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Magellan

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Magellan's Trent Gardner from 1999

Audio of this interview is in our members area
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

What can you tell me about the ELP tribute album?
Well, the ELP tribute pretty much has to be separated from all the other Magna Carta tributes. I think they finally did it right one time. What they did different this time is, instead of having ten or eleven, or however many artists on there, what they decided to do this time was to have Robert Berry arrange five songs and for me to arrange five songs, and that`s it. Pretty much have carte blanche on what we wanted to do. On my tracks, I can`t speak about Robert`s tracks cause I haven`t been in touch with him, too much. I know he`s got Simon Phillips doing his drums, but that`s about the only person I know that`s on his. His, from what I hear, is very good. On my tracks, I was lucky enough to get Mike Portnoy to play on. He has outdone himself. The guy takes so much pride in what he does, and he really went over the top, even for Portnoy. It`s worth hearing for that. He`s on some of my tracks. I also have Doan Perry playing drums on a track, and also on a track it`s Pat Matsellato, King Crimson guy. So, I`m pretty much set for drums there. It just came out wild. The keyboard solos are fantastic. We took the ELP stuff, and just really did them the way we wanted to do them, did a completely different spin on the arrangements, so that it wasn`t rehashing the same ideas, too much, like some of the first tributes that Magna Carta did where it was almost you might as well take a tape recorder and record the CD from the original. They were that close. Actually, on Supper`s Ready, I had asked to do The Lamb. I was told that Shadow Gallery was doing it. Nobody bothered to tell me that they had opted out on that, and I ended up doing Mama, but I had asked to do The Lamb. I already had part of it worked out. By the time the deadline came up, it was too late to produce and get it done. What was worse on Supper`s Ready, almost every person on there, because they overbooked it, everybody had to be severely edited. There is about a three-minute section that I added to Mama in the middle. It was the best part, that they took out. There was kind of some more instrumental ideas in there to kind of build it up. I think Robert Berry lost a couple of minutes. Just about everybody lost about a minute or minute and a half. They were trying to get it be a CD length. So that one didn`t work out too well. This ELP thing is going to be interesting because they pretty much kept the gloves off and said, "do whatever you want". We`re like, are you sure about this? OK, you`ve been warned, basically, and, I know Robert has been getting really creative, and I think our stuff is pretty strong here. We did The Sheriff, Endless Enigma 1 and 2, Time and a Place, Toccata, and Bitch`s Crystal, those are the tunes that I did. It`s definitely worth checking out. Terry Brown is mixing it, and he`ll give it a great mix. I think it`s gonna be a great CD.
MSJ: I see the Explorer`s Club as an incredibly important project, both in terms of the personnel involved and a merging of the old prog styles with new prog styles. Was there a sense of that as you were doing the album?
That is precisely what I`ve been going for, and I think, to a certain extent, we got there this time. I`ve always wanted to do that. I`ve always wanted to take the `70`s Thick As A Brick arrangement, or whatever, but make it updated, a little bit more current. I learned a lot about how to do it. There was a logistical nightmare to do this album to begin with, but it was fun at the same time. I learned so much through the process, that when we do another one, and I think we are, that I think I will be in a position where I can really use that as the benchmark, and then try to shoot for something better next time around. I don`t know when that`s going to be, but they have already asked me if I`d be interested in coming up with something, and I said "absolutely". That was a fun thing to do, to get all those parts down. There`s one funny little incident where John Petrucci called me about one in the morning. He goes "hey you`ve got to hear this", and it was the outro to the thing. There was actually a couple of extra minutes of basic track, and he goes "You know, I`ve played every lick I know. Pretty much it`s over at this point." I said, "OK, it ends there, then." Little calls like that where Petrucci says he`s done, it`s over. It was fun. Wayne went down to LA worked with Sheehan for while, just to do some rehearsals, and stuff like that, go over some of the riffs. It was great, and they`re all gracious guys, nice, nicest people you ever meet. Sheehan should have been a comedian. This guy is hilarious.
MSJ: Is there any chance of pulling some kind of a version of Explorer`s Club onto the road?
