In June they brought out their great, tenth album „The Road of Bones“ and at this years edition of Germanys „Night of the Prog Festival“ I had the honor to interview all five members of England’s Neo-Prog-Band IQ. Mike Holmes (Guitars), Peter Nicholls (Vocals), Neil Durant (Keyboards), Tim Esau (Bass) and Paul Cook (Drums) had quite some interesting topics to talk about. The new album and their suprise about it’s success, about Progressive Rock in General and interesting new bands. About the internet’s impact on music and some other stuff. Enjoy!
Daniel Frick: Hey Guys, thank you for taking your time to answer a few questions for the readers of our music magazine Whiskey Soda.
Paul Cook (drums): Isn’t that terrible to call the magazine like that? Because you ruin Whiskey putting Soda in it!
Daniel: Yeah, I heard that answer before. It’s just a simple story behind that. When the founders of our magazine got together in 1996 I think, they were both working as DJ’s. Well, one of them gave himself the nickname „Jack D“, the other one called himself „Soda Bubble“. So that’s why it became „Whiskey-Soda“. But just a few days ago I talked to one of them and he said to me: Back in 1996 there were all the cool names for a music magazine available like „Metal.de“ or „Greatmusic.de“ or whatever. Why did I go for Whiskey-Soda?“ (laughs). After the Show later, will you have some good German Beer instead of ruined Whiskey, won’t you?
Mike Holmes: Well, any beer we can get!
Daniel: You played the Night of the Prog Festival in 2011. How does it feel to come back and do you know the Loreley Legend?
Mike Holmes (git): A little bit. It’s something about the river, isn’t it?
Daniel: Yeah, it’s a german romanticism legend about a mermaid with that name distracting the sailors with her songs causing shipwrecks at the strait just down here.
Mike: And they blamed it on a mythical creature? (laughs)
Daniel: Yeah, I think it probably really developed with the time that went by.
Mike: Maybe they just couldn’t find the directions because of all the loud music at the Amphitheatre? There was no GPS back then, right?
Daniel: What I was going to aks was if you ever thought of bringing a female singer to the band?
Mike: Well, we have some additional background singers from time to time. Since this is has been going for so long we tend to write for each other now. When we write, we’re writing for Peter singing it. So for a female singer on a regular base? I don’t think so.
Daniel: I read that this it the first time you play the New Album Live?
Mike Holmes: We did a few gigs leading to the album, but since the official release in June it’s the first gig.
Daniel: So I guess you’re still a little bit excited or at least curious? How does it feel to step out to the fans with an all new album?
Peter Nicholls: It’s the most important thing that we do. It’s a new album. If we release a new album and it’s not good, we do ourselves bad. So we always want to make sure that the albums are really good, because it stays with us for the next three or four years until the next album is coming. We had great reactions to this one. It never becomes something ordinary, it’s always very exciting to have new material out.
Mike Holmes: And it makes a difference as well playing it live. We always enjoyed playing live and new material makes it different again for us to play.
Peter Nicholls: It’s still new to us, so we’re still trying to remember it. On the edge, definitely. Some songs you’ve already played 50 or 60 times. You can’t relax with this. Because it’s new material you wanna do really well, and we’re all trying to remember it and get confident with it. It helps keeping the attention levels higher.
Daniel: So does that mean, that everytime you get up on stage, the stage-fright turns up again?
Paul Cook: Yeah, I think so. When you got new material it’s not as well, you’re better with the old stuff. So you have to keep a special concentration.
Daniel: „The Road of Bones“ has been released for about three months now. As far as I know there’s been great critical acclaim all over the world. But it also had quite some success when it comes to sales. You hit Top 40 in Germanys Album Charts. That’s not a matter of course for a Prog Band, is it?
Mike Nicholls: We’re really very surprised by that. We didn’t even think about any chart placements. If we had thought about that, we might have done it quite different. We just went out and did what we usually do. And that was incredible, we’re really pleased by it. The nice thing is we’re getting good reviews in different types of magazines. Even metal magazines have given us great reviews as well. There’s one metal website, I didn’t find out which one, that has given us 100 of 100. Which is really cool for a prog album!
