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Topic ClosedInterview W/ Andy Tillison of The Tangent Jun08

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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Interview W/ Andy Tillison of The Tangent Jun08
    Posted: June 10 2008 at 19:04
I had the chance to talk with the mastermind behind bands such as The Tangent and Parallel or 90 Degrees, none other than Mr. Andy Tillison himself about The Tangent's latest release, "Not As Good As The Book" and other related matters.


ProgArchives: You just finished your tour with Beardfish and Ritual, can you give us a little bit of insight into that?

Andy Tillison: It was great! I certainly enjoyed myself. I had a fantastic time – I really like both the other bands – I’ve liked Ritual for years anyway, I first went to see them in 1998 or something like that. So that was ten years ago, I’ve had all their records for a long time now. Beardfish of course were new to me and I really like them, smashing people! All in all the three bands got on really well and we just had a really happy time around Europe.

The only sad thing is that there weren’t enough people to see these bands. Which is becoming a problem for a lot of bands on tour nowadays – There simply aren’t enough people to pay the wages, if you see what I mean. And it’s a shame with these new bands, The Tangent’s quite well known and Ritual is certainly well known but Beardfish is an up and coming band with good reviews all over the place and simply not enough people came. So that’s the sad part, but the great part is that we enjoyed ourselves! So there you go.

PA: About the new record – could you tell us a little bit about where you were going with the idea behind the book and the whole album?

AT: Well the album itself, it’s about being middle aged really. It’s about finding yourself in a part of life that nobody writes songs about, if you see what I mean. A great deal of rock and roll history and rock music and pop music is usually directed towards the feelings of younger people. But that’s really because the music industry has matured and it’s gotten to a point where there’s still people my age around and writing songs. I thought I’d like to write about things that effect me, problems that affect my life and the problems that affect the people that are buying these records. Y’know, the people who are 50 years old, or 40. [He laughs] I guess I’m not writing for 18-year-olds anymore.

At the same time I’m not writing nostalgic stuff, because of the fact that this is kind of my first time… it’s a funny situation – people like me and Roine Stolt are kind of odd people in that we’re writing our current material now whereas people like Yes or David Bowie or Pink Floyd are putting out their “Greatest Hits” from many many years ago. And we’re doing it now. [He Laughs] This is where we’ve done our best stuff and of course this is where we have to approach it from. We’re mature men, or women, and we’re essentially putting out points of view of how we see the world.

The record itself… all the songs are linked, they’re about how mid-life effects us and some of the problems we experience and some of the disappointments of growing a bit older and some of the great revelations! I linked the songs together after I’d written the album by writing a book that went with it. So a lot people assume that the book came first and that I wrote an album about the book, because that’s how it’s usually done. But really it’s the other way around – I wrote a book about the album [He laughs], so that’s how it really all ties together.

PA: At what point did you think, “oh yeah, I’m going to write a book!” Was this planned or did it just come to you one day?

AT: Yeah, I was sitting in a Jacuzzi actually [he laughs] and I thought it would be a good idea. It started off with me writing some sleeve notes about it and the more I went on I realized we were going to need some bigger sleeve noted [he laughs] and then we needed a bigger cover and then we needed a book! And that’s it really.

The thing is… with the book… we try to come at you from all angles with this package! It’s a package of songs that are quite serious with the lyrics that are, for the most part, also serious. We also come at you with a load of cartoon drawings, which we’ve not used before and is kind of interesting. Then we come at you with a book, which isn’t serious at all! It’s kind of a jokey look… so you’re seeing the same kind of stories from different angles - one from a humorous perspective and one from a non-humorous perspective so the whole ting ties up into different ways of looking at the same issues.

PA: Do you feel that kind of experience is missing now that we’ve moved on from the sleeves of vinyls onto cds and mp3s?

AT:  Well of course. Yeah I think that’s very true, and I was only reading the other day about the history of the album, and if we’re going to look back at where the modern album we all know began it was Sgt. Pepper that really tied up what an album could be. Yeah, the way we value music these days has had to change.

