Drawing their influences from the classic of progressive rock and putting them in a blender together with their classical music influences, The Aaron Clift Experiment is exploring the vast and unknown. We got in touch with the band behind this band, Aaron Clift himself, and discussed about the band’s vision, influences and their appearance on our new Progstravaganza sampler.
Progstravaganza: What can you tell us about your beginnings in music?
Aaron Clift: I come from a very musical family – my dad, aunt, and uncle all played piano, and my dad also played French Horn, sang in choirs, and performed in musical theater. My mom used to play a lot of records for me when I was a baby, so I was exposed to lots of music when I was young. At age 12, I took up the viola in my school orchestra, and I later learned how to play piano and guitar and sing.
It was also around this time that I first started listening to rock music. Initially, I was just listening to bands that were popular in the early 90’s, such as Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Nirvana, but I soon started listening to a lot of the bands my parents grew up with such as Black Sabbath, Queen, and Led Zeppelin. In my freshman year of high school, one of my friends introduced me to Pink Floyd’s album, “Dark Side of the Moon.” For me, it was my first exposure to progressive rock. Up until that time, the only way I had heard classical music and popular music combined was in songs like “Night on Disco Mountain” and “A Fifth of Beethoven” (my parents had the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack and used to play it for me sometimes). What amazed me about DSOTM was how the songs seamlessly combined the sound of rock music with the formal structure and thematic organization of classical music. I was hungry for more of this style of music, so I did some research online (quite an ambitious thing to do in 1995!) and got some recommendations on Dream Theater and Genesis. I ended up buying “Images and Words” and “Selling England by the Pound” all in one day, and that began my still-going love affair with progressive rock!
Progstravaganza: How did The Aaron Clift Experiment originate?
Aaron Clift: I studied music formally at Tufts University. It was during my college years that I wrote my first rock songs with my band, Attack Plan R. I also go heavily into classical composing and performance. Ever since my college experience, I had always dreamed of a way to combine my love of both classical and rock music.
In late 2007, I finally decided to make the dream a reality and started writing some of the songs that appeared on The Aaron Clift Experiment’s debut album, “Lonely Hills.” Back then, I didn’t even have a band. All I knew is that I wanted to write classical songs in a rock style. From 2008 – 2009, my classical pianist friend, Julianne, was helping me out on keyboards, and in 2009, I met future The Aaron Clift Experiment drummer, Joe Resnick, through a producer we both knew. That fall, the three of us recorded demo versions of “Seven,” “Lonely Hills,” and “My Andalusian Love.” After listening back to the demos, I realized that there was a hole in the sound that needed to be filled by guitar and bass and that I wanted to record a full album of songs with a real band (rather than continue as a solo artist). From 2010 – 2011, I wrote the remaining songs that wound up on “Lonely Hills.” I also bought my Open Labs Neko LX5 keyboard in early 2010 and decided to take over the keyboard duties for the nascent band. In late 2011, Joe Green joined on bass and Jim Ragland joined on guitar. With me on keys and vocals and Joe Resnick rejoining on drums, The Aaron Clift Experiment was born. In early 2012, we rehearsed for about a month, and in February 2012, we went to the studio and recorded “Lonely Hills.”
Progstravaganza: Your music is influenced at large by the leaders of progressive rock genre such Genesis, Pink Floyd, Rush, but there are traces of classical composing of Schubert and Beethoven. Do you think that these two musical directions are in harmony with each other or totally diverse? How does that harmony work in your case?
Aaron Clift: All the members of The Aaron Clift Experiment have extensive training in popular and classical music, so it’s hard for me to imagine us not combining the two genres in our music. Because I studied classical composition for so many years, I tend to approach songwriting in much the same way an orchestral composer might write a classical work. I don’t know if this approach is necessarily innovative, but I’d like to think that approaching popular songwriting from a classical angle gives The Aaron Clift Experiment’s music a unique edge that you don’t hear in a lot of rock music.
Progstravaganza: Your only album to date is 2012’s, “Lonely Hills,” an exploration within the already mentioned classical and progressive rock genres based around the topics of love and loss. What can you tell us about the creating process of the record?
Aaron Clift: A lot of bands have been playing together for many years before they go and record their debut album. “Lonely Hills” was kind of the reverse of the typical rock and roll story in that the songs on the album predated the existence of the band that played them. Our story is more like The Foo Fighters’ – where it started as a solo project that later turned into an actual band.
Because I had already written the guitar, keyboard and vocal parts on the album before the band was formed, putting together the music as a group was mostly a matter of learning the songs from sheet music (if you watch our documentary, “The Making of Lonely Hills,” you’ll see everyone reading from sheet music when we were recording in the studio). Our producer, Matt Noveskey, was instrumental in helping shape the sound of the album. We couldn’t have done it without him!
