rock fans will be in for a thrill with the late 2017 / early 2018
CD release of The Quest For Prester John Volume 1.
Recorded by the musical ensemble known as Science NV, the
seven track, 56 minute CD features a wealth of vocal-based and instrumental
progressive rock music. Among the musicians taking part includes the
core Science NV band, featuring Jim Henriques (guitars, keys,
vocals), Rich Kallet (drums), Larry Davis (guitars)
and David Graves (keys, vocals). A number of musicians also
assist, including several female vocalists who add a definite sense
of sonic zing to the whole thing. The wild thing here is the source
of musical reference, including assorted influences from classic early
1970s U.K. prog legends such as early Gentle Giant and Hatfield &
The North, the far- flung eccentricity of Frank Zappa, along with
newer fusion icons such as Joey Backenstoes California-based
band Blue Shift. The concept of this Science NV album is quite admirable,
bringing to light the legendary kingdom of Prester John which was
said to exist in East Asia and Africa from between the 12th and 17th
century. Science NV have really stepped up to the sonic plate so to
speak with this intriguing musical concept. Featuring a wealth of
vocal-centric and progressive fusion instrumentals, The Quest For
Prester John Volume 1 is like a giant sonic onion with
many layers that makes it all the more fascinating to work through
it all. The bands web site is filled with links and loads of
information behind the wide-ranging concepts in play here. www.sciencenv.com
mwe3.com presents an interview with
mwe3: Although Science NV have been making music for a while,
why do you think its taken so long for the band to break through
to a wider audience? Do you consider the band to be progressive rock
or more a modern day avant-garde neoclassical rock band?
NV: Its no mystery that there are a lot of good bands out
all vying for attention. And we havent performed
live in over a decade; that certainly makes it more difficult for
folks to discover our music. So were just glad that we have
a solid group of listeners who have kept up with us since 2005. With
regard to the genre
were a prog-rock band. The name reflects
a genre that, by definition, is constantly evolving. The stuff were
recording now would be considered very avant-garde forty years ago,
but not in 2018.
mwe3: The core members of Science NV are kind of involved as
scientists in real life. Is that why you used the term Science in
your name or do you feel the music you make is kind of scientific
in its own right? I like how you describe your other sides as those
pesky day jobs lol
What does the name Science NV signify?
Science NV: Jim and David had similar experiences shortly before
we met. David had a clarinetist (Peter Yosheff of Earplay) tell a
story about how he believes some composers liken their scoring style
to a committee of white-coated scientists. He said that was just plain
silly, that they were trying to make the music appear more
complicated, thinking that this would lend a sense of sophistication
to their work. He said they had science envy. We all thought
that was pretty amusing, so we mutated it for our band name. About
the same time, when one of Jims first composition teachers learned
that he had degrees in physics and math, the teacher pulled out a
handheld calculator to demonstrate that it had a log button.
Jim called it physics envy.
What can you tell us about your earlier album releases and how it
led up to what it going to turn out to be the double album The
Quest For Prester John, the first half of which has just come
out in early 2018 and the second half which is just coming out as
we near mid 2018? So this is what is called as a concept album
Science NV: Definitely a concept album this time around. Jim
had the initial idea that ultimately became two hours of new music:
use the legends of Prester John as a vehicle to tell compelling stories.
In addition to making our first concept album, there were two other
significant departures from our previous efforts. First, we wrote
songs based upon various legends
500 years worth!
they would truly be stories. So, many of them would need lyrics, which
ScienceNV has never done before. Second, our previous albums were
always full of silly titles and gags. There is still a bit of this
with the new album, but for the most part it is a much more serious
work, as the legends arent terribly pleasant.
mwe3: Do you feel Science NV is reinventing a new type of progressive
rock? You mention ELP and YES and also Mahavishnu Orchestra as big
influences. So do you feel youre taking that historic music
from the 1970s and building a bridge to new sonic vistas? Isn't interesting
how connected progressive rock is to jazz-fusion, right?
Science NV: Well, we all loved early prog-rock, but not the
same bands. David was quite fan of ELP, YES and Return To Forever.
While Rich and Jim were steeped in King Crimson, Genesis and early
Pink Floyd. We also have lots of influences outside of prog; for example,
some of us have written for and performed with for symphony orchestras
and opera. So during the process of writing, rehearsing and recording,
a myriad of influences becomes a novel amalgam.
mwe3: How did you come up with the subject of Prester John?
Is it mythology or more real? I was reading on Wikipedia and its
an enormous legacy that dates back to 1200s and spans continents.
Does your album go beyond progressive rock and into a new unscripted
musical genre? Compared to most of us overwhelmed you guys positively
energized about the last 1000 years of world history!
NV: Good question. We may have reached the point in our lives
where we ponder such things a bit too much, and there was a lot of
stuff going on our personal lives while we worked on this album. The
Prester John legends are a formidable legacy, at so many levels. Poor
communication during the dark ages caused rumors to blossom into miraculous
legends. They were accepted without skepticism, distributed widely,
and caused thousands of people to waste their lives dedicated to finding
Prester John. We wanted to try and capture the audacity of some of
that era and those quests. There were so many legends; it was hard
to stop writing, actually. We ended up recording nearly two hours
mwe3: Prester John was/is also a fictional character that appeared
as far back as 1966 in American comic books. He also had the evil
eye which could disintegrate matter. Were you inspired by all
the versions of Prester John? Do you have a favorite tale or part
of the Prester John legacy?
