JOHN IRVINE BAND
Metaphysical Attractions
(John Irvine Music)

 

For the follow up album to his 2015 album Next Stop, Scotland's great jazz-rock fusion guitar ace John Irvine returned in early 2019 with his third group masterpiece called Metaphysical Attractions. Speaking to mwe3.com about the title of his new album, John explains, "I’m very interested in the history of religion and how it runs in tandem with esotericism, and how that relates to the ways in which we currently view the world. So the album title simply expresses how ‘attractive’ I find all that. Of course, ‘Metaphysical Attractions’ works in a couple other ways: like in a sideshow attraction… a fortune teller, perhaps, or invisible forces attracting each other." For this release John has assembled an entire new band, including Rich Kass (drums) with added contributions from Rob Ironside (sax) and Gwen Kelso (flute). Primarily featuring John and drummer Rich Kass, the eight cut Metaphysical Attractions sizzles with a dynamic, instrumental jazz-rock fusion magic. Rounding out the album, John also merges his keyboard and bass work into the mix making the album sound even more complete. Mixed and mastered by Stuart Hamilton in Pencaitland, Scotland, John Irvine’s Metaphysical Attractions takes the 21st century guitar-centric, jazz-fusion sound in some sonically astounding directions. Listeners lucky enough to have heard John Irvine’s earlier albums, Wait & See (2011) and Next Stop (2015) will be in for a pleasant surprise with the 2019 CD release of Metaphysical Attractions. thejohnirvineband.com

 




mwe3.com presents an interview with
JOHN IRVINE
The Metaphysical Attractions Interview

mwe3
: The latest John Irvine Band album is Metaphysical Attractions, and it came out at the end of 2018. Why did you call the album Metaphysical Attractions and how does it reflect in the album sound and compositions? The word metaphysical sometimes refers to mystical ideas, so would you consider the album to be somewhat transcendent?

John Irvine: Trying to finally get it done certainly gave me some outer body experiences, that’s for sure! But seriously, yes, my outside music interests are largely invested in learning tarot and researching esoteric thought. I’m very interested in the history of religion and how it runs in tandem with esotericism, and how that relates to the ways in which we currently view the world. So the album title simply expresses how ‘attractive’ I find all that. Of course, ‘Metaphysical Attractions’ works in a couple other ways: like in a sideshow attraction… a fortune teller, perhaps, or invisible forces attracting each other.

mwe3: You changed the lineup of players for the Metaphysical Attractions album. What did each player bring to the table for the making of the album? What was involved with Rich Kass co-producing the album with you? He certainly keeps a solid beat throughout the album. Also, which Metaphysical Attractions tracks are Rob Ironside and Gwen Kelso playing on?

John Irvine: Rich Kass is actually on old student of mine from when I lectured in music at Napier University here in Edinburgh. He is a major talent - a trip to his website will confirm this: www.richardkass.com. I knew that Rich had already made his mark on the Edinburgh jazz scene and knew of his work with the HLK Trio w/ Evelyn Glennie, so he was an obvious choice to get on the new record. He is also a terrific guy and very easy to work with, full of ideas. He was at the mix/master with me and helped me make some important decisions during that process. The saxophonist Rob Ironside and flautist Gwen Kelso are both professional musicians in Edinburgh and hugely talented people. Rob plays on "Metaphysical Attractions II" and Gwen on "Lucy’s Brainwave".

mwe3: Your earlier album Next Stop featured you playing a Steinberger GR4 guitar as well as other guitars. You’re playing a different guitar on the cover of Metaphysical Attractions. Tell us about that guitar on the cover art of the CD as well as other guitars you play on Metaphysical Attractions, and also what amps and effects you employ to get the right sound?

