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Interview of members of Metaphor
Conducted via email by Michel Bilodeau of Ipso Facto Records and Terra Incognita Magazine (Canada), in March, 2004

Michel Bilodeau (MB): For you what's the major difference between your first and second cd. For me “Entertaining Thanatos” sounds more personal. What do you think?

John Mabry (JM): That's an interesting observation, and true to a certain extent, too. Our first CD "Starfooted" was a story from beginning to end. Its characters were mythological and removed from us as the storytellers. "Starfooted" was mostly an exploration of a theme--namely the gnostic myth--and how that myth plays itself out in culture, especially what it has to say about the experience of Gen-Xers in contemporary society. It was a sociological experiment, if you will.

With "Entertaining Thanatos" there is still a good bit of third-person storytelling, still a lot of mythology. But there is also a lot of first-person soul-searching involved as well. Its emotional center is closer to home. We were not exploring an external, sociological, cultural landscape as with "Starfooted," but focusing much more on inner realities--indeed, a more "personal" approach.

Marc Spooner (MSp): The process of rehearsing and recording the songs was quite different as it took place over a long period of time at three different studios and with different drummers. Not to mention that we have a different bass player! We got to use Pro Tools for the first time - which is a giant world of possibilities that we only scratched the surface of. I think the music is more "us" and not as prone to influences as some heard in the first album. Our new material (for the planned third album) is even more individual and Metaphor-y, if you will.

Malcolm Smith (MS): There are many differences, on many levels, between these CDs. Starfooted was four years ago, and our first effort. Since then we have changed as individuals, gone through different experiences, learned things, grown – we are in many ways different people than we were four years ago, and so the CD reflects that. It’s more exploratory, we think it is indeed more personal, and shows a development away from the traditions that defined our earlier work.

MB: Can you tell me what's been going on with Metaphor since the day that you contributed to the compilation cd “Prog In USA”.

MSp: We've all been aging.

MS: Just a lot of time spent working up new ideas (and re-working old ideas), arranging, rehearsing, recording…and of course living our very busy and hectic “regular” lives as well!

MB: If I'm right the song which appears on “Prog In USA” doesn't appear on your cd. Did you ever finish the demo? Did you think that you can use that song in the future.

MSp: Actually the demo on "Prog in USA" (New Socks) became track #5 on Thanatos (the one with the very long title) that we shorten to "Thirteen Heads" when we're talking about it.

MB: When you start working on “Entertaining...” did you think about a concept album. Or a kind of concept album. The theme of the album is death. Why? Can you explain how this idea came?

MS: In our normal composition process, much of the music comes first and then John develops the lyrics, sometimes new, sometimes from existing ideas. In this case the result ended up with seven distinct songs, and that common thread of death through all the lyrics is John’s doing – well, let him explain!

JM: It arose organically. We had decided not to do another ‘rock opera’ for the second album. We just wanted to write individual songs, and if a theme developed, well, so be it. Early into the writing of this album my grandfather died. I was pretty close to him, and it shook me up pretty badly. Of course, it also made me think deeply about my own mortality, and I began writing a lot of songs about death. The best of the lot, "I'm Gonna Die Soon," didn't make it onto this CD-- we'll see if it surfaces anywhere!

Anyway, this turned into a long meditation. As the writing progressed, one of Jim's dogs passed away, and later, Malcolm's father died. In addition, about 4 parishioners to whom I felt a particularly close died during this time (I am a parish priest, after all), so it's been a very sad time for all of us. All of this grief and soul work found its way into the lyrics and music of this CD. Although the subtitle and the cover are lighthearted, it is all inspired by some very difficult experiences indeed.

Of course, all the lyrics take a different take on death. "Socrates" asks how can we meet death with grace? "Galatea 3.3" asks the disturbing question of whether or not we actually prefer people when they are dead. "When It All Comes Together" is about the moment of death itself when everything will make sense (or will it?), or perhaps it is about the death of chaos. "Raking the Bones" is about the lengths people will go to to deny death its due. "...Thirteen Heads..." is about a serial killer, plain and simple. "Yes & No" asks whether there is any acceptable reason to kill. And "Wheel of the World" asks whether or not all of the pain and suffering in life is really worth it all if there is no afterlife. There is certainly no linear progression to the tunes, but we do cover a lot of bases!

MSp: It was just a batch of new songs and sections that we fashioned into the songs as they are on the CD. I didn't even know they were connected conceptually until John said so and was working on the CD cover ideas. I was hoping to do something non-conceptual after "Starfooted" and to me this album is mostly that - it's non-narrative at least. But we'll be back to the full-blown storyline approach on our next CD.

MB: How did you proceed for the composition? Writing lyrics first or music first? Can you talk about the song “Yes or No” It's one of my favorite of this album.

