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Gandalf's Fist

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toroddfuglesteg View Drop Down
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    Posted: September 09 2011 at 04:08


GANDALF'S FIST is the creative vehicle of duo Luke Severn and Dean Marsh, with varying musicians, compatriots and otherwise like-minded people affecting the proceedings apparently. 


After five years of wandering to and from the studio and the literary heritage of good, old Tolkien, this creative duo decided it was time to fire up their respective creative engines, and set them to work producing material. The result of this process appeared in the shape of a concept album: The Master and the Monkey.

With their creative enginges still humming in harmony, another project was kicked off right away. And in 2011 Gandalf's Fist had their sophomore production ready, this one called Road to Darkness.  

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When, where and by whom was your band born ? Did any of you, past and present members, play in any other bands before joining up in your band ? Why did you choose that name and which bands were you influenced by ?

Dean: Gandalf’s Fist started about six or seven years ago when I was at university in Newcastle, I’d been here and there mainly in covers bands, doing the ‘many-the-charity-gig-scene’.  I’ve tried the whole acoustic one man band thing and folk sessions, and apart from a brief foray into the world of metal with the band Iron Hog, Gandalf’s Fist has been the main domain of my creative output for the past six years or so.
Actually, I do remember that before Gandalf’s Fist began in earnest, (former bandmate) Ben and myself were talking about a sea-shanty style covers band, and actually demoed a track called “The Ballad of Captain Crookshanks” or something... Anyways, Ben wanted to call the band “ElectroSeaCore” and I wanted to go with “Crabtallica”... needless to say we didn’t dwell on this idea for too long...
 
Luke: I'd been in a couple of garage jamming bands but nothing serious, it’s mainly with the advent of the internet and affordable recording technology that I’ve been able to experiment with more substantial projects. As for the name, Mr Todd originally invented the band name to impress a girl, it didn’t work, but we loved the name and it stuck.
 
Dean: My memory of events differs from Luke’s slightly as I’m still laying claim to coming up with the name. This could be wrong however as I’d say my brain was constantly floating in Gin for my entire residency in the north east, pickled almost. However, the details are correct and It was indeed a name we made up when we were talking to a group of lasses in “Legend’s” Nightclub in Newcastle. I can defiantly see why it was attributed to Todd though, Todd is our long time friend and former flatmate and he used to come up with these crazy names for things all the time, and stranger still they seemed to catch on. He would say things like “Let’s Kill Treebeard” which was roughly translated as “Ok – let’s go!”
.... “fancy going for a few pints Todd?” –
“Ok, Let’s kill Treebeard”.
Bizarre stuff. That particular phraseology led to the name of our very first demo song, Treebeard Transport King, which is still knocking about somewhere, probably on MySpace or something...
 
Luke: Now, Influences? I’d say our main influences would be Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater, in the days gone by I’ve been really influenced by the German metal scene as well, mainly Gamma Ray and  Blind Guardian.
 
Dean: I think when you listen to our music, especially Road to Darkness, those influences come thick and fast. There’s defiantly a distinct air of Floyd in Emerald Eyes, A bit of King Crimson and The Who on The Council of Anderson and a bit of a Steven Wilson style vibe on Assorted Lunatics. There’s a lot of influences in there for sure, you’ll find everything from Maiden, Sabbath, Tull - it really just comes through naturally from our listening experiences, we just write on a song-by-song basis and are not really subscribing to any particular ‘progressive agenda’.
 
You are residing in Cumbria, England. Cumbria is a bit Tolkien, to say at least. High mountains with a lot of lakes inbetween. Hence it's other name; The Lakes District. There was a pretty big heavy rock scene in Cumbria back in the 1970s. But how is it to run a band in Cumbria now ? Btw where in Cumbria do you live ?
 
Dean: It’s funny you should mention that as It’s something that really struck me when I was reading Lord of the Rings as a kid, none of my mates never seemed to get the connection, but to me even the respective maps of Middle Earth and Cumbria look similar, and the landscape is indeed very Tolkeinesque. The Place we call home is on the west coast in a fishing town called Maryport. This coastline is filled with history and folklore you know, and was the inspiration for “stakes at low tide” from our first album. I’m a native of this area, and Luke’s a rotten outsider from Nottingham!
As far as the rock scene. It’s defiantly not the same. There’s still some great local bands and actually some amazing musicians that are kind of going unnoticed, however gone are the days of the 70’s when bands from major cities would come and cut their teeth on the Cambrian circuit. You can’t go into a working mens club around here without someone saying “I remember seeing Sabbath play in here in 1969”  - that’s just typical and it’s a shame that there isn’t really that widespread “classic rock scene” anymore. That said, many of the local bands do a great job promoting themselves throughout the county and there’s a growing number of really good festivals starting to appear so things are looking up!
 
