Saturday, May 29, 2010

Epignosis, the ProgArchives Reviewer-Musician.

Prog Sphere's special collaborator Jorge has contributed this interview with ProgArchives legend Epignosis. E-Pig (as he is amusingly called), is the only PA reviewer that I know of that has also created his own prog music. There may be more, but I am not aware of them. Anyway, Robert was kind enough to agree to this interview. So enjoy!

Jorge: Good day Robert! For those who haven't heard of you, tell us about yourself.

Robert: I was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1983. I share a birthday with Billy Ray Cyrus, Tim Burton, Elvis Costello, Gene Simmons, and Regis Philbin (good thing I don’t sound like all of these people together). I’m a husband and a father of two children, which so far has been one of my most enriching roles. I’ve played music for twelve years now, but I’m relatively new to recording the things I come up with. I’m still a progressive rock neophyte, really, since I’ve only been listening to it for ten years and I’m still exploring some of the “classic” artists of prog. Aside from music, I love to cook, play games, read and write books, and I’ve acted on stage from time to time. I used to be a teacher at an alternative education facility for people (in my case, young men) who made poor choices and were not welcome in public school again until they completed our program. That was the best job I ever had, but unfortunately due to severe budget cuts our school’s contract was not renewed. I now do various work for kgb (the Knowledge Generation Bureau, not the Russian secret police!), including quality control and marketing. That has proven to be a very fun and liberating line of work, and it allows me to concentrate on making music in the morning, as that seems to be the part of the day when I am most creative. Also, I’ve never ridden on a plane before (but I have ridden an elephant, a camel, a train, and a tank).

Jorge: How did you get into the music business? When did you go from being a fan to becoming an artist?

Robert: Girls and Dad. I grew up listening to country and classic rock (Boston and The Eagles were favorites in my home). My dad and my late grandpa played guitar, even playing in a band together for many years. At a very young age I would sit at the bar and sip Shirley Temples and listen to the music and flirt with the women. When I was 12, my dad asked me if I was interested in learning how to play the guitar. I said that I wasn’t, and he told me that girls liked guys who played the guitar. I told my old man that he was out of touch and didn’t know a thing about girls these days. He left it at that. When I was 14, I was bored, and I snuck into my father’s room and took his 1950s Sears Silvertone acoustic, put on a Johnny Cash record, and just tried to see if I could play “Folsom Prison Blues.” I did not play “Folsom Prison Blues” that day. I didn’t play anything that day, nor did I play anything for many days to come. And my fingertips hurt! However, I found some dusty old Mel Bay guitar instruction books, and I began learning the chords. When I was 16, we got the Internet. I met a lot of people through chat rooms and various other virtual avenues. I wound up meeting a young girl who chatted with me for a bit before telling me, “My sister loves guys who play the guitar, and she’s your age. You should talk to her.” When I was 19, this sister and I got hitched. I reckon Dad was right. Since then, I’ve played mostly in country bands. Country music is fun and easy to play. I made some good money having a great time. However, as a teen, I was involved in a 5-or-6-person band called Soulfire, and we played (among many other things) my earliest “complex” songs. We also did plenty of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Collective Soul, Eddie Money, and Pink Floyd covers. Some of us once did “Comfortably Numb” in a church talent show. Now that was interesting.

Jorge: Where did you get the name 'epignosis'? It reminds me of a similar word in Spanish... Do you like the nickname "e-Pig" that people have bestowed upon you?

Robert: My real name is a commonplace one (even in music), so it was important that I chose a moniker to distinguish myself from others. After trying on several in my head, I decided on “Epignosis.” Epignosis is a compound Greek word. “Epi” is a Greek preposition meaning “toward,” and “gnosis” is, of course, knowledge. The concept embodied in this word is moving toward a perfect knowledge of something (or someone) even if perfect knowledge can never be attained. For example, I may know my wife well now, but the more I spend time with her and listen to her, the deeper I know and appreciate her.

e-Pig...”electronic bacon?” Wish that were possible! Let’s just say that I don’t hate that nickname, but I’m not proclaiming it from the rooftops either!

