RANDY MCSTINE and MARCO MINNEMANN Talk New Duo Project: “This Feels Like a True Collaboration, It’s Great to Have a Partner In Crime, to Send Ideas Out and Then It’s Like Waiting For Christmas that Something Comes Back”

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The debut release of super-duo Marco Minnemann and Randy McStine offers a densely crafted, hard-hitting album which takes listeners through a range of unexpected directions. When not recording and touring with his main band The Aristocrats or on solo albums, Minnemann is one of the most in-demand drummers in the rock, prog-rock and metal world. Likewise, McStine has been featured as a guest on a wide number of projects but now increasingly has been focusing on his own career, as featured on his excellent 2019 release “Idle”. This new collaboration finds both musicians in excellent form and enjoying a synchronicity that is fun and musically satisfying.

The duo initially met in 2018 while working with other artists, but as they discovered their shared passion for an assortment of Rock, Pop, and Punk artists, they decided to embark on a collaborative project together. Although McStine and Minnemann initially set out to record an EP, they quickly shifted to making an album as their musical ideas and chemistry flourished. 

Their self-titled debut, “McStine & Minnemann”, is a high-energy collection of ten compact, yet expansive Rock songs that sit well next to the likes of XTC, Mr. Bungle, The Knack, Queen, and Frank Zappa. As both men are prolific multi-instrumentalists and writers, they have created a space for each other to showcase their incomparable instrumental talents, while infusing them with an incredible mix of melodic and lyrical depth. You can read our extensive review of the album here.

In this interview, Sonic Perspectives correspondent Scott Medina delves into the songwriting on their album, the origins and depth of their collaboration, and a wealth of background from both musicians about their other past projects, including Steven Wilson, Steve Hackett, The Fringe and much more. For more interviews and other daily content, make sure to follow Sonic Perspectives on Facebook, Flipboard and Twitter and  subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified about new interviews and contents we publish on a daily basis.

Slideshow photographs by Norrsken Photography and Design

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Hey everyone, welcome to Sonic Perspectives. This is Scott Medina and today we get to talk with Randy McStine and Marco Minnemann with a new duo called…yes, you guessed it: McStine Minnemann. Hey, you guys, welcome!

Hello hello!

Hey, thanks for having us.

We wanted to get a sneak peek of what you’ve got coming with your debut release. I’m sure people are going to want to know right off the bat why you two decided to work together and how the album came about?

Marco and I met during some preparation for live shows with the band In Continuum and that was in the fall of 2018. We got to spend quite a bit of time together. It was just a week, but because we were in one location doing these rehearsals and then we had a travel show to Chicago after that, so we had a lot of time to just kind of hang out and talk about music. Moreover, we really found that we had a lot of common influences, in particular outside of progressive rock. That was a conversation that we would carry on well after that through text messages and Marco and I would send pictures of vinyl record sleeves that we were listening to and really got a sense of where we were coming from musically before we even talked about doing anything together. It was just kind of fun to chat music with somebody. Then from there I had a song called “Bottom Feeder Blues” that I thought would be great to have Marco play on. Then he sent me a solo song of his called “Blessed” from his “My Sister” album. So that kind of opened up the door to seeing how each other composes music on our own and just where we’re pulling from there. Therefore, to me it seemed like a logical next step to kind of see what it would be like to collaborate on something together. So, I also sent him a message about it and said, “Hey, look, you know, I think we’ve got a good vibe going and maybe we can do an EP…start small”. I’ll pick a few songs and you pick a few songs and we’ll see what happens. And that was really the start of it I guess about a year after we initially met. Therefore, we really kind of broke ground on this project in October of 2019.

Yeah, exactly. And it really felt very organic, the way we started kind of working. I remember when we sent the songs to each other, everything that came back was like completely in our best interest. And also like, you know, things when we started collaborating. With my band The Aristocrats, we usually kind of just write complete songs and then bring it to the band. And the songs are completely produced and we just have the band members play them. With us, it was a little bit like that…we would send finished songs, but we would also kind of extend them or put our own topics on top of it. And everything that came back from Randy to my songs – and hopefully also vice versa – felt really, really, really organic and felt like we had a very good duo thing going there.

So there was collaboration on it then?

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

So would you say, Okay, this is a song that Randy introduced and in final form it’s maybe 80% Randy and 20% Marco or something like that?

Well, I wouldn’t say it really in a percentage, you know, some stuff more, some stuff less. Obviously songs like “Program” or like “Catrina”, they were already pretty much set. However, there are certain things where I put some keyboard parts on top or some additional guitars. Then there are some true collaborations, like the song “The Closer” where literally I wrote the chorus and Randy wrote the rest around it. So, these things happen, too.

