First of all, let me thank you for taking the time to do this interview!
Usually the first 10 questions are..ahem..standard (as in given to every artist/band!) But bear with me, questions will increase on a more personal level...as we go along!!
1. Great band name, how did that come about and what does it mean ?
Thanks Tonny, glad you like it. It was a name I came up with when I was about 15. I had just bought my first synth, an ARP AXXE (2 years of saving pocket money!) and was in a band called "Acid Fantasy" at the time. This was a short lived experimental band with guitar, drums and my synth - I recall we made quite a racket in the local village hall on several occasions!
I can't recall who came up with the name 'Acid Fantasy' – I thought it was John the drummer & he thinks it was me – but in any event I liked the name. Generally, choosing a name for a band was always a difficult one and I think the name is critical for it becomes the very identity of the band – and this is particularly so where the music is instrumental.
So as to YAK... well I was very interested in Tibet and the whole idea of the Himalayas and remote wild places, so it wasn't long before I settled on the name 'YAK' as being, what I thought was, a good name for a band. I guess too there is a bit of homage to 'Camel' in there for good measure.
At this point however the band only existed as a 'concept' – well, several doodles on my school pencil case actually - and a few more years were to pass before a band called YAK was actually formed – December 1982 to be precise.
At this point in my life I had not heard of 'progressive rock' as such, although the bands I was mostly listening too would be classified as such. So YAK was not formed specifically as a "Prog" band – just a band that would eventually be the conduit through which to present my musical ideas.
2. Do you find it important to be classified as a progband and /or do you see yourself as a progband? Or you couldn't care less about classification genre wise - as long as people recognise/like your music?!
Well yes, this is a good question. When I released my first CD in 2004, I did a lot of research on the web to see which prog sites might be interested in reviewing it. It was only then that I encountered the whole world of "classification" and "genres". To be honest I was a little taken aback as to how many different genres of progressive music there are. However, I think the majority of what people tend to class as the 'Main Prog Bands' tend to fall into the sub genre of "Symphonic Prog", and I guess this is where I see YAK falling too. Most of the reviews of the material tend to categorise YAK in this way. Categorisation is however not an exact science & can be generally quite annoying !
As to its importance...it's a bit of a catch 22 really as clearly at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what category is applied to the music as long as people like it, however I do think it is important for a relatively unknown band to be categorised correctly on the various websites, as the best chances of people actually finding us - when they search - will be if we are correctly categorised. People will search for bands listed under 'Symphonic Prog' if that's the kind of thing they like and if we are listed elsewhere....
Progarchives.com had us categorised initially as "Prog Related". They have now changed this to "Neo Prog". So I guess the moral of the story is to 'check out all the sub categories' – just in case!
3. Do you find cover art important? Please elaborate.
Well the short answer is yes! Music is after all an art form & the whole experience of buying an album should I think encompass the 'presentation' of the material. The album cover artwork is an opportunity to draw people in, an opportunity for the artist to express themselves or their ideas in such a way to encapsulate the music, or perhaps even to be abstract from it. There are some classic album covers out there & many which have achieved iconic status. You can, as a listener, see a cover from an album you adore & get excited just by the image - as you know what an excellent album that is. The covers of Moon Madness, Close to the Edge, and obviously Dark Side of the Moon are great examples of albums that demonstrate that imo.
Personally, I have bought albums before on the strength of the cover art without ever having heard the music! – Folly perhaps, but I reason that if the cover draws me that much, the music has to be good. I'll give you some examples – I was drawn to the cover of the self titled album Greenslade – purely because I saw the Roger Dean cover and I was a major Yes fan and I thought - never having heard of Greenslade - that if it had a Roger Dean cover, it had to be good! – I was right – great album. Another was Bo Hansson's 'Lord of the Rings'. There are several versions of this cover and the one I saw and bought on impulse features a winged Nazgul & an Orc – great pic – I had to have it. Another classic album.
More recently, this year in fact, I was in a market that was selling vinyl and up on the wall an album caught my eye. I was drawn to it immediately. It featured a knight, and a ghost like lady, a few Geese in armour! and an idyllic rural English scene behind. I never heard of Anthony Phillips' 'the Geese and the Ghost' but the cover sold it to me. I bought it and then read the details of the musicians on the back - and what do you know, it's half of Genesis and other class musicians I recognise the names of – sold just on the artwork. ...perhaps I have been lucky... so far
4. Which comes first in your process of composing/creating music, the lyrics or the music? I realise that you are instrumental, so you can skip this question if you like!
