Barbarian Hermit Interview Prognosis
Manchester prog metal band Prognosis are just one of 40 bands playing the massive MMC Weekender at Rebellion January 30th-31st. Adam Robertshaw of Barbarian Hermit sits down with Danny Daemon (bass/vocals) and Phil Weller (guitar/vocals) to discuss what's in store from the band as the ready the release of their debut EP.
They play the main stage of the MMC at 17:40, Sunday 31st January.
Let’s get started with the basics – How long have you guys been going?
Phil - Prognosis as we know it have been going just under 18 months now. As a creative entity myself and our other guitarist, Hickson, began writing songs together years ago but it was some time later that my older brother, Alex joined as the drummer and we met Danny (bass/vocals).
Initially we wanted a vocalist too but we grew tired of searching so decided to just wing it ourselves. Our first gig – at the Manchester Rocks Website Launch last March – was completely instrumental so we’ve been growing slowly over the past year. But it’s been amazing to hear our sound evolve and for us all to add our own flavours to our songs.
Danny - In the little time we have had together, I've gained a whole new family, played some awesome local shows and wrote some fantastic music. Music becomes easy to write when you have the right folk around you.
How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard it?
Phil - We basically say we’re progressive metal because we’re genre sluts who like to mix a lot of everything into our sound. It’s definitely metal, with lots of riffs and lead playing, but we also want to counter that with smart lyrics and strong vocals. We dabble with time signatures, we like thrash, groove, doom, blues; everything really. For me, if I hear a song that reminds me of several different bands I like while still having a sense of individuality to it, something that is a little predictable and fun, then that appeals to me. Generally that’s what we like to do – so all our songs, while still sounding very much like Prognosis, have their own unique aesthetics.
Danny - I'd describe it as a culmination of old musical elements and new and there’s something for everyone.
What have some of the highlights of your career been so far?
Phil - Having a drunken dude come up to me in The Salisbury saying “herm ‘you’re the guitarist in Prognosis, you guys are sick,” was pretty cool! Just the idea of people actually digging our music and our hard working starting to go somewhere really.
Generally for me, I think the past handful of gigs we’ve done have been the highlights for me. We’ve played so much more confidently and I think we’re really finding ourselves as a band. As much as that sounds like some cliché, spiritual mumbo-jumbo it’s true. From me and Hickson jamming in his flat to a band of four writing and performing the music we are now, just seeing how we’ve progressed has been amazing. I never thought I’d do death metal growls in a 7 string song in 7/4 when we first started but I love the fact I don’t know what turn we’ll take next.
Danny - One for me, I'd say playing with Stoneghost from London. Those guys are professional, tight and really friendly. Watching them play was inspiring, and I'd recommend everyone to go watch them.
And what about lowlights? I know from experience the first couple of years in a band can have some serious ‘learning experiences’.
Phil - We’ve played one or two gigs that haven’t been particularly well organised and cocked up a gig or two as well but that’s all part of the experience. Last time we played the Alma Danny’s amp head fell off the cab, stuff like that’s gonna happen – I broke a string mid-solo supporting Stoneghost. It’s made us a better live band though I think, we take stuff away from every gig to improve ourselves as musicians, songwriters and performers.
Danny - Being made to wait five hours until gone 12am to play a set only to be forced to stop a quarter of the way into said set and then get told that the music’s too heavy for the venue. After being threatened by the police, I stopped. However in the true nature of rock and metal, the rest of the band chose to not hear what they just heard and play one more song anyway – our longest one.
Given that your name even contains the word, ‘prog’ is obviously a huge element of your music. But what does the word prog mean to you personally?
Phil - I interviewed Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief) a few years ago and we got talking about the very definition of the word ‘prog’ and what he said has always stuck with me. He said that there’s two types of prog.
Prog is full of long songs, silly time signatures and just generally off the wall stuff you don’t get in a standard song. But progressive was just a desire to branch outside of the box, to push yourself as a musician and try create something a little bit different from the norm that makes your ears prick up and think. I’d say we’re the latter really. We just have ambition and don’t want to be shackled to any particular genre/sub-genre, so the term ‘prog’ to me is basically creative license to do whatever we want.
