ScienceNV
The Quest For Prester John Volume 2
(Science NV Music)

 

The best progressive rock bands have proven time and again to be masters at a range of genres. Those prog fans looking for a band with unbelievable chops and musical vision should give a listen to ScienceNV. The four-piece Northern California band turned heads around earlier in 2018 with The Quest For Prester John Volume 1 and late in 2018 they fulfill the Prester John tale with The Quest For Prester John Volume 2. The second CD picks up from where Volume 1 leaves off with a fresh range of mythological tales of Prester John put to music. Actually, the tale of Prester John dates back 500 years ago so Science NV really stretches the listener’s musical imagination with their Prester John saga put to music. ScienceNV puts the tale to bed for the most part with “Roderick’s Tale” and following that 25 minute opus they complete volume 2 with a fresh set of mostly instrumental music that mixes jazz-rock with progressive rock and beyond. Where “Roderick’s Tale” features several guest vocalists and truly out-there lyrics, the remaining tracks are truly mind-blowing in their scope. Prog fans may relate this album to, believe it or not, the fabled Henry Cow album from 1975, In Praise Of Learning, which combines antiwar lyrics with some truly avant gard instrumental rock. As on The Quest For Prester John Volume 1, the band lineup remains the same, including Jim Henriques (guitars, vocals, keys), Larry Davis (guitars), David Graves (keys, vocals) and Rich Kallet (drums). The lead off piece on Volume 2, a multipart progressive rock epic called “Roderick’s Tale”, features some of the most impressive antiwar lyrics and imagery ever put into a rock-based concept album and as the band's scathing lyrics proves, the more things change, the more things stay the same. Speaking about the complexities of putting the famous mythology of Prester John into the concept of a rock track, the group's guitarist Jim Henriques tells mwe3.com, “I think we’re done with Prester John. It was an exhausting effort, and we will likely try something with less pressure next. Phew!” That sense of sonic completion, of a musical mission fulfilled, secures a place for The Quest For Prester John Volume 1 & 2 among the most impressive sounding and the most unique sounding rock albums of the 21st century. www.sciencenv.com

 





mwe3.com presents an interview with
ScienceNV
The Quest For Prester John interview Pt.2


mwe3: I’m so glad ScienceNV got to release The Quest For Prester John Pt. 2. What parameters did you set forth on this second volume and how is it different from Vol. 1? I know you mentioned that the legends you write and sing about on both albums are arranged chronologically but we’re going back 500 years or so… I guess we’ll cut you some slack! Lol Being that the time tunnel hasn’t been invented yet!

ScienceNV: One distinguishing characteristic between Volume One and Volume Two is the change from a female protagonist, Eloise, to a male protagonist, Roderick, in the long form pieces on each album. There are similarities between the two tales: each opens with an expository piece, has travel music, conflict pieces, a track of introspection and reconsideration, and a decisive finale, but we made certain compositional decisions to differentiate the two tales. Eloise has more of a jazz influence whereas Roderick has more rock. Eloise has many vocalists, most of them women, but Roderick has really only one singer - himself. Each character has a different musical ‘spirit guide’, an oboe for Eloise but a violin for Roderick. And some differences are very subtle, like Eloise’s tale featuring an electric bass guitar exclusively but Roderick featuring a bass synth, and the guitar choices are different as well.

mwe3: You weren’t kidding about your influences from author Robert Silverberg. I saw his prolific output of books, including his Prester John book. Was the Silverberg book on Prester John the main source of inspiration on Pt.2?

ScienceNV: The initial motivation for using Prester John as a unifying theme was a lecture on the High Middle Ages by Philip Daileader, a Professor of History at The College of William and Mary. The Silverberg book and other references provided scenarios, but we did not slavishly follow any one myth. Since Prester John is himself a myth, we felt free to make up our own stories, only loosely attached to Prester John, to suit our quest theme.

mwe3: “Roderick’s Tale” is amazing. You guys sound like Fairport Convention or even later period Jethro Tull on that track but yet it’s also prog-like in a futuristic way. “The Song Of Roland” starts off “Roderick’s Tale”. How does “The Song Of Roland” fit into “Roderick’s Tale” and is the tale kind of Biblical as it kind of portends fighting between Christians and Muslims and this is only in the first century! It all seems rather scary and even Déjà vu like 1000 years later.