Well like you say, so far the music of YAK has been instrumental – although there are vocals in the new version of 'Aragorn' which was just released on a compilation album dedicated to the memory of Tolkien called 'The First Ring'. However you will need to listen carefully to hear them as they are hidden in the mix and come via the mysterious goings on inside a vocoder.
In this case the vocals came after the music was written. ... or was it the other way round? I can't quite recall... ;0)
5. Which bands/artists/genre would you name as your inspirational source? Please elaborate and individual perspectives would be great.
I draw inspiration from many places, but the key bands and artists I listened to when I was growing up in my teens and 20's were Camel, Yes and the solo albums of Rick Wakeman.
I was leant a copy of 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth' and that got me hooked into Rick Wakemen and I managed to acquire a number of his albums – King Arthur, VI Wives, No Earthly Connection etc and I learned a lot from them. In fact it was playing along with the synth lines in 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth' that unknowingly taught me the blues scale! As a classically trained pianist I was familiar with major and minor scales but my teacher never mentioned the blues scale....
Also about this time I was leant a copy of Camel's 'The Snow Goose' – the music on this moved me greatly and still does – again, I acquired as many Camel albums as I could & listened to them to repeatedly.
A friend mentioned to me that Wakeman played for a band called 'YES' and so on my next trip to HMV – I looked up 'YES' – never heard of them at that point. The album that drew me the most (based on the cover art!) was Close to the Edge – what a brilliant cover and inside sleeve picture – I had to have it! Got it home, put it on the turntable and got a real shock. At first I thought I had wasted my money as Side 1 'appeared' to be all over the place and whilst side 2 was more accessible, it was still unlike anything I had heard to date. However I persisted with it listening to it about 4 or 5 times and it grew on me, stronger and stronger – as the best albums tend to do – to the point that I fell in love with it. It is, I think, their best work and I was lucky enough to hear them play most of it a few years ago at Wembley - fantastic stuff!
Later on I discovered the music of Eddie Jobson through the 'Danger Money' album which I thought was a masterpiece – all three UK albums I think are excellent and I really admire the playing style, composition and talent of Mr Jobson – I just wish UK had made more albums in the same or similiar vein.
6. The Mellotron, has become an icon..a pseudonym in progmusic circuits. Whats your thought on that and the particular instrument?
Well it's a classic sound isn't it? It stands alongside the Piano, Hammond, Mini Moog, and the Fender Rhodes in terms of its significance amongst keyboard players, especially for this genre of music. It has become synonymous with a lot of progressive music, but of course, just adding Mellotron strings to a track doesn't mean the music becomes Progressive! The sounds are deeply nostalgic and I wished I had one – although I just don't have the room or the budget for servicing!
I managed to get hold of some samples of various Mellotron patches for my Kurzweil K2600 and I used them in anger for the 1st time on the Journey of the Yak (JOTY) album – specifically strings, flutes, choirs and the Hammond samples.
I think most people tend to associate the Mellotron with the strings and possibly the flutes, but of course a whole range of instrument samples are available – I had no idea there were Mellotron Hammond samples available for instance and I like these a lot!
7. If the ultimate choice were given to you, which comes first, live performances or studio work? I realise that is 2 sides to one story, but please do tell...elaborate!?
Well whilst I have played live in many bands over the years, so far YAK has been a recording project with aspirations to play live at some point.. watch this space... I do like studio work – I guess I enjoy the creative process of building a track up and getting a result that excites me. The live stuff is a different buzz – it depends on the reception of course – I have played some dire gigs in my time ! The worst was when I was 20, I joined a band called "Master Class" on a Friday and they had a gig on the Saturday and no-one knew the same songs. We frantically learned some MOR standards and arrived at the gig, an Irish pub in Tottenham, the next night to see they had a sign up "Master Class – Country and Western Specialists" – I could have died. In fact we did – some serious heckling went on. We had played the only Country song we could faff our way through (tie a yellow ribbon) and the landlord asked us in the interval when we were going to start playing the Country stuff ? Embarrassing or what – Amazingly we survived and still got paid.