Magna Carta has mentioned to me that they have been asked by promoters in Japan about going out on some sort of limited, relatively short live thing. It`s, I think, coming down to a logistics of the availability of a few key people. I`ll really know the definitive answer to that in probably the next three or four weeks. I`ll believe it if I see it, but it`s being seriously looked at. I`d love to do it, I think it would just be a kick.
MSJ: Are there any particularly magical stories that come to mind when you think of the creation of the Explorer`s Club album?
I`ve got to tell you the creation of it was kind of strange. We talked about doing something, actually more joking about it, for three or four years. Then they called me in June. You know, everybody`s schedules, from the guys in Dream Theater to Steve Howe, just getting them together at roughly the same time was next to impossible. Anyway, they called me last June. We had just finished Test Of Wills, and they said, "Hey, you`ve got three weeks". I had no material. I was like "Oh my god, this is my one chance to work with these guys, and I`ve got nothing". Literally, I stayed up, it sounds crazy, but I stayed up for three weeks, just about. Locked myself upstairs where I have my keyboards. I said, "I`m gonna make this thing happen, come Hell or high waters." I pretty much did. One of the reasons this worked, is that I was able to get everything written and pretty much all the part defined in advance as much as possible, so that everything was very very specific for the players. Sometimes when you get too many people, it`s like too many cooks in the kitchen. That turned out to be the kind of saving grace of this thing, because there were a couple of critical moments where I wondered if it was really going to happen, but the arrangements ended up working out. There is one particular story where we almost ruined a Yes show behind this album. What happened was Yes being on tour, came to Sacramento, about half an hour from my house. We made arrangements with Steve Howe, in fact we faxed him some music charts to kind of go over his part. Picked him up at his hotel at noon, you know the show starts at 8:00. We drove him to the studio. We got to the studio, he had his lunch, he did his part, and everything was great. The only problem was that we were running a little bit late, and on the way back, I wasn`t familiar with the area, and I kept getting us lost. I wound up driving all over Sacramento, and panicking. He is just having a conniption. By the time we got him back, everyone was like "where is this guy?" There was probably close to 50 voice mail messages on my voice mail. "Where the hell are you guys?", type of thing. He forgave us. Got him back just in time, literally. Got him out of our car and they were playing, in like a couple of minutes. He was that close to missing the beginning of it. They actually were gonna wait for him. People were getting really restless. Incredibly fun album to do, and, actually, Steve Howe was incredibly nice. We had an interesting conversation, particularly about the Yes tribute. There was some of it that he really liked, and some of it that he was so-so with. In general, he took in the spirit intended, unlike the Rush tribute. They didn`t have an objection to it musically, so much as, just the fact that they felt that that was for people who were finished in their career, to have tribute albums. They were kind of hesitant about it. Terry Bozzio on the drums on this, I thought did a really good job. He did some really good work there. I`d love to work with him again, in fact, we were supposed to work with him recently, but it didn`t work out. The only person that I am disappointed that was supposed to is Steve Walsh. So, were working on arrangements to have him play on my next project. I just finished another album, the basic tracks. It`s not exactly an Explorer`s Club kind of thing, and I`m not sure what we`re going to call it, but it`s a rock opera, based on the life of Leonardo Da Vinci. For a couple of months, when they offered me the job, I thought, this is ridiculous, you`ll never be able to sing "Leonardo" with a straight face. For two months, from December to January, I thought, this is impossible. Then, I did a lot of research, on it, and I found out, this can work. It`s kind of a quantum leap in terms of quality. I think a lot of people will be surprised by the quality of the songs on there. I`m surprised.
MSJ: What is the theme to the lyrics of the Explorer`s Club disc?
The theme is extremely simple. It`s just about taking personal responsibility. It`s really easy to complain and whine, and go down that whole road. It`s an entirely different thing to take responsibility. Which is pretty much what the last piece tries to connect. I`ve tried to paint a dark picture of the front end, and say "OK, get off your butt and do something about it" at the end. That`s basically idea of the lyrics.
MSJ: Are there other musicians who you would like to work with?
