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Progressive Rock Interviews

Navigator

Interviewed by Sonya Kukcinovich Hill
Interview with Rob Thurman and Al Bonato of Navigator from 2007


MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

I'm so glad we finally had the opportunity to sit down together and talk. Navigator had quite a show in supporting Kansas last week. You guys brought your own fanbase!
Rob Thurman: Yes, we've had a good response throughout Buffalo, Rochester, Niagara Falls, and into Canada. We've played to some very good club venues over the past few years, at times to several hundred people. But opening in advance of Kansas was a real treat. So was opening for Eddie Money a couple of years back. But the huge crowd last week was sweet, real sweet!
MSJ: Western New York music fans seem to be becoming more prog oriented.....
Rob Thurman: Well, we've built a solid reputation with good playing, and playing in front of 20,000 people at the Erie Canal was so much fun. Western New Yorkers love their music, and since our winters are so long and cold, they try to take advantage of as much outdoor stuff as possible when the weather is nice. As you know, our closeness to Canada kind of makes these festivals an international event. We're only too happy to make it a great experience for them.
MSJ: The Genesis sound is unmistakable in your writing and performance.
Rob Thurman: Genesis is one of my favorite bands. I just heard them this past weekend when they played here. It was great! But I really loved the original band with Phil Collins' drumming. I learned a great deal from his style.
MSJ: You are all wrists when you play and everything is very fluid. Your warmup before the gig sounded like Billy Cobham on the vintage Spectrum album. The way you tune your drums kind of reflects that, I think.
Rob Thurman: Thanks! That's a nice compliment. He's certainly one of my influences, as well. He's one of those rudimental players who can really do that great clean technique stuff. Phil Ehart did some of that for Kansas during their set at the gig. Hardly anyone does that anymore but they should! It's musical and interesting to hear.
MSJ: Cobham learned that kind of playing in drum corps. Do you have any drum corps experience?
Rob Thurman: I wish I had played in drum corps! Those guys learn great technique with that kind of opportunity.
MSJ: Let's talk about the origins of the band.
Rob Thurman: The three original band members were myself, Marcangelo Perricelli on keyboards and vocals, and Mike Soro on guitar. In the summer of 1999 we got together, did some writing and playing, and it just clicked. There was never any discussion of what kind of music we were going to do. We all loved prog rock and we followed our instincts. It was clear instantly that we were a prog band of the symphonic variety with very heavy keyboard influence, Genesis being just one of them, but a very important one, nonetheless.
MSJ: The first two CDs are called Re-Evolution I and Re-Evolution II. There is a story behind it, like a rock opera or musical epic, much like we tend to see from some of the European bands. What's the basic story line?
Rob Thurman: The basic story is about a man who lives in a post apocalyptic future world. The idea is that he travels back in time to give the world a second chance by changing the circumstances that led everyone to destruction. Of course, he has an arch-villain who is pursuing him through time and space to stop him.
MSJ: The theme seems to be Christian based. Is there a Christian philosophy behind the band?
Rob Thurman: Not specifically, but I guess maybe in a metaphorical sense because my background is Christian and that's where my faith is. The thing is, our music is positive and inspiring, both lyrically and musically. We think everyone who has the opportunity to hear it will like it. We have been a part of a compilation Christian prog CD with Neal Morse, Rick Wakeman, Kerry Livgren and Randy George, etc. That was great exposure and lots of fun, and it puts us right there with some very significant artists. We're proud of that.
MSJ: Your logo has a cross as the “T” in Navigator.
Rob Thurman: We hear that all the time. I see it as more like a sword hilt, but if it works for people as it is, that's cool.

MSJ: Most bands see some membership changes over time, as we all know. How have things changed for you guys since the early edition of the band?
Rob Thurman: You're right; there's been an evolutionary process there. I really love those guys as friends and they certainly mean a lot in terms of where we've come from. But eventually Mike had other responsibilities. He's a family man. And Marc, although he did the last gig with us and has a great voice, he wanted to do some independent things on his own under his own name, and that's fine. So we knew a while back that there was going to be a changeover of significance and we either had to put the band on the shelf or find the right personnel to keep it growing, musically speaking. So we chose that option, and it's paying off. Randy Schul joined the group as our bassist in '04, and he's added a nice dimension.
MSJ: He doesn't overplay, has a nice sound, and fits right in with the music.
Rob Thurman: Yes, we think so. The new vocalist has only recently been added to the group, but with the Kansas gig we needed someone who knew all the material, so we asked Marc to perform. He obliged and it was great, but now we're really looking forward to working with the new vocalist.

MSJ: Tell me about that.
Rob Thurman: I'm really excited about this. We have a fantastic lead singer with just absolutely killer pipes, and it's not like we don't know him, either. I've known him for about 15 years and his name is Cory Donovan. We're friends and I think it's going to work out just great.
MSJ: We've covered a lot of ground here, but we haven't talked about you, Al, at all. You sounded just great at the show. How did you and Rob meet?
Al Bonato: Well it was one of those things that just seemed coincidental. Rob and a friend were standing in line before a Steve Hackett concert and were talking about Navigator. I was right there and overheard them. I had a band called Soundbox at the time; this was two years ago. My group was doing covers of Yes, Genesis, etc. We decided to get together sometime, but Rob was going to be very busy for a few weeks. We traded numbers. Lo and behold he called me out of the blue a couple of months later and we decided to get together and play some. I live in Canada, but pretty close by, so I came over. I think that just about settled it. I ended up putting Soundbox on the back burner and here we are now!
MSJ: Tell me about your style, and what are you going to bring to the table with Navigator that's different?
Al Bonato: I'm classically trained, so my emphasis has been toward the symphonic style of prog rock. I emulate people like Tony Kaye, Tony Banks, Keith Emerson, and Rick Wakeman. What I think you'll be hearing is even more emphasis on colours and variety. We're very eclectic, but we really want symphonic emphasis to shine throughout the new material.


Rob Thurman: The biggest musical change I see happening with us is the dense, coloured quality that Al adds to what we do. In fact, it's the whole overall vibe that he brings to the band. This will suit us well overall. I think we're seeing the beginning of a major prog revival. It's already happening in Europe; the fans seem to be more intense and perhaps more intellectual there. We would love to do a European tour eventually. I think it would be great to establish new fans there, and the idea of a Canadian/American band fitting with that sub-genre is just cool in itself.
MSJ: You guys are in good shape overall with personnel, but what about a guitarist?
Rob Thurman: We need the right person who can make the right commitment, and we will find that person. Meanwhile, there are plenty of great session guys who can fill in the void on a temporary basis.

MSJ: What about the new CD?
Rob Thurman: From a skeletal perspective, we're about 40 minutes into the writing. We're 3 tracks in, and one of them will run about 16 minutes or so. We will have tremendous upgrade in recording quality and engineering. We'll be working with Rich Mouser at the Mouse House out in LA. He's done work for Spock's Beard, among others.
MSJ: It sounds exciting. Anything else different, musically speaking, besides the denser and more symphonic keyboard sound?
Rob Thurman: Yes, there will be a little crunch to it here and there. We're not going to be highly metallic in a Dream Theater context, but that sound is so popular now we think we can pull some of that off and really appeal to a younger crowd without sacrificing one bit of musical creativity. Some edgy phrasing like you hear from groups like Godsmack may be heard from time to time. Even Spock's Beard gets crunchy now and then, and those guys are really musical. In fact, it should make our sound more eclectic than ever. We are developing a very organic vibe, and we love it!
 
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