In the 70s prog meant different things in different countries. Today prog seems to be so conformist. What is prog to you?
-Yes, “prog” is a strange genre. If you say you’re into prog you have to really be specific as to what kind of prog you’re referring to. For example, there are djent bands that are now being referred to as Prog, post-rock is getting the Prog tag, I’ve even heard of Nine Inch Nails being described as Prog. When you say you like Death Metal, people know what you’re talking about. But when you say you like Prog you have to clarify yourself. If you’re talking to a younger person and toss the word “prog” out they’ll probably think you’re talking about The Contortionist or TesseracT. If you talk to a person in their thirties they’ll think about Dream Theater or Symphony X.
And, of course, if you talk to an older person they’re going to think of Genesis, Pink Floyd, etc.
I don’t think that prog is necessarily conformist because the era of the Dream Theater clones has kind of passed. Prog, to me, has always been this misnomer because people use the term to describe music that is left-of-center, quirky, dense, or challenging. You can have a band like Protest The Hero—a band often described as prog—and put them side-by-side with a band like Enchant and you’ll get a completely different audience base. That’s why I try to steer away using “prog” in Cea Serin.
To me, progressive music has always had a focus on the musical aspect—the actual instrumentation. Pop music uses music to support the dominant hooks and melodies delivered by the singer. Pop music uses some of the many derivations in the verse/pre-chorus/chorus/bridge formula set. Progressive music expands on that formula or abandons it entirely. To me, progressive music should contain a heightened level of musicianship. That’s why I don’t like Nine Inch Nails being lumped into the category.
This whole argument over what is “progressive” has always really bothered me. It’s one of the only genre names that people actually argue over with an attitude of elitism. I mean, if you listen to Godspeed You! Black Emperor…that’s truly some progressive stuff. They’ve completely abandoned the pop music formula; they’ve gone away with pop singing; they write really long songs; they have a mission statement about what they want to do as a group and what they stand for. However, they’re not laying down wicked shredding solos. By all accounts and definitions why shouldn’t Godspeed You! Black Emperor be lumped into the progressive rock scene as opposed to the post-rock scene?
So, to me, I think Progressive Metal should be based on the sound and the sonic similarities established towards the originators. I think when you say you like Progressive Metal you’re talking about Dream Theater, Symphony X, and Shadow Gallery type stuff. When you say you like Djent you’re talking about Uneven Structure, TesseracT, and Monuments.
Look, I’m speaking in a broad spectrum right now. I’m aware that before Dream Theater was around there was Queensryche and Crimson Glory. And before there was Monuments and Uneven Structure there was Meshuggah. Before Meshuggah was djent they were referred to as progressive metal. Just another example of why this all gets fussy and bent out of shape.
If you were to name your biggest influences, who would that be? What is it about these that attracted you to them?
-My biggest influence would have to go back to when I was a kid and started playing music. I mean, that was the time that my style, playing technique, and learning process all began to take shape. So I started playing bass because of Megadeth and I started getting serious with piano because of Yanni. I started getting serious about song writing because of Sarah McLachlan. It’s hard to really pin down what it was that attracted me to them. That’s like asking what is it about the bass or the drums that attracted you. I think we’re drawn to certain instruments and music that we feel best sonically represents who we are.
When I heard Yanni for the first time it was on a morning TV show. After the song was done he explained what the song was about. It was the song “In The Mirror” and he said that when you’re in a relationship with someone you get to the point where you start reflecting aspects of the other person, and vice versa. I thought it was very cool that this instrumental song had a meaning and the only way you were supposed to get that meaning was from the title of the song and the performance of the piece itself.
Megadeth was the first time that I had actually heard the bass guitar. It was the song “In My Darkest Hour” and right towards the beginning of the song the guitars are doing this chromatic walk-down pattern. I was listening to it with headphones and during this walk-down riff I heard the bass come in and join the guitars. That opened up a new world for me. I heard where the bass guitar sat in the mix and I could then pick it out. The bass guitar then became this misunderstood and underappreciated instrument. It recognized it for the underdog that it was. I also felt like the underdog fighting to be heard. It was an attractive instrument for me in that respect.
How hard is it to stand out against the competition? How hard is it to get noticed?
-It’s very difficult these days. I’m actually still trying to figure things out. It’s hard getting good at writing songs, singing, writing lyrics, and then have to figure out how to get good at promoting yourself, marketing yourself, making contacts, staying current, staying competitive.
It’s very hard to get noticed in the digital age because it’s so easy to flood the marketplace. People want to find good material and interesting content but there’s so much other stuff to have to wade through to get to that one gem that really speaks to you. I guess you’re asking the wrong person if it’s hard to stand out against the competition because I haven’t figured out a way to stand out against the competition myself. It might be very easy for some people to stand out against the competition, whoever they are. If you can find that person let me know what they say, I’d love to know the secret.
Do your lyrics have a meaning/message that stretches over more than one song or do you write lyrics for one song each?
-The only time I did anything that stretched over more than one song was “The Surface of All Things” batch of tunes from the debut album. Typically, I don’t like confining myself to one idea over a record. I have lots of ideas and lots of things that I want to say. I don’t want to pick just one when I can do several. That’s not to say that I’m opposed to concept albums. I do want to release a concept album in the future that would be coupled with a book and a stage production. But that’s further down the line.
