Bjørn Nørsterud – Scream Magazine
1. I was going to start this interview by asking you what took you so long, but after hearing the album I think I know why. Am I right, or were there other difficulties along the way?
Stewart – In real time the album took about 6 months to complete, in other words if I had sat down and worked 12 hrs every day for 6 months it would have been done in that space of time. As it was, it was done in sporadic episodes over the course of the 10 years. This was mainly down to me. I went through a long period of soul-searching over those years and for long periods I would get nothing creative done, there was a total lack of inspiration. Needless to say I found myself eventually and got my old muse back with a few new tricks to boot.
2. “Playing Dead” was self-released, I guess Pig In A Poke was your own label? Has it been a struggle to find a label, or did you search for one at all? And how did you end up on F2?
Stewart – Pig In a Poke was the record label of the studio where we recorded but he was happy to leave us in control, he basically funded Playing Dead. We wanted to do an album on our own in the hope of making some money but it didn’t quite work out that way. We were still signed to Cyclops at the time but we found a way out of that deal, it was in no way a bad reflection on the Cyclops label but we just wanted to go it alone. F2 contacted us a few years ago and suggested re-releasing the back catalogue and releasing the new album, its been in the pipeline for a while but we are almost there.
3. It must be nice to finally have all the old albums re-released and remastered?
Stewart – I’ve just been checking through the remasters for the last of the re-releases which are sounding very nice, we were never happy with the original sound so its nice to hear it as it was intended to sound.
4. This is me speaking: You never wrote more beautiful and progressive music than this, Stewart? How long has it taken you to write this album?
Stewart – Why, thank you. I kinda covered this in the first question but now that I think about it, it has taken a lifetime to write this album. To be in the position I was in and to have the inspiration I needed has been one big long sequence of events since the day I was born. That might sound corny but this album was heavily affected by the path my life has taken over the past 10 years which was really all about me reviewing the rest of my life prior to that. I was forced to come face to face with myself, to take a good hard look at who i really was and what i really wanted. To realise that everything up to that point had been the result of a lifetime of conditioning. I wasn’t who or what i wanted to be and i had to take responsibility for the way this world had made me turn out. I was given no choice but to grow up and leave my past behind and that voyage of self-discovery , I believe, is reflected in the spirit of this album.
5. The production is much better than before, do you have new equipment and better recording facilities?
Stewart – Yes, I had lots of nice new shiny equipment for this album although most of it is computer based so not so shiny after all. Technology has come along way in 10 years and although things like orchestral/ choir samples were around for the last album they were nowhere near as advanced as they are now. Having a choir at your fingertips singing what you command has never been so easy ( well its still quite tricky as you have to teach the computer to sing the words properly, it’s a phonetic old bugger). The only piece of hardware I used was a waldorf blofeld synth module (cheap man’s moog, you spot the difference?) and a midi keyboard/ pads. As for the recording it was all done in the guitarists friend’s bedroom and everything else, the production, engineering, mixing etc was done in my living room (3 different living rooms actually, I’ve moved a lot recently). Again using the wonders of computer technology we‘ve been able to complete this album alone. The wonders of Mike Varty’s mastering cant go without a mention also.
6. Many things have happened during the last ten years, progressive rock seems to be in fashion again, I hope the magazine Prog does it’s parts in presenting Citizen Cain? I mean not only including you on the CD, but interviews as well? And what are your views on progressive rock these days?
Stewart – Yes, a lot has changed, its not so uncool as it used to be, i dont dread the response so much now when I’m asked what type of music we play! Prog mag has been good for us with the song on the cover cd, the review last month and the, fingers crossed, interview/ feature in the July issue. Never have I been able to wander up to the magazine rack in the local supermarket, pick up a glossy mag and say, at the top of my voice of course, “my band are in here this month”. No-one pays any attention but it feels good anyway! Im not sure that some of the bands classed as prog rock these days are really that proggy but I guess if they are trying to do something a bit different then they can earn that title.
