Thought Chamber

Finally, after a 6-year wait, the new Thought Chamber album is here! In a time when the “progressive” term is used almost in every case, there are a few bands like TC which honor that term and are offering truly “prog” music. The band’s mastermind, guitarist & songwriter Michael Harris talked to Grande Rock about the band, the music and many other interesting things. It’s never too late to “discover” a so talented but overlooked prog rock band like Thought Chamber…
Thought Chamber band pic 2013

Hi Michael… “Psykerion” is a magnificent piece of art! We named it the Best Album of September on Grande Rock! Congrats!!!
 
M: Thank you so much!
 
 
To begin with, tell us something that all the fans of the band have in mind all these years. Why did it take you 6 years to come up with a new album since “Angular Perceptions”?
 
M: After “Angular Perceptions”, everyone in Thought Chamber had other commitments for a couple years. Ted specifically had some serious changes happening in his life, including relocating to Sacramento. When we finally started to record “Psykerion” with Rob & Derek, several months into it they ended up having to (amicably) bow out of the band. It took time to recruit new people and start the recording process again. When we finally had the album ready, Ted had just recorded the new Spock’s record, so that pushed back “Psykerion” another 8 months in order to not compete with SB.
 
 
When did the actual preparations for “Psykerion” start and which were the issues or problems you faced during those years?
 
M: I had composed some of the “Psykerion” music back around the time of the first record. “Psykerion” was actually going to be a harmless little 10 or 12m song on “Angular”, but I decided to expand on it and make the 2nd album a concept record based around it. I guess “expand on it” became an understatement.
 
 
Did you have in mind to record the second album with the same line-up or some changes had to be done for various reasons? I guess among others, Ted, had to be the singer again, right?
 
M: Right. My goal from the start was for TC to be a band that remained intact, so during the mentioned downtime, I continued to compose music in between other musical endeavors until Ted was in the right place to get back to work again.
 
 
How did the cooperation with the new keyboardist Bill Jenkins (Enchant), the drummer Mike Haid & the bassist Jeff Plant occur?
 
M: I knew Mike from having played on several of my previous instrumental recordings, and I happened to see Jeff pop up on the sidebar of my Facebook page one day. Both were interested. Ted suggested Bill and he worked out great as well. Beyond these guy’s stellar performances, we have a great chemistry as well. We’re all music geeks.
 
 
Even though the 3/5 of the band was changed, TC’s music wasn’t affected at all since you’re the songwriter and the lyricist. How did you approach the second album musically? What did you have in mind in the first place?
 
M: My goal for “Psykerion” was to use a lot of elements of the first record, and because “Psykerion” is a concept record, to have a recurring musical theme which is stated in different ways, and lyrically a storyline.
 
 
What are the differences and the similarities between “Psykerion” & “Angular Perceptions”?
 
M: Although “Psykerion” starts out more metal than “Angular”, I approached it the same, envisioning both prog rock and prog metal, using lots of acoustic guitars and elements of funk and jazz fusion.
 
 
What does “Psykerion” declare & what’s the concept story behind the album title?
 
M: The story is told from the eyes of a young boy genius named Avakus. He is able to witness a mission aboard a ship (Kerakryps-One) through the galaxy of Psykerion, and his life is forever altered, causing him to reflect on and question his own life, as well as the objectives & destiny of mankind. So it’s really just a story about a kid as he develops his philosophy of life (which probably consciously or subconsciously channels some of my own beliefs). I didn’t really want to write yet another space drama where one crew annihilates another with a space laser at warp speed and conquers the universe. (i.n.: Yeap, I see…)
 
 
Since the album has been divided in 16 tracks, please briefly make a comment about each one of them.
 
M: “Inceptus”: This piece starts out with the main musical theme of “Psykerion” in free time and flows into several more themes which are very furious, frantic, proggy and loud, which allow Bill & I to play very distasteful solos over the top.
 
“Exodus”: Next we have a short but tension filled instrumental which musically reflects the importance of the Kerakryp’s departure. Since it’s fiction, it’s really not that important though.
 
“Psykerion: The Question”: In this intro and chorus, we return to the album’s musical theme now with vocals, while lyrically Avakus describes the ship’s voyage, mission’s purpose, and impending risk.
 
