Affector interview with Ted Leonard: "I think we have an opportunity right now in progressive rock"

01/06/2012 @ 16:33
The release of the impressive "Harmagedon" album by Affector was the perfect chance to talk with the singer of the band, Ted Leonard, who turned out to be a rather pleasant person to talk with. Aside from Affectror the conversation included Spock's Beard, Enchant and the rest of his endeavors, as well as the music genre he's been serving for many years. Prog on!

Hi Ted. Is this the first time you give an interview to someone from Greece?
Well, yeah it’s the first time.

First of all, it’s nice to have you back on the music map. You’ve been gone for a couple of years, but now you’re back for good with Spock’s Beard and of course with Affector.
Oh thanks! It’s really interesting, because I recorded these vocals probably two years ago and then Enchant decided to do an album this year, Thought Chamber also decided to do an album this year, I joined Spock’s Beard and now it’s quite possible that the four albums might come out the same year.

Well, it must be your busiest year ever…
Yeah. I’ve already recorded the vocals for Thought Chamber and I’m waiting for the others to finish their parts…

That’s good. But let’s take them one by one, shall we?

AffectorYou already said that you recorded your vocals for “Harmagedon” two years ago. What was really your role in this project and how did you become a member of Affector?
The long story of the original idea is that Daniel [Fries : guitar player of Affector] intended to do something like Arjen Lucassen with multiple singers on the album. He originally wanted to have me and three or four other singers on the album, so he asked me to do a couple of songs. At the time, I had nothing going on as you may know, so I said “yeah, why not?”. You know, I get offers like that a lot, but he sent me a demo and which was impressive and I said “ok, I’ll do this”. So, I recorded a pretty modest take, as I was not going to be a band member, but just one of the singers. I sent him back the mp3s of what I’ve done and he emailed me a couple of days later, asking me if I wanted to do the whole album. I thought “ok, I got nothing else going on”. So, when it came to me it was pretty much written. I didn’t have to do anything with the writing at all. Which is fine, because at that point I didn’t have a lot of music going in my head, I had so many other things going on and I didn’t have time to write an album with someone from Germany, hehe.

Did you participate by writing any lyrics or writing vocals melodies?
Well, I would say I altered some vocals melodies here and there, just to make them fit to my style a little more. But the basic melodies were already there and the lyrics were already there. It was really a “Daniel thing” and I was just doing my part. I really wasn’t sure that I it would be picked up or signed when I was recording it, I was just thinking it was someone’s side project and maybe just an expensive demo.

So, has something changed since then? Are you feeling more like a member of a band now?
Well, let’s see. I guess the correct answer is yes. But, you see, I’ve never met Daniel, I’ve met Colin once and I’ve never met Mike, so it doesn’t feel like a band yet. But, hopefully after the first two rehearsals everyone will kind of feel it like a band. Right now it’s still like a project.

There are a couple of things that I mentioned at once by hearing this album. The first one is that this must be the most metal moment in your career. Am I wrong on that?
Well I don’t know. I would say that Thought Chamber was just as heavy, but we also had that kind of jazz influence, while this is more straight ahead prog metal. The vocals were really written to be metal and they weren’t like up to my high range very much. You know it’s quite interesting, because the music sounds very Dream Theater-like but the vocals are pretty “tame” I would say. It’s weird. It will be interesting if people start to draw the comparison between Dream Theater and Affector and say that it’s powerful and interesting, except for the vocals. I hope that’s not the case…(laughs)

Affector - HarmagedonNot at all! But, you can’t escape the comparisons with Dream Theater, as the parallels are obvious. It’s the first thing you mention. And then you get the guest keyboard players…
Right! Well, it’s unmistakable. Daniel plays like John Petrucci and even his guitar sound is like John Petrucci’s, while of course Collin is playing Mike’s parts with Neal. I understand that maybe some people will say that it’s almost too close…

But yet, there comes the “X-factor”, which is you, in my opinion. Your vocals have a different approach and it really diversifies the final product. Also, I think it works pretty well…
That’s cool. When I was into the mixes I was pretty pleased. Rich Mouser who did the mix did an amazing job and I was really pleased with how it turned out.

Would you consider that the length of the songs could be some kind of constraint on maybe a commercial level? Were there any thoughts of making them a bit shorter?
Well, I think that the music of the album was very much made for a very specific audience and that audience doesn’t really care about the length of the songs.

No, we don’t…
So, I don’t think he had radio airplay in mind when he made the songs, but to make each part work well, go into the next part and make it interesting overall. He did an amazing work there, amazing guitar playing. The musicianship in the album is stellar.

