Click here to visit official website of Erik Norlander.
Click here to visit official website of Asia Featuring John Payne.
Click here to visit official website of Lana Lane.
August 2012 (e-mail)
Erik Norlander is a prog-rock keyboardist, composer & producer with over 30 albums to his credit, including his own solo band, with vocalist wife Lana Lane, his band Rocket Scientists, as a member of Asia Featuring John Payne & numerous guest appearances. He also toured with the supergroup Big Noise that included Joe Lynn Turner, Vinny Appice, Phil Soussan, Carlos Cavazo & Simon Wright. Norlander has crafted a playing style drawing straight from the 70's heyday of prog-rock & not painting himself into any particular corner such as prog-metal, with pitch bending & vibrato recognizable features. In 2009 Norlander re-imagined many of his favorite compositions from over the years, released as The Galactic Collective. In 2012 he took the project to a new level with 2 DVDs, simultaneously released, featuring different facets of the project. The Definitive Edition gives an insider's view of the original recording sessions plus with casual interviews about each song & a technical look at the many synthesizers. It includes a CD of the original release & an additional CD, Echoes Of The Collective, sharing unreleased alternative versions. Live At Gettysburg features the entire project performed live in Gettysburg & Cleveland in 2011 & includes 2 CDs of the shows. Both are released by Norlander's own Think Tank Media & feature guests from his other musical outings. Michelle Moog, daughter of the synthesizer pioneer & inventor, contributes linear notes & an introduction to the concert. Former Emerson Lake & Palmer keyboard tech, now working with Norlander, August Worley also contributes linear notes. This interview focuses these new releases.
I was first introduced to the music of Erik Norlander though Asia Featuring John Payne. I was researching the band at the time for inclusion in a biography I'm writing on a former guitarist when I saw Payne & Norlander were coming to Manhattan for a one off acoustic show. I only knew Norlander as a name I'd read ... but its hard to ignore a keyboardist whose computer needs to be rebooted in the middle of a solo & takes to the task with nothing but a big smile. As I got to know the band more I discovered Norlander's music, in addition to that of his wife Lana Lane. Personally, I find so many current prog-pianists fly over the keys trying to sound like a guitarist, with the result being just a lot of fast notes with no direction or mood & sounding like dry scales played fast. The piano is not a guitar, but so many players struggle to make a piano sing on its own terms & with its own unique vocabularly & traits. But, I grew up with Emerson, Moraz, Wakeman & Bill Evans, so I'll confess I love texture. Thus, there's a reason Norlander has become a respected name to many who think like me. & thus, there's a reason I regularly have promoted his work, even over that of his more famous peers Derek Sherinian & Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater. For me he's the 'quiet one' in the group, not so out front in the mainstream media, but his music speaks volumes & I feel often far more rich than the often metal & funk directed work of his peers. Let alone a lack of record label pressure has allowed him a realm of creativity the others don't always have. But, then, I must confess again that as a lifelong sci-fi fan I enjoy the cosmic-fantasy-sci-fi themes strung through his projects. I won't deny the talent of his peers, but for me Norlander is the keyboardist that everyone should check out & is keeping the flame alive of the past. It was a pleasure to be asked if I would be interested in talking with him about his new DVD releases. Ironically, when he was in NYC I passed him going into the bar & hesitated frozen wondering if I should say nice playing or not. I was also hesitating on my decision to pass up a much sought for & delayed interview with Payne in that same moment. I believe he asked me if I was going into the bar or not to join the crowd. I think I mumbled no. Next time he's in town I'll say yes. I should also mention his wife is a cook & a can of her jam was in my cupboard for awhile. It really wasn't a bribe, I just happen to like to cook too.
Special thanks to mutual friend Sandy Serge of Serge Entertainment for her continued work in sharing with me lots of cool musicians.
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AJ: Erik, you may remember my favorable reviews last year of El Dorado Hotel by Lana Lane & Military Man by ASIA FEATURING JOHN PAYNE. Well, having plugged your playing via other folks' albums it's time to go right to the troublemaker himself! 2 DVDs released at the same time & each with 2 CDs apiece. All extensive packaging, no less, with The Galactic Collective - The Definitive Edition having linear notes that is nothing less than an introduction to your recording career. Are you a workaholic? Did you not ever wonder if just releasing one at a time might be easier? Or, is this just a grand vision of putting out the The Galactic Collective from every point of view (i.e. live, studio, commentary, alt versions, CD & DVD) that you couldn't shake? Certainly, though, you've left nothing for bootleggers or your own future remix album. Also, I hope you had a good birthday!