John Irvine: On the cover of Metaphysical Attractions I’m playing a Charvel Pro-Mod DK24 in Okoume. Unfortunately, I don’t have it anymore - I sold it on fairly soon after the photo was taken. I chop and change guitars a lot. It’s a problem I have for which there is no available cure! For recording Metaphysical Attractions I primarily used the Charvel and a Reverend Jetstream (again, sold it). My current guitar is another Charvel, this time it’s a San Dimas Type 2 in Trans Black Burst, which is a Tele shape, of course. I think with this one I may have found THE guitar for me. It’s an outstanding piece of kit. As far as amps and effects go, I like to keep it simple. I used a Marshall Origin 20w and my old Yamaha DG Stomp pre-amp. I also use a Boss PS-6 for my ‘synth’ lead sound. You can hear that on the guitar solos for "Metaphysical Attractions I", "Hymn To The Winter Sun" and "Me And My Idiophone".

mwe3: Last time we spoke you mentioned you would include some classical guitar on Metaphysical Attractions but I don’t hear any nylon sounds on the new album. I also know you saw Segovia play when he was in his 90s. That’s the age not the decade! What was that concert like and how influenced were you by classical guitar and do you find that classical guitar is not usually featured in jazz-fusion music these days? Do you still practice any classical studies or etudes and what classical guitars do you like best?

John Irvine: Yes, I realized I hadn’t delivered for you on that front! Although there is steel string on there courtesy of a PRS Angelus, the Lifeson model, and there is classical guitar on the new album for 2020. It’s done and in the can. But the Segovia concert… it was disappointing, actually. But he was well past it by then – tuning up half way through pieces, lots of mistakes and the like. He arrived on stage wearing a cape and cane, which were removed by an assistant, all very theatrical, like James Brown but without any of the energy. He was never influential on my generation of players, I would say. Completely different technique to the majority of the younger guitarists at the time, and most of my classical guitar influences were formulated already, mainly Julian Bream, David Russell and of course, my teacher at the RSAMD, Phillip Thorne. They were the players I admired most. But having studied classical guitar for about 10 years I stopped playing in 1990 after my post-grad year. I think I found a number of issues with the instrument overwhelming: the gestural problems of a quiet instrument, the repertoire being somewhat limited in quality, the loneliness/anxiety of solo performance, etc. I also couldn’t see myself playing other people’s music for the rest of my life. I sold my classical guitar years ago. But it has had an enormous influence, technically, on my guitar style.

mwe3: How about the keyboards you play on Metaphysical Attractions and are you still using the MOTU digital performer for the keyboard parts on the new album? How much of a challenge is it to overdub keyboards over the guitar sounds?

John Irvine: All keyboards on ‘Metaphysical Attractions’ are produced on the MX4 virtual synth module included in Digital Performer 9. I tend to use the same lead and pad sounds on keys, mainly because I like them and also to give some continuity. I love it when I hear Lyle Mays break out his signature ‘ocarina‘ sound on the Oberheim, so that’s in the back on my mind. Keep things identifiable. The challenge, of course, is not to obscure the guitar parts by layering up synth sounds. In the past I tended to not use them very much as I had once thought of JIB as a vehicle for trio performance at one stage, but latterly I’m using more and more. It’s difficult to ignore countermelodies when they come to you, or textural ideas when they present themselves.

mwe3: You studied with guitarist John Etheridge earlier in your career. Did you study with John in London and how do you feel his style influenced your own guitar / compositional style? Interesting that he’s now keeping the Soft Machine legacy alive.

John Irvine: No, I studied with John Etheridge at Dartington College of Arts in Devon, which is in the South West of England near Plymouth. This was in the mid 1980s. Dartington was a tremendous place. Very left-wing, modernist, intellectual, anti-establishment school for the arts. Everything had to be really new or really old. No Romanticism. I say it a lot but it was easily the best academic education I ever had. Sadly, the college closed several years ago, but that’s British politics for you. Etheridge was terrific. I only had a few lessons with him but it doesn’t take a lot to have an impression on me, and I still think about the things he said back then – the main one being about improvising in any key while staying in one fret position on the guitar. He got me to call out chords and he would solo over each one, all the time remaining in 1st position or wherever he chose. He was fun to learn with. I met him a few times at gigs since then, and he would catch my eye and say “Don’t I know you?”. Great guy and a wonderful musician. Yes, my view of the Soft Machine reunion is simple: the more we can hear their canon of music the better. I think some bands that veer towards the more avant or jazz side are completely within their rights to play live, keep their legacy going, release records. Purely instrumental music tends to wear a lot better than stuff with vocals. The ‘aboutness’ of songs can very much tie it down to a past that is now an irrelevance. And there are definitely some ‘classic progressive’ bands that I don’t want to see rocking out into their 70s and beyond. Should I name some? Better not…

