Forum Home Forum Home > Progressive Music Lounges > Interviews
  New Posts New Posts RSS Feed - Thinking Plague
  FAQ FAQ  Forum Search   Events   Register Register  Login Login

Thinking Plague

 Post Reply Post Reply Page  12>
Author
Message
Dean View Drop Down
Special Collaborator
Special Collaborator
Avatar
Retired Admin and Amateur Layabout

Joined: May 13 2007
Location: Europe
Status: Offline
Points: 37331
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Dean Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Thinking Plague
    Posted: March 01 2012 at 17:31
Thinking Plague
Colorado's Thinking Plague have been a prominent band in the world of Rock In Opposition / Avant Prog since their formation in 1982. As they approach their 30th anniversary Torodd Fuglesteg sent a few questions to co-founder, leader, composer/producer and guitarist Mike Johnson:
Your biography has been covered in your ProgArchives profile so let's bypass the biography details. But which bands were you influenced by:
My own influences are somewhat different from the other band founder, Bob Drake. We were both big Beatles fans, and later serious fans of 70's progressive bands like Yes and Gentle Giant.  I was more into Genesis than him, and he never listened to King Crimson, whose early albums I liked a lot.  We were both into Henry Cow and then the Art Bears - probably him a little more than me, though I was very much influenced by HC's album 'Western Culture" and their song "Living in the Heart of the Beast".  Both of us were deep in the thrall of the Art Bears by 1979-80.
The main difference between myself and Bob, and a lot of other "rock" people, is my long devotion to the orchestral or symphonic music of the 20th century.  I was introduced to Aaron Copland as a small child and have been a fan ever since.  In my teens my older brother, Burton, turned me on to Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Britten and others, which changed the trajectory of my life permanently.  And I became enamored of the symphonic music of Leonard Bernstein, and also Samuel Barber, Michael Tippet, and many others.  Ultimately the American composer William Schuman rose to the top of my "pyramid of worship".  I think that he and Shostakovich have had the greatest effect on my harmonic sense.
and why did you choose that name?
As I recall, Bob and I were searching for a name that was a kind of non sequitur, sort of like Iron Butterfly or Led Zeppelin.  So we were trying to put together words that wouldn't normally be found together.  I think it was me who came up with 'Thinking Plague' as both a non sequitur, but also a double or multiple entendre: the inability to stop thinking, or thinking ABOUT the plague, or a disease, a plague, that thinks.  My own preferred interpretation has always been basically the first one, one's inability to be in the 'hear and now' without having to think, to analyze, to be somehow separate from one's immediate experience.  A "plague" indeed.  But there was no "agenda" with the name, really.
This is an archive based interview also intended for the fans you get will after both you and I have passed away so let's go straight to your albums. Please give us your views/some words on your albums, starting with.......
... A Thinking Plague from 1984
This, of course, was our first attempt, and was very much a DIY kind of effort, by a couple inexperienced but determined young musicians.  I was far from finding my definite 'voice' as a composer, and there are various developmental threads that are represented on the album, which perhaps should not have been squished together onto one record.  Or perhaps they should - I don't know.  In any event, there were only 500 copies pressed and the covers were hand-sprayed-painted by Bob Drake with me as 'production line assistant'.  The re-mastered re-release of this LP on the 'Early Plague Years' CD is much better sounding than the original cheap vinyl pressing.
Moonsongs (1987)
We had some more and better players to help us on this album, although we still did not have a clear aesthetic direction.  We included an excerpt from a live-in-the-studio improv ('Collarless Fog that One Day Soon…'), and a very mesmerizing kind of static song by Susanne Lewis, neither of which had much in common with my more composed songs on the record. Again, divergent threads pulled together into an album. Nevertheless, I thought it was a better sounding record with better playing…although the original vinyl pressing by Deadman's Curve Records was total crap.  Again the CD re-release on 'Early Plague Years' is vastly superior.
In This Life (1989)
This is the first record where I feel like we actually found our "voice" and made a solid consistent 'album' of songs.  Our actual recording technology resources were not particularly better than for the previous records, but we had more experience and clearer aesthetic vision to guide us.  And we did not have to suffer the indignity of a low quality vinyl pressing, since it was our first CD (and CD only) release.  Moreover, we managed to get onto Chris Cutler's RēR label, which for us was a real coup.  The album got much wider distribution and had the inherent "recommendation" of being on the "Recommended" label.  It kind of put us "on the map".
In Extremis (1998)
Ultimately, this record was a combination of some material written for and played by the 1990 incarnation of the band (Bob Drake on bass, Dave Kerman on drums, Susanne Lewis on vocals, Shane Hotle on Keys, Mark Harris on reeds, and me on guitar) with material written later and played by the1997 incarnation (Dave Willey on bass, Deborah Perry on vocals, Harris on reeds, me, and nobody in particular on keys, yet).  So, it was some of the best recording work by the earlier band, such as 'Les Etudes d'Organisme', four new songs, and some material that fell kind of in-between, such as 'Kingdom Come', which was actually written in the late 80s.
Anyway, Kerman added a lot of drum energy that we'd never had, and Deborah's precision allowed me to write more difficulty vocal parts.  Dave Willey's accordion added a new color and, of course, Bob's great mix job, even though he was no longer an active band member, really MADE the album. He managed to make it all sound like it belongs together.  We had gotten onto the Cuneiform label for this one, and that along with the explosion of the internet gave this CD much greater distribution than we'd ever had.
