This is not his father Phil’s music. Not really. This goes beyond a realm that the genius of the band Genesis traveled across. But the progeny hasn’t fallen too far from the origin of his birth and Simon Collins, along with songwriting partner Dave Kerzner, have created quite a tasty pastry not only for your ears but your imagination via their debut CD with Sound Of Contact, their progressive rock outfit that tells the story of a Dimensionaut caught between Earthly and cosmic realities.
Prog rock has been making a comeback in recent years, after lying low as the big rock and pop stars soared up the charts and sold out the concerts. But bands such as the legendary Yes and gifted musicians like Steve Vai and Tosin Abasi have been quietly slipping the ethereal music back into our frequency. So the timing couldn’t be more perfect for a band like Sound Of Contact to make their emergence onto the scene. Collins, who has released three solo albums, and Kerzner could very well be this generation’s pied pipers.
Although SOC has had to postpone their North American tour until the spring, they continue to enthusiastically celebrate Dimensionaut, which was released at the end of May. “It’s always fun to take time out to discuss music,” Collins told me when they called in to talk about their album. “We always have fun with it.”
So, prog rock is not dead after all.
Simon: Absolutely not. It’s always been there and there’s been some great bands over the last decades. Both of us grew up on some of the great progressive rock bands – Pink Floyd, Genesis specifically for me growing up on tour, and it was an experience, an emotional, visual experience, and we want to bring that back. Certainly we’re one of many bands that want to carry the torch into the future.
And in today’s speeded-up songs and concerts, you don’t think people will mind sitting there for hours? Prog rock shows are usually pretty long.
Dave: I think that for our show, one of the cool things is we’re not one of those prog bands that just plays a lot of notes. We have some of that as well as just good old fashioned songs that people can sink their teeth into. In some ways, it’s an eclectic mix of all the things we like, which stems back to, say, The Beatles to modern alt rock a la Coldplay, Radiohead, Muse. So I think you go to any show with those bands and it’ll be an evening of music, either way. So with us, it’s the same thing, except you get a little edgier and more prog dynamics atmosphere and things like that.
I read in a recent interview where you said that Dimensionaut should be listened to with the headphones on. So I went back and I did that and it was like a whole new experience. It was more powerful that way, with no other distractions, just the music.
Simon: Thank you for that, that’s a huge compliment. Dave and I produced that album and certainly we’re big fans of albums like Dark Side Of The Moon. We actually listened to Dark Side Of The Moon in Surround Sound in 5.1. We tried to give the listener mental atmosphere and moods, not only taking you on a linear story through the lyrics and the vocals but it’s also a journey of the imagination and exploring the dimension of consciousness. And certainly we’re bringing that into the music and trying to do this on a grand scale sonically.
What came first – the story concept or did the individual songs start having a connecting pattern to them?
Dave: Well, Simon and Kelly Nordstrom, one of the collaborators on the album, came to Matt Dorsey and I with the idea of let’s do a concept album about a Dimensionaut. So we all got on board with that and wrote songs, even took song ideas we already had and put it on the table and worked on it within this concept. So we did start with the concept and built the lyrics around that. But the music came in all sorts of different forms when we were collaborating, absolutely, yeah.
Simon: And what was really interesting when we went into the studio to record, I think it was important that we left ourselves some breathing room and some wiggle room to surprise ourselves, but also more importantly to define the band’s sound. We had an amazing experience with a couple of songs, “Omega Point” for instance is probably the best example of how it really highlights the chemistry that we have between us. That song, in fact, was born out of a jam session and what you hear on the album is in fact the one and only take, the first and only take, of that song, apart from the lyrics and the vocals that we recorded afterwards. What you hear, though, is a song that was written on the fly and we recorded everything so we had a lot of moments like that that really reinforced why we’d come together to do this.
That is one of my favorite tracks.
Simon: Oh great. It’s one of our favorites too
Dave: Leslie, what are your other favorites, out of curiosity?
My very favorite was “Beyond Illumination,” because I really like how Hannah Stobart’s voice merges in and makes it almost surreal.
Simon: Yeah, that’s an emotional highlight for the album. The journey that we take you on on this concept album is really a cosmic love affair between this Dimensionaut, who is traveling all corners of the universe and you can only imagine some of the places he’s going and exploring and discovering, but all the while he is longing for his love back on Earth and trying to just maintain a sense of reality. And that’s one moment on the album where they actually connect and he’s talking to her in her sleep, in a way.
Dave: Hannah’s played with Steve Rothery from Marillion and she was just a tremendous help on that song and just blended with Simon really well. We’re very happy with how that came out.
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“I Am Dimensionaut” is another intriguing song.
Simon: That’s a real favorite for us, and a lot of fans as well. That was really exciting to do. It’s the moment in the album where I think he realizes he has this ability and he’s had this spiritual transformation. His eyes have been opened right up to the possibilities of being a Dimensionaut and we had a lot of fun with that.
