Interview with Gleb Kolyadin (iamthemorning)

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Gleb Kolyadin is a conservatory-trained classical pianist and keyboardist, from St. Petersburg, Russia. He is best known as one half of the chamber-prog duo iamthemorning, where he is joined by Marjana Semkina as lead vocalist and co-songwriter. The duo won album of the year from the Prog Awards in 2016 for their breakthrough critically-acclaimed Lighthouse, though they have a handful of other releases to their name, working with the likes of Gavin Harrison, Vlad Avy, Mariusz Duda, and Marcel van Limbeek.

After the release of Lighthouse and the end of that album cycle, Kolyadin focused his efforts on releasing his eponymous debut solo album, once again working with Harrison and Avy, but now enlisting the help of heavy-hitters such as Nick Beggs and Theo Travis. The result is an exciting adventure through the realm of sound and an exploration of what’s capable in the studio. You can read Sonic Perspectives’ review of the album here.

Author and contributor Austin Kokel conducted an interview via email with Gleb Kolyadin, talking about the trials and tribulations of creating the album, what the story of the album is, and how to convey that story through lyrics and music.

Thank you, Gleb, for taking the time to answer some questions for us, and congratulations on the recent release of what is an incredible piece of music!  Let’s start at the start.  After all of your success so far with iamthemorning, why did you decide to create a solo album?

It’s a long story… For several years now, I have been writing something like a music diary (called poloniumcubes) where I fix the ideas that came to me spontaneously at night.  I do not give names to tracks, but I use just the dates of writing.  Sometimes, when I need material for iamthemorning or my other local projects, I use some tracks from there.  But at some point, there was so much of this rough material accumulated that it made me uncomfortable to leave it unused.  So, I just decided to select a few of these drafts and put them into a full album.  It was just a matter of respect for my own work.  However, when I started collecting tracks, a completely new music appeared in my mind…  So, ultimately, 80 percent of my album is music born in the spring and summer of 2016.

The album is supposed to be an exploration of self-identity and a story in two parts. What is it like communicating these ideas mostly through instrumental music? And for the songs containing lyrics with Mick Moss and Steve Hogarth, how difficult is it to convey your story through their lyrics, which are in your secondary language? I would assume you placed a lot of trust in them as lyricists.

For me, music is the main language.  It may sound a little implausible, but sometimes it’s much easier for me to express my emotions or ideas through music.  The fact that the album is almost completely instrumental for me personally expands the boundaries.  In vocal music, voice and lyrics are a kind of “source code.”  On the one hand, it gives a certain vector of perception.  On the other hand, sometimes this somewhat limits the range of musical possibilities. Therefore, for me, instrumental music is like “green light.”  I was able to fit a lot of my musical ideas, work on a different level with arrangements, composition and form.  At the same time, I tried to express the main plot and the idea of the album through my work with leitmotifs, thematic progressions, and cross-cutting progressions.  The story is about a character who sees in a dream an abandoned house with intricate corridors and stairs.  This is some kind of projection of himself. Walking around this house, the character seems to be solving his own problems, acquiring new meanings and understanding what is going on in real life.  It was with this story that I turned to Mick Moss and Steve Hogarth.  I asked them to write something correlating and close to them with this topic.  And I really liked from which different sides they came to this theme.  Their tracks are such mini-stories, chapters from the general book.  It seemed very interesting to me.

Speaking of Moss and h, how did you decide you wanted to work with them specifically? Why did you only use them on three songs? Please tell us why you worked with only male vocalists on this album. Were you concerned a female vocalist would draw comparisons with iamthemorning?

For me, the voice is also a musical instrument.  So I just wanted to use a certain timbre in certain places.  In the case of Mick Moss: from the very beginning, I assumed that it would be a song and it would have a low male voice.  Therefore, I made such an arrangement from the first steps to give space to this type of vocal.  The final track with Steve Hogarth, on the contrary, was originally formed as an instrumental piece, but there are a lot of high notes in the instruments, so I also needed a male voice.  Interestingly, none of them knew in what order their tracks would be located, but it turned out that the vocals were at the beginning, at the end, and middle of the album.  This makes the album more integral in terms of its structure.

Why did you choose the members of the “core” band on the album?  Nick Beggs, Gavin Harrison, Theo Travis, and Vlad Avy?

I just chose those musicians that I like and with whom I would like to work.  In addition, Gavin has already recorded the drum parts on the previous iamthemorning albums and I completely trust him; this is a phenomenal musician and a sincere person.  With Vlad, we also have known each other for a long time, since the first works with iamthemorning.  He is a professional of the highest level.  I am very grateful to him not only for mixing the album, but also for support at all stages of the work.  In addition, we produced this work together.

Gleb Kolyadin Album Artwork

Vlad Avy did an excellent job mixing, mastering, and producing the album, from what I can hear. Please tell us about your working relationship with Vlad, and why you entrust so much of the album’s production to him.

