in 1997, the California band called Blue Shift released an
excellent album called Not The Future I Ordered. The album
made waves in the progressive rock community but following that, not
much was heard of the band... until now. In 2015 Blue Shift returns
with Levels Of Undo. The band now features a
new singer named Denise Chandler, while the core of
the band still includes founding members Joey Backenstoe (guitars),
Mark Barton (keyboards) and drummer Steve Sklar. A sonic
masterpiece, Levels Of Undo sounds great on CD and veers all
over the musical map, taking well into consideration the band's roots
in progressive rock, jazz and electronica. The diversity really shines
through on a Blue Shift cover of the Rolling Stones 1967 classic 2000
Light Years From Home while I Remember Ted is Backentoes
warm-hearted solo jazz guitar instrumental tribute to the late great
jazz guitar icon Ted Greene. As Levels Of Undo points out,
Joey Backenstoe is truly one of the most gifted guitarists on the
music scene and as such, hes kind of the American version of
Steve Howe. Like Howe, Backenstoe is proficient in both the jazz-rock
and prog guitar worlds. Keyboardist Mark Barton is kind of the American
Keith Emerson and like Emerson, Barton is very influenced by both
prog-rock and jazz with special leanings towards the world of electronica
and especially 20th century innovator Wendy Carlos, who in fact used
to be Walter Carlos. Speaking to mwe3.com about the creation of Level
Of Undo, Joey Backenstoe explains We would each work
on ideas individually, and then come together periodically to present
our demos to one another. We would then hash out the details and work
on the arrangements together. Steve and Denise had some valuable input
when it came to the arrangements, with Mark Barton adding
Lets put it this way. L.O.U. is a product of the modern
computer age. As much as we love to play together as a band, that
wasnt always possible during recording. The computer also allows
us to agonize over and discuss every note. We have come to the conclusion
that this is actually a good thing. Im sure Beethoven did the
same. Whether your tastes lean towards progressive rock,
instrumental jazz fusion, mainstream guitar jazz or classic experimental
keyboard electronica, Blue Shift covers all the sonic bases in style
on their long awaited masterpiece
Levels Of Undo.
mwe3.com presents an
Why the long wait since the 1997 Blue Shift CD, Not The Future
I Ordered. The 2015 Blue Shift album Levels Of Undo is
well worth the wait but tell us how the band came back again and how
the new album came together? Is the new album featuring the original
band, although I know you have a different singer now.
Joey Backenstoe: Basically, life just got in the way. We all
had families and careers which kept us busy, but we were determined
to see it thru even if it meant working in a piecemeal manner. Levels
Of Undo, except for Denise on vocals, features the original members.
Mark Barton: The wait may have had a positive effect. It gave
all of us a lot of perspective on how these tunes hold up. Do we still
like the songs 3 months later? We took advantage of the gaps. Getting
mixes right, especially on music like this, is difficult. I even bought
a little FM broadcast transmitter so we could mix a song in the studio
and then go out to our cars and listen to it on the radio.
mwe3: Where do the other Blue Shift members
live and did that impact the way the album was recorded? Tell us something
about the way the album was recorded.
Joey Backenstoe: Most of us live in the Los Angeles area. Mark
and I composed most of the material. We would each work on ideas individually,
and then come together periodically to present our demos to
one another. We would then hash out the details and work on the arrangements
together. Steve and Denise had some valuable input when it came to
the arrangements. The title track was a ton of work, and more of a
band effort. I pretty much wrote all of the music for Drivetime,
and Savant Guard is Mark's tune.
Mark Barton: Lets put it this way. L.O.U. is a product
of the modern computer age. As much as we love to play together as
a band, that wasnt always possible during recording. The computer
also allows us to agonize over and discuss every note. We have come
to the conclusion that this is actually a good thing. Im sure
Beethoven did the same.
do you call the CD Levels Of Undo? Is that because of the undone
work of Blue Shift?
Mark Barton: I will not keep this mysterious title a mystery
any longer. I was reading about some PC application having essentially
infinite levels of undo, like you could take back anything youve
and I thought it sounded kind of quantum mechanical. I imagined the
levels of undo corresponding to parallel realities, and we could hop
from level to level like an electron changes energy states. There,
that sounded cosmic enough.
does the Levels Of Undo album compare, in your opinion, with
your first album Not The Future I Ordered both musically and
the way it was recorded. Must be a whole different world. Who was
your original singer?
Joey Backenstoe: I personally favor Levels Of Undo over
Not The Future I Ordered just a bit... I find it more progressive.
