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    Posted: August 13 2010 at 09:34


Gino, Joe & Dave

Electrum are a late 90's, all-instrumental trio from New England who stand at the crossroads of prog rock and fusion, somewhere between Rush and Bill Bruford's solo albums. The are: Dave Kulju on electric guitar and synthesizer, Joe Musmanno on acoustic and electronic percussion, and Gino Foti on bass guitar, synth and MIDI pedals. Their goal is to create music that is both emotionally moving and technically challenging. Their sound is bare boned: no flash, all rock steady, with plenty of drive and direction, yet full of complex arrangements and antiseptically clean odd-time signatures.

I got in touch with the band and the band members gave me the Electrum story so far.


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I believe the ProgArchives biography on Electrum is pretty accurate. But why did you choose that name ?

Gino: I named the band after the secondary meaning of the word, which is: an alloy of two or more elements that occur naturally. It is meant to reflect both the synergistic sound we strive to achieve, and the fusion of genres and styles we each bring to the band through our eclectic musical influences.   

Over to your releases. Please give me your (long or brief) thoughts and lowdowns on.......



Frames of Mind from 1998  

Dave: I hadn't listened to this record in a long, long time, so I thought I'd give it a spin before I attempted to talk about it. As I did so, I was struck by how strange it sounds to me. There are some nice ideas in there but not enough craft in the arrangements. The guitar playing is frequently cringe-worthy but there are some cool interweaved guitar and bass lines. Decent drum sound considering it was done with only 4 mics. I still really like the cover art on this one. Frames was really the three of us figuring out how to make an album. Considering the whole thing was recorded on just 8 tracks the engineering isn't terrible. Most vivid memory from these sessions is the one day I showed up at Gino's to track guitars and ended up with a nagging pinky injury. Like a pitcher with a blister, I was useless. Gino's Mom was giving me iodine to put on it but nothing seemed to help, and we had to wrap for the day with nothing tracked. The other session that sticks out is Joe coming in to the "control room" and collapsing on the floor after tracking the final section of Voices (killer drum part). Oh, and I remember Gino and I were mucking with the arrangement on "Portal to Arcanum" right up until Joe started laying down the drums, which wasn't very nice considering he hadn't even heard, much less had time to practice the new parts when we hit the record button.

Gino: It's become a band tradition to screw with the arrangement just before Joe has to record. I haven't listened to this in years! Considering how fast it was produced after Joe joined the band, and that some of the equipment used was previously owned by Fred Flintstone, it's a good effort. The longer tracks, like: "Voices", "Portal To Arcanum", and the second part of the title track are probably more interesting to listen to, with all the rhythmic interplay. I see it more as our demo disc than our debut album. I retain many happy memories from those days, as we had a lot of fun while rehearsing the material and producing the album.

Joe: Making _Frames of Mind_ was an educational experience, and the result was something of a surprise. For me, there was a stark realization that the studio environment is very different from live performance, and one for which I had not truly prepared. What I wanted from that record was simply a documentation of the state of Electrum in its young phase, but what I got pleasantly exceeded my expectations. Even now, I am surprised by the positive feedback I receive from listeners of this record. Since we had borrowed equipment, we crammed the drum tracking into just a couple of days, and that made them extremely long, hot, blister-filled affairs for me. I recall coming back from a lunch break to learn that the bulk of the morning's work had been accidentally lost. It was hard recovering from that. Also, that bit about reworking "Portal" right up to the last second--that was a neat trick.


Standard Deviation from 2002

Gino: By far, the superior of the two. "The Will To Power" is still my favorite track, and a good example of how an instrumental band can keep a listener's attention for over eight minutes without any solo spots. I vividly remember helping Joe record his tracks for this tune. I figured that it would be an all-day affair, due to the complexity of the arrangement. Of course, he nailed it on the first take! A few punch-ins here and there to clean things up and we were done. Tracks like "Degrees Of Freedom", "The Impudent Piece Of Crockery", and "Seven Falls, Eight Rises" are a unique blend of elegance and intensity. I love Dave's guitar solos on these tracks, and Joe's drum arrangements perfectly frame and anchor the entire compositions, while myriad other instruments appear and disappear throughout. "A Tense Bow... A Moving Target" shows that we have never met and odd-time signature that we didn't like. More fun to play than to listen to... well, unless you have ADHD, and just ran out of Ritalin.

