With members divided by the Atlantic Ocean, multi-national project Corvus Stone still succeeded in making a record that would make many bands that have real studio chemistry ashamed. The self-titled album was released in 2012 and it received many positive reviews. We talked to Colin and Pasi about the debut, their new album and their look at the progressive rock scene among many other things.
Corvus Stone is a multinational collaborative group, but the core of the project is comprised of Pasi Koivu, Petri Lindstrom and you. How did you guys go about working on Corvus Stone?
Colin: Pasi and I were in contact for some time, due to connections with Black Widow. It started out as a little fun, when Pasi sent me a piece to add guitar to. I have never heard anyone come up with music like Pasi does. He is a rare talent and it was very challenging for me to get my head around what he does. The results are never like any other single band really. We both come at music from opposite ends of the prog spectrum. Petri heard what we did and said he would love to play bass on it. When he did that, we were blown away. He is really a virtuoso. So we have continued in the same way. After 3 tracks in the can, we said we need to do an album. We didn’t change how we do anything. Whoever “writes” the initial piece, knows it will change greatly by the time we have all added our own ingredients to the recipe. The unusual thing up till now is that nobody in the band has ever disliked even one section of all the music. We are very open minded and enjoy what the others add, however crazy and unexpected it is.
We met Blake Carpenter (The Minstrel’s Ghost), very late in the process and he told us he would love to add some vocals to The Ice King and another track or two. What better way to gain a band member than someone who asks? He did an amazing job and when we recorded the Black Widow cover track as a bonus on the album, he was perfect. The main Black widow guys said he improved it from the original. It is not easy to sing on Corvus Stone but now he is in!
Pasi: It was a nice accidental thing, really. I had a badly recorded idea for a thing that became the song called “Iron Pillows”. I felt it sounded more guitar oriented than the music I had previously recorded myself. It had some challenges and tempo changes so it was natural to ask Colin to record some guitar on it as I saw he was back into making music! Thankfully Petri heard the basic version and suddenly he was in!
How hard it was during the creating process considering that other members were at different locations? Do you think that if all of you were together in the studio the album would take other direction? Who was in charge of the project?
Colin: Pasi is more “switch on and go” than I am. He plays in the moment, I believe. He composes and the variations of what he comes up with are staggering. Then I think he plays much of it live. He will often then play another keyboard jamming with the first. So he tends to achieve a very live sounding, impressive result. I am very different. I work very closely with what he has done. It can take me hours to hit on ideas that work. If we were in rehearsal rooms doing this, I would miss the mark every time. I tend to take an orchestral approach I think. So I tame it in a way and that is not going to happen if I play in the moment. People who listen to the album once, think we sound like we are jamming often. They are wrong. Spend time with it and you hear very specific melodies and hooks. None of it is an accident. Petri is also a composer and he has the ability to really think about a piece and add something that lifts it to a whole new level. He can also just go for it!
If we had worked on this first album in a studio, it would be different. Almost certainly, not as good. Now tho’, we have a drummer!
Our drummer, Robert Wolff (USA), only joined us towards the end of the recording. For him, it would be good to be in the same room arranging all this music. He is a great drummer with a lot of experience and near misses in the professional world. Steve Morse supported Robert’s band for example. Ha!
Nobody is in charge but I am doing the production, so I tend to shape the sound but nothing is final till we all like it. One thing I know. If any one of us was replaced, it would be a very different sounding band.
Pasi: I feel it was fun and very easy. It sounds like we are in a studio together – I don’t know why? It has to be chemistry. We are all in charge but I must admit Colin did a huge work by producing and mastering the entire album. He also handles most of our publicity. Another important member is Sonia Mota who created the artwork. Suddenly we also had Robert Wolff and Blake Carpenter with us and it was beginning to sound really great to my ears! Blake and Robert are virtuosos as well. We don’t have too many songs with vocals but when we have it sounds really great and Blake also creates amazing lyrics.
For me personally your self-titled debut album presents rather a sonic journey than just another music album. 24 songs in total, including three bonus tracks are really a massive collection knowing that the album was recorded the way you did it. How long did you work on it?
