28 September 2010

(More than) 10 Questions with...Wilton Said

I first came across the music of Wilton Said in 2007, if memory serves.  Actually, I don’t have to rely on memory, as I still have a copy of my review of his then most recent album, The View, and it’s dated 8 February 2007.  His take on progressive rock to me seems to veer more toward the art rock side of things…less Yes and Genesis, more Bowie and Roxy Music.  This shouldn’t necessarily imply loads of glitz, glam and make-up, but rather a penchant for the tastefully and artfully composed bit of quirky pop-infused rock with influences a little different than English pastorals and church music.

From my standpoint (actually sitting point…I am a prog fan with osteoarthritis after all), things seemed overly quiet from Wilton Said HQ for far too long.  Apparently there was good reason for this, as the man himself has been busy with some fairly big projects that are in varying states of completion.

Wilton actually contacted me, hoping I’d be willing to review The View for Bill’s Prog Blog.  I’ll be offering that review up a little later today, but in the meantime, let’s sit down with Wilton to get a feel for his life, his music, and what lies in wait for the dedicated WS fan out there…

1. Let’s get things started at the very beginning.  How did you get your start as a musician?

Wilton Said:
My mother has told me that I always loved music. When I was a toddler, she says I would stand in front of the stereo and move to the music. When Mary Poppins came out, my favourite song was Feed the Birds, not exactly the song most young children would understand.  When I was 8 (1978) or so, I took piano lessons which I enjoyed.  However, that died off in a couple of months when I opted to spend my leisure time playing baseball instead of practicing.  A few years later I enrolled in the string program in my school and learned the viola, which I continued to play for about 8 years mainly through the school system.  During that time, I went to a summer camp and learned basic guitar chords and then continued on my own afterwards.  By the time I was 13 years old, I was writing my own songs on guitar and performing them off the third floor balcony of my apartment building for all the world to hear.  Some years later I started taking private guitar lessons and learned some basic theory, jazz and classical styles.

Throughout high school I tried to form my own band playing guitar but found it hard to find people who were dedicated, (or maybe they thought I sucked), so I continued practicing on my own. I did however jam with a bass player friend of mine (Chris Reid) who was a huge Rush fan and got me into Rush.  However, he wasn't able to commit to anything serious at the time.

At the end of my High school year in 1989 I finally joined a real band.  They were called The Dust Rhinos and were a 50' 60's rock n roll cover band playing Stones, Beatles, and rocked up RnB.  It was great and I learned a lot from the band guys who were almost 10 years older then me.  The drummer was really into prog rock and leant me a few albums, which I loved.  However, the band broke up and I started my search again.  In my first year of a Compositional Music Degree at University, I joined a heavy metal band playing covers by Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath.  However, I didn't stick around long enough to play a gig as it turned out most that of the band were pot heads, something I wasn't into.

In 1990 I met a drummer and we started jamming my original material.  We found a bass player and a singer and my first original band called Crisis Ten was formed.  We did a few cassette demos and gigged around for a couple of years but it seemed that the other guys were becoming less interested.  I left the band and the band basically broke up.  In 1994 I contacted Chris Reid and we decided to form a band with me on guitar and him on bass.  For about 4 years we had three different bands, one after the other with the singer and drummer revolving around us two.  The first band was Shopping Asia which featured a female singer with a softer voice with me playing crunchy guitar along with a crazy proggy drummer and bass player Chris inspired by Geddy Lee.  I thought the four of us were great and really think that if we stayed together we could've become possibly more then independent.  However, two members turned out to be not that serious and left the band.  Over the next two years we had another band called "Wish Machine" which was heavily influenced by Rush, and then a band called "Edge of Sense" which had more alternative influences with some prog mentality.  Again in all cases, members turned out not to be that serious and in the end I left.

Around the time of Edge of Sense, I started to get bored with guitar playing.  We had just done a cassette in which I had given everything I had to the guitar parts and I felt there was nothing left that interested me in guitar playing.  In 1996 after leaving the band, I took up singing lessons and then formed my own project "Wilton Said..." singing lead and playing keyboards.  I figured that naming the project after my name would enable me to work in a variety of musical situations regardless of other band members.

2. What were your earliest musical influences?

As a child, there was always music in my house.  It was just my mom and me and she often played piano, sang me lullabies, and played classical, blues, rock, and opera records.  At the after school program, I got my first exposure to pop via Bay City Rollers, Elvis Presley and The Beatles.  At first I didn't realize who any of the artists were, I just liked the songs.  One day I went home and asked my Mom if she had any Bay City Rollers.  She said no but pulled out some of her vintage 1960's Beatles albums instead.  The first song "It Won't be Long" hit me like a brick and I loved it.  When it got to "All my Loving", I recognized the song as one of the ones played at the after school program.  From there, I ended up getting my mom to buy more of their recordings, which I loved.  However, the love affair diminished when I was bought The White Album on cassette.  My 9-year-old brain could only get into the first side and thought much of the rest was too weird.