7. Both Citizen Cain and The Watch are inspired by Genesis I guess, but the latter include cover-versions in their albums and concerts, is that something you would ever do? And do you have plans to play live?
Cyrus – Never. I think citizen cain walks a different road to genesis but sadly some can’t get past the Gabriel-esque vocal, i disagree, i cant see the connection? There are similarities in all prog music, that is the playing field of prog, we are all aspects of something else, look around we live in the age of clones and sheep, we’re all dollies, silently absorbing our choice moments, no life plans ever.
Stewart – I was more inspired by Marillion in the early days but I guess that’s a second hand genesis inspiration. Genesis were doing there pop thing at that time so I never paid much attention to them until the guys from the Serpents era band gave me all the old Gabriel era stuff to listen to. That’s why the first album sounds like marillion and the second album like genesis. After that we tried to find our own style.
8. “All rights reserved, or are they?” You nailed it, what are your views on today’s illegal downloading?
Stewart – It has a huge impact on bands like us I think. The prog crowd are generally good at paying for their music but there are enough people out there sharing files to make a dent in the sales. Luckily we don’t do it for the money. Whats more annoying is when someone like simon cowell makes millions with utter trash whereas our music, which drips with our blood, sweat and tears seem to be worth nothing. I guess it sums up this world though, people valuing worthless shit while the real beauty is ignored, or worse even, the stuff of real value is destroyed and used to fuel the production of the shit, don’t get me started…
9. Bands like Marillion and Pendragon seems to shy away from prog as much as they can these days, therefore it’s so nice to see a band like Citizen Cain doing what you do best; play progressive rock…any thoughts on this?
Cyrus – Don’t change is my philosophy, evolve! Too many bands have moved away from their roots and change the style or genre with disaster as their bed partners. It depends what your poison is, making music or making a living? Making a living has never mattered to us, we have enjoyed working, that’s the important part of our association, anything else is a bonus.
Stewart – Personally I like where Marillion have gone. After taking a big huff with them when Fish left Ive recently forgiven them and got into their newer stuff. Its mainly good listening for those peaceful moments when I’m out walking or sitting on a bench somewhere in the middle of nowhere. (F**k, I’ve gotten old haven’t I?)
10. Could you do a walkthrough on your albums, telling us a bit about each one, in your own words?
Cyrus – All I would say about the older albums from serpents in camoflage to playing dead is that they were part of the evolution of citizen cain as a personal and band journey, one we’ve both enjoyed.
Stewart – As I said earlier, Serpents In Camoflage was heavily inspired by Marillion and Somewhere But Yesterday inspired by Genesis. The writing of the first songs started when I was about 17 and I never imagined that 5 years later these ideas would be released as part of an album. I’m surprised some of these very obvious influences from certain marillion songs weren’t pointed out! The second album again had some very obvious influences, the instrumental at the end of the first track on that album was my take on the Cinema Show instrumental for instance, and I wanted to do a 25 minute long song because I was so impressed with Suppers Ready (im not the only person to try that of course, as you know!)
I used to share Cyrus’ opinion that the Genesis tag wasn’t beneficial and Raising the Stones was our first attempt to move away from that style. Now I see it differently, their style was our style and it wasn’t a bad style to have. To be compared to such great bands shouldn’t have been viewed so negatively. Our desire to move away from that sound took us away in a direction which a lot of fans didn’t get and although Playing Dead was a conscious effort to regain some of our old sound it wasn’t until Skies Darken that we found that balance between our own style and the styles that influenced us. Don’t get me wrong, Raising and Playing are great albums but they lacked melody and space, the music and compositions are complex and technical but it can get a bit relentless and its quite hard for some to digest, especially Raising. Ive been checking through the remaster of it recently and thinking, “what the hell was going through my mind when writing this stuff”, it’s insane but strangely beautiful, I just wish I’d given the pieces more space to evolve. Skies darken is my favourite album by far. Normally I cant listen to an album for a year or so after its complete, my mind is saturated with it after the whole recording process, but with the new album I have been listening to it regularly since it’s release. Also, unlike the older albums, there are no parts in it that make me cringe, squirm or feel that I should sign myself into the nearest psychiatric hospital..