Not The Future was recorded on magnetic tape. Levels
was recorded digitally, so fine editing was easier. The original singer,
Stewart Meredith moved to England years ago to pursue other musical
interests. On the first album, Stewart's contribution was a bit more
pop oriented and accessible, but great songs nonetheless.
Mark Barton: Right at the outset, we all decided that this
album would be progressive and not at all pop. These days, I would
feel funny trying.
The first track on the new album, Drivetime is very jazzy
and almost sounds like the California version of Hatfield & The
North (for those prog fans in the know). Is there some social statement
in that song and who wrote it? Also tell us about your new singer
Denise Chandler. Shes great.
Backenstoe: As I indicated earlier, I wrote the music for Drivetime,
and yes, it is jazzy in spots. Steve, who is an incredible drummer,
gives that track a great rock/jazz fusion feel that I really like.
Steves influences are Egg, Holdsworth, Return To Forever, Bill
Bruford and the like. Mark's organ solo in Drivetime is
my favorite solo that he has ever done, the intensity and energy that
he brings to that song is just fantastic.
My father was a professional jazz pianist and I was heavily influenced
by what he did. He was in the Frankie Carle Band and the Sammy Kaye
Band in the 1940s. I learned a lot about music theory from him
and Ted Greene.
As far as any social statement that might be there, I'll defer to
Denise, who wrote the lyrics. I first heard her take a shot at vocals
on Drivetime, and I was very impressed. We were also all
blown away by her haunting treatment of the ethereal section of the
Denise Chandler: Joeys music gave me a mental impression
of speeding down freeways and through canyons and finally arriving
at a calmer place near the ocean. Anyone who is in the L.A. area for
any length of time will notice the traffic getting heavier and heavier
until it affects life choices. As great as Southern California is,
sometimes you want to hop into a great car and escape to someplace
else, kind of California transcendental.
2 on Levels Of Undo, I Remember Ted is a tribute
to Ted Greene, the jazz guitar hero. What did Ted mean to you and
how did you emulate his guitar sound and vision on what is a most
impressive extended guitar solo. Talk about an eclectic shift in sonic
perception between Drivetime and track 2! So I Remember
Ted is an original?
Joey Backenstoe: Ted was a dear friend and one of the most
amazing guitarists that I am aware of. I had the pleasure of studying
with him for years. He played at my wedding and amazed us all. I tried
to somewhat get his sound by using my Tom Anderson Hollow T direct
to digital tape. Ted recorded direct to
tape with his vintage Fender Telecaster. Yes, there is a huge shift
in musical genre from Drivetime to I Remember Ted.
Prog fans are very intelligent listeners and I'm hoping that they
will be open to that track on the album. Hey, YES fans accepted The
Clap and Mood For A Day, so why not? If they can
accept ragtime and classical, why not jazz? The intro to I Remember
Ted is my composition, however, the other segments are jazz
standards - My Romance, I Could Write A Book,
and Cheek To Cheek.
3 Savant Guard is that title a play on words? Another
gothic fusion jaunt with definite soundtrack vibes. How do you write
a song like that? So many twists and turns and wide ranging dynamics.
Is that the Blue Shift trademark sound?
Joey Backenstoe: Savant Guard is full of surprises.
A friend of mine told me earlier today that he thinks it's the best
track on the CD.
Mark Barton: Im glad people like it. I didnt want
to use any old ideas when writing this song, nothing I
had lying around. But I did have the first 4 chords and everything
just sort of organically grew from there, sometimes stream of consciousness
with no plan. I also knew I wanted a lot of contrast in mood and feel.
I think Blue Shift as a band tries to take the listener on little
musical adventures. Denise and I co-wrote the lyrics in a 2-hour traffic
jam outside of Las Vegas. The Savant Guard are the geniuses
that protect us from the truth.
4 Suite Homage really takes it out there. Joey said this
track was Blue Shift keyboardist Mark Bartons tribute to his
influences like the original Walter Carlos, Keith Emerson and 1950s
Sci-Fi music. Wow, that really takes it out there. Funny thing is
that you really can hear the influences in the track. Joey goes for
a superb Ted Greene tribute and Mark goes for Carlos and Emerson!
Mark Barton: As Denise calls it, Under the Influences,
is a tribute to my favorite electronic music artists. Wendy Carlos,
is definitely my biggest influence when it comes to synthesizer programming
An electronic sound needs to move and stay sonically interesting,
and I learned several techniques for doing that from her. You can
hear lots of Emerson influences in my playing too. Im also a
huge fan of Louis and Bebe Barrons soundtrack for the 1956 film
Forbidden Planet. That, and a little Lost In Space is
in there as well.
idea was it to cover 2000 Light Years From Home? Sounds
like Mark is channeling Brian Jones and his mellotron explosions.
