Published on 1st January 2017
Adam Warne & Robin Johnson – Kyros
TPA’s Basil Francis was fortunate to witness the genesis of Kyros, or Synaesthesia as they were then known, back in 2013 at The Boerderij in the Netherlands supporting IQ. Says Basil:-
“On that night they brought the house down before their then GEP stablemates had even got started and their performance affected me far more than that of their heroes. Speaking to band founder Adam Warne at the time about the eponymous debut album, I was impressed at the confidence and self-awareness he exuded and could see that Synaesthesia would be a band to follow.
“Having kept in touch with Adam since, it’s been fascinating to see the steps involved in producing music first-hand and rewarding to finally listen to and review the final result, 2016’s Vox Humana. However, it’s been a fairly bumpy ride for the band since the first album, parting from GEP to become independent as well as changing their band name in the process. Nonetheless, Kyros have leapt over the various hurdles, and, with a clearer path ahead of them, now seem unstoppable, as Adam Warne and drummer Robin Johnson reveal…”
Hi there, Adam! How’s it going?
Adam Warne: Hi there, Basil! It’s going great! How are you?
Brilliant thanks. Did you have a good Christmas?
AW: I had a lovely Christmas, thanks. Spent it with my family. Lots of food. Lots of wine.
Excellent! I understand though that you’re back at work already?
AW: I never stopped working. It just kinda happens on a continual basis. No point in stopping. I like keeping myself busy. If I’m not doing anything then I begin to get a little miserable. That’s just me.
What have you and the band been up to today then?
AW: Today we tracked some drums at our good friend’s studio down in Maidenhead – Generation Studio. This is for a track on an upcoming release. We’ll be announcing details very soon.
Upcoming release? That’s exciting! Can’t you reveal anything here?
AW: Unfortunately not yet. At least not any specific details. We’re keeping things a little wrapped up until we finalise a few bits and bobs. But of course, we will indeed be announcing things soon. Lots planned.
Great! So, I’m sure you must’ve answered this question a lot, but the fans want to know: what triggered the name change from Synaesthesia to Kyros?
AW: There are so many other projects tied to that name. We also felt it was most appropriate to rename the band as we felt like a fresh start was in order. We had long moved on from the sound of the first album.
What is the sound of the first album to you now, looking back?
AW: In comparison to Vox Humana it’s much tamer and more ‘neat’ sounding. Polite, even. It was certainly a conscious decision to explore both heavier territory and softer palettes, especially with the contributions from the rest of the guys. There is much more light and shade, with more harsh and soft parts on this album compared to the debut.
How can you tell you’ve achieved that?
AW: Because that’s what it sounds like? Maybe. At least to us. It really was a matter of making direct comparisons between previous approaches and current approaches. Also, do bear in mind that all production decisions came down to us for Vox Humana whereas Synaesthesia was produced by Mike Holmes of IQ.
I’m curious now, just as you’ve been able to look back on Synaesthesia and expand from there, is there anything you perceive in Vox Humana that you’re looking to improve upon or change in approach to your next work?
AW: Good question. There are always areas to improve on. On a personal level, there’s always room for improvement. I’m continuing to push and develop my production and engineering skills – so I’ll certainly continue chasing the dream of achieving that ‘perfect’ drum sound. I’m also very conscious of what I write, stylistically – more than ever. I’m more and more cynical of those who claim to be progressive, yet are much more ‘regressive’ in my opinion. The aim is to always write more that continues to push the boundaries of the norm and challenge what the listener expects. The last thing I want is to become another version of a band that already exists.
I’m just quite interested to see the internal macerations of a band; seeing if change is a conscious or unconscious process. I wanted to know what made you settle on the name Kyros. When I told my father about your name change, he looked up from his game of Pokémon Go and asked: “What does that evolve into?”
AW: Does your dad play Pokémon Go? Nice!
Only occasionally! He can be a help taking over gyms, as he’s also Team Mystic.
AW: With regards to the conscious or unconscious process of change – it’s definitely a mixture of both. External influences and experiences can mould our way of writing in ways we may not necessarily be conscious of, whereas if tomorrow I woke up and said to myself, “you know what? I’m going to write the vocal part of this verse in a ’90s hip-hop-esque delivery” – then hey ho, that would certainly be a conscious decision. We picked the name Kyros after much discussion. We must have listed over a hundred potential names. Kyros was one of the first ones pitched – originally by Sam, actually. We liked the sound of it and the original meaning, so it stuck.
I’m not sure I know the original meaning of ‘Kyros’.
