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Progressive Rock Interviews

Spock's Beard

Interviewed by Sonya Kukcinovich Hill
Interview with Dave Meros of Spock's Beard - December 2007
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

The Kings of Classic Rock (KOCR) is something you've been working on for a while now.  I think it's time to let our readers and everyone know, exactly who The Kings of Classic Rock are, and what makes them different than any other classic rock band.
Well, the main difference is that one or more of us has actually been in each of the bands that originally recorded most of the songs that we play.  For example, when we play "Free Ride" it's because Bernie toured with Edgar Winter for a number of years.  When we play an Animals song it's because every one of us played in The Animals at some point.  And it's not all bands that we were in 100 years ago either.   Nick is still a member of Tears For Fears and Martin is currently with Iron Butterfly, so there are still some irons in the fire.  Or maybe since we're talking about classic rock I should call it a pyre. (sorry, bad joke).
MSJ: What are your short and long term goals with KOCR?
Short and long term goals are the same, and that would simply be to play corporate events and the occasional street fair or festival, do a great job while having fun and make some money at the same time.
MSJ:

Along with yourself on bass, you have fellow Spock's Beard mate, Nick D'Virgilio on lead vocals, Martin Gerschwitz on keyboards (and vocals), Bernard Pershey on drums and Dean Restum on guitar/vocals.  What a fabulous mix of  superb musicians!  How did you all meet and what lead you to become KOCR?

Dean attacks this subject quite enthusiastically in our promo video and, as he says, "it's a tangled web we weave," which is very true.  But here we go.. I'll try to make this as condensed as possible. 

  

The very short version would be to simply say that we all met while playing for Eric Burdon and The Animals, and that's true to the extent that it's where all five of us all played in the same group. 

  

But going back further, to approximately the Pleistocene Era, I met Dean when I was asked by a mutual friend to join a band with him that Dean had put together.  I met Nick when I joined Spock's Beard (via Neal Morse, more on him in a moment).  I brought Dean into The Animals when we needed a new guitar player.  Later I brought Neal Morse into The Animals, and when Neal quit he recommended Martin Gerschwitz as his replacement.  After a bit, The Animals needed a new drummer so Martin brought in Bernie Pershey.  

  

All the while, Nick would be brought in occasionally to fill in on drums with The Animals before Bernie joined, to fill in for Aynsley Dunbar when he couldn't make a show here and there, so Nick also got to know Dean and Martin that way as well.

  

There are other little twists and turns and other interconnections as well, but I'll quit while I'm ahead. 

MSJ: What do you believe is the most important fact that the public should know about "The Kings of Classic Rock?"

We're much more fun and easier to deal with than most of our former employers!   

MSJ: So, you're involved with one of the most unique and endearing classic rock projects ever to grace any stage. Obviously this reflects a maturation of the genre. Yet, Spock's Beard has been your artistic baby for a long time, and continues to get positive critical reviews en masse. Both Octane and the ninth album have a wide diversity of style. Do you see this trend continuing as you write for the tenth studio CD?
Absolutely.  We're all a bit on the schizophrenic side when it comes to our musical personalities, and the strangest things from all sorts of influences tend to pop out when writing music for Spock's Beard.  Having said that, I  think we may have gotten a little too stylistically spread out on the last CD,  so we should really try to not be quite so. .. ahem. ..  diverse on our next  one.
MSJ: "Skeletons at the Feast" made the short list before being excluded on  the final Grammy nomination list for best rock instrumental. That at least  reflects the fact that some people actually listen to good music out there. Any  thoughts?

We love those people.  We need about 460,000 more of them. .. then we'd  get our gold record and maybe even win that Grammy!  

  

But seriously, those 460,000 people are probably out there, we just need to  reach them somehow.  Radio is a mess these days.  If you don't fit into a very  specific marketing niche and if you don't have a lot of money behind you, you  simply don't get played.  There is no freedom for local DJ's to play what they  personally like any more, so it's impossible to get a break in one city and  then see it spread from there, as happened many, many times in the 60's and 70's.  

  

A bright spot is internet radio, but there again, how do you learn about that one perfect station out of a gazillion that are out there?  They would have to advertise like crazy to reach a big audience, and there we're talking about lots of big, big money again, and to get that kind of money they'd have to go corporate, which would of course take away all the freedom that made it cool in the first place.  It's not nearly as easy as choosing between the three or four local FM stations that each city could tune into in the 70's.

  

It's just a different world now, and it makes me appreciate even more the people that have made the effort to find and support anything out of the mainstream. 

MSJ: You've done a fairly wide body of written material for SB incorporating some very odd meters that just come off as sounding fresh, exciting, and with some melodic hooks despite the rigors of being more complex material. How do you derive the inspiration and feel for odd meter playing in progressive music?

When I was in high school I was in a jazz ensemble that participated in festivals now and then, and at one of those festivals I went to a clinic given by Don Ellis which focused on writing and playing in odd time signatures.  The biggest thing that I came away with from that clinic was he said that songs can feel quite natural in odd time signatures and that one should never write something and force it into a particular time signature that it doesn't naturally fit into.  In other words, something that just sounds great in 4/4  shouldn't be forced into an 11/8 time signature, or conversely, something that sounds perfect in 7/4 shouldn't have an extra beat tacked onto it just so it is in a "normal" time signature.

