Hello, Mick. How are things with you?
At the moment it’s a cold winter. All the gigging is finished. All the work for the album is finished. So I’m a bit useless at the moment. I promised myself I’d have a rest at the end of the year, but now that I’m doing that I feel completely redundant.
It has to be interesting since you started recording “The Judas Table” at the beginning of the year, right?
I started on the demos in January. I jumped straight from the demos into the album. I jumped straight from the album to the tour. So yes, it’s been going on since January.
As far as “The Judas Table” goes, how do you compare it to the rest of the catalog? Was it easier or harder to do this album?
In some ways it was easier and in some ways it was harder. It was easier because I set myself a very simple brief … just get the fucking album recorded and don’t dither, don’t over-think things. It was the shortest period in any Antimatter album from recording the first demos to having the album released, which was 9 months. That’s never happened before, but with that came the intense stress and pressure. But for me I was turning 40 this year, so I’m not fucking around too much this time, I had the album in my head – just spit it out and get it done. Don’t try to be too progressive this time. That’s the key word at the moment.
It is popular nowadays to be progressive.
At the moment, it is. For me the progressive thing was something I brought into the fold in 2002 when I was doing my demos for the Lights Out album, where I felt the work on Saviour was kind of basic… it didn’t really meander too much. And with me being a big prog rock fan since I was a teenager with ‘Close to the Edge’ and ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’, I wanted things to meander, which is what I started doing with ‘Everything You Know Is Wrong’. So from that point onwards… and that was before it was in vogue to be ‘prog’, as everything is ‘prog’ now, and one thing quite worrying I’ve noticed lately is that something is judged, it’s merits are judged on how progressive it is, or not, which I think is wrong.
It is wrong. My own definition of progressive is more broad. It should just challenge the listener. Maybe “The Judge Table” is less progressive than previous albums but then something like “Stillborn Empires” takes this left turn…
Absolutely. It has this false end, and then it jumps tracks. That said, “Stillborn Empires” and “Black Eyed Man” kind of wrote themselves. There was nothing I could do, so I wasn’t going to change them to suit my original brief. But my original brief was certainly not to take every single song and then send the whole album off on tangents. But like I say, it’s wrong to judge something on how progressive or not progressive it is. You need to have a good song. It’s all about the song, it’s all about the piece of music, and not the style you wrap it up in.
That is so true!
I wanted to fly in the face of the thing at the moment where everyone is trying to be prog, and everyone is trying to jump on that bandwagon to wave hello to the established prog audience and hope they get a few more listeners, I wanted to piss directly in the face of that! Do my own thing. After years of having a prog rock song here or a prog rock song there, that’s one thing where “The Judas Table” differs from the rest of the catalog… I tried to make it simple as possible to let the song and lyric shine through.
It really does need to be about the song. I don’t care about how many bells or whistles you add to a song, it should be about the song. If a song is meant to take a certain direction within it, it will take that direction naturally and not be forced. Just saying your prog doesn’t you prog. Even if you have stripped it down, if you are prog, you can’t hide it.
Absolutely. There’s a lot of stuff happening within an Antimatter album. If you take “The Judas Table,” there’s a classic rock vein, a progressive rock vein, you’ve got a folk thing happening, a synthpop thing, gothic rock, metal. Some parts of “Stillborn Empires” sound almost … doom. There’s so much wrapped up in there. None of that is forced. Each song had to be that particular way because I could feel that’s the way it was going during the writing process. So yeah, it’s a mixed bag, and if you wanna call it “progressive rock,” that’s as good a tag as any because I can’t thing of how to tag Antimatter.
That’s the challenge of describing Antimatter which is one reason I am draw to the music. It’s dark but not an evil dark, just the vibe.
Yeah, I’ve been through a lot of phases. I was only thinking the other day that my very first music as a kid, was Motown, when I used to pick out my mums old Motown 45s. Then after that, the music of my era in 1982-82 in the UK was synthpop, so Ultravox kinda got me then. And then as I’ve grown and progressed as a person I’ve been in and out of little fads of music, different genres. As an adult now, I’m celebrating every style of music that I’ve ever listened to because it’s all still inside of me, and its just popping out here and there. And I’m not trying to get into any established scene, which is why I allow any song to be what it wants to be. I’m not trying to crawl into any established thing.
You had mentioned that some of these songs are kinda old. And you have an archive in your HEAD! “Hole” is from 2002? How can you remember these songs?
(laughs) I think that if a song is strong enough, I’ll never forget it. Once I come up with it, there’s no reason for me to make a recording because I’ll come up with a piece and then come back to it in a few weeks to round it off. I guess maybe it’s a different part of the brain that remembers THIS than that remembers the more important things, like filing the tax return which I forgot to do last year, or doing the dishes, which forget to do every night, or forgetting peoples birthdays… I’m a very forgetful person, but for some reason that part of my brain that is responsible for holding onto songs that I’ve written works actually very, very well.
How much of the song is locked away in your brain?
Well “Hole” for example was completely written and finished in 2003. That was completely done. But when it came to “The Judas Table,” I had said that I wanted to take a song and let it “tick’’, and “Hole” was a great example for that. I was able to tack on an extra 90 seconds to that song where I just repeated the riff, the motif. “Black Eyed Man” was written. “Comrades” was written. Maybe I added a Middle 8 to ‘’Comrades’’ this year. But when a song is written, it’s written. It stays there in the head. Then when it comes to constructing the album or the demos, I will add maybe a small percentage.
One song you said you had a fight with, but I don’t recall why you wanted to leave “Can of Worms” off the album. Was it the arrangement or was it just being an asshole?