I hate that sort of thing though, I am a bit of a perfectionist and so when we do play Yak live, it will need to be right – so I'll need a few more musicians on stage as I only have 2 hands and as you are aware the music features multi-layered keyboards.
When the music is being appreciated, playing live is excellent. Packing up however is less fun!
8. In many interviews Beatles comes up as as the ultimate forerunners of prog!? In other words...without Beatles, no progscene as we see it today! Do you concur? Please elaborate!
I think that the problem in trying to pin point a band or musician you decide was the first to do this or that, you will invariably find someone who can point to an earlier band or musician who exhibited the same or a 'similar' thing to whatever the this or that was you were referring to... and so on...back to the likes of Hildegard Von Bingham in the twelth century ...and there was probably someone doing similar to what she did earlier than her, but wasn't as rich and didn't get any air time eheh – but I think its a serious point – in the early days of Prog, it would have been very difficult to promote yourself & as a consequence the few bands that had "made it through" were were listened to by a lot of people – if you like, the listeners choice was mostly limited to the bands that had cracked record deals etc – whereas today and as Rick Wakeman said in last months Classic Rock Presents Prog Magazine, albums are being recorded by almost anyone and as he put it – "even in toilets these days"...(?) – the listeners choice is overwhelming. However I think this is a good thing, but appreciate Rick's point that it must be a nightmare for the A & R people - it does mean you may have to spend a much longer time sifting through material to find the artists you like, but conversely means that good music that may have laid hidden for ever has at least some chance of being found.
I think that much like in the way that every particle influences in some small way the particle immediately next to it allowing you perhaps extropolate the entire universe from say one small piece of fairy cake, every band or musician has probably influenced the musicians who have heard or worked with them in a small sometimes more signifiant way - clearly every now & then someone will do something radically different - like when you hit a raison in that fairy cake.. although that would make it more of a scone...;o)
Clearly the Beatles were on the scene during the critical years that Prog was evolving – the time that the generally accepted first Prog type bands started to appear at the end of the sixties – Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Soft Machine, Yes etc and certainly some of their music does exhibit progressive characteristics. I imagine they would have been acutely aware what each other were doing, recording in the same studios probably and will have been undoubtedly been influenced by each other. I do think however that their music raised the bar and inspired many that followed, however I don't think that without them the Prog scene would be radically different than it is today – although perhaps everything might be a semitone lower ;0)
9. In a given concert, with you headlining, whom or which band/artist would you most like/love to see on that imaginative event/ poster! Please feel free to name several!
Well certainly the 'Tap' would need to be on the bill ! That would be marvellous. I am truly moved by Nigel's solos and inspired by Derek's bass work.
This is a tough one, as clearly it would be a tad far fetched to imagine head-lining with the prog legends in support ! Surreal at best – however in a surreal world we would have to resurrect a few folk as Zepplin would have to play a few numbers as would the original Camel line up.
Followed by a track each from UK, Greenslade, Supertramp, (the logical song), actually UK would have to play the whole of the UK album thinking about it – a selection by Yes, assuming Jon is with them, The Allman brothers can play 'Jessica', Focus would play 'Sylvia', BJH would play 'Galadriel' ...and certainly Kate Bush would have to be in there somewhere...
10. In this day and age of progcircuits, I guess most of your fans, friends and musicians would like to learn the instruments of your choice, im of course talking make and brand. Please elaborate individually!
Well my "main keyboard" as mentioned earlier is a Kurzweil K2600x. This is my master keyboard which forms the heart of my studio. I bought this because I wanted a keyboard that would let me build up a piece of music, track at a time, have a pretty advanced sequencer with comprehensive editing facilities and encompass a brilliant piano sound. I stepped up to this from a Roland D50, so the jump was significant – although I have yet to find a patch quite like 'Glass Voices' on anything since the Roland (D50 users will know what I mean!)