[He laughs] the very fact that – once upon a time I bought a record and it was 4 pounds at the time, and this was a very expensive double record, and I brought it home and didn’t like it… and that was a big disappointment. But I had spent 4 pounds on it! I wasn’t prepared to just give up! [He laughs] So I decided I’d have to listen to it again. And again. And again! Until I appreciated it and got my 4 pounds worth out of it. So eventually “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” became one of my favorite records of all time! I think that’s an experience many of us will have had, you will have bought a record you didn’t like at first and then got to like it. The problem is that with so much available for free or immediately or very cheap to download or to share, whatever your crime basically [he laughs], and people don’t value it as much because they haven’t had to pay for it and they haven’t really had to give anything for it. There’s so much available that you can just go through and audition things.

I think the listening habits have changed quite a lot. I mean – if you’ve got your mp3 player running will you really listen to the singing dog track on Pink Floyd’s “Meddle”? Will you really want to listen to A Pillow Of Winds or will you just want to hear Echoes? Y’know, will you just hit the skip button after Fearless has ended and just move onto Echoes? So yeah! Listening habits are changing and that’s what happens – things change. Just like we changed our habits when television first appeared and we moved away from radio, we found ourselves sitting down a lot more. Habits change as the technology changes.

I think this means that artists have to work really hard to make sure they don’t produce what would be called ‘filler’ material because it’s so easy just to press the skip button. So I tried to put together a record that didn’t have any filler and every song had its place… I tried to make an album that people would want to listen to from one end to the other. Of course there will be people who don’t and people who just want to hear a couple of tracks, but I was aiming to make a big package that people would want to have and want to look at – take out, read the book, listen to the music and generally enjoy having this package. So it’s a case where we wanted to make it worth something and it’s up to you or whoever else has heard it or bought it to decide whether it was worth it, not me.

PA: Do you think in the future you’re going to do more huge packages like this, or is it kind of a one-shot thing and you’re going to move onto something else?

AT: I really don’t know. I have no idea what I’m going to do next because I’m somewhat different from some of the other guys like, for example, the Guy Manning band and Spock’s Beard… Neal Morse and Roine and all those guys. Great though they are they’re kind of like… machines! [He laughs] They come up with an album every year or every year and a half and with me it’s very different. I don’t write anything until I’m ready to write it, and I want to write it. At present I consider myself just at the end of “Not As Good As The Book”, an album which has taken two years to make – that got released at the beginning of March, but then I started to work on the live shows and worked on the live shows until just a couple of weeks ago.

So really for me 2 and a half years of work have just come to an end [he laughs]. So I haven’t even though about what to write next or what kind of music I want to do next or anything! It’ll just be a case of waiting and seeing when I start playing the piano again, that’s just how it is. Not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with the other guy’s way of doing things it’s just… I can’t do it! [He laughs] I think if you asked Neal Morse to just write a set of songs he could do it. I can’t do that that all… they take me a long time to write.

PA: A couple of questions about the album – first off, I’m very interested in where you come up with a name like “Celebrity Puree”?

AT: Oh well that’s just sarcasm [he laughs]. Celebrity Puree is just… I hate what I call ‘Celebrity Society’ – I don’t know if you call it that in America – but in Britain we have celebrities who are all over the gossip magazines, they’re all over the tabloid newspapers… people who are famous for just being famous, everybody going on about who’s married to who and what’s happening and whether they’re going to have a baby. People like David Beckham – well, he can do something at least – but we have lots of celebrities who do nothing apart from ‘be famous’, can I can’t stand them. I find it a waste of time and a waste of energy and I’d rather somebody print something about Peter Hammil so I could find out more about him! He does something useful!

Sometimes I wish they’d just take all these celebrities of no importance and just stick them in a mincer and just make a puree out of them [we both laugh]! So it was just a sarcastic title.

PA: Well, it’s good to see that people in the UK think the same as some of us over here

AT: Yeah I can’t stand it… people who are talentless and people who want to be famous, people on these talent shows like American Idol and The X Factor here in the UK, and they go on just saying “I wanna be famous, I wanna be famous!” and I just think, “well, you have to actually be able to DO something!” But some people don’t have that idea yet – they just want to be famous for the sake of it.