Early Plague Years (2000)
As I mentioned earlier, this was a remastered CD re-release by Cuneiform of our first two vinyl LPs.  This CD almost never came into being, because I had some difficulty finding the original masters, which were in different formats like reel-to-reel, digital tape, etc.  We never got our master tape of Moonsongs back from the defunct Deadman's Curve label, but I found a digital copy in Sony F1 format.  Somehow, I managed top get it all into one format in one place, and then I sent it all to Bob Drake to re-master.  With the help of Cuneiform's graphic artist Bill Ellsworth, we put together a very nice booklet and included cover and other art from the original albums.  As I said, the sound is very good, and so much better than the vinyl versions.  Bob did a great mastering job.
A History of Madness (2003)
In 1995 I spend a couple months in Europe rehearsing and touring with the 5UU's. While there I became very intrigued with the history and geography of the area of southern France - Languedoc and Midi-Pyrenees - where Bob Drake's studio/farm is located.  Predictably, I came up with some musical ideas that became very associated in my mind with that region.  When I returned to the states, I read a number of related histories and historical novels, and after In Extremis was released, I began to work on a collection of songs, using those ideas from 1995 and later, that would express some of the mystique and tragedy of that region's history.  I hoped to use that as a kind of allegory about humanity's insane history of inhumanity, from which sickness we are not yet cured.  And I also touched on the personal malaise or mental illness that such a heritage has produced.  These songs became A History of Madness, another title with multiple entendres.
This CD was recorded by the "live" line-up that had performed at Progday, NEARFest, the MIMI festival, and other concerts in 1999 and 2000 - essentially the "In Extremis" band but with Matt Mitchell on keys and David Shamrock, late of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, on drums (after our live shows in 2000, Dave Kerman left TP to live and work on music in Israel). The approach for this CD was more "organic", featuring a lot of acoustic instruments, especially reedy sounds like accordion, harmonium, hurdy-gurdy, etc.
Upon Both Your Houses (2004)
Initially, I felt that our performance at NEARFest in 2000 was not one of our best, and it took some pressure from some other people to convince me that we should use the multitrack recordings made at the festival to mix a TP live album - which is what happened, and this CD is the result.  Again, I asked Bob Drake to mix it, and he did a fantastic job of capturing the authentic live quality of the room, while getting a great overall band sound, in which everything is clear and audible.  We played much of the material at a faster tempo than the studio versions, and so there is a lot of raw energy in these tracks.
For those of us unfamiliar with your music; how would you describe your music and which bands would you compare yourself with?
I don't really know what other bands may sound like us, other than a few 5UUs tracks.  I haven't heard any others.  But I would say that we have elements of everything from the Art Bears to Yes, King Crimson to Albert Marcoeur, but more of something "other" than any of those kinds of artists.  …which I think comes from my deep interest in 20th century orchestral music from composers such as Shostakovich and Schuman.
We do NOT play 'jazz', but we do use some jazz-like orchestration at times.  Our music is more like progressive rock, maybe along the lines of some Gentle Giant material, but with a definite element of modern extended or poly-tonality.  We are NOT technically atonal, I must insist, and we NEVER use the 12 tone method or any other "system" for generating musical ideas.  Our music require numerous listenings before most people can begin to appreciate, but thematic is "tuneful" and emotional in a more "modern" way.  It is NOT written to be intentionally complex, but rather to create some depth.
A History of Madness was released eight years ago, but you are pretty active on the live front and with other work. But you are returning early next year with the album "Decline and Fall" on Cuneiform. What can we expect from this album?
This new CD is really the epitome, in my opinion, of what I was just describing.  It is also a straight up musical indictment of the corruption, greed, dogmatic stupidity and improvident short-sightedness of political, economical and religious leaders in the world today.  The lyric concepts are pretty dark, obviously, giving a pretty pessimistic view of the current state of affairs.  The music, however, is mostly not so dark. The songs are complex and deep, but they have very distinct melodies and recurring themes and sections.  There are some wistful or even forlorn passages, some mysterious or dream-like passages, but there are also some pretty "rocking" sections, with rather upbeat rhythms and melodies.  I believe it is the best TP album yet, having taken a huge amount of time and effort, and benefiting from my increased command over my own compositional idiom.  I hope people will give many listens before passing any judgment.
Besides of the new album, what is your plans for the rest of this year and next year?
We are currently rehearsing a live performance unit completely based in Colorado, which we have not had in over 20 years, and we plan to do more local and regional concerts, with occasional festivals and small tours as the opportunities arise.  We have been invited to perform at the Rock-in-Opposition Festival near Albi, France this September (2012), so we hope our European fans will try to come see us there.
To wrap up this interview, is there anything you want to add to this interview?
No, not really.  Thank you very much.
Mike Johnson
(with thanks to Torodd Fuglesteg for the interview)
"You know what uranium is, right?
It’s this thing called nuclear weapons.
And other things.
Like lots of things are done with uranium.
Including some bad things.
But nobody talks about that."
Back to Top
Man With Hat View Drop Down
Collaborator
Collaborator
Avatar
Jazz-Rock/Fusion/Canterbury Team