AW: Well, it derives from the original word ‘Kairos’ which is Greek for ‘in the moment’, or literally translated to ‘the opportune/divine moment’. We felt it suited nicely to our approach.
Oh nice, I think that suits the band better than Synaesthesia then! Does that mean my Synaesthesia hoodie is going to become a valuable collectors’ item?
AW: Sure, why not. That would be pretty cool!
Let’s get back to the album! Three years was certainly a long space between albums, wasn’t it? How has it been to be sitting on this music all that time?
AW: Painful. We all wanted to get this music out there and heard. We wanted to know if people liked it, hated it or whatever really – we simply wanted to know what people thought. We’re all certainly proud of what we’ve produced, so there is certainly a huge feeling of relief now that the album is finally out there. The ball is most certainly rolling now, and there is no stopping us.
Let’s hope the process is a lot quicker for the next album. Has the reaction to Vox Humana been as expected?
AW: It should certainly be a lot quicker, now that things are well and truly in our hands. With full creative and business control over our direction, it’s just a matter of balance and coordination from here on. With regards to Vox Humana, we always had somewhat of a positive feeling. It’s certainly been a hugely positive reaction so far and we’re very proud of that, especially given the challenges that faced us within the production of the album. We’ve been well and truly flattered by the positive comments from all around.
Can you elaborate on those production challenges for our readers?
AW: It seemed to be one challenge after another in terms of achieving the little goals in getting the album finalised. When it came to working with GEP, there was certainly a lack of movement because of disagreements on which direction certain elements of the album should take. We also had a lot of logistical and management problems that lead us to grind to an absolute halt. What we learned from all of this, above all, is that our chemistry and relationship as a band is very strong as we’ve remained on the same wavelength through each step of the journey. There have been no fights, no drama, nothing within the band – it’s always been external problems that we’ve faced. We definitely have a definitive idea of our direction, vision and goals.
Many bands have come to their demise over external disagreements, so it’s great to see Kyros powering through! Well done!
AW: Oh trust me, there are multiple moments where things got scary. We came close to things falling apart around us, but none of us was prepared to give up.
Wonderful! Now, let’s talk about the album proper. Besides some musical leaps and bounds that you mentioned earlier, I’d definitely say there’s some progress in the lyrical department also. Can you expand upon that?
AW: I’ve grown up since the first album. Do bear in mind that a lot of the first album was written when I was 18, so the tail-end of my teenage angst was still clutching on and making itself known. Since then, I’d like to think that I have matured and picked up more influence lyrically and vocally from other artists – having spent more time studying other singers and writers.
Any names you can drop in terms of influences?
AW: Matt Bellamy from Muse is certainly a huge one. Listened to a lot of Fish-era and Hogarth-era Marillion. Loads of Rush. I love Neil Peart’s lyrics. They’re fantastic. Tonnes of IQ as well. Have always loved Peter Nicholls’ vocals. Those are just some of the major influences.
Thematically, Synaesthesia seemed to be mostly about pain and sacrifice, with the final track, of course, framing things more positively. Vox Humana is a whole lot broader. Can you explain what some of the lyrical themes are on this album?
AW: Vox Humana is much more of a story-based album. Even verging on rock-opera territory with multiple character dialogue. I worked very closely with Joey to come up with the lyrics and the story of the album. Joey was the one who really spearheaded the theme and story arc of the entire album. Synaesthesia was much more of a loose concept based on personal experiences. Vox Humana explores the story of a man obsessed with technology, who eventually moves out of his parents’ home to the outer limits of the city away from society. With his knowledge of technology, he builds what he deems to be a perfect idea of a human companion. The first CD of the double album is told from the perspective of the original character and the second CD is mostly from the perspective of the creation, also known as ‘The Human Voice’
With track names like Monster, I assume that the creation doesn’t exactly go to plan.
AW: You are very correct with your assumption. His creation ends up questioning their own existence and melts down in his own cognitive dissonance of feeling positive human emotions that are shunned by his maker as they are too similar to the ‘monsters’ back in his home city. Why is he feeling these positive emotions when he is taught that they are so incredibly negative? I also like the idea of genuine raw human emotion being too much for a computer to handle. Hence one of the lyrics in the last track, Dilate being “too much thought for CPU” and “Human mind’s for human souls”.
Have you heard Karn Evil 9 by Emerson, Lake and Palmer? There’s something very similar going on in 3rd Impression. You’ve definitely fleshed this idea out more, though. What does a lamb, badger or bee have to do with the proceedings?
