Interview with Gilbert Marshall of Magic Pie from 2011
It’s so nice to meet you, Gilbert. Tell us about your background and what led you to progressive music?
Thank you, Grant and the same to you.
Well, as a kid I listened to all kinds of stuff that my older sisters were playing. The Beatles, Neil Young, Ten Years After, Janis Joplin, Cat Stevens, The Monkees, The Mamas & the Papas and lots more. My parents were deeply into Rodgers and Hammerstein´s musicals of all sorts, and also some jazz, Errol Garner, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson and more.
I then grew into listening to rock and pop with bands such as Slade, Sweet, T-Rex, Kiss, Deep Purple, and I also became a huge fan of Uriah Heep, which I guess was my favourite band at the time. This happened to be the band standing on stage when I first attended one of the larger concert halls in Oslo. In contrast, I was also heavily into Cat Stevens, which is a significant part of my story.
It actually was an American by the name of "Kevin" who first got me into prog. When I started the sixth grade, this boy from the eastern USA came to live with his Norwegian mother and ended up in my class. We quickly became friends and he was to start the whole thing, really. One day he put on a record with the most intriguing cover art. Out came the most powerful potent organ sounds and unique music I’d ever heard. This was ELP´s Tarkus. Wow! He had other ELP records, too, and also introduced me to the Dutch band, Focus.
It turned out he, too, was a big fan of Cat Stevens, and if that wasn´t enough, he was actually playing Cat Stevens songs on his own acoustic guitar. My only musical background at that point was to tinker on the old piano standing in the basement amidst lots of rubbish.
After listening to Kevin playing his guitar, I asked him if I could learn the guitar. He said, “Sure!” He lent me his guitar along with a Cat Stevens songbook with dotted chord symbols. That was to become the start of it all. I quickly learned several CS songs, attended a guitar class at school, and was soon in my first band playing the electric guitar. I had rehearsal facilities at my parents’ house, driving them crazy! So, I also fiddled with the bass and the drums. My first live gig at a school concert was actually playing bass while covering Jimi Hendrix´s “Hey Joe,” among others.
My parents by this time had purchased a better piano and placed it in our living room. I taught myself how to play chords and melodies and that was the start of what was to become the keyboard thing. I never did have any formal training while learning the piano!
By this time, I was listening more to ELP, of course, plus Focus, Genesis, Yes, some early Roxy Music, Led Zeppelin and more. And, I became and am a huge fan of Camel.
I played guitar in a couple of local bands and configurations until the age of 17. Then, someone broke into our rehearsal place and stole my guitar and equipment. To my surprise, there was insurance courtesy of my parents’ foresight, and they let me have the insurance money to buy a new guitar and accessories.
But, I didn’t buy a new guitar. Instead I bought a used Elka string ensemble, a Korg MS-20 monophonic synth, a used Philicordia portable organ and a small Leslie 825 as amplification. After this I was hooked, and I played keyboard at several high-school shows, even though I actually never attended high school. I became the musical advisor / leader of the shows and also played with several local bands and combos as a keyboard player.
During the years I expanded. I bought and sold different keyboard gear, including a Fender Rhodes, Korg Polysix, Minimoog, Yamaha CP-70 Electric Grand, just to mention a few.
MSJ: I know Magic Pie to be a very musical and proficient progressive rock band, but many, particularly Americans, aren’t familiar with band. Tell us about the band’s musical roots. How did the group come to be and develop over the past decade?
I did a lot of computer based music on my own in the nineties. I got a gig playing at a local guitarist’s wedding, I think in 1995. He did some jamming with me at this wedding reception with me on midi/keyboards/drums while he displayed some amazing guitar licks. I remember saying to myself that I just had to play in a band with this guy some day. But, he beat me to it! In 2001, this guitarist called me and said, “Hi! This is Kim Stenberg. Do you want to join me in creating a new progressive rock band?”
We all got together, as he also had invited Eirik, JT and our former bass player, John. We started out jamming on a couple of Kim’s ideas, which were more like pop rock songs with a twist. Then we decided to pick one cover song each from other bands which we liked. It was a mixture of Deep Purple meets The Flower Kings, plus a couple of other songs. After playing “Child in Time” and “Ghost of the Red Cloud” numerous times in several rehearsals, I strongly suggested that if we were to become a real band, we should produce our own original songs. Everyone agreed. and Kim went to work composing our first prog song called “Illusions & Reality,” and then the ball began to roll.
