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toroddfuglesteg View Drop Down
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    Posted: April 29 2010 at 10:30

One of the (many) great things about ProgArchives and being a part of this great community is the chance to explore the scene. During these explorations, Oaksenham and their studio album seemed like a good album to purchase.

I was not let down. Their Conquest Of The Pacific is a great album and I am very humble and grateful towards the great ProgArchive community who gave me the chance to broaden my horizon by listening to this album and many, many other great albums from around the world.

When I started to do interviews for ProgArchives; this band was close to the top of my list of bands I wanted to include in this interview data base. So I got in touch with Vaghagn Papayan for the Oaksenham story.


Let's start with the beginning. When was Oaksenham set up, by whom and how was your formative years ?

Oaksenham was founded by Vahagn Papayan – bass guitar player(that’s me) and drummer Ashot Korganyan. We played together in another Armenian art-rock band “Dumbarton Oaks” in the first half of the 90ies. The preparations for the new band began since 1999. By preparations I mean the writing and arranging of some material as well as searching for the rest of the crew. Armenia is a small country and rock music at that times wasn’t even close to be popular, the situation with prog continues to remain even worse ‘til now, so musicians willing to play essentially non commercial music were not to be found around each corner. Valery Tolstov joined the band on flute & organ, and it was in 2001 that an ensemble of acoustic instruments gave its first performance under the name of Oaksenham, though most of the musicians were invited guests for a single gig.

Just after that festival (called “Pacific”) Vardan Gasparyan joined the band on electric and acoustic guitars. The forming of original line-up was completed by Anna Adamyan(kbd) & Koryun Bobikyan(violin).
The first concert took place on June 5th, 2002, on Wednesday evening, hence the name of the live album that came out from that evening.(Wednesday = Woden’s day)

In late 2004 the first studio album was recorded at MDP(now Vibrographus) studio, but at the same time first problems with the personnel were up to occur, as Valery Tolstov was leaving for Switzerland to continue study years there, and Anna has got married and soon left for St. Petersburg, Russia.

In August 2005 Valery returned for his first holidays with some newly written material and the band came together with a guest pianist Hayk Shakaryan for a couple of concerts. The sound of the new compositions was much more folk-jazzy due to Valery’s offered tunes in the manner of Armenian folk melodies and Hayk Shakaryan’s mostly jazz-fusion style of harmonies and improvisation.

In late 2005 a constant member appeared on keyboards, a young student-composer Vardan Harutyunyan.

Just to start with, Please give me your (long or brief) thoughts and lowdowns on the following releases.......

Your studio album Conquest Of The Pacific from 2006.

“Conquest of the Pacific” was recorded in late 2004. There are too many reasons why it was released only in 2006 or even later, some of those beyond our will. First of all it was a computer crash, which would have caused us the loss of all edited data haven’t we met by chance an old genuine friend of ours, who saved the HDD content. Then the mixing process, which became too elongated because never before in Armenia a work of such scale in terms of number of instruments, their unusual combination, and quantity of the recorded tracks was done. The next chapter in the process of time-losing was the search for a proper label willing to release it. Our friend and manager Arman Padaryan worked really very hard and finally succeeded, but even after signing a contract with Musea Records it took almost another year till the CD came out.
The story of creating the “Conquest of the Pacific” lies in the fact that we started as an acoustic band and a lot of works were arranged for a pure chamber line-up, and preliminarily it was decided to release two albums, one with an acoustic sound(sort of a medieval minstrel band would have), and the second with electric instruments. But since I have played long time in a symphonic orchestra on the bassoon, I was really fond of creating some equivalent fusion of rock sound and symphony orchestra instruments, and after a lot of discussion we decided to combine both line-ups in a united record. The main theory on the “Conquest” arrangement is the equal rights of the instruments. It isn’t based on the usual standpoint that the rock band is the hero and the classical instruments are sort of a back-up. Every instrument is a soloist and each one of them is a supporter.
There are many tracks on the album that were designed in the old days of “Dumbarton Oaks” but they have crossed the long way of growing up and maturation. And all of them were rearranged for this particular ensemble. Also there are some newly born tracks as Water Spark, The Way Back Home, Time-out and Across the Atlantic.
The title suite “Conquest of the Pacific” includes the 5 final tracks which are linked thematically, and one can hear a plenty of leitmotivs and reminiscences through all 5 movements, including quotes from English Classical composers as Purcell, Elgar and Ian Anderson. The idea of using the Elgar march in a rock composition occurred to me as early as 1991, when Manchester United won the Cupwinners’ Cup final against Barcelona after the 5 year ban of the English clubs. It reminded me of another victory back in 1588, when Drake crushed the Spanish Armada. So I put the rock revised version of the “Pomp & Circumstance” march in the finale of the “Conquest of the Pacific” suite, which is actually a phantasmagoria on the theme of tragic and at the same time glorious friendship between two English seamen and pirates John Oxenham and Sir Francis Drake.