Daniel: Do you finally feel that you’re now where you deserve to be? Because good sales are of course also a kind of affirmation, aren’t they?
Tim Esau: We’re getting closer (smiles), we worked very hard. But we’re not quite there yet.
Daniel: The house mortgages are not payed yet? (laughs)
Tim Esau: Not yet. We don’t think about what we deserve, we just do what we’re enjoying. That’s pretty much it.
Mike Holmes: Yeah, we’re just doing our best and hope it gets down well.
Daniel: Let’s talk a bit more about „The Road Of Bones“. I really like the Album very much and as I understand it’s a concept of a Story of a Serial Killer or just the title track. How did that special topic occur?
Peter Nicholls: When Mike presented the music, he said he felt it like sort of filmic, it’s like opening up on a scene of some kind of carnage, where a serial killer had been at work. So it just turned up to fit that idea. I think that track is quite different, to me it’s a quite visual piece of music. you can easily visualize scenes and get an idea when I was trying to do the lyrics. It just came from that really. The best thing about writing is that one idea follows the other idea. You just throw things in and so it becomes the bands project.
Daniel: So that’s your usual approach to write the music first?
Mike Holmes: Yeah, we always do the music first. I’ve been watching a lot of films recently, and also the scandinavian murder series. „The Killing“ – do you watch that? There’s loads of it, it’s massive in England. There’s an american version of it now. And „The Bridge“, all these murder things coming from scandinavia, and they’re done very well. And I suppose it was that, because they’re quite atmospheric as well.
Daniel: Did „The Road Of Bones“ turn out harder when it comes to guitar riffs and so on because of that Serial Killer Topic or did the music develop harder and darker and you came up with the idea?
Mike Holmes: No, it just felt very natural. On our previous album „Frequency“ there were one or two tracks getting towards that. I think we just allowed this album to go down that mode a bit more. Particularly when it comes to the sounds that we were using in the stuido. Quite a few people that say that there’s not so much guitar on it. But actually we spent more time on the guitar sounds than we did on any other album. I think it just presented itself, the sound of the album. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It evolved.
Daniel: So you didn’t also listen to a lot of Metal stuff at the same time?
Mike Holmes: No. But there’s quite a big crossover between Metal and Prog over the last ten years or so. The most of it isn’t prog to me but just Metal with different time signatures. But there are one or two bands coming out now that actually do manage to combine it really well.
Daniel: Mike, as I expected only talk to you I’ve got a special question only for you. As what do you see yourself mainly: As a Guitar Player, a Keyboarder, A Producer or a Composer?
Mike Holmes: My main thing is the guitar. But I’m not a person that hangs around in guitar shops. I like guitars obviously, that’s why I play it, but I’m equally interested in keyboards and records sounds. I see myself as a musician in general
Daniel: There’s also Synaesthesia, who are signed to your label GEP, whose CEO you are. I think most of the visitors of the festivals haven’t heard of them before, neither did I. So here’s your chance to do some shameless profiling and advertising for them. How should anyone give these guys a shot? Why are they special?
Mike Holmes: I think they’re special. GEP gets sent between 6 and ten demos a week, and they’re the ones we chose from a years worth of demos. They’ve got some really interesting ideas, they’ve actually good melodies. I think a lot of prog bands or prog musicians tend to think melodies aren’t important. They tend to think it’s important what keyboard sound they have or to play 7/8. For us, melodies are pretty much the most important thing. That’s why I like them, because I think they’ve got some good melodies. And it’s a nice mixture of real classic prog sounds and modern sounds.
Daniel: As I mendioned already you’re also the CEO of your Label GEP. What music you listened to in the last time did convince/inspire you when it comes to progression, excitement, originality?
Neil Durant: I was listening to a Japanese Band lately called „Tricot“. They’re all female Prog-Funk-Band. Very, very tight, very dynamic. I really like them. I stumbled on them on Youtube, they’ve got this great video of them playing in a big aircraft hangar. It’s really captivating. I went to see them in London a couple of weeks ago. They’re very good live as well.
Daniel: Is there now the time for a Revival of Progressive Music? How do you evaluate the Standing of Progressive Rock Music in 2014?
