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Progressive Rock Interviews

Simon Apple

Interviewed by Josh Turner
Interview with Jeff Miller of Simon Apple From 2005
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Are there any plans to play this music live in the near future?
Oh yeah... we've been playing it live - some of it even prior to its release. For now, our gigs are sporadic... not full-fledged tours yet, unfortunately. We'd love to tour... but it's just way too expensive to go on the road right now. But, if sales continue to increase, that will certainly help matters! But, the songs go over really well live... they're fun to play.
MSJ: All the pieces seem to be part of an inspirational story. Is this a concept album? If so, tell me about it?
It's a mild concept album, yes. Not autobiographical... just general... something that applies to most people, generally speaking - something that many can relate to. It's simply about one's journey through different stages in life... at least adult, post-high school life. Dealing with different feelings and emotions we all go through. Faith, internal and external pressures, dreams, love, career, loss, having children, hope, reflection, etc. Granted, it's not really a unique concept! This stuff has been dealt with millions of times in song. But, we tried to put it in a different light or perspective.
MSJ: Is there a religious, spiritual, or inspirational basis to your lyrics?
At times, yes. Overall, the lyrics tend to be positive, or have a positive, hopeful message. Some are secular, some are more spiritual. We're all Christians, but we also don't want to preach to people. So any messages are mild... more of a 'nudge' to make you think. If you choose to take the messages on a spiritual level, great. If not, that's cool too.
MSJ: The order of the songs works very well on the album. Is there any sort of logic behind the chronology of the tracks?
Yes, absolutely. The order also somewhat determined what songs were chosen for the album. A few things were left off because they didn't fit. I'm always a little hesitant to explain my/our, specific reasons for the order... I like people to make it personal for them as opposed to me telling them what it should be. Because it shouldn't be any certain way. It's subjective. There is no right or wrong way to listen to it. However, my original idea was this... and if you don't wanna know, skip this answer! The album basically starts off with a search for faith... a literal and metaphorical leap of faith. That carries into the different emotions & stages of one's life journey I mentioned previously. The crux/climax of the album, to me, is about 3/4 of the way into it. Starting with the song, "For Every Loss", which can be taken a few different ways. Primarily - human loss... which we all deal with. Some tragic, some natural. However, we often, "wonder why" - as the lyric states. The lyric also states, "for every loss, there's born a reason why". Often that reason is hard or impossible to see. However, I personally choose to take that meaning a step further... into the spiritual realm, if you will. From a Christian perspective, Christ dying on the cross for the sins of humanity is arguably the "ultimate loss for a reason why". So, the little musical segue coming out of that tune, is a gospel piano playing "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord". And that fades into the song "Katherine"... which is about a little child.... and that is the "reason why" (Christ died on the cross). The pure innocence of a child... all future generations. That's my favorite little moment on the album - how that all ties together. However!... Like I said, that's only one interpretation... that's my personal take... it can easily be taken other ways as well.

MSJ: How did you come up with the name Simon Apple? When I hear it, I think of Johnny Appleseed. Is there a correlation between the two?
Buzz (drummer/lyricist) came up with the name. It doesn't mean anything actually. Just a fictitious name... kinda like Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Steely Dan, etc.
MSJ: There are so many great songs on the album. It's hard to say, but I'd probably say, "The Colours In Between" is a definite highlight if not the best track on the album. I really like how the bass chords are placed in the mix. The lyrics, melodies, bridges, chorus, harmonies, how it starts, how it ends, the middle section, everything for that matter works very well in this song. As you can guess, that's my favorite song on the album. What's your favorite?
First off, thank you! Glad you like "Colours". That's one of my favorites as well. It's hard to pick one... it changes. But, more often that not, "Katherine" is my favorite tune.
MSJ: Let's talk about some influences that seem obvious to me…
Sure - Fire away!
MSJ: I hear Kevin Gilbert's Toy Matinee in many places. The closing piano part in "Weight of this World" sounds similar to the outro in "There was a Little Boy" and "The Colours In Between" sounds a lot like "The Ballad of Jenny Ledge." I just hear a lot of Kevin Gilbert in your music and your piano playing, so somewhere along the lines your roots have crossed. Are you familiar with the Toy Matinee album? If so, is this an influence?
