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Interview with Sean Timms of Unitopia (Feb 2009)

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    Posted: February 11 2009 at 14:02
Through our ever-available interviews coordinator, I got the opportunity to pose several questions to Sean Timms (keyboards, vocals, mandolin) of the recently added Australian progressive rock group Unitopia.  They are the first Australian band to be signed by InsideOut records.



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ProgArchives: How and when did you get signed to InsideOut?

Sean Timms: First of all, let me apologise for the lateness of my reply. I have been very sick for a number of weeks and am just starting to come good again.

We were originally signed to Unicorn Records for our 1st release More Than a Dream. They did a great job, but we felt that we needed larger representation for our 2nd album. We sent InsideOut the demos of The Garden, they liked what they heard and signed us to a 3 album deal. This was middle of last year.
 
PA: How does it feel being Australia’s first band to be signed with InsideOut records, and do you think it will turn more people’s eyes (and ears) to the progressive rock music going on down under?

ST: How does it feel???...brilliant. We feel that we’ve really achieved something that no other Australian progressive rock band has achieved so far and that’s to gain acceptance in the larger progressive rock community. Unfortunately…Australia doesn’t seem to care. Certainly not the media. We sent out a press release detailing that we had been signed to the worlds largest prog rock label for a 3 album deal…a world first for an Australian band and we got absolutely no response. Nothing! Amazing!!! All we can do is change this one fan at a time!
 
PA: How much collective experience does Unitopia have, and specifically how does this experience benefit the band?

ST: The collective experience of the band is phenomenal. Every member has been in the music industry for well over 20 years. I, personally have been performing and recording music for 30 years! Therefore, what each member brings to the table is all of their experience, maturity and dedication to their craft as well as a balanced view of the industry and what it has to offer.

PA: How did Unitopia get together? Can you give us a quick band history up to this point?

ST: Unitopia began in 1996 when a mutual friend who ran a CD store introduced Mark and myself after realizing we had similar musical tastes. We caught up over a meal and a few beers and discovered many similarities, not only in music, but in our sense of humour, our movie and TV tastes and our joy for life and concern for the environment. As soon as I heard Mark sing, I knew that we had to start working together. A date was made for Mark to come over to my studio and immediately we began working on the track which was to become "Take Good Care." This formulated into an energetic and exciting song writing partnership that culminated in the completion of our debut album More Than A Dream. Mark and I would get together sporadically over the next few years. This was due to high levels of commitment each of us had to our own jobs and other areas. This is why More Than a Dream took so long to complete (9 years!)

During this time Mark and I realised that this was getting much bigger than the two of us, so we decided to expand the project into a band. We gathered together the cream of Adelaide’s musical talent into what we now know as Unitopia.

We have a great group of people in the band. We all get along very well even though our personalities are so different. Shireen, our bass player is very quiet and reserved, but she has a dry sense of humour and some of the quips she can come out with are hilarious. She’s also very self-deprecating. She loves Latin music! Mark on the other hand is larger than life in every way. He’s 6 foot 6 inches tall and built like a truck! He has no problem talking to anyone having been in sales for most of his life. Mark loves any music! Monty our drummer is a bit of a dark horse and can get very moody and sullen, but we have ways of snapping him out of it. Just give him a pair of drum sticks and he’s as happy as Larry. Monty loves jazz-rock - Spirogyra, Steely Dan and Al Jarreau. Matt, our guitarist is one of the most easy going people you would care to meet and loves good ol’ straight ahead rock, as is Tim our percussionist who enjoys pretty much anything if the concerts I’ve seen him at are any indication!  Me, I can get a bit intense sometimes, so Mark will always have a joke or a gag ready to lighten me up! He’s definitely the band clown! I love to listen to singer-song writers like James Taylor and Al Stewart. What is common to all members though, is their commitment to their craft. They are all excellent musicians. World class, but without the ego. I think that that translates onto the album very well. Each member has a chance to shine, but they don’t get in the way if it’s not warranted.




PA: Where does the name "Unitopia" come from?

ST: The name Unitopia was about the fourth name we came up with. The first couple of names were Magoo and Uni-T. This led to an amalgamation of two words, Unity, meaning all together and Utopia, and ideal place. Thus Unitopia means all together in an ideal place. Our website describes it more fully: UNITOPIA - (yu-nih-to-pi-E): meaning living together as one in a place of ideal perfection especially in law, government and social conditions.