“In the Words of Avakus”: The instrumentation here is stripped down to mostly a nice phat 12 string and vocals. Lyrically, Avakus again reflects his thoughts, but in a more somber state of mind, which ends with him falling asleep.
 
“Light Year Time”: I love good “pop” music. Of course, nothing I do will ever be “pop”, because it will never be popular. But I challenged myself to write a piece that was in an odd time signature (11/8 in this case) and yet we’ll say somehow “accessible”. So I put it in a major key, which is always a challenge to do without sounding trite. Lyrically, Avakus is now dreaming and comes up with this happy dream of fantasy, which is a nice departure from his apprehension of the voyage.
 
“Kerakryps”: Avakus awakens in a better mindset, and describes the city-like inner design of the ship and expresses how much in awe he is in all of it, while also describing some of the adversity of the voyage. Musically, the first half of this piece has a very driving rhythm, and the last half is instrumental and gets proggy & even cinematic.
 
“The Black Hole Lounge”: This is a short instrumental which again exploits the Psykerion theme but in a jazzy and very lounge-like way, which seamlessly flows into…
 
“Circuits of O.D.D.”: This title implies the ship’s computer system (Obsessive Digital Disorder), and why Avakus realizes that all aboard are at the mercy of it. The acronym is obviously tongue in cheek, implying that a computer is even more “OCD” than a human could ever be.
 
“Behind the Eyes of Ikk”: This describes a stand-up comedian (“Ikk”) who performs at a bar inside Kerakryps-One. Ikk is the result of a botched lab experiment and is a 9 foot tall hairy dude who is definitely not a ladies man, but is gifted with a side splitting sense of humor. Musically, there’s a huge groove in this one, some funk in the middle, and the incessant soloing that prog is so well known for.
 
“Isle of Bizen”: This is another major key song that I had written in recent years just to see what it would yield. It turned out so well, I couldn’t resist including it on the record. Lyrically, Avakus reflects upon his earlier life and how he misses everyone back home.
 
“Xyrethius II” is another instrumental which implies some of the conflict between Avakus’ people and their enemy. The ending is a recurring theme from “Voyage to Xyrethius”, which was an instrumental on my 2001 “Sketches from the Thought Chamber” CD.
 
“Recoil”: First we have a restating of the “Psykerion” theme in the intro and then over a foundation of dark scary prog, Avakus expresses why he is saddened and shocked by the conflict that he has just witnessed.
 
“Breath of Life”: This title implies both its literal meaning lyrically and that the music here also “breathes”. Avakus becomes grateful that he is among the living and learns to appreciate every day of life. Smart kid.
 
“Transcend”: Avakus’ mind has been awakened and inspired by this voyage and he gets philosophical about human’s drive to excel. Musically it includes the less dark melodies we have on the record, some choppage in the middle, and we exploit a lot of styles in general, from metal to acoustic to fusion to bringing out our “inner Marley” on some reggae.
 
“Planet Qwinkle”: Here we have the final instrumental on “Psykerion”, which is a sequel to and towards the end features a musical reference to, the original “Mr Qwinkle’s Therapy” from Thought Chamber’s 2007 debut, “Angular Perceptions”. Qwinkle just won’t go away.
 
“Inner Peace”: This closing composition is a slightly different arrangement of the earlier “Psykerion: The Question”, and sums up the lyrical and musical themes. This title was a subtitle of my 2001 “Voyage to Xyrethius” instrumental mentioned above.
 
 
How did you choose to cooperate with by Tom Size (Aerosmith, Enchant, Paul Gilbert, Mr. Big, Racer X, Tyketto, Y&T, etc.) for the mixing and the mastering of the album? Are you happy with the final outcome? I think the album’s production has a “sweet 70s” touch without becoming “retro” at any point.
 
M: Thanks. Tom was Ted’s suggestion and he did a fabulous job with Ted supervising. The record has a wide stereo field, a nice round bottom end, everything sits in its own sonic space very well, and it didn’t get squashed.
 
 
Is there any song from the new album that you and the other guys would like to release as a video as well? Are there any thoughts for something like that?
 
M: We’re hoping to at least release a video for “Transcend”. (i.n.: That would be great indeed!)
 
 
Any plans for live shows or a tour so far? Will the fans get the chance to see and hear TC live?
 
M: We’ll be playing ProgPower USA in 2014, and surely hope to land some warm up shows before that.
 
Thought Chamber band pic

Probably a live-DVD would be great in the future. Are there any ideas for something like that in the distant future?
 