I am a little old fashioned in my approach to music and recording and whilst not an "instrument" as such I will mention that I record using an Akai DSP24 MKII hard disc recorder which is a fantastic bit of kit – I am often asked why I don't just use Cubase rather than the bespoke pieces of kit. The reason is that I just don't seem to get on with computers! (rant warning – clear the area of children) it's just that when I use one, there is always some problem or other – the screen freezes up for no apparent reason, the mouse doesn't work or the cursor dissappears, or some bit of software causes a confliction issue and needs some driver loading that takes you 3 days to find on google and then the next thing you know you have the blue screen of death and the old 'beginning physical dump' message on the screen - aaagghhh Perhaps one day when they have ironed out all the bugs...
So my preference is to use tangible pieces of kit that are designed for purpose – i.e. a real keyboard, a real recorder ..& a real ale.. or 2.
Other keyboards I use are my Memorymoog, a Roland V Synth GT, a Korg Polysix, ARP Axxe, Roland D50 and a Stylophone. I have Suitcase 88 Rhodes too, but she is in desperate need of a service & thats something that will have to wait!
11. I think your music is beautiful ("Journey of The Yak" and "Dark side of..") and very filmic (soundtrack-like if you will). I get pictures on the inner screen when hearing it! Is that on purpose or do you write and create music with no pretence or thoughts..regardless of what genre might be the outcome?!
Thank you very much Tonny – I am delighted you think so. I guess with instrumental music and only the track name to go on, the listener is free to imagine anything they like whilst absorbing the music. I have tried to create soundscapes or atmospheres which, for me at least, conjure the subject matter – this is more obvious with a track like 'Dearly Departed', and hopefully with the other tracks the listeners imagination will run away with the subject matter and take them off to wherever they want to go.
The track 'Jadis of Charn' is all about the character Jadis who folk will probably know better as the White Witch in the Narnia Chronicles. I re-read these a few years ago & putting the alagorical piece to one side, I enjoyed them as they brought back a lot of memories from reading them as a kid. I started to get interested in the Jadis character - particularly of her life pre-Narnia, as she came from a world called Charn which she completely devastated before finding her way into Narnia. There is very little on the web about her pre-Narnia existence - no-one that I can find seems to have written the "pre story" - so I thought I would have a crack at a small concept piece - the bell you hear at the begining of the track is the bell that is struck to wake her from her long slumber in the 1st book of the Chronicles & the rest of the track is a flashback of her life as Queen of Charn - I decided she wasn't always evil but becomes corrupt en route & this leads to the total devastation of that world - & as the track fades you can her one of her themes playing out on the church organ as no, she isn't dead ....
As to the genre – I never knowingly set out to create a piece of music in a particular style – It just seems that most of what I come up with seems to be categorised as Prog in some way shape or form. Although...I did once produce some sound and musical effects for the cartoon series 'Bananaman' and I guess you would be hard pressed to describe a 'ray gun' noise as "Progressive" eheh – ...oh I dunno though...
12. Have you ever contemplated a fourth member and here im thinking a lead guitarplayer?! Dont get me wrong, I think that the music are superb and delivered excellent! It just might give you more room to expand! Another dimension to your fine music! If NO please elaborate why?
Well Yak was originally a 4 piece with the guitar as you suggest and the 2 live albums (Does your Yak Bite? and The Rutland Chronicles) do feature Robin Hodder on the guitar quite heavily along with John Wynn on drums & Max Johnson on bass.
As you know, the original band split up way back in 1984 as basically the various band members got jobs and moved to different parts of the UK and so that was that. I still played in bands but not progressive ones – mainly doing the working mens club and pub circuits round east London, also for a band in the Harwich area. Then from about 1993 to 2003 I didn't really do anything musical as my work commitments were heavy and with the Animal Sanctuary we run at home there was little time.
I got back into playing in 2004 and released the first YAK album – I did it on my own purely because I had so little time to do it, I had to fit in with 10 minutes here an hour or so there and it would have been impossible to involve anyone else – let alone spend time rehearsing etc.
Then in 2007 I met Dave Speight via myspace and he expressed an interest in playing the new material I was streaming at the time. He was also playing for Peter Banks (ex-Yes) & Nick May (ex-the ENID) and when we met up I discovered he played electronic as well as acoustic drums. This meant I could record him at my place as whilst I have no facilities to record acoustic drums, electronic ones are simply a case of plugging the leads into the mixing desk.