Jorge: What are your top 3 bands/artists motivations/inspirations and why?

Robert: My three favorites are:

1. Kansas - This was the band that made me crave deeper music, both compositionally and lyrically. My first experience with Kansas was listening to my dad play “Dust in the Wind” on his guitar, and I honestly believed for a long time that Kansas was just another country band (I had heard “Carry On Wayward Son” on the radio many times of course, but I never knew it was Kansas- go figure). I wound up buying a Kansas compilation album at a used CD store on the basis of “Dust in the Wind” alone. It had “The Wall” and “Song for America” on it though. The first time I heard “Miracles Out of Nowhere,” I was riding through the great hills of West Virginia. Later on, I would hear “The Pinnacle” for the first time on a snowcapped mountain in that same state. Each of my first listens of their greatest pieces seemed to take place amidst some breathtaking scenery. So many people sadly dismiss Kansas as a pop “AOR” band because of a few FM hits (which, to be honest, are miles better than what the radio typically churns out). They are so busy staring at the “dust,” that they miss the many luminous jewels. Every Kansas album had a few blues or pop songs (most of which I happen to love), but those first six albums were drenched in brilliant songwriting. My second favorite album of all time, however, is the oft-overlooked reunion Somewhere to Elsewhere, which combines a modern production with complex yet heartfelt songs.

2. Yes - While Kansas ushered me into a progressive rock, Yes expanded my consciousness of music. I only knew “Roundabout,” “Your Move / I’ve Seen All Good People,” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart” when I went to Raleigh, North Carolina to see Kansas open for Yes on Yes’s Masterworks Tour. Kansas was, as I expected, amazing, but then Yes took the stage. I had no idea what to expect. These guys played eight songs in two hours. Eight. I was completely irritated and ready to leave, to be honest. “When will these guys quit and go on to the next one?” I huffed. Yet after the show, as we lined up behind all the other cars to go back from whence we came, we couldn’t help talking about both bands, and how interesting Yes was (none of us really knew much about them). We were so involved in our conversation and the music of that evening that my friend, who was driving, made a wrong turn and we wound up almost to Winston Salem. The next morning, I could not shake some lines and melodies from my head: “I get up, I get down,” and “I still remember the talks by the water, the proud sons and daughters that knew the knowledge of the land.” I had to obtain these songs, and I did. And I love them. Tales from Topographic Oceans is the greatest album ever.

3. Echolyn - Echolyn crafts some of the most heartfelt and creative stuff I’ve ever heard. Mei is a mind-blowing masterpiece- I know no other way to describe it. Cowboy Poems Free touches me in many ways, as it is a collection of portraits from 20th century. America - it resonates with me so much, because I see so many young people ignoring the “cowboy poems” of older folks in favor of sugary water, so to speak. Recently I was on a train, and they assigned a man named Joe who was born in 1922 to sit next to me for a while. We rode in silence most of the way, occasionally making small talk, but eventually we got to talking about ourselves, and he told me about how he worked as a young man on a Nebraskan farm, and how he only ever saw snow fall sideways (he laughed as he said that), and also how he was drafted in 1942 and served in the South Pacific during World War I. As he told me his war stories, he became grimmer, and said, becoming distant as though staring into the past, that those are things he can never forget. At any rate, I am awestruck by Echolyn’s vocal arrangements, powerful lyrics, and musical fortitude. And they sound like they have so much fun doing it. If I got my choice of bands to jam with, I’d love picking a few with this crew.

As far as non-musical inspirations are concerned, I write about the Bible and about history mainly. I have written love songs, but those are songs only my wife has heard. This may seem to be a narrow scope, but I find that the Bible and history in general are limitless sources of inspiration, and frankly it is what interests me most when it comes to lyrics (as opposed to space travel and/or sex).

Jorge: As far as I know you write, play all instruments, sing, record, mix, produce and release your own records, is that correct? How hard is to be an independent artist in the prog scene?

