I picked up the guitar at age 15 and played with a couple of guys that I went to school with. We were really into KISS and Zeppelin. The usual things. They told me that I wasn’t very good so they said “you should play bass.” So I got a bass and it kind of stuck after that. I enjoyed using that instrument because it is a better voice for me and plus I started listening to Yes and Rush and getting into Billy Squier and John Entwhistle and John Degan and wasn’t really that interested in guitar anymore. Just mutated into a number of bands to different things. Mainly what I did during the ‘80s was a lot of alternative music. Played in pop bands. I had a band called The Abstracts. It was like a Pretenders knockoff. A throwback to the ‘50s Buzzcock sort of thing. It was really fun and we did that. Played a lot of shows and we had a chance to open for some pretty cool people. When that fizzled out I started getting into psychedelic music and played in a band called Psycho Bible. We did that probably for about four years. Toward the end of it Jody Park, who was a longtime friend of all of ours, we asked him to play keys to expand the sound. He came in and really improved the sonics of the band considerably. Jody and I would sit after practice and just toy around with ideas. I’ve always been a prog fan from when I was a teen and he was really into Todd Rundgren and Queen. We threw out these ideas and found that our ideas meshed in a cool way and we wrote a couple of songs and eventually decided that we should just start a band doing a progressive rock thing. We called it Privy Member and recorded an album that never got released because the vocalist who had been in Psycho Bible also left the band and decided that he was not going to allow any of the material that he had worked on be released without having to pay him basically. We were screwed on that one. Privy Member was an interesting band. It was more of a Peter Gabriel era Genesis throwback. We were cutting our teeth on the genre because Jody and I, neither one, had really heard any of the newer bands doing progressive rock and we really were not even aware that it still existed beyond some goofy stuff like Saga. That’s where we got Jo who is on the new record. He played with us in that band and he’s a really good player. He’s a good friend. He adds a lot to arrangements and whatnot so we kept him in mind. When Privy Member split up Jody and I just continued to write obviously new material because we couldn’t use the backlogged material.
Normally when you do an album with somebody, don’t you have to pay them anyway?
That’s not really the way it works because it was a band. It wasn’t like anyone was hired to do anything. We formed a band.
Basically he just wanted money on the side.
Yeah, after the fact he decided that we owed him for his time. All of a sudden it became a project when he wasn’t involved anymore so that was a slap in the face. We were surprised because we’d been friends with this guy for years. It was really strange behavior you wouldn’t expect from someone you thought you knew. He kind of went off the deep end there. He’s kind of out there. He’s extremely talented but he has some funny ideas about what people owe him for certain things. It’s kind of nutty.
You’ve had to be a little cautious since then.
Right. We actually did resurrect the music from one of the Privy Member tunes for the new album. It was originally called “Ouija” and we just took Jack’s vocals off it and Peter cut new vocals. It’s now called “Died And Gone”.
Some of that old material is slowly showing it’s face on new stuff.
Yeah, pretty much “Died And Gone” is note for note a Privy Member song. It’s a very old one but it’s much better now, trust me. Much better.
Sounds like you’ve had trouble maintaining a solid lineup.
Definitely. I think a lot of that has to do with where we are in Chattanooga. This place is dying and there’s not a huge resource of people to draw from. I think there’s a lot of talent here but most of the bands here tend to want ride the coattails of the current fad. There’s a lot of Creed soundalikes in town. I think there’s a lot of apathy too. A lot of people in this area I don’t think understand how hard you have to work at something to make it happen. They want it to be easy and they want to be able to have a case of beer and take a girl home at the end of the night. As long as they can do that they don’t really care what they sound like on the recording or on stage.
They should understand that’s one of the fringe benefits after you “make it”, not before then.
You earn that through hard work. By the same token, there a few bands in this area that do work hard and I have a lot of respect for them. There’s not a huge well of talent to draw from and a lot of people admittedly don’t really get into progressive rock. They may have a preconceived notion of “oh that’s that old dungeons and dragons shit. That’s cheesy.” They’re more into the pop rock aspect or the punk aspect which I can understand too. I’m a huge Iggy Pop fan. I love that stuff. All that stuff is great but I don’t think I could be satisfied playing three chord rock. At the time I had these grandiose ideas in my head and would they come out grandiose on the other end I don’t know but I had to exorcise them if you will.
