Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Phase II Interview

1. Can you introduce Phase II to some of my readers that might not be familiar with you?
Phase II started out in 1978 as the acoustic folk duo of Nicholas Tesluk and Mark Andrews. We co-produced a conceptual radio program in September of that year which aired on October 14. We also performed several concerts and at several medieval functions as wandering minstrels.
By 1979 we’d decided that being an acoustic duo wasn’t really fulfilling the musical destiny that existed within our souls. We evolved into a more progressive sound incorporating synthesizers, drums and bass. At that point, we felt that our music was limitless and it would be able to soar to places unknown. Using a bank of synthesizers, Mark was able to compose some sounds that had not been common in the realm of contemporary music at the time. The arrangements of our songs often have a delicate interplay between synthesizers and Nicholas’s 12-string acoustic guitar, which gives each song a rather unique sound. Though we were heard only by a limited group of people in a small city of northern Colorado, the words we received from fervent fans at that time led us to believe that our music had a uniqueness that would be able to take us far if the opportunity ever arose where we could gain national (or international) notoriety.

2. How would you describe the musical style on the new album?
Since the Afterglow album started out as a retrospective of the band Phase II, it is unusual in that it contains songs written, arranged and performed by us in a number of very different configurations over a period of many years. However, in general, what you’re hearing is the same band going through three different stages of its development. With two of those stages, represented by the songs from our 1979 extended play recording (what we have called the “Progressive Phase”) and our modern recordings of both older and newer songs (the “Afterglow Phase”), rather than simply run the songs chronologically, we intentionally interspersed them for what we thought would be the most enjoyable dynamic effect. Though they span different eras, they both generally represent a fusion of classical, folk and rock styles. As our 1978 radio presentation Candle in the Night represents an earlier, very different stage of Phase II (the “Acoustic Phase”), we included it in its entirety at the end of the recording. So to be exact, the musical styles heard on this album run the gamut from acoustic Renaissance music through electronic progressive to psychedelic hard rock.

3. What are some lyrical topics that you explore?
Of course, those classic themes of love (“Goddess of Dreams,” “Just for You,” Sweet Lady Fair,” “That’s Alright,” “Where Has She Gone”) and death (“Glencoe,” “Rest,” “Sandy”) play a large part in our lyrical output, though hopefully we offer a multitude of different variations of those themes from song to song, even intertwining the two themes in several instances. Something that also comes through strongly in many of our songs is a sense of the unstoppable passage of time, and a growing sense of our own mortality (“I Lost the Song,” “It Doesn’t Really Matter,” “Memorabilia,” “Never,” “Revelations”). This latter theme probably represents the greatest in all the arts, the question of why we exist.

4. What is the meaning and inspiration behind the band’s name?
Both of us were in previous musical groups; Mark worked with a group in Germany called Blue Grass and Nicholas was part of the neofolk duo, Changes. We were not new to the art or craft of music-making; nor were we content to merely recreate the styles and sounds of our respective past musical entities. In fact, it was our intention to draw on our individual and diverse musical experiences to date (our first phases), then find a way to blend them and hopefully create new musical forms. Thus, Phase II.
As a result of these factors, the decision to call the group Phase II was easy, but we also had to decide whether to use the Arabic numeral “2” or the Roman Numeral “II”. Since the group in it’s first (acoustic) phase often played in the form of a wandering bardic duo, the type of which may have been found throughout history in Britain or other parts of Europe and the world, the timeless Roman Numeral “II” seemed quite fitting.