We live in different time zones, so I even installed an additional dial in my computer to represent the difference between Russia and Canada.  Nevertheless, this is a person who is always in touch and always selflessly doing his job without flaw.  Almost all the musicians in this album recorded in their own studios, but Vlad’s studio was a kind of “main headquarters” in which all the subsequent stages of work occurred.  I sincerely like his style of work – it is always justified and a reliable balance between sound, performance, and music in general. We have always discussed every working moment, whether there are some moments in the arrangement or mixing issues. I think that after this year, we both thoroughly knew every note in this material. It seems to me that this is the very example of trust, mutual respect, and friendliness that ultimately helps to do a really good job.

With the musicians on this album being spread out all over the world, how difficult is it to bring all of their performances together into a cohesive whole? What is it like directing them (especially the various vocalists) when not being physically together?

Sometimes, it’s even easier to work remotely.  Everyone can choose the time and place comfortable for himself.  Each of the musicians had some deadlines, but still the whole process took place so that no one was in a state of stress.  Everyone was very respectful of each other’s work, communicating with accurate and concise letters via e-mail.  It seems to me that it’s something like a puzzle: the further it turned out, the easier it was, because the resulting music explained a lot for itself.

When writing my review of the album, I had difficulty describing its genre, which I think is a great thing. One thing I worried about is that it might be too classical for the prog community, and too non-traditional for classical purists. Do you share any similar concerns?

Everything that concerns genres is always a rather difficult question…. I played a solo concert in St. Petersburg a few days ago.  It was just a grand piano and nothing more.  I performed the entire album in piano transcription, adding some improvisations to some parts.  And the audience, which was very different, took the concert remarkably.  It was unexpected for me, because there were absolutely different people in the audience.  They were both prog music fans and professional academic musicians, plus a large number of people who knew me thanks to my music diary where you can often hear something like ambient piano.  It seems to me that at some point it does not matter in which genre you make music, you just have to do it honestly, with quality, and with pleasure – then people will perceive it in the same way.

Speaking of classical, I hear a great deal of Franz Liszt in some of your playing (and some might even say you are reminiscent of a younger Liszt in some of your promotional photos). Would you agree he is an influence? Please tell us some of your other musical inspirations on this album.

It’s pretty amusing, because I do not really like Liszt!  🙂  I like Prokofiev, Stravinsky, much more… of course Bach…. I like a lot of classical music, because by education I’m primarily a classical pianist.  I do not know how much this affected the album, but my classical education is still the main thing that helps me make the music that I do. If we talk about other music, of course, it’s ’70s prog, a lot of folk music, American minimalism, jazz…. No, really, I just can’t name specific names, because there are too many of them and all of them are from different genres…. It would be a separate conversation.

Jordan Rudess is obviously a legendary keyboardist in the progressive music community. As a fellow pianist and keyboardist, what is it like having him guest on your very first solo album? Did he send you multiple takes for his solo? Or just one? If multiple, how difficult was it deciding what parts to use? It’s such a great and tense moment to finish out the more rock-oriented part of the album.

He’s an amazingly friendly person!  I was very happy when he agreed to play, and was even more pleased when he sent his solo to the final of the track.  In a certain sense, it is the “Storyteller” track that is the end of a musical journey, while “The Best of Days” is an afterword, a realization of the past.  This keyboard solo seemed to add the missing element and the track sounded in a new and very rock way. I wouldn’t want to go into the working details, but this is a whole take that just fit in the mix perfectly.

You used crowdfunding to fund part of the album. iamthemorning has used crowdfunding in the past. What was it like running such a campaign for a solo album this time around?

It was a difficult experience.  I did not have enough promo materials for good advertising, besides I was a little rushed because of some deadlines of recording studios.  And after a while the site canceled the acceptance of transactions due to the change of their policy.  In general, I did not do everything right.  In many ways, because of this, the work was extended for such a long time.  But I am very glad to all those people who believed in me and supported me then.  It helped me to work further, because I knew that these people are waiting for me and believe in me.  I personally sent out all the orders as soon as possible, and it seems I remembered the names of all the backers.

Can we expect a live release of this material? A live video recording (of either the solo material or iamthemorning) would be a hit with fans.

Honestly, I do not know if it’s possible to play this album exactly as it sounds on the record.  It’s more of a studio project.  I think if I’m going to make a live performance, I’ll do it a little differently.  I had many ideas that I could not fit into the timing of the album and now I would be interested in trying to work on them anew in the solo piano version or in some small band; it would be interesting.  As for iamthemorning, we are planning something very interesting this year, but this is still a secret.

Is there any chance we’ll hear any of these pieces with iamthemorning? It would be a special treat to hear Marjana sing either Mick Moss’ or h’s songs.

It’s a pretty delicate moment.  It is more difficult for vocalists to perform someone’s material than instrumentalists.  And also, I still don’t know whether Marjana listened to the album.  I think it would be more correct to just write together new songs that would be organic for each of us.

Now that you’ve told this story on your solo album, do you think you’d like to create another one in the future?

Of course, this would be very interesting.  I think if I just collect all my drafts, then they will be enough for another 2-3 albums, but I would like to do something unique, so I do not force this moment.

Again, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, Gleb. As a fan of your music, this is a very exciting album release, and I hope people pick it up and give it a sincere listen.

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