PA: Tell us about the cover design of The Garden, and who designed it?

ST: Ed Unitsky is the genius behind the design. We first discovered him on MySpace. He’s from Belarus, which is near Russia and his work is incredible!!! He’s also done some work with The Flower Kings and Tangent. The reasoning for Unitopia going with Ed’s artwork was twofold. Firstly, he’s a top notch artist and Mark & I thought that he had a good handle on what we were all about. Secondly, he has a huge following and we wanted to capitalize on that. Ed and Nancy (Ed’s manager) have been fantastic supporters of Unitopia and have promoted us in many ways. We are very indebted to them!!!

PA: Is there an overriding theme or concept that connects the songs, and if so, what?

ST: Yes there is. I’ve included our blurb on the lyrical meaning of each song below to give you a detailed overview. Overall, the lyrical theme behind ‘The Garden’ is one of hope coming from despair. For a more detailed breakdown of the meaning behind the lyrics, I’ve included a synopsis for each song.

The opening song of disk 1 "One Day" is almost a prelude to "The Garden" as it sets the premise for the rest of the album about the journey of self discovery this person takes to bring themselves back from the brink of despair and self destruction. Alone and without hope, he muses on the futility of life and contemplates ending it all and the effect it will have on those around him.

The title track, "The Garden", is Unitopia’s longest piece to date, running at 22-and-a-half minutes. The song began as an idea Sean had after seeing advertising for the Fringe Festival’s "Garden of Unearthly Delights" and his fascination with Hieronymus Bosch’s painting "The Garden of Earthly Delights." Using both for inspiration, he began to write lyrics that depicted a strange, fanciful and wondrous place where one could go and totally forget their inhibitions, indulge their every whim and fulfill their every desire. Exploring this idea further, Sean wanted to convey the notion that sometimes the things that feel pleasurable are not always good for you. Thus a constant struggle is waged between the pleasures of life and looking after one’s mind, body, soul and emotions. This struggle is what Mark and Sean focused on during the writing of the rest of the piece. The eventual outcome is that the catalyst of the story finally overcomes the "dragons" that prevent him from claiming his future and enters a realm of peace, grace and freedom. The story is allegorical and uses concrete forms to convey the more abstract and spiritual notions of the song.

"Angeliqua" is about the "one that got away." Mark came up with an idea where he had the experience, as many people do, of seeing an old friend from the past and wondering what it would be like if they were connected now  It’s also a bit of a ghost story. "Angeliqua" is an other-worldly character that weaves a spell over whomever she meets and then is gone…

"Here I Am" is our "pop song!" The song came out of a piece of music that Sean wrote for one of his clients. He liked it so much that he played it to Mark who came up with the lyric idea. Most of the lyrics were written while Mark was in hospital  undergoing surgery for a serious throat condition. Many emotions flooded his mind as he contemplated  whether the operation would be a success or possibly leave him without a singing voice. Fortunately, not only was the operation successful but Mark’s voice has improved! It’s a life cycle in a 3 minute song, almost moth-like in its simplicity and brevity. It also has a touch of regret. Whereas some people live life to the full, others try only to avoid death. This song is hopefully a wake up call to those people who don’t live life to the fullest.

"Amelia’s Dream" and "I Wish I Could Fly." These pieces are all about the experience of being that free that you feel like you are flying. Mark told Sean about a dream he had and wanted to put into words. He wrote down what he saw in the dream and this became the platform of the song. Not a care in the world, you soar to even greater heights than you thought possible. The melody and the orchestral intro were adapted from a piece that Sean wrote for the Botanical Gardens of Adelaide. It features part of a speech given by the great female aviator Amelia Earhart. It’s also a song about being balanced and grounded. It’s no good having your head in the clouds constantly, but it’s no good to never look up and see what’s out there either!

"Inside the Power" is all about the freedom of riding the waves on a surf board. The nature of the sea, its power and ferocity and man’s attempt to subdue and control it. It’s a story of a lone surfer who wants to catch the perfect wave.