PA: I’ve read that “Four Egos One War” was originally penned as a Parallel or 90 Degrees song, what made you decide to turn it into a Tangent tune?

AT: Well the fact is that Po90 never got around to releasing their last album because I was so busy with The Tangent. So obviously I put the song on the backburner because I was busy working on other projects. Then we haven’t done anything with Po90 for quite a long time – and the war never went away did it? People are still getting killed, there was just three British guys killed in action in Afghanistan at this particular time.

So I decided that this song really needed to be put out! Because it has to be said that there hasn’t been a lot of songs against the war this time – I mean there really have not been very many. I have no idea as to your political persuasion at all and it doesn’t matter to me whether you’re right or left… and quite often people criticize me, and quite often Americans criticize me for putting politics into my lyrics and they say, “why does Any Tillison think he’s got the right to talk about politics?” But see… the world’s greatest protesting all came from your country! [He laughs] You know like Bob Dylan and Hendrix and Joni Mitchell and you had the Woodstock festival – you MADE the protest song!

All those anti-Vietnam songs, all those great songs that came out of the 60s… I wondered, “where are all the songs against this war?” it just seems a little bit funny that there aren’t that many and some obscure progressive rock musician from Yorkshire has to do a song about it because nobody else did. So there you go. That’s just my… what I’m looking at. And I hope it means something to you.

PA: Oh it certainly does. I really haven’t seen much action being taken by the people since this has been going on… Back to the album though, the other long suite on the record “A Full Gamut” you’ve said on your website is a travelogue based on the events of 2006. Can you tell us about that?

AT: Well it’s a love song. It’s basically about the split-up of me and my longtime partner Sam Baine, who I’d worked with for 12 years – both with The Tangent and Po90 - and it was something I decided I just had to do, I had to tell the story. And there really isn’t that many 20 minute long love songs. So this is a song about fantasy and this-that-and-the-other, but on this occasion it’s a 20 minute love song. But the thing about the whole middle age thing that I was mentioning earlier is that… a 2 minute pop song about the girl you fell in love with at the prom and then disappeared the next day… that’s kind of like… “A long cold summer without you” kind of thing and those are based on simple matters and simple emotions and the point is that the break-up with a long time partner near the age of 50 is a hell of a lot more complicated than losing the prom Queen, you see what I mean.

So I needed a little bit more time to say that than the usual two minutes. I was quite inspired by a Peter Hammil record, “Over”, a record he made about a split-up in his life back in the 1970s. In fact I communicated with him about the song. I sent him an e-mail asking for advise on whether I should release the song or not and eventually he got back to me saying, “yes, of course you should because that’s your job! It’s your job to tell people about the world and on this particular occasion you haven’t got to go look for inspiration it’s come and knocked on your door! Release the song!” So, there you go. I did [He laughs].

PA: Your music has always been tagged as being ‘retro prog’, how do you feel about that label?

AT: Uh, unfair. I don’t mind it… retro is not particularly a bad word. But it depends on what you call retro. There’s a lot of our music where you could listen to it and think, “okay, that’s very 1976… the sound there that they’re using is very 1976” and “That kind of structure there might be 1975”. But all you have to do is look at one of the most popular rock bands in America like… Greenday for example, and everything they do is very 1977! I mean there’s only one year difference! [We both laugh] So are they retro?

There aren’t a lot of fabulously new ideas out there at the moment and some of the most popular bands in the world are just as ‘retro’ as The Tangent are. So I don’t see where the 30 years between then and now are necessarily as important as people think they are. People still think of Bach and Beethoven in the same breath don’t they? But Bach had been dead 30 years before Beethoven was born! So it’s not the different [he laughs]

Besides, with contemporary music will always be the music that the people in the world remember – people who were alive at the moment. My mother is close to 80 years old but that means that Glenn Miller is still contemporary because she used to dance to it. She’s got experience in it, she went to see his band! [He laughs] so that means that Glenn Miller’s music is still contemporary because it’s still with the living! Yes and ELP will be around with the living for a lot of years to come until everyone who was around at the time is dead and then it becomes historical music and maybe then you can call it retro.