Over the decade it slowly came into place. All of us were family men with steady employment, so things took time as this was to be considered a hobby band, even though we had ambitions. We had our first gig as a five piece band in 2004. Our first bass player quit the band after a while, and we got hold of Lars who was to become our permanent bass player. In the midst of recording the songs for Motions of Desire in 2004 and 2005, Allan Olsen also joined the team as singer and guitarist.
We first released Motions of Desire by ourselves with a 1,000 copies, and were overwhelmed by the immediate reactions from the audiences. We re-released the album through Progress Records of Sweden and things started to roll. We attended several Norwegian gigs, a very cool gig at a progrock festival, “Slottsskogen Goes Progressive,” in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2005. Then we were invited to play at Rosfest in 2006. This was, and still is, a huge thing for us. And we certainly never could have anticipated the reaction from the Rosfest 2006 audience entering the festival as a “Sunday Morning Surprise,” as they called it. Almost immediately after returning from Rosfest, we acted as support for Saga at a key music hall in Oslo, Norway, and did a gig along with Magenta in another Norwegian city.
This led us to start recording Circus of Life as Kim already had many new songs and ideas. To our great joy, we were re-invited to Rosfest in 2007. We had the album ready for release by the time of the festival and the performance was, yet again, a great experience. We also attended the “Sweden Rock Festival” in the summer, amongst other gigs.
During fall of 2007 and winter and spring of 2008, Allan had decided to quit the band for personal reasons. He was, in fact, the one who recommended Eirikur Hauksson, who shortly joined us for rehearsals and then later joined the band. We consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have landed him as singer and guitarist.
We had some great gigs in summer and fall 2008, breaking in Eirikur and playing local gigs. We spent a weekend in the UK playing for the Classic Rock Society, and at Symforce Festival in Tilburg, Netherlands. It was a great experience for all of us.
We then decided to start recording was to become The Suffering Joy in June 2009. We were working hard at this when disaster struck on March 11, 2009. The barn that housed my recording studio, Progstock Studio, which also was our rehearsal facility for Magic Pie, burned down to the ground. We held a crisis meeting the same evening. Although we had to cancel out a local gig and lost an exciting opportunity to play in Spain at Easter time, we decided to go for the gig at Rosfest 2010, only about 45 days later. This put enormous pressure on me, because at this point all of my gear was totally gone and I didn’t even have a cable left. I managed through some preliminary insurance money to purchase a similar keyboard rig and programmed it for playing at Rosfest. Whew!
These were indeed dramatic times for the band. For myself, I just focused heavily on the upcoming gig at Rosfest, which was fantastic. When I came home from the US, you could say I fell apart emotionally and have struggled a lot throughout 2010 and also through winter and spring of 2011. I also suffered severe back injuries and a broken leg, which added to the mess.
Nevertheless, in order to finish the album, in August of last year Kim came over to my place and we managed to record the last of the keyboard work of “In Memoriam” and “A Life’s Work.” In the meantime, Eirikur, Eirik and Kim recorded the rest of the vocals. We only lost a few vocal pieces and some other minor stuff in the fire, so most of the previous recordings were intact. Kim went to work mixing the album at his home studio, and by the middle of December 2010, the album was ready for mastering.
Because my leg was in a cast up to my knee, we had to cancel the initially planned release gig at John Dee in Oslo, but we had a small local acoustic concert just after the cast came off in January 2011. We did, however, mark the release with a small tour in the middle of April, playing three gigs along with the singer and guitar player of The Flower Kings, Hasse Fröberg and his band, Musical Companion. The final gig was our CD release performance at John Dee. And that’s where we stand at this point!
MSJ: Who were your biggest influences, musically speaking, in your approach to writing and playing?
When we gathered for the first rehearsal in late fall of 2001, it soon became evident that our musical backgrounds were scattered all over the field. But we had some common ground like Dream Theater, The Flower Kings, Saga, Genesis, Yes, Deep Purple, Marillion just to mention some. Kim listened to a lot of the newer stuff and JT, Eirik and myself were more old-school. The bass player at that time was John Kamphaug, who didn’t have any particular roots in prog. Kim was heavily into Steve Vai and numerous guitar players, and had discovered prog metal through Dream Theater, but soon discovered even more when he found The Flower Kings, which I think was a turning point for him. JT had bands like Saga and Deep Purple inspiring his drum playing. Eirik was very Beatlesque with various influences. During previous years while doing “computer-gigging,” I started re-listening to Genesis, Yes, Marillion and others, and also discovered Dream Theater and The Flower Kings. I had also come across IQ, Pendragon and other newer prog acts during the nineties.