I'm a big Kevin Gilbert fan, for sure. I like his solo stuff better than Toy Matinee, but I love that Toy album as well - great stuff. There aren't any specific Gilbert influences I hear on the album... but they are there, I'm sure. The influences are a combination of many artists - not just one in particular. The closing piano part in "Weight Of The World" was probably more Lyle Mays (Pat Metheny Group) influenced. Yeah, now that you mention it, I hear the "Colours"/"Jenny Ledge" connection... never thought of that... maybe it was subliminal when I wrote it!
MSJ: I hear Phil Collins' era Genesis in "Weight of the World." Is this an influence as well?
I'm a huge, huge Genesis fan... I love all eras of that band... both the Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins eras (although I probably love the '70's stuff more). Yes, that song is very Genesis/Marillion-ish to me as well. Both bands are big influences. The guitar solo was very Steve Hackett (ex-Genesis) influenced. Steve was actually going to play the solo on this track. He told me he really liked the song and we were making arrangements for him to cut the solo. However, his schedule just became way too busy, and was not able to commit, unfortunately. So... I did the next best thing. I played a guitar solo very much in his style! (Laughing). And the real kicker is to have Peter Gabriel's bassist, Tony Levin, play on that track - a great personal thrill! So, the Genesis connection is there, for sure... in more ways than one!
MSJ: Another thing about the song, "Weight of the World," I can't help but hear the Rocky theme towards the end (around 7:19). I hear it every time I encounter this song and wonder if it's just me. I have to ask, was this an intentional reference?
(Laughing) I never thought of that! No, it wasn't intentional! But, now that I think about it, the first 4 notes are similar.... nice call! Oh man, now I hope I don't hear "Rocky" every time I hear this from now on! D'OH! (Laughing).
MSJ: I hear Spock's Beard, especially in the composition of the songs and many of the bass parts remind me of Dave Meros' style. Is Spock's Beard an influence?
I only know a little of Spock's stuff... but I love Neal Morse, and also drummer Nick D'Virgillio. So, no, I can't say they're a particular influence. Although, some progressive music, generally speaking, is certainly an influence.
MSJ: "Take My Life" is similar to the music found on the Neal Morse's Testimony. Are you familiar with this album?
Yes! I love that album! And the live DVD too! However, in all honestly, I only heard Testimony way after I wrote/arranged "Take My Life". I didn't hear Testimony until after River To The Sea was released. But, it's great to hear the similarities after-the-fact. I think fans of ours would love Neal's music, and vice-versa. Ironically, we both appear on a compilation album of Christian Progressive Rock (CPR Volume 2, released June 2005). www.cprogrock.com.
MSJ: While your music is mostly pop and rock, you have songs like "Hold Me (Like a Lover)" that is a little bit country and "A Way Outside" that is outright jazz. "Taken Root" even has a mamba sequence. How do these influences wind up in your music?
We love all forms of music if it's creative and well-done or well-written...from metal to hip-hop to country to jazz to classical, etc. To us, great music is great music, regardless of style. I simply like to take some of my favorite elements of various genres and mold them into one, hopefully unique, sound.
MSJ: Another one of my favorites from the album, "For Every Loss," reminds me of "Somebody's Baby" by Jackson Browne, you know, the song in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Is there a connection there? Is this a song you heard a lot growing up?
Wow... I personally never heard that connection, but that's what I love about music! I really want the listener to take their own perspective out of it... without me, or us, telling them how to listen to it! Yes, I know that song... but, it honestly never crossed my mind when writing it. Truth be told... Sting's "Fields Of Gold" was the initial inspiration. I don't think it sounds anything like "Fields Of Gold" now... but that was the initial inspirational genesis of the song. But, Jackson Browne is not a bad person to be compared to as well... so thanks!
MSJ: Who is the red-haired three-year-old girl sung about in "Katherine?"
Katherine is Dan's (lead vocalist) youngest daughter - he has 2 daughters. This is a song he wrote about her when she was 3. It's one of my favorite songs that Dan has ever written. It's beautiful in its innocence and purity.
MSJ: There is a key line in the song that goes, "we all start out with everything we need." What is the significance of this passage in the context of the album?
It plays into the "circle of life" concept. There's an innocence, honesty, simplicity, and purity in youth... then we all become at least somewhat jaded and corrupted by the "real world". Idealistically, it doesn't have to be that way... but, realistically, that's the way our lives evolve.
MSJ: In general, tell me about any of your core influences, which haven't already been discussed.
