Tony Patterson and Doug Melbourne originally met in the Genesis tribute band ReGenesis and have previously released Peter Gabriel cover projects, but recently they decided to get together to write and produce an album of original material – the result was the imminent excellent album The Divide, which The Progressive Aspect have also reviewed. Tony and Doug recently had a conversation with Leo Trimming of TPA to talk about their backgrounds, what inspired The Divide and their hopes for the album.
Can you please tell us about your musical backgrounds – what previous bands or projects have you may have been involved in? What instruments did you learn and how did you get into playing music?
Doug: I’ve been playing the piano since the age of four, and started lessons at 6. Over the years, I’ve played in lots of bands (my first, called Tracer, included Steve Hackett and Camel covers!). Most notably The Guvnors, a blues band of some note, and of course ReGenesis, the Gabriel-era tribute band I set up in 1994. I literally cannot remember a time when music has not been a part of my life. I studied piano and organ. I only really play keyboards, but I did learn violin for a year and am more than capable of getting horrible squealing noises out of it!
Tony: I had piano and flute lessons at school. I started out on trumpet but my tutor said I was struggling to get enough puff! I was playing in school bands from a very early age, and eventually played keyboards on the club circuit. I’ve always dabbled in writing original music. My first original band I played in was Carillon – prog rock! These were the days before virtual instruments and I remember us going to this guy’s house to look at a Mellotron which was for sale. We were really into the Mellotron Choirs. However, this was a MK2 and didn’t have the choirs (although the guy selling it did advise us to “make our own”!). In 1990 I was working in a band where the guitarist was a graphics designer for an ad agency. The agency needed some music for the launch of a new car at Birmingham NEC and the guitarist asked me if I wanted a stab at it! That was my first foray into media music! (Editor’s Note: Tony Patterson has a parallel career creating original music for T.V. and films.)
What are your main musical influences / loves?
Doug: In no particular order – Elton John, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Pat Metheny Group, Talking Heads, Massive Attack, Police/Sting, Bebel Gilberto, Shostakovitch, Bach, Stravinsky, Nat King Cole, Miles Davis. I could go on…
Tony: I was always a big fan of film music from a very early age. As I reached my teens I got into the likes of Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Rush and so on.
Tell us how you met each other and why did you decide to make this album together?
Doug: We met through ReGenesis when Tony joined the band as lead singer. Since he joined, we have collaborated on the occasional studio project so although it took a long time to get around to it, making a completely original album together seemed like a natural progression from the other work we have done together.
Tony: We’d always worked on various projects throughout the years, especially the Peter Gabriel cover projects (Ed. – 2018’s Excellent Words). I remember saying to Doug, “how do you feel about doing something original?” And that was the start of it really!
How does the songwriting process work between you both? What comes first? Is it the music or the words?
Doug: There are some variations – for instance, Making it Great Again was a song that I had at least 50% completed beforehand and Leave This Town was a song that Tony had mostly completed – but otherwise, we had an iterative approach. Generally, I would start off with a basic backing track. Tony would create melodies and add some improvised lyrics. I would often take some of those improvisations and incorporate them into the lyrics. Tony would then add his vocals, further instrumentation and production, and voila! So – the music came first in most cases, although I often had some sort of subject matter in my head.
Tony: It’s usually the song structure. I’ll usually ad-lib a melody over the bones of what Doug sends over and the song just develops from there really.
Tell us about what inspired your new album, and is there a general underlying theme? Why is it called The Divide and what are your hopes for the album?
Doug: It’s called The Divide because we were thinking about the North/South divide that is so much talked about. I live in the South West, Tony in the North East so we’re literally at opposite ends of the country! But I think there are other ‘divides’ in the album too, such as the divide between fact and fiction, between this generation and the next, between technology and natural experiences, and so on. There isn’t exactly an underlying theme but I see it as a similar experience to picking up a magazine and reading articles on the current preoccupations of our age, including Global warming, right-wing populism and fake news. My hopes for the album are that it reaches a wide audience! Although our influences are possible to hear on the album, I believe this is a collection of highly accessible songs which could appeal to many. After that, I would like to buy a private island and lock myself away in a cave, eating cakes!
Tony: I would like to reach a wider audience with this one. The songs are so accessible and would appeal to a bigger audience, I think.
What drew you to those contemporary political and social issues as song subjects, and what would you say to those that feel politics and music should not mix?