ERIK: Thanks, Aaron. The goal of The Galactic Collective project was to re-imagine my favorite instrumental compositions from my productions of that last 15 plus years. Rather than simply release a Best Of where I would just collect & remaster songs from many different albums, I really wanted to present this music in a cohesive, singular production with one group of musicians. & by it's very nature, to me, it called for something more grand than just a simple CD. I had intended from the beginning to include a DVD. Of course, we released a lot of the videos on YouTube early on in 2010 to get the awareness out for the project. But, then it became clear that a second audio CD was needed as well. I just couldn't fit everything from the 2009 Cleveland sessions onto a single disc. So Rob Ayling at Gonzo Multimedia in the UK came up with the idea of the Definitive Edition where we would create a really grand package: 2 audio CDs, a DVD & pretty lush booklet with extensive liner notes & photos. The second product, Live in Gettysburg, came later. After the original single CD was released in 2010 & the YouTube videos hit, we were asked to go out & play some live shows including The Rites Of Spring Festival in Gettysburg. I had played this festival twice before, & they always put it on in a nice theater setting. I thought this would be a great show to video, so we got in touch with Adele Schmidt & José Zegarra Holder of Zeitgeist Media in Baltimore to do the shoot. They're big prog fans & big prog supporters as well, so this worked out beautifully. Then Mike Potter from Orion Sound Studios made a wonderful multi-track audio recording of the gig. It was pretty easy for me to mix & turn into the Live In Gettysburg DVD release. The Definitive Edition title took a bit longer than I expect to complete, & by the time I was done with it, Adele had already delivered her edited video of the Gettysburg concert. So it made a lot of sense to just release these 2 titles as a pair.
AJ: The Galactic Collective - The Definitive Edition includes your commentary on each of the tracks. I know these videos originally had a home on youtube, but could you explain how this project came about to create a DVD of studio footage, plus commentary & then to do a concert DVD of the album?
ERIK: I actually planned the DVD first. That was my reason for hiring the video crew to come in during the Cleveland recording sessions. We ended up releasing several of them on YouTube as a promotional tool, but the DVD was always the goal. For the commentary, I had friend come out to my own studio on several occasions while I was working on the mixes of the album, & we just shot a bunch of material stream-of-consciousness. It's meant to be very casual, like we're just sitting around talking about the music. I did finally the more formal introductory section at the very end. I even put on a tie!
AJ: You & your partner in music & matrimony Lana Lane, on your own & through numerous bands (i.e. ROCKET SCIENTISTS, ASIA FEATURING JOHN PAYNE, ARYEON, etc), have kept the spirit of prog-rock alive, while also bringing to it modern trends & sounds. How do you see the world of prog-rock today, now 40 years plus from its YES/ELO/PINK FLOYD roots?
ERIK: I think that prog rock is truly alive & well, although it has taken many courses. You have a lot of bands that are simply trying to recreate the sounds of the 70s. GENESIS seems to be a particular magnet. There are so many GENESIS tribute bands, it makes my head spin! But then, there are a lot of original bands that seem to be trying to emulate vintage GENESIS. That's, of course, more regressive than progressive, but there is a lot to be said for nostalgia, & I shouldn't criticize it. Then there is a more literal progressive spirit in alt rock bands & metal bands where they are taking pop & metal styles & blending in other elements with those core sounds. PORCUPINE TREE, of course, comes to mind, & even bands like THE MARS VOLTA & WOLFMOTHER. & I have always credited DREAM THEATER with keeping prog rock alive by leading the way for so many prog metal bands. It was probably RUSH that started it - or maybe even CREAM before them - but DREAM THEATER really moved progressive music into the metal arena in a wonderfully creative way. They deserve a lot of credit & have earned their massive success.