Robert: I’m not sure I’d consider myself a part of any “scene,” so to speak. I just make some homegrown music and put it out there for folks’ enjoyment. But if I take what you ask to mean how difficult is it to be an independent progressive rock artist, I don’t see it as hard at all, really. I have absolutely no one to answer to. I write when I feel like it, I record when I feel like it, and I do as I please with all of it (so long as my children cooperate!). I absolutely love being independent and not having the stress that comes with the alternatives.
My situation is not without limitations, however. Having multiple people in a group offers diversity in songwriting and playing styles, which helps keep the music fresh, and this is challenge since I do everything myself. My recording abilities have always been at the mercy of my financial allowances, which are never generous- my “studio” evolved over several years. Also, I am no doubt missing out on some measure of expertise that could polish my music (although, as I’ve said before, I’m not altogether sure I’d want my music “polished”). Still, I am very happy with the way things are, at least for now.

Jorge: Do you or have you ever toured or played live shows?

Robert: At this stage (no pun intended), not really. I have played in churches, but that’s about the extent of it. It isn’t that I’m opposed to it, of course- I would love to play this stuff live with a full band. However, I have two very young children, a wife, and steady work that keeps food on the table. I love dreams, but dreaming about electricity doesn’t make the room any brighter. That said, I have a real itch to find some people interested in (and willing to commit to) doing this material in front of people, so hopefully that will be a reality someday.

Jorge: I guess as a ProgArchives active collaborator/reviewer you often find/listen to obscure stuff, what's the latest great musical discovery you have made?

Robert: I’ll name a few recent discoveries, if that’s all right:

1. Pictorial Wand. Face of Our Fathers is astounding. Every track has something exciting and memorable. I love the tone of the instruments, and I think the vocal department (with both male and female) is especially amazing. People need to check this one out.

2. Children of Nova. Complexity of Light combines the bombast of symphonic rock with the hyperactivity of The Mars Volta, and the singer even sounds similar to Cedric Bixler-Zavala - brilliant work.

3. Osada Vida. Uninvited Dreams is not an album I have reviewed or even own at this time. However, I have heard the music from it many times on the DJ Tony show at (he broadcasts on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 12 EST, playing some great new prog tunes). At any rate, this is fascinating music, and I intend on order and review the album.

4. Shadow Circus. Whispers & Screams is a complex and hard-rocking record that is a musical rendition of Stephen King’s The Stand. There are so many fantastic instrumental moments, as well as catchy vocal melodies.

Jorge: I really like Your first album, 'Still the Waters' it is very calm, ambient, and minimalistic yet technical and progressive. Tell us about the recording, which i know was a long process.

Robert: Long indeed. All five songs were conceived in very different ways. The title song evolved from my tinkering with some new recording software that was geared toward techno music, so I tried actually making up techno. I know that’s pretty impossible to hear given the final product, but I still have the original files somewhere - maybe I can release it as a bonus track on the 25th anniversary edition of Still the Waters!

I wrote “A Pearl in a Field” almost entirely during a weekend while my wife was away at a conference.

“Move” began as my attempt to learn King Crimson’s Fallen Angel by ear. Not long after I started trying to play it, the chords of that “Move” starting taking shape.

One way I write new music is by placing my fingers at random on the fret board or on the keys, playing, and just seeing what it sounds like. If I like it, I start to build around it. “An Everlasting Kingdom” happened that way. I was sitting in my living room, just fooling around, and those initial chords came out. I must have played it a hundred times that evening just so I would not forget it! However, quite a bit of that song (like the entire second half) came from bits and pieces I had written at least a year or more before, and it all worked together well, I felt.

The monster, “No Shadow of Turning,” took forever and a day to write and record. As with the previously mentioned song, it was built from various sections I had written throughout the years. Recording it was hard because for some reason, my program decided it had had enough of my nonsense and for a while it crashed every time I opened the files to this song to work on it. However, it is my favorite of the five pieces, I believe.

I think the two major reasons the album took so long to record are financial limitations and the fact that this was continually a learning experience. I was figuring out how to do it while acquiring the equipment at the same time, and I know the album shows that. I don’t mind. It is what it is supposed to be, and I’m glad about it. 