5. What are some of the best live shows that the band has played so far and how would you describe your stage performance?
Mark: Well for me the worst show we ever played was an outdoor venue at a small Colorado college where the sun was much too bright, the (bad) beer flowed much too freely, and the chatter of the party crowd was louder than we were.
Otherwise I have fond memories of all our gigs, from our early days as an acoustic duo to the full-blown electric stage presentations. Needless to say, opening for the infamous rodeo stadium concert with its crowd of thousands and its 25-foot walls of speakers on either side of us was an experience I’ll never forget.
But my personal favorite show was the night we performed from a true theater stage to an intimate audience of our fans and friends who had brought along their friends. That night, our playing seemed perfect. It was rather late at night, the lighting was moody, we were using a new fog effect. It was a magical evening.
Nicholas: Actually, I have fond memories of a very small and intimate performance we did as an acoustic duo at the lodge building of the YMCA in Estes Park, Colorado. It was a small but enthusiastic audience. We were still performing a smattering of cover songs (Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, etc.) in addition to our own material, and it was here that we learned of the hitherto undiscovered fact that we didn’t impart as much emotion to the cover songs as we did to our own material. I don’t believe we ever performed a cover song again after this performance.
The rodeo show of which Mark speaks is memorable to me as the largest show I’ve ever played. A bit frustrating in the fact that it was marred by delays and we, being the opening act, became the brunt of the blame (even though we were the only group of the three that was “Johnny on the spot” and set up on time)...but I’m not bitter. As the sound man told me, “Welcome to the world of opening acts”. Our performance went very well nevertheless and it was great to perform in such a large arena to a very receptive crowd.
The theater stage show mentioned by Mark was, by far, the greatest show I remember as it was for an intimate audience of true fans and friends and the auditorium had great acoustics. We did give an excellent performance, if I say so myself. Not to boast, for with live performances, no matter how prepared a performer is, there are on days and off days, this just happened to be an on day. A memorable point of this show for me was that they had set up a back light that not intentionally projected my image on the left wall of the audience area so I egotistically grooved on the silhouette of myself as I performed, which made the performance a real kick.
All in all though, we were very well prepared for performances and I don’t remember a show of our progressive era (or for that matter, the acoustic era either) that went badly. Part of this was due to the fact that Mark and I seem to have, even to this day, an almost magical synergy between us, and fortunately, our bassist and many incarnations of drummers were able to keep pace with us.

6. Do you have any touring plans for the future?
In terms of Phase II’s style, as evidenced on our Afterglow album, we are very much a studio band. Thanks to the almost limitless possibilities of multi-tracking and digital recording, the two of us are able to perform whatever we feel benefits the emotional needs of each song. If we feel an orchestra is called for, a chorus of singers, or a wall of guitars, we can add them one instrument or one singer at a time. As a result, many of our arrangements would be difficult – if not impossible – to perform faithfully in a live setting.
That being said, the itch to perform live is always with us. There has been some discussion regarding the possibility of limited live venues in the future, possibly with modified, more intimate arrangements of some of our songs. (“Phase II Partially Unplugged”?)
So is Phase II destined never to appear live again? Never say never…

7. How has your new album been received so far by newer and older fans worldwide?
Our new album has been received extremely well so far. People who had heard our 7inch EP may have had a preconception of what Afterglow would sound like, but many were pleasantly surprised when hearing the newly recorded songs of the “Afterglow Phase." Our style there is quite similar to our progressive phase. However, the newer songs have not only the benefit of the advances of technological sophistication, but with us having recorded and mixed the songs ourselves, we were able to create the sound and dynamics that we were not able to get when trying to impart (usually by shouting) our ideas through to the recording engineer who mastered the original 7-inch record. Also in 1979, the conversion from analog tape to a small vinyl record caused the music to suffer a bit in the bass tones, which fortunately were restored when preparing those early progressive songs for inclusion on this album.
Back in the days of LPs (in the 60s and 70s), London Records created a series of fine albums of classical symphonic music on their London “Phase 4” label. Their revolutionary (at that time) idea was to record an orchestra using 20 microphones fanned out from left to right, each feeding to an analog tape track, thereby having the virtual positioning of each section of the orchestra well defined to the listener’s perception, even when mixed down to only two stereo tracks.
Though this technique is now more commonplace, we used this same concept when mixing the songs of the "Afterglow Phase." On many of these songs we had as many as twenty-one tracks of instruments and vocals. In order to create our “wall of sound”, the instruments were assigned specific locations across the left-to-right audio spectrum. The multiple vocal tracks heard in each song are similarly positioned, but in a tighter pattern so they are somewhat more centered.
Taken as a whole, however, the mastering of the album, performed by Axel Frank, congealed the body of the work together very well, where all of the songs, including the radio program, have very similar dynamics. Though each of the two early “phases” have their shortcomings due to the primitive recording media, he was able to get the best sound possible with each to come very close to the sound of the songs of the "Afterglow Phase."
For people who had never heard of Phase II before, the album seems to have struck a chord in its uniqueness. For though we have had several musical influences in our lives, our music isn’t quite like anything else out there.