Nice. So, I’m looking at the track listing to get a sense here. Marco, which songs did you come in with initially?

I think the first song that I brought in was “Falling From Grace”, which actually Randy then really extended with some vocal lines that he came up with.I brought in “Catrina”, I brought in “Tear the Walls Down” and “Voyager” and the one bit for “The Closer”. I think that’s right. Am I missing something?

Yeah, yeah. That’s right on.

And how about the actual performance on it? Who’s playing what? Maybe all of our listeners don’t realize that Marco doesn’t just sit on a drum kit and can really play just about anything, too. So, I figure anything is possible with the two of you guys in the studio.

Yeah, well I would say it’s very democratically split. There is a core to this record, which is of course Marco on drums and I would say the next sort of essential pieces are my voice and the fact that I play bass on the whole record. So, there’s a cohesion in terms of a consistent rhythm section feel for each song. Obviously, I’m mostly known as a guitar player and singer. And while my guitar playing is all over the record, Marco plays a lot of guitar on this record as well. In particular, on his compositions like “Voyager”, he basically plays all the guitars on that song with the exception of a couple of key little bits that I added towards the end of the composition. On “Tear the Walls Down” it’s kind of the same thing. He’s doing all the guitars with the exception of this slide solo that I bring in at the end. So, like I said earlier, getting a sense of Marco‘s musicianship through his own music and seeing how diverse his palette is, I was totally open to – not only for my songs but for his songs – to just let him do stuff as well. I’m not gonna speak for him, but I know speaking for myself, I love anytime I get a chance to express myself on another instrument that isn’t the main one that I’m known for.

Yeah, it’s great. It kind of keeps things a little bit fresh and also takes you on a cool journey to do that. Also, we had one moment, the song “The Closer”, where for the very first time I had an opportunity for me to see something performed by Randy and Harry Waters on the piano, it was a song that I was part of composing and I was not part of the song playing-wise at all. So that was actually very, very cool to watch that for once to see like, Hey, I wonder what happens when I’m not involved. So, that track is where I just literally have a writing credit.

I was wondering about that one today as I was listening to it, if you played anything on it. But it’s good to know that you had that writing credit in there, too.

Yes, it’s interesting how that works sometimes. Haha!

So even though you guys are both so versatile, why didn’t you choose to bring in a bassist or other musicians to the band? Why did you just keep it as a duo? I was thinking about that especially when listening to a song like “Catrina” where if you brought in an additional bassist that would maybe take it into even different places.

Well first of all it’s more money for us if it’s only the two of us! Just kidding!

[laughing]Ah, the truth comes out!

No, I guess that was really the concept that we just wanted to do literally a duo album because since we’re both multi-instrumentalists and also on our solo albums, we play most of their instruments ourselves. So for some reason it didn’t occur to us while we were in the writing process and recording process to bring anyone else in. Obviously, that question will now arise when we want to do live gigs. That is a different sort of thing. But I guess it was just good for us to see how we would collaborate, just the two of us in the first place, just to kind of see where it’s going. In addition, it did go somewhere. So, that was the nice thing.

From my perspective, we had talked about, maybe once or twice, what it might be like to bring in fill-in-the-blank person to do something. But, I was also committed to the idea of just doing it as a duo. I mean there’s a lot of different territories you can go into with this. I mean, one is the fact that I mentioned a little bit earlier that frankly, it’s just fun to be able to experiment in a studio environment and frankly not even have to think about the live aspect of it. Because I tend to view those two things very separately. And given that we already were establishing  this chemistry together, I didn’t really see a need to add any more cooks to the kitchen, really. And like Marco said, just having the two of us…the thing is whatever happens next for us, whether it’s live or in another studio situation, the fact that we’ve established what the two of us can do on our own means something. It’s always easier to expand than it is to subtract. If we had come out of the gate with some five or six piece all-star band or something, well now we’re setting ourselves up for kind of unrealistic expectations with people’s schedules or all that kind of stuff. That’s a whole other thing. These things kind of all run through my mind when making these kinds of decisions.

Well that certainly makes sense. You don’t want to get into another The Sea Within position, I guess. Right, Marco?

