Dateline: June 27th 2007
Source: Music Web Express 3000
On the net: http://www.mwe3.com/home.htm
CONSPIRACY leads to SYN
an interview with CHRIS SQUIRE and STEPHEN NARDELLI
By Robert Silverstein
On November 2nd, 2005, I had a rare opportunity to interview Chris Squire and Steve Nardelli. Both were in L.A. to promote the arrival of Syndestructible, the new studio album from The SYN, a band the two formed back in 1965 and had reformed in 2005. Much has happened since Syndestructible and the Original Syn including a 2006 live DVD and a 2007 SYN CD, entitled Armistice Day. Chris Squire has since left the SYN but as this archive interview intends, it's worth taking a look back at the aftermath of Syndestructible and the Fall of 2005.
Before he went on to carve out musical maps with Yes, Chris Squire was a member of prog-pop innovators The Syn—along with Yes / Flash guitarist Peter Banks, singer Stephen Nardelli, drummer Martyn Adelman and the late, great keyboard orchestrater Andrew Pryce Jackman. Although they made inroads with several acclaimed releases, The Syn ceased to exist by the time Yes burst on the scene with their self-titled Lp debut in 1969. In 2005, 40 years on, Stephen Nardelli has reteamed with Chris Squire for an album magnificently etched in that classic U.K. paisley pop / ‘60s symphonic rock sound, echoing the super studio production techniques explored by Yes on any number of their decade spanning releases. To better control their group’s destiny, Squire and Nardelli made a move to establish their own record label, Umbrello, as well as a planned TV station entitled The One TV.
Underscoring the Syn history, Umbrello have released a double CD Syn set of ‘60s sides backed by some newly reformed 2004 Syn tracks with Pete Banks on guitar entitled The Original Syn 1964-2004 and a brand new 2005 Syn group lineup and CD entitled Syndestructible.
History seems to repeat with this latest departure of Banks, while in comes Yes bass great Chris Squire to finally place the Syn legacy up front and center . Even without the illustrious guitar skills of Pete Banks, Squire and Nardelli made a great move enlisting the support of the Stacey brothers—guitarist Paul Stacey, fresh from his work with Oasis, and his twin brother/drummer Jeremy Stacey.
Credit should also go to Paul Stacey who produced, engineered while playing great electric guitar on Syndestructible. Commenting on working with rock icons, Paul Stacey adds, ”Close To The Edge is one of the greatest albums of all time and had a huge influence on me as a musician. It's great to be playing with Chris Squire. I even have a Squire signature Rickenbacker in my guitar collection. Steve Nardelli has a great voice, Gerard Johnson is a super musical talent on keyboards, and Martyn Adelman is really getting back into the groove as a drummer. I want to make a fantastic album with The Syn, something people will remember in 30 years like Close to the Edge. I know we can do it!"
Syn are off to a great revival with Syndestructible, even though Squire claims Yes are just on a long holiday for this year. In L.A. on November 2, 2005 Chris Squire and Stephen Nardelli spoke with Robert Silverstein in NYC about the second coming of The Syn, forty years after the start of the band.
This interview was written and conducted during the first week of November 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma which left so much destruction in that last week of October 2005. With my parents having been dealt, what would turn out to be, an insurmountable blow by Wilma in South Florida I decided to go ahead with the interview. In a slight state of future shock, I spoke by phone in New York with Steve and Chris, who were in L.A. The article originally appeared in an abridged version in the January 2006 issue of 20th Century Guitar magazine. In recent interviews and on his web site Chris Squire has stated that he has left The Syn and has not fully endorsed their current CD, Armistice Day. Even so... it's worth taking a look back at that great vibe created by the Syndestructible CD. -editor
RS: I want to congratulate you on the new Syndestructible CD. I’ve been playing it for a week now and I have to say its one of the best prog-rock albums of the new century.
CS: Wow. Well that’s good seeing that we’re five years into it! (laughter) That’s excellent.
RS: So how did you decide to hook up to reform The Syn with Stephen Nardelli?
CS: Well, basically it came together, the meeting, because Steve came to me last year in Denver when Yes were at Red Rocks. And he had asked me if I’d do an interview to put on to the Original Syn album, which he put together as a retrospective about the ‘60s Syn and also as a dedication to Andrew Jackman, our keyboard player, who sadly passed away in 2003. And he’d been a childhood friend of mine as well so of course I was very willing to contribute to that album, and we dedicated it to him. And so when that project was done, I was over in London to play a show for 25 years of Trevor Horn’s musical productions. That was a show with various artists on it, from Seal through to Grace Jones. It was kind of a magic show. After, I got Steve tickets for that and him and I were hanging around, talking about stuff and I was staying in London for a little bit after that show and I visited him at his house and he started playing me a couple of his song ideas that he’d been working on at home and I picked up on some of them and said, ‘hey, I’ve got some time on my hands right now. Yes is on a hiatus this year. Let’s see if you want to make a new album.’ So we put together Gerard Johnson on keyboards and the two Stacey brothers, Paul and Jeremy on guitar and drums. And we went in the studio and made this record.