Joe: I think we succeeded in doing a far better job in every dimension for this recording, though I admit my expectations for it were even higher, so I harbor some disappointment over it. Certain elements came out better than I could have wished, but the frustration of spending 20 hours tuning tom-toms and still having them sound flat digs at me. I think the songs themselves are much stronger, perhaps in part due to the somewhat more collaborative approach we took to composing them. Although it often seems writing together is an exercise in frustration (because often what you really like gets thrown in the trash can), the final result is usually better than any one person could have put together.

Dave: Again, having not heard this album in some time I gave it a spin this afternoon. In comparison to Frames everything is much improved: better recording, better compositions, and much better guitar playing. There are several really nice moments and interesting ideas. Some experiments clearly didn't work out that well and some songs didn't quite reach their potential. Here and there I wish we had captured tighter performances. I'm also struck by how heavy a lot of the material is. While a lot was made in reviews about the epic "Seven Falls, Eight Rises", I think I prefer the darker tunes at the start of the record. For SD, we started incorporating more computer tech into our "mobile studio" and went to town with the additional tracks that afforded us. The result being a much fuller sound with more melodic ideas in the foreground. My guitar rig was significantly upgraded and I did a lot of woodshedding between records. I remember having a couple of fun weekends at Joe's place tracking drums... with construction going on at the next door neighbors house, a hornet nest in the BBQ, and the best Chinese takeout I've ever had. Gino and I primarily recorded our tracks on our own in our home studios.

Gino: That was a huge error, as it obviously cost us the Grammy® that year.  

How is your writing and creative processes ?

Joe: When I hear a tune or a fragment of something, I write something that compliments it brilliantly. Then when I actually attempt to play my idea, I make all manner of mistakes. Usually, the mistakes are more interesting than what I wrote anyway, so frequently that's what winds up in the final song. Gino generally throws things at Dave during rehearsals. I don't mean ideas, I mean  *things*. Creativity is often about keeping off-balance, and we can count on Gino for that.

Gino: Yeah, sometimes I like to compose while I'm wearing crotchless, studded black leather lederhosen, and Kabuki makeup. Kidding, just kidding... anybody who follows me on Twitter knows that I am extremely allergic to heavy makeup products.

Dave: Like most bands, the process varies widely. We jam a fair amount at rehearsals and record those in hopes of finding something that can be the basis for a new song. Other times either Gino or I will bring in something for the band to work with. It can range from a rough sketch to something that is nearly a completed song with a few blanks to fill in. From there we work on it as a group, either in the same room at rehearsal or passing files around. Of course no matter how a song starts, there is about a 60% chance it will be almost completely rewritten at some later date.

Electrum has been described as a mix of Bruford and Rush. How would you describe your music to those here who are unfamiliar with your band ?

Dave: I'm not very good at describing music, particularly music I had a hand in creating. The old "Dancing about Architecture" quote applies. While we are Rush fans, at least of some phases of their career, I actually hear a lot more King Crimson and Marillion along with a host of other influences in the Electrum material than I hear Rush.  

Joe: I prefer to let others describe it--they are more objective than I can be. I have heard it described as "a prog-head's version of a movie score, with some Crimson."

Gino: I would rather not describe our music either. That task should be left up to the individual listener. Contrary to popular belief, we are not a Rush wannabe. They are a singularity in the musical universe, and it would be pointless to clone them. Did we use them as a point of departure for our music? Guilty as charged, but as a new band, you need a common language to begin communicating ideas with each other, and Rush is our musical Esperanto. That said, I have a life-size cutout of Geddy Lee over my bed that I pray to every night. I'm joking of course... I actually have two of them!

Does Electrum play any gigs or are you a studio project ?

Gino: We have never had a live identity, and probably never will. The original plan for the band included playing gigs, and all the compositions on "Frames Of Mind" were arranged so they could be played live without additional musicians or technological help, hence its "bare bones" sound, and guitar or bass disappearing for minutes at a time. Unfortunately, logistical issues have been the bane of this band's existence from the start. The three of us live in two different states, spread out over 125 miles. Add to that, three completely different work schedules, other obligations and responsibilities, and the annoyances that everyday life can bring, and you can see the difficulty we face in just getting together to rehearse material, much less play live, or going on tour.

Is any of the Electrum members involved in any other bands or projects ?