[laughs]Haha, Well, The Sea Within, that was very interesting. I wouldn’t say it was really a too many cooks in the kitchen thing, but you need sort of a hub, somebody who is in control or to get things out there. So for example, when I did the thing with Tony Levin and Jordan Rudess, I did two albums with them, we really needed the guy from the record company to keep this whole thing together and keeping the log book. And this is where it kind of starts to get like a little difficult or frustrating and you have like two guys in the band who don’t get along and some one likes this on the song, and the other one would like to replace it and then all of a sudden you have this cluster fuck of people trying to make an album. You need someone to control it a little bit like that. In a duo, that doesn’t really exist. We can just kind of comfortably bounce the ball forth and back and be happy with the result.

I was even thinking just from scheduling perspective. I’ve talked to Roine a couple of times and he’s always like, Yeah, I don’t know when we could do another album with everyone’s schedules. 

I know! Yeah, we just talked about this in fact, just like a few days ago. Roine and I, we actually do think about maybe doing another album at some point, we’re kind of planning on it, but it won’t be until next year or maybe even 2022 because I would personally really like to focus on this release that we’re having here right now, because otherwise it’s overwhelming for the audience and it doesn’t really make sense to confuse people. I think we have a good product out and so I kind of like to explore this territory.

Well, in terms of the cooks in the kitchen thing, you know, some bands or albums have diversity every other song, but you guys have a new direction every 20 seconds or so of each song.

[laughing, jokes] I thought this was more like a commercial album, even! 

Like “Falling From Grace”, it’s like strap on your seat-belt because you’re going on a ride.

Oh yeah, that’s a weird track. Yeah, I’m responsible for the quirky, weird ones. And Randy‘s the one who wrote the hits. [laughs]

I’m getting that! Well, I like the old school approach of having the short songs and the total running time of only 35 minutes.

That was a completely conscious decision. I guess I’ll let Randy take that, actually. 

Well yeah, that is something that we talked about and the idea that we started with this thing of saying, well let’s try an EP. And so to us that meant we’ll do six songs, you know, basically three songs a piece. And then as we got going, we figured, well let’s just expand it to 10. We’re both pretty  active writers and had a really good flow sending ideas back and forth. So we brought it to 10 and I think we probably had a conversation or two about whether or not the album should be longer. But then what we ultimately decided, we were talking about things like the early Van Halen records and stuff. About how they all sit in this 31 to 35 minute window. There’s audio reasons for that we don’t have to get into. But just as a concept, this idea of making a statement and kind of moving on and leave them wanting more type of thing. I think to what you pointed out, Scott, like the songs are compact, but they are very dense musically speaking. And, there’s a lot of detail in the songs and I didn’t personally want to have it feel fatiguing after a while. I feel like we said what we needed to say in that amount of time and there’s a lot to absorb whether the thing is 35 minutes or 78 minutes. We definitely didn’t want to just overwhelm people and have them get bored midway through.

Yeah, it’s a cool thing to have a precise record out there.  And we felt that it was just the right amount of songs and it feels compact, yet kind of entertaining. And also the energy is pretty much throughout the entire record always up. There’s a lot of information, but also when you listen to the songs, it’s a pretty aggressive album. It’s actually pretty heavy. You know, it has almost like some punk elements in there like some pop rock punk elements except for “The Closer”. It’s the right idea, you know, the right way to kind of release it in a sort of kind of a vinyl single LP format, length wise.

Yeah. It’s very remarkable how active, energetic and heavy that it is. Even even “Fly”, which is at a slower tempo, it’s still so sinister.

Yeah! That’s a cool track, yeah.

So Randy, one of the things I love the most is a great McStein guitar solo, but you didn’t even leave room in this album for too many of those. How do you make that decision when to throw in a guitar solo or not?

I guess for me it always comes down to the composition, even going back to the first album I did under the name “Lo-Fi Resistance”. When I was growing up, I was totally like an instrumental geek and I played Jeff Beck tunes and all that kind of stuff all through my teens and I still love a lot of that stuff, especially Jeff, he’s one of my heroes. But the truth of the matter is that when I made that shift to writing songs with lyrics and melodies and that kind of stuff, I found myself really just more at the the mercy of the song and feeling like, well, what does the song need? And sometimes, you know, I will find myself trying to put a guitar solo into something and it just didn’t do it for me. So I tend to come down more on the side of a very well placed, hopefully memorable solo, even at 10 seconds or 15 seconds. Something that has melody or a certain feel. I’m really proud of the solos that are on the record because they’re all coming from a different place. They’re short and to the point. But there’s a lot of nuance and there’s a lot of aggression in some of these solos. And frankly, I’m doing some things on this record that I’ve only hinted at in the past. And I’m also just really into layering of guitars. You know, people like Bill Nelson and Brian May and those types of players that really tuck in a lot of detail into stuff. So, I mean, depending on where you’re coming from when you’re listening to this record, there’s so many things that are guitar tracks that will probably go by people thinking that they’re keyboards or they just don’t really notice what’s happening. But, Trevor Rabin is another name that came to mind, you know, a huge influence as well. So, I’m into using the guitar as a song writer, as an orchestrator, as an arranger, more so than as an opportunity to just say like, you know, look what I can do.