Joined: March 12 2005
Location: Neurotica
Status: Offline
Points: 112224
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Man With Hat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 01 2012 at 17:52
That woman has hairy arms.
 
 
And cool interview. Always enjoyable to read/listen to Mike.
Dig me...But don't...Bury me
I'm running still, I shall until, one day, I hope that I'll arrive
Warning: Listening to jazz excessively can cause a laxative effect.
Back to Top
colorofmoney91 View Drop Down
Prog Reviewer
Prog Reviewer
Avatar

Joined: March 16 2008
Location: Biosphere
Status: Offline
Points: 22774
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote colorofmoney91 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 01 2012 at 20:03
Great interview, this band is one of the few avant bands I actually truly love.
Back to Top
memowakeman View Drop Down
Special Collaborator
Special Collaborator
Avatar
Honorary Collaborator

Joined: May 19 2005
Location: Mexico City
Status: Offline
Points: 13019
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote memowakeman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 01 2012 at 20:33
Excellent!!!!!

Follow me on twitter @memowakeman
Back to Top
infocat View Drop Down
Collaborator
Collaborator
Avatar
Heavy Prog Team

Joined: June 10 2011
Location: Colorado, USA
Status: Offline
Points: 4661
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote infocat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 01 2012 at 21:36
Great interview!
I stupidly decided to miss their recent free (I think) concert with "brother from another mother" Hamster Theater recently.  But it sounds like I might get a chance to make up for that.  I did see both ten or so years ago (around the time of In Extremis), but I'm not sure I "got" them at the time.

Just ordered Decline and Fall this afternoon.  Looking forward to it!

--
Frank Swarbrick
Belief is not Truth.
Back to Top
CPicard View Drop Down
Forum Senior Member
Forum Senior Member
Avatar

Joined: October 03 2008
Location: Là, sui monti.
Status: Offline
Points: 10674
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote CPicard Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 02 2012 at 03:12
So, I note: september, the R.I.O. festival... Too bad they don't have any other date: I would be glad to see them in Paris (le Triton, maybe?) or anywhere else.
I wouldn't mind going to Marseille if they were programmed to the MIMI festival in July, but that looks rather improbable.
Back to Top
Logan View Drop Down
Forum & Site Admin Group
Forum & Site Admin Group
Avatar
Forum Moderator

Joined: April 05 2006
Location: Utopia
Status: Offline
Points: 14759
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Logan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 02 2012 at 12:48
Good interview.  Like to see them at the RIO Fest, but, though I expect to go to some places in Europe around that time, including Paris, I don't think I'd have time for that side-trip even if it coincides with my stay there, which it probably wouldn't anyway.