MSJ: Tell us more about your bandmates and their characteristics that allow you to play as a band.
Well, I could start quoting a couple of lines from “Circus of Life, Part 4.” “I’ve a story or two that could lead me to ruin, but I’ve kept them inside, safe from myself.” Like all bands out there, I guess Magic Pie is no different when it comes to personalities. Since most of us are working men, you could say we are a small community, complete with a sales manager, two taxi drivers, a mechanic, a computer nerd, a teacher, a genuine rock star, and all hands still intact!
Kim has been the driving force all along since the beginning, initiating the band and providing the most of the songwriting. Of course, this is apart from the fact that he is also a great guitar player. Both JT and myself have contributed a couple of songs. We have a rough, edgy rock voice in Eirik and a rock steady rhythm section in LP and JT. Last, but not least, Eirikur, is the most experienced of us, giving us a great vocal front sound with his tremendously powerful voice and his excellent guitar work.
Kim and I provide the melodic interplay with guitar and keyboards. We also have quite different approaches to music. As Kim is a more “modern” guitarist, he ranges from the slowest of playing to the fastest, incendiary licks. On the other hand, I´m more of an “old-school” keyboard player, and seem to have grabbed most of my chops from the seventies with sounds akin to the Hammond B3, minimoog, and mellotron. My influences there are Ken Hensley, Jon Lord, Rick Wakeman and Pete Bardens, just to mention a few. This poses for an interesting blend of influences, now proven to be a quite potent mix.
MSJ: I had a wonderful time familiarizing myself with the music of Magic Pie with Motions of Desire and Circus of Life. The new release, The Suffering Joy, strikes me as a more integrated work, an epic story of sorts. Tell me about the inspiration for the story and the music, the creative process, etc.
Apart from Circus of Life, which was about life more in general, Kim had this strong idea for an album theme regarding a more personal pitch as seen through the eyes of an individual.
He originally wanted to do this as a solo album, but as he didn’t want to spend time away from the band recording this, he asked us to record this as a Magic Pie album, and still allow him to have creative control. So, we all ended up playing on his material, making this the third Magic Pie album. The creative process lay in the hands of Kim as he produced and mixed the entire album by himself. We, of course, had our artistic freedom as individual musicians, except for some minor musical points from Kim. So, it really makes this album not too different from the other albums, and is a true Magic Pie album.
Originally it wasn’t meant to go this way, as we were to interact more with the recording of this album. But, with all things that happened in 2010, I was less able to contribute studio time. I really enjoyed the recording of this album, but I didn’t have the strength to help see it through as in the past. Kim stepped up in a major way!
Except for Eirikur providing some of the lyrics, Kim had to nearly break his own back with engineering and mixing this release. With the multitude of recording input tracks, it was an enormous task to accomplish. We didn’t have any of the equipment from the studio. Hell, we didn’t have any studio at all, and Kim was forced to tweak this album on his home ProTools setup with quite modest tools at his disposal.
However, he did a fantastic job, and the album turned out sounding really good. But bear in mind, this album is literally shaped by blood, sweat and tears. It definitely became a great Magic Pie album and we are all really proud of it.
MSJ: The band is not only playing at a very advanced level instrumentally, but all of you sing, and clearly there is some fundamental classical training in your backgrounds. The vocal phrasing is elegant and very dynamic, with excellent technique matching the instrumental virtuosity. Can you give us some detail about that?
Well, thank you, Grant. Actually, the fundamental classical training you speak of would be that of listening to classic rock in all forms! I don’t think any of us have any official training in singing. We just sing!
Eirikur has tremendous experience from singing with lots and lots of bands in all kind of settings, and he is a most excellent singer, indeed. For my part, I can say that ever since I was a small boy, I was singing along to everything, whether on the radio, on records or just plain singing on my own. I think that goes for all of us. Take Eirik, for instance. In between songs at rehearsal, you can always hear him fiddling with his acoustic guitar, singing bits and pieces of Beatles songs. We actually haven’t been able to stop him from doing that! LP (Lars) never does any of the lead voices, but is growing more and more confident as he fills out the songs with vocal fills and harmonies. The only one not singing is JT. He never volunteered as he never considered himself to be a singer, and it has stayed that way.