I grew up on artists like Genesis (and all the solo releases from Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Steve Hackett, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford), ELO, Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, Marillion, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny Group, Sting, Steely Dan, Van Halen, Journey, Yes, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Earth Wind & Fire, Level 42, Bruce Hornsby, Billy Joel, Elton John, Tears For Fears... and later influences like Kevin Gilbert, Neal Morse, Jellyfish, David Mead, John Mayer, Dave Matthews Band. Honestly, I can listen to anything if it's well-written, or has something creative about it... from metal to country, classical, show tunes, jazz, bluegrass, rap, hip-hop, pop.... It doesn't matter to me... great music is great music regardless of style. There is good and bad in all forms of music.


MSJ: The production and the musicianship of the album are both first-rate. Can you give me an idea of how your songwriting process works, the origins of the pieces, and how these pieces are put together?
Again, thank you! Regarding the writing process... Generally, I come up with a finished piece of music instrumentally... sometimes with or without a vocal melody, or pieces of a melody. I record a somewhat full, finished instrumental version, and then give that to Buzz for him to put a lyric to... and melody, if needed. Three of the songs on "River To The Sea" are Dan's tunes ("Hold Me", "Katherine", "Lot Of Hope")... I only contributed to the arrangement & production of those songs.
MSJ: What's planned next for Simon Apple as far as what we can expect from the studio?
Hmmmm....not sure yet?! A few things are written.... but, I'm not sure at this point what kind of shape the next album will take. Although, I'm guessing it will be a little 'simpler' in the overall concept... to do another "River" would be quite a large undertaking! I spent a lot of time on River... I'm not sure I have the energy to do another concept album right now! However, the quality won't diminish... I can guarantee you that - I hope! (Laughing). We're always striving to top ourselves. So, even if the next album is simply a 'collection of songs', like most albums, I can promise we will strive to surpass, or at the very least equal "River" in quality! Which may not be easy... but that's always the goal... constant improvement.
MSJ: Are you in any other projects these days aside from Simon Apple?
We always have various outside projects happening... either for money or just for fun! Presently, Dan is playing guitar in Taylor Mesple's band. Taylor is a great talent from Dan's hometown of Portland, Maine. Taylor and we sort of have this mutual admiration society... we love each other's work. We're hoping to do some double-bills together in the future. Back in the Philly area for Buzz and myself, this summer (2005), we're utilizing some time off to play in a local theater production of Tommy... for fun!
MSJ: How did Tony Levin and Buck Dharma get involved in the album?
Tony and Buck, along with the other guest artists on the album, are people I grew up listening to as a kid... I've been a huge fan for a long time!! I simply asked them... as easy as that sounds! I asked if I could send them the demos of the tunes, and thankfully they all liked the material and agreed to play on the album. In addition to Tony (Peter Gabriel/King Crimson) and Buck (Blue Oyster Cult), there's also John Helliwell (Supertramp), Hugh McDowell (Electric Light Orchestra), and multiple Grammy-winner Steve Rodby of the Pat Metheny Group. Each guy was very generous and gracious with their time... and enthusiastic about getting their tracks right. We are very humbled and honored by their participation. Not to mention, it's been a great personal thrill.
MSJ: Is there anybody in particular that you would like to work with who you haven't worked with already?
Wow... Hmmm... there are many artists I admire, although I'm not sure all of them would be appropriate for Simon Apple... that's two separate issues. For guitarists on Simon Apple stuff: Alex Lifeson (Rush), David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Steve Hackett (Genesis), Neal Schon (Journey). Outside of Simon Apple, there are several drummers I'd love to work with (I'm a closet drummer!)... Phil Collins, Vinnie Coliuta (Sting), Dave Weckl (Chick Corea), Antonio Sanchez (Pat Metheny), Nick D'Virgillio (Spock's Beard), Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Neal Morse), Steve Smith (ex-Journey).
MSJ: Everything in the music is top-notch, but to be honest, your solo parts on the piano are some of my favorites. I'm assuming you've had a lot of formal training. When did your involvement in music begin?
Thank you very much! I appreciate that. I started piano when I was 4-5 years old, and took lessons for about 10 years. I didn't go to college for music. After the years of lessons, the rest has been self-taught - including guitar - never had formal training on guitar.
MSJ: When did you decide you wanted to be a keyboardist in a band?
