Between A Rock And A Prog Place: IAN ANDERSON On First New JETHRO TULL Album In 20 Years - "I Did A Big Search Of The Bible"
January 12, 2022, 4 months ago
What truly is progressive music? Each month BraveWords will aim to dissect that answer with a thorough overview of the current musical climate that is the prog world. Old and new, borrowed and blue. A musical community without borders. So watch for a steady and spaced-out array of features, current news and a buyer’s guide checklist to enhance the forward-thinking musical mind. So, welcome to BraveWords' monthly column appropriately titled, Between A Rock In A Prog Place.
In this month’s column, part one of an interview with Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, in which he discusses the band’s new album, The Zealot Gene, his health, and future plans. Stay tuned for part two of the chat next month!
It has been nearly 20 years between Tull studio albums. Why so long?
“Well, first of all, in 2011 I started work on a project that was released in 2012, Thick As A Brick II, which was released as ‘Ian Anderson’ rather than ‘Jethro Tull.’ And in 2014, we did Homo Erraticus – again, released as Ian Anderson…but should have on reflection been a Jethro Tull album in terms of its billing. And then there was a string quartet album in 2017 [Jethro Tull: The String Quartets], and I started work that year on a new band album, which I decided at that time would be released as ‘Jethro Tull,’ because the members of the band who had been with me on an average of 15 years and played hundreds of concerts as members of Jethro Tull had not yet appeared on a Jethro Tull album. So, I decided that I would release that as a Jethro Tull album. But apart from the seven songs that were recorded in 2017, it took another couple of years before I had the scheduling to be able to get the band back in the studio to do the final five tracks. Then of course the pandemic got in the way, and we sat doing nothing for a year and a half, and I finally decided early this year  that I should get on with it and finish it by myself. So, I recorded the last five songs, and the other guys in the band contributed a few parts via the benefit of audio files they recorded in their home studios or bedrooms. It appears to have taken a long time, but the total number of hours spent writing and recording the album were about the same as usual. I tend to work fairly quickly, it’s just we were on tour so much during 2018/2019, the only days we had between trips was usually three or four days before we went out again. So, asking the band to give up that little bit of time with their friends and family seemed a bit demanding. So, I kept putting it off. But it didn’t take any longer than usual in terms of the number of work hours to write, rehearse, and record.”
What is the meaning behind the album’s title?
“The album began with my writing down a list of words which described strong human emotions. Some good things like love, companionship, tolerance, and loyalty – and then some bad stuff like anger, greed, jealousy, vengeance. And I looked at my list of words – with the intention of writing a song about each human emotion – and realized these were all words I recalled from reading the Bible. So, I did a big search of the Bible, to find examples of Biblical text that talked about those things. And that served as a reference point for writing the lyrics. And of course, I didn’t use any Biblical text in my lyrics, but I took those examples of Biblical text and gave those a point of reference when it came to writing lyrics – most of which are set in the real world of the present day, rather than in historical times.”
What are some personal standout tracks from the album?
“I suppose the first four that I finished were ‘Mrs. Tibbets,’ ‘Mine Is the Mountain,’ the title track, and ‘The Fisherman of Ephesus.’ Those were the four that I finished in 2017. I suppose those are the ones that come to mind first as being logical contenders to perform live on stage. And indeed, we started playing the title track on stage in the only two concerts we played in 2020 – which were in February of that year, in Barcelona and Madrid. And then the pandemic struck with a vengeance and that was it – all of our concerts were postponed or cancelled as they were in the first months of this year, we didn’t manage to do any concerts at all until late August in 2021.”
I particularly enjoy “Shoshana Sleeping,” as it reminds me of vintage Tull.
“Well, we rehearsed it in the way that you hear it. It was recorded exactly as we had rehearsed it in the few days of rehearsal before the first recording session. So yes, it was intended to sound like that – but it wasn’t necessarily intended to sound like vintage Jethro Tull. It took its own form and its own momentum based on what we did during our period of the day we spent working on rehearsing that and whatever other track we did at the same time. But we did five days of rehearsal, so we were rehearsing more than one song every day, and we spent four days I think recording. So, we were recording essentially two songs every day in the studio. That was quite a pace of work – that’s almost like going back to the old days, in terms of cracking on and getting the job done. We didn’t spend ages deliberating. We were very efficient with our time and rehearsal and recording.”