As for Kim, it is somewhat different. In the early days of the band, he hardly sang at all or stayed about three feet away from the microphone. That has changed dramatically. On both Circus of Life and The Suffering Joy he is singing lead parts with multiple harmonies, so he has really grown as a singer, also. He has become a confident singer and has a great voice.
MSJ: Magic Pie has been on the scene for ten years. How do you consolidate this past experience, and what do you now do to push the envelope even further?
Being in Magic Pie nearly a decade now certainly has left its tracks. Working so closely together almost makes for a “family” setting, and as you know, it is never quiet within a family. It represents all kinds of moods and nuances derived from different personalities. One day there is pure joy, the next day it’s rain. We have been through all kinds of emotions, anger, laughter, sorrow, euphoria, etc. But, Ten years have passed and we are still here, all in one piece, more or less!
It would be a dream come true for us if we were to be able to go on the road and play more live gigs every year. We still hope to be discovered by larger audiences, but we are very proud of what we have achieved so far. Even though a small band, we have fans literally from all over the world and it is very exciting every time someone new pops in on our websites saying they enjoy our music.
We already have talked of starting the composition and recording of a fourth album, and if things go like we hope, we will start recording again in 2012. We are not too far into what this will be about, at least not publicly, yet. We are going to do a couple of things differently, just as we did with The Suffering Joy. It was a great experience, but it took some toll on all of us with the fire, the health issues and the differences in personalities present within the band during 2010 and parts of 2011. You could say at some point we were awfully close to quitting, and we really struggled for a while. We addressed the issues, and I can say we are all very glad that those days have passed. Instead of dwelling on the hardships, we see ourselves entering a new phase of “Magic Pie-baking!” We have rediscovered the spark and are all ready to go further as a band and as human beings, working even more closely together in the future.
MSJ: What are you listening to lately that you find enjoyable or inspirational?
For the last couple of years, I’ve been listening to a lot of different stuff from IQ, Porcupine Tree, Neal Morse, The Tangent, some of the newer Opeth stuff, but also the old classic bands like Yes, Genesis, Rick Wakeman, and for my part, a lot of Camel.
MSJ: What are your thoughts on the industry as it stands, and what would you like to see happen to get progressive music into the public’s ears on a much larger scale?
The music industry is completely a mess. People in general are no longer interested in buying CDs and everyone is pretty much satisfied with mp3s, which is a shame because of the poorer sound quality. The industry has only itself to blame. They have been milking the system and living off the gravy. They have poured out music way too highly priced, not being interested in anything other than sales figures. The artists are not the ones that have been making lots of money, but some of the larger record companies do. It seems like there is a change in the air, and record companies are being forced to restructure their whole approach to distributing music.
One can only hope for a true renaissance within the prog scene, and that the larger record companies aid making the prog sound more available to bigger audiences, like in the 1970s. Back then, it was quite normal to have a stable of bands allowed to grow, not focusing so much on money. It never should be about the money, as some seem to think, but about the sheer joy of making music for the fun of it, sharing emotions through music in all corners of the world. After all, music is the only true universal language out there relaying human emotions and crossing all national barriers.
Some have already started with the London-based High Voltage Festival, being a classic festival with multiple choices of styles for the listener, including prog. It would be nice to see arenas like Rockpalast in Germany come to life with a progressive scene again. The bigger festivals in the UK like Glastonbury and Reading should all do their bit in bringing in more acts than only the mainstream bands. At least that’s a good thought.
There is also an awakening regarding the thought-to-be-lost vinyl records. We have had some discussions on this and we can only hope that we eventually will be able to publish all Magic Pie albums as LPs. You cannot download a vinyl record and the sound is often better than CD, so let’s hope. And, there is something timeless and magical with vinyl LP records, as well.
MSJ: And, finally, ask yourself a question of your own choice and answer it.
Would I like for Magic Pie to come back to USA (and the rest of the world) and play more gigs? Yes, most definitely! And, would I like a beer now after revisiting the whole Pie experience? Yes, I would most definitely!
Thanks for the interview, Grant. I hope I have shed some light on the inside workings of Magic Pie. I also want to say to all our fans around the world, we love you all and hope you will keep following our next steps, along with the already baked goods. We are having the greatest of times making music. You all make it very worthwhile listening to Magic Pie songs. You make us want to play more! Cheers!