I have wanted to work with Steve Walsh for a while. I think that`s gonna happen. I would love to, this would never happen in a million years, I would love to work with Jeff Lynne-ELO guy. He is one of my favorite all-time icons in my mind. I think he`s just great. Of course, hell will freeze over probably before I`ll get a chance to work with him. Since we`re on the subject of dreaming, you might as well. I could have said that about working with Petrucci two years ago, probably. That`s kind of my short-list, for sure. I would like to do something with Ian Anderson. I`ve communicated with him, and he mentioned that he would be happy to play a flute solo on one of the Magellan projects, if we`d ever get anywhere near the same area at the same time.
MSJ: Speaking of Magellan, where does the band stand? Any plans for a new album and/or tour?
Well, as things stand right now, I`m actually working on some new material, just kind of on the very front stage of that. I've got a nice beginning to the thing going. As far as the schedule, what I`m gonna be doing, is we just finished the ELP stuff. We`re gonna finish this rock opera, for lack of a better term right now. We`re gonna be finishing that over the next three or four months, and then that will put us right into probably the second quarter. Hopefully, at that point, I`ll be actually recording another Magellan record. So, hopefully sometime probably late `99, we could have some other Magellan thing out there. Hopefully a much better one. We just got to the end of Test of Wills. A little light came on in my head. I go "oh, this is how you do a record, OK. OK, just let me start over, but it was too late." So, then I wrote Explorer`s Club, and I think it was a little bit better. I think we improved with this last project. So, hopefully we`re headed in the right direction. That`s one thing that Wayne and I decided a long time ago. If we can`t come up with something that tops the last thing, or at least arguably tops the last thing, then we don`t even want to do it. That`s another thing. A lot of bands that came up historically through the `60`s, `70`s, `80`s, whatever. They were kind of part of not only creating new music, but the cultural thing, too. Bands now days, pretty much everything that can be done has been done, at least most of the easy stuff. So, if anybody`s gonna do anything different, new or exciting now, they`ve got a much higher goal to shoot for. I think it`s more difficult to come up with anything that really impresses people anymore. Listeners, fans, they are all so much more sophisticated in their tastes, production values. It seems like it`s going up and up and up on the recording side. The quality of the song writing, that`s debatable, I guess.
MSJ: What`s been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
I can`t say it`s a Spinal Tap moment, but it`s just about as dumb. I`ve actually not told more than three people about this, not the record company at all. They`ll probably be amused now. Actually, there`s a good chunk of Petrucci`s guitar part I erased by accident. Because of the ADAT, we always have a safety copy kind of stored away, not necessarily assembled properly. I engaged some wrong tracks, and I`m recording rhythm guitar stuff, and, to my horror, I wasn`t hearing John come in anymore. So, we went back to the safeties, but it was panic time for a while, because, he could never have recreated it exactly the same. He could come up with something great, but not what he had. Probably the stupidest thing I`ve done.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought?
Last CD I physically spent money on was Awake, by Dream Theater. It`s great. I don`t buy much music anymore. I guess I`m in this little vacuum of doing my own stuff, and I don`t really buy stuff the way I used to. I mean, I used to be a real collector. Now, Wayne, on the other hand, is Mr. Connoisseur. The guy`s got CD`s, records and everything of bands I`ve never heard of. It`s incredible. He`s just got the biggest collection. Only person that`s got a bigger collection that`s really impressive, by the sheer numbers (it`s in the thousands) is Mike Varney. That guy has a huge collection of music. Just the amount of records alone is thousands. You know those 55-gallon drums that are used for trash and stuff. He`s got numerous ones of those just filled with cassettes, everywhere. That doesn`t even touch, a couple of rooms, all the square footage of the room full of CD`s. You can barely walk in there, it`s amazing. As far as buying music, though, I don`t buy too much.
MSJ: What was the last concert you attended?
Actually, it was that Yes show that we nearly screwed up. It`s been a while. That was almost a year ago. I don`t get out much. There`s not enough time. I probably need to get out and see some shows. I`ve been getting back more into jazz lately, too. When I was going through college, I took theory and played trombone in a classical band and the orchestra, and the jazz combos, and stuff like that. I recently did a big band gig. I `d like to do some more of that stuff. It`s relaxing. It`s so easy. You just sit there and read the charts, and not have to deal with all the stuff I have to in my own music.
You'll find an audio interview of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
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