Ron Jarzombek interview with Geir Larsen

1. The album I've been playing over and over again ("Ink Complete") is in fact two demos from 1994. When and why were they recorded?

We first wrote and recorded "That 178 Thing", "Suspended On All Fours", "A Wild Hare" and "Mosquito Brain Surgery" just to see where we were headed musically. We got very favorable response from the tape, so we did 7 more songs. We put all of the songs together on cassette and printed up a few copies, calling it a "Preview", because we thought we were going to rerecord everything.

2. Why didn't you record the songs again for the album-release?

Time and money. An advance to properly rerecord it would have been nice, but it didn't happen.

3. Do you think the sound turned out OK?

For a 4 track, I guess it came out pretty good. I spent nearly 6 months cleaning everything up, rerecording parts, reEQing everything, and then the guy who did the mastering did an awful job. I have since bought an ADAT, which will be used for the next recording.

4. I'm sad to say I was never a Watchtower fan, mostly due to the vocals. BUT, there's so many quality songs on "Ink Complete" that I wonder why you didn't to try them out with a proper singer?

We thought of putting vocals on a few of the songs for marketing purposes, but the songs just weren't written for vocals. We would have had to totally rewrite something for it to work.

5. This is the sort of album where musicians fulfill all their dreams. No restrictions, right?

That's right, we did whatever we wanted. I have been into cartoon and filmscore music since the WatchTower days, and it was the perfect opportunity to do "A Morning With Squeakie", which is the music for an animated cartoon. We knew from the start that it was going to be instrumental, so we based songs and titles on musical themes. There is a 4 and a half minute song with only two notes called "See, and It's Sharp!", "That 178 Thing" refers to the tempo of the song, and to top it of, I wanted to do "A Wild Hare", a progressive metal remake of "Bambi".

6. How was the material written? Note by note?

Bobby and I wrote everything. Pete spiced up a few of his parts and wrote all of his solos. We exchanged musical ideas through sheet music and cassette tapes. We had conflicting schedules, and working on material on our own time was very convenient. For rehearsals, we had to bend schedules. Just about everything was written on sheet music, so we understood what the other was playing on tape. I usually write everything out to keep track of what key a section is in, tempo/timing, harmonies, etc....

7. There's extremely great musicianship to be heard on the CD, but compared to many other instrumental / progressive releases this album contains good SONGS as well. Do you agree?

Thanks. I got so tired of the comment "You guys are such great musicians" when WatchTower was gigging. What about the songs, damnit! I have heard a lot of instrumental recordings where one player is ripping while the other guys are doing simple chords changes. And then there are those recordings where the musicians are just jamming. We wanted structured/well written songs, but also have the freedom to take off on solos.

8. I hope (and expect) that for you too a song as a whole is more important than showing off?

That's right. You have to fit the showing off into the song. The song comes first.

9. When I first heard about you I thought I was going to have a problem with your metal influences. I tend to find progressive metal a bit boring because it's so damn restricted in the sound and arrangement-wise. You've totally turned things upside down! Comment?

That's why I listen to filmscores and cartoons, there is so much more instrumentation. I also think that a lot of metal bands only listen to other metal bands, and they end up sounding alike. I buy so few metal Cds these days, but I get just about every Danny Elfman and Elliot Goldenthal score that comes out.

10. Is originality important for you?

It's everything. What's the point of doing something that someone else is doing.

11. I still think you could have gotten yourself a better deal than with Dream Circle. Isn't it a very small company?

At the time, Dream Circle was our only option. We had so few contacts. Now that I am on the internet, anything is possible. When we released the CD, I was getting email from just about every country that I could imagine. Overseas distributors were asking if they could carry the CD.

12. There are plenty of progressive labels around, especially here in Europe. Did you send out demos to several labels?

Chris (Leibundgut) sent out probably close to 100 tapes. We got very little response from labels in the states. I think most of the labels were scared to release something like "Ink Complete" because it's too hard to categorize, scares some people off, and may give the others a headache.

13. Are you satisfied with Dream Circle?

No, we are having such a hard time trying to get copies of our own CD from Europe. Getting in contact with them is hopeless. The chance of the next Ink getting released on Dream Circle is absolute 0%. We are thinking of just releasing it ourselves and finding distibutors, but I think it would be worth it to see if any label would want to do anything with it.

14. Are you able to make a living being a musician (I know you're a teacher as well)?

If I was just living on money coming in from "Ink Complete" sales, I would be living at home with daddy or mommy. Teaching is supporting me just fine right now, but it's not what I want to do. Supporting myself by writing, recording or performing would be ideal, but right now that's not a reality. I wish I could find a job writing for films/animations or even computer games.

