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The Aaron Clift Experiment

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with The Aaron Clift Experiment from 2013
MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – both individually and as a band?

Aaron Clift: I come from a very musical family - my dad, uncle, and aunt all played piano, and my dad also sang in choir and played French horn. I started my musical journey at age eleven in my school orchestra. I chose viola as my first instrument because I loved violin but wanted a more “unique” instrument and probably because my hands were too big and arms were too long for violin, anyway. In high school, I also took up voice and guitar, and then in college started taking piano lessons. I was originally planning to major in international relations but a music theory course taken on a whim changed my life forever. When I finally learned the theory behind music, it was like someone opened up a door for me – I could finally understand why I loved the music I loved so much.

For a while (from my college years until about six years ago), I wanted to be a classical composer. However, although I enjoyed writing classical pieces, I didn’t see myself enjoying a life in academia (one of the only places a classical composer can earn a decent living). I wanted the more immediate connection with an audience that rock and roll could provide, but I still loved the intricacy of classical music. In early 2008, the answer finally hit me: start a progressive rock project. I had been listening to progressive rock bands like Dream Theater and Genesis since I was a sophomore in high school but was always unsure about how to make my dream of being like those bands a reality.

As luck would have it, I met Joe Resnick (drums) through a mutual producer friend in the fall of 2009. My producer friend and Joe provided me with the encouragement and means to finally record some song ideas that I had been working on that year. That year, we recorded demos of “Seven,” “Lonely Hills,” and “My Andalusian Love” (three songs that later resurfaced on ACE’s debut album). When I listened back to the finished recordings, I realized that there was a hole in our sound that needed to be filled by guitar and bass. I also wanted my music to rock harder, so I decided to make the project into a full-fledged band and model my songs after the music of the progressive rock bands I really liked. As part of turning the solo project into a band, I gave the band a name – “The Aaron Clift Experiment.”

I spent 2010 – 2011 trying to find a guitarist and bassist while working on material for a debut album. After several false starts with a revolving cast of guitarists and bassists, I finally in October 2011 brought together the first line up of The Aaron Clift Experiment with myself on vocals and keyboards, Jim Ragland on guitar, Joe Green on bass and Joe Resnick on drums.

In early 2013, Jim and the band mutually parted ways due to musical differences. Danny Brymer joined us in late February of this year, and we couldn’t be more excited to be working with him!

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Aaron Clift: I’m a huge history buff, love traveling, and my original plan in college was to major in international relations. So if I weren’t doing music, I would likely be somewhere in a foreign country using my Spanish to do diplomatic work.

Danny Brymer: I've always been interested in psychology, so I imagine I would have pursued a career in that field.

Joe Green: I would be a standup philosopher.

Joe Resnick: I honestly don’t have a Plan B. Music is my whole life.

MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
Aaron Clift: In rock music, my biggest influences include Genesis, Pink Floyd, Rush, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Kate Bush, Marillion, and Porcupine Tree. In jazz: John Coltrane and Miles Davis. In classical: Ravel, Debussy, Bartok, Schubert, Bach, Reich, and Shostakovich. I also like a lot of soul singers like James Brown and Stevie Wonder.

Danny Brymer: Rock-wise, I would say Rush, Kansas, Pink Floyd, Steve Lukather, Eric Johnson, and Joe Satriani; but I have many more influences in the jazz and classical worlds, such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, and Allan Holdsworth, as well as Bach, Chopin, Debussy, Stravinsky, Copland, and Messiaen, but all those are just snippets of my many influences.

Joe Green: Led Zeppelin and Miles Davis are my all-time favorite music groups. John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, Jack Bruce of Cream, Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath, and John Entwhistle of The Who are my biggest bass influences.

Joe Resnick: My earliest influences were The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. Later on, I got into rock groups like King Crimson and Soft Machine as well as jazz players like Miles Davis. These days, Danny Carey of Tool, Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave, and Abe Laboriel, Jr. have been major drum influences on me.