  

The more I write and play in odd time signatures the more natural they feel so I am less and less boxed into thinking in 4/4, so I just let the main riff of the song take me where it seems to want to go.

  

Add to that the fact that thousands upon thousands of rock riffs have already been played in 4/4, so it's much easier to find something that is a little fresher and less derivative if you look outside of that standard time signature. 

MSJ: You have to be one of the most unique bassists around in that you utilize both the Fender and Rickenbacker sounds from one self styled bass. How has the Fenderbacker met your expectations?

It does it all!  Well, it does enough, anyway.   I was always a Fender guy growing up and became very fond of all of the different sounds that Fender basses produce.  I also love the sounds that the various iconic Rickenbacker players achieved (Paul [McCartney], Chris [Squire], Geddy [Lee], etc).  I wanted to use a Ric when Spock's Beard was formed, but there was often the time where I would grab one of my

Fenders for a particular song section when recording in the studio because the Ric just does Ric things.  So. .. what was I going to do in concert?  Throw some extra pickups in there in addition to the Rickenbacker pickups (in the Fender Jazz positions), add a couple knobs and switches and there it was.

  

My first version of that was actually on a Rickenbacker but since then I have had a bass custom built by Ed Roman Guitars to basically those same specs but with a couple more nods to Leo Fender, and that turned out very nice. 

MSJ: Describe what it's like to put together an SB album, beginning to end. How do you guys conceptualize ideas and bring them to life?

We all start writing just randomly on our own at various times, whenever inspiration strikes.  That goes on for quite a while and when we feel like we've reached a critical mass we'll start sending stuff around to each other.  Sometimes we write totally isolated from each other, sometimes there is a lot

of collaboration, sometimes just a little collaboration.  We also get a lot of input from a couple of our writing partners John Boegehold and Stan Ausmus. 

  

I write with John quite a bit, and it's all done over the internet since we live about 400 miles away from each other.  We both have computer based music workstations and just kick ideas back and forth to each other that way.  I'll send a file to John, he'll either dub more parts onto it or make some suggestions, and it just goes back and forth that way until it's done.  I think we've actually sat down together to write music in the same room only one time, for about half an hour.  Some people might find that strange, but hey, it works for us!   

MSJ: Where do you see the future of prog music headed, and what mark would you like SB to leave on the stage of world music?

On one hand, the actual music hasn't been this good since prog's heyday in the 70's.  In the last 15 years there have emerged some amazing writers and amazing players that have broken free of the stale prog stereotypes that plagued progressive rock in the 80's. 

  

On the other hand, times have never been worse for prog bands.  Even with an increased interest in the genre, CD sales are down for most artists, and getting airplay or any other type of popular exposure is getting farther and farther out of reach. 

  

Illegal downloading is cutting a pretty consistent percentage out of potential royalty payments as well.   For a platinum selling CD, even losing 20% of sales to illegal downloading still yields massive amounts of revenue, but in a niche market product such as progressive rock, sales are relatively low to begin with.  So in many cases illegal downloading will completely erase any profit a band might have hoped for.

  

The general consensus that I've heard within the prog rock community is that many bands are re-thinking exactly why they are in this business, and many are dropping out.  If they do decide to continue with progressive rock it will be primarily for the love of the music and not really a way to expect to make ends meet. 

  

As far as what kind of mark that Spock's Beard will leave on the stage of world music, I'd have to say it would be a big Jaegermeister stain.  Ryo might have some other suggestions that I don't dare talk about.  (rimshot.).  But seriously, folks. . .how Spock's Beard will go down in the prog history books. . .hmmm. . I guess I'd like for us to be recognized as one of the pioneers in the reemergence of progressive rock back into mainstream awareness.  Now let's see if we can pull that one off, after all I just said! 

MSJ: So, what is the last CD you purchased? 
 Sigur Rós: Takk....  It was released a couple years ago, but I just got around to buying it a couple months ago.  I have actually received other CDs from friends since then, but that was probably the last one that I purchased.  Either that or a Clutch CD, I bought them around the same time.  (see, my musical schizophrenia is showing again).
MSJ: What is the last gig you attended for your own personal enjoyment?

Paul Gilbert.  He and his band rocked my ass completely off.  Completely.  I had no ass for a while, but fortunately it has regenerated.  Thank God for stem cell research and the great advances that they've made with the ass gene in recent years.   It was very difficult to do many ordinary daily tasks during that period of time when my ass was gone.  So please be very careful when attending a Paul Gilbert show because it could very well happen to you.

MSJ: You're funny!   OK!   What is your best Spinal Tap moment?
It's actually a very long series of moments that start when I was about 20 years old and continue on through the present moment.   I've had plenty of moments that were pretty much exact copies of parts of the Spinal Tap movie. .. the radio signals coming through the amp, getting lost in the catacomb dressing room area under the venue, co-billing with acts at least as embarrassing as the puppet show (for example, watermelon seed spitting contest, amateur wrestling matches, etc).  I've had the pleasure of having the stage that I was playing on collapse in the middle of a set. . .that has actually happened to me two times, what are the odds of that happening?  So you see, I can't really pick a best moment, they were all so precious.  
You'll find concert pics of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
You'll find an audio interview of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
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