15. The metal sound (in SI) is obvious, but the structures are very similar to what some of the classic progressive bands were doing in the late 60's/early 70's. Are you familiar with bands such as Gentle Giant, Yes, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, ELP, The Nice, Ekseption, Focus, Happy The Man, Yezda Urfa, Van Der Graaf Generator, The Dregs, National Health, etc., etc. Any influences here?

I grew up listening mostly to Rush. When "2112" came out, my musical life changed. I discovered time signature changes! Then came "Farewell To Kings" and "Hemispheres". I later got into Yes, King Crimson, and UK. Most of the bands that you mentioned I have never heard of.

16. What's wrong with the world? (Tell me!) Are you aware of what young people actually buy and listen to?

Rap music is what's wrong. It's taking away a lot of the people who would otherwise be listening to real music. Progressive rock was never the most popular form of music, but now any kind of "rock" music is so hard to find. It's also very difficult to find music to show students because the musicians that are in rock bands (alternative) suck. They can't solo to save their lives.

17. In your opinion, which criterias have to be fulfilled before something can be considered Quality Music?

It's funny how some bands are so popular one year, and when the next year rolls around, they're forgotten. The fact is, they were "good" because listeners said they were, not because they were great writers or musicians, it was just somebody's opinion.

18. Being a guitar teacher, what do you tell youngsters to get the best out of them?

I have to brainwash them into listening to something other than alternative music. I manage to open quite a few of their minds to some of the older stuff. After hearing some of the guitar players from a few years back, they then realize how bad music is nowadays. I'm very strict on technique, and try to get students to understand music theory, and how to apply it.

19. We can't expect the MTV generation to love your music. They probably wouldn't understand it.

What an understatement! Just think about it, rap doesn't even have melodies, and it's the most popular form of music here in the states. But, if rap doesn't do it for you, there's always the Spice Girls!

20. How well has the album been received by the press, the fans and people in general?

I haven't read one negative magazine review. The response that I have recieved from fans via email has been phenomenal.

21. Musical terms like "contrapunctal", "unison phrases", "alternating lines", "multiple keys and modulations" etc. are often to be found in progressive bands. Technically skilled musicians can be as good and clever as they want to, but it takes more to make it work. Agree? Comment! How about dynamics? Are you focused on this?

Yeah, it's not just the mechanics or the tecnical aspect (technique, timing, etc..), you have to say something. You're trying to get something across to people. It's very important to have proper technical skills, but there should be some form of expression.

22. If the year was 1969 and this album was released today, what would the headlines read?

The guys in Spastic Ink are just a few years old, still in diapers, and they have released a CD???, how did they do that!!!! Wow, I can't belive this shit!!!! There are RUSH influences on this new CD and Rush hasn't even formed yet!!! Now I can understand the Bugs Bunny and Bach influence, but there is even a little bit of YES on it. There aren't a band yet either!!! How did they do that.

23. What have you been doing since the album came out?

I still teach 6 days a week. Most of my time is spent coming up with material for the next record.

24. Do you play live?

No. Bobby and Pete rejoined RIOT for now to play burned out 80's metal. Sean Malone is busy in Florida writing material for his next CD, Gordian Knot (which I will be playing on). Jason is in two other bands is Austin gigging and writing.

25. Can we expect a follow-up soon?

Yeah, I'm thinking that I'll have it recorded and released by the end of the year. The tentave title for the next record is "Ink Compatible", since it will be based on computers. I'm hoping that the next one will be out by the end of '98.

26. How about getting a singer? My SPASTIC INK dream for the next album: Same style (or mixture of styles) with more impulses from classical music, jazz and rock (less metal), and a singer who can do more than scream in a high pitch. Realistic or utopia? (I honestly, honestly feel a heavy metal "ballbreaking" singer would ruin it!)

There will be vocals on the next Ink CD - Jason McMaster (from the first WatchTower album). Sean Malone (ex-Cynic) will be playing bass. I really hope that works out. Pete Perez is defintely out, due to personal and musical reasons.

Most of the fan response that I have received on "Ink Complete" favors songs like "Data Race", "Mosquito", and "Baking Shuffle" which are the more heavier tunes. There will still be a lot of off the wall stuff, but the next one will be a more focused.

27. Tell me about your future plans in general?

First off, I wish I could stop teaching. Some of my students suck, and they don't care. Their parents don't care, so I don't care. It's like babysitting a bunch of dumbshits. A job doing music scores for films/animations/computers games would be very nice. It would be great if I could support myself releasing CD or touring, but that's not realistic.

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