Right. We’ll play the track “Your Offenses” at the end. And that’s a good example of the kind of guitar soloing that you seem to be aiming for on this album.

Yeah, absolutely.

So in addition to the musical statement you guys are making, is there a lyrical statement that you’re looking to make with this collaboration?

I think we weren’t focusing on the lyrics to kind of take it to a certain concept album direction. I guess it was clearly more musically aimed. Also, when Randy and I talked just internally about the songs and the messages, it’s mainly about the music, even though obviously the lyrics are hopefully meaningful and also be understood, but we were not aiming at a certain topic.

For me, I tend to let the music dictate what I write. It’s very rare that I write lyrics first, then followed by the music. An example though where that happened was actually the song “The Closer”, where I had the words first and then kind of sat down at the piano and tried to bang something out. So yeah, I tend to let the music kind of dictate where it goes. And for me, a lot of times lyrically, it tends to be a major outlet for me to voice concerns or various feelings that I can’t get out otherwise. I think because of the nature of the approach musically and the sort of punkiness that Marco mentioned, my lyrics on this record tend to be anywhere from the word sinister, which you mentioned earlier, to, you know, sort of political and a little angsty, but I don’t feel like it’s openly preachy or anything like that. I think you can read into it what you will. I don’t tend to really think too much about it to be honest.

And was there any meaning in the samples you have in “Tear the Walls Down” of the girl on there?

Oh yeah. Interesting. Well first of all, thank you for listening to that. You know, that was just actually a fun little addition because she was just actually filming. We were actually hanging out somewhere and I did something with the recording with the audio, it was just more like a fun little game. The song has a more deeper meaning. I wanted to actually write an album which was called “Catrina”, which was aimed at the icon of the Day of the Dead celebrations. So that album was meant to be purely about death, which is kind of a really dark topic, but I wrote especially “Catrina” and “Tear the Walls Down” on that note. Strangely enough, when I brought these songs in, and then Randy writes songs like “Fly” for example, all of a sudden it was like eerily comfortable to putting the bits together and they felt almost as if they belong, there was the homogenic, for some reason.

Does that tie into the album cover of the underground subway tunnel?

Well, I work in an office with this guy, Tom Cole. He’s a great artist. He has always like a good eye and understanding for vibes and things, you know. So he did some of my album covers and that completely was Tom‘s work. And we just looked into what we really kind of liked what kind of topics, and then appointed him into the direction that we kind of felt would suit the album.

And then how do you decide when there’s only two of you…are you flipping a coin to see whose name goes first?

Oh, you mean with the band name?

Yeah, the M&M!

Well it’s worth pointing out that we basically did this whole album communication through text message. We did not once pick up the phone and have the kind of chat that we’re having now. I really get a kick out of that. So one of those conversations was about that. I knew personally that I thought it would be smart for us to just put our names on it. There’s so many projects and so many side projects and everything has a name and you kind of get lost in the shuffle. And I just thought, let’s keep it simple. Like an old school duo. We’ll just use our last names. And then there will be no question who is in the band! And so Marco was the one who said, when we were talking about what the order should be, just say it out loud and see what kind of rolls off the tongue better. And I guess through that little exercise, which takes all of 10 seconds, we decided that would be the order to put it in.

And are you guys looking at this as an ongoing collaboration or are you just waiting to see how this first EP- turned-into-an-LP is received and where future inspiration and scheduling comes from?

Well, I guess I find it very comforting to be in a duo. Obviously I write a lot of solo albums and I’m the only writer then and I have to make decisions. With The Aristocrats, it’s almost a little bit like the same. You just write the songs, you bring them in, and then you kind of play them as a band. Right now actually, this feels like a true collaboration and it feels good to have a partner in crime, so to speak. To send ideas out and waiting for Christmas that something comes back. Like all of a sudden Randy does these amazing things to the songs and ideas that I wouldn’t have come up with. And hopefully vice versa too. So, these other things I was really looking forward to and right now we’re swimming in this ocean and the water feels nice!