mwe3: Looking back, we were musing, way back in 2015, about that writer who compared your music and guitar sound to Alan Holdsworth, the guitarist who actually died later, in April 2017. It had been a while since he recorded. Have you had recent insights into Holdsworth, both the composer / recording artist and the guitar innovator? What do you think Alan Holdsworth will be remembered most for and why do you think he didn’t record so much in the years before he died?

John Irvine: I saw Holdsworth twice. Once in 1991 in Edinburgh and once in Glasgow in 2008. The Edinburgh gig was with Gary Husband, Jimmy Johnson and Steve Hunt. In Glasgow it was his trio with Chad Wackerman and Ernest Tibbs. Now, this concert was great, I enjoyed it more than the Edinburgh one, but what struck me the most was that Holdsworth’s hands shook for the entire gig. He obviously suffered from dreadful performance anxiety. I was very surprised by this – how could anyone so proficient in their chosen field could have doubts about themselves. But having thought about this a lot over the years I realize that he simply had really high standards for himself; to the point of it being debilitating, not outwardly but inwardly. This is confirmed somewhat by a story that came from Jimmy Johnson, that Holdsworth would overdub a solo, listen back to it, erase it, do another, erase that… and this would go on and on. I think he was definitely ‘on the spectrum’, as we say in the education biz. Certainly his idiosyncratic notational system would bear this out, as would his statement that the notes of each scale seem to ‘flash up’ on the fretboard when improvising. We also have to remember that he spent much of his time in the 1970s as a sideman, so there’s a big part of his career was spent not playing his own music. In fact, he was already 35-36 years old by the time IOU came out. Amazing really. I think that if he had had the financial/record company backing at that time there would have been much more music for us to enjoy. He was definitely an artist that needed patronage.

mwe3: Every track on the 'new album is excellent but “(Into) The Scrying Glass” is a definite standout track and it’s also the longest track on Metaphysical Attractions. Tell us about the title and also some insights into the way you approached writing it and recording it. I felt there was a kind of Steve Howe or even Steve Hackett like effect in the sound and the track has a solid rock energy. Tell us something about the way the guitars and keyboards were synchronized and how many overdubs are on the track.

John Irvine: “(Into) The Scrying Glass” is one of my favorites, too. The title refers to my interest in divination, mainly the tarot and I-Ching, but I’m intrigued by reflective surfaces and what the mind has to offer in times of contemplation with the invisible forces that can reveal themselves. The track itself represents a trip into our dark unconscious. As to its composition, well, like most of my music I had the chord progression first. You hear that sequence for the first minute or so, just the four chords going round and round. There’s then a bridge of four new chords before the Csharp pedal point. Then a repeat with a solo on top. So quite simple really. The main melody took a while to get right, though. I think the solo is one my best, very melodic and has that “Metheny meets Lifeson” feel that I go for all the time. To be clear, though, when I say Metheny I don’t mean his normal semi-acoustic lead playing, it’s primarily his Roland synth style that has influenced me. He also tends to play a lot slower when using the Roland, I like that, more trumpet-like and expressive. The real Pat. A good example of this is his solo on “The Red One” from the album “I Can See Your House From Here” with John Scofield. There you can really hear where I’m coming from. As far as a Howe or Hackett influence, well, I would say it’s very minimal, if at all. Though a huge Yes and Genesis fan, their harmonic discourse is not really there in my JIB music. But I’m amazed that more people don’t hear an Alex Lifeson influence in my style. It certainly is very strong in my view - MUCH more so than Holdsworth, or any one else really. Rush’s music (up to the “Signals” album) and The Police are really the main rock bands, in terms of a soundworld, that I want to allow to inhabit my own stuff. I think they are there in everything I do. Overdubs? There are surprisingly few in my music. Usually the maximum amount of tracks per tune is between 10-15 in total, and most of those are guitar. And everything is synchronized with a click track on pretty much all my tunes.

