Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Spaceseed Interview

Having been around the US spacerock scene for over twenty years now, and enjoyed collaborations with key genre figures such as Nik Turner and Harvey Bainbridge, Spaceseed have just released their latest album, Architects of Twilight, on Zeta in the US, with distribution from Voiceprint in the UK set for the end of March. A review will appear in due course, but first I caught up with founder John Pack for a chat about Spaceseed then and now.

Tell us something of how Spaceseed got together and about the various musicians who form the 'core' band?

In the mid eighties me and some friends were already playing in various new wave and punk bands when we started exploring the world of LSD. This led us, of course, into the realm of progressive music (we were already into heavy rock). First acts like Blue Oyster Cult, Captain Beyond, Bowie, Crimson and Hendrix caught our ear but as we dug deeper acts Tangerine Dream, Hawkwind and Gong came to the fore. This led us into holding our own underground (literally) acid tests. From this the original Spaceseed was born October 1988. I operated the group as sort a loose collective for more than a decade. A couple members of note from this period were John Bossie (Glenn Phillips Band) and Kelleye Kederick (YUR). Kelleye can also be heard on Spaceseed's disc with Harvey Bainbridge, The Empire Of Night.

Just before Nik [Turner] came along things got a bit more serious, players likes Gal-Axy and The Subliminator were in the group at this point and as we widened our range we began to draw in players from all over. Of the current group the first to come along was Hank Tart our drummer. Hank is from Valdosta Georgia with a penchant for space metal architecture and brain surgery! My main collaborator is Brian Fowler, who has been with me for five years. He is from Columbus Georgia and is a musical virtuoso who doubles as a rock and blue grass player. Brian won't be touring with the group this year but will return for the next disc. Me and Brian met while the band was on the road with Nik. Before Spaceseed, he recorded with Bob Harvey (Jefferson Airplane); Bob makes an appearance on the new disc as well. Joshua Sattler plays bass. Josh is a member of the metal act Speed X and has performed many heavy arena-sized acts of note. Joshua first performed with us in 1995 when we supported Hawkwind.

Steve Hayes of Ohio performs synths on several tracks. Steve is a member of Secret Saucer, a fantastic player, and gentleman as well, who has performed with Davied Allen and briefly with Hawkwind. John Stanton of Washington D.C appears in the band’s live show this year and has toured with the band since 2003. John is an all rounder who is well known in our nation’s capital; the great thing about Stanton is he can play any instrument we need him to! The real standout on the new disc is our producer, and synth player, Allen Welty Green. He took our sound to places I had only dreamed of. The lion’s share of our lyrics since the Empire disc have been written by Bostonian space man Astro Al who we met at a space rock festival in Alabama while on the road with Nik. He and his lovely wife Debbie are both fantastic actors who have performed in numerous audio dramas and film related television shows here in the US. Mark Reiser of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania rounds out the inner circle. He produces and designs all of the group’s disc art.

You talk on your Myspace page of spending a number of years 'testing' ideas in the studio, how has the band developed over the years from your original concept for it?

Originally the group was a jam band playing to the overtone... creating a din and then attempting to manipulate it. Now, we focus on each instrument. Each has its own zone, or wavelength if you like, that works to support the whole. Nik taught us a lot about dynamics. You need to be able to play space rock while asleep - especially on tour! Before it seemed that we were all jamming in one direction, which was fine. But now it has grown from that into a more song oriented format, We’ve started writing more as a team, not to mention the help we get these days from Daevid Allen, Bridget Wishart, and Joshua, who are all magnificent writers in their own right.

What does the term ‘spacerock’ mean to you as a genre?

To me space rock as a genre is defined as groups whose sounds are rooted in Sci-Fi, Dali and the desire to reach the portion of the mind we don't usually use. Hipping folks to the Earth and Stars. B-Movies. Mind reading. Past lives. Different words cause different chemicals to start to flow in our minds. Space rock tunes into that, Space rock has a penchant for the unexpected and that keeps the mind on edge. I suppose that is what’s drawn us into it.

When I interviewed Nik Turner for Record Collector recently, he was saying how privileged he felt to get involved with the current generation of spacerock bands such as yourselves...

I first met Nik when in ‘94 when he was on the road with Del Dettmar, Helios Creed and Tommy Grenas, and we were one of the acts supporting them. In our set we performed a cover of a Nik classic. Both Nik and Del came from the dressing room and stood beside the stage laughing like school girls. After the set Nik said he would like to play with us.... I just thought he was being kind. A few years he later he came south on tour with Harvey Bainbridge and once again Spaceseed acted as support. After the set I approached Nik, we talked a bit, and the idea was born. In 2003 Nik flew over and we recorded Future Cities of the Past PT 1, our first full-length release and also the first we’d released that achieved some international distribution. The same year we also did our first tour together.

Nik's such a great character...

