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Chris DeGarmo

Q&A with guitarist Chris DeGarmo

SR: Where are you calling from? CD: We're still in Milwaukee rehearsing and working on the pre-production for our U.S.tour which kicks off in Kalamazoo on April 14. SR: Have you had to change any of the super multi-media show for the U.S.? CD: We've added to it from what we were using in Europe. We're really happy that we could take this show over there and more than happy with the fact that everyone appreciated it so much. SR: The first time I heard anything from this album was at the Foundations Forum in Los Angeles last September. Michael Schnapp had us set up on individual head phones in his room. What a blast! CD: I've had a chance to meet Schnapp on two occasions and he's a great guy as far as I can tell. We did the same thing in Seattle for our fans. Everyone had their own headphones. We wanted to do something for our fans where they could really listen instead of just being there for a party which always takes on the bigger meaning. It's hard to hear the music through the barrage of partying that usually goes on. We had written and recorded the album pretty much on headphones and we thought what a great idea it would be to bring the fans in and really have the listening party be the main event. EMI arranged that for over 2,000 people in a room at Boeing Field in the Museum of Flight. I've got to tell you it was pretty amazing to look out where all these people were laying out across the floor and it was silent in the place. First, and foremost it was a listening event and we just played the album then we hung out for what must have been four hours afterwards and met all the people who showed up and had a great time. There was food being served and there were lots of signing of things. We stayed there and signed for everyone who wanted something signed. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of folks now own headphones after that event. SR: You've still got a chaotic feel to this album with the industrial touch. "I Am I" has a wonderful opening. Are those your own samples? CD: The very beginning is the "9:28 A.M." cut that Scott put together. SR: "9:28 AM" starts out sounding like a death scene and closes out like a birth scene. CD: That's right. SR: "Dis-connected" was a big favorite to begin with. CD: We've shot a video for this cut that you'll really like very much. It's a combination of a performance piece but it's also got some pretty interesting imagary. SR: There's a lot of press out there telling us about how disconnected the band was feeling right before the album was written. CD: I think we're a stronger band than we've ever been and the break we took was very necessary. We needed to establish a balance in all of our lives. The tremendous focus and time spent on the cycle of writing, recording and touring from 'Mind Crime' through 'Empire' and really the albums before. Nothing comes without a price. When we were touring for almost two years it really changed the balance for us. Our personal lives away from the band had become nonexistent. We ended up with an album that we're very proud of and that was at the end of every day what we were trying to get anyway. We're in this for longevity and the album had to be right. If we'd kept going like we were we would have self-destructed. SR: Was the label supporting your premise? CD: Ultimately they're in this for longevity too. They don't put us in touch with the short-term thinkers there at the label. I'm sure there were those only interested in the bottom line but I think they know over the long haul that it's important they have a band that is together, happy and healthy. And doing things they feel good about. I hope people understand over there that it's not as easy as just banging stuff out over and over again. People get lost in that sort of thing. You become a machine and not a person who's living. I like to think of our songwriting as people that soak in life and turn around and express it through our music. You have to take time to absorb life to be able to let it breath through your work. You can just hammer out music like you do boxes of soap but I can't do it that way. SR: Has this experience set a trend for the future? CD: Our next album will be quick. We're already putting together ideas for it. That's a result of the fact that we took a nice break and everyone got their personal batteries recharged and feeling strong and confident. By the end of the "Empire" segments we were desperately in need of some getting home time with our feet on the ground. SR: The recording site was just an extension of wanting to stay close to home. CD: Yeah, it was. We recorded most of the album at home in our basements and chose to assembly it in this log cabin. SR: Were your families on hand? CD: They all came up occasionally. We were only 70 miles away from home so I flew home almost every weekend. It was really nice. SR: What was the writing regime? CD: Most of the stuff was written at home and there's a liner note on the album that says it was written between the summer of 1992 to the spring of 1994. The first year we just started exchanging tapes and then took them all into the cabin and spent six months putting it all together. By this time we're all living together and it was a great experience. SR: Did your father get to experience your success? "Bridge" certainly comes from your relationship with him. CD: Yes, he did. He passed away while we were recording "Promised Land" but prior to that he had seen what had happened with the band up through "Empire." I loved my father. I just didn't know him and I think he got to a point in his life where he started realizing the things that were really important to him. Recognizing