“Caught in the act… well, almost!” Nad Sylvan talks to TWR about his new album. Photographs courtesy of Jo Hackett, Mike Ainscoe and Lee Millward.
TWR: So, Nad, when did you begin to work on the new album?
NS: I don’t think I knew I was working on a solo album when I wrote the earliest songs for it. The title track was written back in 2009 during the passing of my mother. When Steve Hackett contacted me in 2012 I already had the greater bulk in stall for the album although lyrics were not written or the songs completely finalised. The epic pieces To Turn The Other Side did take me almost three years to complete
TWR: How long did it take you to record the album? Did you have to fit it around your work with Steve’s Genesis Revisited tours?
NS: Well, the actual recording with all the various musicians took about a year. And yes, of course, I had to break everything up due to the hectic touring schedule with Steve. When I signed to Inside Out last spring, I suddenly had a deadline to deliver. In the final stage, I was working 24/7 with it and actually developed a kind of leg numbness that I am still suffering from!
TWR: That’s what we call suffering for your art, Nad! “The Widow” is death, an uncompromising concept even for a prog album. Tell us about the idea behind it…
NS: At first I didn’t realise it,, but in a way the widow herself is actually, of course, the symbol of death. The passing of my mother I think triggered this whole idea, although unwittingly when I started out, coinciding with my stage character (The Vampirate) this whole idea developed into a courting of death, one way or another. Thought it is not a a completely dark album, there are questions about the afterlife and even before life as well! There are questions that we all ask ourselves from time to time and maybe I question some of the answers too.
TWR: There are echoes of several other prog bands in some of the tracks, did you find yourself consciously or unconsciously influenced by other artists?
NS: Some trademark sounds (ARP Pro Soloist, Mini Moog) from other bands I deliberately used with a grin on my face. I admit I am heavily influenced by my teenage years but I wanted to bring my musical past into the present, in order to continue from there into the unknown of what is to come on my next album.
TWR: Speaking of influences, you have spent the greater part of the last three years effectively inhabiting the mantles of both Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins as well as your superb reading of the late great Richie Havens. How does it feel to be yourself once again?
NS: It is very liberating to have free reins and just do whatever comes to mind. There is so much more to my voice to explore and deliver. I was never a static singer and I am constantly entering new grounds and with new textures and expressions.
TWR: Not many albums feature a t rack dedicated to a cat. How did Skrut take to her moment of fame?
NS: She purrs even louder now!
TWR: Tell us a bit about each of the tracks and the people who appear on them with you…
NS: Carry Me Home was written in 2011 and was intended for my band, Agents Of Mercy. We did a version of it for the Black Forest album in 2011 but it didn’t really fit in. Here we have Steve Hackett on solo guitar, Nick Beggs on bass and backing vocals and the fabulous Nick D’ Virgilio on drums and Jade Ell who I have worked with on my previous solo albums lending her beautiful alto voice to the outro section. The rest is sung by me and played by me. Rob Townsends’s flute is the icing on the cake, he is such a marvellous musician as well as a good friend.
Courting the Widow was written in 2009 and a lot of the arrangements and sounds and even the vocals were kept from that time. The same rhythm section was used - Nick and Nick but also the fabulous Roger King from Steve’s band on piano. I tracked the guitars myself last year and re-recorded some of the lead vocals. It’s a funny feeling knowing that one vocal line was recorded seven years ago and the next just the other day! it’s the first song I wrote after my Unifaun days, hence the very obvious Genesis feel. But that’s perfectly OK, people know about my musical history and they know I can’t help it! This song was also intended for Agents Of Mercy but the band didn’t warm to it in its current format, so I shelved it for myself and I’m glad that I did!