PA: You’ve said that at the heart of all your songs is a very simple song, so how do you go about turning them into these huge compositions?

AT: Well that’s just it. I think it’s arguable that every song on the album I could take to the piano and play you the chord of it, just with one instrument and a voice – that’s the idea. And up ‘til this point (and I’m not saying forever) The Tangent has been about songs and song writing. We embellish those songs and we’d like to think that they’re arrangements that can take you from one place to another – move you from point A to point B. And of course the longer songs are usually groups of songs linked together. Thematically by linking sections and repeated melodies and orchestral kind of synths on it we get arrangements.

It’s a case of… there’s two processes I go through. I start by writing just the very nub of the song, but at the same time, in a completely different project I’ll be writing lots of different musical ideas then you jigsaw them together. You think – well, does this fit with this – how can I make this section transmutate into this section – how can I justify this bit being here – and… sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. For example I think it really worked on our third album, A Place In The Queue, there’s a long song on there called In Earnest… to me… That one really, really worked, there’s probably four or five songs within that song. But we really seemed to make it so that every single piece seemed to be part of it. But at the same time, also on the same time – on the same record – there was also a song called A Place In The Queue, the actual title track, which also I still quite like, it doesn’t work quite as well because there’s some bits that stand out like a sore thumb like they’re just being stuck on there for the sake of it, you know?

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I think on In Earnest we won, and I think on The Full Gamut we won too. But I think In Earnest is the better of the two pieces.

PA: How do you feel about your ever changing line-up?

AT: Oh, that doesn’t matter! It doesn’t matter, really. I think progressive rock fans are entirely used to this – it’s nothing new really. I mean, all the big progressive rock bands have changed their line-up like anything! Like King Crimson, who are arguably the first real progressive rock band, changed line-ups in the first four albums as much as we did, and more! And they’ve been changing ever since – but they’ve always been King Crimson. Yes too, they didn’t reach the line-up that everybody thinks of as Yes until the fourth album anyway! We’ve just made the fourth, heh, so maybe this is our classic line-up. I think that the thing is that through somebody, somehow, the idea of the group is retained and it can be made again.

In this group most of the ideas of where it goes are not my ideas, I’m helped enormously by Guy Manning who plays an enormous part in how the Tangent sounds and then it’s really just a case of who played on it and if they’ve got the right attitude. So if I make another Tangent record and, for example, Jonas Reingold is not on it, it will be a bass player who we decide is right to do it and it will still be a Tangent record. That’s just the way it goes. And how many people are left in King Crimson from the original line-up? One! [he laughs] We’ve still got three people that where there from the start and we’re already on our forth record, so there you go.

PA: On this line-up you were joined by Jakko, who’s quite an accomplished musician, how was working with him?

AT: He’s great, no problems and as a matter of fact I haven’t worked in the same room as Jakko yet. I played with him on one concert in London. Jakko did all this stuff remotely in his own studio down in London and we were in contact by phone/e-mail, keeping in touch. Yeah, I found him great to work with! He understood everything I was trying to say like whenever I’d reference like, “I need it to sound a bit like Phil Miller here”. He knew exactly what I meant and he’s got a full range of references that I can appeal to and a whole lot of ideas of his own. So, he’s good! A very useful person to have around and I hope to be working with him on the next one.

PA: You’ve worked with a  number of famous musicians over the years, if you could choose anyone to work with, who would it be?

AT: Two people – Peter Hammil, Neal Morse… simple. [We both laugh]

Those are the people I’d like to work with the most. Peter Hammil because I’ve liked him since I was 12 years old and because he’d bloody well aught to work with somebody else. He’s worked with so few people for a musician of his standing. When you look back over something like 40 records that the guy’s made since 1969 I think he’s only ever worked with 2 drummers, 1 bass player, 1 lead guitarist once, and he worked with that guy from the stranglers for a bit… I’ll bet you could probably count the number of musicians that Peter Hammil has worked with on two hands… maybe it’s a little bit more. But I think he aught to broaden out and work with other people.