Doug: The subjects kind of suggested themselves – they’re all things that we come across every day in media and in our real lives. I’ve always felt that the responsibility of an artist is to be driven by the ideas that inspire them, not by what they think people will like. That’s why there are so many songs in the world about love, and why there are indeed a couple of love songs on the album. Most people are inspired by love and that’s great! But other than that – an artist should be able to write about whatever they want, and if political ideas are what inspire them – go for it. I am very grateful to artists such as Peter Gabriel who certainly increased my political awareness in the Eighties. As a sheltered boy from Pinner, I was only exposed to the horrors of the Apartheid regime through songs like Biko and Free Nelson Mandela. I would much rather listen to a passionate, moving song like Magdalena Laundries by Joni Mitchell, than What an Atmosphere by Russ Abbot. I’m not sure Russ’s heart was really in it!!
Tony: I don’t mind politics and music mixing. As long as it’s not too preachy!
Are there any particular books, films or T.V. that may have significantly influenced your music?
Doug: I guess that my favourite authors and films come over in some ways. In which case – for authors, it’s most definitely Haruki Murakami, James Ellroy, David Mitchell (the author, not the comedian!) and Iain Banks. I love the films of Christopher Nolan and his fascination with non-linear time and technology, such as Memento and Inception. I’ve actually met Iain Banks (sadly now departed) and David Mitchell, and something they both shared was a huge love of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway!
I have been enjoying this album, particularly Man on TV – can you tell me more about that song?
Doug: Musically, it follows the pattern of several other songs on the album – the song started out life as a simple synthesiser pulse sequence on which I built some chords. In fact, the working title was Pulser. The song then followed the iterative process described earlier, I especially like the gospel feel we achieve at the end. Lyrically, it’s inspired by two things – an improvised lyric by Tony (“Here I am, I’m the Man on TV”) and watching a cable show with my dad – one of those shows exploring conspiracy theories such as aliens are among us, Titanic was faked, the Moon landings were faked and political leaders are secretly Illuminati. There’s a fair amount of humour in that song, both musically and lyrically. The line “No-one knows what’s real anymore” is quite poignant, I think.
Tony: When we were doing this song I knew it needed to have a big sound. There are also lots of little bits going on, including a reference to a famous UFO film from 1977!
The song More Beautiful is… well, beautiful! Are you able to tell us who may have inspired you to write such a lovely song… or would you rather that remained personal to you?
Doug: It’s a love song! It’s about being in a relationship for the long haul. I think Tony and I are at similar places in our lives in that respect and it’s interesting that you don’t often hear songs about the experience of love over time. Most songs are about the beginning or end of a relationship – you know… “The moment she walked in the bookies wearing those wellies, I knew she was for me”, or “Baby! Don’t leave me! That chicken’s a liar!”
So I wanted to write a song about what it was like to be in love for a long time. It wasn’t an easy song to write. I am much more comfortable writing about aliens or horrible politicians than I am about my own feelings! But if you don’t explore your own feelings then there’s no point in writing it. The challenges of writing a love song from my point of view are:
– Writing a song that is personal and genuine,
– Not making it SO personal that people can’t share the feelings expressed and equate them with aspects of their own experiences,
– Avoiding clichés. There are a billion love songs out there so it’s easy to descend into paths that are very well-trodden indeed. Which renders them meaningless
Your album touches on some rather depressing themes such as environmental concerns or populist politicians so in contrast what inspired the bright optimism of the song Next Generation?
Doug: Bizarrely, although I’m a naturally cynical, questioning person, I’m also an optimist. I believe in the next generation. Our age group spend much too much time slagging off the ‘yoof’ of today, accusing them of being lazy and just mucking about on Instagram and Twitter all day (very hypocritically, I might add). There are lots of things I like about the next generation – their sense of internationalism, their lack of prejudice, their general acceptance of the notion of equality. And they’ve got a BIG job to do. Our generation has left them Global Warming, right-wing populism, empty pension funds… the list goes on, while we’ve squandered the planet’s resources on ghastly World cruises and gas guzzling cars. There are also things I DON’T like about the Next Generation of course – the ease with which they beat me at Call of Duty and their hideous pop music. Those things will have to be covered in a future song.
Are there any plans to play your material live?
Doug: I would love to play our songs live! I think many of them would work really well in a live context, although they would need changes to the arrangements in some cases. I think a song like Man on TV would be amazing. Tony could dress up as the Man on TV, or an alien, and… oh no! I’ve fallen into a Prog Rock cliché! We have discussed it a bit, but no solid plans as yet.
Tony: It would be fun to do but a bit difficult logistically, I think. But you never know!
Do you have any other musical projects in the pipeline, such as a follow-up to Tony’s excellent collaboration with Brendan Eyre, Northlands?
