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Progressive Rock Interviews

Variant

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Jerry Wengert of Variant from 2006
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Can you catch the readers up on the history of the band?
It started as an urge to make unique material. I had been working on some basic concepts and thinking about putting a band together when I ran into Gary Langton. Gary is a drummer with a well-equipped home studio. Their first few sessions were pretty promising.

The search for the right lead guitarist took over a year. Finding the right bass player took even longer. Both the fact that the material is a little “different” and the need to find the right chemistry are what took so long. Erik Connolly joined the band on lead guitar April of 2004. Erik ran a local Internet ad that brought in Mike Herrel on bass in July that year.

The material took shape pretty quickly. All four members have slightly different tastes and musical backgrounds, so it brought a nice twist into the mix. Erik’s straight ahead style balanced my often unusual guitar effects. Mike’s diverse background and Gary’s extensive drum kit use pulled it all together. While I wrote the structure and lyrics of the songs, each of the other members wrote their own parts to go with it. It worked very well.

The band was not able to start touring immediately however, due to some family health issues. Those are pretty well cleared up now. We are very excited to be able to start addressing live shows again.
MSJ:
I know people don’t like to describe their music or see it pigeonholed, but care to give it a try?

That is a bit of challenge…in broad terms it is a collision of progressive, rock and metal. If we have succeeded in what we set out to do, then it should be a little hard to describe. A Variant, pun intended. We have been amazed by the wide number of different influences that people hear in it. People frequently point to band influences, which we have never heard of. At the same time, we hope it maintains its own unique identity.
MSJ: Who do you see as your musical influences, both personally and as a band?

Our musical influences run from one end of the spectrum to the other. While we share a lot of common influences, our individual influences vary widely. Mike lists everyone from Danny Bonaduce to Victor Wooten and all points in between. Erik usually says Hendrix and Bach, Gary lists Rush to KODO and back and I like King Crimson to Bela Fleck and the Flecktones…one end of the spectrum to the other.
MSJ:
Are there musicians out there with whom you’d like to work?

There really aren’t any specific artists that jump out, no. Once again, everyone in the band would be likely to select a totally different individual or group. In our case, that seems to work to our advantage. Basically anyone willing to play from the heart and explore is always welcome.
MSJ:
Where did the name of the band come from?

That old cliché about coming up with the band name being the hardest part is very true. We came up with an endless stream of bad ideas or names that had already been taken. I asked one of my sons for a suggestion and he responded, “Variant or Variance.” It made sense for all the right reasons. Our first CD is song oriented. Each song is its own Variant. Our musical style is a Variant and each of the members brings a different Variant into the mix. We felt that the name accurately explains both the band and the music.
MSJ:
Do you think that downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians? It’s been said by the major labels that it’s essentially the heart of all the problems they are having in terms of lower sales – would you agree?

Clearly, downloading material that the artist does not get compensated for is not right. However, the fact that many people prefer to download music onto media players is not going to go away. In most cases, the artists and or labels are compensated for this now, which they should be. There are many independent artists out there who are making more from downloads than from CD sales. Over time, this can bring more artistic freedom into the mix. It is simply a shifting market. The major labels might be better served by addressing how to get a high quality product to their customer in the manner they would like to receive it in.
MSJ:
In a related question, how do you feel about fans taping and trading live shows

When you are talking about a fan with a hand held tape recorder, we really don’t have a problem with that. The Grateful Dead don’t seem to have suffered too much from it. As long as it’s not a major production operation, aimed at making money, it’s not a big deal to us. The only decent sound quality at a live show is coming through the mixing board anyway and the band has control of that.
MSJ:
What’s on the road map for the future for Variant?

Our main focus right now is getting everything ready for our live shows. We’ll probably be playing in the Dallas area pretty soon. In addition, we have started working on some new material, as well. Our intention is to start putting together the pieces of our next CD. While it is hard to timeframe a creative process, we have talked about having something together as early as next summer.
MSJ:
What was the last CD you bought, or what have you been listening to lately?
Gary’s latest purchase was a Gentle Giant CD and on the day he was asked the question he had been listening to Jethro Tull.

Mike’s latest was the most recent Pearl Jam and he has been listening to new original material being developed by Variant.

Erik claims his latest CD purchase was Cat Stevens and he too has been listening to brand new stuff being formed by Variant.

My latest purchase was Opeth’s current release and the day I was asked I was listening to Porcupine Tree.
MSJ:
What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

I last attended Adrian Belew, Mike went to see Allen Holdsworth, Erik says it was Stevie Ray Vaughan and Gary last saw Queensryche. The last bands we saw together were Eric Johnson opening for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, sans only Erik.
MSJ:
What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

Great question…what a piece of work. Every member of the band had a very different answer for this one. Everyone can draw references throughout the whole movie. Spinal Tap gets quoted quite a bit in around here, in fact. It is all too close to accurate.
MSJ:
Finally, are there any closing thoughts you’d like to get out there?

…Just a simple word of thanks. We have been pleasantly surprised by the reaction to our music. It has already been played on a large number of conventional, Internet and Satellite radio stations all over the world. It is now in regular rotational play on many of them. The amount of interest and support in our music has just been amazing. We are very grateful. our sincere thanks.
 
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