I always felt the song was underrated. Now you have to get a CD to
Mick Jagger. I must say you guys did a totally great job on this!
Denise just kills on this track. A first!
It was Mark and Denise's idea. Denise is a huge Rolling Stones fan.
I agree that Denise gets a great vibe on this track. On Not The
Future I Ordered, we covered Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song
- so why not add a cover tune to Levels Of Undo?
Mark Barton: We picked that particular song because we thought
it fit in with the mood of the rest of the CD. Its definitely
the Stones most psychedelic track. Your mind also needs to be
2000 light years from home to prepare yourself for what comes next.
title track Levels Of Undo closes the album. Its
pretty remarkable in that its a 20 minute epic track. How did
you approach the title track as both a composition and a performance?
As great as the other tracks are, the title track is really the high
point of the album. Agreed?
Joey Backenstoe: The title track is probably the high point.
Mark and I spent a huge amount of time writing that one, and I would
say that we had equal compositional input. Mark and I grew up admiring
the great prog bands of the 70s. We love those band's epic pieces
like YES' Close To The Edge, ELP's Karn Evil 9,
Genesis' Supper's Ready, etc. We didn't have a piece like
that on Not The Future I Ordered, so we wanted to do something
on more of an epic scale on Levels Of Undo.
Mark Barton: Levels Of Undo was actually called The
Epic before any meaning was attached to it. The music came first
and when the Levels Of Undo concept kicked in, I was able to
write the lyrics for it very quickly. Its the most important
piece on the CD and definitely represents the essential Blue Shift.
Why didnt you print the lyrics with the artwork?
Steve Sklar: We truly wanted to focus in on the music. We wanted
our fans to open the CD, quickly look for other bits of information;
and then say; well, no lyrics, no additional information
and get right to the music! This is why we recorded the CD; for our
fans to hear our music. Although, I will say, we, as a band, would
love to be able to connect with our listeners. Anyone can email us
for the lyrics or f u t u r e communications!
When did you start working with Musea Records in France, especially
as I know you released your first album through Musea too. Wasnt
it released privately first? Is it the same Musea from the 1970s?
If so, youre in good company. Do you listen to other Musea artists
and do you work with Bernard directly?
Joey Backenstoe: Not The Future I Ordered was our first
interaction with Musea. It was also released privately on Mayday Records
(MD2002). The same Musea from the 70s? ... I'm not sure. We have worked
with Bernard directly, he's a great guy! I have listened to other
Musea artists, there's a lot of great stuff out there. Some years
ago, Musea released a CD of cover tunes by Musea artists. It was a
very interesting CD and it included our cover of Immigrant Song.
you tell us about the guitars that you play on Levels Of Undo and
how has your choice of guitars changed over the years and what are
your favorite guitars?
Joey Backenstoe: I used a Gibson ES-335, ES-175, Tom Anderson
Hollow T, a Rickenbacker 360-12, a Fender Strat, and a Martin 000-28.
Over the years, I find myself getting more into hollowbody electrics.
They have a certain response that appeals to me. My favorites are
my Gibson archtops (ES-335, ES-175, ES-5 Switchmaster, L-5), my Tom
Andersons, and recently I have picked up a couple of Collings electrics
which are incredible.
I guess youre busy doing other things. What else do you do to
compliment your music? I think I saw your picture in a Butlers Coffee
Joey Backenstoe: I occasionally play solo jazz guitar at local
clubs, fine restaurants, and even coffee shops for fun. It forces
me to keep my chops up. It's challenging to play for 3 hours and keep
addition to Ted Greene who would you say are your big music and guitar
influences? The best guitarists always cite a variety of influences
from jazz guitar (Chet, Les, Ted) to modern prog guitar masters like
Steve Howe for example. For some reason, Im thinking Les Paul
would have loved your approach.
Backenstoe: Les was fantastic, and I have always loved Steve Howe.
Other major influences would be John McLaughlin, Joe Pass, Pat Metheny,
Steve Hackett, Martin Taylor, Al DiMeola, Robert Fripp, Lenny Breau
and Johnny Smith.
plans do you have for 2015 and are you planning to keep Blue Shift
as an active band with the possibility of another album that might
happen quicker than in another 17 years?
Joey Backenstoe: 17 years? ...that is scary, isn't it? There
are no plans at present to do a third CD, but who knows what the future
Denise Chandler: ...or what the future orders.