Progstravaganza: “Lonely Hills” features five songs in total, from which the closing, “The Castaway Saga,” is an epic divided in four parts. I am interested to hear the story behind this piece.
Aaron Clift: In early 2010, I re-watched the Tom Hanks movie, “Castaway.” I hadn’t seen the film since it was in theaters and was still just as impressed with the movie’s storm scene as I was when I saw it for the first time. I thought it would be interesting to write a song that was inspired by that scene and put a twist on the story by setting the action in the protagonist’s mind and using the storm as a metaphor for the protagonist’s existentialist crisis (kind of also borrowing some influence from Pink Floyd’s, “The Wall”). When I finished writing “Shipwrecked,” I realized that I wanted to know more about what happens to the song’s protagonist after the storm, so I wrote several other songs that continued the story, and before long, “The Castaway Saga” was born. Kate Bush’s song suite, “The Ninth Wave,” off of “Hounds of Love” (one of my favorite albums of all time) was also a big inspiration for the story and feel of “The Castaway Saga.”
Progstravaganza: “Arsonist Games” is on our latest Progstravaganza sampler. Besides being included on it, the song is also being featured in a soon-to-be-released horror movie called “Squatch! Curse of the Tree Guardian.” Let us know something more about this. To put it simply, what is the deal with the song?
Aaron Clift: “Arsonist Games” is the only full-band song on “Lonely Hills” that I wrote on guitar first before later adding keys, resulting in a much heavier song than I usually wrote up to that point in time. The main guitar riffs for the song were influenced a lot by Black Sabbath (you can hear traces of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” in the song), which is probably fitting for a song that deals with themes of manipulation and betrayal.
I met Carlos Samudio, director of “Squatch! Curse of the Tree Guardian,” at a networking event in early 2012. He told me he was looking for a hard rock song for a horror movie about the legend of Bigfoot that he would be directing. So, I sent him a copy of “Arsonist Games,” and he liked it so much that he decided to include it in the film. You can check out snippets of the song in the movie trailer, and I’m being told that the song will appear in a climactic part of the film.
Progstravaganza: Besides holding the vocal duties in the band, you also play keyboards. Who is your favorite keyboard player? I am asking you this because you did pretty decent job covering Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter.” This song is one of my favorites – a piece showing that John Paul Jones is out of this planet.
Aaron Clift: Thanks. “No Quarter” is one of my favorite Led Zeppelin songs as well. Playing the song live is a blast and often becomes a centerpiece of ACE’s live show.
My favorite keyboard players is Tony Banks (Genesis). His solo on “The Cinema Show” was what encouraged me to pick up a keyboard in a rock band. I also love Jon Lord (Deep Purple), Ray Manzarek (The Doors), McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, and Thelonius Monk.
Progstravaganza: Name a few albums you keep in a constant loop these days?
Aaron Clift: Lately, I’ve been listening a lot to “Meridian I” and “Meridian II” by Los Angeles-based progressive metal band, Phavian. ACE did a show with them in July, and I was very impressed by their virtuosic musicianship and detailed compositions. I’ve also been enjoying some albums by some excellent Austin bands, including “Are You Getting On?” by Blue Cartoon, “Post Future” by Paraguay, and “Super Metal: Edition Z” by Immortal Guardian. On Pandora Radio, I’ve got James Brown and Isley Brothers stations for some classic soul music and a Tech N9ne station for some underground hip hop (Tech N9ne’s “All 6’s and 7’s” album always inspires me when I’m feeling like I’m in a lyrical rut).
Progstravaganza: What is the reaction of audience on your music? How much have you been active playing live since the band’s inception?
Aaron Clift: I’m very appreciative of the overwhelmingly positive feedback that The Aaron Clift Experiment has gotten from fans and the media alike. It’s very exciting to be getting recognition from so many progressive rock fans. I’ve read Prog Magazine for many years, so being featured in the March 2013 issue of the magazine was a dream come true.
We’re a relatively new band, so up until now, we’ve only played local shows. However, next year we plan to play our first shows out of Austin, and then hopefully do some touring in support of our second album when that comes out.
Progstravaganza: What the future holds for The Aaron Clift Experiment? Are you already working on new songs?
Aaron Clift: We are indeed working on new songs. Now that we’ve been together as a band for some time, the new songs are rocking much harder than our older material and are a much more full-fledged band effort. We expect to premier some of the new songs this fall and hopefully record a second album next year for release in early 2015. The future is looking very good for the band!
The Aaron Clift Experiment on the web: