ENTREVUE / INTERVIEW
WITH: Ken Baird
ALBUM REVIEW HERE
Richard Hawey - August 2017
PROFIL - First of all a special thanks for agreeing to answer Profilprog’s questions, we are truly honored to have you in an interview.
KEN BAIRD – Wow, Thank you Richard!
PR – To get started I'd like you to talk to us about Monarch Trail, and what prompted you to create this new project?
KB - I always have some material around, and some of it is “pressing” to me to get it recorded and get it heard. So, there is always not only the current album, but material already written for the next album and so on. The album I did in 2014 called “Skye”, was done with the band Monarch Trail which is Chris Lamont on Drums, Dino Verginella on Bass and myself on keys and vocals. We then brought in three different guitarists to augment what we had been playing in the rehearsal room.
This time around for the new Monarch Trail album “Sand”, I did a tiny bit of guitar myself, and there are some songs on the album that are “three piece songs” with just Chris, Dino and myself, one “two piece” with just Dino and me, and a “one piece” tune with just me on keyboards. For the rest of the album we had either John Mamone, Kelly Kereliuk or Steve Cochrane adding guitar as they did on the Skye album.
Steve and Kelly put in great performances on their sections as did John, but John (who did the majority of guitars on both albums) was a bit busy the last few years; playing and singing in four different bands, his teaching job, his young family, and musical theatre performances as well, so he had to record remotely at home due to time constraints. I loved the bits he did, but it meant we didn’t quite get the same amount of in-person collaboration that we did last time. So, this time around I probably filled in even more of the music with keyboards; It’s a very keyboard-heavy album, even more than on “Skye” which is fine with me as it gives it a certain character, although I’d like to make sure we have more guitar again next time.
PR – A few years elapsed between your last solo album and the release of the first Monarch Trail, what happened during that time?
KB – I made a decision to focus on a band project rather than another solo album which did take a small bit of adjustment. There’s an even bigger gap between the previous solo album Martin Road (2003) and Further Out (2009) which was mainly due to work/teaching and gigs playing keys for other artists. Even the gap between Orion (2000) and Martin Road was pretty big because I was also in a cover band during that time.
The whole period from 2000 to 2011 was not the best for me in terms of getting albums out, and I had to start turning down gigs in the end, to focus on getting Monarch Trail launched. I turned down some pretty amazing opportunities, but they were not “creative opportunities” to me. I find I don’t function that well with a million different projects on the go, and the time period from....actually let’s say about 2001 to 2012 is kind of my personal proof that I need to focus on projects that involve my writing, rather than just being a “gigging keyboard player” otherwise my recorded output suffers. The Skye album did take a while to get finished in 2014, but it felt great to have such an album out.
I’d also have preferred it if Sand had come out in 2016 as it was supposed to, but there were unforeseen occurrences and delays. One of them which was learning the new studio gear. I’d previously used a Korg portastudio, the D3200 to record the main tracks for Skye, but later added some extra tracks at Steve Cochrane’s studio where he has a Cubase recording system.
Because it was a bit difficult to blend the two studios together, this time around I bought a Cubase system for myself. I also bought a new computer that can handle the program for memory, speed and power etc. It was a big learning curve for me to learn the Cubase stuff. Hopefully for the next album it won’t take so long as I’m more used to it now.
I was also very concerned to get the right final mix and master, and this took a long time as well. In my view, I think it’s always important to do the very best mix/master that you can do. You should not depend on the idea that you may be able to remix it one day. As soon as it’s “out the door”, I feel that is the FINAL mix, because that is what people will initially hear and remember. I feel that however many remixes and remasters are out there these days, they rarely compare to the magic of the original, even if there are technical improvements.
When the band is a bigger band, let’s use Genesis as an example, I think the 2007 remixes of those albums are maybe a bit weird. They even fixed a note at the end of Suppers Ready, where Mike had hit a wrong note on the bass pedal right near the end of the song. I think the chord is an A, but he played a B by accident. That album had been around like that for maybe 35 years at the time of the remix, something like that- and I got very used to that wrong note—so much so that it became “right”.
Anyway, they “Fixed” the bass pedal note in the remix to be an “A” which to me, dulled the magic of the original. It’s just my opinion of course, but I bet I’m not alone in missing what was there.
I generally feel that way about recordings. A few wrong notes, out of tune bits, whatever is there in the final mix SHOULD be there, as it creates the character of the album, and creates the classic feel.