I never used to listen to progressive rock until I got involved with Mazur and started interviewing some of their artists. It takes metal to another level.
It definitely does. It’s done wonders for the metal scene.
Can you tell me about the compilation you worked on for Black Widow Records that had something to do with the horror genre?
Yeah, actually Ken Golden from Laser’s Edge called us up and told us that Black Widow was going to do that. Originally we understood that it was going to be an homage to Dario Argento and it turns out that it was just to horror films in general. He said that they had asked us to write a piece for it and Jody and I are big horror fans. We’ll sit around and watch The Exorcist and giggle at it. All the old Hammer movies. Anything that’s creepy or supposed to be creepy or funny and creepy, we’re into it.
Those old Dracula movies they did back in the old days. Even today I can watch them and really enjoy the creepiness because they did the films in black and white. Sometimes I think horror comes across a lot better in black and white then it does in color. The films they make now are for the gross value. They’ve lost that creepy effect.
I agree. Eraserhead, the David Lynch film, is the probably the creepiest, most unsettling thing I’ve ever seen. It’s David Lynch’s first film. He did while he was in college. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what it’s about. It’s black and white. It’s very grainy and really is a lot like The Exorcist, the soundtrack is this whirring, grinding noise that’s subconscious. It creates a sense of dread. In The Exorcist, they used the sound of insects. It’s subliminally mixed into the soundtrack and it makes the hair on back of your neck stand up. A really neat effect. We were really into Dario Argento so we said we’d love to do that. What we did was, we watched a lot of our favorite films and we started working on our piece with a drummer we were playing with at the time. This was after the demise of the first Somnambulist lineup from the first album. A guy named Michael Kite and he came in with a guitar riff that we based that piece off of. We sort of patterned it after maybe what the goblins did in the Argento movies. We submitted it and they loved it. We were amazed really because we didn’t think we’d put enough work into it, but as it turned out, they really liked it. It’s one of their favorites.
Where did the name Somnambulist come from?
Actually what we originally wanted to call the band was Max Schreck. He was the German film actor who was in Nosferatu. He was the lead role in that. Ken from Laser’s Edge thought that that may be confusing. He didn’t want someone to think that it was an individual. Individual names don’t sell quite as well as band names in the prog market for some reason. We wracked our brains and tried to think of something that we thought was cool. Basically something that wasn’t taken already. We thought of the cabin of Dr. Kaligari. The idea of Caesar the Somnambulist was really cool. We thought yeah let’s call it that. At times I wish we hadn’t because it’s a difficult name to remember and to say for some people.
Hard to pronounce.
Yeah it would have been a lot easier if we had just called it Spiderbaby or something. I don’t know. It’s a cool name.
You did some shows and supported a band called Handfarm. I interviewed Scott McGill today.
He’s a nice guy and a great musician. As far as fusion goes those guys are it.
Tell me about your album The Paranormal Humidor.
I’m always asked about the title and it means nothing. Everyone thinks it has some kind of underlining meaning. It doesn’t. It’s just two words that I thought sounded cool together. Actually the album that was released is the second version. We’d actually recorded one prior to that with another lineup, believe it or not. A couple of guys from another Laser’s Edge band called Volare. It’s a Canterbury band. I’m not sure if they’re together or not. The guitarist and drummer at the suggestion of Ken came in and we worked on some material. Really where we were at that time, we were kind of at a deficit. We didn’t have a lot of drive. We were getting beaten by having a revolving door of musicians and Jody was getting very tired. We really had to force ourselves on that and we had written “Troy Built Helen” with a former lineup and we resurrected that. We worked it with those guys. They actually had a couple of tunes that they brought in. We rehearsed it and prepared for the recording. Quite simply I think that it was just weak material. It just wasn’t a strong album at all and once it was recorded, we realized that. Ken said that we needed to regroup. At that point the Volare guys left. Jody suggested that we try Charlie Shelton, our current guitarist, who I had known of and I had seen him play before but it hadn’t occurred to me to ask him if he’s really into old school jazz. He plays a big jazzbox guitar. A 335, nice mellow Les Paul type tones. It never occurred to me so we asked him to come over. He did and we played him the material. He immediately started injecting his own personality into it. That sort of lit a fire under our asses. We got more excited about it again. Charlie actually at that point