Dave: This summer I released my second album working on my own. The new one is called "Notes in the Margin" and I did another one back in 2007 called "Abstract Expression". I suspect most people would hear my CDs as being in a similar vein to the Electrum CDs but I like to think I'm getting better at this as time goes on. Anyway, there is more info than you would ever want about all that at  http://www.davekmusic.com/

Gino: I have released four albums that fuse elements of progressive rock with improvisational jazz fusion and ethnic sonorities from throughout the globe that should appeal to fans of prog artists like: Pekka Pohjola, Jade Warrior, Percy Jones, and Ozric Tentacles; or first-generation jazz/world fusion groups like: Return To Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Weather Report. They should also appeal to Rush fans that enjoy compositions with elements of world music like: "Territories", "Tai Shan", and "Mystic Rhythms". A few of the compositions include discarded Electrum material, and Dave plays on two tracks. Audio clips of every track, including six complete compositions, are available for free on my website - http://GinoFoti.com - for those whose curiosity I have just piqued. Is music your main occupation or do any of you have daytime jobs outside the music scene ?

Joe: Our daytime jobs both support and obstruct Electrum.  

Gino: Well said! I own a small business that is trying to bring back asbestos usage in the construction industry. Totally unrelated question: How much are we being paid for this interview?

Dave: There is such a thing as playing progressive music for a living??? I'm a Software Engineer, though oddly enough if it weren't for Electrum (and getting curious in the mid 90s about how one makes these websites all the cool bands seem to have nowadays) I probably wouldn't have gone back to school to study computers. So, I'd still be a frustrated waiter with a music degree if it weren't for Electrum.  

Gino: Although we fall into the classification of "hobbyist musicians", we take it as seriously as most professionals. You can't fake passion and fool even the casual progressive rock listener, much less the extensive network of prog dealers, reviewers, and radio DJs that we have encountered.

What is your latest update and your plans for this and next year ?

Gino: Electrum is currently on extended hiatus. Dave: There is some new music we wrote; hopefully one day we will record it along with some other new music. But there isn't a plan.  

Gino: Not yet, anyway. I am presently working on my last two world fusion albums, and after that, I will turn my focus solely on Electrum. Or a Justin Bieber tribute band. It's a coin flip, really.  

To wrap up this interview, is there anything you want to add to this interview ?  

Dave: Let's see, an open ended opportunity to say what I want on the internets.... Ok, for starters Forgas Band Phenomena was amazing at NEARfest... oh and Hi, Mom!

Gino: I would like to thank the prog community at large for all the support they have given us over the years, and for keeping the torch lit on this vital genre through their time, money, and energy, both on & off the Internet.


Thank you to Gino, Joe and Dave for this interview.

The Electrum bio is here and their homepage here

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote avestin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 08 2010 at 08:56
I recently got to know Dave's solo output (and have suggested his inclusion here in cross-over prog).
Glad to have this opportunity to learn more about Electrum.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote netdotmusic Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 10 2014 at 11:12

Today marks the one year anniversary of the death of co-founder and guitarist Dave Kulju. Joe and I decided not to produce any more music as Electrum, but I recently completed a demo made years ago, in preparation for our third album, which you can download for free at: http://netdotmusic.com/audio/Telluric_Currents.mp3

Dave wrote the main themes and the rhythmic passage that switches between 10/4 & 11/4 towards the end, and I brought in the chord progressions for the two solo spots - the first influenced by Latin jazz, the second by Mediterranean folk music - as we were looking to include some world music to our sound. We worked on the arrangement as a group at my house, and then Dave recorded the demo on his home studio. We also wanted to add more improvisational jazz aspects, so he did not record a solo, unfortunately. That's the bad news. The good news is that now there are two bass guitar solos! (Hmm... come to think of it, that's the bad news!!)

Since Dave's drum programming under the solos was sparse, I added some congas and doumbeks to the respective parts for some ethnic spice. Given that this began as a file sent through e-mail almost a decade ago, and that there was no way I could seperate most of the instrumentation for a proper mixdown, the end result isn't all that bad. It's a brief glimpse on the eclectic path we were headed on.

Happy holidays, and thank you for your support!
 
Gino
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote verslibre Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 12 2014 at 12:05
Originally posted by netdotmusic netdotmusic wrote:

Today marks the one year anniversary of the death of co-founder and guitarist Dave Kulju.
I'm really sorry to read of this as I was wholly unaware of his passing. His solo album Notes in the Margin was among the best albums released that year. Everyone should hear it.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote progpositivity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 06 2015 at 11:00
So very sorry to learn that Dave Kulju is no longer with us. 
I really enjoyed seeing/hearing Electrum mature from their first to second studio albums and then was pleasantly suprised and impressed by the high quality of Dave's subsequent solo albums.
 
For anyone new to this music, I recommend starting with "Notes in the Margin" and then moving in reverse chronological order to "Abstract Expression", then 2002's Electrum album "Standard Deviation", followed up by Electrum's debut from the late 1990's titled "Frames of Mind".
 
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