When people think of ‘prog’ they don’t think of an aesthetic, they think of a beat. Well DUHHHHH! And when you further think about it, every style of popular music is defined by it’s basic beat.
I’ve been thinking about ‘prog’ as if it were ‘classical’ or even ‘jazz’ where it’s the process more than anything else that defines the music. But we’re talking about ROCK, baby. So people have expectations that are like popular styles.
And judged in that way? A lot of my stuff sure as shit ain’t prog. In fact, if one listens to it like a normal person, it’s largely this amalgamation of 80’s power pop, funk, glam and rockabilly—with some prog stuff in there (the odd 6/8 and 7/4 beat) to keep one’s cape flappin’ in the breeze.
This has further driven me over the edge in my desire to steer the musical boat back to shore.
Now what is the quintessential prog beat? Like good porn, I can’t tell ya, but… it sure feels a lot like a waltz to me (as if porn ever had a ‘waltz’ soundtrack.) But by that I mean (as I alluded above) all ya gotta do to evoke the gods of prog is to start playing something with a ‘three’ feel. Slow? You sound like Yes or Gentle Giant (‘Heart Of The Sunrise’.) Faster? Any number of tunes by Rush, Genesis and even Led Zeppelin (Immigrant Song.) In short, if it gallops? It’s probably in the realm of prog.
Am I A Believer?
When I think of the stuff I do that feels the most ‘prog’, Oceans Below (Superpower) always comes to mind. And, true to the formula, it starts in a loping 6/8. But then for the big smash-hit finish? I switched to a groove I clearly lifted from The Monkees Papa Gene’s Blues. On crack.
My natural bent is so ‘pop’ (and so retro-pop) that I can’t even space out correctly.
As I’ve been saying, I’m determined to get back to the whole ‘prog’ ethos. But for me it is an ethos and not a ‘beat’. I was drawn to prog groups not because of the time signature or groove, but rather because they were attempting to combine many styles together that I happen to like.
Here in Seattle, ‘fusion cuisine’ has been all the rage for quite some years. When it works? When it’s done by someone who really knows what they’re doing? Combining bacon and ice cream or licorice and fish are fantastic ideas. When it’s not; and when they don’t? Oy. My guess is that there are a lot more recipes that taste as you’d expect licorice on fish to taste than actually taste good. Because let’s face it: it’s licorice. On fish.
Prog is like that. It really takes a lot to make it work. So more often than not, it fails. And when it fails, it’s quite the joke. But like fusion cuisine, I can’t pin it down as having one characteristic beat (or flavour.) Because if it had that? It wouldn’t be fusion anymore.
Food For Thought?
My goal for the next round of material is to do what prog should do, but not worry so much about whether or not it gallops or uses a mellotron or whatever other conventions are usually ascribed to it stylistically. But at the same time, I’m mindful that if one sounds too ‘pop’ or ‘funk’ or whatever then one is probably straying off course. Because that means you’re ignoring the fact that it’s a fusion.
I still like Oceans Below because I think it succeeded in this regard. It fused a number of styles together in a fashion that I still like. And for me, the playing (guitars, drums, bass) has the energy I used to feel from some of my fave prog groups—even if it isn’t doesn’t exactly ‘gallop’ but rather takes that last train to Clarksville.
As I get ready to start pounding again, I’m going to be more careful to adhere to that fusion of styles—which starts at bedrock with the beat. But will that beat be more ‘classically’ prog as a lot of people hear it in their heads? I doubt it. But I sure hope it’s a lot more to the material than can be summed up as ‘oh that’s a funk tune’ or ‘that’s a pop tune’ or any one word description. If the drumming is truly interesting? It’ll take at least two hyphens to describe what’s goin’ on.
*EBF: East Butt Fuck. The Boonies. Green Acres.