MSJ: What's ahead for you?
Aaron Clift: This year, we’re trying to build a progressive rock scene in Austin by teaming up with a lot of other great local prog bands such as Blue Cartoon and Black Ladder. In addition, we’re starting to write new songs which we plan to premier this fall. We’re hoping to get back in the studio late next year with a second album maybe coming out in early 2015.
MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Aaron Clift: Dynamic, intense symphonic progressive rock
MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
Aaron Clift: My dream would be to play a show with any one of Steve Wilson’s bands (especially Porcupine Tree) and with Marillion.

Danny Brymer: I'd love to sit in with Chick Corea or Herbie Hancock, or be a part of a G3 tour with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai.

Joe Green: I think it would awesome to do a show with Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age.

Joe Resnick: There are several people I can think of: Marcus Miller, Jim Corr (of The Corrs), and the bassist of LTD.

MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
Aaron Clift: I’m kind of undecided on this issue. In principle, I don’t like the idea of someone stealing another person’s work, but on the other hand, sometimes the people who illegally download an artist’s music wind up becoming fans of that artist and buying the music or going to the artist’s show anyway. I think it’s up to the artist to figure out a way to find a more clever way to stay ahead of the curve and earn a living making music. 
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
Aaron Clift: I don’t see an issue with that. In fact, I encourage fans to record bands’ shows and share those shows with their friends. Bands’ careers are built on fan communities, and nothing brings fans together more than sharing in the concert experience.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Aaron Clift: There are many countries in this world that jail people for owning certain kinds of music. If I were a superhero, I would battle the people who make it a crime to listen to music.

Danny Brymer: My arch nemesis would have to be Justin Bieber, because there's too much purple in this world now.

MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
Aaron Clift: vocals – Chris Cornell, guitar – Tony Iommi, bass – Geddy Lee, drums – Matt Cameron. This would the ultimate heavy rock band, featuring stellar riffs and musicianship, face-melting solos, and an amazing team of songwriters. Somebody needs to tell these guys to team up now!

Danny Brymer: vocals – Myles Kennedy, guitar– Steve Lukather, Keyboards –  Chick Corea, bass –  Jimmy Johnson, drums – Terry Bozzio. That band could rock with soaring vocals and have hip chord changes and grooves, not to mention wicked soloing. And if Chick was writing the music, it would own!

Joe Green: There’s already a dream band out there, and their name is “Led Zeppelin.”

Joe Resnick: My problem is that there are so many types of players and types of music I enjoy that my ultimate band lineup would have over 50 people in it and the music would sound like cacophony. Maybe we can get them together for the next “We Are the World” remake.

MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
Aaron Clift: When Prog Magazine picked us for their March 2013 issues as a featured unsigned band, I was impressed to see that the other eight selected bands all came from different parts of the world. That got me thinking that it would be cool to have a progressive rock festival that emphasized artists from all different regions of the planet, especially some of the more under-represented prog scenes.

Danny Brymer: I'd put together a prog/fusion festival with Rush, Kansas, Yes, Dream Theater, and Spock's Beard playing the prog and Return to Forever, Allan Holdsworth, Tribal Tech, Herbie Hancock, and Mike Stern playing the fusion.

Joe Green: Metallica, Eagles of Death Metal, Them Crooked Vultures, Queens of the Stone Age (the original lineup), Jane’s Addiction, Rage Against the Machine, Soundgarden, and Smashing Pumpkins. Now that would make a great Lollapalooza lineup!

Joe Resnick: I would assemble an eclectic classic meets modern rock festival with Genesis, The Foo Fighters, Michael Jackson, Queen, Tom Petty, Muse, and Rage Against the Machine.

MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Aaron Clift: The last three albums I got were Are You Getting On? by fellow Austin progressive rockers, Blue Cartoon, Goodbye Present by Austin-based R&B/funk rockers, Sweetmeat, and Meridian II by Los Angeles-based progressive metal band, Phavian. All three albums are stellar! Expect to see them on my “best albums of 2013” list. I’ve also been listening to several underground hip hop artists like Tech N9ne and Dirty Wormz, to the eternal surprise of my friends and fans.

Danny Brymer: The last CD I went out and bought was Clockwork Angels by Rush, but lately I've been digging Pat Metheny's early work from the late 70s.

Joe Green: I just bought an album by French singer, Karl Zero. The instrumentation and sound of it is something I’ve never heard in modern music – it sounds like it’s from the early 60s, only better.