11. This isn’t a question, I just want to inform you that many of the people I know love the album, and even better; they have ordered it!
Stewart – Excellent, thank you for spreading the word Bjorn.
André Aaslie –
1. What motivates you to make and perform music, and to create that type of music that you are doing?
Stewart – I’ve always loved music and after being given a piano at the age of 13 I was hooked on playing it too. Around the same time I had a drum kit which consisted of books placed on my bed in the layout of a five-piece set and I loved playing along to songs on this virtual kit. When I discovered Rush and Marillion I thought “what the hell, that’s a tricky rhythm”. I was driven to learn more about what they were playing, different time signatures, complex rhythms etc and my love of listening to and playing prog was born. Initially I wanted to sound like the bands I enjoyed listening to but then it transformed into finding my own style which I discussed earlier. Im not sure why I still play, its not about the discovery of music anymore like it used to be, its more about the creation of something new, something very personal being expressed in the music. I’ve never been very good at expressing my emotions so maybe that’s my way of compensating. Or maybe its for the feedback from the fans, critics etc, maybe I’m just looking for the praise I never got from my dad when I was growing up, maybe… I need a therapist, don’t I?
2. How is the composing process in the band? Do you start with single notes (single melody-ideas) or is the compositions more based on chords which is either stripped down or orchestrated? Or both ways perhaps?
Stewart – I have different ways of composing, sometimes I start with a melody and sometimes with a chord structure, sometimes with a riff or sometimes just with a nice new sound I have found. Although, like you say, sometimes the chords are stripped away to leave just the riff or the overlying melody. Then sometimes a riff will transform into a more melodic version of itself and chords will then be added to pad out that new piece. I have no set ways, I just mess around with the ideas that pop into my head really.
3. Do you compose the music in small parts which is later put together to huge compositions? Or do you have a plan for the whole composition at the beginning?
Stewart – Each song is written as an individual piece and, in the case of the new album, melodies and themes are brought back in later songs where appropriate. The new album was written as one single piece so there was a lot of jumping back and forward, it wasn’t written in a linear fashion, and the order of the tracks was rearranged a few times.
4. Do the progressive virtiuos instrumental parts work as additional “fill ins” in the compositions – in other words – is the melodic singer-parts the fundament of the compositions?
Stewart – The instrumentals are there from the beginning and Cyrus tends to sing around them. Occasionally Cyrus will ignore a verse, chorus structure I have written and put the vocals somewhere totally different, in that case I’ll make the vocal free piece into an instrumental, usually these are the more melodic of the instrumental sections, the complex virtuoso parts, as you call them, are written in the initial process.
5. Is the music composed as a kind of well thought out soundtrack to the lyrics, or the other way around?
Stewart – Other way around. Music first, vocals next. Cyrus will rearrange pieces to fit the vocals in, a few extra bars here, miss a chorus there, but generally the song structure stays as originally written. Cyrus likes to work that way as he feels the lyrics need the inspiration of the music. I disagree, with my current solo project I’ve written the story/ concept and the lyrics first and I’m finding it is making the writing of the music much easier. It gives me a direction, I know where I’m going with the song structures and I know where the recurring themes/ melodies etc will be. Some of the lyrics have been modified here and there so far but not by much. What is the story/ concept of your solo album I hear you ask!? The story is based on my life as an oneironaut, ie, an explorer of the dream world. I have been a lucid dreamer since the age of 6 and I have many interesting experiences from that world to share, including the synchronicities that have developed between it and the real world, the strange and wonderful encounters I have had there and the profound questions that inevitably arise when one lives in two separate worlds for most of their life. It will feature both Cyrus and Phil on vocals and Phil will be reprising his role as guitarist. It will also feature another 2 vocalists (one male, one female) in order to fill the roles of the other characters in the story. Its already well underway so there will be no more ten year waits for anyone yearning another fix of Cyrus, Phil and myself at play. (shameless plug complete!)