Yeah, yeah. I feel the same. The comment about Christmas is so true. It’s funny because for all of the gripes that a lot of people might have about this sort of age of remote collaboration – and of course now we’re in extreme circumstances where it’s really the only way to work, which is kind of an interesting twist on the whole thing – but,  I’ve made records with people in the same room and that’s great. And Marco has obviously done that a ton as well. But there’s a different sort of emotional thing that happens when you send a song to somebody and then whenever they get back to you with something, that moment of that email coming in and sort of downloading it and then putting your headphones on for the first time or something, it is a very exciting and sort of intimate feeling, you know? And that was certainly something I felt all the way through this process. And even now, I mean, you’re asking what are we going to do next? I mean, we have a lot of ideas that we’ve already sent back and forth. We probably have another album there. It’s really just a matter of keeping this sort of fire going and I think we’re really on a similar wavelength when it comes to our productivity and excitement level. So to me, it  absolutely makes sense to keep going.

In this time right now where we’re all in stay at home mode, are you two working remotely on other projects or do you actually have spaciousness that it would make sense to just jump into the next album pretty soon?

The weird thing here about the stay at home order is while I’m in Lake Elsinore here by the Lake, you know, and it’s a small town and it’s kind of weird. I’m not feeling a big change, you know, strangely enough. People are still here on the lake surfing, doing their thing and people are out and going on the mountain range or whatever and doing the outdoors activities. And when I’m not on tour, I write anyway. I sit at home and record and write songs and do my thing. The only thing that changed is that some of the Starbucks are closed! So for me it really didn’t change much. And I am writing new songs for my own albums, for The Aristocrats. And yeah, for our new McStine Minnemann album, for the next one already. I’m not done yet with this! You know what I mean? So we really enjoy exploring this. So that’s what we’re doing.

I wouldn’t imagine that either of you cares very much if this album is categorized as prog rock per se. But when it comes to the marketing side, is there a difference if you’re being released by a record label or along the channels that largely do prog rock and caters to that kind of an audience? Does that limit your exposure if it’s considered  prog rock or does it give you at least a base audience?

Oh, Marco, do you want to field this one?

The two of us have actually have a following in the prog rock world and so far, I think people expect a certain thing from us, which we actually deliver even with an album. So songs are short and precise, but I guess they have the ingredients that people in the so-called prog world, I mean, what is it anyways? How would you define prog is always the question. But so far, the people who heard the album and we send it out to prog magazines as well, were pretty delighted, it seems. But also this album opens doors to a whole kind of different category, I guess. You know, people who would listen to Public Image Limited, or Tegan and Sara or, Yes, they can all find something in this album, I believe.

So just kind of putting it solely into the prog category would be probably a mistake. And I guess also in our discography or the description of the album, different names and categories will come up.

Yeah. It was never really a deliberate conversation. Even just the songs that we brought to the table. It’s not like we really had a conversation and said we should do something that sounds like XYZ. Um, it was more so just that  the songs that I picked were kind of based on conversations that we had about bands that we like, artists that we like. So it felt like a comfortable space to pitch those ideas. And when it comes to the progressive thing, and I’ll be saying this probably till the very end, I know where my influences come from. I know where my heart lies in terms of that style of music. But genres to me are like paint colors to sort of throw around the canvas. I don’t really see the need to deliberately set out to do something specifically quote unquote “prog rock”. You know, it’s something I’ve listened to since I was a kid. It will probably always be there in some way, sometimes obvious, sometimes not so obvious. But, I do think for me I’ve been sort of hesitant to kind of plant that flag because once you start throwing that word around, expectations go all over the place and then you kind of end up in this position where you’re trying to explain what that word means to you. And that happens endlessly on message boards every day. I guess all I can say is, to me, it’s the kind of record that anybody who enjoys progressive rock should find something that they can really relate to. It’s like “rock plus” to me. I like to put everything under this kind of umbrella of “rock” and then where does it go from there? You know?

Yeah. It’s kind of funny because when I played with Adrian Belew,  we did the Adrian Belew Power Trio and I was in the band and he would always use this one line that Robert Fripp said when he was asked about his music in interviews, which is “it’s like we play intelligent rock”. [laughs]

Ah, that’s great!

I said, I think it sounds a bit pompous, but still it has something to it, doesn’t it? It’s almost like the album we just put out it has like almost like a Police “Regatta de Blanc” quality to it. Really short, precise songs with some really cool elements in it that are fun. And also for the musos.

So how do both of you decide where you’re going to put your energy next? You know, whether it’s time for an Aristocrats album or to work with The Fringe again, or The Mute Gods, or In Continuum or it’s time to do a solo album? Like, how do you even make that choice? Or is it just based on who queues up and gives you a call?