8. The band broke up for a long time. What made you decide to reform this project and perform music together again?
When we disbanded in 1981, as is so often the case, we assumed that that was the end of our beloved Phase II. The fact remains that many bands formed by young people with lofty hopes and aspirations dissolve into oblivion and are never heard from again.
Fortunately for us the stars aligned properly or the fates came to our aide, or as the home page of our website ( HYPERLINK "http://www.phaseii.us" http://www.phaseii.us ) says, “It was too important to us to let it all just melt away”.
The resurgence of Phase II came about as a sequence of events. Changes, the group formed by Nicholas and his cousin Robert Taylor, whose early tenure spanned the years from 1969 to 1975, was re-discovered in 1994. The album Fire of Life was their first album, produced by digitizing many of their early recordings. They’ve since recorded new material and have released several more albums, but this was the seed of their next incarnation. When performing at the Neofolk festival, Flammenzauber 4, in Heldrungen, Germany in 2004, a compilation CD was created with the music of the various groups that were participating in the festival. As part of the compilation, there was a request for music of any other projects in which members of each group may have been involved. In preparation for this compilation, Robert sent some music of a group that he had been a part of and also a tape of the Phase II radio program, Candle in the Night (which is included in its entirety on the Afterglow CD). Two songs from the radio program were used on the compilation, which stirred interest in the music of Phase II and brought several inquiries about what else we may have done.
Sales for the relatively rare Phase II, self-titled 7-inch EP (1979) picked up again after many years of dormancy. This also led Axel Frank of the Neofolk group Werkraum and Max Percht of Steinklang/Ahnstern Records to ask if we would be interested in having our works produced as an album.
When first asked, we were, of course quite pleased. And at the time our entire recorded oeuvre was included on the 7-inch record and the radio program. It would surely not have been enough material to make a full-length album. Fortunately, though, there were several of our works that had been included in our live performances but never professionally recorded. These included some works that hadn’t been arranged or even completed at the time of the group's breakup (a few that Nicholas had co-written, but since they'd never made it past the planning stages, he had no recollection). Fortunately, Mark had documented each of these early songs on rehearsal cassettes, and though the tracks were of dismal fidelity, they were a very good indication of what the songs should sound like.
So each of us in our respective home studios went to work recording completely new versions of six of these early progressive songs. The six, in addition to our “new song of the Twenty-First Century” entitled “Just For You,” are part of the "Afterglow Phase" of the album.

9. How would you describe your musical progress over the years, and what direction do you see the music heading into on future releases?
Though we've have had a sneak-peek at the direction our next album will take since we already have several new songs in various stages of completion, we can only say that though our style will still be quite evident in the music, the songs will generally be quite different in subject matter and form from what has gone before. The new song on the Afterglow album entitled “Just For You” was a compass pointing in one of the directions our newer music is taking, but it was only a light scratching of the surface with regard to Phase II’s ultimate evolution.

