1. Big Big Train is a great name, how did that come about?
My grandad was a railway man. I loved the stories of his time on the railways and consequently I ended up with lots of toy train sets when I was a kid. One of these was called The Big Big Train.
2. Do you find it important to be classified as a progband and /or do you see yourself as a progband? Or you couldnt care less about classification genre wise..as long as people recognize/like your music?!
We are not prog-deniers, and from the Gathering Speed album onwards we've released music which is recognisably within the prog genre. We have plenty of non-prog influences which helps to ensure that we have an original sound and gives our music crossover appeal but I don't have any problems in us being considered as a prog band and I think being labelled as such has helped us to reach out to an audience that likes our style of music.
3. Do you find cover art important? Please elaborate
We are seeking to create a strong link between the visuals that we use on our albums and our music. We work closely with an artist called Jim Trainer who is involved with the recordings at an early stage so that the artwork closely relates to the music and words. I think this approach has improved our CD sales as we are offering good music which is beautifully illustrated. Downloads just aren't the same.
4. Which comes first in your process of composing/creating music, the lyrics or the music?
That really depends on the individual song. I was on a train journey the other day and a whole set of lyrics came to me in a few moments - I just scribbled them down. Other times, the music leads the way. Quite often, the first thing I think of is a song title and that encourages me to write the music and words.
And secondly please tell about the writing process from scratch to demo and the final state the recording/studio sessions!?
We have our own studio and work in a very organic way. We'll start with a very basic demo and then build up the arrangements. When the song reaches an advanced enough stage we go into Rob Aubrey's studio to record the drum parts. Then we bring them back to our studio to finish them off. Quite often, parts of the original demo end up on the final recording. If they sound good, then they can make it all the way through the recording process onto the album.
5. Which bands/artists/genre would you name as your inspirational source? Please elaborate and individual perspectives would be great.
We have a wide range of influences. Genesis, King Crimson and PFM are probably the most important ones and, more recently, a Danish band, Mew, and an Icelandic band called Sigur Ros have become very influential on the band's music. Alongside those more progressive influences, we also draw inspiration from Elbow, XTC, Prefab Sprout and English folk music. All of these influences, and others, go into our writing melting-pot and makes our music sound distinctive. Discovering the music of Sigur Ros and Mew was very important to me. They come at prog from a different direction altogether and have helped us to develop a new style of writing.
6. The Mellotron, has become an icon..a pseudonym to great music in progmusic circuits. whats your thoughts on that and the particular instrument?
We are huge fans of the Mellotron. The distinctive, eerie sound that it makes played a big part in the development of the prog-rock style in the early 70's. Nowadays, it forms part of a whole library of sounds that we use, but it's still an important element of our sound. I was working on a song with a big ending the other day, and had to call up a Tron choir sound...sometimes, nothing else will do.
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!?
To me, the writing and recording side of things is far more important. It gives us a chance to leave behind something of permanent significance. Gigs can be amazing, but they are ephemeral. At the moment, we have young kids and other commitments and only have a limited time for the band and we have decided to concentrate on studio work. However, we are keen to perform live again so priorities may change in the future.
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!
The Beatles covered an astounding amount of territory in such a short period of time. Even today, some of their albums sound challenging and interesting. However, it's really difficult to separate out the threads of the development of prog. What would In the Court of the Crimson King have sounded like without the Beatles? Or Days of Future Passed? Those are impossible questions to answer.
9. In a given concert, with you BIG BIG TRAIN headlining, whom or which band/artist would you most like/love to see on that imaginative event/ poster! Please feel free to name several!
If I had a time machine, I'd like BBT to go back and be on the six bob tour with Genesis and Van Der Graaf Generator. If it was one of today's bands, it would have to be Mew.
10. In this day and age of progcircuits, I guess most of your fans, friends & musicians would like to learn the instruments of your choice, im of course talking make and brand. Please elaborate individually!
Andy got a Rickenbacker bass last year which we used on the English Boy Wonders re-release and The Underfall Yard. I cannot imagine that we would ever use a different bass, it's a beautiful instrument. I've been using a fairly cheap Epiphone Les Paul copy in the last few years. It plays and sounds great. We've just bought an American-built Fender Telecaster, though, so that may become my main guitar. As for acoustics, I use Takamine 6, 12 and nylon string guitars. David is a multi-instrumentalist and uses loads of different things. His main guitar is a customized Telecaster and he also has a lovely Rickenbacker 360 6-string guitar. He also plays a Fender mandolin and a Takamine 12-string acoustic, amongst lots of other things.
11. Congrats on the release (out the 15th Dec.) of the new album! I find it very interessting (I think it is wonderful!)The former album was great too, but a bit on the heavier side (to my ears) in its approach, this new outing is quite on the mellow side overal, with some more bombastic theme´s, is that on purpose or is it just the way things turned out?
I don't think it's a good idea to try to write an album in a certain style, so it's very much a question of what comes out of the writing sessions. The Difference Machine showcased the more experimental side of our music, whilst The UnderfallYard is more of a song-based album. Most of the next album is already written but we won't know the direction that the album takes until we hear the songs together.
