From Aural Innovations #9 (January 2000)
Nebula Trip - "Birth"
(Nebula Trip 1999, CD)
My introduction to Nebula Trip was a cassette demo of this CD which was reviewed last issue. I was so impressed with the music that with the official release of the CD I decided to re-run the review with some additional comments along with an interview with the band.
Nebula Trip is a Connecticut-based band playing completely improvised instrumental spacerock that sounds like the Ozrics Tentacles, Tribe Of Cro, and even Rush. Though firmly in the space realm I hear elements that would also appeal to the progressive rock crowd as well. The 5-piece has been together three years and includes Anthony Bearse on keyboards and woodwinds, Tony Gaspar on drums and percussion, Tim Just on bass and guitar, Rich Pray on lead guitar and bass, and Carl Zepke on keyboards and percussion.
One of Nebula Trip's strengths is a strong bass/drum rhythm section that keeps things pounding, sometimes even getting a bit into space fusion, while the guitars, keyboards, and flute survey the landscape. Though the Ozrics are a good comparison it's important to note that Nebula Trip plays at a much slower tempo than the frenzied pace of the Ozrics. Pray gets a LOT of mileage out of his extended note guitar licks that whine and sometimes scream. His acidic guitar alternates between screaming licks and droning washes which provide for plenty of freakout moments. The echoed flute is a secondary instrument but pops up often enough to embellish the music nicely. Some of the songs have a more driving rockin' beat, which keeps me thinking of the Ozrics but also brings Rush to mind.
Though Nebula Trip's songs jam along at a typically easy pace, the music develops nicely making for a cosmic journey. I love the deep thudding bass beat, as well as the combination of the often symphonic keys and acidic guitar. I said in my prior review that if Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson became the guitarist for the Ozrics I think you would get something like Nebula Trip and after many more listens than before that analogy still holds. In summary, Nebula Trip is one of the more impressive instrumental space bands I've heard recently. Communicating via cyberspace, Aural Innovations conducted the following interview with the band.
AI: Tell me how Nebula Trip came together to perform all improvisational spacerock?
Carl: Nebula Trip started with Boomer and me who were working on our own ambient keyboard projects. Boomer called Rich who came over to my basement and joined in. He liked the outcome and called Tim who called Ward (Tim's brother). This was the original line up. After one year and a couple of gigs, Ward left. Rich and Tim called Tony who then joined this improv format. Nebula Trip has been this way ever since.
Boomer and Rich: The way Nebula Trip came together is really quite simple. Each of us had at the time of forming varying degrees of experience in bands. Rich joined Carl and me in Carl's basement to explore the realm of electronic music. Carl and I at the time had our own 'Alpha' music projects under way. Rich told Tim of the cool happenings in Carl's basement. Tim and his brother Ward were working together on their own project for an upcoming show. Tim suggested we all get together and see what happens, and we all thought it was great. A couple months later, Rich asked Tony to join the band for an upcoming gig since we were only using Tim's drum machine. Tony came over to Carl's to play with us first and we really liked it. And that's basically it, although Ward went on to pursue other dreams.
Tony: I have come to believe that a deep-space meteor lies embedded beneath my neighborhood in which 4/5 of the band live and/or grew up. Perhaps it lies emitting some strange kind of unifying, but also, life-threatening radiation.
AI: Tell me about each of your musical backgrounds.
Carl: I've played the drums since I was a kid. I've always liked percussion. The drums took the back seat since I've acquired Tinitus. I also took piano and organ lessons for a little while when I was younger. This opened the door to experimenting with electronics and home made sounds made from old circuit boards hooked up to a speaker. I got hooked on early analog sounds such as Moog, Mellotron, and Arp and have always wanted to have a chance to learn more about them. My opportunity came along when I met Boomer. He and I have identical interest in ambience, and this gave both of us the chance to make something happen. I also have a deep passion for Hammond B3, and electronic sequencers. I try to incorporate the sounds of Mellotron and B3 into Nebula Trip. I've worked with several other musicians and bands along the way. Few of them appreciated spacerock, so I now feel I've met the right spacemen to work with.
Rich: I started to get serious about the guitar at twelve, and began to take lessons learning the songs that I brought to my teacher. I eventually met Tony Spada from the prog group Holding Pattern, and took lessons for seven years. Through my teens and early twenties I played with a lot of garage bands doing sixties rock, psychedelic rock, progressive rock and blues. Knowing Boomer, and not being in a band at the time, I thought it was time to try something really different.
Tony: I've played for twenty years and spent fourteen of those years studying with very good teachers. I've played everything from Polka to 80's one-hit-wonders.