Around 1981 I really got into the Star Wars movies and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not only did I love the movies, I loved the music.  Along with my orchestral education with the Viola, I started to learn and enjoy orchestral music, especially from the Romantic era and the 20th Century era.

Around 1983, I began watching music videos and started to learn about and enjoy the new wave music of the time, namely Duran Duran.  A few years later and I can't remember why, I started to listen to the Beatles again and gave that old White Album cassette another try.  This time my older more musically mature 15-year-old brain could understand it and I loved it.  I also dug out my Abbey Road, Sgt Peppers, and Magical Mystery Tour recordings and really got into them.  I loved the eclectic-ness of them, I loved the big sound of them, I loved the musicianship of them, I loved The Beatles and to this day I still think they are the best thing to happen to humankind since the invention of the wheel.

However, I still developed interests and influences in other styles of Rock and Pop.  I developed a love for Heavy Metal, most notably Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath.  That later developed into a love for Progressive Rock with artists such as Marillion, Queen, Genesis, Rush, Kate Bush and the album Jesus Christ Superstar.  A few later bands that I enjoyed were Soundgarden and A Perfect Circle.

I guess the main thing which can be said about my listening habits and influences is that I like my music BIG, texturally thick, dark and minor keyed, and preferably with some arty elements to it.

3. Tell me a little bit about how the band formed, if you would?

As stated above, I got bored of guitar and was looking for another musical outlet.  One evening in 1996 I rented a video of Kate Bush, which had clips of her live performances.  I went out and purchased Live at Hammersmith and was blown away.  I loved it and instantly and was inspired to take singing lessons with the hopes of forming my own band.  After about a year, I felt somewhat confident in my new found singing ability and did an acoustic gig with Chris Reid helping out on guitar and bass.  It went over pretty good.  I also recorded a demo cassette that I was proud of at the time, but like many artists, I'm now embarrassed listening back to it.

From about 1998 through to 2001 I had a rotating roster of musicians that I played with and recorded with.  While that worked for getting my music out and about with live gigs and recording, I started to feel that a more stable line up would tighten up the material. Around 2002 I was able to work with a more stable line up of musicians with Chris Reid taking on Guitar duties, Richard Rizzo on Drums and Andrew Buntain on Bass.  This became the core group.  We were able to record two CD's, The Butterfly Plague and The View.  After the CD release of The View, Andrew left to pursue other musical interests and was replaced by Frank Heisler who had ironically been in the band previously to Andrew.  It's a bit of a musical chairs situation that in the end has turned out to work great.

4. You’ve released three albums with your band.  How would you say your sound has evolved since your debut record?

Actually I've recorded 5 releases and writing wise, each one has been not so much an evolution, but a change depending on my influences.  Production and performance wise there has been an evolution, for the better to my ears. 

The 1st release was a cassette release, which had me singing, doing all guitar and keyboards.  It's a very raw recording and my vocals were still in a very early learning stage.  I cringe when I hear them.

The 2nd release called World up my Ass also had me singing, doing guitars/keyboards, and even some bass on a few songs.  Many of the songs on this release were written years before the release and so I consider this more of a compilation of old songs and ideas.  As a result, it's a very eclectic release.  I feel the performances were OK but the vocals and production are a little rough.

The 3rd release titled Broken had pretty much all newly written songs and was greatly influenced by a more alternative vibe.  At the same time, I was being introduced to some jazz via my singing lessons, which is apparent on a few tracks also.  This release also had me playing all guitars, keys, and bass.  For me, Broken is the start of when I feel my songs, singing and recording production got better.  I have a soft spot for this album as so much of it was me.

The 4th release is a concept album called The Butterfly Plague. It was actually written 8 years earlier but I didn't feel confident enough to record it at the time, so it sat on the back burner for a while.  Musically and texturally, it was influenced by Jesus Christ Superstar and is pretty much in the style of progressive rock.  This was also the first release to be recorded by a stable line up of band members.  As a result, some of my musical ideas were interpreted differently then I had imagined, but in the end it turned out nicely.