(laughs) I think it was just being an asshole. I got to a point where, it was that kinda pre-chorus section… no matter how many times I tried to nail it, I just couldn’t nail it. And it was causing me real distress. In the end, I thought ‘’why would you leave this off the album? The chorus is so strong. The lyric really resonates. So let’s just put it back in and do it’’. I still don’t think I got the pre-chorus quite right. But it’s important…the lift in the chorus works so well due to the pre-chorus, so all’s well that ends well.
I do love that song so I am glad it made the album!
Yeah, me too. It’s a really good song. It so strengthens the setlist to play “Can of Worms” live, so I am very happy that I left it in.
The theme of “The Judas Table” is betrayal. Was it easy for you to revisit the past? Was it cathartic?
I don’t think it hurt me to go over anything. The original hurt has already been and gone, all I’m doing at the moment is dealing with the memory of it. I was saying recently that I really don’t want it to be cathartic. I don’t want to just spit it out and be done with it. I’ve got a lot to learn, and I have learned a lot. And my future self can learn a lot from a lot of the subjects I covered. So I would actually prefer to keep revisiting these songs mentally, and never forget how I’ve let certain mindsets control my emotions.
How is it singing them? Are there any that you wouldn’t sing live on a personal level?
To be honest, when I am playing live, I am lost in the moment more than analyzing each lyric coming out of my mouth, so I kinda go into a zone. I’m just singing the song. Occasionally, a lyric does come out and I’ll remember what triggered that lyric. But I get a sense of elation when that does happen because it reminds me how far I’ve come from that original incident, whatever caused me to feel the pain to write the lyric, that caused me to write the song, that caused me to make the album, that caused me to stand on stage. I feel a sense of elation that I’ve turned around something so negative to something so positive.
Even though it’s something so personal, it’s easy to identify as a listener with these lyrics. Everyone has had these things happen to them.
I’ve always known that about this particular album, that it would hit home for most of the people who took the time to analyze the lyrics. I’m singing about my experiences, but I’m singing about everybody’s experiences as well. Because we’re all thrown in this soup of other human beings, and we’re all learning to deal with other people and in the process getting stabbed in the back a few times. So we’ve all been through it. Lyrics like from “Can of Worms,” I laughed to myself how at many guys would understand it. Or from “Integrity,” “what’s the point if nobody has any?” There are so many things in there that people can say “wow, that’s my life!”
I was going to mention “Integrity” and that line. I love how direct that line is.
I’m very proud of that one. You put all this effort into trying to do the right thing while it seems that everyone around you … that’s not their priority.
Who are some of your influences not just musically but vocally?
While I was growing up I was always drawn to that deep, baritone voice with vibrato. Like I said, some of the earliest music I listened to was Motown, which had that soulful thing happening. And then as I got older, the voices that really reached out and got me was Tracy Chapman, Richie Havens, and Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane… and that vibrato she used which was out of this world. I was always attracted to that gravely voice. I think when I am singing, I probably feel Tracy Chapman coming through the most.
As far as musically, who influenced you?
Going through the ages, the first album I owned was Ultravox. That got hammered when I was a kid, about 8 or 9 years old. So synthpop. After that I got into Maiden, which then took me onto thrash, and then death metal like Obituary, Death and Celtic Frost. But then someone close to me died, so I couldn’t stomach the kind of imagery that was coming through in the lyrics. But by that time I had already started the journey back to where metal had come from. So that took me back to Sabbath and Zeppelin. And that threw me back to the San Francisco scene of the late 60s. That was the big one. I stewed in that for a few years and then prog rock. I think prog rock was the final thing that burst the can open. After prog rock, I no longer declared myself a particular fan of any one genre. I now just listen to anything that lights me up inside regardless of where it comes from.
As far as Antimatter goes, since it is now a one man project, do you find it easier that way versus collaborating?
I’m not sure that it’s any easier or harder. I’ve just done it for so long now that I don’t know any different. When me and Duncan worked together, what we were doing was basically tacking 2 self penned EPs together. For some reason it worked. But I’m sure that at some point Duncan was like ‘’grrrrrr, if only I could control the other half of this album…’’ and maybe at some point I thought ‘’well, maybe I would have done THAT differently’’. By the time “Leaving Eden” came around, all I had to do was write twice as much material. So the process is longer. Is it any easier or harder? I have absolutely no idea! It’s just normal now.
So you had said that you had two albums in your head ready to go. Is that correct?
In terms of new albums, as in stuff I would say ‘’yes, this is the next Antimatter album’’ I have no music. What I do have in my head is maybe 25 songs that haven’t made it onto albums in the past. So they are still there. I’m wondering what I will do with those, will any make it onto a future album or will I do sort of a special release? These are songs that didn’t get to be born yet. As it stands, moving forward, I have a specific concept for the next Antimatter album of which none of those songs fit. So what I want to move on cannot possible encompass any of those unrecorded songs because they don’t fit the concept that I want to do next. So I have the concept but I don’t have any music. I’ve kind of got a clean slate there. But it is indeed true what you said, I do have at least 2 albums worth of material in my head at the moment.
They are jigsaw pieces that just don’t fit the next puzzle basically.
Yeah, I know what I want to do. I know what I want to say next but none of these songs say what I want to say next.
Odds are you will remember them for another 10 years!
Unless I take an almighty wallop to the head! (laughs) How much music has died because of something like that! What about people like myself who have things already written in their head, those songs exist but they only exist within the framework of somebody’s mind. “Yeah, I’ll record them next week.” How many of these songs died when the head died?
So you need to not get hit by a bus! That’s the moral to this story. Look both ways, Mick, look both ways!
I got hit by a car when I was a kid so I do that!
Thank you, Mick for taking the time to talk with me!