Boomer: I played violin in grade school but my fascination with synthesizers basically started in the early years of life (under 10) when I would watch and sometimes play around with my father's music equipment. The Fender Twin steel slide guitar was a favorite of mine played through his pre-CBS Princeton reverb amp and Fender Bandmaster along with his analog effects, echo, reverb, vibrato, etc. In the fifth grade, Rich and I had the opportunity for a class project to make a musical instrument. Naturally, I wanted to build a synthesizer, and with the help of my brother, Larry (electronic wizard) we created a unijunction transistor oscillator. The schematic came from an old transistor project book; needless to say it freaked out the class. Rich, however, built a guitar out of a cigar box, some wood, wire and has stayed with guitar ever since. Experimenting with low-end keyboards, I gradually moved up to playing with a three-piece, spacey band called Achetypes. At this time, I started playing with Carl.
Tim: I first picked up a guitar when I was but a boy. I would play for a while, then want to play like other kids. I played on and off throughout high school, then picked it up again while in the USMC. I returned to civilian life and found I didn't fit anywhere I tried, and joined in with the punk scene. After thrashing in several bands, I joined StarkRaving; a band molded somewhat like the Clash, as vocalist/guitarist. Feeling the sound was too weak I joined The Sanity Assassins, who billed themselves 'the loudest band in Connecticut'. After nearly going deaf, I set the strings down and worked hard as a contractor, to provide for my young family. Still desiring playing, I would record in my basement. I have many songs written and copyrighted. After years in the basement, I lost contact with the world. I delved into different styles. Before I knew it, I was playing stuff that made no sense to the homogenized ear. It seemed only my brother Ward was clued in. As time passed I met the individuals that make up Nebula Trip. In them, I have found continuity where there had been none.
AI: What bands/musicians have influenced/inspired you and what are you listening to these days?
Carl: My influences mainly stem from progressive rock. I'm a fanatic with studying and collecting prog from all over the globe such as Genesis, PFM, SFF, Celeste, Sebastian Hardie, the list goes on. I've been listening to electronic music since about 1975, Tangerine Dream, Synergy, Jean Michael Jarre, etc. A lot of my musical expressions come from prog and spacerock and I try to apply it to my work.
Rich: Hendrix, Beatles, basically the whole sixties scene, especially the psychedelic bands. Currently I am listening to the Mermen, they're awesome, and anything by Eric Johnson.
Tony: For me, African music holds the key to everything we hear in all genre of modern music.
Tim: I try not to listen too much to other things as they might blow my mind and I may never want to play again. Of course, my need to play seems to take up most of my time, unless I am talking business. Then the guys throw things at me and call me names. But I play along to CD's from band's like Escapade, Alien Planetscapes, Dick Dale, Chameleons UK and a few other things in my spare time.
Boomer: My first influence, at a young age, was from a band from the late 60's called Lothar and the Hand People. My brother Larry was always playing weird stuff, and I couldn't help but become fascinated by its strangeness, in contrast to what was being played on radio. My first taste of true electronic music was in the form of 'Autobahn' when Kraftwerk first was being played on college radio. Then later came the introduction to Tangerine Dream from the soundtrack to the movie 'Sorcerer'. Since then, I started to search out the widest points of the spectrum, the embarkation on the highways of music from Native American Flute to Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music.
AI: On your web page you refer to yourselves as a "spacerock/artrock" band. That's interesting because in my review I've noted that you are firmly in space, but there are elements that would appeal to the general progrock crowd as well.
Carl: Some people say they hear some fusion in us. We tend to sometimes get some rhythm going, which fits well from time to time. It's quite pleasing to hear that some feel we have prog elements as well.
Tim: I thought we'd fit into many genres and sought to expand the conception of what we are. Prog has so many sub-genres now that I figured we should try to reach as many as we could. Not that we don't think we have a spacerock sound, but we could also fit into the other styles that make up those sub-genres. The whole purpose is to reach as many ears as possible, and this is a business, like it or not.
AI: Tell me about the typical Nebula Trip live performance. As everything is improvised, do you take turns beginning a song? Is there a set methodology for getting each song going?
Carl: The drums and keyboards start a lot of songs, but over all it seems what sounds are happening sets the mood for the next song. There's very little eye contact when we play, but somehow we are all in sync.
Tony: We open our ears and begin - that's it - nothing is agreed upon beforehand - or if it is I just disregard it. Does that make me sound like an ass?
Tim: If the feedbag fits... (Tim laughs) we 'plug and play' simply put. We have found that the more we play together, the more we begin to anticipate what is going to happen. There are times when I catch up to what Tony is doing, I feel as though he tries to lose me again. Like a game of musical cat-and-mouse, or hide-and-seek.
Rich: Most songs, I sit back for a moment and listen to what's going on and usually playing the root note of the key we're in until I can find a place where I can cut loose. Some of my favorite Nebula Trip songs happen that way.
AI: The playing on 'Birth' is very tight and I've noticed that a strong rhythm section is one of your strengths. As an all improvisational band, was it hard finding the right combination of musicians to make it work?