10. What are some bands and musical styles that have influenced your music and what are you listening to nowadays?
Mark: My earliest musical memories were Bernard Herrmann scores for films like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Journey to the Center of the Earth, as well as a set of classical recordings that kept me up at night, including Saint Saens’ Danse Macabre, Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, and highlights from Humperdinck's opera Hansel and Gretel. Piano lessons were soon to follow, and later I would acquire a French horn for school orchestra.
My interest in rock exploded with the advent of The Beatles and the "British Invasion." I became the proud owner of a rather poor excuse for an acoustic guitar, which would soon evolve into a higher-quality classical model, and eventually acquired an electric or two … or three… or… !!! Subsequent musical interests have included scores of mostly British and European psych, prog and synth artists – a list much too vast to include here, but featuring artists like Amon Duul II, David Bowie, Cream, Focus, Peter Gabriel, Gentle Giant, Goblin, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, Magma, The Move, PFM, Pink Floyd, Procol Harum, Steppenwolf, Tangerine Dream, Van der Graaf Generator, Velvet Underground, The Who, and XTC (including their marvelous work as The Dukes of Stratosphear), not to mention eclectic folkies like The Byrds, Nick Drake, Donovan, Fairport Convention (and their countless solo artist offshoots), Roy Harper, Incredible String Band, Pentangle, Simon & Garfunkle, Steeleye Span, Strawbs, and The Waterboys. Starting in the 1980s, my tastes also acquired a darker edge, with bands like Bauhaus, Joy Division, Killing Joke, Ministry, My Bloody Valentine, Public Image Limited, The Stranglers, Television, and U2.
I’m delighted to see that psychedelia has remained firmly entrenched in the modern alternative scene. I have also acquired a great fascination for Indian music, in both classical and pop genres. I avidly collect Bernard Herrmann scores, as well as those of Ennio Morricone, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Danny Elfman, and (lately) Rachel Portman. I've amassed a ridiculously immense collection of 20th Century British and Scandinavian classical recordings, and relish the operas of Wagner, Korngold, Verdi and Puccini, as well as the ballets of Prokofiev and Khachaturian. My latest rock obsessions (at least this week) include Sigur Ros, Mogwai, Richard Thompson, Nine Inch Nails, and a number of the newest Strawbs albums. I’ve also been sampling the numerous delights of the Steinklang/Ahnstern catalogue.
Nicholas: My musical evolution began at a very early age when I would play the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel’s Messiah non-stop until my mother threatened to destroy my record player :o). Growing up in the fifties, I saw the early seeds of rock and roll sprouting to life and wallowed in the experience. From Gene Vincent, and Bill Haley and the Comets to “King” Elvis, there was always something I was fanatically listening to. The Everly Brothers were my absolute favorite duo and I still consider their music timeless.
Onward into the sixties, I positively fell in love with and have always been greatly influenced by the sonorous voice of Roy Orbison, who could make the angels sing, and who also ushered in a new type of song. Orbison’s songs weren’t the usual fare of ABACAB and the structure of them lent to the beautiful builds, which would culminate in the glorious, dramatic and climactic (what Mark and I refer to as "R.O.") endings. What was truly great was that he was admired by fans and fellow musicians for his perfect vocals and wonderful songs throughout his unfortunately tragic life, right up to his untimely death at the early age of 52.
Though it may seem anticlimactic after speaking of my great love for Orbison’s music, the Beatles were, of course, just as magnificent but in a completely different realm. Thus, they were the next major influence on me. As with many post-pubescent young men in the sixties, the Beatles were the impetus for my desire to learn to play guitar (there were more guitars sold in that era than ever before). I took a modicum of guitar lessons while in high school, which taught me to read music in reference to the guitar (I had learned to read musical notation when playing the clarinet in my youth), and the chord fingerings. But it wasn’t until I later developed a love for the acoustic guitar, that I began to develop a personal style. My other main influences in this era were The Who, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane and The Byrds.
Later in the decade I was in a movie theater to see some possibly unmemorable movie (as I have always been a movie fanatic), when a preview came on the screen of a new style of western. I was never a fan of “westerns” with the clean-shaven, well dressed, clean-cut cowboys in their white hats. But watching this preview, I was awestruck by a movie with grizzled actors in dusty scenes wearing wide-brimmed hats and dusters. All with rather vague images of who was the hero and who was the villain. The preview was for the film “For a Few Dollars More” and the moment I heard the fantastic, blaring musical strains of the themes of Ennio Morricone was quite possibly the moment that changed my life. Being one of Morricone’s foremost fans, influences of this composer’s fine works have, in varying degrees, most likely shaped the whole spectrum of my musical oeuvre.
Influences from the sixties to the present day are abundant, but highlights would include, Genesis, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Simon & Garfunkel, Steeleye Span, Sandy Denny, Fairport Convention, and Leo Kottke. I have a special fanship and admiration for The Strawbs. The music and vocals of Dave Cousins literally touch my soul. I always highly recommend their music to anyone who asks for a tip on great music to buy. Artists I listen to now would include Within Temptation, Bad Religion, Linkin Park, BarlowGirl and Metallica.
My classical/romantic musical influences include Beethoven, Bach, Rimsky-Korsakov Tchaikovsky, Borodin et. al. Again, if all of my influences and favorite artists were included, this answer alone would fill a book (if it hasn’t already :o)).