You introduced the album with “Not Coming Down,” which was the first single. It’s a very powerful song, lyrically, then you have the video which kind of brings everything together. Why did you pick that song to release first?
Simon: Well, that’s a significant part of the story, also the catalyst for change, I guess, to put it lightly, in our character’s journey. You can say it’s a spiritual death or a physical death, however you want to interpret it. But, I think there’s a lot of meaning in the storyline. We wanted to introduce the character, first and foremost, and this is the beginning of his journey. So it’s relevant in that sense.
Dave: We did a music video for it and you get introduced to Simon playing the character Dimensionaut and we plan to do a video for every song on the album so in each of those you’ll see pieces of the puzzle coming together.
So, in other words, you’re building a movie.
Simon: Yeah, that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Dave: We’ll be releasing them over time. “Pale Blue Dot” is our next single release so that’s going to be the next episode. You can look at them like episodes of a movie, kind of a fun thing to follow along if you’re a fan. There’s almost like a film score element to the album, where a lot of people imagine this and imagine that. And we like to leave things open to interpretation so we’re not going to completely give away the farm and spell it all out. But just like in the video, you see this instant imagery, things that spark the imagination.
Simon: Absolutely. And we were also inspired a lot by science fiction films as well, Space Oddity, Contact; so it’s no wonder why we’re sonically inspired by that. There’re a lot of songs on the album, for sure, that have film score qualities.
Being self-proclaimed science-fiction nerds, who is your favorite author or book in that genre?
Simon: Carl Sagan, for me, is my favorite author. It’s a shame that he has passed away. But I’ve read most of his books, starting with Cosmos and Demon-Haunted World and of course Contact. If you go as far back as my debut solo album, you’ll hear that the closing track on every album that I’ve released is actually a tribute to Carl Sagan: “Light Years Away” from the debut, “Awesome Machinery” from Time For Truth, “Fast Forward The Future” from U-Catastrophe. These are all in honor of Carl Sagan. He opened my eyes right up and once your eyes are open it’s really hard to close them (laughs). Not that you’d want to.
Dave: For me, I’m a big film buff, and so is Simon actually. We love the films of Spielberg like Close Encounters or A.I., Minority Report; Star Wars of course; 2001: A Space Odyssey. There’s a lot of influence there, story-wise and imagery, and also from the film scoring aspect as well.
So out of all the books and stories you’ve read and movies you’ve seen, what invention or idea would you love to see become a reality?
Simon: That’s a great question
Dave: The actual ability to be a Dimensionaut
Simon: I think contact
Dave: Yeah, that would be great
Simon: I think for us to finally make contact, for it to be official, and for someone to be selected from the human race to go and meet the originators of that transmission.
Dave: Or even go further than that
Simon: For the cat to be out of the bag. I have my own thoughts on it but it certainly would be something else, that’s for sure.
How you end the video for “Not Coming Down” and how it pulls away from Earth and goes all out into outer space. Is that how you perceive leaving the body to be like?
Simon: There’re many different interpretations.
Dave: It’s funny because obviously that song and the album cover, actually, the album cover is technically a scene from the last song, “Mobius Slip,” but we don’t want to reveal too much of that now but you can use your imagination. Essentially in some ways this character is kind of like the monolith in 2001 in the sense that it’s symbolic as well. It’s infinity, of course, and it’s open to interpretation, but maybe it stands for a higher level of consciousness or consciousness itself. It could be a portal. But we leave that open for the listener to decide.
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You have obviously given this a lot of thought.
Simon: Well, we did a lot of research as well. Before we went into the studio we made sure that we were at least somewhat savvy on the science aspect of the science-fiction concept, researching cosmology, quantum physics, so and so forth, astronomy; even dabbled a little bit in conspiracy theory to keep the fiction side of it fringe and exciting. So yeah, we put a lot of thought. It was exciting to do all of it, every stage of it.
Progressive Rock kind of went away a little bit but now it’s coming back. Do you think of yourselves as maybe the new messiahs of progressive music? Bringing it back with a new twist?
Dave: I think if we thought that of ourselves we’d be in real trouble (laughs). But we’ve heard a few really nice complimentary things, reviews from people, individuals on iTunes and Amazon, saying this and that. I think ultimately for us, we just feel grateful to be where we are and to have experiences individually that we’ve had to bring us to this point. We’re proud of doing this style of music, doing our part in bringing this style of music back to the forefront in our way, which is to take it further, not just dig into the past and rehash it. To bring forth songwriting elements and sonic elements of the past and incorporate that with what we feel is maybe futuristic music, or at least modern music, and give it our own spin on it. We’re really excited about bringing that on the road as well, and so are a lot of people. It’s an exciting time.