Well... I started to write songs when I was about 12. That's when I knew what I wanted to do - To be in a band writing, recording, touring with my own songs. To a certain degree I don't even really view myself as a "keyboardist" in a band. I'm more about the songs and the overall production. Playing keyboards and guitars is just a means to get those ideas across.
MSJ: How did you meet the other members of the band, Dan and Buzz?
Buzz and I were in the very beginning of Simon Apple when we were just a cover band. We're the only original members left. I was still in high school at the time. Buzz started that band, held auditions, and the rest is history! But, that was a totally different entity really... as a cover band. We played stuff like Pink Floyd, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Steely Dan, Kansas, Rush, Billy Joel, Supertramp, Queen. Dan is a different story. After our first album, From The Toybox, our singer John Feldmann had to leave the band because of family commitments. We're still great friends with John. He even sang some backing vocals on the 'River' CD. And I also borrowed his acoustic guitar for recording this album! (Laughing). However, his departure led to a very long, arduous search that took a year and a half until we found Dan. We received over 800 demos worldwide. It was brutal. We couldn't find the right voice. Until Dan. Not only does Dan have an amazing voice, but his personality fits the band perfectly as well. He's truly a genuinely nice person! No egos or baggage. Just a humble, down-to-earth, pleasant, polite, fun guy. We've been blessed to have found each other.

MSJ: Is Buzz a nickname?
Yes. Unfortunately, I can't reveal his real name. I'm saving that for when I need to use it against him as a bribe or bargaining chip! (Laughing).
MSJ: I'd like to find out about your current musical tastes…
Like I said previously, I can listen to anything if it's creative and/or well-written. I don't care what style. Good music is good music. I don't put classifications or boundaries on music. I already mentioned my influences. But in addition to those, I guess some relatively current stuff in the last few years I like are Nickel Creek, David Mead, Outkast, John Mayer, Neal Morse, Howie Day. I'm sure there are others that escape me for now.
MSJ: What's the last CD that you purchased?
Hmmm??... I think it was "The Way Up" - the newest release from the Pat Metheny Group. Amazing album. I think this one will stand the test of time as a classic in the Metheny catalogue - and maybe jazz in general. It's an incredible piece of work. It's one song... 67 minutes long!
MSJ: Along the same lines, what's the last concert that you attended as a fan?
I saw Sting and the Pat Metheny Group a few days apart a few months ago... not sure which one was the latest!
MSJ: What is your favorite album of all-time? Is there any CD or tape for that matter that you've worn out?
Oh, man. I can never answer this question. I can't ever pick just one. Possibly ELO's "Out Of The Blue". If that's not my favorite, it's certainly up there. Jeff Lynne's melodies and arrangements blow me away. And he wrote that entire album (a double album) in 2-3 weeks! And there is no filler on that album. That kills me. That's a rare gift/talent. A great piece of work.
MSJ: Who is your favorite band?
It's a toss-up between ELO, Genesis, Rush.
MSJ: What is your favorite movie?
Oh, man... same thing... hard to pick a favorite. Off the top of my head, I'll say "The Sting".
MSJ: What is your favorite TV show?
Well... I admit, I'm a Trek and X-Files fan. If not those, probably Everybody Loves Raymond or Trailer Park Boys - brilliant Canadian TV comedy!
MSJ: Why are you such a huge football fan?
I've been a huge sports fan since I was a little kid. I wanted to be a pro athlete when I was a young, naive kid! So, when I realized that wasn't gonna happen, I turned to music! But, I still remain a huge fan of all 4 major sports to this day. Although basketball is tough to watch anymore... it's not what it used to be. Hockey is probably my favorite. Football & baseball are equally next... then basketball... and I also enjoy soccer (which I played for years).
MSJ: Who's your favorite team?
My football allegiance is very dysfunctional! I have to admit that off the bat! As a little kid of 6-7 years old, I became a Dallas Cowboys fan. I was seduced by the Almighty Star! I'm still a Dallas fan... but not as much. It has nothing to do with their record... I was a fan during their awful 1-15 years! It's just I can't relate to them as much anymore. Growing up in Eagle Land around Philly, you simply get to "know" the personalities more, etc., and I've grown attached to them as well. Now, I admit... this goes against every principle of fan allegiance. Especially in this case! It's almost like being a Red Sox & Yankees fan! You cannot be both an Eagles and Dallas fan! Dallas is the Eagles arch enemy!! This is where I admit my total "dysfunction". I tend to be loyal by nature, and this is why it's hard to give up that child-hood rooting interest in Dallas. But, at the same time, I've grown to like the Eagles over the years. This makes no logical sense, I know. And true Eagles fans would chastise me to death... until I truly join the ranks and wear their favorite t-shirt that says "Dallas Sucks!"(Laughing).
