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Topic ClosedInterview with Alan Reed of Pallas, June 2008

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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Interview with Alan Reed of Pallas, June 2008
    Posted: June 08 2008 at 15:25
PA: First and foremost, thank you for granting ProgArchives this interview. I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say that it is indeed a pleasure. Why don't we first start off with what Pallas are currently up to and when we can expect a new album?

ALAN: We're in "Research  and development" mode for the next album, where raw ideas are tossed around, destruction-tested, and gradually metamorphose into finished tracks.  We're a bit behind schedule.   Last year - though starting positively - was effectively lost to various non-band diversions; deaths, illnesses, families.  We're now playing catch-up.  Although I'm pretty sure you can already download the next album via several torrent sites (laughs).

PA: Does Pallas have another concept album in them?

ALAN: I'm sure we have one IN us; more a question of whether we want to get it OUT (laughs).  Since 'The Sentinel' we've always fought shy of trying to do a blatant 'concept' piece.  Personally I've always felt that's a stylistic convention whose time has come and gone.  However, there's always a tug that way in the writing process, and we've certainly thrown a few ideas in that direction around.  Never say never!!

PA: I have appreciated the way Pallas has sort of re-invented their sound from release to release. Each album has it's own personality and they definitely don't repeat. How will Pallas progress from The Dreams Of Men to the follow-up?

ALAN: 
While Pallas is hardly the most experimental or groundbreaking band in the world, we do pride ourselves on trying not to repeat ourselves.   Every album has been deliberately different, without hopefully losing sight of the essence of what we do.  It's never clear until we're finished quite what the "difference" will be each time round.  We set off in one direction, but ultimately the music finds its own flavour.   I think the most profitable thing we've learnt over the years is to let the music have its head.  You can go counter-intuitive to some effect in the name of experimentation, but ultimately if it feels right it probably is.  This time round there are several areas we can explore without it sounding like we've become a totally different band - though I think Graeme's vetoed anything that involves a horn section.  Which is a shame cause, Niall and Ron have discovered a mean take on the Glen Miller sound!!

PA:
During a recent thread about The Dreams Of Men on ProgArchives, one of the adjectives used to describe the overall tone was 'aggressive' in sound. There did seem to be a grittiness with songs like "Warriors" and "Mr. Wolfe" that diverted a little bit from previous albums. What sparked that in the band?

ALAN:
  We always were on the heavier end of the Britprog spectrum.  In fact I have seen us described as 'Heavy Metal in disguise"!   Pallas has always been a band that rocked - in the wider sense of the word.  There's always been a 'soul'  and a passion to what we do, especially live, that is more akin to the way bands like Purple and Zep functioned than it is to the more considered approach of say Genesis for example.  But it's not always been obvious from our recorded work, so we were keen to capture a bit more of that with "Dreams'.   In fact, one of the things we've been experimenting with is writing and recording as a live band.  The working title of our next album was initially "Project Machine Head".   But I think adding the banjo and mandolin has put paid to that as an accurate model (laughs).

PA: And, correct me if I'm wrong, but "Warriors" sounds as if it was Pallas' response to 9/11.

ALAN:  Well, it's not exactly that subtle is it?   Actually, the finished lyric has been widened out a bit to try and get at a more universalised questioning of what makes suicide attackers tick (and er.. go bang!).  Graeme's original set of words were exclusively descriptive of the Trade center attack - but I felt that it needed to be less specific so that it touched on wider themes - hopefully to avoid it being too mawkish , or indeed quickly dated.  So I re-worked it a bit.  I think the point was proved when the London bombers struck just as we were putting finishing touches to the album.  It meant the track had a wider relevance to that and to other situations.  New York was not the first place to suffer a suicide attack, and it won't be the last.   For example. it's a daily threat if you happen to live in downtown Baghdad.

PA: With that aggressiveness came a more tender side, ending with the beautiful "The Last Angel" punctuated by opera singer Pandy Arthur. Any more surprises you'd care to divulge, or is it too early?

ALAN:  I think I've given away too much already, but who'd have thought that bluegrass musicians find it difficult to play in 5/4?  

PA: Now, on to Neo. I won't spend a lot of time on this, but what a fun project with which you were involved. I'm assuming you didn't have to ponder it for very long before agreeing, eh?

ALAN:  Well the cheque had the right number of zeroes on it (laughs).  To be honest, I'm still not sure quite how NEO came about.  (John) Jowitt initially approached me with something else in mind, which sounded a bit of a giggle - but that didn't come to pass.  Instead he came back with another idea for a sort of Britprog supergroup which sounded like fun.  It's funny, but we all meet eachother at festivals etc and have a gossip, but it's the first opportunity we'd ever had to play together.  It seemed too good an opportunity to pass up..