Joe Resnick: Lately, I’ve been working on a lot of songs with my cover band, so I’ve been listening to songs like “Everlong” by The Foo Fighters and “Pardon Me” by Incubus.

MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
Aaron Clift: Does obsessively reading history articles in Wikipedia count? (laughter)

Danny Brymer: Not lately, but next on my to-read list is Sanctuary by Ted Dekker.

Joe Green: The Powers That Be by Walter Wink.

Joe Resnick: I like to read the Op Ed pages of the New York Times.

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Aaron Clift: I’m going to a concert at least once a week these days, so by the time my answer sees print, I will have already been to several other concerts. But probably the most memorable concert I saw recently was Sweemeat’s farewell concert at Sahara Lounge in Austin this April. Not only was the band playing at its tightest, but there was such great camaraderie between the band and the audience. Now I’m sad that the band is on hiatus for a few years.

Danny Brymer: A few summers ago, I went to a festival with the Colorado Symphony featuring Stravinsky's “The Rite of Spring” and Gershwin's “Piano Concerto in F.”

Joe Green: I saw The Flaming Lips during South By Southwest this year. They had a great stage presence and a really cool theme to their performance.

Joe Resnick: A year ago, I saw jazz guitarist, Earl Klugh at One World Theater in Austin.

MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
Aaron Clift: I’m a huge Nightwish fan. I know the band’s music is cheesy and over-the-top, but screw good taste – I like the group anyway!

Danny Brymer: I enjoy listening to pop music from the 80s sometimes.

Joe Green: I wind up downloading any poppy rap song I hear on a commercial, such as “I Wish” by Skee-Lo.

Joe Resnick: Okay, I admit it – I like Katy Perry. She has nice eyes.

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Aaron Clift: In one of ACE’s first shows, we were in the middle of playing “Shipwrecked,” when my keyboard mysteriously stopped producing sound. We restarted the song only for the problem to hit me again during the second take! So there I am in the middle of trying to sing the song while frantically trying to restart the software on my keyboard kind of like when poor Derek Smalls was stuck in the pod in that one scene in Spinal Tap. The crazy part is that this is the only time that I’ve ever had this problem happen to me. I guess the rock gods were playing a funny trick on me.

Danny Brymer: I was the featured soloist for a jazz big band in college and after they played a sustained introduction, I played and nothing came out until I realized my guitar wasn't even plugged in, so we had to start all over again.

Joe Green: When I was in high school, I grew up next to an airport. The guitarist in my band at the time had a tube amp that used to pick up air traffic control signals. I couldn’t stop laughing about it, especially after I saw This is Spinal Tap for the first time.

Joe Resnick: When I was playing percussion for the Detroit Symphony, we did a performance of “Romeo and Juliet Overture,” and the conductor started the song at the wrong tempo! Then he stopped the whole performance and started over again. I wanted to crawl under the stage at that point.

MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Aaron Clift: Frank Zappa, Neil Peart, and Beethoven for an evening of music, philosophizing, and philosophizing about music.

Danny Brymer: Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, and John Cage.

Joe Green: Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island, The Fonz from Happy Days, and John Lock from Lost. 

Joe Resnick: Leonard Bernstein.

MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Aaron Clift: Frank Zappa, Neil Peart, and Beethoven for an evening of music, philosophizing, and philosophizing about music.

Danny Brymer: Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, and John Cage.

Joe Green: Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island, The Fonz from Happy Days, and John Lock from Lost. 

Joe Resnick: Leonard Bernstein.

MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Aaron Clift: It doesn’t matter, but there would definitely need to be a lot of coffee to please Mr. Zappa.

Danny Brymer: Burgers, fries, and beer on tap.

Joe Green: Fried fish. 

Joe Resnick: Maine lobster in Maine.

MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Aaron Clift: 42. That is all.

Danny Brymer: Prog on and tip your musicians.

Joe Green: I rock and roll all night long and party every day. 

Joe Resnick: I play a lot of cover tunes in my other music projects, so it’s really refreshing to be a member of The Aaron Clift Experiment, where we can play cool original music. It’s like a safe haven away from the rest of the world.

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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