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Erik Norlander

Interviewed by Gary Hill

Interview with Erik Norlander from 2017

MSJ:

As odd as it seems to believe, I interviewed you for Poetry of the Air, but I don't think we've interviewed you for Music Street Journal since 2004. Can you give the readers the "highlight reel" of what's been going on in the musical world of Erik Norlander?

Wow, that’s a long time indeed, Gary! It will be nice to catch up. Let’s see, in 2004, I released two solo albums. First, Seas of Orion, my first actual “EM” album. That was done for a Dutch electronic music label and launched at their festival that year which I headlined. I also released Stars Rain Down that year, a live album that I recorded on two European tour in 2001 and 2003 with my traditional rock band configuration with Lana Lane and Kelly Keeling sharing vocal duties.

In 2004 we also wrote and recorded the Lana Lane – Lady Macbeth album to mark her tenth anniversary in 2005 of her first album, Love is an Illusion, released in 1995. We went on to do a quite big tour after the album release in 2005 which resulted in the Lana Lane 10th Anniversary Concert DVD/CD release at the end of 2005. In 2006, I recorded the 2-CD Rocket Scientists – Revolution Road album, and then immediately after that, my own Hommage Symphonique solo album of progressive rock covers, some of which were a bit on the obscure side! The Hommage album was basically the Rocket Scientists band with Kelly Keeling on vocals. I also released my Erik Norlander – Live in St. Petersburg DVD that year, recorded two years earlier at a fantastic concert in Russia.

In 2007, I was invited to join a spinoff of Asia called "Asia Featuring John Payne" with Guthrie Govan on guitar and Jay Schellen on drums. We played about 100 great shows mixing the John Payne and John Wetton-era Asia music, and I got to play about a 15-minute solo set in the middle of our live show, which I always enjoyed. We did some recording, but the recordings sat on the shelf for quite a while until they were finally resurrected in 2017 for the Dukes of the Orient album. That is set for release on the Frontiers Records label for February 23, 2018. We re-branded the band out of respect for the recently deceased John Wetton and for clarity with the Geoff Downes-led Asia. Dukes of the Orient is now a duo of myself and John Payne, and we have four amazing guest guitarists on the album. I look forward to the album release.

In between 2007 and 2017 I did some other things, too! We recorded and released two more Lana Lane albums, Red Planet Boulevard (2008) and El Dorado Hotel (2012), the latter of which is one my favorite LL albums in the catalog. We also made some new Rocket Scientists recordings in 2007 and released a 5-disc box set called Looking Backward that included a live-in-the-studio DVD along with interview and archival material. Then two more Rocket Scientists studio releases in 2014 to celebrate the band’s twentieth anniversary of the first album, Earthbound, released in 1993. Yes, we were a year late. The first 2014 release was Supernatural Highways, a 30-minute all-instrumental EP. And the second 2014 release was Refuel, a full-length more traditional Rocket Scientists album with a mix of instrumental and vocal tracks.

Finally, I released some more solo material during this period. In 2011, I went into a studio in Cleveland, Ohio and recorded The Galactic Collective, a re-imagining of ten favorite instrumental tracks I had written for various other projects going all the way back to 1995. Then a year later, I released The Galactic Collective Definitive Edition with a DVD and second audio CD and Live in Gettysburg, a 2CD/DVD set where I performed the complete “Galactic Collective” live. Then in 2016 I released Surreal, my 10th solo album, along with four YouTube videos of songs from it.

Whew, that was a busy decade!

MSJ: What's the best thing that's ever been said about your music?

When I was in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2004, a journalist there said to me, “Your music really matches the architecture of our city.” That was quite a compliment! And my favorite thing to hear is when one of my albums comes up in conversation and someone says, “I was just listening to that.”