Colin: It actually didn’t take long. We didn’t decide to make an album till about march 2012 and it was all effectively done by September 2012. The mixing is always what takes the time and that was happening on the fly and then of course during October for the release. We all had other musical projects running at the same time.
The way the album sounds is kind of live, even tho it isn’t. The reason is because we all like to keep the funny moments and “wrong” noises, if they work. Listen to the track “Corvus Stone” and you will hear a cough. That was me. I had the mic on by accident. When I heard it, it sounded great, just where it landed. I panned it and kept it! There are moments where the guitar is too loud or the bass gets out of control. We don’t like to iron music to death. Keep the fun in there but still be precise with the main body of the music and deliver a professional and pleasing album. The fact is that if we had gone to anybody else to mix it, much of that would have been lost. I know this from experience.
We are not fans of compressing the hell out of music. We want the dynamics and the mid-range. So it has its own sound, or maybe a little retro.
Pasi: That’s nice to hear (now I’m really looking for our 2nd album to be completed and I already feel it’s an improvement). We worked few months with the music. I didn’t feel it was work for me – it was like a dream!
Pasi has composed all the tracks on Corvus Stone except „Cinema“, which is on our new compilation. Tell us more on this piece.
Colin: I think Pasi has found that Corvus Stone was the band he always wanted and cannot stop writing. Nevertheless, it is important to say that if we told Pasi that Petri and I will compose all the tracks on album 2, he would not mind at all. Like us, he is enjoying the collaboration. Petri wrote the piece Cinema and thought it perfect for us. He sent us that demo. Pasi re-recorded the keys and even percussion, then sent 5 chunks of music to me, which was effectively a Pasified Cinema. The key melodies and ideas of Petri’s were all there. I then glued the pieces together (One of them became the short opening track of the CD). I added all the guitars and it became obvious to me that it was a very special piece. The version on Progstravaganza, is just the finale and happens to be my favourite 6 minutes on the album.
Pasi: Petri sent me this piece and I think he originally wanted me to just use the piano intro he had on his old demo. Then I thought I could use the whole thing and make an arrangement by using Petri’s chords and notes. It became a very guitar oriented track and I’m happy for that! Some extended soloing by Colin and even a bass solo by Petri!
Are you satisfied with the reception of Corvus Stone album?
Colin: I am amazed really. The reviews mostly are beyond anything we expected. There is a problem tho. Few take the time with anything that doesn’t sound like something they heard before. Many listen to half a track and think.. ok.. jazz funk and move on. Many say it is too long. No idea what that means! We don’t plan to sell less music for the same money, just because some reviews say we should. So far, nobody who heard the album a few times has anything but great comments. It is a grower. The reviews tell us we did good and that what we did should stand the test of time.
Pasi: Yes I am! You can’t please everyone. During the last few weeks we suddenly had many great reviews by the critics who didn’t know us at all. Of course there are some not so good reviews as well but many of those critics still find some good things on our music.
What is Corvus Stone’s relationship to the progressive rock genre and your opinion on its future?
Colin: I am the guy that loved Pink Floyd without needing drugs! I was raised on progressive music but it had no label. The electric guitar and most keyboards are very recent inventions, so much of what we heard on the radio way back in the 60s, was effectively progressive. The Beatles dragged everyone kicking and screaming in to prog. It was a lucky break for us all because they were so famous. The normal world allowed real art and totally new sounds to create the landscape of that era. It happened in the UK and doors were even opened for non UK musicians ..Hendrix and Focus for example. There has never been a time like it since. From Deep Purple in rock to Dark side of the moon. All of it on mainstream radio and TV. It became possible to earn a living, with strange and wonderful music because people actually enjoy it. That was the key. We all need to earn money.
The internet has created thousands of Steve Vais. It became the new cool extreme sport. So prog and complex music is now cool to young people because they can get involved. It also showed that music is inside everyone and the skill and determination out there is fabulous to see.