I decided then to try and record 'Journey of the Yak' with Dave doing the drums. Dave introduced me to a pro bassist called Gary Bennett & he & Dave learned the material from demo MP3's and turned up to record note perfect. – so the recording process didn't take much time really and I could fit it in around work and the animals.
So with just the drums & bass down I was able to build up the multiple layers of keyboards you can hear on the album which create that "YAK" sound. This of course includes all the melodies & solo's. One particular keyboard patch I have developed, which started as a standard Kurzweil patch, is the 'guitar like' sound you can hear on most of the tracks on the album. I did not deliberately set out with a mandate to try & mimic a guitarist - although I know that's what a lot of people think. I do play the guitar a little & I do like to use the pitch wheels when playing a solo or melody on a keyboard and so when using that patch I guess I am thinking "guitar" as I play the notes on the keyboard. But this is only the same as when I use a Sax sound, I try & play like I think a Sax player would. At the end of the day I like that patch and I like playing the tunes and solos ...so it's a selfish thing really!
Not discounting a guitarist or 2 in the future though – particularly if we do live work, it will be a must !
13. I'm rather stunned/amazed that Yak (the band and music) isnt...ahem.. let me put it this way, more of a household name in progcircuits, you certainly deserve to be, why is that? You think??
Well that's very kind of you to say so. I guess at the end of the day its all about exposure. I was coming from absolutely nowhere when I privately released Yak's debut album "Dark Side of the Duck" in 2004 and how to promote it with no budget was the main issue! I set up a myspace page for Yak and also a main Yak website registering yaksongs.com as the domain.
Then I researched the web and found many websites and reviewers of "my kind of music" and I made contact with as many as would reply and send them demo copies of my work. Nearly all of them published favourable reviews which was great and the CD's started to sell - albeit slowly!
I think I sold about 100 copies of the first album, and about a dozen or 2 of the 2nd and 3rd albums which were released in '05 and '06. Admitably these two are not studio quality albums – they are Lo-Fi Jam Sessions, but do give people the chance to hear what the original band "sounded" like.
The latest album 'Journey of the Yak' has moved things up several notches as since its release in November '08 it has received excellent reviews on many many Prog review websites and this has helped push CD sales towards 600 to date raising a lot of cash for Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary which is where 100% of the CD cash goes.
Additionally I have been contacted & have made contact myself with a number of CD mail order companies who specialise in Progressive music and as a result, this album is being sold in the USA, France, the Netherlands, Wales, Scotland and even in a shop in Japan !
Things contue to improve on the recognition as YAK were reviewed favourably in issue 3 of the Classic Rock Presents PROG magazine and we featured on the CD that came out with issue 4. I have had quite a few orders for the album on the back of that which is great news. This Mag has a circulation of around 35,000 so featuring on the CD is a very good way of YAK being heard by the right audience.
We are also now looking at potentially gigging next year too – so hopefully as time goes by, Yak will become a little more well know on Prog Circuits.
14. I've learned that you donate money from the sales of all Yak (and related) albums to: Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary! Please tell us why and feel free to inform us of the THSAS institution/organisation.
Well this is a charity run by Fiona Oakes and it is quite different from similar animal sanctuaries for a number of significant reasons
Firstly – it is not run as a business – in other words Fiona is not doing this for a living. Nothing donated to the sanctuary goes on anything other than food for the rescued animals. So, all the running costs are met privately. The feed costs are £5300 a month. Vets and maintenance are extra.
Secondly there are no staff or volunteers – Fiona does all the work herself with my help at weekends. Given there are over 400 rescues that's a tall order.
Thirdly, the rescued animals are a mixture of domestic and ex-farm. With one man/woman band operations you tend to find that the focus is either one or the other – as farm animals live outside and domestic live inside. This is because you need to be outside to see to the farm animals and inside to see to the domestic animals such as dogs. Fiona has to do both – 36 horses, 50 Pigs, 5 Cows, 36 Sheep etc outside and in her house 35 elderly dogs so when she finishes the outside work she has to start on the inside work + the housework of course is essential to maintain hygienic standards. The dogs live in the house as they were all previously unwanted, on death row at dog pounds etc and mostly old and Fiona gives them a house environment for the winters of their lives. Kennels are no home for dogs in these circumstances.