AW: Oddly enough, I’ve not listened to much ELP so, unfortunately, I can’t say much on that matter. I really should listen to more though. The Lamb, the Badger & the Bee is on the first half of the double album so is very much from the perspective of the technology-obsessed character who we know as ‘The Maker’. This track, in particular, is about his dislike for his family with each of the animals representing a family member. The Lamb being the timid mother, the Badger being the grouchy individual who keeps to themselves and the Bee representing a busy worker who doesn’t stop. This being The Maker.
Ah, I see! Very clever, sometimes these things are lost on me.
I understand your drummer Robin is with you, how’s it going?
Robin Johnson: Hi Basil, I’m very well, thanks! How are you?
Fantastic! I wanted to know a little more about your background, as you’re clearly a seasoned drummer. How old are you?
RJ: I’m 24!
Excellent, there certainly aren’t enough people our age into progressive rock these days, wouldn’t you agree?
RJ: Yeah, I definitely agree but suppose I would say that. I think it has to do with quite a number of things such as marketing, fashion, the mediums through which people listen to music and how that’s changed over the years. And then, of course, there’s the argument over whether a lot of the so-called progressive music made today really is progressive, or whether it’s more regressive and recycles what a lot of previous progressive bands have already done. It’s kind of a paradoxical situation. So to someone who’s not really familiar with that kind of music, I can see it being pretty confusing as to what progressive rock even is. I got into it primarily because my dad was into that kind of music, leading to me forming a bond with it too. A lot of kids have this urge to get as far away from their parents’ music taste as possible but that streak never existed in me. But yeah, I can definitely see why it’s challenging getting to know progressive music. But if you go for the best examples of it done well, like with any genre, it can be extremely rewarding.
Sounds like you’ve been a prog fan for a while then! I’d be interested to know your favourite bands.
RJ: I enjoy listening to bands in all kinds of genres, to me it’s all good and bad music according to my taste and (with maybe one or two exceptions) I never write off a band or artist based on the type of music they play. But if you’re talking about my favourite progressive rock bands, the first ones that come to mind would be Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree, Yes and Rush. There’s no doubt that those bands had a huge impact on me as a musician and as a general person.
As a drummer myself, I learned a lot of techniques when I started getting into prog rock, mainly from Mike Portnoy. I usually get a very familiar sense when I listen to music where he’s drumming as if he’s doing something I would have done (if I had enough skill and accuracy of course.) Are there any drummers that you hold in a similar regard?
RJ: Yes absolutely! I know exactly what you mean about Mike, he has a very distinct way of feeling time and you can definitely tell every time it’s him on a recording, the way he places the notes is unique to him. My favourite progressive rock drummer, and possibly my all round favourite drummer, is Gavin Harrison. His groove, musicality and dexterity always shine through on everything he plays on. He came in and, in my opinion, set the bar to a whole new level when it came to drumming in progressive rock music. The idea that you can always groove, even in the most extreme time signature changes – it was certainly revolutionary to me. His drumming became an important benchmark for me. Other drummers that I feel a similar way about are Marco Minnemann, KJ Sawka, Vinnie Colaiuta and my drum teacher Ralph Salmins. I look up to players like these for inspiration for sure, they’re about as elite as you can get!
Has the style of Synaesthesia/Kyros music been an adjustment for you, or is it something you’re used to playing?
RJ: Fortunately because of my leaning towards progressive rock, particularly in my teenage years, the skills required for the type of music Synaesthesia were playing were already reasonably ingrained in me. I never played in a band of this kind growing up – I played in orchestras, jazz bands and a more straight ahead rock band called That Darn Sasquatch but I always wanted to see what it would be like to be in a more progressive band. So I had the enthusiasm, the musical knowledge and the practice under my belt and fortunately, it was enough. With any new musical project, there has to be an adjustment to a degree – there’s no way bands would ever form chemistry if that wasn’t the case. But I don’t think the adjustment I had to make was as great for Synaesthesia as it possibly would be for other projects.
Wonderful, it’s been really lovely to hear your perspective, Robin.
Adam, when are we likely to see the band on tour again?
AW: We’re working on plans at the moment, but as with everything – it’s a matter of things falling into place nicely. We should be making further announcements soon. The only gig announcement we’ve made so far is our return to RoSfest in the U.S. in May 2017. We’re all really looking forward to this.
Well, I certainly hope to see you in the near future anyway. It’s been a pleasure speaking to you both. All the best!
AW: Thanks, Basil! It’s been a pleasure.