MSJ: Do you like and/or respect the Packer's? That's my religion, so tread lightly.
(Laughing) Yeah, one thing Packers and Eagles fan have in common (besides both teams having the great Reggie White)... it is a religion! I respect the Packers organization very much... I love the fact they are "owned by the people". That is so cool. But, I can't say I'm a fan - no. Sorry! Although Favre is awesome. He epitomizes everything a football player should be! I love that kind of passion. If he was an Eagle, he would be the most beloved Eagles player in the history of the franchise because that's what Philly fans love... passion! Having said that, I loved the playoff battles in the mid '90's between Dallas and the Pack... great games. Nerve-wracking! But great games!
MSJ: Again, great job on Simon Apple. It's such an incredible album and it has so much crossover appeal. Good luck with any future albums. I'm looking forward to the next one if you decide to do another. I'm hoping there is another.
Thank you very much, Josh. I'm hoping there will be a next album.... and many more after that! Honestly, right now, it comes down to economics. We haven't broken even yet on our last album. We're just hoping to continually increase our fan base so we can afford to keep making records! The music industry has become so corporate, that it's become very difficult for artists, like us, who are not mainstream. We are not gonna sell 3 million albums out of the gate - and that's what major labels want. That quick fix profit with no substance... and no long-term appeal. A constant revolving door of one-hit wonders (to appease the stock-holders). Because of that mentality, the industry has been slowly starting to crash and burn. And they blame it on illegal downloading, etc. While that is a part of the problem, it's not the major problem. Until they wake up and smell the coffee, the major labels are gonna die. How about signing some genuinely talented songwriter/artists? Sure, some talent seeps through and makes it (like a John Mayer)... but they usually have to prove themselves more so than the Jessica Simpson's of the world. It's now down to only four major labels! They keep dying, or getting bought out, one by one. All of the "music people" within the labels have been fired or have quit because they are so sick of it. The music industry is now run by Wall Street... people who haven't a clue about music. The next few years will either prove to be catastrophic or the best of times for new artists...depending on how the industry implodes. If this industry mentality existed 30 years ago, artists like Billy Joel, Genesis, Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, Bruce Springsteen, Yes, Hall & Oates, Earth Wind & Fire, Elton John, Kansas, Pink Floyd, ELO, and many more, would not be around today! They would have been dropped by their labels because their initial album sales were all poor. Back then, the labels believed in "artist development"... growing a fan base over time... not overnight (which leads to over-exposure and over-saturation, and a short shelf-life). Think about that. All of those great artists would probably never be heard in today's market. How sad is that?! All of that great music never to be heard. Think of all the possible Billy Joel's that are out there who are not even given a shot by labels today. The kicker is... all of those artists are cash cows for labels because they have a huge extensive catalog! Why labels are turning their backs on that future potential is beyond me. I'll never understand it. They are reaping what they have been sowing. Don't blame it on illegal copying, downloading, file-sharing... that's such a naive cop-out. Don't get me wrong... there are some great, well-known, artists out there. But more often than not, you have to search and find the really great ones, because the major labels are afraid to touch them since they don't fit into a nice, clichéd marketing package. Check out David Mead... prime example. He's every bit as good as John Mayer - and I love John Mayer too - but why does David get tossed aside by major labels?! Because he's not as 'cute' as John Mayer? His songwriting is incredible! If you like Paul McCartney - only one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century - you'll love David Mead. From an artistic standpoint, this is such a crime. This is why America has become culturally and artistically bankrupt. It's all about money. It has nothing to do with "art". I hope that this will change. But, it also relies on public feedback. If the public continues to lap up the Britney Spears of the world, then all will remain the same. That stuff has its place. But that's more 'entertainment', ala Marilyn Monroe, not music/art. If the mass public is more interested in tabloid entertainment, than the current status quo will not change. And the "art" of music will slowly continue to die... it will become an underground sub-culture - nothing more. And if artists can't sustain a living from it, it will become less and less available... and eventually go the way of the dodo bird! Sad, but a true, realistic possibility. Well, anyway!... I'll get off my soapbox now! (Laughing)

 
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