6. The drums are programmed on the album I guess? Is this because it is easier to compose the drumparts in that way, or is it financial reasons? I know very well the the expence of recording drums, and with today’s unique possibilities in plug in software a lot of bands choose to program the drums.
Stewart – Yes but more so because no drummer in his right mind wants to learn and play this stuff for the peanuts we receive in return! We do it because it’s our baby, our project, but for someone to come in and just play what he’s given, especially when it’s so technical and complex, just hasn’t appealed to any drummers we have spoken to. Saying that, Phil, the guitarist, does exactly that with the guitar. I think he, like us, loves the music and wants to be part of something productive and original. As for the actual drum programming, it is all played in live, with pads triggering samples, its done in sections, tidied up a little (sometimes a lot!) then put together as a whole track. If I had the time to learn the pieces and rehearse it, I’d play the whole song in one go but as it is, there is no need to do that because, with it being midi, the individual parts can join seamlessly.
7. Talking about plug-ins. Do you use mellotron and moog-samples on the album, or is it the real thing? What about the choir-parts at the end of “The Long Sleep” and the great brass-section at the beginning of “Darkest Sleep”. What equipment do you use here?
Stewart – I use a mellotron plug in but the moog sounds are actually a Waldorf Blofeld synth. Lovely warm analogue sounds and a fraction of the price . It also stays in tune all by itself but has no wooden panels and only 8 knobs! Symphonic orchestra and symphonic choirs give me the big sounds you mentioned. As I mentioned earlier, having a choir at your fingertips singing what you command has never been so easy. Cyrus wanted a chorus of angelic voices singing ‘Adoni’ and I thought that the one Latin phrase I know would fit nicely with the theme of the album. Unfortunately the makers of the film Event Horizon, where I learned the phrase from, got it wrong, so it doesn’t actually translate as “save yourself from hell”. Nevertheless it still sounds amazing!
8. Have you some thoughts about the financial crisis in the world these days? We feel it here in Norway as well dispite of our oilfund…
Stewart – Is there a financial crisis? Man, I need to watch the news more often…
1. From what I understand and read in the booklet, you and me share the same thoughts on ancient times. How did these ideas inflect the lyrics on the album?
CYRUS – Skies Darken is, to my mind, a culmination of all that ancient mood and their beliefs. That we are more than we think we are, that we have been more than we believe we have. The problem is finding it or, should i say, desiring to know it. Skies darken is that story, mans journey through the dark labyrinth of life and death, alpha and omega.
2. You use a lot of folklore and fairytales in the lyrics?
CYRUS – Folklore maybe but fairy tales no! Myths, legends etc all have a beautiful expression. It’s poetic but more than that, it gives the listener a feel in the past.
3. What is the concept behind the album? Who is Johnny for instance?
CYRUS – The albums concept is of mans incarceration within the flesh, a spiritual being trapped in the darkness with no knowledge of his true potential, his true position, at the very lowest of material density. Yet look up, the sun’s shining, the trees are full of blossom, very few ever look up..
4. Your voice is better than ever, how have you kept it in shape? Are you involved in other bands and projects?
CYRUS – Thanks for the compliment. I am in the process of writing my solo album, ARCULUS. I have been acquainted with citizen cain since 1982, and working alongside another musician never gives you the chance to see what potential you have as a solo artist. For many years i have had the desire to break away from cain and do my own thing.
5. You’re a singer, lyricist, artist and bassist, is there anything else you master and work with?
CYRUS – I love the histories and all things ancient and I’d return there if i could so i read and ponder and wish and make plans.
6. How do Stewart and you work; do the lyrics get written before the music for instance?
CYRUS – Not a chance, music first. That takes time as so much of the tracks get lost in the arrangement process, and then thrown away to find better pieces. Once that is complete the vocals are written and only when the vocal melodies are in place do the lyrics get done.