Luke: Indeed, there are a lot of local bands with local support, but how far these bands have gone in promoting further afield I don’t know. We've taken the approach to promote as far and wide as possible, we are at this stage in our careers a studio band, so we don’t have the same kind of local support, we don’t conform to the Standard image of a local type band, long hair and teenage girl fans are not what we are about. Prog isn’t for everyone so we enjoy getting our music out to fans of prog no matter where they are in the world.
 
Dean: Luke’s only saying this as “long hair and teenage girls” are defiantly out of the question at his age anyway. Especially the long hair. Seriously though, he’s right in what he’s saying: in essence our ‘local scene’ is the Prog Rock Community itself!


 
Over to your two albums. Your debut album was The Master and the Monkey from 2010. Please tell us more about this album.
 
Luke: The Master and Monkey was 2/3 new material 1/3 songs that had been in rough form or demos for the past couple of years, Dean will have to take the credit for most of the development as I was working away in Scotland most of 2010, I came back in November last year and we worked hard to get all the material finished and recorded, in all honesty the Master and the Monkey was a learning curve, some of the production was not as tight as we would have liked and we hope to address this in the future. As it stands the m & m is was it is, a raw and sometimes unwieldy beast, I believe that it is good in parts, but that the process of making it made us decide to get back in to the studio as soon as possible and put what we had learned into practice.
 
Dean: The basic premise behind this record was a crazy story that Luke has written. I’m not sure if he ever finished it, but basically it revolved around a monkey called François and his semi-evil legless frog companion “Pierre du Gateau”. It’s actually a fairly funny read and I was really impressed with Luke’s characterisation, so I decided to put a few songs together to go with it... I think you can still read a few chapters of it on our website.
As for the recording process, like Luke says, it really was a learning curve, but an immensely enjoyable one! Song’s like ‘The master and the monkey part one’, were essentially a free-form exploration and we were still figuring out how to capture and present this. There’s some great stuff though, Stakes at low tide had been lying around for ages and defiantly has that ‘epic’ feel.
At some point we’d like to go back to some of the songs and treat them to the production they deserve but I tend to think of this album as our statement of intent.


 
Your second and most recent album is Road to Darkness released earlier this year. Please tell us more about this album.
 
 
Dean: I’m really proud of this record and I think you can tell the immense leap we’ve made in literally a matter of months. The first album was released in January and we wrote, recorded and released this one on the 1st July!
My idea for the album came from the song ‘Emerald Eyes’ which I had written years ago after staying up all night trying to sync Dark side of the Moon with The wizard of Oz. I think this is the main reason this track has such a Floydian vibe to it. Anyway I got back to thinking about this track and thought it would be great to do a ‘space-rock’ version of the wizard of oz, basically a girl being transported to a strange alien world. The rest of the music just seemed to flow naturally as we discussed the themes!
 
Luke: Road to Darkness was a true collaboration, with Dean bringing the idea of a dark retelling of the Wizard of oz to the table and me running with this idea and coming up with some of the themes of the tracks, Dean came up with the core of the songs with myself writing lyrics and overall sound.
 
Dean: I think what it boils down to is Luke is a lazy sausage. Seriously one of these days I’m going to teach him to compose on something, be that a flipping Kazoo, Tibetan mountain flute – anything! Haha! Musically, I wrote everything, however vocally and lyrically it is nearly exactly 50/50 me and Luke and it was a great way to work. Aside from this there’s our tribute to a Cumbrian Legend – the Poet William Wordsworth, the track “Untrodden Ways” features his poetry as lyrics!
 
Luke: The recording was great fun, we worked hard to get the sound right, we took on board the criticism from the first album and worked hard to make the album sound as good as possible.
 
Dean: Indeed, we were very selective as well in the song selection. Initially, there was a 30-minute orchestral suite that ended the album called “The man behind the curtain”. But it really didn’t fit with the rest of the album so we painstakingly had to cut it from the record, but I think it benefited the ‘album’ as a whole you know. I think there are some instrumental versions of this movement on our soundcloud page if anyone’s interested.


 
You have also released a couple of Eps this year named Emerald Eyes and Stakes at Low Tide. Please tell us more about them.
 
Dean: Stakes at Low tide is a song about a local myth regarding a great sea worm that swam into the local waters and basically starting being a bit of a pesky so-and-so. The tale ends with a lot of angry farmers and some very pointy sticks... I think the song tells the story better than I do.... After the album was released we decided to go back and pay special attention to this track, we went right back to the master tapes, remixed all the orchestral segments and gave it a more ‘stand alone’ sound. It sounds great and I wish this was the version we had on the album! Maybe a compilation in the future could rectify this!
 