Jorge: Where can we find/buy Still the Waters and the upcoming new album? 
Robert: Still the Waters can be downloaded for 10 USD here:

Since the next album will be in CD format, I plan on using a more conventional method (perhaps CDBaby), but I am undecided about that as yet.

Jorge: Do you sometimes look back at the album and wish you had done a particular detail differently?

Robert: Oh sure. It was never my intent to make a masterpiece, as it were - but after almost four years you have to say, “Okay, enough’s enough- here it is.” This is as much a finished product as it was a learning experience for me. Listening back, I often think, “If only the bass were more prominent here,” or “I could have sang this part better than that.”

In terms of composition, though, no - I would not do a single thing differently. While my execution / production may be questionable in many places (and people are welcome to say so all they want - I won’t argue with them), the composition itself is where my heart is, and I would not have put the album out there if I felt the need to rearrange anything.

Each piece is exactly how I wanted it to be.

Having said that, if I do get the opportunity to perform these songs before a live audience, it would thrill me to rearrange and do something different with some of them.

Jorge: What’s the harder part for you to write, the lyrics or the music?

Robert: The lyrics are much harder than the music for me. The music is easy because I am not bound by connotations and phonemes, syllables and meaning. Making music usually happens naturally and freely, and even when I have to “work” on a composition, there are numerous possibilities. Writing words for me involves forcing them to fit the melody, which isn’t always easy to do gracefully. Then making them say what you want them to say without being obvious or “too literal...” it’s difficult. And I’m a wordy mess anyway, as you can probably tell by now.

I mentioned earlier that I sometimes begin writing music through placing random notes together and seeing what happens. I work that way with my lyrics. I begin singing gibberish over the music until my gibberish takes form and becomes clear words. Those words then get sorted out into phrases, and then sensible lines. Eventually a song is made.

Once in a while though, like the music will sometimes do, the lyrics just fall onto the page, and no silly exercise is necessary. It’s rare, but it does happen.

Jorge: What music were you listening to while you wrote 'Still the waters'?

Robert: Well, because I worked on the album for almost four years, there was plenty. My top three that I mentioned earlier got a lot of plays during that time, as did Genesis, Jethro Tull, Porcupine Tree, Miles Davis, Rush, The Mars Volta, and Spock’s Beard. But I listened to so much stuff, and not just prog of course. I love Peter Frampton, especially his album Now, and I indulged in quite a bit of Alice in Chains as well as this amazing Celtic rock band I’ve listen to since I was eleven called Seven Nations.

Jorge: Does the album have some religious meaning?

The Bible is my primary source of inspiration, and all five songs are rooted in very specific passages.

“Still the Waters” compares Jesus’s calming of the sea in Matthew 8:23-27 with the first words in the Bible (Genesis 1:1-2). This is significant because the Bible uses water throughout to describe salvation (such as Moses leading Israel through the Red Sea, or the ritual of Christian baptism).

“A Pearl in a Field,” with its sparse lyrics (only four lines), quite simply fuses the two parables of Jesus in Matthew 13:44-46.

“Move” is a song that combines several Old Testament typological portraits of Christ and essentially describes salvation.

“An Everlasting Kingdom” has lyrics based on the first chapter of Ezekiel, in which the prophet describes his terrifying vision of God. The chorus, however, is based on Psalm 145:13.

“No Shadow of Turning,” shows God's enduring faithfulness - that He is not like us. God does not waver in His love for us, nor does he forgive sinners begrudgingly. What's more is that God will not lose any He has called to Himself. It is a requirement of God's character that He not lose a single one He has saved. The title comes from James 1:17.

As an aside, I’ve seen a lot of people complain about progressive rock with Christian lyrics as being “preachy,” and I’ve never quite understood that. Plenty of lyricists of various spiritual paths write religious lyrics and are not dismissed as “preachy.” I guess if lyrics have any concrete meaning then people get offended. None of my lyrics tell the listener what to do. My words aren’t meant to convert people - they are meant to celebrate Jesus, lament sin, and pay heed to the Bible.