Simon: Absolutely. I certainly wanted to bring back the art of the concept album to a new generation of listeners. I think what is so cool for us is wanting to make the music that we want to hear ourselves. We can’t seem to find it, or enough of it, anywhere else. We miss the days of Floyd and Genesis. It’s great to go back and listen to those records but it would be great if there were some more bands now taking that into the future, incorporating that, especially with the live shows as well. It’s certainly something we’re working on every day, working towards.
When you were recording this album, what was the most difficult thing to recreate from your imagination?
Simon: I think the biggest challenge, and I don’t think it was necessarily something that was extremely difficult to do, but the most challenging thing, cause certainly I’ve never done it or any of us have ever done before, was creating the consistency in the lyrics and the storyline and having that be something that the listener can understand, get a gist of, but not necessarily spell the entire storyline out; giving the listener enough so they can develop the main storyline but also gather their own interpretation at the same time. There are multi-layers here, there are many different interpretations that you can have of this story, which is how we designed it. But that was certainly a challenge for us lyrically; and also musically we wanted to have that concept come through the sonics of it as well as with the lyrics.
Dave: And also, to have a concept album but not isolate people to make it obscure and inaccessible, because the cool thing about it for us, and I think for the listeners, even if you’re not into progressive music, you can enjoy a song, and if you’re not into concept albums, you can enjoy a song on it’s own. A lot of these songs stand up on their own. They can be interpreted in different layers and different ways by themselves. You can look at it as a story of crossing that line of excess to the point of no return, you’re not coming back, and you don’t have to be a Dimensionaut to go and do that. You could just be someone walking down the street and in one flip you get hit by a car or somebody overdoses on drugs or anything. You’re not coming down, you’re too high and that’s it. So I think that in itself is a cool thing about what we’re doing and makes it a bit more wider appealing than just the niche prog market. But at the same time we’ve got a twenty minute track at the end (laughs)
Simon: I think there’s a little bit of everything in there for everyone.
What band in this genre do you think has made the biggest impact on it?
Dave: Recently, I’d say Steven Wilson has really done a lot to bring the prog back with both Porcupine Tree and now on his solo tour and albums. And a lot of people are excited about that. And of course the classics.
Simon: Yeah, it’s funny because everyone is going to think I’m biased (laughs) but I got to say one of my picks is definitely Genesis because they certainly pushed things forward, in the truest sense of the word progressive. The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway was an amazing album. They certainly reached a lot of people on this globe and it popularized the genre along with bands like Pink Floyd and Yes. I think that’s certainly one of the bands for me that had one of the biggest impacts.
Dave: Yeah, I think that when you say impact it’s like you got so many aspects of it and one of them is artistically to define the genre but the other is that ability to cross over and reach a wider market. We definitely admire all three bands that Simon mentioned, Genesis, Pink Floyd and Yes, for really being able to do that, to popularize the genre. But you know one of the things that inspires us as a band now is looking around and saying, well, where are those kinds of bands now that are really pushing the envelope and bringing everybody to this musicality and exploration and shows that have depth and imagination? That’s something we want, would love to do for the next generation of listeners is carry the torch or pass the torch, we’ll take it from here. We’d love to fill that role.
Simon, how is you dad doing?
Simon: Oh he’s doing great. He’s doing real well. And I got to say, he’s extremely excited about what’s happening right now for us. He’s going to be coming to some of the shows and he’s just been so supportive, along with the rest of the guys in the band, in Genesis. They’re very supportive. We’re always hanging out in London or wherever it is and he’s doing great. Thanks for asking.
If you could ask Carl Sagan one question, what would it be?
Simon: I’d like to know if he’s made contact himself. If Contact is based on a true story. And if HR Hadden was him (laughs). If he included himself in that story whatsoever.
Dave: If I could ask Carl Sagan a question, I’d ask him, where is he now?
So where do you think he is?
Simon: I think he’s probably in the realm of inorganic beings.
Dave: I think we are spiritual beings having a physical experience and our consciousness goes far beyond just what we perceive as a physical self. And that too is part of the story as well because it’s a spiritual journey.
Simon: Absolutely. Dimensionaut, in a sense, is a very spiritual story about the path to enlightenment, one human being’s path to enlightenment. So in a way we are all Dimensionauts. We just chose to write an album about one human being.
Dave: It’s a science fiction story but if you consider our existence and the way that we perceive it verses all the possibilities of time, space, dimensions, where we are, alternate realities, there’s so many things we’re just not consciously aware of at the forefront but there’s a lot of mystery to that just in everyday life.
Simon: True. Unfortunately, many of us are trapped in a world of the physical and there’s so much more. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. And that’s what “Beyond Illumination” is about.
Dave: And also, there’s going to be something really cool in the “Pale Blue Dot” video that kind of opens your eyes to that as well. That’s something to look forward to.
Simon: We are trying to push the boundaries of the human experience through what we do musically, lyrically, and if we can inspire someone to take a closer look from a different perspective, then I think we can consider ourselves to be successful.