I was actually very disappointed with In Extremis when I got it (about six or seven years ago).  It was my first TP album, and I knew it was very highly regarded, but fell flat on my ears. I am glad that not much later I decided to get A History of Madness, which I loved on first listen, and changed my mind about the band (fit my common tastes in music much better).  I then got Early Plague Years which I liked very much.  I have yet to hear the most recent album.
Back to Top
HolyMoly View Drop Down
Special Collaborator
Special Collaborator
Avatar
Retired Admin

Joined: April 01 2009
Location: Atlanta
Status: Offline
Points: 23112
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HolyMoly Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 02 2012 at 14:07
Thanks for posting that.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Johnson myself, back in '98 (after being blown away by In Extremis).  It wasn't even a formal Q&A type interview, I just spoke with him on the phone for an hour and wrote an article based on it.  It was a very interesting and pleasant conversation; Mike was very candid and had a lot of thoughtful things to say.
My other avatar is a Porsche

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle if it is lightly greased.

-Kehlog Albran
Back to Top
Guldbamsen View Drop Down
Special Collaborator
Special Collaborator
Avatar
Retired Admin

Joined: January 22 2009
Location: Dolly Parton
Status: Offline
Points: 20031
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guldbamsen Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 02 2012 at 14:08
Yeah that was a nice read. I'm currently waiting to get my hands on the newest oneBig smile
Funny enough - unlike Greg here, I was actually pretty meh about this band until I purchased In Extremis, and then suddenly everything clicked.
“The Guide says there is an art to flying or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”

- Douglas Adams
Back to Top
Logan View Drop Down
Forum & Site Admin Group
Forum & Site Admin Group
Avatar
Forum Moderator

Joined: April 05 2006
Location: Utopia
Status: Offline
Points: 14759
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Logan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 02 2012 at 15:13
based on memory as it has been a long time since I last listened to it:  I think part of what it may have been was that in Extremis was quite Symphonic Prog oriented whereas I was more chamber music oriented, but I can think of many exceptions to that if it were a rule which it isn't, and  the extensive mellotron and the way synths were used put me off.  It has this too polished, produced almost Neo Proggish feel for me during parts of the album. I did like the longest piece, "Les Etudes d'Organism" considerably.  Had it been more acoustic, I expect that I would have preferred the album (and that statement is coming from a great lover of electronic music).

 I had a few disappointments with albums back then that I just didn't feel lived up to the very high praise I was hearing; whereas, I got A History of Madness before hearing any praise based on, as I recall, a sample that I came across.  It's not really that they didn't live up to the praise, as that is to a large extent subjective, but that my expectations were off to which, of course, I can only blame myself for being careless and being overly influenced by my expectations.

  It's been a  long time since I've been disappointed with an album I got, even though a lot of them I haven't even sampled before but get based on descriptions alone.  I'm much better at getting albums I'll love unheard than I once was since I'm more knowledgeable about music and what to expect now, and I don't follow the praise nearly so much, but rather pay attention to and look for how the sound is described and which other music/ bands/ composers it relates to.

Anyway, though I like Thinking Plague considerably, and was very impressed with A History of Madness, it never became a favourite RIO-related band of mine.


Back to Top
TheGazzardian View Drop Down
Prog Reviewer
Prog Reviewer
Avatar

Joined: August 11 2009
Location: Canada
Status: Offline
Points: 7901
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TheGazzardian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 02 2012 at 15:26
Nice interview, my copy of the newest arrived in the mail today and is getting it's first spin as I type...good stuff!
Back to Top
Cesar Inca View Drop Down
Special Collaborator
Special Collaborator

Honorary Collaborator

Joined: May 19 2004
Location: Peru
Status: Offline
Points: 4885
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Cesar Inca Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 02 2012 at 21:17
A great interview!... AND A GREAT ALBUM THAT LAST ONE!! - "Decline And Fall" rules big time, my no. 1 album of 2012 so far.
Back to Top
infocat View Drop Down
Collaborator
Collaborator
Avatar
Heavy Prog Team

Joined: June 10 2011
Location: Colorado, USA
Status: Offline
Points: 4661
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote infocat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 02 2012 at 21:52
In Extremis neo-progish??  Umm....  Confused
--
Frank Swarbrick
Belief is not Truth.
Back to Top
HolyMoly View Drop Down
Special Collaborator
Special Collaborator
Avatar
Retired Admin

Joined: April 01 2009
Location: Atlanta
Status: Offline
Points: 23112
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HolyMoly Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 02 2012 at 22:19
Originally posted by infocat infocat wrote:

In Extremis neo-progish??  Umm....  Confused

If you're referring to Logan's post, he said "symphonic prog", and not neo-prog.  A different kettle of fish certainly, but still a pretty curious statement on the surface.  But you know, I think there's something to that.  One of the reasons I liked "In Extremis" so much was that it wasn't so far in the RIO corner that it could only be enjoyed in an intellectual way.  It had some classic prog rock type moments -- it "rocked" like a classic Yes album -- and that really got my blood moving.  Here was an RIO-type album that had bucketloads of emotional, cathartic rock content.  I loved that aspect of it.  I never loved their other albums nearly as much (though I do like them all) because they felt more "studied" in comparison.