Jorge: I read reviews at ProgArchives that some reviewers claim that other reviewers are biased toward your album because you are a long time collaborator, what can you tell me about this?

Robert: It’s no question that I have made several wonderful friends - people I would call friends despite having never met them face to face - on Prog Archives during my time as a member. It’s also no question that many of them have listened to my work and have written a review of it. I’m sure I have more reviews because I am a collaborator and an active participant in the forum. I interact with people on Prog Archives on a daily basis, so it should be no surprise that my album received a large quantity of reviews (for a new artist).

The question is, did those who reviewed my album highly do so to spare my feelings, curry favor with me, or perhaps “increase” my chances of “success” (whatever that is)?

Knowing them as well as I do, I can only tell you that these are not the kind of people who bite their tongues or hold back their true feelings. For example, we have varying political and religious views, and many of us have engaged in heated debates about such topics on the forum. No, I can tell you these are genuine people giving their earnest opinions, and I’m grateful for how such a diverse, opinionated people have received my work, and especially thankful for all the critiques.

The accusation should really read like this: “There’s no way in hell these reviewers could actually like Still the Waters as much as they say they do, because Still the Waters is a lousy album.” Which I guess is fine - sometimes I think the same way about albums like Pawn Hearts or ELP’s debut, to be honest. However, I know one extremely important, mysterious truth when it comes to discussing music, and I’ll share it with everyone, so pay attention. Are you ready? Here it is: People have different tastes.

Unfortunately, some people take the charts here extremely seriously, and will rate albums with five stars or one star, as though there’s no in between, doing so just to see their favorite bands “pull out ahead” and “eliminate the competition.” That’s extremely disingenuous and there’s plenty of it going around. But it’s one of the hazards of letting anyone make an account and submit ratings - of course, I feel that the pros far outweigh the cons at Prog Archives, because I love the diversity of opinion and how everyone is welcome to give theirs.

And you know what? I sold the most downloads the week after my album got its first one star review. So there!

The bottom line is this: No one has gained anything by giving my album five stars, and no one has lost anything by giving it one. If some people sleep better at night rating my album one way or another for the sake of manipulating “the score” (silly concept, that), then let them sleep better. Their ratings won’t change one note of the music.

Jorge: We have heard that you have a new album coming up, can you tell us about it?

Robert: My second album is called Refulgence. While it maintains the sound and feel of Still the Waters, it represents two little challenges I have made for myself. The first is to write more concise pieces. The second is to rock harder. I am very comfortable with my acoustic guitar and a long winding road of a song, so to speak - this time around I want to leave that place of comfort, for at least a little while, and let it rip! Of course, the softer side won’t be abandoned either.

Expect more female vocals from Tasha. Her involvement on Still the Waters occurred as a last -minute addition. I love her voice, and she’ll be handling a fair portion of the lead singing (much to the relief of my critics, I daresay!).

Jorge: Was it produced under similar circumstances as 'Still the Waters'?

Robert: Well, it’s not produced yet! Not fully, anyway. I’m about halfway through. As far as recording it goes, I am pretty much using the same equipment and programs that I used for Still the Waters, but during the making of Refulgence, I have the benefit of the criticism and experience I’ve gained.

The album will also be released as a physical CD. I used a downloadable format for my debut, but it’s been a real headache for a lot of reasons and folks seem to prefer a tangible product (I know I do). And I now have the financial wherewithal to make that a reality.

Jorge: Are you into sports? Soccer fan? Any favorite team for the upcoming FIFA world cup 2010? :D

Robert: Whichever team Pele’s playing for these days, that team will definitely win.

Jorge: Something else you'd like to add?

Robert: I’m also currently working on another project, a collaborative effort with two others and I’m really excited about it. Knowing the music I make, imagine me working with an avant-prog drummer and keyboardist in addition to a metalhead, shredder. This will be something amazing or a complete disaster. Or maybe an amazing disaster. I can’t wait to find out!

Jorge: Thank you for agreeing to do this interview :)

Robert: My pleasure.

No comments:

Post a Comment