I’ve got Neal Morse because I think he’s a fascinating character… and I think it would be fun to try and work out… because I’m Atheist and he’s Christian, and the idea of an Atheist and a Christian making an album together just fascinates me, I’d love to do it. Because I think we could find some positive common ground and that would be a good point to work from.

And I’ve spoke with them. Peter’s never come back to me and said he’d like to, he’s always turned me down, but he’s perfectly within his rights to do that, I respect him greatly. Neal Morse said that he’d ask his God, and I take it God said no because I haven’t heard back.

PA: I’m coming into my last couple of questions here; the first one has to do with Po90 again. Is that still active and just on hiatus or did you decide to axe it?

AT: No, I’ve never axed it… I don’t like closing doors… ever. I’m not about splitting up, I think the case is that Po90 may do something again one day but we may not, we don’t know. But we’re not going to say we split up or anything because that’s silly because we’d just wind up getting back together! They all say they’re splitting up and they’ve all come back, haven’t they? [he laughs] What’s the point of the theatrical charade, really? I can’t remember how many times Yes has split up and Genesis and even Van Der Graaf came back, so there’s no way I’m going to say that’s the end… of any of them.

PA: But hey! Then you get to do the ‘Reunion’ tour!

AT: [He laughs] Well, yes of course! But I think we can just as happily not split up and then turn up in 15 years and do the ‘Reunion’ tour. However, I’m not really sure that many people would be interested in a Parallel or 90 Degrees reunion tour [he laughs] being as I think we sold about 5000 records in 6 years. [He laughs] so I can’t imagine the stadium being overflowing, really!

PA: I’m very curious about this – where does the “Diskdrive” at the end of your name come from?

AT: Oh, it’s from years back when I was one of the first musicians to be using a computer of the modern style. I was just one of these geeks who went on about his computer, this was back in the 1980s, and we were using the computer system that we use now – a very primitive version of it – and I was obsessed with it and I was always going on about diskdrives and people just started calling me “Andy Diskdrive” so I’ve kept it and one of my old bands was called Diskdrive, so there you go.

PA: The ratings on our website suggest that this is likely the best Tangent album to date, what do you think?

AT: I’m very happy with this album, I think it’s a very good one – and I’m certainly not going to go back and say “no, I didn’t like that one”, but I personally prefer the third one. Just a personal choice, but I think that In Earnest was a really great song. I also have a lot happier memories of making that record because making “Not As Good As The Book” was not exactly in the best time of my life. So I’ve got fonder memories of “Place In The Queue”, and I just think it was our best so far.

I don’t really subscribe to the idea that your latest album should be your best – always. Y’know, we don’t try to make them ‘better’ we just try to make them ‘different’, and that’s it. I think this one is different and I think it’s a good record.

PA: This is going to be my last question, what was the last album you listened to?

AT: The last album I listened to was, as a matter of fact, {interview’s note, can’t make out band name!}, that’s a keyboard and drum duo made up of the keyboard and drum player from Beardfish. It’s a super record and I really enjoyed it.


Thanks once more to Andy Tillison for taking time out of his day to answer some questions for us, and as always, the people at InsideOut for setting up the interview.

Best of luck to Andy and his band(s) in all their future projects!

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 11 2008 at 12:22
Fascinating interview! Andy is one of modern prog's true heroes!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 11 2008 at 22:38
That was excellent as usual Mr.By-Tor. It was interesting to hear him say his fav record from THE TANGENT is "A Place In The Queue".And to know he hasn't closed the book on PARALLEL OR 90 DEGREES,a band i really like.
"The wind is slowly tearing her apart"

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 27 2008 at 18:44
Excellent interview Mike! Didn't see this one coming, somehow I missed it.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 27 2008 at 18:53
Originally posted by cacho cacho wrote:

Excellent interview Mike! Didn't see this one coming, somehow I missed it.

Oh you only missed it by a couple of months LOL.


The audio version of this interview will soon be in the works
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 28 2008 at 03:36
Great Interview ! Andy's a nice guy which I already noticed on Youtube (see my review on NaGatB) where he also did a fine interview.
And of course The Tangent is a recent supersensation. Too bad people aren't visiting their gigs. A disgrace really !!
A day without prog is a wasted day
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