Luke: Yeah, ‘Stakes’ is one of the tracks we've had in the development pot for about two years, it was reworked and given lyrics, as we'd always had it as an instrumental called ‘Knives in the Dark”. It’s available digitally through Itunes and also on CD. The CD version features two b-sides(The original album mix and an unreleased instrumental “Maurice’s Revenge”)
 
Luke: Emerald Eyes is the single from Road to Darkness, its our favourite track from the album and was released before the album as a taster, the b-side was an acoustic version of untrodden ways, which is awesomely piratey and strips down the orchestral arrangement to give a traditional folk song!
 
Dean: The main difference between this version and the album version is the mix. There vocals are slightly less psychedelic, the layers of guitars are stripped back a bit and a few elements are removed such as slide guitar and female backing vocals. To top it off it was given a standalone ‘radio master’. The reason for this is we thought this was probably the best song to stand on its own feet out of the context of the album so we wanted a version that was more or less a ‘straight rocker’. We wouldn’t really call these releases ‘EPs’ as such, more singles really. We did release an EP a while back called “Moonstruck” as a thankyou to a few of our friends – it was basically a “best of” the early days and featured songs from our first two demos such as “Pipeweed-fusion-mindmeld” and “Over the Yardarm”.
We’re looking at doing something similar quite soon...
 
Your art works is very special and excellent. Please tell us more about them.
 
Dean: As independent musicians we’re very keen to support independent artists as well. We obtain licences for existing designs and then are lucky enough to be supported by a wealth of creative people to help turn them to our purpose. The illustration for the Frog on the front of The Master and The Monkey was actually done by my sister, Aisling, and has really made that album art something special. She also did all the interior illustrations for the Road to Darkness inlay booklet. The only thing that I’ve contributed artistically is the GF logo and I also drew the map for the R2D inlay. You can see most of Ash’s sketches on our Website or on FB... I’ll just stick to maps... drawing roads is easer than anthropomorphosised amphibians.


 
For those of us unknown with your music; how would you describe you music and which bands would you compare yourself with ?
 
Luke: We record progressive folk rock, which mixes elements of classic 70's prog, our last album was heavily influenced by the likes of Pink Floyd, but we include elements of Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater and even some metal such as Maiden and Blind Guardian make appearances in our riffs and harmonies. We enjoy varying the style of music that we record, such as ‘untrodden ways’, on Road to Darkness and the “samba melody” on TMATP part 1. We like a lot of different genres and we try to incorporate that into our music.
 
Dean: First album: “Frog Rock.” Second album: “Jovian-wizard-Core”. In all seriousness it’s hard to put a finger on our style because a lot of our stuff sounds different. Basically, If you look at Road To Darkness, it’s very much a 70’s Prog album, even the reverbs and delays we’ve used are reminiscent of that era, if people like what we’re doing then great! If not, then, well.... time to dig up Crabtallica.


 
What is your current status and plans for this year and beyond ?
 
Luke: We are still actively promoting road to darkness, we have a new EP on the drawing board, of wholly unreleased material, we are planning to release a second EP just before Xmas, then we're yet to decide on what next years projects will be, a return to middle earth may be on the cards as well as a best of with remastered and remixed versions of some of our TMATM favourites!
 
Dean: As you can tell, we’re going through a very creative spell, so realistically we’re not ruling anything out! As it stands we’ve got 3-4 tracks that will be finished this month which have a very nautical vibe to them! Each one is a very different style and we’re actually making a full blown foray into some heavy riffage on one of them! Should be interesting! We’ll be releasing that ASAP free of charge to people who have been so kind as to buy our last album!
Also as Luke mentioned, we’re gearing up to making sure everyone has a very Proggy Christmas! It should be more festive than Ian Anderson’s Jingling cod-piece.
 
To wrap up this interview, is there anything you want to add to this interview?
 
Luke: We have been blown away by how great road to darkness has been received and we're quite excited to see our fan base grow and grow all over the world, beyond that we would love to start touring, and recruit a group of session musicians to take on tour with us, Prog is a genre that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to making it big, but we’d love to grow into different collaborations in the future!
Dean: I would just like to add that if the person who broke into my garden and vandalised my shrubberies is a Prog Rock fan and, by sheer chance, is reading this interview I would like to say this: “I don’t know who you are, or from whence you came but you are not permitted at any future Gandalf’s Fist performances without bringing the following: One large tomato plant, some nice hanging baskets and a well punctuated letter of apology”
Luke: Seriously?
Dean: Seriously. Well.... also, Cheers to everyone for showing their support, anyone who’s interested in checking out – cheers to you too! I recommend you start with Road to Darkness and I raise a horn of mead to your excellent health! Luke and Myself are meeting up to discuss GF phase III and from what we’ve been working on I think everyone will really enjoy the upcoming releases! Feel free to get in touch with us, we’re always looking for new Ideas, projects and collaborations! TTFN!

Thank you to Luke and Dean for this interview
Their PA profile is here and their homepage is here



Edited by toroddfuglesteg - September 09 2011 at 04:12
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