Echoes Of Ekwabet was something I started working on in 2012. I came back to it many times and wrote and recorded the solo guitar basically tailor-made for Steve to play. He heard it and then asked me if I was happy with it. I said yes, and because of that and also a bit because of limitations of time, Steve never recorded the solo even though he could have! Again we have Roger playing gorgeous piano, Nick Beggs who plays bass on virtually the whole album apart from tracks four and seven and does a tremendous job as we ll as Gary O’Toole on the drums. Steve actually commended the drum sound (and the Mellotrons!) that Gary and I brought in. I did add a bit more punch and ambience in the mix. Rob again plays a very melodic flute and the big operatic choir at he end is me, Jade and some nice samples I found in my music library.
To Turn The Other Side is a true monster! Of course this one took me forever to complete! Enter Jonas Reingold on bass, again Nick D’Virgilio on drums and Steve makes a cameo appearance in the slow bombastic section as well as in the Gospel-y ending bit. Otherwise it is me on guitars, keyboards and vocals. Nick B does a little wailing here and there (I love his vocal style- very different to my own - which is a good thing). Overall this piece contains everything I love about prog rock. Some critics have said that this is my tribute to Supper’s Ready but they are completely wrong! Why would I do that? It bears absolutely no resemblance to that other than the time frame. I hear all kinds of influences in this piece. Everything from Pink Floyd to Steven Wilson, Bowie, Motown, Tears For Fears, Genesis; Gentle Giant and Yes. Plus it’s a bit funky too!
Ship’s Cat was the last song that I write for the album, all done in three days, just me and my cat Skrut, I like it a lot and it makes for a fine breather after the previous long epic.
The Killing Of The Calm was also intended for Agents Of Mercy and was written in 2011 as a sequel to Cinnamon Tree (From Dramarama 2010). Too remote to what the band wanted to do o I came back to it and invited Doane Perry from, Jethro Tull to track his drums on it. Annborg Lien from Norway on violin, Nick who really favoured this song, on bass and vocals and myself on keyboards and acoustic guitar as well as my dear friend and neighbour Lars Drugge on acoustic guitar. I must especially mention Diane’s fantastic drumming. He put so much work and enthusiasm into every detail y that it lifted this song into a much higher sphere than I really thought was possible. It is a very folky tune and shows a different side to me as a composer.
Where The Martyr Carved His Name, I actually hesitated to finish this one off. The lyrics were a complete bitch to complete but the music came very easily nut in order to balance the record in a nice way I felt this one had to be on it. Once again, Doane contributed to it in a fantastic way and Jonas played a meticulous and very melodic bass. It was also nice to feature Nick Beggs’ vocals and he really shines when he takes over . I think this song perhaps has the strongest chorus on the whole album. There is also a very challenging cinematic bridge leading into the final chorus. The string arrangement is probably the best I have ever done. Roine Stolt also adds some nice tasty guitar which is just perfect for the mood. I am indeed very proud of this song and there is now a very good video out on You Tube done by Crystal Spotlight.
Long Slow Crash Landing was written when we were on the ferry from Heksinki to Tallinn in 2014 and I remember Steve talking and saying something about along slow crash landing…. What an excellent song title I thought and about a year later this thematic melody popped up in my head and the music came very quickly. Doane added his military cadence drumsticks to it, Nick used a fretless bass and Steve and I traded off guitar solos in the middle section. Initially Steve was going to play all the guitars on this one but then listening back to my guide guitar for him, I felt there was room for my guitar to fill in the pauses in his playing. He does, however, finish the whole song off with an absolutely fantastic and aggressive and beautiful rendition of something I could never have come close to myself. Its bluesy but with a folky cinematic undertone that you can actually spot here and there on the whole album and I think it is the perfect ending.
TWR: The Genesis Revisited and Acolyte To Wolflight touring is coming to an end, are there any plans for you to perform any solo shows in support of the album?
NS: Nothing planned at the moment but I would like to tour when I have at least one more album under my belt.
TWR: What else is in the pipeline for you?
NS: At the present I am writing and recording songs for my next album. I have started to collaborate with another composer which I find very intriguing as it is very good to have somebody to share the joy with and who understands me and who can steer me away a little bit from my past.
There you have it folks, a brief insight into Nad’s latest work. Our thanks again to him for taking the time out of his busy schedule to speak to us.