RS: Can you say something about the Original Syn compilation CD? I know you play of the ‘60s stuff.
CS: Yeah, I’m not on every track on that. I’m really just on the original two singles that are on there, which was a song called “Created By Clive,” another song called “Grounded, which was actually the b-side but should have been the a-side.Then there was another single with a song called “Flowerman” and on the b-side of that was a song called “14 Hour Technicolor Dream.” And the rest of the stuff on that album...just rehearsal demos and just interesting tidbits from that era.
RS: How did you hook up with the Stacey brothers?
CS: Well, in actual fact we were working in Paul’s studio and we did one of the tracks initially, the “Cathedral Of Love” song, without Paul’s involvement. He’d been away touring, I think with the Finn brothers, and then he came back into town and came by the studio to see us. And we got talking and he was playing us some tunes that he produced. And I said to him, ‘they sound real good. Would you... like end up just playing guitar on this track?’ He said, ‘sure.’ And so he finished that track and then we went away, Steve and myself, and wrote the rest of the album and then came back to Paul and said, ‘hey, how about you just produce the album?’ And he did.
RS: I know he’s a huge Yes fan. He said he wants to make a Syn record that’s as great as Close To The Edge.
CS: That’s right. Where did you read that? Was he talking about the Syndestructible album or anything he wanted to be involved with?
RS: Basically about this record. I was under the impression that there was more material than the seven tracks.
CS: There is...there were two more tracks that didn’t go on ‘cause it would have been just too much time. It’s 57 minutes as it stands so we saved a couple of tracks that we’ll probably put on our next project.
RS: What was your bass and amp set-up on the Syndestructible album?
CS: I only used two basses. I used my original Rickenbacker of course on four of the tracks I guess and I also used my MPC bass which is made by St. Louis Music and that’s a guitar I’ve had since the ‘70s as well and I used that on a couple tracks. The MPC Electra its called and I think it was one of the companies that was part of St. Louis Music, which I guess...I don’t know if that became Ampeg, or Ampeg or St. Louis Music or they merged...something like that happened, they’re both out of St. Louis.
RS: You were supposed to come here on the More Drama tour with Alan White and Steve Howe but you had difficulties.
CS: Yeah, we had problems with work visas for some people and it was also the time of those terrorist attacks in London. And so the whole visa thing was like, really on red alert, that kind of criminal activities but we didn’t manage to get the visas done in time for the tour. And we chipping away dates off the front of the tour and we were still going to try to jump on it but after a certain point, when L.A. went out, because we couldn’t have the visas for the L.A. show...and we thought, ‘well, we may as well just postpone this and try and do it again when all this mess is sorted out. And we were victims, really, of the system.
RS: So the tour is back on track?
CS: Well, no it hasn’t been reset yet. I mean, its an idea that could happen.
RS: You’re playing Joe’s Pub in Manhattan in January?
CS: Yeah, that’s just The Syn though. It’s not with Steve Howe or Alan White.
RS: So you’re living in England now?
CS: Pretty much. Well, working on the Syn project, I’ve been living back in London, which is the first time I'm actually living there for a long period of time. Since ‘84. ‘85 I moved to L.A. And I lived on the West Coast pretty much since then. I lived a couple years in New York at the end of the ‘90s. And then I was back in Santa Barbara after that. Then, as I said, this year I went to London to do the Syn album.
RS: Tell me something about the new label you started with Steve Nardelli.
CS: Yeah, the Syndestructible album is on Umbrello. We also have a DVD company and we’re also involved in a TV satellite channel on Sky TV, called www.theone.tv and that’s supposed to be coming on line quite soon.
RS: Is there going to be a SYN dvd?
CS: We’re going to film this show at the Marquee Club so I’m sure at some point we’ll be using some of that.
RS: So Yes are on hiatus this year?
CS: Well, Jon Anderson’s doing some solo work at the moment. I’ve been involved in this and I know Alan White has his own band up in Seattle where he lives and he’s been working on that. Yes were heavily involved in touring from like ‘97 through 2004. We did a lot of on the road work and we decided it would be best to get off the road at least for 2005. Just to give the fans a break. (laughter) In a way.
RS: You always seem to have that knack when it comes to take that break to come up with...I mean The Unknown Conspiracy CD was two years ago...
CS: Yeah, I know. Maybe I’m lucky. Maybe I’m good. (laughter) Or a combination of both.
RS: What did you think of the Yes live box set The Word Is Live on Rhino?
CS: I liked it!
RS: There was nothing from Tales From Topographic Oceans and Tormato.
CS: I think that’s because there’s going to be a second album.
RS: How about Songs From Tsongas?