mwe3: What’s been the reaction to Metaphysical Attractions in the press? It seems like the internet is the best way to find out about music these days. Seems and feels like the internet is the only dependable way to get any first hand information these days. Television and print newspapers seem so antiquated these days, maybe they’ll completely disappear by mid-century. How do you feel about the model for online music in 2019? I hope it improves and we can figure out a way to market music better on the internet. What kind of futuristic things are you predicting this century and is there any way to know?

John Irvine: I’m lucky that my reviews have been very, very positive so far. And I’ve had a lot of support from various people on the indie prog radio scene eg. Stephen Speelman at Friday Night Progressive, Gregory Kampf at La Villa Strangiato, Matt Sweitzer at Canvas Prog Hour – these guys are so generous with their time and friendship, it makes it all worthwhile. As far as the online model for music goes… I must say that I’m all in favor of sites like Bandcamp. They give you a good return. I know for a fact that all of my music is available on some of the Russian sites, but I’m delighted that people still buy from the artist. I sell most of my music from there and most of it is digital downloads, not CD. This situation has raised an issue for a lot of indie musicians as to whether it’s worthwhile printing up CDs anymore. I think limited runs are fine for review purposes and for the odd diehard CD fan, but really I think digital will take over soon... if it hasn’t already. I went completely digital a few years ago and use Swinsian as my desktop player on my iMac. It gives me enormous satisfaction knowing that all my music is there at a click of a mouse and all saved to an external disk in aiff. Needless to say, I don’t do streaming. Again, this brings up something else, the question of ‘soundfile quality’. I have always thought that the quality of files, whether mp3 or CD quality FLAC, Hi-Res etc, is directly linked to the consumer’s access to storage space. I don’t think it is anything to do with an individual’s preference. If our phones could handle 1GB of space, people would have FLAC on there. It is undeniable that for the past 20 years music data has been impossible to store for the average punter. That’s very slowly changing. I also think that the worldwide adoption of a ‘lifestyle’ fed to us by a certain Swedish furniture retailer has led to people not wanting walls of CDs in their homes. I know I’m guilty of that. This ‘ownership of the music object’ applies largely to us, the over 50s. The album is simply one tiny aspect of what music is about these days. You see, LPs were our scrying glasses back in the 1970s; the reflective surface that held so much power for us; it was the main connection with the ideas of our heroes - but nowadays our computers are what we gaze into, and we can seemingly access so much more from this viewpoint. Now, all this info can be very helpful, of course, but we need to remember it still isn’t as good as our imaginations. I think we can compensate for the lack of album art, gatefold sleeves etc by applying principles of deep listening, and by creating the best audio setup that you can afford.

mwe3: You were mentioning another album you were working on for release in 2020? You choose to not do live shows so, so are there any insights into upcoming ventures, music / literary projects, writing and even possible performance videos coming as we march to 2020?

John Irvine: Yes, the fourth JIB album is almost completed, in terms of demos. I have been working on material over the past few months and it has come together quite quickly. Funnily enough, I played the whole thing through to my son last night and he thought it was the best thing I’d ever done. Which was very kind of him. I think the next album has more detail in it than anything I have done on the three ‘primary colour’ albums. The material has kind of demanded it. It’s also heavier in a lot of places but at the same time more sophisticated and complex. I’m very pleased with what has come out so far. At some point, I see myself doing some YouTube playing related videos. Running down the more fingerstyle-oriented JIB pieces. I think people would be quite interested to hear that.



 

 
   
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