Forthly, Fiona is an International Standard Marathon runner – a 2 hour 38 runner – that puts her in the top 10 females in the UK – to maintain this standard she runs 80-100 miles a week – imagine that on top of all the animal work ! She was the Essex Country Champion in 2007 and still holds the course record by over 11 minutes. She has come top 20 in London, and top 10 in Amsterdam, Florence and Berlin
Fifthly – Fiona used to ride a bike before she took up running – she represented the GB at the Barcelona Olympics in '92 – everything she does she does to the max
Sixthly – Fiona has a knee replacement – since the age of 17 – they said she would never walk...
Sevently – Fiona has been Vegan for 20 years – proving that this cruelty free diet is not prohibitive to performance in top level sport!
Eightly – Fiona is a Patron for another charity CAPS (Captive Animal Protection Society) and a spokesperson for IDA (In defence of Animals, the US organisation)
Ninthly – Fiona is a founder member of VITA the only animal rights organisation in Russia
and Tenthly – if you want to know more just google Fiona Oakes !
15. I think it is a very worthy cause and clearly shows that YAK (you) has a big heart (which also IMHO shines through in your great music). Do you feel that, these thing are connected? In other words...does a big heart/concern for animals and the environment etc. "mirror" in peoples creative output? In your case, composition and music performance/delivery??
Thanks again Tonny, glad you appreciate the cause and the efforts we put into both the sanctuary and the music ! I think it is down to the individual's ability to apply themselves – take Fiona as an example – she does whatever she turns her hand to to the max – she takes up cycling as a kid – gets to the Olympics in '92. She takes up running a few years ago – she becomes the Essex county Marathon champion a few years later & has plenty of top 10 international marathon finishes under her belt. All that & the poor girl has a knee replacement too. For my part, I try & do as much as I can & I try & lead a cruelty free lifestyle for the sake of the planet, the animals ...& my own sanity & well being. It maybe that these things do indeed feed into the creative process & ultimately the music & I guess if the music is appreciated and enjoyed then that's great, particularly if it leads people to become interested in the work we do at the Sanctuary and our lifestyle approach.
16. I hear Camel (the band) inspirations in many of the great themes on both " Dark Side of the.." and " Journey of the..." and thats a GREAT thing in my book (and I guess many a progfan whom is so lucky to have/heard the albums!)
Any comments on that?
Yes absolutely, Camel were and still are a big influence on my musical development – I don't know all their albums, but those I own I absolutely love. I think my favourites are the Latimer/Bardens period albums with the Snow Goose taking poll position. Flatteringly, some of the reviewers have likened my playing style to Pete Bardens which is a huge compliment as I think he was an inspirational player – to be likened is humbling.
17. On a personal note, let me just say that ive enjoyed both mentioned albums immensely, actually they have been sitting (on shift) in my stereo ever since they arrived to my study!! Thanx Martin for taking the time to do this interview and here´s your chance to tell friends, fans, our readers and not forgetting animal lovers (around the world) what´s on your mind?!
I am delighted you appreciate the music ! Regarding my mind, if you find it, please mail it back eheh – well actually it's spinning at the moment as I can reveal that YAK have been asked to play at a festival next year & clearly moving the music out of the studio to a live situation is going to take some doing. So we are thinking about how we might make it happen at the moment. Also, we had a photo shoot with the Classic Rock Presents PROG magazine last week and hope to be featured in a future issue, so that's' quite exciting news.
Also I am still trying to find the time to write & finish off other pieces of music I have started in the past few years, but as usual finding the time is proving impossible at the moment.
At the Sanctuary we have recently been awarded a couple of small grants to help with the building projets – new Pig houses & a winter shelter for the horses & slowly but surely the work that Fiona does is reaching a wider audience which is exactly what needs to happen as much greater levels of support are needed if we are to have a future. – remember, all sales of CD's from the YAK website go 100% towards the feed costs of the rescues - I cover the cost of the materials & postage myself, so I actually personally loose money on each one sold ! but the Sanctuary befefits to a much greater degree so thats fine with me.
18. Take care and keep up the excellent work, both musically and environment wise !! Looking very much forward to a new YAK release :-))
Thank you very much for talking to me Tonny and for your interest and appreciation in the music of YAK