Tony: I don't really know, as I was the last junction in that "road". I just found it to be different and interesting. A great improvisational outlet for my musical interests.
Carl: Nebula Trip has a great chemistry, and because of this we all have connected in our sessions. We each have certain techniques that combine to a good sound. Tim and Tony seem to know what each other is going to do, like when to kick in together. Me and Boomer have had a lot of practice, even before Nebula Trip, and we can somewhat read each others mind on each other's changes. Rich surfs all through the waves of sound. This whole combination works well.
Tim: If you consider the fact that I was in a self-imposed exile from any music scene for years, and the other guys were doing other unfulfilling things during that time, then the road was hard, but as it came together, it was really very easy. Imagine, no restraints, free to play whatever, as long as it sounded good. It is hard to bicker over lyrical content if there are no lyrics. There are no limits. Anything goes. That makes life easier.
Rich: At first, I thought Tim was crazy thinking that we could just all get together and make music. Or, at least, good music without any rehearsal, because all of my previous band experiences were tediously mapping cover songs. It didn't take long to see how easy it really was. Knowing everyone since before the band makes playing comfortable.
AI: On your web page you note that you record nearly everything you play. Do you consider 'Birth' to be the best of what you've recorded to date or is the CD just a drop in the bucket?
Carl: Nebula Trip has recorded so many sessions that it's hard to say what is our best material. Our live sets have a lot of strength, although the recording quality lacks. We've also recorded a lot at The Lair (my basement). Recording on 8 track is great because of the separation of sound. Birth was our chance to hear ourselves from a different view.
Tony: The CD session was very representative of our gigs and other jam sessions, but was the first time we did so with multi-track recording in place to capture what I consider "sellable" product. So I guess it was a higher quality drop in the bucket.
Rich: 'Birth' had, technically, the best sound quality of any of our previously recorded material. A couple of the songs are among my favorites, but I strongly feel some of our best songs are from live shows. We are currently producing a compilation of live material, to be released in April. If you like 'Birth', I think you will love this. The songs are strong, they hold up regardless of the recording quality that 'live' shows may lack. I listen to it in my car every day.
AI: Do you get to perform live much? Good turnouts? How do audiences respond to you?
Tony: In Connecticut it is tough to find clubs and club-owners who support original music. Perhaps this is part of the reason we're organizing our own festival/show. When we have hit upon a crowd that was used to hearing different stuff, response was good - when we've been amongst cover-wanters the audience was befuddled.
Carl: It's difficult to find the right audience in small clubs that will understand what's going on. The average person doesn't know what space rock is, and may not have the patience to listen. Because of these things a turnout may not always be that great, but when we do capture some people's imagination, they seem to enjoy it. Rich: I agree. Tim: True, it may be difficult to get gigs that the human juke-boxes are getting, but I think there is a growing niche that is tired of the regular FM radio squat they can't escape from. SpaceRock, and the various other genres, will begin to fill the void left in the unsatisfied ears of listeners across the country and beyond. The unity that the spacerock bands share will impose its will upon the unbelievers and slowly convert those into the refined listening tool the creators intended. AI: How did the idea for The Mandelbrot Sets festival come about? You've been most energetic in your early legwork and promotion for the show. Tony: All credit goes to Tim. Carl: Tim has done most of the work. Thank God he had the seed of motivation.
Tim: Well, Carl and Boomer went to StrangeDaze '99 and said they had a great time. I thought it would be cool if there was another show on the slate to bring the bands together, get some exposure, and let the world that has wasted its hearing on top 40 become exposed to the stuff that has been swirling out there. I thought it would be neat to set one up in this neck of the woods to lure the spacerock fans of Southern New England out, where they might not travel to Ohio or Pennsylvania. Judging by the response we have gotten, The Mandelbrot Sets is being welcomed into the lineup of such fests on the schedule for the summer. It is going to be great. There will be a ton of music, two tons of food and many kegs of grog. A third night is being discussed. We'll let you know the details at the web site, so bookmark it.
AI: What does "The Mandelbrot Sets" mean?
Carl, Boomer, Rich and Tim in unison: Tony . . .
Tony: I saw a PBS show about this relatively new mathematical discovery and found it very interesting. The Mandelbrot Set is an image that appears when an equation is graphed. As variables in the equation change, the points move within the graph (image), assigning color to the points that move in or out gives the image some character. One interesting thing about the set is that when you zoom in on any portion of it, you see the entire set again but smaller. This phenomenon repeats to infinity. I suggested the name to Tim (the full extent of my contribution to the show so far) because I thought it was an image that represents our sound well.
AI: Any final Nebula Trip news you'd care to share?
Tony: A RealAudio sample is available on the site, more to come. You can now see an image of a Mandelbrot Set in the "Shows" page of our web site.
You can visit Nebula Trip at their web site.