ScienceNV: “The Song Of Roland” is a 12th Century poem; the Moors (Muslims) had occupied the Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal today, since the 8th century, and Christians warriors such as El Cid had been trying to dislodge the Moors for 100 years. They would finally clear Spain of Muslims in 1492. “Roderick’s Tale” doesn’t specifically refer to that conflict, but instead is based on Crusades in general, as does “The Song Of Roland”. Further, the “Tale” is not intended to be an historical depiction or portent. Rather, it is a cautionary tale for those who put faith in distant rulers and look to them for moral guidance. To paraphrase Adam Savage of the Mythbusters: “I reject your morality and substitute my own!”

mwe3: The singers on both Prester John albums are great. How did Science NV meet up with the singer David McCue? David did a great vocal job on the “Roderick’s Tale” track. Who in the band wrote the lyrics for that track?

ScienceNV: We found David through a website called Bandmix, and happily he turned out to live in the same town as Jim! By the way, Jim wrote the lyrics for both “Tales”, except for “The Song Of Roland”, of course, and Dave wrote the rest.

mwe3: “Across The Sea” is short but sweet. Is that part of the track mostly instrumental and how does it fit into “Roderick’s Tale”?

ScienceNV: It is one of the travel pieces that populate both “Tales”. In “Farewell” Roderick sails in a caravel to the east in a quest for Prester John and his army who is fighting the Saracen.

mwe3: Is “On The Road From Acre” the calm before the storm? Sounds like they’re preparing for battle on that track. Very scary stuff and all very cinematic.

ScienceNV: Yes, you’re right. Roderick is trudging from Acre, bored, looking for a fight, a fight he will come to find he doesn’t want.

mwe3: And then of course “The Carnage At Al-Samij” is the actual war soundtrack to “Roderick” right? Does that track depict man’s endless thirst for war and fighting? So where was Al-Samij? This is Science NV at their finest. True bombastic drama and Jim’s vocals are brilliant. How did Science NV prepare for that track? The soldier’s tale seems to never end and never finds peace within the violence. The vocals are somewhat masked on that track?

ScienceNV: Al-Samij is a totally fictional place, a mashup of Jim’s nephew and niece’s names, Jim and Sami (lol). It is the ugliest thing we’ve come up with, a very difficult mix, and the only vocals are the whispered dialog and the “Deus les Vult” chant first heard at the end of “Farewell”.

mwe3: “Roderick’s Tale” continues with “On The Silk Road To Bactria”. Where is Bactria in the tale and how does the “Silk Road” fit into the tale of “Roderick”? The horse like galloping beat is truly eerie sounding.

ScienceNV: Bactria was a real place in Persia along the Silk Road. Roderick is severely shaken by the carnage he witnessed, and both he and his horse are failing. Nearly exhausted, he stumbles into the Bactrian marketplace and is rescued by the Bactrians.

mwe3: “Roderick’s Tale” also features “Am I Really Wrong?”, which kind of questions the overall violence of the story. How does “Am I Really Wrong” fit into the tale? The questions of why always seem to follow wars and violence. ScienceNV really rises to the occasion with the instrumental parts of the song. Who is handling the lead vocals on that track?

ScienceNV: David McCue did some great vocals here, and in only a couple of takes. The track is Roderick’s ‘track of introspection and reconsideration’ mentioned earlier; once he sees that the Muslims in Bactria are not the devils he was told but instead are friendly, sophisticated people, he wonders if he was really wrong to come looking for a fight. The instrumental part really reveals our influences, from Mahavishnu Orchestra to Genesis.

mwe3: “Roderick’s Tale” concludes with the remorseful “A Good Man Goes Home”. I would hate to have to fight a war, even as I was drafted in 1972 and I was scared shitless at the Hempstead Long Island draft board. How did you arrive with the concept of “A Good Man Goes Home”? The soldier finally decries the king who killed his enemies yet sent the soldiers to die. I guess the moral is… (in your opinion)?

ScienceNV: Jim is especially proud of these lyrics. In short, they say that following someone who purports to be above you is not the path to being good. Rather, look inward, live your own life, don’t pick fights but be ready to defend yourself. There is an Ayn Rand paraphrase in there: can your readers find it?

mwe3: Is “Roderick’s Tale” the strangest epic ScienceNV has ever done? Does that end the Prester John story or are there more epics with guest vocalists like this in the future of ScienceNV?

ScienceNV: I think we’re done with Prester John. It was an exhausting effort, and we will likely try something with less pressure next. Phew!

mwe3: How about the guitar sound on “Roderick”? Especially the guitar sound that in ushers in “A Good Man Goes Home”. What guitars is Jim featuring on the Prester John Vol. 2 album?