Science NV: The comic book stuff didnt do much for us,
to be honest. As we mention on our website, our primary resource was
a fairly academic text written by Robert Silverberg (the sci-fi writer)
in 1972. He spent an enormous effort researching the legends and compiled
some pretty cool narratives. Not all of our songs were based upon
this, however; Eloises Tale, for example, is a grand,
imaginative story told from a very personal point of view. Its
not explicitly derived from any single legend. One gem that Rich found:
Prester John was said to have commissioned trips up the Nile, hoping
to find its source. One group supposedly succeeded, after rowing upstream
for years, surviving off of raw fish caught from the river. One man
was chosen to scale the towering falls to see what was at the top.
However, once he reached the top, he refused to communicate to the
others what he saw. And he also refused to return. Two other men repeated
this feat, disappearing above the falls. The remaining men below the
falls were so freaked out that they decided to return home, reporting
to Prester John that mortals were not intended to see whatever was
up there. This is the story told in Above The Falls, the
fifth track on our new album.
mwe3: Science NV went from instrumental fusion to the most
complex vocal project imaginable. Tell us about some of your instrumentals.
I was impressed by the SNV version of Ravels Bolero,
which is also a video on the bands web site. That piece of music
actually dates back to 1928! What makes a good video in your estimation?
Speaking of which, the Quadropole video is amazing as
NV: Each of our albums approached writing and recording differently.
Our first album arose from music we had worked up for live performance,
including Ravels Bolero. Jim and David have written
a lot of music over the years and their styles merge in unexpected
ways. When the four of us get together, we often revise things spontaneously;
Chinatown, on our last album, is a really good example
of what can happen if you work on a song together over many months.
Once we know the basics of a piece of music, we start selecting instrumentation.
Drums, guitars and synths get tweaked, and ultimately each song sounds
really different from the next.
With regard to what makes a good video: we have usually started with
some vintage footage from the Prelinger archives and toss around ideas.
Videos are good fun, but we try not to let the visuals distract from
the music; after all, were mostly musicians, not video geeks.
A good sense of humor has always been handy. Videos for the new album
may have less silliness to them, as the subject matter is often quite
serious. Thats still being worked on.
mwe3: You mentioned that The Quest For Prester John
is coming in two parts. So how would you compare the Vol. 1 and Vol.
2 parts of this album? Is Vol. 2 as adventurous as Vol. 1?
Science NV: I wouldnt characterize one of the CDs as
more or less adventurous. The legends are arranged, approximately,
chronologically, i.e., The Mongols is on Volume One and
Thirty Ethiopian Ambassadors is on Volume Two. The final
piece, not coincidentally, is The End Of A Legend. But
we didnt record them in sequence. We worked on the pieces as
we developed ideas. Some of them were difficult to write and even
more difficult to play. We had a modest number of overdubs, but the
core ensemble recordings had to be solid.
been playing together as ScienceNV for 14 years. While working on
The Quest For Prester John, we were really getting finicky
about everything. We called it painting a 747 with a Q-tip.
As a joke, last year David mailed Jim a box of Q-tips while he was
struggling with some of the final mixes. (lol) David started calling
some of our stuff precision prog, as there was so little room for
error. For example, the opening track, Fanfare, is only
two minutes long, but it flies by, and the counterpoint required so
much precision; it took us several recording sessions to finally nail
it. The same is true for The Mongols. Larry initially
sketched out the 5/4 riffs, and it was a lot of fun to play. However,
by the time we were done working it up, we had three melodic lines
playing at 200 bpm.
mwe3: Are all of the members of Science NV musical gearheads
or gear collectors? What do you think of the vintage aspect of gear
and recording equipment compared with todays over-fascination
with futuristic products and musical equipment? Its amazing
with all the sampling and modeling how people can recreate any sound
from the past on their computers.
Science NV: There will always be folks who seem more fascinated
by a sound, or the hype associated with it, than by its musical potential.
Prog-rock has always suffered a bit from this. However, good musicians
will write good music and use instrumentation that serves the musical
ideas. Thats been true since Les Paul started experimenting
with his guitar in the 1930s. We probably arent gearheads as
some would use the term; however, we are always looking for something
novel that can give us another level of expressiveness
mwe3: Now with your new double album The Quest For Prester
John 1 & 2 released in two parts, what does the musical future
look like for Science NV and what kind of profile will the band be
having this year, 2018? How can we all face our planetary future and
still remain undaunted and courageous?
Science NV: To be honest, we have been overwhelmed with finishing
up this gigantic project. It required three separate mastering sessions
last year! So we havent talked much about what happens next.
There are a lot of changes going on, most notably, Jim and Rich are
retiring this year, from teaching and clinical practice, respectively,
freeing them up to pursue other bright and shiny objects.
Being undaunted and courageous is a big part of the theme of the album!
As Eloise sings at the end of her Tale: I know
who I am
And the choice is my own.