contemporary artists. I met Steve Hogarth when he showed up at one of Rufus’s concerts in the UK, and so I thought covering an RW song would be a great way to recognize what brought us together. It is one of my favorite songs of off “Want One”. I’m glad that you like the arrangement. I started playing this “Carpet Crawlers” type piano figure and suddenly the song moved one major step closer towards the progressive world. Steve’s vocals are terrifyingly good, and I felt really nervous to put my voice alongside his. You have to imagine what it is like to record a duet with one of the greatest singers in the world. Very humbling, I’ll tell you that much…! (i.n.: I feel you dude…)
You paid a lot of attention to the song arrangements and that’s obvious when you listening to the album. Do you think that songs suffer on the orchestration part nowadays?
J: I’m glad you notice the care put into the arrangements. I was lucky to find a great young mix engineer named Fernando Lodeiro who put everything in its right place! I don’t think there is necessarily a general trend towards poor arrangements in contemporary music… there are some great bands out there like Radiohead, Marillion, Porcupine Tree, the Decemberists… where the arrangements are stunning and an integral part of the music. Most people are perhaps not as detail-minded as I am, and perhaps not as patient… and not as obsessive!
The production is actually excellent as well. It’s very clear and smooth in a way. Who’s the producer and where did you record the album?
J: Thank you! I produced the album myself, it was recorded in a few places... piano in Texas, bass and drums in a studio in NYC, and most of the rest in my apartment and at Jack Petruzzelli’s home studio in the Pocono Mountains. It was mixed by Fernando in his apartment studio. So nothing fancy really, just careful work.
If you had the chance to change anything at the album now… what would it be and why?
J: If I had the finances it would have been great to mix through a console, rather than in the digital domain (ProTools). I am very happy with how the record sounds but there is a certain space that a real desk can add which might have brought it up even one notch further. But in general, what people are hearing is what I meant for them to hear. I couldn’t really take this record any further, and maintain my sanity!
When the album was finished, did you reach out for any labels to release it through? Or you had in mind to go on independently in the first place?
J: I always imagined this first one would be indie. In the prog world there is such a good built-in fan base that word gets around in a very organic way. I’ve had the CD picked up by justforkicks in Germany, Garden Shed in Japan, Laser’s Edge in the US and the usual digital outlets (iTunes and Amazon). I will have it for sale on the Fall tour with Renaissance so I hope that does well for us. I just don’t know what help a label would provide at this stage of the game. I would of course be open to talking to any company that wanted to work with us!
Most labels are sorta cautious on releasing long prog rock albums that people need time to get into. People/fans are in way of fast-food like music… give ‘em a hit, a plain melody, a good video-clip on TV (or youtube in our time) and that’s all… you keep everyone happy. Label sales are good and the fans get their easy-fast-food music… What’s your opinion?
J: My opinion is that I agree with you! In the prog world (not speaking of Yes, Dream Theater, etc), if you can sell 1,000 copies you are doing really well. A label just wouldn’t make money with those numbers. As an indie artist however, I can continue to make music if I can build an audience that large. One thing that is certain, I’m not trying to make fast-food music. This is intended to be an unforgettable meal. That’s my goal. (i.n.: glad you see it that way Jason… I know what you mean with the CD sales generally… those numbers they can ruin a small label for sure… people must be more picky when it comes to indie music of all kinds…)
Don’t ya think it’s kinda risky to release an album with 4 songs that are over 11 minutes each in our time?
J: Risky to whom? The whole reason behind this album was to make something special, I’m not trying to prove anything or answer to anyone. I personally love long prog epics. I think it would have been more risky for me to be compromised by any notion that having 4 long tracks would make this record somehow less commercial.
I bet that the 70s prog rock music is something that you truly fancy. Did it happen subconsciously to follow that recipe on your album?
J: You are correct, I love 70’s prog rock, with Yes and Genesis being at the top of the pyramid to me. But I’m also really influenced by Neal Morse and some contemporary progressive artists as well. Many people have mentioned Tony Banks when describing my writing and playing… I consider this a great compliment! To me Tony Banks has always been the soul of Genesis. One thing that I’m pleased about is that though folks have compared “Speak” to some classic 70’s music, I’ve not been accused of mimicking or copying any particular band or sound. I’ve tried to bring in my own particular sensibility to create something original. (i.n.: and that’s the great part of the album…)
It’s really weird but if I could characterize 2012 as a music year I would call it a prog 2012 so far. Too many releases from old and new bands… what’s happening? Are we having a second youth of prog rock/metal music?