How important are the lyrics? How hard is it to come up with lyrics?
-I think lyrics are extraordinarily important. So many bands don’t give a damn about lyrical content and some people don’t really care to delve into what a song is about. Maybe this is a metal thing. When I talk to people that don’t listen to metal and we try to have an exchange about what it is about our preferred genres, it always comes around to what metal songs are about. People who listen to hip hop know what their favorite songs are about. Metal music can be very vague. But I think metal lyrics are vague because so many metal musicians focus on the music first and the lyrics last. I take a very literary approach to lyric writing—it’s incredibly important to me.
Someone once told me the difference between a good band and a great band is background vocals. I’d like to add in good lyrics as well. If your band only has songs about love/hate relationships, lost love, love gone wrong, heartache, or any of that trite nonsense, you’re just riding a trail that’s already been trespassed. A band should have a philosophy on life; a band should have an objective.
It’s hard to write lyrics though. Just like it’s hard to write good poetry. Song lyrics and poetry, ultimately, are very different in their execution. I don’t consider myself to be a poet in any way but I know similar rules apply to both: you shouldn’t write contrived stories, you shouldn’t use clichés, you shouldn’t shoe-horn words into a rhythm sequence, etc.
I’ve changed my lyric writing style quite a bit over the years. When I first started writing lyrics I was very restrictive on myself. I wanted to only use syllabics—each line being a designated number of syllables. I also only wanted to use perfect rhymes. Now I have a much more melody-based approach. I write lyrics based on a melody first. I devise a melody line for vocals the same way Joe Satriani establishes themes over his rhythm guitar parts. I then write down gibberish to establish which consonants and vowels I want to sing over that melody. Then I have to find a way to convey what the song is about into that melody’s framework.
I somehow associate prog with great album art work. How important is the art work to you guys?
-Oddly enough, the artwork for albums isn’t as important as the color scheme is important to me. I always hear a color when I have an album or song mapped out. I heard rust when coming up with the first album and all throughout the artwork creation process I was trying to convey that scheme of rust. The new album I saw a lot of white and gold.
I would honestly rather not have elaborate artworks for Cea Serin releases. I’d like to just have white album covers with the band name and album name on it. Let the music on the album allow the listener to paint their own images. My favorite album artworks have always been very minimal. I like Yndi Halda’s cover for “Enjoy Eternal Bliss” and the new cover for the new TesseracT album. That being said, I do like when an album cover visually conveys something about the album. I do like how Dream Theater’s album covers accomplish that goal. We don’t have that kind of money that Dream Theater has so we have to come up with financially feasible alternatives to convey album content into the artwork. I try to balance those two things with Cea Serin album artwork. Our album covers haven’t been stereotypical metal album covers and they’re not exactly minimalist either.
I have been wondering about your name. Where does it come from?
-Cea Serin came about during a time when the internet was becoming widely available to people. I wanted to get a band name that when you put it into a search engine only one thing would pop up. So I didn’t want to pick a name out of the dictionary or combine two cool sounding words to form a band name.
To me, a band name should represent what the band stands for—what the band is all about.
If I had a kid I would name that kid something like Blixon. Some name that no one else had. Because if that kid was supposed to show up somewhere and people were waiting for him, they ‘d be saying things like, “hey, where’s Blixon at.” They’re wondering where he or she is at because when Blixon is around Blixon brings a certain thing to the party. Because there’s a certain expectation that Blixon brings when Blixon is around.
It’s like when you see a certain movie with a certain actor. If you see a Jack Nicholson movie you know what to expect from a Jack Nicholson performance. That particular type of performance is associated with that name. It’s because the sound of our names carries with it an association. We all possess a commonality of language and sounds, and I didn’t want my band name to be based in English, Spanish, German, etc. So, with that in mind, I wanted to come up with a band name that no one else would think of using. And when I thought on this the sound “see-sir-in” popped into my head. I liked the sound and flow of that so I wrote it down in a cool way. Nothing else that I came up with as an alternative could compare to that instance of inspiration. That’s how Cea Serin the name was born.
Whenever I try to explain to people what it means I tend to get a bit nebulous. It’s because the band name is represented by the music and lyrics. When you want to know what the band name means the definition is within the music and lyrics. Not only is it within the music and lyrics but with the influences and ideology with what we’re trying to do. The band name is a made up word that directly references what the band is all about.
What does playing live give that you lose if you stay only in the studio?
-Well, music should be performed. I think that’s the medium it was meant to be delivered. We’ve played live many times with many different incarnations. However, I do like a polished recording where everything sounds as it should sound and everything is in its right place. But yeah, you lose that one-on-one interaction with the audience when you’re not playing live.
How do you choose where to play/tour? Do you have certain places that you return to?
With Cea Serin, we played wherever there was a rock club that would have us. That dwindled over the years.
What does the future hold?
We’re working on a new album right now. I haven’t really planned anything beyond that with Cea Serin but I have other musical projects I want to work on. So, for the time being, I just want to focus on getting that new album finished and out into the world.