I personally let it fall from the sky. You know, I kind of think about it like, well obviously The Aristocrats, that’s my band, you know, and we have already a history and a discography and a following. So there is definitely an agenda. We do the whole thing where there’s an album coming out and we have like one and a half to two years tour and then it’s time to get the next album out. And so that’s kind of a religious agenda pretty much. With what’s happening here right now, we’re just debuting our album, which is fantastic. The vibes are amazing. I choose personally what to prioritize in how much fun I have with the production and how fruitful it is. So I’d like to concentrate on these things. And yeah, if The Mute Gods are coming along, that is kind of really an easy and fun production as well because Nick Beggs is just such a nice guy, one of my dearest friends. And when we work on these albums, it is just always very, very enjoyable. That is not planned actually until, I guess next year or something. We just had like an album in early 2019. And then there’s like the studio jobs where somebody just sends you something and you make time and play it. And those productions, they don’t really take necessarily very long. Even like the stuff with Steven Wilson, for example, those productions were done in four days or five. Even though I have to say, I have to say, not to make a big detour, Steven and I had a little bit of that feeling when we did actually the album “The Raven That Refused to Sing” and “Hand.Cannot.Erase.” That was a little bit of a vibe like what Randy and I have because we were the first ones sending tracks forth and back and adding ingredients. And that was pretty much a vibe like that as well. It felt actually very joyful and very, very cool to put these songs together. So that was kind of a little bit of a similar approach, a similar feeling to it, you know. But long story short, I personally like to concentrate on the things that are fun to me and that are worth it, but then ultimately become worth exploring.

And so to take that example that you gave…it sounds like you guys have made The Aristocrats enough of a priority, was it that when you started going out with Steven and doing those couple of albums together, you told him, well, you know, this is great and Guthrie and I will do it as long as as we can, but The Aristocrats is our priority. So at some point we’re going to know head back to make those albums and tour with that trio.

Unfortunately, it was a little bit like that. I have to say “unfortunately”, because there was so much traffic going on by that time because the Steven recordings were great actually. And I brought Guthrie into the album recordings for “The Raven That Refused to Sing” and “Hand.Cannot.Erase.” And the tours were always fun. And I have to say, I really regret that we couldn’t make time to kind of get it all under one umbrella. That was kind of a little bit saddening. And this is where it sort of broke apart because Steven decided to tour exactly in the windows where The Aristocrats tour would have happened, or they would overlap. And it seemed agenda-wise that we could not really make time to make these things work around each other. It was just too much money involved and too many kinds of scheduling conflicts. And then, yes, unfortunately you will have to make a decision. Well, you know, The Aristocrats, that’s our band. And we built a following, we built a legacy. So that decision was made pretty easy. But it’s a good problem to have that you have more on the plate to pick from and to choose then having no gigs, you know what I mean? Even though sometimes it’s regrettable. Look, I have many, many times where I had great offers that I wanted to take, like Joe Zawinul, I couldn’t do it and had to refuse. Ministry, the band, you know, they asked me if I wanted to join them. Jethro Tull. And I couldn’t do all these things. And there’s many more names, you know, that would probably surprise you. Oh, I was supposed to do the whole Devin Townsend tour and that conflicted with The Aristocrats schedule as well. But we’re still in touch and, you know, something might happen. John Petrucci was the same. These are all names that kind of float around and sometimes when the stars align then probably Devin and I will go out and do things. But again, it’s a comfortable position to have a band on your own that has success. Yeah, I can really say that. That’s worth more than gold sometimes.

It was interesting last year on the Cruise to the Edge, you were Steve Hackett’s drummer for those few gigs. But I guess because of the priorities you’re mentioning, you probably chose that you couldn’t do the whole touring with him after that. So you just did all that rehearsing for those gigs. It was amazing!

Well, it was interesting – Thanks, first of all! – but also it was such a comfortable environment because I was already on that ship, uh, literally. Right. And so it kind of just made sense, you know? I mean, I was hanging there anyhow. And, the Steve Hackett program was intense. I didn’t at first know that! I thought like, Hey, I can play a bunch of Genesis songs. Let’s do that! [laughs]And then there was like almost three hours’ worth of music, you know! I gotta say though, it was magnificent. We had such a good time. One of my favorite, favorite gigs I’ve played probably. It was just unreal. The songs were so good and the vibes are so good! We locked really well. Especially like the third and the fourth show we played, on the On the Blue Cruise, my God, we were so tight and so locked in. It was really, really fun. I gotta say that was something I also would have loved to continue, you know, but hey, you know, that was exactly when our album “You Know What?” came out for The Aristocrats and then we started the tour. But anyways, that was also planned exactly that way. Steve knew that I was on the boat and he asked me, “Hey, can you do those gigs?” And I was like, “absolutely.”