J: I just had the honor of performing at the last NEARfest with Renaissance, and some friends and I were discussing what is next for prog. It was sad to see the end of NEARfest, but everyone agreed there is still great music coming out. I’m really flattered to have “Speak” mentioned alongside some of the really great recent releases. I hope you are right about a second youth… but I think it would be a third youth!
Will you give some songs or probably the whole album to the fans for free in the near future as some bands did… or you are not so much into this downloading notion?
J: Apart from promotional copies for review or gifts, I don’t intend to give away my music for free. It cost many thousands of dollars for me to make this album, and I’m only charging $10 direct from my site www.i-and-thou.com and it is the same via iTunes or Amazon MP3. I am offering one full song for streaming at: www.soundcloud.com/iandthou/and-i-awaken and my hope is that if people like what they hear they will purchase the album. I may at some point put the album up on streaming services like Spotify, but for the time being it is selling really well, so I’m going to give it some time… (i.n.: guys do buy the CD the price is sooo low…)
What must an artist do in order to avoid losing time and money…while dealing with that downloading generation that only sees an album as a file on their pc? Will these magic old days ever come back?
J: Honestly, no, I think the magic old days are gone. What must an artist do? Try to make something as good as possible, in that way I think the goal has never changed. Even on the PC, the wheat will separate from the chaff!
It’s time for our weird Questions now!!! If music (or your music) could be described by using one color… what color would it be and why?
J: Blue? My music has a certain melancholy quality, kinda blue…
If you could put together the best prog rock band in the world who would participate and why?
J: Annie Haslam on vocals, Rick Wakeman on keys, Steve Howe on guitar, Geddy Lee on bass, Phil Collins on drums & Neal Morse on second keys, guitar and vocals. I mean, who wouldn’t go see that band?!
Which is the record you wish you had written and why?
J: “Dark Side of the Moon”… because it is perfect and I’d never have to work again!
If we have two options: one to go deep on earth and live down there (Hollow Earth theory) and the other to travel to new Stars and get started there… which one would you choose and why?
J: You gotta get in to get out…
Planet Earth is full of violence, death, wars, misbehavior, and battle for everyday life… just to extend your time of leaving… There’s has to be something more than that… which humans can’t see and comprehend right? Possibly, those who take care of our fate have only given us these ways out. What do you think?
J: I think I’m very lucky to have music as a way to give a greater meaning to my existence.
Can music and which kind of music re-unite the whole world and make humans respect each other, respect life and live together without evil in their hearts?
J: I think it can and does, but there are always people who have emotional problems or have not had the education and opportunity to hear a range of music. I would have to say classical music is the great unifier. Anyone all over the world could understand Beethoven given the chance.
What are the mistakes that humanity has done and suddenly stopped travelling to the moon & in space generally? Probably we were meant to be only in Earth… so that was kind of inevitable huh? Does humanity have boundaries? Is outer space our natural environment after all?
J: I think there is definitely intelligent life in the Universe, not just on Planet Earth. The history of human thinking has been very narcissistic. I think we are just one small cog in a huge wheel… (i.n.: that’s so true dude…)
Which are those Stars that you’d like to travel to and why?
J: I’m kind of a land-lover. Afraid of heights.
If you had the chance to travel in time… where would you choose to go? To the past or the future and why?
J: Ancient Greece would be fun. Toga parties! I think I’d be afraid to travel into the future and find out that we had destroyed the planet.
Which will be the best soundtrack to play in the day we will be forced to evacuate planet earth?
J: Maybe the “Heavy Metal” soundtrack… “Get your one-way ticket to midnight”!
How can computers affect and help music? Will there be humans playing musical instruments in the next decades?
J: Computers are an invaluable tool to making music, my record would not exist without them. I know they are programming computers to compose music… I am sure it will sound like music, but will it convey emotion? Will it have soul? Who knows what the future holds. There will always be musicians playing instruments, I think we can’t help it!
Imagine that your wife/girlfriend is selling your whole album-collection just to buy an expensive ring for herself. How would you react?
J: This is not a likely scenario for me for various reasons…
Thx for taking the time to answer all the questions Jason. Thx for the music as well. The last words of this interview belong to you… Take care!
J: Thank you again for your interest in I and Thou, the great review, and the interesting interview questions!!!