ScienceNV: “A Good Man Goes Home” has two prominent guitars, Jim’s Danelectro 12-string and Larry's Gibson ES 135. Mostly though, Jim is playing piano on the track, Larry is the guitarist here. And, as mentioned earlier, the guitars used in each Tale are different. Larry had his hands full playing bass and classical in the “Tale Of Eloise” (from Volume 1), while Jim played a modified Stratocaster, Carvin Alan Holdsworth model and classical.

mwe3: What brought on “A Byzantine Interlude” and how does Prester John fit into that Byzantine era? I know it was 800 years ago! And you’re certain Prester John existed? I heard some have denied he even existed!

ScienceNV: The interlude is just that, a piece not critical to the story line. Since the Byzantine empire didn’t fall until the Ottoman siege in 1453, and that Prester John legends went on well into the 15th century, the setting gave Dave, the principle author of the track, a chance to try out some period sounds. As for Prester John himself, nothing we wrote is really about him; we were interested in the quests for this mythical character, and what effect questing for a legend has on the seekers.

mwe3: “Thirty Ethiopian Ambassadors” sounds like YES meets Gentle Giant or something like that! Very full-bodied track. That brings a kind of fusion edge to the track. How does Ethiopia fit into the Prester John history? Ethiopia is a fascinating kind of place! How about that guitar solo from Jim? What is the time signature of that track? It breaks new ground for instrumental prog-fusion.

ScienceNV: Dave is the principle author of this too, a magnificent effort! He has a way of phrasing that makes a track sound like it is in an odd meter when mostly it’s 3/4 and 4/4. Jim played mostly synths on this… about 15 ambassadors’ worth, and only played the swirly guitar in the head. Larry played the cool guitar solo at the end. As for its thematic element, allegedly 30 ambassadors went out in search of Prester John but fell into petty arguments along the way – you can hear these in the synth back and forth.

mwe3: “River Of Jewels” has a great minimalist effect. It’s like a futuristic sci-fi soundtrack right? Did you take a cue from the Prester myth for this track as well? The web site says it’s a myth but it can also be true right? I think “River Of Jewels” goes beyond prog and gets into some truly innovative instrumental music styles. It just seems to coalesce perfectly. What about the bizarre vocals that appear out of nowhere? Is this track a good example of what Science NV do best? Sounds like mellotron as well as very weird burbling synths!

ScienceNV: We always like to include some ambient improvisation on our albums, and “River Of Jewels” is the Volume Two effort. The strange vocal is actually a wedding song (lol) sample in Arabic, nothing to do with Prester John at all. There’s also some Tuva throat singing mixed in. Not sure if this is what we do best, but we’ve done a lot of ambient improv, whereas vocal tracks are new to us.

mwe3: “The End Of A Legend” closes off the album with another vocal track. Sounds like Keith Emerson joining YES in 1975 and then the vocals come in. It’s a rather jarring kind of track. Are you writing about now or then? I find it odd now that I lived in two different centuries! Yet I know in this life I won’t survive century 21. As you mention now how two centuries are now behind us.

ScienceNV: Dave’s masterpiece on Volume Two! As the title suggests, the scene is near the end of the epoch, the last 200 years of questing. The lyrics depict a soldier and his mates tired of slogging and warring in the search for Prester John, but it is also an allegory for all soldiers tired of fruitless warfare.

mwe3: What inspired the Vol. 2 cover art and who is the person depicted on the cover? Can you compare the sentiment between the two album covers?

ScienceNV: The wonderfully talented Martha Diaz is the album cover artist. She was both intrigued and disturbed by “The Carnage At Al-Samij” and was inspired to give Roderick his forlorn continence. Compare that with Eloise on Volume One, looking hopeful, with a downcast Peter in the background.

mwe3: So now that you’ve released the two volumes of the ScienceNV Prester John tale, what other exciting music news lurks in the shadows waiting to be realized by ScienceNV? Will The Quest For Prester John prove an impossible act to follow? And how about new videos for the album and possible live shows or am I asking too much of you guys?

ScienceNV: I think we’re all going to have a nice rest! As a small green Jedi master has been known to say, “Always in motion is the future”! That said, one of the motivations for the Prester John project was to collaborate, so there may be some partnerships that yield more videos or even a live performance.




 

 
   
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