The last release titled The View had a range of influences going on.  'Heavy Motion' was influenced with A Perfect Circle vibe while 'The Empty Sky' had a Kansas influence.  The finished products probably don't sound like those influences, but that's what was going through my mind at the time of writing them.  Two of the other songs were written by me just jotting down some chord progressions on a sheet of paper.  I thought it would be a great way to come up with some interesting ideas without fully knowing what they would sound like.  This is also the release that has the best production to my ears.

Over all, my writing style changes with what ever I've been influenced by.  I try not to write the same song over again but in some cases, it's inevitable.  Vocally, and production wise I feel I've gotten better with each release.

5. What would you say sets your band apart from other current prog/art rock bands?

I think the main thing is that most of the musical texture is guitar based.  While I do play keyboards and  there are some songs that do feature keys, guitar is still at the heart of the texture of my music.  I'd also say that the material is stylistically eclectic, similar to how Queen was.  We have some rock songs, some prog songs, some bluesy influenced numbers, some jazzy influenced songs and some more humorous songs.  So ya, I think the music is more eclectic then other prog/art rock bands.

6. I understand you’ve begun work on some new material for two different releases.  First, what can you tell us about the music you’ve been working on for the next Wilton Said release?

It's been tough writing for this next release.  I had writers block for a couple of months and just wasn't happy with what was coming out of me.  I'd write something, come back to it a couple of days later and it just wouldn't feel right.  It was as if I was forcing the material, and that didn't seem good to me.  I think I was trying to be too clever, too progressive, too arty for my own good. It wasn't until I relaxed and allowed the music to emerge almost on its own that things started to work.  I think the result will be that these songs will be a little less complicated then what was on The View, but by no means less arty.

We're also working on a song written by guitarist Chris Reid.  He played me a demo of it years ago and I always liked it.  It's a little more straight ahead then what I usually write, but it does have a few interesting twists to keep it interesting.  Another first will be the addition of an orchestral piece done rock.  Mussorgsky's Bydlo from Pictures at an Exhibition has always been one of my favorite pieces.  This album seemed to be the right time to record it.

The final difference is the way we're learning the material.  Previously, I would make a demo of everything and send it to the band to learn.  This time around I thought it would be better to jam the ideas out.  Working this way enabled me to hear textures and arrangements that I wouldn't have come up with myself.  In a few cases, this caused me to change the arrangement and direction of a song to fit in with what the band had come up with.  So for me, this next release from a writing standpoint is very different.

7. Your website also mentions a rock opera that you’ve been working on.  Is there anything you feel you can share about this project yet?

Ever since hearing Jesus Christ Superstar, I've wanted to do a rock opera.  My fist attempt turned into the concept album The Butterfly Plague, which is not a rock opera.  I realized the harder part would be writing the lyrics or dialogue, something I wasn't comfortable with, so I put an ad out looking for a lyricist.  I got a few responses and ended up working with a guy named Barry Brown.  We met up and discussed some ideas.  He had a bunch of ideas written down on a piece of paper and one of them said Rabbit Proof Fence.  The title struck me as a little quirky and he mentioned it was a movie about aboriginals in Australia. Their children had been forcibly removed from their parents and shipped off to schools to learn how to be come "better citizens".  We agreed that this would be a great topic to do and we discussed the structure.  Subsequently, we found out that this type of thing went on in many different countries.  In Canada they shipped off the aboriginal children to Residential Schools.  There was a movie based on a true story about children and youths in Ireland who were shipped off to special schools if they were deemed to be needing some straightening out.  In many of these cases, the church and government ran the schools and abuse of the children was rampant.

The musical writing was different and simpler then on other Wilton Said… recordings.  For starters, I wrote music to the lyrics that Barry gave me. The lyrics came first.  Usually when writing, I'll get an idea and try to really expand it and make it artier, cleverer.  For the Rock Opera, I used ideas that I thought were fine as is and therefore didn't tinker too much with the original ideas.  Also, Barry's lyrics didn't always lend themselves to odd time signatures.  As a result, the music for this project is more rock as opposed to the more proggy arty stuff of my Wilton Said… material.

For recording, I recorded demos to a click track, which had a basic drum machine, some basic guitar and guide vocals.  Barry, who is also a drummer, then recorded his drums to the click and I re-recorded guitars and keyboards.  The keyboards took me the longest to record as I don't consider myself a keyboardist.  I was challenged in that I had to learn how to play in a more rhythmic style then I was used to. The keyboard solos also took me a long time to record.  The guitar parts were pretty easy as I've been playing for about 27 years.  But the keyboards had me banging my head against the wall.  Never the less, the whole thing is written, and the drums, guitars and keyboards have been recorded.  Wilton Said… bassist Frank Heisler should be in to record his parts during the fall.  After that it's finding vocalists to sing the parts.