MSJ: What's ahead for you?
We will release the eponymous Dukes of the Orient album on February 23, 2018, and we are working on some tour dates for 2018 starting in the summer. I have also been playing with Last in Line, the original Dio band with Vivian Campbell and Vinny Appice, and I have some concert commitments with them for earlier in the year. Lana and I really want to record some new Lana Lane music, so hopefully we can do that in 2018. And I’m always up for recording another instrumental solo album. We’ll see what time will allow.
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading or streaming of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
I think the whole digital music phenomenon, even legal downloads, has destroyed the music industry. We prog fans are one of the last holdouts, still buying physical CDs and vinyl, and I’m grateful for that. I don’t have a problem with the format of digital music – it’s great to have 1,000 songs on your iPhone. But this has made “music” into “content,” and it has become much less valued. The streaming services are outright theft, of course. When you see what Spotify executives take in salary versus what the artists get paid, it is obscene. I feel like an old man shaking his fist at the sky, but how can this be justified in any reasonable way?
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them or posting them online?
I really don’t like that, not because of any commercial or financial reason, but because I spent a lot of time making very good sounding studio albums and curating the best live performances for live album releases. A guerilla live recording just doesn’t sound good, and sometimes we have a bad show. Especially at festivals where you are being pushed to get on to the stage too soon without an adequate sound check or equipment check because they’re running behind schedule – how many times has that happened! -- lots of things can go wrong. And obviously I don’t want those moments to be documented and repeated over and over. I get that fans love to collect the output of their favorite artists, and I surely appreciate that. But sometimes I think that the guerilla recordings take away from the professionally-recorded material. It can all get blurred together if we’re not careful.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Oh, I don’t think I can safely answer that right now. Ask me in another 10 years.
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?
You know, as a younger man, I would have been quick to list heroes like Geddy Lee on bass, David Gilmour on guitar, Ian Anderson on flute, and all of them singing, of course. Maybe add Ian Gillan as another vocalist, why not! But as I have matured in my recording and touring, I have come to realize that it is much more chemistry between the musicians than it is pure skill that makes a band sound great. So now I have no real instrument in working with my heroes purely for that reason. Okay, if I got to know them and we really clicked, yes, that it would be something else. But just for the sake of working with one’s heroes … no, I have no interest in that at all. It sounds arrogant, but it’s really out of practicality and experience. When you work with people in the right synergistic way, their ability matters much less than what they can create and bring to the project as a whole. I’ve been lucky to work with so many amazing musicians over the years, and some of them you have never heard of - others are super famous. But in the end, the fame veresus obscurity makes zero difference in the music.
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?
Well, me of course!
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
I have been playing a lot of Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze recently, and also Dan Fogelberg. How’s that for eclectic?
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
I have become a huge fan of Peter Clines. He is a relatively new science fiction author, and I think I’ve read his entire catalog now. My favorite series are the books, 14 and The Fold, although I just finished his latest work, Paradox Bound, which was quite fun. Peter does a nice job of working in modern cultural references without it being cheesy. I don’t know how those will hold up 20 or 50 years from now, but they work well today.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
I saw Adrian Belew recently, and he was absolutely fantastic.
MSJ: Do you remember the first concert you attended?
Yes, indeed. It was Blue Oyster Cult at the Country Club in Reseda, a suburb of Los Angeles. It was a great show - and loud!
MSJ: Have you come across any new gear recently that you love?
I have this new studio preamp and EQ called the "Rupert Neve Designs Portico II Channel." Basically anything that I record with a microphone goes through this, and it sounds absolutely beautiful - audiophile without being too colored or forced-vintagey. I also finally bought a Lexicon 224x digital reverb unit, the one that they used on the original Vangelis – Blade Runner soundtrack. I think it was built in 1979 or 1980, way back then. Not exactly new, but it’s new to me!
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
I love the Carpenters and Lady Gaga. Doesn’t get much more guilty than that, I suppose!
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?
First without any doubt would be my dad who I lost in 2016. Then if we’re going back a ways, hmmm, maybe Alfred Bester, the science fiction author, and perhaps someone like Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin. There are other interesting people like Lord Byron and Julius Caesar, but they would probably be jerks!
MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Well, I am crazy for Indian curry, but Dad wasn’t a fan of it. So maybe some nice steaks and a great bottle of cabernet sauvignon. Although there would probably be so much excellent conversation, the food wouldn’t matter!
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
It’s been great talking to you, Gary. Thanks as always for your wonderful support of my projects. Let’s do it again soon!

 

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
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