Well, hats off to you for doing all that rehearsal just for those shows. [Marco laughing] I’m so grateful I was there. I mean, just getting to see you play “Shadow of The Hierophant” was just amazing!

Ah, yeah! [laughs]Thank you.

Randy, how about you? How do you choose what’s next up on your plate?

Well, I’m, well look, I’m not as in demand as Marco, so I don’t have the same problems that Marco has. But maybe that’ll change! But the truth is I just want to enjoy all of the different projects that I’m involved in. I don’t actually like being busy from the standpoint of feeling like I have to juggle things. I find that my energy is best directed towards one or two priorities. Because it should be common sense that if you burn all this energy in a million different directions, it has a point where you can’t really pick that one thing that if you took all of that energy and just applied it to the one thing that you actually really want to do, that thing doesn’t see the full potential. Last year, 2019, that’s was kind of the moment that I realized this. And funny enough, it was Cruise to the Edge. We were on there doing In Continuum and it was all good. And Adrian Belew was on the ship and we hung out one night. I had never met him before and we were at the bar and he was sitting there and I started inching closer. And then before I knew it, we fell into this like two or three hour conversation just about music and about the difference between being a sideman and trying to be an artist and how to get the two to sort of work together. And it was a really great conversation. I remember leaving that ship feeling reinvigorated to sort of focus on myself, which is something that I hadn’t really done in a long time. And last year was a really monumental one for me. I put out an album and of course I went on tour opening for The Pineapple Thief, just going out on stage by myself and I know you were at one of those shows. So really the whole year became about like kind of reclaiming interest in myself, which I felt was really important and kind of lacking in my life for a few years as I just tried to take gig after gig. And that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy all the gigs that I did, but it made me realize why I started making music in the first place because I have something to say. So that’s kind of the way I feel about it.

Recently I was asked to play some live dates with Big Big Train, which would have been a lot of fun. I think we were supposed to go out and play some shows, what this week or next week or something. So you know, these things come along and I’m always honored to be asked to do various things. So I wouldn’t want to give anybody the impression that I’m not. Um, but hopefully you get what I’m trying to say. Which is that just having one or two things that you can really devote your time to and to try to see those things, flourish, I’m more in that headspace  now than ever.

It sounds like it really has been a much more impactful thing for you to come out with something like “Idle”, the compilation album you released at the end of last year, than maybe you did when you were touring playing bass as a Simon and Garfunkel tribute. Is that right?

Yeah, these things, they’re gigs and they’re fun. And every gig you should hopefully be able to take something away. That gig in particular, I mean, we’re talking about doing a tribute band, right? So it’s like the furthest thing away from getting to channel your own voice and creativity. But even within those things there are lessons to be learned. And my bass playing got a million times better as a result of just having to learn those songs and play them every night. I would say to my friends, I basically got paid for a couple of months straight to get better at an instrument that I don’t normally get to play. There’s obviously nothing wrong with that. It’s just that when I think about all the things that I’m trying to do or the things that I seek to do as a musician, you know, being in a tribute band is not like a number one priority of mine. So I’ve actually gotten to the point where I’ll take gigs off the table, frankly, just to focus more inward on myself. It’s a short term loss but often a long term gain because cause things open up and that’s that kind of falling from the sky thing that Marco was talking about. It’s amazing sometimes how you say no to something and then when one door closes, another opens. And I try to keep all my doors open, but make it clear to people that maybe now’s not the time. 

You’ve always been ambitiously successful about inviting in highly revered performers to work with you. You know, even before you had really established yourself amongst your peers, like you have now. What was your secret as you were starting off to approaching those artists and getting them to perform on your own material?