I agree. Let’s go to the lyrics. The concept of the album is around Bible. Do you think there is some king of connection between progressive rock music and spiritual concepts? Lately, it happens a lot…
Well, I don’t know. It’s kind of an odd connection. Because, when you think of progressive rock, you think the musicians are generally – for lack of a better word – more “intelligent” than most musicians. It’s maybe because they gravitate towards more complex musical landscapes and everything. And usually intellectuals have a lack of interest in religion. But for some reason there is a lot of religion overtone. I had a solo album, which wasn’t very progressive, but definitely had a religious overtone. That seems to be a common thing; I don’t know why it happens particularly in progressive rock. I think in progressive rock guys are so much into the instrumentation that people - who otherwise would be offended by a religious content - don’t seem to mind. They listen to the music anyway... (laughs). You know I have Christian friends that listen to Tool. They just love the music.

AffectorYeah, but on the other hand I believe that progressive rock fans have a more holistic approach. The pay attention to the details of the music, but they also pay attention to the story. A religious concept maybe can add a little more depth to the lyrics and that’s more interesting than common rock lyrics…
Yeah, it could be. There’s obviously a lot of complexity, especially in the parts of the Bible that Daniel is using. It’s kind of almost gothic. Lots of descriptions that talk about Armageddon for example are very dark, interesting and very visual. Even for someone who has no interest in it, it’s still a strong picture, like a firefight. Maybe that’s why it works... (laughs)

Ok. So, there seems to be a big progressive family out there. You know, Collin plays with Neal Morse, who plays with Mike Portnoy and the mix was handled by Rich Mouser who also works with Transatlantic and Spock’s Beard. You get the picture of what I mean. Do you feel like a member of this family?
Well, we toured with Spock’s Beard a couple of times and we became really good buddies. We also toured with Dream Theater so I know Mike. I know Mike actually had my solo album and he actually liked it. You know Mike listens to everything. He really does and his CD collection is just unique. And then with Dave Meros, we’re in a cover band together, so I know these guys really well and it was a natural choice when they found themselves in the need of parting ways with Nick [D’Virgillio]. It worked out and it’s really nice. It was a really nice phone call I got on my birthday last year…

What songs do you cover in this band with Dave Meros?
We actually do a lot of things that progressive rock fans will be horrified (laughs). You know, my wife sings in this band, so we do Lady Gaga, we do Kate Perry and I do Usher! I actually rap really well! (laughs). Other things than Usher we often do some Journey stuff, some heavier rock stuff. I think we are pretty good.

Can we find anything on the net?
Yeah, you check on RollingHeadsBand on YouTube.

Then, give us an update on Spock’s Beard. You’re now a full member and you have a new album coming you are making. Jimmy [Keegan : SB drummer] recently mentioned that your vocals are some of the best he’s heard and as a big fan of the band I really can’t wait to hear what this new era in the band has to offer…
Right now, we have seven songs completely written and mostly recorded. I’ve recorded the vocals on five songs and we’re probably shooting to get about ten or eleven songs down, so we can decide which one or two we may scrap. So far, it’s been really cool because my writing is more “lean”, as it’s not really actual progressive as the one Spocks are known for. It’s more of the Enchant style, which is late 80’s, early 90’s progressive, like Rush and that stuff. The Beards are more in the early or mid 70’s writing style. Anyway, they decided to keep two of my songs, which I recorded without knowing if they would make it to the album and I’m pretty excited about that. I, also, got to write the lyrics for another one, that Neal and Alan were working together and it turned out really great. So far, the five songs - that I’ve songs the vocals for - are strong songs and it’s shaping up to be a really great album and a great sounding album.

Well, you’re all great musicians and the only thing we have to see is how the chemistry works out. Would you say that it’s nearer to the latest album or nearer to Neal era or something completely new? How would you describe the direction of it?
I would say that we purposively tried to incorporate some of the Neal era into the writing and actually there are two songs we’ve co-written with him. You know the idea came from Neal and Alan together. So, there’s definitely a lot of the old Spock’s sound and there are my two songs on the album that don’t sound like Spock’s at all. Maybe closer to “X”, but even then they are different. Maybe half the album will talk to guys who dropped off since Neal left and the other half is changing the direction.

Affector - HarmagedonIs there a plan, as for when it going to be released?
I think the goal is to get it out by mid-fall. Right now, like I said, we’re about half way. We need to write a couple more songs. We have a lot of ideas around, but we need to get back in the studio and record some more stuff. I know that the guys are really interested in getting it warped up by September and if we get it warped up by then, I think it’s going to come out by the end of the year.