How are you doing health-wise? [Anderson suffers from incurable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)]
“I’m in pretty good shape at the moment. I’ve been able to avoid contracting COVID thus far, because it would probably have a pretty bad outcome for me if I did. So, I take a lot of extra care when I have to travel and perform. I have to take my chances, but I don’t make it easy for SARS-CoV-2 to get ahold of me. I’m an inveterate mask wearer and social distancer, and I test every couple of days – in order to have forewarning of any bad news. That’s what I and the rest of the band and crew do, because we all depend on each other to try to be COVID-free – lest we put each other out of work again for at least another two weeks to come.”
“We have concerts scheduled – a tour of Finland and of Sweden in January, then Italy in February, and Spain and France in March. A lot of concerts that were postponed from last year or the year before that we have to fulfill. But of course, given the huge rise again in this almost universal winter wave of COVID, it’s anybody’s guess as to whether any of these things will finally go ahead. We can only keep our fingers crossed that local governments and authorities allow the concerts to take place, and the airlines are flying, and that none of us scupper our chances by catching COVID in the meantime. So, there are a lot ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ in any future arrangements. But on nine o’clock in the morning on January 1st of next year , I shall be starting work on a new recording project for release in the end of March in 2023…but I can’t tell you anything about it, because I will only know that if you call me around lunchtime on January the 1st, I may have the beginnings of the ideas.”
Between A Rock And A Prog Place News Blast
Nick D’Virgilio (Big Big Train, ex-Spock’s Beard), Neal Morse (Transatlantic, NMB, ex-Spock’s Beard), and Ross Jennings (Haken, Novena) have united as D’Virgilio, Morse & Jennings, and will be releasing their debut album, titled Troika, on February 25. A video for the album’s first single, “Julia,” can be viewed below. A tribute to Todd Rundgren’s classic 1972 album, Something/Anything?, will be released on February 1, entitled Someone/Anyone? The 50th Anniversary TRibute to Something/Anything?, and will include such participants as Utopia’s Kasim Sulton and Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess, among others. For ordering info and to hear a sample, click here.
Styx has announced a North American tour this summer (on a bill that also will include REO Speedwagon and Loverboy), dubbed Live & Unzoomed. Visit the Live Nation site for a complete listing of the dates. Alan Parsons has announced a new live recording, One Note Symphony: Live in Tel Aviv – which features a full performance with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra – released on February 11. You can view a performance of the track ‘Standing On Higher Ground’ and/or order the album.
Meshuggah has rescheduled their 2022 US headlining tour to early next fall. Once again, visit the Live Nation site for a complete listing of the dates. Blind Guardian recently issued a music video for their new single, “Deliver Us From Evil,” which can be viewed here. And another veteran prog metal outfit that recently unveiled a new music video was Epica, with ‘Victims of Contingency.’ Impeccably-costumed German folk rockers Feuerschwanz has released a video for their cover of the Manowar tune, “Warriors Of The World United” (off their just-issued album, Memento Mori), which can be viewed below.
Described as ‘nine tracks of neo-classical power metal that are melodic, technical, and progressive,’ the debut album by Sartori, entitled Dragon’s Fire, is released this month. An official visualizer has been issued for the album’s title track. Several prog bands have been announced as part of the line-up that will be at the Hyperspace Music Festival from April 15-17 in Vancouver, BC, Canada (including Into Eternity). Tickets are available for purchase at this location.
Blending prog, heavy metal, power, melodic death, symphonic, and thrash, Calgary’s Caveat will most certainly get your toe tapping – especially after viewing/hearing the video/single ‘Infinite,’ from their upcoming album Alchemy (due February 11). Prog duo Athemon (featuring ex-Haken members) recently issued their self-titled debut, and a lyric video for the track ‘The Glass Hindered Us’ is indeed available for your listening/viewing pleasure. It’s not often that a project is described as “experimental prog/funk,” but that is an appropriate summary of Pestilence's Joost van der Graaf’s project, Choreomanic, who is issuing their self-titled debut album on February 18th. You can see what all the fuss is about by viewing/listening the ‘official bass playthrough’ video below, for the track “Time To Let It Out.”
January New Albums
January 7, 2022
Karfagen – Land of Green and Gold
January 21, 2022
Sonata Arctica – Acoustic Adventures: Volume One
January 28, 2022
Big Big Train – Welcome to the Planet
Jethro Tull – The Zealot Gene
Sartori – Dragon’s Fire
January 29, 2022
MEER – Playing House
Soen – Imperial
While we are all in a ‘Tull state of mind’ with the release of The Zealot Gene this month, the time is perfect to turn the clock back 45 years to February 10, 1977, for an outstanding reading of their prog tour de force, Thick As A Brick (recorded live in Golders Green Hippodrome, London, England).