Sometimes I think about this because I’m also occasionally very surprised at how things sort of locked into place. The first time that really happened was with Nick D’Virgilio and that was 2009 and kind of a similar situation where I was working on solo material and had really no plan other than I was sort of cobbling together home studio equipment for the first time and trying to learn how to use a mic preamp and all this kind of stuff. And I was playing all the instruments, including drums. And at a certain point I just kind of hit a wall and said like, man, it would be great to get somebody else on these tracks. And I literally just went over to my music collection and started looking at all of the different CD spines and then when I landed on the Kevin Gilbert portion and then some of the other that Nick has played on, obviously Spock’s Beard. I was like, man, I wonder if I could get a guy like that to play on these tunes. Basically, I just cold called him in email form and just kinda told him what I was doing. And that was another one of these very natural things where I essentially hired him for his session fee, but he really liked the material and then we kept doing more and more and you know, fast forward a few years later and we have this band The Fringe together. So I don’t have a secret. I guess it’s a matter of when I would approach people, I felt like I had something worthwhile, musically speaking, and that it was something that I envisioned them playing on and that I hoped that they would as well. I tend to think of it as like casting the right actor for the right movie or something. It’s like Tom Hanks played Forest Gump, but you have to consider that there were probably nine other actors on that sheet that could have been that character. And then the whole thing would be completely different. So, I feel like the last 10 years have kind of been like that for me. And it started out with me sort of knocking on people’s doors and trying to just make connections and make some music happen. It was always coming from a place of purity. It was never like a business decision like, Oh, if only I get so and so on my record, I’ll be rich. You know? It wasn’t that kind of thing. It was just that these are musicians that I love listening to and watching and I think they could contribute. And over time that has kind of turned into a situation where in the case of Nick, he’s the one calling me and saying like, Hey, can you play on my solo record? You know, things just tend to come full circle and I’m super grateful. It’s, it’s been amazing.

Yeah, it’s interesting because Nick’s solo album comes out within a week of your guys’ album coming out and you’ve got quite a bit of input on his solo album, which is beautiful. So it’s great to see. Any chance of The Fringe doing something in the upcoming year or so?

I always like to think it’s possible. The Fringe has been much more difficult to get us all on the same page, just in terms of scheduling and approach because the first album that we did was very organic. That was three guys in a room, basically cutting the whole thing in the studio. And it was great. Geographically speaking, it’s not realistic. Nick is in Indiana, I’m in New York and Jonas is in Austria. So I think so much time has passed, we’d have to kind of let that idea go unless something radically shifts or if we really booked the time to go in and knock it out. But, there’s a lot of material in a folder on Dropbox. It’s just kind of sitting there and some of the stuff I kinda got tired of waiting and just kind of took it for myself. Speaking of Nick‘s album, his song, “Where’s the Passion?” was something that we technically recorded as The Fringe with Jordan Rudess as a guest for a recording workshop that we did at a place where Nick works called Sweetwater. But he ended up taking it for his record because it fit, obviously he’s doing a concept record. So yeah, look, we talk all the time. I love those guys. I think we made some cool music and I think there’s a lot of actually unrealized potential that we were just starting to tap into in live gigs that we didn’t even properly capture on the record and perhaps when the time is right, you know, we’ll get it together. That’s really where it is.

Well, I’m happy that the time’s right for the two of you now and everyone should be excited to get this new album in their hands come the beginning of July. Marco, anything else you want to let us know about before we sign off?

[laughs]I think we covered pretty much most of the ground and thank you so much for doing this for us, for getting the name out and the word out. I hope that people enjoy the record. I hope that we get a band together, maybe find actually a bass player, and maybe a keyboardist who can also sing and then we might actually bring the experience live to all you wonderful people.

Yeah, it’s so hard to know what’s gonna be happening with live music or when that’s going to come around again. But I have no doubt you guys will be ready to tear it up as soon as the “Go” order is given. We’re going to close with that track “Your Offenses”. Anything you guys want to say about this one to queue it up?

It’s a favorite of mine. This was one of those songs that could have been something that could have worked for The Fringe in the sense that at its core, it is built around a kind of trio sound. I think what Marco brought to the table really significantly enhanced – like all the songs on the record – significantly enhanced what my original vision was and took it into this kind of Police-like territory, with other things of course. I remember talking about sending things back and forth and him getting inspired to put some guitar ideas down. He sent me a mix back with these really cool acoustic 12-string guitars that he added to the bridge section right after the guitar solo. And then through the outro. I just immediately lit up because I was like, man, he did exactly what I sort of had in my head to get to at some point, but just hadn’t sat down to kind of work out the parts. That’s in a way like when I really knew, Oh, we’re totally on the same page here with the kind of ideas that we’re tossing back and forth. And I think it’s that openness from both of us as songwriters to trust one another to totally put their stamp on it and always add great things. I think that’s what really makes this collaboration so special.

Well thank you guys so much for taking the time to talk to us and give us a little peek into your world. Stay healthy, Stay well and I know you’re going to stay creative so I don’t even need to say that. We’ll look forward to seeing you when we’re able to live in person.

Awesome. Thanks for having us and absolutely see you soon!

Yes. Thank you Scott!

 

 

 

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