M: Well, the bottom line is that a band has to be well rehearsed and on top of their live game to justify documenting a show, especially because it costs quite a bit to shoot it. And that can only be achieved through touring. So yes we’d love to do that when we have had enough shows under our belt.
 
 
What are your further thoughts regarding Thought Chamber? I bet you wish to go on with the band as it is in the future, right?
 
M: Yes, we’re planning to – and we already have a lot of material in the can for the next record. (i.n.: That’s great to hear!)
 
 
Tell us… what does it take for Michael Harris to compose a song? And how do you decide which song fits to which band afterwards?
 
M: Sometimes it’s obvious which band a song is best for, and others I just have to let rear their head. My composing varies so much, and depends on the type of song. Not to mention, I’m usually working on several things at the same time, so I’ll abandon one record temporarily if the band is not ready to record it, and come back to it later – many times several years later. So my composing method is very sporadic, but I actually do love to have that time in between for perspective.
 
 
How do you see progressive rock music nowadays? We see a major backsliding… does the future actually lie in the past?
 
M: I see a retro mentality in almost all genres of music. Sadly that kind of hints that we’re nearing the end of the art form. But it will probably remain “as is” until someone comes along and completely blows our minds with something new. (i.n.: Yeap that how it goes!)
 
 
We see that labels and bands/musicians are suffering from people that are only downloading. Even though there are some guys (like myself) that still buy music… that’s not enough for the music industry and the bands/musicians to survive nowadays… right? Will the CDs and LPs be left only for the romantics in the end? We are on a terminal point here. What will the future bring though?
 
M: Agreed that very few recording artists can make a living off of music anymore, and although bands/artists commend the fans that do support us, it’s sad that many fans don’t realize this. I don’t have the solution, but I sure hope someone else does. The beautiful thing is that this tragedy hasn’t stopped the music. True musicians and recording artists will always find a way to get our music out there, even if it means skipping our next meal.
 
 
And some weird Questions now!!! How did you come up with the name Thought Chamber in the first place?
 
M: It was taken from my 2001 instrumental CD, “Sketches From the Thought Chamber”, and it means a place where a thought process occurs, which could be the mind itself or any physical place that breeds thought, such as the dark scary place on the cover of my “SFTTC” CD.
 
 
Which is the record you wish you had written and why?
 
M: There could be a lot of those, including ELP “Brain Salad Surgery” (but I couldn’t have written that because I’m a keyboard HACK); Rush “Hemispheres”; Mahogany Rush “Strange Universe”; or “The Yes Album”, but today we’ll say “Captain Beyond” by Captain Beyond, because it’s an early guitar – oriented prog classic that is extremely strong all the way through with no filler, and it will stand up for me forever.
 
 
After all the things you have achieved in your career, what are your further ambitions for the future? Any regrets as yet?
 
M: I just want to keep making the best music I can, as well as playing live more. As far as regrets, I could go back to every song that I’ve written & recorded and complain about something that I played, a songwriting issue, or a sonic/mix issue, but of course, hindsight’s 20/20 and we must move forward.
 
 
Which is the most overrated band/artist today?
 
M: “Most overrated” probably reflects a band in the mainstream, and I don’t swim in the mainstream, so I’m not really aware of the overrated stuff that is surely out there. But I’d say well over 99% of bands on the U.S. charts would be overrated to my ears. But hey, if it makes someone happy, more power to it.
 
 
Which music kind can’t you bear to hear at all?
 
M: Country + rap = crap. (i.n.: Hahahaha!!!)
 
 
What are those things that you do not like in the music industry nowadays?
 
M: Well, the internet has killed the recording artist among other things, but I guess we have to take the good with the bad, eh? (i.n.: Yeah that’s right!)
 
 
Were you obliged to give just one album to extraterrestrials that would represent the whole human music evolution, which album would it be and from which band/artist?
 
M: Impossible!
 
 
Imagine that your girlfriend/wife is selling your whole album-collection just to buy an expensive ring for herself. How would you react? J
 
M: I’d try to work out the problem diplomatically, before I resorted to strangling her (ha). (i.n.: Hehehehe!)
 
 
Thx so much for this interview and most of all for the music Michael! Close this interview in your own words… Take care dude!
 
M: A million thanks to Grande Rock and all prog fans around the world!!!

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