Your live Woden's Eve Live album from 2002.

It was our first gig, as an opening act for ARTSRUNI. And it was Vahan Artsruni who provided a stereo recording that night. No multitracks, no overdubs, and obviously no possibility for further mixing and balancing. It sounds just as it went on the concert. We were inspired at the time, but now the sound quality and the overall balance of the instruments isn’t of course what we like the most. But it is a document, and we are lucky to have it preserved.

What is the latest update on Oaksenham ?

Ironically the latest update is the fact that Oaksenham is not going to split completely. Since 2008 we weren’t undertaking any activities as our guitarist Vardan Gasparyan declared that he’s quitting the band and actually so he did. We were in a sort of mute condition for almost two years, except for a single participation on a festival with a new guitarist. But just a month ago Vardan came up with a suggestion that it’s a shame if Oaksenham doesn’t exist (I repeat his own words). So he seduced us to restart and try to record a new album probably this year. With unendurably great amount of the unrecorded material we used to have in our repertoire it seems there will be lot of argues which works are to be recorded and released on the coming album first.

I have compared your band to the likes of Gentle Giant, Cathedral (the '70s version) and Jethro Tull.But how would you describe your music and who would you compare yourself to ?

I dare not compare us to any of those bands, but of course we are desperately influenced by them, especially GG, JT as well as “Focus” and “Yes”.
Due to the sound of our first album we are often been resembled to “Gryphon”. I like that band very much, but truly to say I’ve discovered them too late to be influenced by, actually I have written & arranged those pieces on the album without a deep knowledge of “Gryphon”. And of course speaking of influences I can’t help mentioning my favourite classical composers, especially Wagner, Bruckner, and Mahler… and Jon Lord (why not?). I think the symphonic trend in Oaksenham music is the most important. We don’t care as much for melody or harmony or sound alone, as for the growing, developing, transformational qualities of the musical themes, the interaction between the different segments of the musical form. I think that’s the main point which makes the music symphonic – hence progressive. For me these two adjectives are too much synonymous.
Our drummer is a great fanatical listener of every kind of rock, and he called me recently, said: “I’ll give you an album that Oaksenham might have recorded in the 70ies”. And it was a band called “Myrthrandir” and I think that’s the only album they had.
Besides surely all the members have their own tastes and influences. Our guitarist is too much in love with John McLaughlin and Jan Akkerman. The new guy on the keyboards (also Vardan) is a worshipper of modern minimalists, such as Arvo Pjart.
But the mixture of all these influences and is been summed up as Oaksenham.

You are from Armenia, a country in the mountainous Caucasus region.
Please tell us more about your life in Armenia, the music scene there which includes Artsruni and how it is to run a band there.