Edited by HolyMoly - March 02 2012 at 22:20
My other avatar is a Porsche

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle if it is lightly greased.

-Kehlog Albran
Back to Top
infocat View Drop Down
Collaborator
Collaborator
Avatar
Heavy Prog Team

Joined: June 10 2011
Location: Colorado, USA
Status: Offline
Points: 4661
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote infocat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 02 2012 at 22:24
Originally posted by HolyMoly HolyMoly wrote:

Originally posted by infocat infocat wrote:

In Extremis neo-progish??  Umm....  Confused

If you're referring to Logan's post, he said "symphonic prog", and not neo-prog.  A different kettle of fish certainly, but still a pretty curious statement on the surface.  But you know, I think there's something to that.  One of the reasons I liked "In Extremis" so much was that it wasn't so far in the RIO corner that it could only be enjoyed in an intellectual way.  It had some classic prog rock type moments -- it "rocked" like a classic Yes album -- and that really got my blood moving.  Here was an RIO-type album that had bucketloads of emotional, cathartic rock content.  I loved that aspect of it.  I never loved their other albums nearly as much (though I do like them all) because they felt more "studied" in comparison.


I quote: "It has this too polished, produced almost Neo Proggish feel for me during parts of the album."

Anyway...
--
Frank Swarbrick
Belief is not Truth.
Back to Top
frippism View Drop Down
Collaborator
Collaborator
Avatar
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team

Joined: July 27 2010
Location: Tel Aviv
Status: Offline
Points: 4155
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote frippism Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 03 2012 at 07:34
Cool interview! I can't say I like the new album, though. At least yet.
There be dragons
Back to Top
HolyMoly View Drop Down
Special Collaborator
Special Collaborator
Avatar
Retired Admin

Joined: April 01 2009
Location: Atlanta
Status: Offline
Points: 23112
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HolyMoly Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 03 2012 at 08:22

Originally posted by infocat infocat wrote:

 

I quote: "It has this too polished, produced almost Neo Proggish feel for me during parts of the album."

Anyway...

Oops, my bad.  Dead I was a bit distracted when I wrote that.  Sorry.


My other avatar is a Porsche

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle if it is lightly greased.

-Kehlog Albran
Back to Top
ShW1 View Drop Down
Forum Senior Member
Forum Senior Member
Avatar

Joined: September 10 2005
Location: Sambation
Status: Offline
Points: 281
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ShW1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 03 2012 at 11:00
Originally posted by Logan Logan wrote:

 Had it been more acoustic, I expect that I would have preferred the album

 
Logan, you should definitely listen to the live album "Upon both your houses" and this will give you another perspective and point of view on In Extremis compositions.
Back to Top
Logan View Drop Down
Forum & Site Admin Group
Forum & Site Admin Group
Avatar
Forum Moderator

Joined: April 05 2006
Location: Utopia
Status: Offline
Points: 14759
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Logan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 03 2012 at 13:01
^ Thanks, I will try to get the album and am confident that I will like it very much.

By the way, regarding my referring to my rather Neo-Prog production/ sound qualities feeling at times with the album, I'm not really sure what the "Umm" means -- my statement was pretty vague so I guess I shouldn't expect a really detailed response there. It was a far cry from me saying that it was Neo Prog.

Holy Moly, though as I said I haven't heard the album in quite a few years, so I'm going on memories, and it must be said that my memory isn't what it once was, I think you described it well.  It does have Yes qualities, particularly one track as I recall, and does have certain rocking classic Prog Rock qualities.  I'm not as into "rocking" music as most here. The more Symph Prog oriented than chamber music oriented qualities I was thinking of has a lot to do with the instrumentation rather than particularly compositional qualities.  
Back to Top
kingcrimsonfan View Drop Down
Forum Senior Member
Forum Senior Member
Avatar

Joined: November 19 2010
Status: Offline
Points: 239
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote kingcrimsonfan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 15 2012 at 13:08
Can't wait for the new album, the lyrical content sounds awesome as well as the instrumental portion. the themes in the lyrics are much needed for today's world in which corruption rules. Keep on avanting it thinking plague and thanks for the interview dean!
Back to Top
 Post Reply Post Reply Page  12>
  Share Topic   

Forum Jump Forum Permissions View Drop Down

Forum Software by Web Wiz Forums® version 11.01
Copyright ©2001-2014 Web Wiz Ltd.

This page was generated in 0.977 seconds.