That would be good. Which Spock’s Beard songs would you say that are the most difficult for you to perform and why? You’ve played a handful of shows with them…
Yeah, we played in Mexico a longer set… As far as the difficulty level I would say “The Doorway” and not because of vocals, but because there is some really crazy picking pattern which is a great challenge. Wait a minute! [He grabs his acoustic guitar] A lot of people know Neal as being a great keyboard player, but he’s a really interesting guitar player and the picking pattern (he plays it on the acoustic guitar) is really tricky. For that picking pattern and how fast it is, I had to train my fingers to do that. That was probably the hardest part. You know, Nick and I have very similar ranges, but I kind fall on Neal’s sound. I -kind of - land between these two guys, which worked out. Nothing is vocally difficult really. And actually the keyboard part is challenging. I know music theory well enough to understand keyboards, but it’s certainly not my specialty.

In my mind this is a major part of the magic in progressive rock. The multi-instrumental guys that sing, play the guitar, play the keyboards and do so many things at the same time. Do you also believe that it distinguishes progressive rock musicians from the others?
I think people that became fans of progressive rock at an early age are generally more interested in how it all works and how the music theory works for anything. My favorite band from age eleven was Kansas. The complexity there, especially when you pick up a guitar, makes you want to understand why they do this and that. Just because our music taste is more complex we want to understand more about it. As for the multi-instrument thing, I think there are some people like Neal who are really good at it, but I am a completely hack at keyboards (laughs). You know I play the guitar and I know music theory, so if one asks me, I can play a Bm7 on keyboards, but I don’t practice. I probably should, especially now (laughs).

Now, tell me what’s going on with Enchant. It’s been nine years - if I am not mistaken - since your last album “Tug Of War”. You got a DVD after that and then nothing…
Right! Everyone got busy with their own lives and particularly Doug, who is the driving force behind that band. To put it plainly I think he just didn’t have the will for a number of years to do it and it makes me wonder why he does now. The idea is out there to write a new album and there are some ideas popped around, but I haven’t seen much progress and I’m skeptical, because we have a contract to put it out in six months. We got to make it happen, but I’m a little skeptical about it, because it’s mostly up to them. And I’m busy you know…

So, you don’t even have a clue of how the new album is going to sound, right?
Not at all! I have hopes for where the sound goes. I kind of want to step back in time with Enchant, kind of getting back to the “Blueprint” [“A Blueprint For The World”] style.

What about Thought Chamber? I had it in mind as a one-off project, don’t know why. But, you’re having a new album coming out soon…
Yeah, actually initially it was. I think Michael Harris, who is the brain behind this band had a lot of material and he picked me up one day. It was the same period that Daniel called, so I was “ok, I have nothing going on” and he started sending me files. I’ve been working with that for a while. The first album took six years from the first contact until it came out, because we both had other projects going on. We hope this is going to come out this year, as it’s basically already done. It just needs bass and drums on it.

Ok. Well, you’ve been around the prog scene for about twenty years. Do you see a difference for the scene in the recent years or is it all the same?
I personally think we have an opportunity right now in progressive rock to get the music out to people who didn’t know what it is. It just seems that listeners these days are more interested in quality, than they used to be. There is still all that crap out there, but I have a theory that it has to do with the video game “Guitar Hero”, because a lot of people are paying attention to things that are difficult. The other theory is that shows like American Idol proved that people don’t care what you look like if you’re talented. And I think I can get the reason why Adele has a career. It’s because of shows like American Idol. Because, someone says “You know what? You don’t have to be a model to be enjoyable to listen to”. Even though she wasn’t an American Idol contestant, I think part of her success is attributable to that kind of stuff. I think the public is getting a little fed up with everyone having to be a dream model to get to the radio. And it doesn’t make sense after all (laughs). But yeah, I think there is kind of a trend going on which is an opportunity for progressive rock to get out to more listeners. There are also a lot of young kids that are into complex music and you got these bands that come out with complex and well played music out there, bands like TesseracT and stuff...

You mentioned TesseracT. What music do you hear in general nowadays?
First of all, I have two kids and one of them is twelve years old and unfortunately when I get to listen to something they're like 'dad, put that on' (laughs). Aside from Flying Colors, which I've had my daughter listening to, I actually like Dirty Loops. They're probably my dirty pleasure, they're incredible. So, I am digging Flying Colors, but I don’t have the chance to keep up with everything new that's coming out in prog, that's for sure.

I have to ask what chances do we stand to see you live hear either with Affector, but especially with Spock's Beard?
Well, I would love to play there. We’ve never toured there. I don't know if Spock's Beard have ever played there...

No, they haven't...
You know, a lot of that is decided by the record label, but we can definitely say that we want to come there. I have played to some interesting and unexpected places with Enchant like Istanbul.

I think it would be fantastic, as you have enough fans waiting for you here. So, Ted thank you for your time.
I thank you! Hope to see you soon.