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Progressive Rock Interviews

Randy George

Interviewed by Grant Hill

Interview with Randy George from 2012

MSJ:

Randy, you are a great bassist and multi-instrumentalist. Your playing is brilliant, whether on four, five or six string bass, keys, or guitar. Can you tell us about your musical background and what led you to your primary focus on bass as primary instrument of choice?

I started playing piano at the age of six. I played for about six years before getting my first bass at age twelve. I suppose it was pictures on album covers of the headstock of the Fender Precision Bass with the four large tuning keys. I thought it was cool and felt like that was what I wanted to play.
MSJ: Who are your major playing influences, not just now, but also in terms of growing musically through the years developmentally as well as a significant current performer?
Well, my formative influences have always been Yes, The Moody Blues, The Beatles, and Rush. Then I got into Genesis, Steve Hackett’s solo works and The Dixie Dregs. These are probably the top ones. Later in life I was really affected by guys like Michael Manring and Jeff Berlin.
MSJ: You are a fan of the Spector bass sound and feel. With so many great instrument makers today, what is it that led to Spector?
I found one for sale as a used piece in a guitar shop in 2003. I liked the feel of it. Previously, I had not found a five string that felt good in my hand. So, I got it. I think it is probably the thin neck along with the narrow string spacing that makes it such a comfortable fit. I also like that the low B string as crisp as it is. It allows me to do intricate stuff using it without sounding muddy.
MSJ: In the pantheon of progressive rock artists, your niche is particularly unique. In a very real sense, you are a founder of the Christian prog sub-genre. Can you tell us how that process of incorporating your faith into progressive rock music developed? In particular, how did founding Ajalon and developing a working relationship with Rick Wakeman promote the band, your music and career?
Well, I wouldn’t say I’m the founder but I feel like I have been given opportunities to make it happen. I originally had the idea of doing Christian progressive rock when I was fifteen. I really didn’t know it would actually happen. It was in Seattle in 1993 when I met Wil Henderson. Wil is the singer/songwriter for Ajalon. When he and I first got together he had all these songs he had written. I felt like this was a great partnership since he had the same influences as I did. So, we started recording his songs and that was what became Ajalon. We just had this sound. And, with the addition of drummer Dan Lile, the band was born. Coincidentally, this all happened at the time Rick Wakeman had launched his Christian record label, Hope Records. We sent him a copy of our first album and, to our surprise; he was interested in releasing it!
MSJ: To me, Ajalon is a band that breaks boundaries and expands horizons. The sound is melodic yet harmonically and rhythmically rich, and stylistically expansive. Yet your writing and playing are immediately identifiable. How does the music creation process work for you?
I think it is simply my style of playing. I think Ajalon’s sound in particular was forged more out of my keyboard playing against Wil’s guitar lines that he had written his songs to. I found them to be challenging to me as a player, so I learned his guitar parts and as such I ended up being the guitarist/keyboard player. Wil played bass most of the time.
MSJ: How did you meet Neal Morse, and what has the journey of being a major part of his solo career as both a Christian and a prog artist been like for you? It seems that the "partnership" of you, Neal, and Mike Portnoy has become quite influential in the progressive rock world. Your thoughts?
I met Neal in 2003, and the meeting was initially driven by my quest to enlist him to be on CPR Vol.1. This was a compilation of Christian prog artists that I was trying to piece together in order to give the genre a face and a name. It was through discussing this that I found out he was looking for musicians to tour his new album, Testimony, which also had a Christian based theme. I figured out that it was a bass player that they needed, so I offered to do it. We exchanged music, and he in turn added a vocal to Ajalon’s second CD. I then joined him for the tour. It wasn’t until the next year when he was starting to work on One that we were in the studio writing together. I think we had such a great time doing that record we all felt compelled to continue. And so it has gone for the last nine years! Now we have nine studio albums and three live concert DVDs, plus a handful of fan club releases together.
MSJ: You have also released a solo album, Action Reaction, which is being reviewed for this issue. It is an instrumentally focused album very different from either Ajalon or Neal Morse's work. To me it just "sounds" like you, though, even though it's different. Tell us about how the album was conceived and what are your thoughts about the final product? I love it, by the way!
In 1989 I started writing instrumental music. I wanted something to showcase my abilities. I started writing all sorts of songs. Much of that album is from those sessions, although over the years becoming friends with guys like Phil Keaggy served to help me write newer material. So, there are a number of songs written throughout the past 20 years that are on the record. I wrestled with it for a long time. Some of the older material was sounding dated to me and I felt it wasn’t really representative of where I am as an artist today. It took a while to dial it in to an acceptable collection. I guess I’m my own worst enemy that way. It was received very well, much more so than I would have ever expected.
MSJ: Your playing is advanced, articulate and clean. It's also very positive, uplifting music, at least to me, which runs contrary to some of the darker sounds so popular in contemporary prog and prog-metal these days. How do you keep your own ideas from being too challenged by the trend toward mindless shredding, for example, among other "trends?" In other words, what allows you to focus on composition and integration of ideas rather than simply riffs and grooves which may show skill, but tend to be devoid of musicality and shaping?
Most likely it is because of my influences. Even though I was writing instrumental music I stuck with more of a song formula. Shredding gets old after the first couple of times so I needed to have song sensibility to the music. I also have a strong sense of melody that I wanted to incorporate. I have been accused of my music being too happy all the time. But I guess I was always a happy-go-lucky person. I tend to write what feels good to me.
MSJ: What are you listening to these days that you find to be particularly enjoyable or inspirational for you? What's in your CD player right now?
As far as current releases, I have been enjoying much of Steve Hackett’s solo work as well as the recent Trevor Rabin solo record. I also still listen to a lot of 70’s music, mostly singer/songwriter type of stuff.
MSJ: What's the last concert you attended for your own enjoyment?
Probably The Shaming Of The True, staged in California using many of Kevin Gilbert’s band members through the years - fantastic show!
MSJ: The music industry has changed dramatically, and the rubble of the old major label system has most artists scrambling for an independent identity. How are the new dynamics in music allowing you to grow, and how might they hinder you? Where do you see the industry taking you and your career?
I don’t see the industry taking me anywhere. I think I defy every aspect of the industry by my very nature. I am completely independent, and as such I only do what I can back on my own. I try to take advantage of the internet and I look for ways to play out. Beyond that, it is a mystery as to exactly how things will play out in this business. I have been told by industry people that I should be paid a lot of money for what I do. If it were 25 years ago, maybe things would be quite different. These days it doesn’t impress anyone to be good. You have to be whatever they are trying to sell. In today’s market it’s all about being young, pretty, and controversial. No one cares about the music anymore. I try to fill that gap because there are those of us who remember!
MSJ: Finally, if you could ask yourself a question that maybe hasn't been asked of you, what would it be, and of course I want your answer!
"What’s your favorite TV show?"

"Star Trek: The Original Series"
MSJ: This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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