I can think of other examples which I hope will never be tampered with—at least not for the “official version”—there’s a cool wrong piano note in “Goodbye Stranger” from Supertramp for example—just a slip of a finger and it sounds authentic and great—possibly even suits the lyrics better that way...I think it’s right before the final repeated fadeout section of the tune. Classic stuff! Don’t fix it!
There is the occasional time when I do prefer or at least really enjoy a remix though, such as IQ’s remix of “Tales from the Lush Attic” where I do think they actually improved it without changing the original feel too much. But, I keep my old copy around too ;)
But for a band like us, I don’t know if we’d ever get the opportunity in the future to be able to release other mixes and versions of songs. So again, that’s why I really tried to get the best mix and master we could. Steve was very patient with me, as he was “working the controls” as far as the master went.
PR – Can Monarch Trail be considered a logical sequel to your solo career?
KB - Kind of “Yes and No” I guess. When I think of a Monarch Trail album, I’m thinking the word “band” in my head, where I consider the other musicians much more. I deliberately list Chris or Dino first in the band credits. I want people to notice what they are contributing. We’re primarily a trio so I’m next on the list, but I also want people to notice the guitarists when they’re there too!
The other thing is I wanted to make Monarch Trail a “progressive band”, less song-oriented and with more extended passages, or at least our version of what a progressive band might do. The Ken Baird albums flirted with some progressive sounds, but maybe had more of a singer/songwriter or pop/folk thing at times. The August album was different yet again of course—more of a Mike Oldfield kind of thing where I tried to play all the instruments.
PR – On "Skye" and now on "Sand" you have partnered with musicians with whom you have already worked on your previous solo albums, is there any reason for this?
KB - I didn’t have to think too hard to ask Chris and Dino to do it. They were the obvious choices to me and I highly respect both of them both as people and as musicians. They also play together very well—a great rhythm section! Because I liked several guitarists I knew but couldn’t pick just one, that’s why we have three different guys contributing. There are even others I can think of, but I felt we should keep going with the same people with both albums. Kelly did a bit less playing on this one, only having one solo on “Sand” (although it’s a great one!), but I do intend to get him doing more on the next album. I think they’ll all be on the next one, plus other possible additions. It’s early days yet, but it seems like we’ll do that.
PR – The works of the two albums are inspired by the drawings of Annette Roche, you want to present it to us?
KB - Certainly that’s true of the first album, “Skye”, where she drew the character of “Skye” before I’d even done most of the lyrics. I knew I wanted some kind of figure to focus on for a kind of story or vague concept, and thought a female character or protagonist might be more interesting. Annette came up with the drawing and the name as well, actually.
PR -Tell us about the themes of the two albums?
KB – “Skye” did have a kind of concept as does Sand, and they are related in some ways. One of the tunes from “Sand” is called “Missing” and this was a working title because it was the missing track from the “Skye” album---that recording is mostly from the “Skye” recording sessions for that tune--just the vocals are new. I didn’t put it on “Skye” because I hadn’t quite figured out how the vocal melody should go at the time. So, I kept it off of that album but then finished it for this one. A lot of the final titles on “Sand”, were actually working titles that seemed to stick. So, there isn’t as colourful a title as “Luminescence”---hopefully next time we’ll have some nice fancy titles like that, but the “Sand” ones are fairly “to the point”.
“Charlie’s Kitchen” was like a “joke tune” at first---the name comes from an SCTV sketch of the same name and maybe also a Charlie Brown reference, although it turns into a really cool developed track.
Anyway, there is as I said, a vague concept to both albums. I made it a fairly loose idea that can mean a lot of things to different people. For every lyric I was always trying to think of three possible ideas. The one that the artwork works with is the fantasy idea, of a world where “Skye” lives where she is possibly a young person of some passion and influence or rebellion against an authority. Then there is a kind of real-world reflection of what the lyric contains---for example, “Luminescence” was a tune where I did a “Subdivisions” kind of lyric---lots of references to an oppressive amount of over expansion, etc. The third interpretation of a lot of the lyrics was where some of the words actually came from, which was often a bit odd—Again, for Luminescence as an example, I was watching a group of Ladybugs not far from a spider’s web.