Doug: Outside of The Divide, we are talking about ‘getting the band back together’, the band in question being ReGenesis, and are already working on new material for a possible second album – a follow up to The Divide! We have definitely tapped into a creative seam, and we have a great way of working together so it would be a shame if we didn’t do it all again.
Tony: Well we already have ideas for another album! The follow-up to Northlands is still in the pipeline but there are no firm plans when we’ll pick it up again.
What are your views on the modern music industry, including the pros and cons of streaming?
Doug: My views on the modern music industry are as follows:
– Too many basic singer/songwriters that don’t really add to the sum total of new ideas on the planet. I’d like to see more in the way of interesting bands, collaborations and experimental stuff. There’s a myth that mainstream audiences can’t appreciate original or groundbreaking music – if that was the case, how do we explain that three of the best selling albums of all time are Tubular Bells, Dark Side of the Moon and OK Computer? We need to challenge our audiences, not mollycoddle them.
– Streaming is great but it doesn’t pay artists fairly. A solution to this must be found if songwriting and recording is to remain a viable business, and not just a corporate exercise for a few major league artists. It has the potential to liberate music in terms of giving independent artists access to mass markets, but also the potential to destroy it as a viable career.
Tony: I think there is a lot of lazy writing these days. I love to hear an original spark in a song! That could be the way the chord changes, a great melody or sometimes just great production! The streaming thing does bug me somewhat but it’s not going to go away. However, I do think there needs to be a solution found where the artist is paid fairly.
What is your view on the use of musical technology such as programming and auto-tune?
Doug: Too much Autotune! Autotune is great if used sparingly to ‘fix’ otherwise great vocal performances, or as a special effect (as we do on One More Thing), but too much and it removes character and passion from a voice. Less robotic vocals, please! Generally, technology can be good but it depends on how you are using it – are you using it to extend your ability to realise your ideas, or to cover up a lack of them? Our album wouldn’t have been possible without the technology to share ideas and send each other finished tracks.
Tony: For some reason programming seems to have become a dirty word! I think in the right hands, technology is great for producing music. Autotune is fine if it’s used creatively. Much the same way you’d use a guitar effect on a guitar.
If you could work with any band or artist of any era who would you choose and why?
Doug: I’d definitely love to have been in the musical scene in London or New York in the late sixties/early seventies. Lots of experimentation, lots of great musicians! In terms of a specific band? Dunno, I think I’d have fitted in with a band like Yes.
Tony: George Formby!
Britain will soon have a new Prime Minister (a depressing thought in itself, I know!) – but if you somehow became Prime Minister what musical policies would you bring in to place asap?!
– Tough on Bieber, tough on the causes of Bieber.
– Keep venues open, subsidise them if needed
– Above all – more music in schools!
Tony: Access to musical instruments in ALL schools!
Desert Island Discs – what three albums would you choose if you were stranded on a desert island, and why?
First Circle – Pat Metheny: Because it’s beautiful, rich, complex and with stunning musicianship.
Selling England by the Pound – Genesis: Same reasons, I think. Plus, it’s probably my favourite album, all things considered.
Greatest Hits – Earth Wind and Fire: Because I’m a terrible dancer but there’s no-one there to see me so game on!
Selling England By The Pound – Genesis
Pastorale Symphony – Vaughan Williams
3 – Peter Gabriel
How do you describe your music together to anyone who has not heard it before? Which song from the album would you choose to play to try to persuade someone to listen to the album, and why that song?
Doug: I would describe it as intelligent, accessible, song-based rock music, subtly influenced by electronica, Eighties art-rock and pop, film soundtracks and prog rock! I think I’d introduce someone to our music with Antarctica – seems to capture many of the musical and lyrical approaches on the album, and the people we HAVE played it to seem to respond very positively to it!
Tony: Showaddywaddy with synthesizers! No seriously. I would say highly melodic rock/pop.
TPA: One last question for fun, and you are only allowed to give a one-word answer: The Beatles or Elvis?
Doug: Beatles every time. Despite efforts to do so, I’ve never really been able to dig The King. I am not a hound dog and find blue suede completely unacceptable as a fashion choice. Oh – sorry, it’s supposed to be a one-word answer!
Tony: Definitely not the guy who left the building.
Despite re-defining the term ‘one-word answer’ I can confirm that you have both definitely given the RIGHT Answer!
I have really been enjoying your new album, which I genuinely feel is excellent. I hope it is a success for you. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
You can read Leo Trimming’s review of The Divide HERE.