The members of Oakland quartet Once and Future Band proudly wear their influences on their sleeves, which can be summed up as a unabashed love of the prog-rock sounds of groups like Genesis and ELO. It’s refreshing to see a group waving the flag for a kind of music that is not exactly considered “cool” by today’s standards and, even better, nailing the sound of that music. On their self-titled debut LP, out now on psych rockers Thee Oh Sees’ Castle Face Records, the members of the Once and Future Band channel obvious influences of Genesis and ELO, but you can hear other mid 70’s sounds reminiscent of groups like Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, and Yes. All told, the album is a varied collection of songs that show this band has been paying close attention to their elders and they have the technical prowess to pull off the complex musicianship that is a cornerstone of prog rock. We can only hope they decide to embark on a major tour soon, as there are undoubtedly legions of music lovers who are starved for bands making music like this. Recently the members of of the Once and Future Band took the time to collectively answer some questions about their new album, their devotion to prog and mid 70’s rock, and a whole lot more.
It seems like the band has really kicked up production and complexity on the new album compared to the Brain EP. Was there a grand vision going into the new album?
We approached the record as a continuation of what we had done with the EP. We wanted to have a more live and spacious feel to this album, with the core of the band playing in a room together, augmented by arrangement ideas we could only achieve in our studio. There were several factors that contributed to the expanded scope of the album: Better equipment, valuable lessons we learned while recording the EP, having our own rehearsal/recording space and most importantly: TIME! We spent over 2 years working on the album and there was a ton of experimentation with different layers and combinations of sounds. Many songs, mixes and overdubs were left behind in order to distill down to what we felt was the essence of this record. We wanted this record to represent what we could do ourselves, “in house”, to not only achieve our group’s vision of what this band could be, but to also prove to ourselves we could finish a project of this scale.
It’s not exactly cool to make music inspired by the proggy stuff. Can you talk about what pushed you to pursue a sound so true to this?
To us, this is the coolest thing we could possibly be doing. We don’t particularly favor prog over the other genres that influence us, but that element of our sound really seems to resonate with people. There is a glowing sphere of sounds that we as a band love deeply- a venn diagram that informs what we do. I don’t think we could properly articulate all that it contains, but it makes perfect sense to us without needing to be spoken aloud.
Groups like Genesis and ELO are obvious influences here. What kind of roles have those groups played in your lives and what made you want to do a modern/psych take on that kind of music?
Everyone in our band has a different relationship with those groups. But what’s more important to us than those groups specifically is what they represent: The roller-coaster gut feeling of that perfect unexpected chord that Jeff Lynne inherited from the Liverpool gang. The intimate confessions of Peter Gabriel wrapped in the rhythmic and melodic gymnastics of Collins and Co. These elements are ingrained into our subconscious. We never set out to make anything like those bands but we understand the need for people to use them as reference points to describe some of our songs.
The songs on the album feel layered and composed yet still loose. What was the recording process like?
All the songs were tracked live initially, with drums and bass being kept and everything else re-recorded or overdubbed later. Many, many hours of chasing ideas and recording all of them. Then a process of paring away and getting down to what the song is really about. Some of our song-writing for this record was actually done after the initial tracks were recorded. A couple of songs were completely re-done by the end of the process because it took our journey of experimentation to truly find the vibe, sonics and feel of the song. We enjoy this part of the process as much as anything, even though it can be time consuming and even tedious at times. We ended up learning a great deal about our own work flow by the end.
As with most prog bands, there is a lot of composition and technical musicianship at play on the album. Can you explain what role each band member played in actually crafting the final piece?
We like to keep the specifics a bit vague when it comes to who played or wrote what. But behind the scenes there is a lot of collaboration and a fair amount of switching roles and instrumentation. Some songs are brought in fully formed, sometimes just a scrap of an idea is coaxed into an epic and some come spontaneously through improvising. Our roles become more designated once the actual music has taken shape in our rehearsal space and recording begins. While we do have some guest musicians on the record, including our current guitarist Raze Regal, Joel and Eli end up playing most of the instruments you hear on the record besides the drums. Raj did a majority of the engineering and production / sound sculpting and we all took part in the final arrangements.
Previous projects of the band seemed to dwell in a different area of 70’s rock. What made you want to pursue the sound on this album?
That “glowing sphere” we mentioned earlier? That was formed during the 15 plus years that we played together in different bands, in various combinations of our lineup, and the friendship that grew over that time. The sound was waiting for us for a long time, but we were busy doing other things. When we finally made it happen, it was so natural that it seems ridiculous that it took so long. But sometimes it takes awhile to realize the obvious.
Is there a central theme or idea that links all the songs on this album?
No central theme, but some re-occuring ones are dysfunctional relationships, psychological manipulation and floating unconscious in the inner void.
Lots of other styles of music have made comebacks with younger musicians. Do you think people will soon start doing the prog thing more or is it too hard to learn the instrumental parts?
The people that love it will find a way to do it. There’s an audacious arrogance to reaching beyond what you can accomplish that can make things very exciting.
What are you top five favorite prog bands?
There are just too many! Impossible to narrow it down to just rock/prog, but some of the ones we love are McDonald and Giles, Patto, Goblin, Magma, Earth Wind & Fire, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Terry Reid, ZZ Top, Thin Lizzy, Harry Nilsson, Fleetwood Mac, John Entwistle, George Duke, Tony Williams Lifetime, Tangerine Dream, Return to Forever, Gentle Giant, EGG, Le Orme, John Martyn, Chicago, Kate Bush, Matching Mole, Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, Stark Reality, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Rotary Connection, Stevie Wonder… the list goes on!!!