PA:
To these eyes, it seemed like Neo was just about some proggers getting together and jamming. No pressure, just a lot of fun. You tackled Pallas material (naturally), but a highlight for me was your interpretation of Arena's "The Hanging Tree". Is singing another band's material refreshing in a way?

ALAN: I think it had to be that way.  If we'd taken it seriously, then egos would have got fired up and we'd all have been trying to take control.  Instead it really was just about having fun, and coming out of our comfort zones a little and finding out what it was like to play eachother's music.  What makes a band isn't just about the musical skills of the individual members.  It's about a shared vision and a chemistry.  NEO's chemistry was very different to Pallas', and it was quite strange performing Pallas material with NEO.  They played similar notes, but what came out felt different.  Which was interesting and refreshing.  The real challenge for me was singing stuff from the other bands.  I think I was least familiar with the Arena stuff, and I approached 'Hanging Tree" quite differently from the original.  For one thing I sang the verses in a higher register.  The point was to do it our own way, rather than re-create the originals (otherwise what would be the point).  I knew that I'd be judged against the original recordings, but I think (hope) I got away with it:-)   Maybe I'll get to tackle a few others in the future.

PA: Are there any plans for a Neo studio album and would you consider being involved, or are you guys going to leave Neo in the spirit in which it was created: very loose and free?

ALAN:
No immediate plans for an album, though various ideas have been floated.  I think it needs to stay as a fairly vague and nebulous concept in order to function - and it certainly comes a poor second to our various main commitments.  Actually NEO may become an open and revolving door to include various other personnel.   Eventually all Britprog musos may be required to join NEO, and all the bands will just be variations of the NEO line-up (laughs).  We'll need a bloody big stage when we all get together though!! 

I'm actually toying with the idea of a band just made up of us under-appreciated and marginalized vocalists.   I'll play guitar, Andy Sears can do keyboards, Tina Magenta can play drums, and we'll get Fish in on vocals.

PA: And lastly before we dive into the new DVD, would you be interested in forming a prog supergroup like Transatlantic or Neo? If so, who would you like to work with?

ALAN: It might sound weird given what I've just said about NEO, but I think it would be refreshing to work outside 'the usual suspects'.  There are a number of people I'd be intrigued to work with, but I'm not sure I'd do it just for the sake of creating such a monster.  I like the chemistry of Pallas.  We are truly a band.  I'm not sure where else I'd get that spark, though I do love working with other people. 

PA:
2008 gives us Moment To Moment, a live concert filmed in Katowice, Poland, your first visit to that country. Did that put an extra pressure on the band?

ALAN:
Not really - not any more than knowing all our mistakes were being immortalised on video!!!   Obviously you have to factor in a language barrier (tho we have that with most English-speaking countries anyway), and an unfamiliar environment.  But we were very much focused on having a good show.  I'd already been to that venue the year before with NEO, so I knew pretty much what to expect.  The rest of the band were willing to trust my judgement on this one, and we had a cracking night. 

PA:
There are a couple of occasions where you're trying to evoke some feedback from the very, shall we say, 'mellow' audience. Your skills paid off and the crowd really came to life.

ALAN:  Well you can't exactly hear it on the DVD, but from where I was standing that audience was up for it from the start.  They clearly wanted to have a good time, and with a bit of guidance they went for it big-time.  We enjoy having fun with an audience and involving them where possible.   If you hit it right you get into this feedback loop where the more the crowd is into it, the better you play, the better they respond, the more fun the band has etc etc.  On a good night it's like having sex with a thousand people (though obviously not as potentially embarrassing the next morning).

PA:
What did you come away with as a result of your visit to Poland?

ALAN: (1) A couple of thousand Zloty and the phone number of a really good plumber!!  (2) Cold sores and an almighty hangover?   (3) A reinvigorated sense of what Pallas is about and (consequently) rather a good DVD.

PA: Why do you think it took so long for Pallas to perform in Poland?

ALAN:  I'm not sure really.  We just weren't connected with the right people I guess.  It's taken Poland joining the European Union to really open things up.  Also when we were previously asked we weren't in  a position to do it.

PA:  To somebody unfamiliar with Pallas but considering getting this DVD, what would you say to them to urge them to 'take the plunge'?

ALAN: I think I'd say that it's the perfect way to catch the essence of what Pallas are about.  I'd particularly challenge those who have fixed ideas about what the 80's crop of Britprog bands are about to watch it with an open mind.  What they'll see is a BAND firing on all cylinders.   If they still don't like us, then they're probably a lost cause.