CS: As a DVD, it looks good to me. I wish the mix would have been a bit better, but visually it looks fine.
RS: Thanks Chris.
RS: I want to congratulate you and Chris on the Syndestructible CD. I call it a masterpiece of ‘beat-prog’ music because it has that modern edge and a ‘70s progressive edge but I also detect a big ‘60s pop influence.
SN: Well its interesting, what you say because we wanted to take the best of what prog music was all about in the late ‘60s and ‘70s and kind of bring it into the 21st century. And we call ourselves ‘prog-modernists, that’s the title we came up with for ourselves and that was the concept behind the writing and construction of the album. The writing for the album was done very quickly. It was based on a lot of ideas, which I had over the past 40 years! (laughter) And then Chris and I got together and we constructed the compositional side of the tracks over an intense three week period, about a year ago. And then we spent about the best part of this year in the studio putting it all together. It was a lot of time, a lot of work went into the album. A lot of love as well. And we ended up with what you hear. And I think the aspects of it that you mentioned, you know the kind of ‘60s aspect of it, the prog stuff and a kind of modern feel that we hope it has. I think that is exactly what we were trying to achieve. The kind of pop psychedelia of the ‘60s, the prog and a modern thing that could appeal to people in the 21st century, rather than some sort of retro thing. So and I think we achieved that. It’s kind of our own sound, it’s a new sound...in a certain way. And it’s getting rave reviews. I’m very pleased that you like it and generally, people are saying the same thing about it.
RS: I know you’re doing other things so what prompted you to jump back in the music world again?
SN: Well, the thing about music, as you know, ‘cause you’re a music guy yourself, and that if it’s in your blood, it’s always there. And although I wasn’t in the music business per se for about 40 years...although I did have a couple solo singles out with Decca in the mid ‘70s. I’d actually been writing stuff over the years. I’ve had about 40 of my songs released one way or another but I wasn’t in the industry per se. But I never stopped writing and I never stopped hammering on my guitar and singing to my wife and so on (laughter). And so when the opportunity, out of circumstances...and those circumstances were sad circumstances. Our original keyboard player, a very talented chap called Andrew Jackman, he, very sadly, died in 2003, unexpectedly. And that brought Chris and I back together to make a retro album called Original Syn, I don’t know if you know about that one, which we released as a sort of tribute to Andrew. And that brought us back together and circumstances would have it, we started to get together and write together again. And the opportunity came for us to make a new album, after 40 years. We felt we had the material to do so and we assembled a very talented set of musicians to enhance what Chris and I were doing. Paul and Jeremy Stacey. Paul Stacey was with Oasis. He’s involved in the production of the new Oasis album. And Jeremy played drums with Sheryl Crow and also with The Finn Brothers. He’s a very great musician, both of them. And Gerard Johnson, who’s a wonderful musician in the mold of Andrew. And we came together as a new incarnation of The Syn and we produced this new album. We put a lot of time and effort into it and a lot of focus and we’ve come up with this great new album we feel.
RS: I understand there’s some music that was recorded before the music of Syndestructible.
SN: We went in to the studio with seven tracks. There’s another couple of tracks which we kind of half finished, which we haven’t used but will be the centerpiece or the cornerstone of a new album we will probably start work on sometime next year after we finish touring. I don’t know if you were talking about some tracks I made with Peter Banks in 2004. Those tracks. Yeah.That was basically a slightly different lineup. Chris wasn’t involved then. We put them as an add-on to the Original Syn album, which sold very well actually. I was surprised how well it did.
RS: Can you say something about the new venture you started with Chris called Umbrello?
SN: The way the music industry is at the moment, which is...its kind of splintering up in all kinds of directions and is going through kind of a difficult period shall we say. Where, in fact, we couldn’t really be comfortable with a home for Syndestructible so we decided to construct our own home, which is our own record label. And we’ve put together Umbrello Records. Syndestructible and The Original Syn stuff is all coming out on that label. And we’ve surrounded ourselves with some great some great distribution partners. ADA / Warners in America, Nova / Pinnacle in the U.K. and SPV Inside Out Music in the rest of Europe, Universal in Japan. And we’ve got great partners and we’ve got great PR publicists too working with us. Over here, as you know Wolfson PR, fantastic company that’s done a great job for us over here in the U.S. We have similar partners in various countries around the world. That’s the way it’s structured. It’s structured around a company that Chris and I control. So we control our own destiny if you like. We can go in the direction we want to go with our music but we surround ourselves with some great partners. And obviously, also, you know, if we can have great partners in the media, like yourself, we can work with key guys like yourself, then that’s a cornerstone for any musical project. And that’s kind of what we’re doing.
Thanks to Chris Squire @ www.chrissquire.com
and Steve Nardelli of Umbrello Records @ www.umbrellorecords.com
- and www.theone.tv and to Jon @ Wolfson PR