11. Do you have any interest in esoteric or philosophical subjects?
Mark: The academic pursuit of philosophy for its own sake tends to bore me a bit. On the other hand, the word philosophy comes from “love of learning,” and I greatly admire the general pursuit of knowledge – particularly at a time when so many seem to prefer letting emotions overrule their intellect.
I have an intellectual interest in the philosophies of polytheistic cultures, from the Greco-Roman and Nordic traditions in the West to the Hindu faith in Central Asia. In terms of my own thoughts on religious philosophy, I could probably best be described as pantheistic.
Nicholas: I’ve found that philosophers always have a grand view of how all the people of the world should act and react toward each other. It’s easy to espouse a global view of life but not so easy to offer or institute a microcosm of life personally.
As I’ve matured, I’ve found aspects of life that are very important to me and that I like to subscribe to in my day-to-day life. Thus, I have a personal philosophy of life as it pertains to only me. Most important is being an honorable person. In days long gone, a handshake agreement and a man’s word of honor were sacred and nothing could sever a “contract” thus agreed upon. Nowadays there are so many “gray” areas that a man’s “word of honor” is becoming extinct.
Secondly, I like to try to do the best job on anything I undertake especially where my art and music is concerned. I strive to be a perfectionist, but admittedly, sometimes it takes the help of friends to proof text and layout in order to be the best that I can be :o).
The other segment of my personal philosophy is to be the best father, husband and friend a man could be. Hopefully, my two children have found me to be a good dad, and my friends have found me to be a good, loyal and trustworthy friend. I have fallen slightly short on the husband section as I have been married two times (the first time for two years and the second time for twenty-two years), and although I truly tried my best (and don’t really fault myself except for the fact that neither lady found my day-to-day existence very exciting, at least after a while), neither marriage was destined to last forever, so two out of three of this segment of my “meaning of life” isn’t too bad :o).
I guess that on my epitaph (hopefully in the very distant future), I’d like it to read simply, “He was an honest and honorable man”.

12. Outside of music, what are some of your interests?
Mark: I’ve long been torn between a love for making music and a longing to make films (and actually have a graduate degree in filmmaking). Creating music is certainly more attainable as an individual pursuit – particularly in the digital age – than filmmaking, which is a much more collaborative (not to mention expensive) process. Perhaps Phase II might someday have the opportunity to score films. My other active pursuits include travel and photography, both of which appeal to my passions for history and urban architecture.
Nicholas: I have worked in the fine art of oils and pastels in years past and was quite passionate about it. In recent years, due to the lack of free space in my house with no extra room to set up an art studio with four of us living here, I had abandoned my work in the fine arts (I was still working a lot with computer graphics in respect to our albums and publicity which I also find quite fulfilling). Now that the children are grown and the wife is gone (due to divorce, not death), I have plenty of space and my passion for painting (especially in pastels) has resurfaced once more.

13. Any final words or thoughts before we close this interview?
Mark: It is great to be working with Nicholas again. I was always particularly proud of Phase II’s musical eclecticism. I think it is the natural result of our filtering everything we compose, arrange or perform through the multitude of musical traditions that make up our personal musical memories. That being said, I hope we continue to leave ourselves open to a certain degree of surprise when we make our music. For me, that’s the fun part of creation. I would hope our listeners are never absolutely sure what a Phase II song is going to do next, any more than we know what’s going to happen at the time we’re creating it.
Nicholas: I am really very glad to be working together again with Mark in the resurgence of this project. In some matters of this sort when everyone goes their separate way, the thought is “so what?” or “so be it”. But when this group disbanded in 1981, I felt there was so much left unsaid and uncharted musically that it was quite a shame that that was going to be the final chapter of something in which Mark and I had felt so strongly.

No comments:

Post a Comment