suggested we call Jo, the Privy Member drummer, and we’re like yeah, it was right there under our noses all the time. So we called him up. We just started working on lyrics and we threw out the dead weight and just started writing stuff. Really amazing few months there. We came up with “In the Mindwarp Pavillion” and “Destroy...She Said” and “Pathos Of Least Resistance” which is my personal favorite. We came up with all those in two or three months as a four piece. We were really amazed at how much better that was, just having a band that was there, that was into it, and working together. Working out and not bickering and carrying on, raising hell, and acting stupid. We were able to write some good music that really fortified where we were coming from. Actually, for the first time, realize the original vision for Jody and I. What we wanted all along was a solid friendship that was a band. Complimentary components if you will. Everything just flows together and makes sense. Makes it easy to compose and we were just pleased with the results. Jody suggested that we ask Peter, he had met Peter at a club here. He was doing an acoustic solo tour and came in and Charlie spoke with him. Charlie was grumbling about “yeah, we’ve got this band. We don’t have a singer.” Peter is like “yeah, you know that’s funny because I’m out here doing this and I don’t have a band.” Charlie goes “well I’ve got a tape out in my car. Why don’t I give you the tape and you can listen to it. If you think it’s something that you might be interested in doing then we’ll do it.” Charlie gave him the tape and he took it with him on the remainder of his tour. I think he lacked three more stops before he went home. He listened to it and he emailed us back saying that he would like to do it. We made two track masters of the eight dat recordings that we made and sent them to him in New York and he cut his vocal tracks at Shout Media Productions and sent them back. We mixed it and there’s the record.
He lives up in New York?
Yeah, actually now he’s in L. A. He’s all over the place.
Are there any tracks on the CD that stand out to you?
My personal favorites are “Pathos Of Least Resistance” which is the second track. I think that has really good form. I think it encompasses what we’re about. More so than the others. I like “Troy Built Helen” a lot maybe for sentimental reasons because it stretches back to the first lineup. That was actually written with Scott Ratchford, the original Somnambulist drummer. That’s his title by the way as well. They are my two favorites. “Destroy...She Said” is powerful too.
Jo Whitaker blends old school jazz with Latin rhythms. That’s an interesting approach.
Yeah, it’s very interesting. He’s a freak. He’s always playing these salsa records. He comes into practice and he’ll be like “hey guys, listen to this beat.” He’ll start doing this Latino thing. “Yeah, that’s great Jo. We’ll do something with that immediately.” Actually we’re writing material for a follow-up and there’s a nice little Latin section on one of the tunes that Jo is responsible for and it’s really cool.
Is everybody in the band involved in the writing process?
Oh definitely, yeah. Usually it stems from one person. They’ll come in with an idea whether it be actually mapped out in the form of a song or just little pieces or maybe a combination of two people like maybe Charlie and Jody or me and Jody or me and Charlie. We’ll just put it on the table and take it apart. Everyone injects their own personality into it and we discuss what the next part should be. If there should be a segue or if we should go immediately into this next part or whether we should transpose it to another key. About what you’d expect.
Have you guys done any touring to support the album?
No actually we haven’t. We had intended to. We went so far as to set up some tours as a matter of fact and at the last minute a previous engagement of Peter’s, a prior project from two years ago, came into fruition and snuck up on us and he had to cancel the shows. He’s doing a recording project. That’s why he’s in L. A. now. He’s doing an album with some guitarist who played with Mick Jagger. He had to cancel the shows. We had confirmed three and had to cancel. Then we were open for others but now I don’t know. Possibly by midsummer maybe we can set some stuff up. He should be free by late spring. Unfortunately we had to cancel the Nearfest. That was horrible. That thing sold out in 45 minutes. 1800 seats. We were a little sad about that to say the least. That would have been a great opportunity. Peter wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to make it. I guess that’s in June so we decided we would go ahead and just cancel rather than wait until the last minute and say “oh we’re not going.”
Promoters like some foreknowledge.
Yeah, I spoke with Robert Duka afterwards about it and apologized. He’s like “no, you did the right thing. I’m glad. Rock and roll’s a fickle bitch. You never know what it’s going to do.” He’s a good guy.
Any other thoughts or comments?
We will continue to beat this thing into the ground no matter who’s playing on it.
Even if you have to get 20 more people involved.
If Peter quits, we’ll get Adam Ant. We don’t care.