Danny - Prog means to me something very different to the other guys in the band. To me it means writing two songs and then using a 64 bar transition to link them together thus making one long song. As for Prognosis, we have prog elements - but I wouldn't focus on the prog side of our band, I feel there is so much more to us. That and there are no 10 minute+ songs on our EP...
What does the creative process of creating such complex songs involve for Prognosis?
Phil - When you break our songs down they’re very simple really. We just like to colour it all with lots of little details and nuances – different variations of the same riff and so on. The more complex side of things comes from Hickson generally, he’s a bugger for creating alogirthmic riffs, but once anyone brings an idea into the band, we all have our own ideas and visions for where to go with it. I’m never happy with a song until we’ve all stamped our own footprints over it, so in that respect, the songs will sound complex as you have four different imaginations bringing things – both great and small – to the table.
Danny - One of us comes in with an idea, shows the band, and if everyone feels the idea, we work on it there and then. Otherwise, we can spend anything up to six months writing just one song. Most often we have a few ideas going at once. This keeps things fresh for us and it's a process that works for us.
You’re heavily involved in the upcoming Manchester Rocks Progathon at Rebellion. How would you describe the prog scene in Manchester at the moment?
Phil – Well, the thing is with the Progathon is that, as much as there are a tonne of bands from Manchester and the surrounding area who call their music progressive, there isn’t much of a community going on. I got chatting to Jimmy from The River Versus as before we knew it we had two days of bands filled, with others still to choose from. Musically speaking I think the prog scene is fantastic, but when I compare it to the doom/stoner/sludge scene it isn’t as a community where everyone gigs together and supports one another. I’m hoping the Progathon will change that.
As well as that you guys are playing the MMC Weekender this weekend. Which bands are you most looking forward to playing with?
Danny - All of them, the guys at MMC don't mess about, they pull the best talent together and then you have this event that really showcases the best of Manchester live music scene. It's so hard to pick just one.
Phil – Danny has hit the nail on the head really. The whole event just seems a celebration of great music, of so many different styles. It’ll be killer seeing Boss Keloid for the first time in ages, our proggy chums in Void and Collibus always deliver. Pist and Foetal Juice are always brilliant too. There are too many to mention really and I guarantee I’ll come away having fallen in love with a tonne of new bands too.
You’ve got your debut EP coming out soon – what can people expect from that?
Danny - They can expect to hear the start of Prognosis rise to power!
Phil – Sounds tyrannical Danny! I think we have a cool spread of stuff on this EP. It’s three tracks that really channel every side of us – the ambitious, ‘epic’ side, the short, fast and aggressive side and the one that wants to have you singing along as much as headbanging and generally losing your shit to our riffs.
"We basically say we’re progressive metal because we’re genre sluts who like to mix a lot of everything into our sound" - Phil Weller
Where was it recorded and how was the recording process?
Danny – It was at Guerilla Studios in the Northern Quarter with a lovely chap called Paul Knowles, who also plays guitar in Mescina. The EP's not the longest, but in the time it took to record it, I'd say we were pretty damned streamlined in getting it all down.
Phil – Hickson ate raw papadums.
I understand the first EP is part of a 4-part series that will make up a full album – what made you decide to take that approach?
Danny - It's not uncommon knowledge that music sales are not at their greatest. We wanted to create an EP that we can offer to people for almost next to nothing. We want to do this a few times over this year - with our ultimate objective being to create a singular album from all four EPs.
Phil – I just think that, the way the industry is going, shorter and more frequent releases are better at keeping you in the spotlight as you’re always releasing new music as opposed to one ten, eleven track record every couple of years. Essentially we’re releasing an album, just in four parts with each release a few months apart. Expect lots of different surprises on each EP.
Also, doing it this way means we can have four different album covers. We work with Paul Cooke from Dark of Artness and he’s bloody superb.
In true prog style, are there any concepts written into the EPs?
Phil – Thematically, it replicates what we’re like musically, so there’s a lot of everything. There are songs about Drones and modern warfare, about religion, regret and fear. There are songs about women – albeit veiled in metaphors – and a lot really. I just write what’s close to my heart at the time – family problems and stuff like that.
This album/EP series is all about testing the water, trying something different with each song. So, for me at least, tying songs together through themes and concepts sort of gets in the way of that. Although there may very well be a two part song which is lyrically linked, only time will tell…
Interview: Adam Robertshaw