MS: Well as I noted before, in almost all cases the music for Metaphor is developed to a great degree first, and the lyrical ideas come from John as that process progresses. He also has more-developed ideas that are songs themselves that sometimes become part of the overall piece of music. As for the music itself, in my case the ideas arrive (from where? No one knows…), and I massage them and try and make them interesting, amusing, at least to me. Then we get together develop the ideas into more coherent parts, and after that we start work on the actual arrangements, then the full band starts rehearsing and making changes as we go along…incidentally, right now we’re in the “try to put material together into an arrangement” mode with our brand new music.

JM: Music almost always comes first for us. There are exceptions, of course. In "Socrates", the lyrics for the first part just suddenly appeared one day while I was humming Holst's gorgeous Christmas carol, "In the Bleak Midwinter." And the lyrics to the "...mirrored disciples..." section of that song originally went to another tune--a very cowboy-sounding tune that I was tempted to suggest we use elsewhere on the CD, but didn't really fit. You may see it pop up again on some other project, with or without those same words.

MSp: Definitely music first and then lyrics, except for a few songs on "Starfooted" that John brought in basically fully-formed. We had easily half of that album composed, rehearsed, and arranged for the most part before we ever met John! He fit in perfectly though. We have a pretty weird way of working, I think - most of the music's raw material is composed on computer (Malcolm does the vast majority) and then we all edit like mad - trying sections together to see of they work or not, coming up with variations as transitions, etc. Then at various stages these sequences will get burned to a CD for further pondering by the band members and lyric writing by John.

JM: "Yes & No" is a rock operette (is that a phrase? I guess it is now!) based on the classic of Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita. I love the Gita so much--and indeed it is much beloved around the world--it was a favorite of Gandhi's, too. Yes there is embedded in it this insidious notion that it doesn't matter if people die, because they are all just "limbs" of God, who never dies. So death is just an illusion.

Bullshit. Death is horrible, and no amount of spiritualizing can undo that dread fact. So "Yes & No" is the first two thirds of a Hegalian dialectic: 1) it's okay to kill, because God says it's okay; 2) a lifeless planet belies this proposition. You have to do your own synthesis.

It's really a meditation on divinely-sanctioned violence, which was brought home to me powerfully and surreally when I stepped into the recording studio to do the vocals. You see, I cut the vocals for that song on the same day that the US forces dropped the first bombs on Baghdad. Chilling, that's what it was. I was singing, "Yeah, go on out and kill, but do it with a twinkle in your eye..." when we were doing just that.

MSp: I'm glad you like "Yes & No" - it's a unique monster for us. It actually predates a lot of "Starfooted" and some of its parts were actually dabbled with by the original, Genesis-tribute lineup of the band back in 1995 or 1996 - Malcolm and I came up with some of the parts sitting in my apartment with an acoustic guitar and a battery-powered home keyboard! It's evolved a lot and is now way better than it ever had been. Along with the song Galatea 3.3, I myself consider it the last of the old-style Metaphor song.

MB: What’s the situation for a prog like Metaphor in California?

MSp: We toil in almost complete obscurity.

MS: We have low expectations! We simply love creating music. We never tour, we never play live, we are mysterious! Either that, or we’re just so busy that we can only do some Metaphor, as much as we can, but it isn’t enough. I expect other prog bands in California experience the same thing.

MB: Did you see an evolution about progressive music?

MSp: Yes and no (ha ha). This is a huge question and for me could be a whole interview unto itself. E-mail me!

MS: Could you repeat the question? I didn’t hear you. Oh – well speaking only for Metaphor, we are clearly not in the same place we were for Starfooted four years ago. We’ve evolved, and the music expresses that.

MB: Did you plan some concerts for the promotion of “Entertaining”?

MSp: Sadly, probably no. We don't have time to rehearse enough and I know for myself (and probably Malcolm too at least), I prefer to work on creating brand new music.

MS: We would like to play live but with very limited discretionary time, it’s just not possible to get in enough rehearsal to really play our music live with the level of quality it deserves. We only rehearse once a week when we’re getting ready to record – that’s not enough to really play the material in a live setting. However, if there are any potential benefactors out there that would like to pay all of us to rehearse seven days a week, I guarantee we’d put on a good show!

MB: Trope Audio is your label I presume. It is for the band only or if you plan to release cd from other progressive bands or artists?

MS: TropAudio is our own label, we created it for this release. It’s possible that we’ll have others on TropeAudio, but we’re not exactly a full-service label! In fact, we’re a no-service label at this point.

MSp: I'd love to have a stable of artists. Maybe some solo albums too! If they can afford it, they can be on Trope. God knows we can't put up any money.

MS: Hey, how come Jim’s so quiet? Jim? Unfortunately, Jim couldn’t be in this interview, but if he were here I’m sure he’d say, “Goodbye!”

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