PA: There are a lot of things about Pallas that I find to be pretty cool. One of the big reasons why is your continued friendship with original singer, Euan Lowson. A lot of bands sever ties with former bandmates; however, Pallas have welcomed him with open arms. You've even acknowledged him on the liner notes of the new DVD. The friendship between Euan and the band seems very genuine.

ALAN: For a very long time it was anything but friendly!!   Euan left Pallas under a cloud and relations were not good.  I made a point of going out for a pint with him in Aberdeen just as I joined so I could get his side of the story - so we at least knew we had no axe to grind with eachother (I'd been a fan of the band beforehand anyway, so I couldn't exactly take a stance against Euan's contribution).  But years passed and gradually people were able to talk to one another again.  In fact it was me who suggested he join us onstage when we recorded 'The Blinding Darkness' DVD.  His contribution to the band was significant and it seemed important to recognise that somehow.  I think it's been interesting how that's continued sporadically ever since.  We're very different performers and I've never felt threatened by him joining us onstage.  It's been great for me to see again the (quite different) band that I first got into.

Pallas is a family - and you can argue and fall out, but you can never entirely leave.  Another example is keys player Mike Stobbie, who was an original member, replaced Ronnie in the late 80's, and has covered for him sporadically from time to time ever since.  

PA: One of your bandmates from Neo has been very outspoken concerning the illegal downloading of recorded material. As a fan, I'm extremely concerned, so I can't imagine what you and your colleagues are going through. Thoughts?

ALAN: That's a tough one.  The economics of the business are changing and that's inescapable.  The model by which it was possible for bands like us to survive is now  being stretched to breaking point.   There's always been leakage of material to 'bootlegging" of one sort or another, but a tipping point has been reached where the illegal downloads now appear to outnumber legal sales by a considerable factor. There's an aggressive downloading community who torrent our (and everyone else's) stuff before it's even officially released.  That is really challenging our ability to recoup our basic costs, let alone make any money.  It also feels like a slap in the face for all the time, effort and love we put into what we do.  We operate in a small niche market which is particularly vulnerable to the effects of such behaviour, and it's difficult to see how we can effectively fight back.

I don't pretend to know what the answer is.  I do know that it's much harder to make the sums add up.

PA: What steps are Pallas taking to ensure that their music ends up in the hands of those who legitimately purchase your music and no one else?

ALAN: We're investigating ways of providing our own direct download service, but it's difficult to find a system that will do any more than briefly inconvenience the pirates.  I think what angers me most is finding sites that claim to offer our music for free download legally, when it's not;   Or even worse I found one the other day that offered our albums for an insignificant amount, giving the impression that the customer was buying them legitimately.  No doubt they hoover up pennies from thousands of albums and that gives them a decent payday.  We'll never see a bean.  Site was based in Russia, unsurprisingly. 

Maybe it's time to give up and just record stuff for our own amusement on our laptops!!!

PA: In closing, any messages you want to pass on to your fans?

ALAN: We are indebted to you for your faith and appreciation.  Having an audience to play to makes it worthwhile.  Otherwise we're just w**king in the dark.

PA: Alan, it's been great chatting with you and I can't wait to see what the future holds for Pallas. Best of luck!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 08 2008 at 15:59
Fantastic interview e-dub.Clap
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 08 2008 at 18:01
Yeah, Alan is his usual very clever self- but to make things clear - the audience on the night of 31st October in Katowice was not exactly THAT mellow, i sat there - just watch the DVD of Oliver Wakeman's Band, who played before Pallas and ask Alan about how long did audience stay after Caamora's performance....
 
Oliver Wakeman was more clearly amplified, played more rocky and gained a lot of applause and feedback from the audience, whereas Pallas was much more louder but not that clear - everyone was struggling to be heard - Niall had to be loud, so had Ronnie and Graeme, the drums were as usual loud and how did you expect us to scream to that. The songs were also very tense and the Pallas provided us with a lot of back catalogue, albums like Arrive Alive or Beat the Drum, fairly unknown in Poland, whereas from the great album The Cross And The Crucible we were provided with the worst track The Midas Touch. Given all the circumstances please do not wonder why we did not respond with much enthusiasm to the simple track like Arrive Alive....
yet you still have time!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 08 2008 at 18:14
And Alan cleared that up in his response.

E
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 08 2008 at 20:41
Very nice indeed Clap

A band I need to hear apparently! Checking their page out now.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 09 2008 at 02:07
Nice one, Eric. Clap

Now let's make sure Jim reads this as well....Wink
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 09 2008 at 07:34
I just have - excellent interview Greg ; Alan Reed's obviously an intelligent, articulate & frequently humourous interviewee - I loved his summation of what Pallas got out of their Polish visit:

Quote A couple of thousand Zloty and the phone number of a really good plumber!!


Nice one Greg!

Jon Lord 1941 - 2012
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