Our second epic, "Journey’s Friend" opens the 2nd CD. It’s about what lies beyond this mortal coil. Sean started writing the lyric when a work colleague passed away very suddenly. It prompted the question, “what happens to us when we die?” The answer is that nobody really knows and all we have to go on is what our faith would have us believe. It deals with trust issues as well. In a fallen world, it’s sometimes hard to trust that what some people say is the truth. Therefore we are left to either blindly trust or go through life wondering what the truth really is. This piece talks of the’ friend’ that is there to help us on this journey of life. It portrays him as a protector, fellow traveler, unconditional ally and the only  person we can rely on other than ourselves. We leave the listener to decide who this person might be.

"Give and Take." If we all learnt to see things from other people's point of view and stopped being so selfish, the world would be a much better place. Un-forgiveness is the cause of many a problem that could be solved if only we could learn to give the gift of forgiveness and accept it in return. Bitterness takes root in people’s lives and it won’t allow them to move on from where they are to where they could be. Imagine, to paraphrase Lennon, a world without war, religious and racial intolerance, divorce, hunger etc… That’s the world Unitopia wish to live in!

"When I’m Down." Mark wrote the lyrics about 4 years ago and had a great chorus/melody and wanted to try writing with Matt Williams, Unitopia’s brilliant guitarist, so the two went about the business of making a really well crafted song. The song is about when things go wrong and how one can get a little down and how you might reach out to someone to get the comfort you need.
"This Life" was written when Mark was living in Sydney during the mid 90’s with local producer Matt Coxhead and extensively re-worked by Sean for the new CD. A video clip of the song has been directed by up and coming film maker Joshua Sutherland and has been edited in the same facility where Scott Hicks (Shine, Hearts in Atlantis, Snow Falling on Cedars) and Greg McLean (Wolf Creek, Rogue) edit their films. The clip has been shot entirely on HD and looks amazing! Finishing touches are being done at the moment and the clip should be ready in time for the album launch.

‘Love Never Ends’ is all about that special kind of ‘once in a lifetime’ love that two people can have for one another. It features the talented Kiki Celarik sharing vocals with Mark. Sean was looking for something special to help celebrate his marriage to Amanda, so Matt arranged and wrote the melody idea to complement Mark’s wonderful lyric.

"So Far Away" and "Don’t Give Up Love." Aahhhh….long distance relationships seldom work out. It’s always good to try though, cause you never know. This song’s arrangement is a tip of the hat to the great Brian Wilson. His ear for harmonies and chord structures and progressions is amazing! He’s a true genius! It’s also got some Tony Banks influence there in the synth solo. Sean always loved the Genesis tracks "Firth of Fifth" and "Inside and Out." This is his tribute to a wonderful composer and keyboardist.

"321" began as a song about feeling "trapped" by a situation or circumstance and "Trapped" was the working title for a while. After reading an account of the two trapped Beaconsfield miners, Mark changed the direction of the lyrics to reflect the thoughts and feelings of the men who were trapped underground for 321 hours or nearly two weeks. Mark then sought out Brant Webb, one of the two miners and talked to him about the song. While in Adelaide for the Clipsal 500 V8 motor sport carnival, Brant and Todd Russell sang backing vocals on the choruses. The recording was covered by 60 Minutes as part of the one year anniversary of their release. Following an invitation from the West Tamar Council, Unitopia travelled to Beaconsfield, Tasmania in May, 2007 to perform at the memorial concert on the 1st anniversary of their release. Brant and Todd again sang backup vocals live on stage. Unitopia also released "321" as a single at that time with part proceeds going to the Webb/Russell foundation. The event was extensively covered by the national media due to the high profile of the miner’s rescue and the tour was made into a mini documentary by Spadge Productions titled "Inside Unitopia," which is viewable on YouTube and Unitopia’s MySpace and Facebook pages.



PA: Seven people is a somewhat high number of people in one band- did you ever find it difficult to get everyone together for rehearsals or practice?

ST: You bet!!! All of the members of Unitopia are very busy with their day to day lives including myself…so we have to make sacrifices to do what we do. What we’ve agreed to do at the moment is to schedule regular rehearsals and if everyone makes it…then we have a full run through of whatever it is we’ve been practicing. If for instance Monty our drummer can’t make it, then we might have a vocal rehearsal, or start writing a new song that maybe doesn’t involve drums. We basically work with whoever makes it to the rehearsal! This way we maximize each others' time and still manage to get things done. For example…a couple of weeks ago it was 46 degrees Celsius and way too hot for us to rehearse in our non air conditioned rehearsal room, so we all set up a small amount of gear in the studio and started writing a new song!
 