The future of varied and amazing music is limitless. Can we earn any money doing it? Not so far! It was never easy for musicians but it feels better now than it has for over 30 years.
Will it ever be allowed in the mainstream again? I thought Muse or even Porcupine tree could help cause it but so far it hasn’t happened.
Pasi: I never try to compose progressive rock. Maybe it’s because of our natural playing style people automatically think we are “prog”? Maybe we are? You must remember we have many influences on our music. We have weird things and the next song could have catchy melodies and hooks! The genre you mention has a great past and future, no doubt.
How did you start playing music, and what other experiences did you have prior starting Corvus Stone?
Colin: I was in the band “Odin of London” in the 80s. We gigged for 3 years. The climate for good music was at an all time low and we gave up. Three of us formed BunChakeze and recorded an album, totally independently. Unusual then but it failed to get the attention of any record company. I stopped playing for 25 years! Restarted in 2010 by releasing the BunChakeze album and later, Pasi forced me into this mad world of Corvus Stone!
Pasi: For me it was piano at the age of seven. I’m a guy who quit playing for many years. I had a fun project Metal Plankton with my friend (he now records extreme metal with his project Ofghost – he’s very good on what he is doing). I learned to use Internet and became friends with Clive Jones from the 1970′s UK band Black Widow and helped a bit to find their 1970 film and I also has a pleasure to be in touch with Tony Martin (ex-Black Sabbath) during the time Black Widow managed to have him to guest on their 2011 comeback album! I bought my current keyboard in 2009 and between 2010 and 2011 I released three limited edition solo Cd’s as Pasi Koivu ~ Psychedelic Eye.
What music do you usually listen to? Tell us something about your influences.
Colin: Progressive. Almost 100% of the time. I have seen almost all the greats at the right time. Alice Cooper(first london gig), The wall 1980 and 1981, Tales of Topographic oceans(opening week). Wakeman on ice!!! So I am influenced by all from Floyd and Yes to uriah Heep and Camel. I discovered Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater in the 90s. Since then, I have seen all the new greats many times. Pain of Salvation is a big fave! I discovered Al DiMeola in the 70s – OMG!! Al, Vai and Zappa got me through the 80s.
Pasi: I wish to find more time to listen to music. My influences are everything I hear. It might be Black Sabbath’s “Sabotage” or Jean Sibelius. If I’m going to compose something and it has to be good I have to listen to something like Quatermass first.
As a keyboardist I love what Keith Emerson did on the ELP album “Brain Salad Surgery” (1973). Our drummer Robert almost plays like Carl Palmer did on that album!
Have you ever thought of bringing the project on stage?
Colin: Yes we have. We all agree it could only be done if we would not lose money. It has to be right and we would love to do it. We need to focus on the albums first I think.
Pasi: Never say never. Our music is like a musical. We don’t have two songs that sound alike. A visual project would be nice as well?
Do you have anything new in the pipeline?
Colin: We seem to have enough for more than 2 albums already. Some of it almost complete and some waiting for the drummer to get studio time and much of it waiting for me (I am completing the Oceans 5 album right now). This time, we have a drummer fully in the band, so he is influencing the music in a very good way. He actually created two of the new tracks. We played to him. Now that is fun!
Pasi: Personally I have recorded twice for The Airwaves (the band from Sweden). The latest song was called “Paperpile” and I really loved the catchy hooks they created on that song. I hope the song will be released soon.
Corvus Stone has so many new songs at the moment. The stuff is so much more exciting than on the first album! This time we know what we are doing. I’ve written many songs but they don’t sound like the stuff on the debut album. Petri has given us great stuff! He just signed a deal with Melodic Revolution Records for his band Progeland and still he gave us at least six great songs! Colin gave us great acoustic stuff sand even Robert started two new songs!. I wish we had more time (I’m not a professional musician myself). Blake is as good as always as you can hear on “Purple Stone”. We have Andres Guazzelli guesting on that song and maybe we’ll have some more guest stars on the next album as that happened on the first album as well (we had Stef Flaming on “JussiPussi” – we also had Victor Tassone and John Culley on “You’re So Wrong”).