12. The new singer is absolutely brilliant, a superb mix of Hogarth (Marilion) and Collins & Gabriel, but also with his very own special timbre!! Where and how did you find him? What did you look for, in a new singer? I guess you had an audition?!
David is a superb singer and a huge asset for the band. Sean Filkins was an excellent vocalist but we were looking for someone with the quality of voice that could help take the band on to the next level. We first heard about him when Rob Aubrey contacted us after he recorded David for Martin Orford's The Old Road album. Rob felt that David would be perfect for BBT. So we had a listen and offered David the job. Martin Orford really helped out in introducing everyone to each other so we owe him a lot of thanks.
13. This fine new album boast prominent guests such as Dunnery, D´Virgilio, Gregory and Godfrey. How did that come about? Dont get me wrong I think it is great! But please do tell why and how!?
Well, Nick played on The Difference Machine as well and is a good friend. I would describe him now as a permanent guest, we wouldn't want to work without him as he is, quite simply, one of the best drummers in the world. The other guests were selected as we felt they could contribute something significant to the album. We were aware that Jem was a fan of Big Big Train and when we realised we needed a powerful keyboard solo we could think of no-one else we would rather turn to. He turned in two stunning performances for us. Francis was a big influence when the band first started out - It Bites were the biggest new prog band at the time and Francis was the most exciting guitarist I'd ever seen live, so I very much wanted to involve him. As for Dave Gregory, well, we have long been fans of XTC and admirers of his work and he's been on our list of musicians we'd like to work with for many years, but we were too shy to ask him. It turned out that he was a good friend of David's, and was very interested in playing for BBT. He turned in a number of beautiful guitar solos and other parts for the album and has become a big feature of our sound.
14. "The Underfall Yard" tells interesting (true?) story´s, please elaborate on the original idea?!
The title track is a long piece of music, so I was able to weave a number of themes together. The main story in the song is about the life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel who is one of the greatest of the Victorian engineers and one of my heroes. The song also expresses my concerns about the state of western society at the present time. We seem, to me, to be heading into an almost post-rational age with the rise of fundamental religious movements, the belief in creationism and other such nonsense. Brunel and his work is used as a contrast against this post-rational way of thinking. There is also a geological theme running through the song.
15. Are you, the original Big Big Train members selftaught or classical trained? Please elaborate individually if possible!
We're mostly self-taught. I took classical guitar lessons for a number of years but gave up to concentrate on song-writing. I found the playing ok, but the sight-reading was difficult when I was taking my exams.
16. Do you think that social politics are an item that fits your music or the genre overall? Do you care? Or is it that music (like sports) are or should be non political!?
I'm very wary about using songs to talk about politics. The title track of The Underfall Yard is about as far as I go. The political stuff I pick up in songs is often very obvious; war is hell, poverty is bad, we're wrecking the world sort of stuff. It's difficult to disagree with any of it but I don't find it very thought-provoking or well thought-out. There is also a lot of obvious anti-American sentiment in some songs and I think that's a bit crass. I'm more interested in telling stories in songs these days. Sometimes there's a message in the stories, but buried deep.
17. What´s new? Any new plans? Solo albums or tour´s? Would touring include the guest musicians? I guess the latter is a matter of schedules and contracts!?
If we tour, it'll definitely be with Nick and Dave. Jem has a huge work schedule and Francis is based in the States, so it is less likely they will be in the live line-up. At the moment, we're working on lots of new material for the next album which will be called English Electric. We have a download single coming out early next year which includes a cover version of an Anthony Phillips song and David is also working on his second solo album.
18. Big Big Train, now with six albums to its name, has developed, changed and truly progressed from album to album! Is that important? I mean, of course it is important to develop as musicians and you surely have, but is it important to you ..that the final "picture" changes from one album to another? Or is it, that the process of creating / composing / recording naturally finds its way from scratch to the final outcome?
Gathering Speed had a slightly retro sound and was more appealing to prog fans and that is the album that helped to start building a bigger audience for us. It would have been tempting to do another retro sounding CD with lots of 12-strings, but the following album, The Difference Machine was very different and The Underfall Yard is different again. None of this was pre-planned, it really depends on what we've written at any point in time. I think where we have got better is with the quality of our writing - I think it's pretty good now. And we've surrounded ourselves with talented musicians who can make those songs even more special.
19. The English Electric Recordings, ive learned, are your very own label! How did that come about? As to the why? I think mostly everyone in progcircuits know its about independence.. but please do tell!
We were originally signed up to IQ's label, GEP. We released a couple of albums through them and then the band almost fell apart before we started up on our own. After Gathering Speed, we started to sell much larger numbers of CD's, so we felt it was appropriate to set up our own label, English Electric Recordings. At the moment, the label is all about Big Big Train music but I don't rule out expanding and signing up other bands. Becoming an independent band was the best thing that ever happened to us. We can do what we like, when we like and the income generated from sales comes directly back to us rather than to a label which keeps most of the profits.
20. Here´s your chance/ opportunity to tell your friends, fans and our readers, what is on your mind.
At the moment, I'm hungry and thirsty and thinking about a nice Chicken Jalfrezzi and a beer.
"Thanx so very much Greg for taking the time to do this interview!!"