It was on this tour that I discovered Nik is a telepath! I roomed with Nik and he slept right across from me. He was clearly asleep. As I lay there I began to hear the sounds of a breeze with faint flute playing. Even the occasional weird honking sound Nik makes with his sax! This went on until I slept. I wrote it off to my imagination but the next morning when I got in thebus Gal Axy said, "Was Nik Playing in your room ?" She had heard the same thing!

Nik did several radio appearances and interviews, including a live concert broadcast with the group. In 2004 Future Cities was released and we embarked on a 15 city tour along with Jim Lascko's Solar Fire light show. This was our group’s biggest ever -and Nik's biggest state side for ten years. On the Cleveland date Nik and Harvey reunited with us as their backing band and played several of their old classics. I saw grown men in the audience cry. It was quite a moment.

Nik is the grand old man of space rock. He is not a yuppie, he is the peoples’ Hawk. We just heard about Nik's recent injury [Nik injured his back in an accident at home, postponing the planned Hawklords Roundhouse show] and the entire Spaceseed family wishes him a speedy recovery. He's a tough old bird.

Your Empire of the Night album is noted as having dark, Orwellian overtones, what sort of influences do you take into Spaceseed and how important is it to have an overall theme to an album?

One of my earliest influences was comic books. Being at my Great Grandmother’s house in Alabama. The only one awake at night. Gazing out into the dense woods, pondering the unknown. The ‘what ifs’? The possibilities of alternate planes. My Grandfather worked for Lockheed and sparked my imagination with a subscription to Asimov [Asimov’s SF – a pulp SF magazine still publishing today]. From this sprung a voracious appetite for Sci-Fi and Heavy Metal. As we all know, we are so closely monitored in this post-modern society the thought of a realm unto ourselves is intoxicating. I try to bring this to our recorded works. A theme sets it apart from reality and that what we are all about.

How would you describe the new album, Architects of Twilight, and is it a progression from what you've released before, or are Spaceseed off in a new direction?

Thematically it is a progression of ideals laid down on Empire. Musically however the group has broken away from issues that had held it back in the past and has started to blaze a new trail. The addition of several new quality players has certainly made a difference. Artists like Bridget Wishart and Joshua Sattler add a huge amount of wallop to any work they are involved in. I mean, just listen to them... they are fantastic in any setting. Josh with Speed X. Bridget with Spirits Burning... simply dynamite. Also the veterans of the team myself, Stanton, Brian and Hank have been recording and touring together for years now, which brings about being able to finish each other’s musical thoughts. So I suppose it is safe to say we have charted a new course.
Let’s talk about some of those genre luminaries you’ve been able to bring in to the current album... Harvey and Bridget from Hawkwind, Bob Harvey from Jefferson Airplane...

Over the years we have been lucky enough to work with some of the masters in the form. We are so very luck on this one to get to work with the fantastic talent Bridget Wishart. While we did enjoy her work in Hawkwind she was actually brought in for the strength of her current work. Groups like My Outer Space, Osiris and Spirits Burning have brought her into the spotlight of today’s space rock audience, Harvey Bainbridge is also present; we have done quite a bit of work with Harvey to date and this is the third disc he has made his presence felt upon. Harvey also toured twice with us as a member of Spaceseed. Harvey is a fantastic gentleman and a lion hearted knight. Bob Harvey one of the original and current member of Jefferson Airplane reprises his role as a radio actor on this disc. Acting is something Bob was into between Airplane trips, performing the character of a mad scientist jailed by the state. Nothing beats experience and these cats have it. I could play space rock a thousand years and learn something every day.

Talk us through some of the tracks if would?

‘Architects of Twilight’ – The disc opens with the title track, Bridget gives a terrific performance here with an out of this world lyric by Astro.

‘River in the Sky’ – Here me and the boys get to cut loose a bit, nice Fowler SG solo!

‘Nebula Part 1’ – Synth maestro Hayes, Green and Pack cut loose.

‘The Saucer Incident’ – Brian illustrates the perils of being in a UFO in a post 9/11 world.

‘Blood On My Hands’ – Bob Harvey turns in a stunning performance as a jailed mad scientist.
‘Titan’ – The disc’s single.

‘Omega’ – Bridget shines once again.

'The Insane Scientist’ – A rocker with a good bit from Harvey.

‘Nebula Part 2’ – A synth trio of Allen Welty Green, Steve Hayes and myself.

‘Warlord’ – The Grand Finale!

In the UK you've got a deal with Voiceprint, Spaceseed goes International! How did this come about?

Ha! Well, since we did the combo with Nik we have been working in that direction. Voiceprint’s involvement has opened a lot of door to the groups. They heard the group with Harvey and asked if we would like them to distribute in the UK. Of course we gladly said yes... I have been a big fan of theirs for years now. We are looking to get Spaceceseed music to the world!

Spaceseed Myspace Page

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