PA: Unitopia uses three different percussionists, including the drummer- what benefit does that give your sound?

ST: Tim, our main percussionist is an absolute maniac when it comes to all things percussion. In the studio, it’s not uncommon for him to take 3 days and 3 trips with his station wagon completely full of equipment to record all of his parts. This then has to be performed live…so we utilize everyone we can in order to re-create that percussive extravaganza that Tim creates in the studio! I think that the heavy use of percussion in our music helps differentiate us from other prog bands and also gives us a world music element to our sound.
 
PA: You’ve listed an extensive number of influences- are there three or four that stand out more so than others?

ST: There are for me….but the answer would be different for each band member. Mine would be Genesis, Yes, James Taylor and Alan Parsons. Mark’s might be John Martyn (God rest his soul), Jon Anderson, Peter Gabriel and David Gilmour. Shireen listens to a lot of Latin music. Monty likes jazz rock, Tim likes just about anything and Matt’s a guitar rock ‘n’ roller.
 
PA: Describe your overall experience recording The Garden.

ST: Recording The Garden was a lot more satisfactory experience than recording More Than a Dream for many reasons. During the recording of MTAD, I was married to a wife that didn’t understand what I was trying to achieve with Unitopia and it was a point of contention between us. She was jealous of the limited amount of time that I would spend with Mark. Consequently, MTAD took 9 years to complete. The situation has changed since then and I am now married to a wonderful lady by the name of Amanda. She is incredibly supportive of Unitopia and loves what we do! This means that any time I spend working with Mark is a lot more settled and relaxed. Also…because I have my own studio, we can schedule time whenever we are both free. Having a stable roster of members has also helped as they are very enthusiastic about Unitopia and what we could achieve!
 
PA: Are there any plans for an '09 tour? Any hints as to the set list?

ST: 2009 will not be possible due to many things having to be in place for that to happen. We are planning to do tours in 2010 and already have some possible dates lined up. More news to follow. Set list wise, we would definitely do the title track The Garden as well as "This Life," "321," "Inside The Power" and "Journey’s Friend." We would also do "Justify," "More Than a Dream" and "Still Here" from the 1st CD. We do have a few covers that we throw in occasionally as well!
 
PA: Are there any working bands you’d particularly like to tour with?

ST: Too many to mention! But if I had to name a few…Spock’s Beard, Flower Kings, Marillion, Yes, Porcupine Tree, Neal Morse etc…etc…


 
PA: Unitopia actually has an independent release prior to The Garden, entitled More Than a Dream- compare and contrast, if you would, the sounds and feelings of the two albums.

ST: Our first CD, More Than a Dream took us 9 years to finish because Mark and I could only get together very sporadically. It’s more of a project album than a band effort. The CD is a  bit less cohesive than The Garden due to the fact that we were still experimenting with our sound, we didn’t have a set roster of musicians (we just used anyone who was around at the time) and we weren’t setting out to write a progressive rock album. I think we’ve matured lyrically, thematically and musically quite a bit since we started working on More Than a Dream. We have a lot more of an idea now as to what we want to write and how we want to convey our music and message. Even though MTAD was very well received, I feel that The Garden is a much better effort from us musically and lyrically.  That being said, there are still some very strong songs on MTAD that we’re very proud of. "Justify," "Still Here," the title track, and "Lives Go ‘Round" (which is the opening track on the latest CPR3 compilation release) to name a few.

I would describe the new album The Garden as a more coherent, mature album, more firmly placed in the progressive rock genre. It is far more lyrically and musically intricate than More Than a Dream. With our 1st CD, Mark and I were learning about one another, what we liked, what we didn’t and what we wanted to get out of the Unitopia partnership. For the most part, it was a labour of love…something we did in our infrequent spare time. We weren’t necessarily recording an album…just writing a collection of songs for our own enjoyment. This collection became More Than a Dream and it was only after it was released and we saw all the positive responses we got from all around the world that we thought “Maybe we’re on to something here!” Don’t get me wrong…we were very passionate about the project, but didn’t quite see how much a part of our lives it was going to become. As we wrote and recorded the songs, we gathered people to play on the tracks as they were available. Consequently on MTAD there are 2 drummers, 3 bass players, 2 guitarists, numerous session backing singers as well as a host of others.