AJ: In my reviews blog I've never been shy about touting your playing/composing as someone I believe more folks should check out, in comparison to your well known prog-keyboardist peers such as Derek Sherinian & Jordan Rudess (who, ironically, my piano playing spouse was in Julliard classes with - nothing like a game of 'your guy vs my guy' in the house). But, do you ever look at what others are doing in your field & compare & contrast their styles or releases or general efforts?
ERIK: I know both Derek & Jordan, & I think they are phenomenal players, each different & unique to themselves. I have never thought music was a competition, & I really enjoy listening to both of those guys. I think we all do something rather different. Jordan's pure chops are just astounding & Derek's inventiveness with his guitar-like stuff in particular is so interesting. Although no one is going to minimize Derek's chops either - the guy can really play!
AJ: What inspires Erik Norlander the composer?
ERIK: There are 2 things that a song must have: a memorable melody & a compelling story. Even an instrumental piece should have a story behind it. My feeling has always been that for a song to truly be great, it must be able to stand alone with just an acoustic guitar & voice, or just a piano & voice ... or even just a piano! If you think about an epic 70s piece like YES's "& You & I," for example, I could play that on just the piano & still communicate the drama & massiveness of that composition. That song tells a story even without the lyrics. So that's what's important to me - the melody & the story.
AJ: Do you play any other instrument in your studio when no one is listening?
ERIK: I do play a bit of bass & guitar. I even played bass on a whole tour with Lana Lane in 2007. I did the John Paul Jones role of playing both bass & keyboards. That was a lot of fun, actually. I, of course, played some guitar on Lana's latest, El Dorado Hotel, as well. My saxophone & clarinet remain in their cases, though. I gave those up years ago!
AJ: What's on the immediate horizon for you? Obviously you're doing lots of shows with ASIA FEATURING JOHN PAYNE, anything for you & Lana or ROCKET SCIENTISTS or more Galactic Collective Shows?
ERIK: It was a huge project to release the 2 titles from The Galactic Collective, & of course, earlier this year we released Lana's magnificent El Dorado Hotel album. At the moment I am just tying up some loose ends with all of these projects, promoting them & talking about them. Soon I'll start something new … perhaps a new solo album! I would, of course, love to do another ROCKET SCIENTISTS album & another Lana Lane album. The door is always open for those.
AJ: On other fronts, you're doing an array of shows with ASIA FEATURING JOHN PAYNE, does this mean the band is finally going to release Americana with no more delays? Or, maybe I should just directly ask - when is Erik Norlander going to get a proper album debut with ASIA FEATURING JOHN PAYNE, having been in the band since 2007 but with only the Military Man single/EP?
ERIK: I can't explain the crazy delays with that band. We've played probably over 100 shows, but the studio album continues to languish. I try to just be supportive of John & be patient. That's hard sometimes as I have a very active 'get in done' personality, but there isn't much else I can do. The music is really good, & I'm quite proud of what I have written & played. I hope that album will see the light of day sometime soon. It really deserves to be heard!
AJ: Besides your own work, you also helped Lana put out a new album this year,
El Dorado Hotel - featuring the ASIA FEATURING JOHN PAYNE boys (Payne, Schellen, Govan), members of ROCKET SCIENTISTS (Schiff, McCrite) & a few other trouble makers. What's going on with Lana & her solo music? (You also may remember I gave it a favorable review on my blog, discussing how your order of songs weaves this grand story of > self-discovery whether you two meant it to or not - though I didn't see anyone mention this with others so it might just be my perception, but hopefully you appreciated the insight.)
ERIK: Yes, I do remember that, & I appreciated your very well-written & insightful review. I liked that you recognized it as a true album in the classic sense. That is becoming a bit of a lost art these days, especially in a world of iTunes & singles. We, of course, aim to write great & memorable songs, but I do also always consider the entire album as well as I am producing. One is part of the other. As far as Lana's career, she loves to sing, & she has no interest in being a pop star. You will never see Lana Lane as a Lady Gaga-type figure (although we both enjoy Lady Gaga quite a bit!). Lana is already a rock star, & we have toured around the world on several occasions. Now it's truly about her just doing what she loves, & pushing the weight of the music business & all its trappings aside. The El Dorado Hotel album is a great representation of that ethos. Many thanks for your ongoing support, Aaron - we really appreciate it!