8. People may not know that you were the driving force behind the NUANCE festival.  What was your goal for the festival, and do you think it succeeded at that?

I found that there were live prog festivals and live prog outlets in other parts of the world, but nothing in the Toronto area.  I knew there were bands and I thought there would be an audience.  So I held the first one in the spring of 2007 featuring 5 indie bands from the Toronto area including my own band of course.  The turn out wasn't too bad and everyone really enjoyed themselves.  The next one 6 months later had a smaller attendance and the last one in the fall of 2008 didn't have many people there.  As a result I gave up the festival idea.  People suggested getting a semi well known act to headline.  I had a few musical acquaintances offer their help in setting this up, but in the end it fell through.

After that, I organized and held smaller events called NUANCE Sundays Showcases, which featured 3 proggy bands on a Sunday evening.  The great thing about these events was that the whole thing wrapped up around 11pm, early by club standards.  With most of the musicians and fans of this style of music being dare I say, "older", and therefore having day jobs, the early finish was much appreciated by all.  The event attendances were up and down but nevertheless, a great time was always had by all who performed and attended.

Overall, I wanted to be able to hold the festivals and/or the showcases on a more regular basis, but alas, it didn't seem that there was a big enough audience for these events.  Perhaps things will have changed in the new year.

9. Will there be any future NUANCE festivals or performances moving forward?

As stated earlier, I'm working on the new release so live performances and NUANCE events have been put on hold until the completion of the album.

10. One topic that has been discussed to death has been the role of downloads, official and otherwise, and how they affect musicians.  I know that you have several free downloads available on your website; have they been popular, and do you find that they have aided in promoting your work?

The free downloads seem to be popular on the day and day after that I post information on them.  I have been able to get a few sales due to the freebies, which is the whole idea.

Speaking of downloads; I'm still toying with the idea of making the new release a 320kbps download only release.  I would sell card stock with the album cover printed on it at the gigs and on the back would be a code.  This code would enable the buyer to download the album directly from the wiltonsaid.com website. I would also include a PDF file with lyrics, credits, photos etc etc so people would have something to read and look at.  I know a lot of people like to have a physical item to play, but I'm finding more and more people are uploading their CD collection to their computers and iPods anyways, so a download release would cut out that middle step. 

11. Connected to that, of course, is this; how much has illegal downloading hurt Wilton Said’s sales?

I have not come across any illegal downloads of my material, which is a good thing in one sense.  In the other, I guess my material isn't quite popular enough to warrant any.  Personally, if I found any illegal downloads of my material, I would hope that it would only be the freebies that I have available through my site anyways.  I wouldn't have a problem with that.

12. What would you say the future holds for the independent progressive/art rock musician?

Very difficult if any of us are expecting to make any real money.  I wouldn't be surprised if more artists started going the download only route, as it's a lot cheaper then paying for 500 CD's.

The technology has been a blessing and a curse to the entertainment industry as a whole.  It's made it extremely inexpensive to produce and publish ones own work.  As a result however, everyone and their grandmother’s cat is producing and publishing their own work.  So now there's so much to wade through to find something that's appealing.  And even if you do find something that's appealing, there's usually at least ten or more similar works to be found.  So the consumer's dollar is stretched thinner over each artists work.

13. Influences and musical interests change over the years.  Are there any newer bands or performers that you are inspired by these days?

Not too much, most of my listening habits revolve around artists I grew up with.  However, I really loved A Perfect Circle when they were around.  To me they combined the atmospheric darkness of The Cure with the artiness of a prog metal band.  I like OK Computer by Radiohead, and Chris Cornell's first post Soundgarden release Euphoric Morning.  But I believe all these releases are at least 5 years old.  In the independent market, I really enjoy Toronto prog band Half Past Four, which I've had the pleasure of playing with a few times, and US prog artist Phideaux.

14. When not working on music related things, what do you do to relax or recharge?

I love wine, especially red wine.  I love the fact that there's always something different and unexpected to discover. Just when I think I've categorized a certain type of wine in my mind, along comes another to blow my perception and expectation out of the water.  It's a great challenge to my mild OCD.

I also like to take bike rides and enjoy long walks on the beach.  (Sounds like a dating profile).

15. Do you have any parting words for our readers as we wrap things up?

Buy my CD's!  Promote independent musicians, and keep on dancing in 7/8 time.

Thanks so much Bill for the interview.  It's great to know there are people out there helping to promote music of a more artistic nature.  It's much appreciated by the musicians, bands and fans.

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