We wanted the new material to be a lot more cohesive and we also wanted the players who played on the CD to be a part of the live band as well, so Mark and I set about recruiting the best possible players to be involved in the new project. This became Unitopia the band. We now had a vehicle for playing the Unitopia music live as well as in the studio. The players who play on the CD are the ones we tour with!

Also… The Garden was written, recorded, mixed and mastered in 3 years. This means that there is a lot more consistency between the tracks. Mark and I were also getting together a lot more frequently so the pace of the whole process has been increased.

During the latter stages of MTAD and the beginning of The Garden, I went through a marriage breakup. This gave me a lot of free time to devote to Unitopia as well as a lot of emotional material from which to draw when writing lyrics.

Whereas MTAD was recorded over 8 years in 3 different studios, The Garden was finished in one studio in 3 years.
 
PA: I’m not sure if you’ve been told this, but at times, your voice really makes me think of Chris Squire’s.  Any comment?

ST: I’m assuming that you’re talking about Mark’s voice and not mine! He’s been compared to everyone from Sting, Peter Gabriel, Chris Rea, Roger Waters and David Gilmour, to Robert Plant and Brian Johnson! I think that he has a style and tone all his own. What does come though in his vocals is his passion, intensity and emotion, which draws people deeper into the music and especially the lyrics.
 
PA: What advice could you give to up-and-coming progressive rock artists, particularly those who find little acceptance for their music?

ST: Gee!...I’m hoping they could give us old guys some advice!!! Hehe…

What we’ve found is that there is no substitute for good old fashioned honest hard work. Don’t give up on your dreams…but most of all…follow your passion and do it with all your heart and soul…not to please others, because you’ll never be able to completely do that, but to edify and uplift yourself. Then your fans will hear your heart, identify with it and know what your saying is real.
 
PA: What sort of things do you enjoy doing when not working on music?

ST: Personally, I love training and teaching Karate (I’m a probationary 2nd Dan Black Belt), I collect comics and I love spending time with my wife going to the movies…watching TV…going for long walks etc…
 
PA: If forced to pick five, what five albums would you say are essential to a progressive rock collection?

ST: Again…just my personal opinion…the 5 that have had the most influence on me as a keyboard player are….drum roll please….
1.) Journey to the Centre of the Earth - Rick Wakeman
2.) Close To The Edge - Yes
3.) Selling England By The Pound - Genesis
4.) Tales of Mystery and Imagination - Alan Parsons
5.) Please Don’t Touch - Steve Hackett
 
PA: One more, just for fun- if you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

ST: I love these questions!!!! This…being a comic collector is something I’ve occasionally thought about! Probably the ability to fly. I’m scared of heights though, so I don’t know how well I’d go!

Thanks for the opportunity to tell your readers a little bit about Unitopia! We’re honoured and humbled!

Cheers,

Sean Timms

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Thanks to Sean Timms of Unitopia for taking the time to answer these questions.  The Garden is available from InsideOut records.



Unitopia's homepage: http://www.unitopiamusic.com/Home%20Page/home.htm
Unitopia's Myspace: http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendID=80161500
Unitopia's PA page: http://www.progarchives.com/artist.asp?id=4175








Edited by Epignosis - February 11 2009 at 14:03
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Queen By-Tor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 11 2009 at 14:13
Excellent job Robert! Clap


I quite enjoyed The Garden, looking forward to more from these guys in the future.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote The Quiet One Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 11 2009 at 14:30
Clap Indeed nice read Robert! I still haven't heard these guys, but I'm willing to!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Epignosis Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 11 2009 at 14:44
Originally posted by King By-Tor King By-Tor wrote:

Excellent job Robert! Clap


I quite enjoyed The Garden, looking forward to more from these guys in the future.


I learned from the best.  EmbarrassedWink
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote progkidjoel Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 10 2010 at 08:56
Awesome interview, can't believe I've never heard of these guys! Awesome to hear of some Aussie proggers doing well.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote memowakeman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 10 2010 at 11:04
Nice bump. I hadn't noticed this great interview. They are a pretty interesting band!

Follow me on twitter @memowakeman
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote toroddfuglesteg Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 10 2010 at 11:09

This is one of the interviews I referred to as a great read in my comments in the Interview Index. Nice to see that someone is actually listening to me ! 

Unitopia: Their new album is superb and well worth checking out. Unitopia is without doubt one of the better bands in the scene. I need to give them some more attention myself. Reviewing this album, for example. 

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