The whole “Skye” album I tried to do that kind of thing. I think I did it with Sand as well, but I paid less attention to always trying to think of everything, but to “let go” a bit more. I wrote a bit more freely and then checked it later to make sure it had a kind of logic to it. Obviously, there is more of an outer space kind of story with “Sand” and the references are also focused on a character, this time it was probably a male character—I was thinking of someone at the very end of their career or even brought out of their retirement as Heywood Floyd was in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2061. But I kind of changed the idea of a male character later to make it about “Skye” again, even though some of the lyrics are still about a much older person. Actually, there are a lot of flashbacks to a younger person as well, (the folky-sounding section of “Sand” has this) so it’s all over the place anyway. Being kind of a science fiction/fantasy thing, I also played around with lots of ideas that I don’t fully understand (or even slightly understand) so there are some quantum theory and time distortion ideas too. Because of that kind of thing, I thought it doesn’t make a difference what age Skye is in the story—she could be looking into the past from the future or into the future from the past. Lots of fun!
PR – I’m curious to know, can anyone think that the lady who is on the front cover of "Skye" is the same as on "Sand"?
KB - Yes, definitely that was the idea.
PR - What led you to progressive music? Which artists have influenced you?
KB - Genesis and Tony Banks in particular was the start for me, once I knew who they were in 1983 and moved back from there into all their classic 70’s stuff. I think it kind of changed my life and made me start to play piano/keyboards and write—the ideas came at the same time—I was really playing or writing chords from then on—again that interest came mainly from hearing Tony Banks at first, and would still be my main influence. But there are bands even before that that impressed me in 1982. Bands like Saga, Rush and Spoons (to get all Canadian on you guys) Many others too! Oh yeah, I remember hearing Peter Gabriel 4, Moody Blues/Long Distance Voyager, and Mike Oldfield/Five Miles Out around that time as well. Great stuff!
But again, Genesis led to Yes, which led to ELP. And a bit later on I finally heard Renaissance, Van der Graaf Generator and more recently (well, not really recently, I first heard them in 2003) I was introduced to the music of IQ, who have become one of my favourite bands of all time. There are many more too but those are possibly the main ones, along with classical music that I was playing and learning as well.
PR – All of us know that the music industry is fierce, many artists have left because of major irritants. On your side, what motivates you to continue?
KB - I think the actual sound of the music, the chords, melodies and rhythms, the actual sound of the album is what makes me want to do it. I like hearing it played back, especially you know, the first 1000 times you hear it ha-ha! If a song sticks with me through all the recording process I usually think it might be a good one.
But I agree that music is tough for artists at all levels these days, and in the past too. As you say, there are “major irritants”.
PR – What are your future projects, maybe concerts?
KB - The third MT album writing is underway, so that’s the immediate thing for us to focus on. I have thought a lot about concerts and what may or may not be possible. We haven’t done one as Monarch Trail yet—Because writing and recording is a priority for me, we’ve been a studio band so far. Obviously I’d want to do it in the best way possible for us.
Chris and Dino are very active as live musicians playing all kinds of shows, so I don’t think it would be any difficulty for them, the same goes with Kelly (who is probably the most likely guy we’d try to bring in on guitar for a live show)
For myself I did do quite a few shows as a solo artist in the past (quite a few with Chris and Dino up there as well) and have played many concerts for other artists and bands over the years. I think I learned and gained a lot from doing that. It has been a few years since I’ve played live though, so I’d be pretty rusty at this point.
All I can say is that with Monarch Trail, it’s something we’ll keep looking at. Hopefully it’ll happen!
PR – How do you see the future of music and its diffusion around the world?
KB - I’m very old-school in my thinking about how the record business should work. I like physical albums more than downloads (although at least you get well paid with authorized downloads), and I’m not a big fan of subscriptions or streaming as they don’t really pay anything much to the musician.
I really don’t know what the future will hold, but I hope that people keep wanting to own music rather than a subscription which pays a company rather than the musicians you’re listening to. Musicians at our level cannot survive without those that pay us, so thank you very much to those that still support recorded music by purchasing it in some form, whether download or physical product! J
PR – In closing, what would be your best memory regarding the music?
KB - Quite a few, but a recent one was when I’d finished and listened back to the demo for the long track, “Sand”, I felt it was a long tune that I was very eager to record. And of course, it got much better as the actual recording was put together, but that first time hearing the demo back was one of those moments where you felt like the tune might be “something”. Always an exciting moment when you feel like that.
PR - You want to add something?
KB - I’ve probably blabbed enough, but I hope everyone’s having a great summer! Thank you for the interview, Richard!
PR - Thank you!