Peter Nicholls: Well, you’re probably in a better place than us to say, because you’re probably more aware of what’s happening generally then we are. And we’ve been sort of locked away for over a year working on our album. It seems to be detaining it’s popularity, I don’t know if it’s actually growing. Prog is always gonna be niche-market, isn’t it? But I think within that, it’s sustaining. There are new bands coming all the time, although I’m not familiar with them.
Mike Holmes: I don’t know if there’s more sales in prog, but I think they way to see prog has changed. You don’t have to be ashamed to like prog any more. It’s cool to walk down the street with a Genesis or King Crimson Shirt.
Tim Esau: The internet probably helped as well, the people are a lot more aware, there’s a lot of prog on Youtube.
Mike Holmes: And the social media have also shown, that there are a lot of people that like prog, before they weren’t that vocal. There’s a magazin in Britain called „Prog“ and it’s going great. It’s selling a huge amount, they’re very popular. It used to come every two months, now it’s probably every six weeks. And that’s cool!
Daniel: When it comes to the internet and social media, there’s also platforms like Spotify and other streaming sites. I saw that your new and the last album are available at Spotify and the earlier ones aren’t. I asked myself if that has a special meaning. What’s your opinon on this topic? Because it’s special. Some musicians tend to say: I don’t get the money from it that I deserve or I need to keep on making music. Others say, especially smaller bands, that it’s a good chance to get a bigger audience.
Mike Homes: You do get pityful amounts of money from spotify, but unfortunately I think it’s gonna be the future of music. Streaming. So you have to run there I think. Ten years ago people where really worried about illegal downloading and it hasn’t really proved to be the death of music. I think we’re lucky to be a prog group, because so many people into prog are collectors. They love to have a physical product in their hands. So thats good for us. I don’t know if it’s the same in other genres but in prog that’s great.
Daniel: And how long did it take you to lose stagefright? And how did you manage to achieve that?
Paul Cook: For me it’s always an underlining bit of nervousness there. I think it needs to be, you need to have a little bit of that. If you’re too releaxed, you probably won’t do a great gig. So for me, it’s still there. I don’t know about the other guys.
Peter Nicholls: Yeah, always. If you went on stage and didn’t care, then you shouldn’t be doing it. I’m always nervous before a gig, I’m fine once it starts. But the time before a gig, you start to think about the things that could go potentially wrong. But that’s because I care about it. Then I have to go to my little place and focus on the things you’re about to do. Because nobody wants to see someone on stage looking nervous or unsure about what they’re doing. Well, I think the important thing is there’s only five of us on stage and we rely on each other. We have to support each other and if somebody makes a mistake it’s up to everybody else to get through that. It’s no telepathy, but we’re looking out for each other and we’re always concentrating on what we’re doing. If you sit and analyze it, it’s a bizarre thing to do. Because you’re not going on stage saying: „Look what we can do!“ It’s not a normal thing to do. But when we’re working together, it’s great, there’s nothing like it.
Daniel: In my opinion you’ve proved to be an great musician. Are there other secret talents that you have? What are you not talented in at all? 😉
Paul Cook: Well, for me, the band is just a small part of my life. It’s not a big part. When I wake up in the morning I don’t think: „Oh my god, I’m a musician, I’m in a band. It’s not like that. It’s something I do for pleasure. My everydays life and my work is more important.
Daniel: What can we expect from IQ in the future? Are there special projects that you have been thinking about for quite a time or something similar?
Tim Esau: There’s a movie from „Subterranea“, Mike wrote the music for it and some guys want to use some of the themes for a movie.
Mike Nicholls: The movie is done and they’re pretty much at the final edit. And I do the soundtrack for it. It’s just themes from „Subterranea“, inspired by the album so to say. It’s someone elses take on the story, that’s the interesting thing from my point of view. They’ve taken elements from the story and taken them into a different direction, it’s very interesting.
Daniel: So, that’s quite it. That was my last question. Thanks again for your time and all the best for the gig!
Interview: Daniel Frick @ the Night of the Prog Festival, 18th July 2014, St. Goarshausen, Germany
Photos: Michael Buch