Armenia is a nice place, day-by-day getting closer to nasty. To be a musician here is in itself a heroism, if you’re impudent enough to have your own principles and merits in life that predominate upon your want of fame or money. I think it’s the same as everywhere else, but as we can’t boast of better conditions in the past and solid tradition in the field of rock music, the situation is not inspiring. I daresay Artsruni, Oaksenham and few other bands are sort of self-isolated islands, because they don’t want to take part in the mainstream-pop-rock glamour feast. Meanwhile they are isolated also geographically from the rest of the world, where maybe other kind of feasts & fests are taking place.
Fortunately the last 2 years Armenia became integrated into the world’s rock life by means of real world-class groups’ concerts. Alan Parsons, Planet X were the pioneers, then came Jethro Tull and Uriah Heep. Only few days have passed from Orchestral Ian Gillan concert and just yesterday we were blessed by John McLaughlin’s 4th Dimension’s concert. On May 25 we are hosting Deep Purple and Ian Anderson is expected to perform with orchestra in September. Never before Armenian fans were happy to listen to the musicians of such calibre and stature live.

What has been the international and national reaction to your albums so far ?

The national reaction was a breathtaking fun. In February 2009 we were suddenly informed that our “Conquest of the Pacific” album is nominated for the best rock album on the National Music Awards that usually take place every year. That competition never was of any respect among serious musicians, so I hurried to withdraw from participating, but our manager said it was too late, as the “celebration” was appointed just the next day. To our luck and deepest satisfaction we lost to a band performing reggae music. It was really worth a hearty laugh and besides we retained our chastity by not mingling in the glorious pop charts.
  The international reaction was much more pleasant. We’ve got some nice reviews, and some letters of encouragement from such far edges of the earth as Indonesia or Venezuela.

What is your plans for this year and where do you want to take this band ?

Recording an album. To the Gates of Delirium or to the Dark Side of the Moon.

Just to wrap this interview up; do you have any regrets in your music career ?

I passed your question to our guitarist (Vardan Gasparyan), he said: “Tell them we have no time for regrets, we’re on the battlefield, in the front rank”. Sounds somewhat self-indulgent, isn’t it?

But speaking seriously there is one major regret for Oaksenham. It’s about “The Beatles-Fantasy”, a 5-piece composition for rock trio (guitar, bass-guitar, drums) & woodwind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn). Its live concert recording on 22 April, 2004 has failed due to some technical mistakes concerning the equipment. Still we consider some mysterious malice was hovering in the air that day, as April 22nd is the birthday of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the godfather of communism, so it couldn’t have been otherwise. We are very careful about the choice of days after that.

What is your five all time favourite albums ?

The most difficult task. How can one choose from… It isn’t fair. I can give at least 10. And still it isn’t fair either...

1. Deep Purple “Concerto for Group and Orchestra”
2. Deep Purple “In Rock”
3. Jethro Tull “Songs from the Wood”
4. Renaissance “A Song for All Seasons”
5. Yes “Going for the One”

6. VanderGraaf Generator “Godbluff”
7. Yes “Tales from Topographic Oceans”
8. Gentle Giant “Octopus”
9. Transatlantic “Bridge Across Forever”
10.Arthur Brown “Galactic Zoo Dossier”

Anything you want to add to this interview?

We dream, we hope, we always will...

Vahagn Papayan (Oaksenham, bass guitar, composer)

A big thank you to Vahagn Papayan. A new Oaksenham album is great news, indeed.  

Their PA profile is here and their website is here

Edited by toroddfuglesteg - April 30 2010 at 04:08
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 29 2010 at 15:41
The British classical composer Ian Anderson? TongueEvil Smile

Great band, great interview! Clap Good to know they're preparing a new album... I wish them all the luck and great international success.
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Takeshi Kovacs View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 29 2010 at 17:04
I really liked the last album.
Open the gates of the city wide....
Check out my music taste:
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 29 2010 at 21:27
Thanks for the interview, their Conquest of the Pacific is one of those albums that really grown on me for the last two years.
Nice to see they are working on a new album, the story behind this album is also very interesting.

Good job man, as usual.

Follow me on twitter @memowakeman
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 29 2010 at 21:40
This reminded me that I want to get their album(s), thanks for the good interview!
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