Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Happy Graveyard Orchestra...Revisited

Greetings once again fellow progheads!  The search for all things prog has gained a lot of momentum as we move into spring, and I find myself in a very enjoyable position--namely being asked (once again) to do a music review.  Scurrying back to London from Argentina--the UK seems to be my second home lately--I brought the Concert Closet in for a follow-up of sorts with The Happy Graveyard Orchestra; they recently released their first full-length album, "Welcome."  In addition to reviewing the music I was able to get an interview with the leader of this "macabre" entourage, Ivan Perilli.  So let us leap in with both ears and listen for what is emanating from the Happy Graveyard...

Closet Concert Arena: What makes the Happy Graveyard Orchestra special?

Happy Graveyard Orchestra: We (Ivan and Pablo) recently asked ourselves the same question.
We obviously thought "because we are experimental," and then adjusted that to "because we are experimental, but not ALWAYS experimental."  Also, because we do it naturally; we don't follow a scheme or concept.  Although our shows are planned in detail, the preparation is very natural.

CCA: What can listeners anticipate from "Welcome?"

HGO: We tried to "put on paper" what we do live.  We focused more on  the music vs. improvisation and some tricks we do live.  We did our best not to sound too different from a live show; keeping the balance of rock, experimental, and all the other fancy terms available in music history.

CCA: Is "Welcome" the band's first release?

HGO: It's our first full-length album recorded the best way possible for our "capabilities."  We previously released two pretty good demos (in 2013 and 2014).  Both were nice and allowed people to discover us before and after our shows.  Still, "Welcome" is bigger, louder, and more complete from the opening song right through track eleven.  Also, there is more electricity, shades, and conflicted feelings.  There are even more instruments--eleven if I counted correctly!

CCA: You describe your music as "experimental;" how so?

HGO: Experimental is the closet adjective to "free."  We have no boundaries, and that was not a conscious decision.  Rehearsals easily become "let's try this" sessions where we do indeed experiment.  That transfers easily to the stage for our live shows, along with a strong dose of rock.  Add bits of classical, jazz, and blues, and ultimately we call it experimental rock.  However, for us it is just a label we need to introduce ourselves before plugging in our instruments.

Time to leap into the music; first serving at the buffet is an intriguing piece called "Evening News." The opening is stark...almost bare.  The oboe is joined by strings as tension builds in a non-threatening way--and then daylight bursts into the room.  The steady drum keeps everyone in the same time zone, but there is definitely some daydreaming going on.  The music meanders down a crooked path, much the way a newscast does.  Happy Graveyard Orchestra not only paints a picture--they capture the moment.  With a nod to minimalism, this is as creative a band as I have stumbled across in the prog garden.  Happy Graveyard Orchestra doesn't push boundaries, they draw new maps.

CCA: Who/what do you consider the biggest influences in your prog style?

HGO: When it comes to our (lightweight) prog, there are definite moments of Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, and perhaps a touch of Captain Beefheart and Alice Cooper.  Not on entire songs, but some approaches here and there.  We prefer odd times and rapid changes but we don't push them to the limit as so many explicitly prog bands do.  We have been told that we are similar to Jethro Tull and Hawkwind, and even have a Krautrock style...while we are not sure where and how, those are good names to be associated with!

CCA: The band has seen a few personnel changes; who is the current line-up?

HGO: Original members Ivan Perilli on bass and vocals and Saif Ur-Rehman on guitar joined forces about a year ago with Debbie Teo on oboe and percussion, and Pablo Perez Vich on drums. Presently we have been auditioning for two additional band members, and we are happy to say...Kasjusz Lipkowski has just joined the Happy Graveyard Orchestra family on tenor saxophone!

CCA: Are you currently touring or back in the studio?

HGO: We are staying away from the studio for at least a year.  It's time to get back on stage as, although more difficult, live performance is what makes a gathering of musicians a real band.

Second serving from the new release is a charming instrumental called "Wooden Bridge Tale."  The entire piece is almost completely background--I have to believe that is not a coincidence.  Happy Graveyard Orchestra draws you in with the music; it is subtle and evocative while dancing like baby's breath across your ears.  The drum lying on the bottom like a counterweight keeps you focused as the entire piece teases your sensory palette like fresh strawberries and chocolate...

CCA: What can fans expect from a live show?

HGO: Songs from our official releases, and always something new.  Everything is played with a lot of nicely hidden mistakes; performed with fun and love for artistic freedom, music, and a puzzled audience.  It is quite a different night out.

CCA: What is your favorite cut from the album?

HGO: We each have our own favorite.  Ivan loves the emotional crescendo of "Evening News" and the entire experience of "Those Seventeen Letters."  Saif really enjoys the upbeat, bouncy pop on "That Thing There For Me" and the ominous trudging on "Insects" that explodes at the end.  Pablo likes the mix of emotions throughout the album, from the melancholy of "Evening News" and the anger in "Those Seventeen Letters," to the strange and bitter happiness of "Vomit."  For Debbie it is the process of recording, as we were always exploring new sounds and acoustics to create new timbres and textures, adding new dimensions to our music.

My final taste of this captivating album is "Insects."  This is a moving piece, painted with a bit of a darker hue.  Insects put you on high alert, unlike a cuddly puppy or cute little kitten.  Happy Graveyard Orchestra draws you down to the level of these creatures and forces you to think from their point of view.  The world is a big dangerous place when observed from down below, and the emotions bleeding from every instrument cut just deep enough into your epidermis to pinch your nerves.  You feel alive and alarmed all at once...

CCA: Is "Welcome available as a vinyl album and/or CD, or strictly as a download?

HGO:  Strictly a download, although we would love to feel the need for a CD edition one day.
Sadly, the decision was a marketing one we had to make.  I would love to have hundreds of CD's and even vinyl LP's to sell, but nowadays we prefer to invest more in something else.

You can purchase (and please do) "Welcome" as a download at
http://happygraveyardorchestra.bandcamp.com/album/welcome.   "Welcome" is also available on Spotify and iTunes.   You can find out more about the band at http://happygraveyardorchestra.co.uk/
Follow Happy Graveyard Orchestra on Twitter, @HappyGraveyardO and of course, the ever popular Facebook https://www.facebook.com/HappyGraveyardOrchestra

Take a listen below to get just an inkling of what Happy Graveyard Orchestra is about; but please buy the download.  I chose the song "Vomit" for this post deliberately.  While the title grabs your attention, the picture your mind paints is almost immediately shaken out of your head like an Etch-A-Sketch once the music begins, as--subconsciously perhaps--a smile pierces your lips.  Happy Graveyard Orchestra plays music like Salvador Dali paints...nothing is as it seems...

A different slant, an alternate view, the flip-side of normal...call it what you want; The Happy Graveyard Orchestra views prog--and life in general--through a lens that runs skew to most of us.  If only more people could see the world from the inside out...Happy Graveyard Orchestra doesn't just play music--they take you on a journey.  Jamie Muir must feel a twinge of sudden excitement as sound is coaxed from unexpected objects and places...

Progressive music comes from the heart, soul, and mind of the musician.  It is an art form in the right hands; one to enjoy via sight and sound.  I hope you enjoyed the Happy Graveyard Orchestra reprise this week fellow progheads.  Now once again I take the Concert Closet deeper into the stratosphere as my search for all things prog continues...until next week...

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