some mistakes and some regrets, but also experiencing a bit of denial, almost like nothing happened and that's what spawned the ideas in "Bridge." How relationships need to be built particularly the parent/child relationship. All the best relationships have a real foundation to them of love, trust and respect. Without those building blocks they really don't reach the area of the very, very special relationship. SR: Does "Lady Jane" have a special feeling for you that "Bridge" does. CD: I think that song is more a song aimed at young women to push the envelope of their minds and what they can do. I describe a young girl who is trying to cope and push the limits of her imagination. Anything she can imagine can be possible and that's time we live in now. Fortunately there are more possibilities for everyone today. It hasn't always been like that. SR: I love the bird samples on this song. Did you capture them during the recording sessions? CD: Yeah, anything that sounds like a sample we did. We had some remote recording equipment that we could just bring out of the cabin down to the water and record all kinds of things. We now have a tremendous library of sounds from the island up there. It's amazing how many wonderful sounds there are that just naturally happen around us. There are some fabulous industrial sounds when you get into the city. There's a transition from crickets at the end of "Promised Land" into the industrialism on "Dis-conected." SR: I love the party noises on "Promised Land." Everyone has to consider what the promised land is for them. CD: You nailed it right there. That's what the whole thing is about. I hope that's the message that everyone gets out of the album is that "Promised Land" is something that is unique to us all. Their own promised land is there for each person to discover. our culture is so quick to define successess, a certain monetary accumulation combined with a certain materialistic accumulation that you can show to people that you were successful. It's a very shallow discertation of what success is and for that to be what we teach our young people. That making it is having houses and cars and money. There are people who get so caught up focusing on what they're doing on any job and get so obsessed with it that life passes them by. They don't keep their lives in balance and they don't focus on family and friends and things that are really important like appreciating each day for what it is and how magic the world can be. By the end of the day they may have a lot of money and all this shit they've put on their credit card and gone into debt for. They have things to show they've made it but at the expense of what? Are they content with life and are they content with who they are inside? That's everything that the album is about. SR: Is your writing coming easier every album? CD: The good ones seem to happen very effortlessly. Sometimes I labor over one and it turns out good too; but I find the ones that just have to be written and spill out are best. I also enjoy the frustration of trying to find the next thing for a song that's just out of reach and I can't quite imagine it but feel I know what it should be. I love the push and pull of it all. SR: You and Geoff have a great chemistry but you and Michael sound almost like one sometimes. CD: Michael and I played in our first band together and we've known each other since middle school. We really know each other's style and we have a great rapport together. SR: What's your experience on the superhighway so far? You thank Martha on the album for making the fan club interactive. CD: We've got a forum bouncing around that we're helping feed with information. It was really per interaction on a personal level with so many of the fans writing letters back to them and we've gotten on line this last year. Our thanks on the album was meant in just the way she really hands-on made this fan club something personal. We've got over 10,000 people in our fan club and Martha really made it happen. It's really wonderful for us so we thanked her for it. SR: We have to talk about the beautiful artwork. CD: Hugh really did a wonderful job on the art direction and design, but I think the beauty of that cover belongs to Harold Alfred. Harold is an Indian from a tribe of totem makers. We found Harold through a little shop that was selling hand-carved Indian boxes up on the island where we did the album. They were absolutely beautiful along with some great masks. I found out from the shopkeeper Harold's name and told me that he did work for a museum in British Columbia. His family are woodcarvers and I flew over to meet him. He's truly an amazing person who's a real artist. He really speaks through his work. The totem we chose because it's a story-telling mechanism and indigenous to the area we're from. The man is truly in touch with his world and we just felt we wanted to have a spiritual symbol on the cover that had to do with the soul. Ultimately, "The Promised Land" leads to self-discovery and it's all about internal versus external. Harold had this fantastic array of characters that had a story of its own peaking to the embodiment of the soul and the freeing of the soul and that's what that totem stands for. I have the original sketch that he drew and Hugh got involved and turned it into a reality. I really believe the magic of the cover belongs to Harold. Hugh deserves lots of credit but I just wanted to make sure Harold didn't get overlooked in the credit department. SR: Is there a wooden statue? CD: There is a carving and we've got it. That's a photograph on the cover. It's a customized combination of things using photoshop. SR: Thanks so much for your time (Sheila Rene' is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas.)